When a friend first introduced me to Pinterest several years ago I let the app sit idle on my phone for a number of months, until I was bored one day and decided to check it out again. Hello! A fabulous world of images and inspiration suddenly opened up to me!
For those who may not be aware, Pinterest is a virtual pin board where you can pin images from other websites, which ends up linking back to the original source. Other Pinterest users can then use these images by re-pinning to their own boards. Pinterest is “the visual bookmarking tool that helps you discover and save creative ideas.”
I write Regency and contemporary romance, and can happily trawl through hundreds of images related to my novels. When I find something I think captures what I am trying to portray I ‘pin’ it to my relevant board. The Pinterest board of my historical novel The Elusive Miss Ellison has images of Regency dresses, English manor houses, scenes from Gloucestershire gardens and cute pictures of beagles, all selected to show what the novel is about.
Another board for Miss Serena’s Secret concerns a young artist who spends time in England’s Peak District, so there are pins about art, Somerset House, Robert Adams-designed interiors, Derbyshire, fabulous gardens complete with Grecian temples, the list goes on.
For my contemporary novella, Restoring Fairhaven (releasing in December as part of the Independence Islands novella collection – preorder available here) I’ve incorporated images that portray the type of island house, gardens, views and characters I imagined while writing the book. You can check out the board here.
Being a visual kinda gal, I enjoy how Pinterest collates images, and the ease with which it can be used. As an app on my phone, I find it a great way to ‘research’ during TV advertisements, pinning the occasional image, knowing that readers who follow me on Pinterest will see what I pin, and hopefully be excited about what’s coming next in my writing.
If you haven’t given Pinterest a go, I encourage you to find a friend who has, and search through their boards to see if this is something that could work for you. If yes, download the app (it’s free).
It’s lots of fun – and checking out your favorite author’s Pinterest boards can be a great way to gain insight about their thought processes while they wrote their books – and to get some sneaky peeks about their upcoming releases!
Write What You Know
Write What you know is an old piece of advice I’d venture to guess all who aspire to author have heard more than once. But it’s so true. Word pictures are so much easier to paint when you know what you’re talking about.
But how can I know about how people who lived in the 1850s? That’s where the research comes in! There’s lot’s of things to look up and know about those nineteenth century folks, their slang, what toys the children played with, what books came out that year?
“Study to shew thyself approved unto God, a workman that needeth not to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth.” 2 Timothy 2:15
However, they were regular people, much like us. Didn’t King Solomon say there was nothing new under the sun? They dealt with many of the same things we do today . . . well, maybe not the corona virus, but in certain years, they faced pandemics, too.
Sometimes they couldn’t remember, just like me. In my Texas Romance Family Saga series, my patriarch has four daughters and so . . . I happened to be rearing four grandsons at the time. I started the girls first and middle names with the same initials as my boys in order to help myself remember.
The oldest became Mary Rachel (Matthew Ross); next Gwendolyn Belle (Gregory Braham), then Cecelia Carol (Christian Cain) and last was Bonnie Claire (Benjamen Cash)! And the girls were even the same years apart in ages as the boys! Please do not let this out, but they had many of the same characteristics as well!
The Buckmeyer home sat on my favorite building site on the roughly nine hundred acres of the McAdoo Ranch where we live. (Our place The Peaceable is on thirty-four acres surrounded on three sides by the big ranch.)
That way I always knew where everything was and all the roads and how far it was to town, so I didn’t ever get my facts mixed up. Don’t you just hate it when that happens?
The ten-book series covers from 1832 until 1950 (the year I was born). But its ‘Texas Companion Books’ (ancestors and descendants of those precious people I could not kick to the curb) go right up into the 1970s! One of those books is John David’s Calling that opens in 1968!
My turf! I married my Ron that year! So! I knew all about those days; didn’t need near the research! John David’s in love with Hannah Claire, but God has called him to the mission field, and Hannah can’t bear the thought of leaving her family and Texas.
Missionaries came when I was nine or ten to Vacation Bible School and talked to us. At the end, they prayed, opening the alter for salvations or calls to the mission fields. I remember squeezing the pew in front of me so hard, begging God not to call me.
I knew if He did, I’d have to go. I couldn’t bear the thought of leaving and being so far from my mother—just like Hannah. Write what you know. Use your own experiences and places you’re familiar with, and they will appear all the more real on the pages of your story.
Rockland Was Supposed to Be a Super Minor Character
“It’s kind of like if you took Chicago and smushed it together with Atlanta.”
One of the first things I did when I started writing was create the “world” of Rockland. A fictional metropolis somewhere in the Midwest, I wanted it to be something people could envision size wise, but I didn’t want to have to keep talking about how big it was. So, I used words like “metropolis” and “metropolitan area.” To give a feel for what it might like to be there, I came up with that Chicago/Atlanta mash-up and called it good.
I really never planned to set any of the stories in the city, so that’s about all I did with it. Instead, I put some of the other towns around the loop and focused my stories there. That made having to “build” the actual city unnecessary, which was good. I mean, who has time for that?
Then along came Madeline.
It seemed safe enough—Rockland in its infancy. Rockland as “just” a city instead of a hub for Midwest commerce. I could even get certain areas all mapped out if I wanted to. With Madeline Brown roaming the city in her search for the truth about Mr. Smythe, with her camera, on her “wheel,” I’d get a new appreciation for this little world I’d created.
And I did.
The city ceased to be just a “big place” that got side mentions now and then. Neighborhoods took on real life. Areas that appeared in HearthLand as Annie lived on the streets developed an actual history. A personality.
In Sweet on You, I created the “Dry Docks” area—a seedy place where those less inclined to follow the law mingle with those unable to afford any other place. Even as I wrote the first lines about that place, I knew. Someday, it would be known as “The Crypt,” and Annie would avoid it for her own safety.
In Fine Print, certain streets became more important. Important to Madeline, to the city, to me. At the same time, I wrote a couple of books that actually took place in Rockland proper—in contemporary times. That set things in the opposite direction. By the time I got to the fifth book in the series, Byrd’s Eye View, I’d created neighborhoods in Operation Posthaste that now made an appearance—over a hundred years earlier.
That’s when I started to fall in love with my “minor character.” (AKA: Rockland)
You know, I chose to create a fictional world because the real-world changes so quickly that it’s easy to get things wrong. I forgot, when making that “time saving” choice, that creating a setting is just like creating a character. It needs all the personality, all the character growth, and all the details that a protagonist needs.
Oh, well. The more I write about Rockland, especially in its infancy in the Madeline books, the more I fall in love with it. I really want to visit there. Wouldn’t that be fun?
When History Becomes Hard
My newest release, An Uncommon Beauty, was both fun and difficult to write. We’re always told to ‘write what you know’ but in this case, I had to stretch that knowledge a bit. You see, the heroine in An Uncommon Beauty is something I can never be, nor can I truly imagine what it would be like to be her…a minority in 1903. A minority who lived in a state where marriage to a white man was quite literally illegal.
So, why write the story? I, obviously, couldn’t write what I know. I couldn’t become Esther Greening. Well, I also can’t become any of my other heroines and some I wouldn’t ever want to. I wrote the story because this is fiction. Because I can write the story as it should be written, and because in romance a happily-ever-after is expected. That alleviated me of my biggest worry, how to write a romance when it literally couldn’t happen. This is fiction, there is no literally.
I did research Nebraska and if, maybe, the law had changed near when my story would’ve taken place. That would’ve been convenient. However, that wasn’t the case. There are stories online of biracial couples fleeing Nebraska even into the fifties. So, reality was not going to be my helper. However, I did have one thing going for me. Albertville, where my little story takes place, does not actually exist. And I do come from a small town so I know that things you couldn’t necessarily get away with in a larger city, go unnoticed among friends in a small town (see, I did write what I know).
The story itself is all about forgiveness and renewal, that’s kind of my thing. You can find those in almost all of my stories if you look for them. So the challenge of an illegal love was perfect to show change, forgiveness, and the love of God through his people, which I hope I succeeded in doing.
Linda Brooks Davis
Family history and faith claim the heart of why I write Christian historical fiction.
As a girl born on a farm in extreme South Texas, I experienced none of what other kids enjoyed—the neighborhood. My first friends were the children of the kind, hard-working Mexican laborers on our farm. Later on, my circle expanded to include friends just down the unpaved road. Farmers’ daughters constituted my neighborhood pals.
However, I did observe the planting, blooming, and harvesting of more crops than I can count. Later years took me elsewhere in Texas and to Alabama and Germany, where I found myself immersed in higher education; military life; European travels; missions; child rearing; the dreaded D word—divorce; grand-motherhood; life-altering sorrow; and the first deep gulp of the ever-so-welcome G word—grace.
It didn’t dawn on me at the time, but the Lord was preparing the soil of my soul for what I would pursue decades later: historical fiction that spotlights the Healer of Hearts and Lifter of Heads.
Every living soul has a story to tell. Some rise from the concrete jungle. Others, from the wilderness, seaside, or ghetto. Still others, from military life or storybook suburbia. While attending Abilene Christian University, I delighted in writing letters. I told Mother and Daddy and my brother Dale every move I made, no doubt with editorial embellishments. A quirky English professor asked if I’d ever considered creative writing as a career. In a word, no. Baring my soul in print was more than I could consider at that tender age. But his discovering my secret longing intrigued me.
Later on, military life included fun-filled forays into Great Britain, South America, Europe, and Scandinavia. I was an Army spouse rearing children and living life, so my writing pen sat in a drawer.
Years later, when my daughter struggled with an at-risk triplet pregnancy and her three 2 ½ pound babies fought for survival, a desire to release the storehouse of words I’d long bottled up tugged at my heart. I vowed I would devote the rest of my life to my grandchildren. And I would leave them a legacy of faith in writing.
But where would I start?
The seeds of my stories emerge from the rich farm soil of my youth.
When you’re born in the 1940s, virtually your whole life is historical by 2020, particularly if you have sat on the knees of two elder storytellers: Mother and Mama, my grandmother. They told so many tales I sometimes forget I wasn’t born in 1886 or 1919. But that comes in handy when imagining stories of faith and grit set in the first half of the twentieth century.
Certain other ancestors and their experiences appear in plotlines. There’s a bit of my grandmother and a strong dash of my mother in The Calling of Ella McFarland’s Ella and Betsy McFarland; my father’s sterling qualities in Andrew Evans and Gavin McFarland; and my brothers in Cade McFarland. Two granduncles who fought in WWI show up in Corporal Stanley Sturgeon. In contrast, a low-down family reprobate turns up in Walter Sloat. A physically and sexually abused relative of another generation in Lily. And my little-known great-grandmother emerges in The Awakening of Miss Adelaide’s Catherine Duvall.
Witnessing one particular farm accident and my brother’s astounding injuries from driving a small car under an eighteen-wheeler, together with the relative’s physical and sexual abuse, seeded Lily’s injuries in The Calling of Ella McFarland and The Mending of Lillian Cathleen.
Beyond the oleanders bordering my childhood home lay fields of rich, green crops: cotton, corn, maize, and vegetables. These fertile fields birthed the McFarland farm and the dogged rows of cotton where Lily first sets eyes on Cade in The Calling of Ella McFarland.
I can’t forget cotton planting, hoeing, and harvest time back home. The glorious aroma of fresh-picked cotton and the nothing-in-the-world-like-it odor from the pig pen. Mother’s sewing machine whirring. A cow hollering to be milked and the clink of the handle of a milk pail. Summer’s sun on my face, the hearty South Texas wind in my hair, and the comfort of backing up to a wall heater on a cold winter morning. Eventually, all find their way into my stories.
Farther afield in my days of youth, ranch lands reached into the storied King Ranch. Forays into that mysterious hinterland seeded the Duvall ranch in The Awakening of Miss Adelaide. And the letters my great-grandmother Ida wrote during her 48-year, unjust commitment to an asylum breathed life into Catherine Duvall of the same story.
Mother was the greatest influence on my writing endeavors. She wore us out with stories about her family’s dealings with hardships through faith and grit–to say nothing of her tales of rattlesnakes the size of telephone poles, panthers roaming the countryside, tarantulas as big around as dinner plates, and tottering on the edge of death in childbirth. (Mother never held back on literary license, I might add.)
She would be beyond proud. She’d be unbearable to be around, seeing my books covered in our family’s handprints. Matter of fact, her friends would run when they saw her approaching with another book in hand.
In my family’s history, my own life, and the kaleidoscope of lives in my stories, Jesus appears as the golden thread linking the past to the present and beyond. He turns an ordinary morning into a hint of the “Sweet By & By.” He adds the delicate aroma of the Rose of Sharon to the sultry stillness before a summer storm. Most importantly, He wraps the bitterness of grief and failure in the richness of His incomparable grace.
The presentation of the Gospel of Jesus Christ is a must. At my age, there’s no time to waste. Therefore, tales that reach beyond the ordinary to the extraordinary because of Jesus are the stories I write by His grace.
All of which reminds me . . . I have yet to tell the tale about Mother encountering a bull as a five-year-old or running full-speed-ahead into a department store mirror or getting caught in a dark, open field amid a surprise drug exchange. And then there’s the time . . .
Oh my. Better get busy tending my literary crops.
Do you have family stories you never thought of writing down? Betcha do.
Marguerite Martin Gray
Welcome to my world of reading and writing!
It has always been fiction for me. I can escape for hours. The stories become my world at any given moment. As a child it was all about horses and mystery. What a selection about horses I came across while living in England. I’d go to the W.H.Smith store and sit and read the titles and the book blurbs for maybe an hour before I’d choose one—just one per visit. My loves: Black Beauty, The Black Stallion, and Misty of Chincoteague by authors Anna Sewell, Walter Farley, and Marguerite Henry. I still have them all! And of course, The Nancy Drew Mystery Stories by Carolyn Keene.
Fiction for life
As an adult, I did not veer from my love of fiction. An obsession? Possibly. After traveling all over Europe as a tween, the historical element latched onto my mind and pulled me through castles, kingdoms, knights, kings, and wars. I read anything fictional and historical. Now, my imagination lands my characters in historical realms as my fingers fly across the legal pads, letting my pen connect with my brain somewhere in history. I have taken what I love about history and given it the element of fiction. My blog is entitled Connect in Fiction with the subtitle Entertain. Encourage. Educate. That is what I look for in the novels I read and write.
I choose novels that will take me away for a few hours, perhaps with the same entertainment high as movies. Yet, a novel affects me differently than a movie, for I am allowed to visualize the characters and their challenges however my mind chooses. With a movie, someone has taken that freedom away from me and attached his own vision. Do not get me wrong. I love a good movie. But I always think the written word is better. I flow with the words into a world of escape. So, when I write, I make sure the element of entertaining weaves through the whole novel. I want the characters to move through challenges that captivate the reader to use the imagination. Except for the cover, the pictures in the individual’s mind are personal, mixed with the reader’s own worldview. Hopefully, the reader can escape for a few hours through the fictitious world.
This is the spiritual element that I seek in the novels I read and especially that I write. I read secular pieces where I sometimes gleaning something relevant to my spiritual side. At the same time, I avoid anything that is not a clean read. When I accidently grab a book with less than inspiring words or plot choice, I question if it is worth my time when there are so many great Christian novels available.
I was introduced to Christian fiction from a fellow teacher many years ago. I will leave the date to your imagination! The book’s author was Lori Wick. I read everyone of her books. Does anyone remember her knight series? I was entertained and encouraged. Ever since that launch into the Christian Fiction realm, I have strived to limit my furlough outside of it. If gone for too long, I become anxious to lose myself in one of the excellent reads in my constantly growing TBR (to be read) list. My writing always has the element of encouragement through Scripture, Christian life challenges, growth, love, forgiveness, etc. If I am choosing to spend my time reading and writing, why not gain encouragement too.
Not necessarily last, for these words are not in any particular order, is the desire to always learn something new. Historical novels give me that element of education. I have always been a student and still am. If I could, I’d continually be in a university class being taught about history and literature from a scholar or a tired old professor. Always learning. When I lived in England, my father made sure we saw every old house, cemetery, church, and castle. My parents made it fun for us with the stories of real characters who roamed where our footsteps trod.
Now, I read and write historical fiction because I am learning something new while the fictional characters live and work right beside the historical characters. They use their five senses to explore their world, therefore giving me the chance to be there with them. It is different than reading a textbook or nonfiction work. The story is alive!
Now you know why I read and write fiction, whether historical, contemporary, or suspense. I am in it to find entertainment, encouragement, and education.
Little things make the biggest difference
As I sat at my desk on a rainy day before I was published years ago, I was discouraged having not gotten an agent or a publisher. Should I go on with this writing journey? I prayed for God to show me what I should do.
I was writing Change of Heart, my first book in my Keepsake Pocket Quilt Series. New at writing, I attended conferences and classes to learn the craft. The excitement dwindled. I wanted the drive to pursue writing again. Should I give up?
A big thud came from my office closet. I went to the closet and a box of notes and cards I keep filled the carpet floor. I picked them up and put them back in the box. A note apart from the rest and nearer to my chair stood out. I recognized the hand-writing. Dad had died right when I started my writing journey. I’d stayed with him for eight months. He had mantel cell cancer. At the time, only five people in the world had been diagnosed with it. He had a unique drain I had used in my research studies, and if I stayed with him, I could use it on him several times a day to make him more comfortable. I traveled home to see Ed and Misty when I could. Dad and I had the best conversations through that time. I had his undivided attention and he had mine. I learned serious and funny things about him I’d never known. On his good days, he wanted Steak-n-Shake. Their hamburger and French fries with a milkshake. He was losing weight faster than he could put it on, so this was good. For me, on the other hand, I had to switch to salad a time or two.
Dad would call rather than write through my life. I had a handful of notes from him. The note said, “Always keep writing, and don’t give up. Love, Dad.” God makes these little things happen that impact me in a big way when I least expect it. I’m sure you can relate. So when you get discouraged, I’d like to pass on what Dad said, “Don’t give up” no matter what it is. Maybe you want to learn how to sew, finish a project, or try a new recipe, write, play the piano, or whatever your heart desires. Don’t get discouraged. You’ve got this!
Wild Heart Book featuring Elva Cobb Martin
Behind the Scenes of Marisol ~ Spanish Rose by Elva Cobb Martin
A couple of things inspired me to write Marisol ~ Spanish Rose, in addition to my love of historical romance fiction set in the colonial/pirate era of Charles Town and the Spanish Main.
I ran across a teaching of how people often let the one terrible moment of their lives define them and their future. Know anyone like this?
I envisioned a heroine in the 1700’s who let her “terrible moment”—being molested and accidentally killing the Spanish nobleman who attacks her—define her and her future destiny.
My premise for this idea and novel is: Love, forgiveness, and determination can overcome the most horrifying experiences and poor choices when we invite God into the equation.
Loving horses, particularly the white Lipizzaners, I named my heroine Marisol and set the attack on her father’s Andalusian Stud Farm in Cadiz, Spain in 1740. Andalusians are the Spanish horses in the ancestry of the Lipizzaners. And they can be trained to do dancing steps with a dancing maiden called the Flamenco, which my heroine can do well. Click here for a video of a flamenco dancer. https://youtu.be/lSQWQl0u_Ow
Marisol’s exciting Flamenco plays a pivotal part in the novel.
All this story idea needed now was an exciting, handsome Charles Town privateer—sometimes pirate—who will cross paths with my heroine when she flees Spain after killing the Spanish nobleman who molested her.
Captain Ethan Becket, backslidden former Charles Town minister, has returned to the sea, grieving the loss of his wife and child.
By the time these two get together at the indentured block in Charles Town, Marisol has discovered she is with child.
Thanks for stopping by! May you have an exciting, romantic adventure on the high seas with Captain Ethan and Marisol.
Elva Cobb Martin