Friday, June 25, 2010

A Word or Two from the Oklahoma Cowgirl

To leave the June trail and kick us off into July, we are fortunate to have award-winning author and speaker Darlene Franklin with us here this week. Darlene recently returned to cowgirl country—Oklahoma—to be near family. She also recently signed the contract for her twelth book. Right now she is celebrating the release of the first volume of her Vermont trilogy, Prodigal Patriot, as well as the repacking of her Rhode Island romance in Seaside Romance. Visit Darlene’s blogs at and

SDC: Thank you for being a part of A Pen for Your Thoughts, Darlene. What would you like for our readers to know about you personally besides your bio? Something that is particular about you alone.

Darlene: I just bought my first house at the age of 55! I’m still pinching myself. Who expects a single full-time writer to be able to buy a house, especially in these economic times?!

SDC: Then this obviously isn’t your first book. What other books have you written, and where can the readers of the blog find them and eventually any other books in the works right now?

Darlene: My first book, Romanian Rhapsody, came out in 2005; I am thrilled that my last contract is for a sequel, a contemporary romance set in Colorado called Plainsong.

In between I’ve had two mysteries published (Gunfight at Grace Gulch and A String of Murders), two novellas (in Snowbound Colorado Christmas and Wild West Christmas), and a historical romance, Beacon of Love. Prodigal Patriot is my second historical romance with Heartsong Presents. At the moment, I have four more books contracted for publication into 2011.

Readers can find information about new and upcoming releases on my blog, I give away copies of my books each month, both fiction and nonfiction devotionals I have contributed to.

SDC: That's enough to really keep you busy! What kinds of hobbies and leisure activities do you enjoy otherwise?

Darlene: I’ve done scrap booking and cross stitch in the past; sometimes puzzles (of all kinds). But my favorite relaxation activity is reading! (a pleasure as well as a must for all writers). My newest hobby is going to a Spanish conversational group that meets at a restaurant once a week.

SDC: What special plans do you have for our wonderful Independence Day coming soon?

Darlene: I have a very special plan this year. Since I wrote the proposal for Plainsong years ago, many things have changed in my beloved Colorado. So I am taking off with my granddaughters (to help me get around) and going to Denver for a week to take in a Rockies’ game, fireworks, the Cherry Creek Arts Festival, a Renaissance Fair, and more!

SDC: I love the title of this book you are featuring. Why did you write it and what do you want the reader to take away from the book?

Darlene: Vermont was one of the few states “unsold” in Heartsong’s recent effort to feature all 50 states. Since I’m from New England originally, I looked into its history and found several interesting folk tales that inspired stories about three generations of the same family in northern Vermont. Prodigal Patriot is loosely based on the history of Ann Storey and her family who lived in a came and worked their farm in secret to protect it from Indian and Tory predators.

The hindsight of history shows us that the American Revolution was just and right. But I wanted to show it was a real question for the people of the time. I want my readers to take away something that is a common theme in many of my books—that God will meet them at the crossroads of love and grace when they go through tough times. He is enough, always.

SDC: Does where you come from or where you live now work into any of your writings?

Darlene: Absolutely! I keep laughing that I finally get to write my “Colorado” book now that I live in Oklahoma (and I wrote my Oklahoma books, the mystery series, when I was still living in Colorado!) So far, all my historical novels are set in New England. I grew up in New Hampshire and Maine.

SDC: Who is your favorite character in the book that is out now and why?

Darlene: Ooh, that’s a tough one. Hmm, Sally or Josiah? I think Josiah, because he finds a way to do what is right—at great personal cost.

SDC: What irks you the most about your writing experience?

Darlene: I write because I must, not because it’s easy (or even pleasant, much of the time!). The hardest thing is to keep from comparing myself to others. I suspect that even if I sold as many books as Jerry Jenkins or John Grisham, I would still find someone to compare myself to. Say, Shakespeare! When I take my eyes off the “author” of my writing and turn them onto my fellow racers, I get into trouble.

SDC: It will be a joy to offer Prodigal Patriot to one of our guests, especially right now. What question would you like to ask one of our guests so we can toss their name in a hat to win your book?

Darlene: If you lived during the American Revolution, do you think you would have been a Patriot or a Tory?

Shirley: Thanks, Darlene. It's been great having you here. Wow! Now, that's a great question! Looking forward to your answers, people. Be sure to include your email address as you write in.
Hope you win!

Congratulations to Tanya Hanson of Oxnard, California. We're so happy to tell you that you have won The Prodigal Patriot. Be watching for your book in the mail soon!

Thursday, June 17, 2010

Ever Feel Like You're Going in Circles? Talk to Shannon Taylor Vannatter

     Shannon Taylor Vannatter is a stay-at-home mom/pastor’s wife/writer. When not writing, she runs circles in the care and feeding of her husband, their eight-year-old son, and their church congregation. Home is a central Arkansas zoo with two charcoal gray cats, a chocolate lab, a dragonfish, and three dachshunds in weenie dog heaven. If given the chance to clean house or write, she’d rather write. Her goal is to hire Alice from the Brady Bunch.
     Her series with Heartsong Presents launched in May with White Roses. White Doves follows in October, and White Pearls in January. Each book ships to a 10,000 member bookclub, then to stores six months later. All three books are set in Romance and Rose Bud, Arkansas. Brides and lovebirds take advantage of the re-mailing program to have wedding invitations and Valentines cards mailed from Romance with a unique postmark. Romance also hosts several annual weddings with Valentine’s Day the most popular date.

SKC: Nice to have you here, Shannon. Before you tell us more about your work, how would you say your upbringing relates to your writing?

Shannon My upbringing was very solid with an intact nuclear family. This type of character is the easiest for me to write. Characters from dysfunctional backgrounds are harder, since thankfully I have no experience. However, characters with lots of emotional baggage are fun because they’re very conflicted.

SKC: How do you get your brain going in the creative mode and what are some things you suggest to keep it there?

Shannon Before I start a book, I work out the GMC and the spiritual issues for each character. I have a file of pictures I’ve clipped from magazines and catalogs. I look through them all and find a photo for each character. I paste all the pictures on a piece of paper and hang it next to my computer. This gets me started. After I begin, I re-read the last two or three scenes of what I wrote the day before to get me back in the story. I don’t do much editing until I finish the first draft.

SKC: Just working out your characters' spiritual issues can be good for any writer's soul! What else inspires you each day?

Shannon: Deadlines and knowing that readers will actually read my books and hopefully my stories or characters will touch hearts.

SKC: When did you know writing books would become the passion of your heart and what message do you filter in your stories, if any?

Shannon: When I first started writing, I thought I’d just write a book and it would get published. After over a hundred rejections on two books, I decided to quit. But I couldn’t. The characters and their stories wouldn’t leave me alone.

Two years into writing, I was seven months pregnant and suffering from pre-eclampsia. The doctor put me on bed rest. I had to lie on my left side to keep my blood pressure down and prop my feet above my heart to keep the swelling in my legs down. While in this pretzel position, I edited a manuscript. Because of all the swelling, I also had carpal tunnel in both wrists. I’d hold the manuscript up to read and make notes with my red pen until my wrists went numb, then put it down until the feeling came back, then give it another go. That’s when I knew, nothing would stop me.

The message that love doesn’t conquer all, God does, is woven into each story.

SKC: Sounds like your own love for writing helped you to conquer, Shannon.What do you believe is the KEY to writing a good book so far?

Shannon: Creating characters the reader wants to root for. It doesn’t matter how great the plot or spiritual thread is, if the reader doesn’t care about your characters.

SKC: I'm learning that. How do you schedule your daily writing time so that it does not interfere with your God time and quality time with family?

Shannon: During the school year, I write while my husband is at work and my son is in school. Once my son gets home, the computer goes off. During the summer, I write after everyone is in bed. Since there’s a spiritual thread in each book, the Bible is often a research tool, which gives me God time while I work. Evenings and weekends are God and family time.

SKC: I used to be an evening person like you. Now, I start early. I think I'm getting old. What do you believe is the most difficult thing about writing a book?

Shannon: Consistency in the story. Since the book is written over a period of months, it’s hard to keep everything aligned.

SKC: A good focus, Shannon. Consistency. (In so many things)  After you finish your present projects what plans do you have?

Shannon: I just turned in book 3 in my first series. After a short break, I’m planning to pitch another series and I’m doing research on a third.

SKC: You sound very busy. Okay. As you know, our readers here at A Pen for Your Thoughts usually get excited about the reflection question an author has to ask. What would you like to ask our readers and writers in the next few days, Shannon, and what book will you be donating this week?

Shannon: I’m living the dream of my heart and give all credit to God. What prayer has God answered for you lately? I’m donating a copy of my debut novel, White Roses.

SKC: Wonderful question. Thanks. Where else can we find you and your books on the web?

Shannon: Order White Roses at Learn more at My new blog, The Inkslinger, features true love stories, inspirational author’s real-life romances, insight into the love lives of their fictional characters, book excerpts, romantic destinations, and weekly book giveaways at

SDC: Thanks and thank you so much for being here at A Pen for Your Thoughts

Shannon: Thanks for having me. I enjoyed the interview and love interacting with readers.

We got the name drawn! Congratulations to Cara Putnam of Lafayette, Indiana. Blessings to you, Cara, and to all who participated.

Thursday, June 10, 2010

This Great Guest Has Been All Over the World!

Welcome Tina

I'm honored to be here, Shirley. Thank you so much for the invite. First let me share a bit about myself.

I was an Air Force brat and a navy widow. Meaning of course, my father was in the Air Force and my husband served in the Navy. I lived in Germany and Turkey and moved to several different states. Now I reside in Western Colorado--God's Country-- with my high school sweetheart, Danny. We've been together for 34+ years, married to for over 30 years. I am mother to three grown sons. I have two lovely daughter-in-laws and four grandchildren, with another one due by the end of the year.

SKC: Oh, I'd love to get to know you better, Tina. One of my sons is in full time military, and I used to work at West Point for several years. My grandsons are all over the place as military "brats." My youngest daughters-in-law is a worldwide traveler like you. You have experiences galore, I'm sure, to write and share about. By the way, I love the Scripture verse you share on your biography at your website from Philippians 3:14. How did you come about selecting that particular promise for your life?

Tina: The verse is a reminder that, even when I feel like the world is out of order, I have a goal ahead of me, and God set it. He even made the trail easier by marking it out. I just have to keep my eye on him and run. I need to press on toward that mark. Run the race. God never said it would be easy, but he did promise to be with me.

SKC: No, it's never easy. What inspired you to come up writing for your particular sub-genre? Tell us about the circumstances.

Tina: I love historical fiction, especially the American West during the expansion, and Civil War. I often wondered what it would be like to have lived and loved during that time. I realize some things would be harder, but what would ease, what would the exchange be? A simpler time. My first full-length novel, was a four part serial (that has yet to find a publisher,) about the Civil War and traveling the Oregon Trail. I find that time interesting.

SKC: I love reading about the time myself. How long had you been writing before you got your first contract? And tell us how you dealt with your patience as you waited for that first phone call.

Tina: I'd been writing for 20+ years, I wished I could say I handle all the rejections and waiting time well. But I spent a lot time wondering why I was even writing. I saw the down and didn't recognize an up for what it really was. I got discouraged and decided to publish my own novels. Which didn't go over so great, but it taught me some about writing. Vickie McDonough reviewed my books and while she liked the stories, she told me about the new rules of writing. She introduced to me ACFW and asked me to join a critique group. In ACFW I became a sponge, soaking up knowledge from the courses they provide. I learned about rules, like POV, GMC, among other things. I entered a book in the Genesis Contest and went to the ACFW Convention. When I placed third in the overall of the contest, and Joyce from Hartline Literary Agency approached me to be my agent, I believed I was on my way to publication. Five years later and I still wasn't published. I continued to write, but I question why. What if I never became published? What if I lost my writing skill, or worse never had it? They say a writer is harder on themselves than anyone else, I was horribly mean, and listened to the voice of failure well. I finally had to give myself the freedom to write and know that I had a talent whether published or not.

SKC: Thanks for sharing that. I believe that is where so many are today. But your last comment says it all. We are terribly hard on ourselves sometimes. And I agree, it should not be that way. You have been writing since you were young. When did you decide to write strictly inspirational, and what advice do you have for authors who think they are dealing with writer's block. How do you overcome it?

Tina: I think I've always written inspirational. Even in my poetry and songs. I know that I am a writer because of God. And I want to honor him with my words. As for Writer's Block, I try to get a few words, sentence or paragraph down if at all possible, but if nothing comes, I try not to beat myself over the head, because that makes the block more pronounced for me.

SKC: And would leave a big bump as well, don't you think? How about the magic of the first five pages… Tell us what gets you started on those first five pages of a brand new story.

Tina: The Magic, hmmm… for me that is usually a dream or a waking thought. I can see the story in my head. Every nuance plays out in Technicolor. There have been times I had the ending before I had the beginning.

SKC: So, that makes me wonder if it is even harder to write the book then or maybe a bit easier. I'll have to think about that. Tina, you know how many authors cringe when it comes to the moment they have to come up with their synopsis. What would be your best advice to them?

Tina: I'm one of those writers that cringe. But I pick the points as I work through the chapters and those become my outline. Sometimes I'll make a light outline of my thoughts and that helps. My best advice is to find what works for you to keep the important points of story in order. I've tried different things. There are several programs out there that help, Randy Ingermanson's Snowflake Method, and Black Obelisk are a couple.

SKC: Good advice. What do you do during the waiting period when editors are looking over your manuscripts?

Tina: I usually work on another story and continue to edit the manuscript that I sent. I don't want to spend my time wondering if they're going to like it or not, because I get no writing done.

SKC: After you finish your present project, what plans do you have in the oven?

Tina: My book Touched By Mercy is due for release in December 2010, so I'll be working on edits for that. It tells the story of one woman's journey to grace. Samantha Northam comes from a background of physical, emotional, and sexual abuse, having been molested as a child, I identify with Samantha even more than Kaitlin from In the Manor of the Ghost. The story was pretty much my rite of passage. Coming to a point where I believed God could find me lovely. I made it a bit harder on Samantha than myself, but I wanted to show the beauty of God's grace on us, his arms around the brokenhearted. Samantha hadn't done anything wrong, as far as the molestation went, but she spent years believing she had, and spent long years hating and being afraid to love. I went through long years of wondering like Samantha.

I think many of us have areas where life catches us, uses us and beyond no fault of our own, leaves us feeling dirty and unlovable. It literally spits us out. That's the nature of abuse. I wanted people to see that God knows exactly what happened. He hurts to see that his creation could be so cruel, and he loves us and wants to heal the scars. If we'll allow him to, he has gentle hands, strong arms and a loving heart

I am currently working on a Sci-fi time-travel series, with clones, gene mutation, and sinister people trying to get rid of Christ. Counting Tessa is the first installment. Then I plan to get back to two Civil War Era stories I've been working on, Finding Middle C, and From Hell to Eternity

SKC: Sci-fi is so popular these days. That's probably smart. I understand you have a book you would like to give to one of our readers. What would you like to ask this week about either writing or for someone who just loves to read?

Tina: For anyone who leaves a comment, telling me about their last favorite read and why they liked it, you'll be entered into a drawing for a free download of my ebook In the Manor of the Ghost

Also, I am having a contest throughout the month of June to celebrate the release of my book. I am holding a drawing for 2 Kindles and several free downloads. Check out the details at:

SKC: What a great contest! I love my Kindle. That's worth checking out. We do want to thank you so much for coming , Tina. It’s a thrill getting to know you. Please let us know where we can find you and your numerous books.

Tina: I appreciate the invitation to visit today. I wish I could say I had numerous books out there, hopefully soon, but until then you can find my books at

SKC: Where can we find you on the web, purchase your book(s)?

Desert Breeze Publishing-


OKAY READERS, WRITERS, VISITORS OF ALL SHAPES AND SIZES: Leave us a comment, tell us about your last favorite read and why you liked it, and you'll be entered into a drawing for a free download of Tina's ebook In the Manor of the Ghost. Even if you don't wish to enter the drawing, write and tell us about something you enjoyed. We'd love to know. (Don't forget to leave an email address for us.) Thanks

Congratulations to Carrie Fancett Pagels of Yorktown, Virginia!

Thursday, June 3, 2010

The Stick With it Lady has Come for a Visit. Drop in...

Who is this lovely lady they call Maureen Lang?

I started writing when I was a child—around ten years old—so I hope it’s true that when we stick with something so long, we’re bound to learn to do it well. I’ve been published in the secular market and the Christian market, and can wholeheartedly say that letting God be part of my stories is far more satisfying than shutting Him out. I’ve also written both contemporary and historical stories, have won some awards and finaled in other contests. But what really matters is that I love writing and encouraging other writers. About me personally: I live in the Midwest and am a wife and a mom, and one of my wonderful kids has Fragile X Syndrome, a cognitive disorder that affects brain function.

SDC: Congratulations on your new book, Maureen, and welcome to the blog this week. I’m so anxious to hear about this new story you have for us.

ML: My newest book is called Whisper on the Wind, and if nothing else it is the best example of never giving up hope on a project. I actually wrote the first draft of this story about ten years ago, after I’d been away from writing for a number of years (sometimes life takes us on tracks we don’t expect!). When I finally sat down to write again, this is the book that poured out. Apart from some much needed tightening, it’s largely the same book that I wrote all those years ago.

Basically it’s the story of a woman who forces her way back into Belgium after her parents had whisked her off to safety, just before the Germans invaded that country in the First World War. It’s taken my heroine two years, but she’s back, ready to rescue the man she loves and his mother, too. But he refuses to leave and when she finds out why she forces him to accept her help in producing an illegal, uncensored newssheet for which—if they’re caught—the Germans would heartlessly, happily, execute them. My poor hero never wanted to endanger her life, but she’s someone who doesn’t take no for an answer…not even when he tells her that now, in the middle of such danger, is definitely not the time to fall in love.

SDC: How did you come up with the idea for it? Do you enjoy war stories? I noticed it was about war.

ML: I actually do like war stories, believe it or not. I suppose that’s because my grandfather fought in the First World War, my father in the Second, and although my brothers didn’t go to Vietnam, it was definitely an issue at our dinner table while growing up. I mentioned there was a time in my life when I wasn’t writing, but I was reading. And the First World War era fascinated me—it has such a historical flavor to it, with a touch of contemporary because so many of the inventions we still use today were new back then. In all of my reading, I kept coming across a reference to this little newssheet called “La Libre Belgique” – Free Belgium. I knew the Germans had occupied that country, but how did this newspaper exist during the occupation? When I found out that ordinary citizens risked everything—their money, the relative freedom, their lives—in order to offer hope to their fellow Belgians, I knew I wanted to write about it. And wrap it up in a romance, of course.

SDC: I'm curious. Which character in your novel was the most difficult to flesh out and why? Which was the easiest and why?

ML: Surprisingly, the hero was the most difficult for me this time. Usually it’s the heroine, but for some reason she was the easiest. My hero, Edward, suffers from survivor’s guilt because he endured German brutality when not only his father but several men he knew were killed. So everything he does, everything he’s willing to risk, is colored by that guilt. It made the romantic angle more difficult, because he kept shutting down all the attempts for anything good to come his way. I wanted my hero to be in love with my heroine, of course, but how could he get over those feelings that he didn’t deserve any happiness? Challenge is great, but resolving those greater challenges isn’t always easy.

And as to why my heroine was the easiest: this was one of those rare occasions when everything seemed to fit for her. She has a spirited but naïve personality, and is in love with God and the man who introduced Him to her. Her youthful invincibility fit so perfectly with the war backdrop that it made her a lot of fun to work with.

SDC: Sounds intriguing to say the least. How do you enjoy promoting for your audience and where do you find your most faithful fans, Maureen?

ML: Actually the marketing side of writing is a challenge for me! I was raised in a way that makes me prefer being invisible rather than the center of attention, and marketing always makes me feel like I’m doing something wrong, even if I’m doing it right. But I do love hearing from readers; having someone tell me one of my stories has touched their life is an incredibly satisfying feeling. So to get that, I need to talk about my books, don’t I?

My most faithful fans are online, visiting my blog or sending me emails. There’s nothing more satisfying!

SDC: I enjoy the online communication with others also. If you were to take your heroine to church with you how would she be received the way she’s portrayed in the beginning of your story and will it change throughout?

ML: In this particular novel, my heroine would be immediately welcomed, because even though she’s a little naïve, she totally loves God. She can’t believe it when she reconnects to the hero, who introduced her to the love of God. He’s turned his back on the very faith she knew he once held dear. And even though she does cultivate some doubts in herself throughout the book, her faith stays pretty much intact. But if you want to talk about heroines who would be shunned, we’ll have to talk about the book that comes out in 2011 (Springtime of the Spirit). She’s a social activist in Germany, 1918, who thinks churches are tools of evil capitalistic minds… But more about that next year!

SDC: Hmm. Something else to look forward to. Do you think most women would be drawn to your hero immediately or is it possible they would be irritated by him and why?

ML: If most women are anything like me, they’d be at least a little irritated with him, at least initially. He’s cautious to the extreme, mainly because he knows how fragile life is. He no longer believes God is worthy of trust, so we’d all better hang on to the life we’ve got. But he’s also brave and has a good heart, so that makes up for a multitude of sins.

SDC: Sometimes that's difficult, because we want our readers to like our characters, but we also want them to see the struggles they are in the midst of.  It makes our stories more true to life doesn't it? What is the first thing you think about when you rise in the morning?

ML: Before I get out of bed? Usually what the Lord has on my agenda for the day…and if I’m in the middle of a project, that usually includes a thought about what my characters will be doing (which is how I go to bed at night, thinking about what scenes are coming up). Then I have breakfast with the Lord and have a few minutes of praise and quiet.

SDC: Just like the characters in our stories, every author struggles about something too. What do you struggle with?

ML: Do you have a few hours to share? Just kidding. Actually, I have plenty of doubts and insecurities but I embrace that about myself. I think it makes me work harder and never give up trying to do my best. So I worry about whether or not I’ll still be able to write, whether or not my books will be well received, have good sales numbers, whether I’ll goof up a marketing opportunity…

But really, all of that is put into perspective when I think about my son. He has Fragile X Syndrome, which is a form of genetic mental retardation. He’s almost fifteen but functions like a two-year old (a very tall two-year old!). And I know, I know, it’s not right to worry. God loves my son even more than I do. But I still worry about what will happen after I’m gone—and even though I certainly hope that’s many years from now, every time I change his diaper or clean up one of his messes, I worry that no one else will be able to take care of him the same way, the way he’s used to.

All of my other struggles sort of pale in comparison to that one.

SDC: Life is difficult for all of us in one way or another. I find it amazing how God only allows in our lives that which we can handle with Him in control. You've got your own hands full too, it's clear. Back to writing: Where can readers find out about you or your writing online? Please include the link for purchasing your book!

ML: On my website:
Or on Facebook at:

SDC: Think hard now. If a potential reader of your book wrote a comment to you today, what question would you like to ask them more than anything? (This will help me find our winner)

ML: Why should I buy your book instead of the countless other ones out there?
If someone asks me that question (or offers their comments), I’ll be happy to answer!

SDC: Thank you so much Maureen, for sharing a little something about yourself at A Pen for Your Thoughts.

ML: Thanks very much for having me!

SHIRLEY: We have a great little question above. Do write in and share your thoughts. We're looking forward to hearing from you. I will select the winner next week.

And we've selected the winner! Congratulations to Heidi Shafer-Wilson in Summerdale, Pennsylvania. You'll hear from Maureen soon. Thanks so much for being a part of A Pen for Your Thoughts.