Monday, August 30, 2010

She Learned to Measure Success Differently

Please join me in welcoming Erin:

Erin Rainwater spent the first twenty-one years of her life in Pennsylvania and the last twenty-three in Colorado. In between she’s lived in Texas, Louisiana, Virginia and Hawaii, not to mention the year in Korea as an Army nurse. Her passions have always included nursing, the military, and history. Combining those passions led her to write historical fiction that often contains characters and plots involving medicine and the military. Erin is a member of American Christian Fiction Writers and the Military Writers Society of America, who awarded her a 2009 Gold Medal in Historical Fiction. She lives in Colorado with her husband of thirty-six years. She has four children and four grandchildren.

SKC: It’s good to have you here at A Pen for Your Thoughts, Erin. We’ve had a lengthy wait, haven’t we? Tell us what you went through while waiting for this all to happen?

ER: After the usual gambit of rejections, last August I discovered a new Christian publisher, Torn Veil Books, located in Canada. They accepted my manuscript for publication, and I was on my way. I had self-published four years ago, so had never dealt with a traditional publisher, large or small. The turnaround time for publication is much shorter with small publishers like TVB, but they have less of a staff, and I had some anxious moments awaiting what was to be the final release date in June. The cover art was the biggest hang-up. But things worked out in the end, and Refining Fires was released about two weeks after schedule. It’s available in both print and eBook formats, so devourers of fiction can choose their preferred way of reading it.

SKC: How did you happen to choose your specific genre, Erin?

ER: It didn’t seem like a choice; it’s just what came naturally to me. I’ll read a book in just about any genre as long as it has a good plot and strong characters, but my passion is for historical fiction. So I never really thought of writing in any other genre. My newest novel, Refining Fires, is set in the late 1950s, and that’s considered on the cusp of historical versus contemporary. I write love stories because that is also what I enjoy reading. But they’re not formulaic romances. My two previous novels have more adventure and suspense than typical romances, without being labeled Suspense or Action/Adventure. Refining Fires goes against the pat formula in that it’s written in three parts, and only the first part is what you’d consider a Romance.

SKC: Are you discovering there is a point in your novel writing when you come to a stand still? If so, what do you do to get yourself going again? If not, what is your advice to someone who does have more than a few “stand still” moments?

ER: I’ve never personally experienced “writer’s block” where I couldn’t write anything at all. I certainly have had halting moments where I was stuck in a scene and didn’t want to move forward until I had figured out how to make it right. Many authors will say to leave it and go back to it later, but I can’t do that. I need it rectified before moving on. I can’t advise someone else to do it that way because everyone is different. The only thing I would recommend every writer do is check with your co-Author. I would just flat out ask God to give me the words. Asked Him if there was something in particular He wanted to get across and I was missing it. Sometimes it took days to work through it, which was frustrating, and I’d be so anxious to make forward progress, but eventually it would come, and I’d be better off for having undergone the process. So was my story.

SKC: What do you think is one of the most important things you have learned so far since becoming a published writer?

ER: How to measure success. Now that I’ve been “traditionally” published, I don’t feel any more “successful” than when I was “merely” self-published. The fact I paid to have my other two novels published means nothing when I consider the incredible and endearing feedback I’ve received about them. Does the reader care who paid for it to be printed? I think not. If money comes out of it, I’ll gladly take it and praise God for it. If it seems He wanted me to write for a chosen few, I’ll accept that and praise Him all the same. I know I’ve succeeded in God’s eyes, and that’s all I seek.

SDC: If you were a reader as a child, how did your reading habits affect your writing style today? And what were a few of your favorite stories as you grew up?

ER: I loved reading history even as a child. Especially American history. But I by no means limited myself to that. The Black Stallion series was high on my list of favorites. Thinking back, I believe what may have had an impact on my writing style was reading Nancy Drew books out loud to my aunt. Not that it made me want to write mysteries or Young Adult books, but I think perhaps the reading aloud helped me learn cadence and word patterns and pacing without my even being aware of it.

SDC: Good ole' Nancy Drew. I loved her writing too. During your free moments, what do you most enjoy doing?

ER: I still love being swept away by great storytelling, so reading is a favorite pastime. But especially in the summer I enjoy hiking and picnicking in the Rockies. And I love doing anything that involves my grandkids.

SDC: When do you sense the greatest pressure with writing? Do you find it is at the beginning of a new manuscript – during the rewrites – or when your book is about to come out? Or was it the waiting period at the end?

ER: I realize I’m not like most authors. I don’t write for a contract and don’t begin a new novel just because I finished the last one. I’m not saying that’s a bad thing; it’s just not my thing. Yes, I have ideas swimming in my head like every other writer, so the pressure for me comes from knowing what a daunting task will follow my decision to sit down and translate all those thoughts into a novel. That makes it a decision like any other—one I make only after prayerful consideration.

SDC: I've discovered through my interviews there are many who aren't out just seeking a contract, Erin. Some, no many, enjoy writing first for the enjoyment. Please tell us all about the book you are planning to donate to one of our readers.

ER: Refining Fires is a love story, but not your typical historical romance. I say this for a couple of reasons. It’s set in the late 1950s, which as I mentioned isn’t even considered “historical” by some publishing houses. And although the first of the three stories in this unusual 3-in-1 format is definitely a romance, the other two introduce new characters, and show how the love born in the first story has spilled over onto strangers who cross their path. The plots may seem diverse at first, but the reader’s patience will be rewarded once the connection is made in each story. In the first tale, “Refining Fire,” a former Army nurse is forced by circumstances to work for a disfigured and bitter veteran named Peter Cochran. The refining of this man is no easy task, but God is no quitter, and neither is Clare Canterbury. Her determined efforts elicit renewed life from his body while evoking a raw yearning in his soul. Next you’ll meet nine-year-old Susannah Carver, who shows more “Blind Courage” than she even believes is in her. Despite her deep-seated fear, she takes on what she thinks are insurmountable challenges in order to save her mother’s life. Lastly, a “Kept Woman” bent on self-destruction learns through an encounter with a little girl and an unlikely couple just Who has been keeping her all along. Each character undergoes a refining process in their own personal furnace of affliction. As their paths cross and their lives intertwine throughout these stories, God’s hand is evident, sometimes in the form of testing, sometimes in the form of discipline, but always providing the courage and tools each needs to persevere, achieve victory, and come out refined.

SDC: Sounds intriguing. If you could ask anything at all to one of your fans what would the first thing be that would come to your mind?

ER: In Refining Fires, Peter Cochran learns that God’s love sometimes is manifested in the form of disciplining His children to impede their progress toward calamity. Is there an instance in your life when you realized that some refining process you underwent was a show of God’s deep love for you, and how long did it take you to realize it?

SDC: Good question, Erin. THANKS SO MUCH. It’s been a pleasure having you here at A Pen for Your Thoughts. Where can our readers find you and be able to purchase your material?

ER: The pleasure truly has been mine, Shirley. I invite readers to visit me at my “virtual fireside” at

Print versions of Refining Fires can be found at Amazon (in Kindle form as well), Barnes and Noble, and other online retailers. The Amazon link is

The eBook version is available on Smashwords and Fictionwise. The Fictionwise link is  

Readers and visitors. Check out Erin's question to you above. We really look forward to your comments. Erin looks forward to sending one of you an ecopy of her new book.

Congratulations to LoReena Peery of Walton, Nebraska!

Friday, August 27, 2010

Spit and Polish Tip #2

It's time, once again, to spend some moments with our guest contributor, Delia Latham, who will be sharing with all my fellow writers her second writing tip.

Looking for some more spit and polish? Here is lesson number two.

Cardboard Creations
Genesis 2:7—And the Lord God formed man of the dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and man became a living soul.

Cardboard characters.
     Aha—gotcha! You’ve heard that phrase, too—most likely in a list of writing sins. And you may have wondered, as I did early in my writing career…what is a cardboard character?
     We’re more likely not to create one if we know what it is we’re trying to avoid, so lets’ figure it out together. Shall we start with the basics?

     Here’s what I know about cardboard. I know that it is:

  • Inanimate (A totally inert substance—uninteresting, unmoving, flat)
  • Man-made (Therefore, lifeless and not “natural”)
  • Lightweight
  • Flimsy; thin
  • Sometimes useful, but ultimately a throw-away material
Here’s a dictionary definition of the word (as an adjective, as in cardboard characters):

     a. Flimsy; insubstantial
     b. Lacking depth; superficial

     Enlightening? Not! We knew all of that just by looking at the stuff! It appears there’s simply not much to say about cardboard….
     Neither is there much to say about a cardboard character.

     They have little substance or depth. And while we might use them as “extra” characters in our books, we certainly don’t want the hero or heroine to fall into the category of a “throwaway.”
     So how do we avoid it? That’s easy…the same way God avoided making His prize creation a robotic, lifeless machine: He breathed the breath of life into them.
     We can do that too, every time, if we never forget that every human being in this world has certain things in common.

  • They have a past, complete with memories, mistakes, joy and sorrow, failures and successes. No one just “poofed” into existence as a new, fully grown human being. (Well, Adam and Eve are exceptions to that rule, but only by divine decree.)
  • They have a family—from which they might be estranged or even the sole living member, but they have now or had relatives at one time.
  • They are a unique combination of the good, the bad, and the ugly. No one is always right, or always wrong. Only God is perfect. Only Satan is pure, unadulterated evil, with no redeeming qualities.
  • They have personality traits that help define them. Many folks are introverted, others are extroverts. One person might be consistently pessimistic, while her neighbor always sees the glass half full. Some people seem to wake up in the morning with a smile on their faces—and fall into bed at night wearing that same pleasant expression. Others would very likely break a cheekbone if their frown turned upside down. People are quiet or loud; jolly or morose; lazy or energetic; scholarly or unlearned. And the list goes on
  • They have a God-sized void within them that can only be filled by their Creator—that’s why it’s there. (Especially important for inspirational writers to never forget.)
Could we add more to the list?
     Sure, but I think the point is made. Characters who do not reflect one or all of the above are not “well-rounded,” meaning “complete, realistic, and believable.” They are, in fact, flat—like cardboard; insubstantial—like cardboard; and potentially discardable…ouch!
     The taxi driver who gives your heroine a lift from her job to her apartment might be a cardboard character. Your reader won’t know anything about him, other than that he drives a cab. They won’t care that he has a wife at home and sixteen kids scattered across the city. His religious affiliations are unimportant. Nothing about him matters to your reader except that he knows his way from point A to point B and can deliver the heroine safely to her destination. The only exception to this would be if this same taxi driver will show up later in the story in a more substantial role.
     Readers don’t care about this person because you haven’t put them into his mind and under his skin. Hopefully that was a deliberate ploy on your part.
     On the other hand, if your reader doesn’t feel a connection to your hero and heroine, they will never lose themselves in your story. In a well-written storyline, the reader will become the heroine—or the hero, whatever is appropriate. But it’s difficult to take on the role of a character who has told us nothing about herself.
     I can’t make myself at home in her apartment if I don’t know that her décor is 1950s garage sale grunge. I cannot feel her pain at losing a parent if I didn’t know she had one until you—the creator of the world I’m reading in—dropped that death on me from out of nowhere. I won’t connect with her on an emotional level if I don’t know that she was date raped in high school, ostracized for being overweight in college…or treated like a princess all her life and fed out of a silver spoon. Whatever her life has been prior to the opening scene, certain aspects of it should be planted in my mind through dialogue, memories, hang-ups and habits. Don’t dump information on me all at once—I don’t want to be smothered by it. Show me what I need to see about this character by planting slow, steady seeds of information. Use subtlety, but be relentless. Make me intimately acquainted with your main characters.

     Characters are often based on bits and pieces of real people. (Just be careful that you don’t paint your boss into your book so vividly that he can’t be mistaken in the role of a criminally insane pedophile. You could very well find yourself on the ugly end of a lawsuit.) No writer should ever be without a notebook. Learn to be a deliberate people watcher. Jot notes at the mall, eavesdrop on the table behind you in the restaurant, study faces and actions at your child’s baseball game. While you watch television at night, describe the characters’ facial expressions, physical attributes, and body language.

     Did one character habitually do something with his hands that told you who was onscreen even if only the hands were shown? Maybe he rolled a quarter through his fingers; perhaps he cracked his knuckles; he may have snapped the tip of one fingernail against his tooth.
     Did the heroine have an annoying, hyena-like laugh? Did her entire persona change when a man walked in the room? Was she self-confident…or did she seem to lack self-esteem? What told you that about her? I can almost guarantee you didn’t find out because she mouthed the words, “I don’t have any self-confidence.”
     Think about your favorite television series, the one you’re so familiar with that you tend to forget the people are fictional. How much do you know about your favorite character on that show?

     I watch Cold Case fairly often. I know that Lilly Rush has issues from her past. Her mother was an alcoholic, and Lilly was ashamed of her. Her dad disappeared when Lilly was very young, and she blamed herself. Because of that dysfunctional family life, she has commitment issues. No romantic relationship lasts long. Her job is her life. Her home is simply a place to sleep. Her closest friends are the men she works with, and even them she keeps at arm’s length.
     In appearance, Lilly is probably the palest woman I’ve ever seen, and her light blonde hair only adds to that ghost-like pallor. Her lips seem almost undefined to me—blurry, as if God forgot to finish shaping them. She’s thin to the point of anorexia, and dresses mostly in dark, tailored clothing.

     I could go on, but I won’t. Suffice it to say that I know all these things about Lilly through brief tidbits of dialogue, short flashback scenes, her reactions to specific situations, and simple observation.

     How well can your readers describe your main character? Have you provided the “breath of life” that will make her a “living soul” to someone who picks up your book looking for a romantic escape.
     If not, then toss out the cardboard pieces and start over. If she has enough bulk to make discarding her feel like murder, then flesh her out and make her real.

     If you miss him after you type “the end,” he’s substantial. When you pass someone in town and do a double-take because she reminds you of your heroine, you’ve done something right. When she walks off your page and into your heart, she’s much more than cardboard.

     She’s the fictional “living soul” you intended to create.

© 2010 Delia Latham
Yesterday's Promise
Adam's Wings (coming 12/2010)

Monday, August 23, 2010

Everyone Gets Excited When the UPS Guy or Gal Comes to the Door!

Penny Zeller is the author of four books and numerous magazine articles. She is the author of the humor blog “A Day in the Life of a Wife, Mom, and Author” ( ) She is an active volunteer in her community, serving as a women’s Bible study small-group leader and co-organizing a women’s prayer group. Her passion is to use the gift of the written word that God has given her to glorify Him and to benefit His Kingdom. She considers her ministry to be women and children and devotes her time to assisting and nurturing women and children into a closer relationship with Christ. When she’s not dreaming up new characters for books, she enjoys spending time with her family and friends and camping, hiking, canoeing, gardening, and playing volleyball.

SKC Welcome to A Pen for Your Thoughts, Penny, and that is exactly what we hope to get from you. Your thoughts from your own heart.

Before we start talking about your writing endeavors, however, I’d like to talk about who you are away from your desk. Tell us a little about the lady next door, meaning you.

PZ Hello, Shirley. I love A Pen for Your Thoughts and am honored to be here! I am the wife of one, the mother of two, and the author of four books. I’ve also written numerous articles for national and regional magazines on the subjects of health, fitness, inspirational, and children and family articles. My number one ministry is my children and raising them for the Lord. I have wanted to be a writer since I was in second grade, and I have a passion for bringing real-to-life characters to life in my books.

SKC Now, let’s hear about that new book of yours, McKenzie. You must be so excited.

PZ. I am so excited about McKenzie! There’s just something so thrilling about holding the finalized product in your hands, and, of course, exercising self-control when the UPS guy comes to deliver your books!

The book opens with McKenzie Worthington desperate to rescue her younger sister from an abusive husband. She runs away from her stately Boston home as a mail-order bride for a rancher in the rugged Montana Territory. Desperation also prompted Zach Sawyer to post the ad for a bride, and he eagerly awaits woman God has chosen as his wife. When they meet, McKenzie tries to keep her distance, but she can’t help feeling attracted to Zach and his selfless ways. The question of the day is…what will become of McKenzie’s plan to annul the marriage when she finds her sister?

You know, Shirley, one of the things I love most about McKenzie is the humor aspect. I love to infuse humor into my fiction and place delightfully silly characters within the pages amongst the more serious characters. Readers will discover one of those characters in Lucille Granger, the mercantile owner. After McKenzie and Zach, I’ve been told by some readers that Lucille is their favorite character.

SKC. I'm sure it sounds good to a lot of people reading this now.  Great premise.
Almost everyone has had some sort of inspiration to draw them to writing a particular story. What was your inspiration for this book?

PZ I love historical Christian fiction and especially the 1800s era. My first love is fiction (although I do enjoy writing nonfiction as well). When the Lord gave me the idea for McKenzie, it actually surrounded interesting circumstances. My family and I were in a car accident a couple years ago where I suffered neck and leg injuries. During that time period of seven months, I was also hit with back-to-back bacterial infections. Because of the injuries and illness, I was pretty much homebound and my active athletic lifestyle suddenly became limited. I look back now and praise God that He gave me McKenzie, as well as two other manuscripts (another historical and a contemporary) I wrote in that seven month period of pain and illness. God took what was a difficult time for me and turned it around to something positive that can be used for His Kingdom – taking the time to write the books that I had always wanted to write. He has since healed me and I pray daily that the path I have chosen in life will glorify Him. I think that’s why Jeremiah 29:11, which says, “’For I know the plans I have for you," declares the Lord, "plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future’” is so close to my heart.

SKC. Jeremiah is so full of wonderful nuggets, isn't it! Do you have other works contracted with any particular publisher, and if so, are you free to tell us about them? And tell us also how long it take you (on average) to write a book, from first word to putting it either in the publisher’s slush pile or hopefully into their hands?

PZ McKenzie is the first book in the Montana Skies series contracted with Whitaker House. The second book is set for release in 2011 and is titled Kaydie. I’m excited also for Kaydie’s release as it is such a touching book of trust and God’s provision. There is also a third book in the series, which is currently under development. I recently started a second Christian fiction series (not yet contracted) with characters during the Civil War era.

The time it takes me to write a book varies greatly. I have written a first-draft manuscript in as little as two months. To the other extreme, there’s a contemporary manuscript I’m working on that I’ve been working on for the past three years since it’s so involved and touches on so many aspects of life. For the two nonfiction books I’ve written, it took me nine months for each of those. I give each book to the Lord and ask that He would have me complete it in His time.

Once the manuscript is accepted, so many exciting things begin to fall into place over the next approximately a year period (although some publishing timetables are closer to two years). You’ll be asked to do some revising and the publisher will work on editing and refining your manuscript. The cover is designed (one of the most thrilling parts of the process!) and you are asked for bio and dedication information. You’ll work closely with your assigned editor, the author liaison, and the publicist to present the best possible book. Your mind will be filled with ideas for marketing, book signings, and who you can ask for an endorsement. There’s never a dull moment in the publication of a book. An important thing to remember: the process doesn’t end when the manuscript is completed – it begins!

SKC What do you enjoy least about writing, Penny? And most?

PZ There’s nothing I don’t like about writing, as I love it all – it’s my passion. However, I would have to say my least favorite thing is revising. The thing I enjoy most about writing is building the characters and their personalities so they will come alive in the reader’s mind. For example, I love writing dialogue and thinking about how each character would react in each scenario. The creation of the characters is so exciting because I love the newness and freshness of the ideas God gives to me.

SKC I think I already know the answer to this, but I'll ask it anyway. Do you ever get any ideas from the scriptures? If so, tell us about some that have jumped out at you. And if not the scriptures where are other places you might look for ideas?

PZ I do get ideas from the scriptures often and I build my book around certain Biblical themes, such as, forgiveness, redemption, etc. My Christian characters pray and seek God for direction. Speaking of seeking direction…I am in constant prayer for wisdom, guidance, and that my books would be life-changing – that they would bring others to the Lord or closer to the Lord. Writing is a ministry, and I have chosen Psalm 19:14 as my life verse: “May the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be pleasing in your sight, O Lord, my Rock and my Redeemer.”

SKC: We all need those life verses, don't we.  Here at A Pen for Your Thoughts, we look forward to the opportunity afforded us to possibly win a copy of authors' new books. Thank you for offering yours too, Penny. If you were to meet a reader or fan face to face, what might you ask her or him?

PZ When I meet a reader or fan face to face, I love to chat with her about what she envisions herself doing for God’s Kingdom and how can I pray and encourage her in that pursuit. If she is pursuing her dream as a writer, I tell her that one of the most important things to remember in being a writer is that if God has called her to do it, He will guide her through it. In November of 2000, I gave my writing to the Lord. I quit my fulltime job with a social services governmental agency so I could stay home with my infant daughter. That was the start of my career, beginning with the magazine articles. I would advise her to give her writing to the Lord and to not give up! I speak from experience when I say that when He closes one door, He opens another (much better) one.

SKC Thank you and thank you for being here with us for the next few days. Tell us where we can find your books and you on the web.

PZ McKenzie can be purchased anywhere books are sold, including Amazon at  and Christian Book Distributors at  

I love to connect with my readers through my website at or at my humor blog “A Day in the Life of a Wife, Mom, and Author” at  I’m also on Twitter at  Facebook  and Shoutlife  

Thank you so much, Shirley, for having me here. May God bless you as you continue to spread the word about Christian fiction.

Readers and writers, here is your challenge question to reflect on and share with us for the next few days. I will draw the winner of Penny's book from the responses that come in. Don't forget to include your email address.

As strictly a reader,what do you envision yourself doing that's different in your Christian walk today in one year?

As a writer also, where do you envision yourself being in the next three years and how will your writing play a part in that?  

Congratulations to Nancy Farrier  of Apple Valley, California. The book is soon on its way to you! And thank you so much for your participation in A Pen for Your Thoughts.

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

It All Began with a Pair of Roy Rogers PJs!

Now this is a busy man! Join me as we read about Stephen Bly. You're going to be wondering if this man of many talents ever has time to sleep! 

Stephen Bly has authored and co-authored 102 fiction and nonfiction books, including historical and contemporary westerns. He’s a Christy Award winner, Westerns, 2002, for The Long Trail Home and a Christy Award finalist for 3 other westerns. He has served as mayor of Winchester, Idaho, pop. 308 (1999-2007) and pastors Winchester Community Church. Bly's been a speaker for men’s retreats, family conferences and writers’ groups all over USA and Canada. He’s a collector of antique Winchesters and is roving editor for Big Show Journal, a magazine for gun collectors. Bly and his wife, Janet, mentor beginning writers for Jerry B. Jenkins Christian Writers Guild. He’s a summa cum laude graduate of philosophy from Fresno State University, CA, and holds an M. Div. degree from Fuller Theological Seminary. He’s been married 47 years to his high school sweetheart, Janet Chester Bly, and they have 3 married sons, 3 grandchildren, and have co-authored 18 books. The couple reside at 4,000 ft. elev. on the Nez Perce Indian Reservation.

SDC: Whew! I'm out of breath, reading all this about your background. Over the last couple of months, I’ve found myself drawn to talk with several western authors. It’s interesting because it hasn’t been my plan. Now I am learning you and your wife enjoy writing for the western audience too. Tell us what the first thing was that drew the two of you to your genre, and how do you think a western differs from writing in other genres?

SB: Folks often ask me if I always wanted to grow up and write books about cowboys. Nope. Not me. I never wanted to be a writer. But I did grow up on a farm and wanting to be a cowboy. I had Roy Rogers PJs and curtains and a plastic statue of trigger on my dresser.

However, as a lad, I only read a few western novels. Not much different than kids in the Old West. They had dime novels then too. Most were written by men who had never gone west. They invented many of the clichés and stereotypes that linger today. Think of them as old time supermarket tabloids and you get the picture.

But what really caught my fancy was history. I liked the nonfiction accounts of life in the Old West. I learned to grab all the University of Oklahoma and University of Nebraska titles that I could find.

After I married and started raising kids of my own, I read lots of western fiction. One birthday my mother gave me some Zane Grey stories. Then, I picked up novels by B. M. Bower, Owen Wister, Will James, Luke Short, Ernest Haycock, Elmer Kelton, Vardis Fisher and, of course, Louis L’Amour. Somewhere in the middle of the 63rd L’Amour book, the idea struck m: I can write one of these.

By then, I had a dozen nonfiction books to my published credit, so I knew I could fill the pages. But I didn’t know if I could spin a tale people would want to read.

One summer wife Janet and I and our youngest son camped in the Beartooth mountains, south of Red Lodge, Montana. I took along an old typewriter and wrote my first western novel, called The Land Tamers. Since I had no idea if I’d ever have the chance to write another, I tried to pack every scene I ever wanted to write in that one book. An editor commented that it moved about as fast as the movie, Raiders Of The Lost Ark. She meant it as a critique. I took it as a compliment.

As it turned out, that was just one of many tales I was allowed to write. I haven’t run out of ideas yet.

As to your other question. . .westerns are about the triumph of good over evil that includes some shootin’ and dyin’. There can be plenty of humor and romance along the way too.

SDC: Westerns give us a little bit of everything, don't they! This is a three-part question, Steve. How do you make faith, love, and hope work together in a western story? And if you focus on one theme, what would that be, or does it vary? And what kind of responses do you receive from readers who have not yet come to know the Lord, but have been influenced greatly by one of your books?

SB: The themes of most every one of my novels involve forgiveness, redemption, and taking a stand against evil. I receive letters from many in prisons who tell me they relate to the stories and the action of some character causes them to want to make something different of their lives. Many other fans love to give my books as gifts to relatives or friends who enjoy westerns (authors such as Louis L’Amour, Larry McMurtry or Zane Grey), but have no spiritual commitment. They pray that the books may prepare their hearts to receive God’s truth.

SDC: That is great seeing how your work is being used. I’m only now beginning to tackle my first western historical. How difficult would you say it is to find a publisher for westerns? And how do you build your particular audience?

SB: This is not an easy market time for western writers, especially ones just starting out. There’s many (somewhat complicated) factors for that -- economics and marketing and culture-wise. However, there’s still plenty of fans of westerns here in the U.S. and across the seas. Each author must figure out how to find them and connect. Each writer must find their own opening, his or her own venue.

I’ve gained my audience of fans one reader at a time over a span of thirty years. . .through much speaking to a wide variety of audiences, through response to every one who contacts me (often personal notes thru snail mail), through our website, by giving away cowboy poetry books and CDs/cassettes, keeping an up-to-date mailing list and sending postcards a couple times a year, and through a twice monthly “On The Trail” cowboy-slanted e-mail devotional, to name a sampling.

SDC: We all have good days and bad days as writers, it’s clear. That’s part of life. Some writers even have a theme verse they select for their stories. What would you say is the one verse that sustains you and your writing partner and keeps the two of you in focus?

SB: My life verse is “Seek ye first the kingdom of God and His righteousness and all these things shall be added to you” (Matthew 6:33). I consider writing an “added thing,” not the main thing of my life. God and the work of His kingdom is of prime importance. That’s why my ministry as a pastor, as a father, as a husband, rate higher in priority.

Janet’s theme verse is “We are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which He has prepared in advance for us to do” (Ephesians 2:10). From the early days that she gave her life to Christ, she has always been on a search, at times a restless one, to do the things that God directs her to do.

SDC: Two great verses. And I love Janet's especially! Before you tell us about your newest book, Steve, who do you enjoy reading the most in your spare time?

SB: There’s many ‘whos,’ no particular one. Fiction: lately I’ve been re-reading Owen Wister’s The Virginian), The Heritage of the West, short stories by Zane Grey, and Railroad West by Cornelia Meigs. Most often I read nonfiction—history of all eras and places, which I enjoy very much. Of course, for research for my classic westerns, I focus on nonfiction resources in the west, 1860s to early 1900s. As part of my devotional reading, I’ve been going over J. I. Packer’s Knowing God again. Read it many times over the decades.

SDC: I love researching through that era too, Steve. I understand you have a book you would like to share with one of our readers if we receive enough responders. Tell us a little about it. Also, what question would you like one of our viewers to answer to help me select the winner?

SB: Cowboy For A Rainy Afternoon. . . (A little about it)

A 10-year-old boy wearing red straw cowboy hat, cap gun, leather bullet belt with silver-painted wooden bullets, visits his granddaddy summer of 1954. They spend an afternoon with six old cowboy pals in the lobby of the Matador Hotel in Albuquerque, who love to play cribbage and tell windy stories of the old trail days. Meanwhile, a damsel’s in distress. A drama develops right before them. They all hop in a ’49 Plymouth with open trunk for a last cowboy stand.

This novel’s as close to memoir as any I’ve written. I was a 10-year-old boy in 1954 and often spent time with my grandpa who talked about the old days while we played cribbage. Pop in the story has the name Theo and his wife is Kate—same as my grandparents.

Question for the readers to respond to: Do you think you were born 100 years too late? Why or why not?

SDC: Interesting question. It will be fascinating to see what kinds of answers we receive. While we wait, let us know where we can reach you and where we can find your books!

SB: You can get hold of me via e-mail at  or interact at our website (which includes a bookstore)  or our “On A Western Trail” blog:

I sure don’t mind if you order any of our books from an online source such as  or through your favorite local bookstore, or even check them out at your public library!

SDC: Thank you so much Steve. We have greatly appreciated having you here at A Pen for Your Thoughts. It's great having you here.

SB: I thank you very much for the privilege of allowing me some space on your blog. Greatly appreciated! Look forward to sending a copy of Cowboy For A Rainy Afternoon to one of your followers. . . .


Thursday, August 12, 2010

How Does Wishing for Miracles Keep You in Suspense?

A bit of suspense is always welcome over here. Join me in welcoming another new kid on the block, K Dawn Byrd.
K. Dawn Byrd is an author of inspirational romance. Queen of Hearts, a WWII romantic suspense released in April and was Desert Breeze Publishing's bestselling novel for the month. Killing Time, a contemporary romantic suspense released August 1, also with Desert Breeze Publishing.
SKC: It's good to visit with you here, K. Dawn. What inspired you to come up writing suspense? Tell us about the circumstances and a little about how your publisher found you.

KDB: Suspense is my favorite genre. Throw in a little romance and we have a deal! Since I love reading books that are heavy on the suspense, it made sense to write them. I don't like to read books that move slowly and suspense keeps the plot moving along nicely.

I became friends with Michelle Sutton after e-mailing her to tell her how much I enjoyed her book, Danger at the Door. Michelle recommended that I submit my work to her publisher, Desert Breeze. The rest is history.

SKC: How long had you been writing before you got your first contract? And tell us how you dealt with your patience while waiting.

KDB: I'd been writing for about two years, which really wasn't all that long compared to some. During that time, I read and studied everything I could find on the craft. Killing Time is the first book I wrote and was edited probably a dozen times because I'd read another book on craft, learn something new, and tear it apart again.

SKC: All authors, even new ones, have advice for other new authors coming into the field of writing. I’m not sure if you consider yourself simply a newer author or soon to become a more established author, but what would your best advice be to aspiring writers?

KDB: I recommend that you write something every day. You'll be surprised at how quickly the words add up. Don't, study, study.

SKC: Excellent advice. Sometimes inspirational writers have a hard time being accepted in the “real” world (Outside of CBA). What are your thoughts about inspirational writers writing Crossover Stories or writing for a smaller press?

KDB: I don't have a problem with inspirational writers crossing over into the secular market. Maybe it'll lead someone who doesn't normally read inspirational books into the CBA market as they search for more books by that author.

SKC: You seemed to do well from early on, which is quite unusual for many writers. Tell us what gets you started on those first five pages of a brand new story.

KDB: What gets me started is a really good plot. I'll spend a few weeks plotting and researching if I need to do so. After I've filled out a character worksheet and feel like I know my character really well, I throw her into the story with what I hope is a good hook that draws the reader in.

SKC: The best way to keep that character from becoming too cardboard, yes. How would you advise putting together a proposal for getting ready to talk with an editor or agent at a conference? And what is one way you would put your best foot forward?

KDB: I can't really give much advice on this because I've never attended a conference. My first will be the ACFW (American Christian Fiction Writers) conference in September. I plan to design a sell sheet and one sheets for the books I've completed in order to prepare. I've studied the market and chose my editor interviews carefully, and hopefully, will be sitting down with someone who buys what I write.

SKC: I wish you the best then. I got to go to my first conference with ACFW last year. Sadly, this year I will miss. I noticed that you were a book collector like me. What types of books do you collect, and how does your avid love for reading help you with your writing?

KDB: I have over a thousand Nancy Drew books from the 1930's forward. At one time, I carried a notebook with me and was working on completing over 20 different series of books. Some of my favorites are the Blythe Girls, Hardy Boys, Connie Blair, Dana Girls, and Beverly Gray. I haven’t added anything to my collection lately. Whenever I find a Nancy Drew book in an antique store, I can't help myself...even if I have ten copies of that title!

SKC: I will be careful not to go to the same store as you at the same time! We might be racing for the same books! I can just see you in an antique store. Let's move on to another note. After you finish your present project, what plans do you have?

KDB: I'm a history buff and would like to write a Flapper Girl story.

SKC: That would be interesting. You mentioned that you have a book you would like to give to one of our readers. Think of a unique question you would like to ask one of our reader/writer if you were here talking with her or him face to face.

KDB: Both my hero and heroine had recently lost loved ones to cancer. If God gave my characters one miracle, they would most likely request a cure for cancer. If God gave you one miracle, what would it be?

SKC: What a super question. Thank you. I'm really looking forward to the responses. Please let us know any other way we can find you and your books.

SKC: Ah, you've given us lots of choices. That's great.

KDB: Thank you for hosting me. I'll be happy to give away an ebook to one of your readers. (If you don't know how to read ebooks, check out my blog for instructions on how to download the free Kindle app to your PC or laptop.  )

SKC: Thank you for sharing that. A lot of people haven't yet gotten a handle on what these ebooks are all about and how to get them easily.

For those reading this interview and writing in, don't forget to respond to K Dawn's great question. Please leave your E mail address too..

Thanks so much...


Congratulations to Ann Lee Miller of Gilbert AZ. You just won KDawn's book!

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

The Lady Who Enjoys Romancing the Pet Lover's Soul

Have you met Teri Wilson yet?

Teri Wilson's son once wrote in a third-grade paper, "My Mom loves dogs and Jesus." He may have gotten the order reversed, but the sentiment was right on target. Teri's romance stories are often filled with happy endings, splashes of humor and a loveable critter or two. After all, Cinderella never would have lived happily ever after without a little help from her animal friends!

Teri is thrilled to be the grand prize winner of the 2009 San Antonio Romance Authors Merritt Contest for her inspirational romance Rodeo Redemption. Rodeo Redemption and her other inspirational romance, Cup of Joe, took first and second place in the Contemporary Romance category. Teri is also the winner of the 2008 Pet Sitters International Humor Writing Award, the 2008 Spaniel Journal Writing Contest, the 2006 Westminster Kennel Club Angel on a Leash Writing Award and the 3rd place winner of the 21st Annual American Kennel Club Short Fiction Contest.

She lives in San Antonio, Texas, with her husband, son and four delightful dogs. Teri loves hearing from readers and can be reached through her website at  or via email at .

SKC: Welcome Teri. We can see you are not only a writer of fiction but non fiction too. We are anxious to hear about both this week.

Teri: My first published book was a nonfiction Bible Study workbook called All Creatures of Our God and King: What God’s Word Says About Animals. I was looking for a Bible Study workbook for animal lovers and I couldn’t find one. So, at the urging of my son, I spent six months doing the research and wrote one myself.

SKC: That's the way to get things done. Do them yourself. What would you like for our readers to know about you personally?

Teri: I adore reading and writing inspirational romance! It is both my passion and my calling. And I love to hear what readers have to say about my work.

SKC: How is your family adjusting to your writing career?

Teri: They are adjusting well. My son is about to enter his second year of college, so we are empty nesters now, which gives me plenty of time for writing.

SKC: It makes a big difference doesn't it. As an empty nester wife and mom, what kinds of hobbies and leisure activities do you enjoy, and how do they fit into your daily writing routine?

Teri: I have fun participating in dog shows with my dogs Angel and Bliss. We show in conformation shows (like beauty pageants for dogs) and in a fun obedience event called Rally Obedience. The way they fit into my writing time kind of goes like this…I attend a dog show for a weekend and feel guilty that I’m not writing. Ha ha. I also love to read, which I feel is very important to any writer. I am also a “greeter” at my church and enjoy going on mission trips.

SKC: I still haven’t read your first book, and I also look forward to this new one. How did you gather up your themes and in what way do you bring the Lord into your pages?

Teri: I usually start with a favorite Bible verse and an idea for one of the main characters and the spiritual struggle he or she is going through. Then, I build the plot from there.

I started this new book, Rodeo Redemption, kind of as an experiment with the idea of a very broken hero. I don’t want to give anything away, but Luke’s struggle to rebuild his life was the initial idea for the plot.

SKC: What do you want the reader to take away from the book?

Teri: I would love the reader to have a better understanding of God’s grace and how His plans for our futures usually exceed our wildest expectations.

SKC: That's great. God is certainly in the business of doing much more than we could ever expect. How did you find your present publisher, or better yet, how did they find you?

Teri: I am thrilled to be a part of White Rose Publishing. I found them when I read a book written by another White Rose author, Betsy Ann St. Amant.

SKC: White Rose Publishing is a wonderful place to be involved with. I've heard that often from others too. I am an animal lover as you are, by the way, Teri, and as I noticed from glancing at your website. And I, too, make sure to get animals into all my writing in some way. When did animals become such a large part of your writing style?

Teri: Animals have always been a part of my writing, since I started with the Bible Study workbook for animal lovers. I guess I always include them in my hero and heroine’s lives because I can’t imagine not having a pet in my own life.

SKC: Me neither. Aside from animals, though, tell us, Teri, where do you plan to go from here? What is next on your plate?

Teri: I just finished writing and editing Rodeo Rescue, the second book in my Rodeo Royalty Series. Now, I am working on the third book in the series – Rodeo Resurrection. I am also writing an Alaskan Christian romance, set amid the exciting world of sled dogs.

SKC: These will keep you busy a long time. The people who come to A Pen for Your Thoughts, usually enjoy the questions that they are asked to ponder so I can include their comments in the weekly drawing for a book. If you could ask anything to a fan, what would it be?

Teri: Here's the question: Tell me how your pet got its name. If you don’t have a pet, why don’t you tell me what you would name a pet if you had one.

SKC: That's a fun question. Now, tell us a little more about the book you are planning to donate. And please be sure to let the readers and other writers here know how they can find you and your material on the web.

Teri: I am donating a copy of my latest book from White Rose Publishing – Rodeo Redemption, the first book of my new Rodeo Royalty Series. Readers can find me at All of my inspirational romances are available on Amazon and at the White Rose Publishing website at .

Now, here’s a bit more about Rodeo Redemption:

A Former Rodeo Queen

     Josie Turner spends her days at the local dog grooming shop pampering the pooches of Angel Springs, Texas. When rodeo season rolls around again, the townfolk are excited about who their new Rodeo Queen might be. Josie, on the other hand, finds herself reminded all too often about a night she’d just as soon forget.

A Former Rodeo Cowboy

     Luke Anderson lived for three things – riding, roping and rodeos. Until the day he met Josie Turner, the girl who gave his life meaning, and whose heart he was destined to break. Now, ten years later, he returns to Angel Springs to find the town hasn’t changed much, but the girl he left behind has become a stranger he hardly recognizes. What, he wonders, will she think of him, and the man he’s become?

A Rodeo Weekend

     Determined to break through the wall Josie has erected around her heart, Luke must face
his demons while at the same time helping Josie overcome hers. With the whole town cheering
them on, can Luke mend Josie’s heart and can one rodeo weekend help them both
find redemption?

SKC: Thank you, Teri, for being a part of A Pen for Your Thoughts. It’s a pleasure to be able to share you with the world.

Thank you!

Ok, visitors. So we can put your name in the drawing basket, we look forward to hearing from you. Teri wants to hear about your pets and wants to hear how your pet got its name. And if you don’t have a pet, what you would name a pet if you had one.

Don't forget to add your email address. I hope you are the winner.

Our exciting congratulations go to Anne Payne of North Carolina! You've just won a copy of Teri Wilson's book! I hope you enjoy it. Watch for it in your mail soon.
And thanks for following A Pen for Your Thoughts.