How Real Should Writers Get?

We’ve all read those novels. You know the ones.

  • The heroine has been riding in a covered wagon for two months when she meets the dashing cowboy who saves the wagon train. He finds her lovely in spite of the fact that she hasn’t washed her hair since late winter and it’s now well into spring.
  • The heroine is lost in a storm in the English countryside. When the hero finds her the rain has made her hair spring into ringlets that cling to her cheeks and her gown is, err, also clinging to her curves.
  • The modern-day heroine is volunteering in a community garden where she ends up working in the mud with at-risk children. When the hero encounters her he can’t resist swiping a smudge of dirt from her adorable cheek.

And I’m not saying there’s anything wrong with all that. Often, it works. As readers we don’t necessarily want to think about going to the bathroom, sweating, or having a really bad hair day. I don’t know about you, but I’m reading to escape much of that!

yikes~And yet. Here’s how I look after taking Thistle for a hike and helping my own personal hero with yard work. I went into the bathroom to start washing up and couldn’t stop laughing. Let’s see . . .

Her skin glistened while errant curls sprang from her brow. Her cheeks exhibited a rosy glow of health and Joe Dashing simply could not take his eyes from her.

No, I guess he couldn’t. Thank goodness my husband was working in another part of the yard and I was able to get myself into a semblance of order before he saw me.

So as a reader, how real do you want writers to get? I wrote a heroine who was fuller-figured than her peers and was absolutely covered in freckles. But she was still attractive–especially to the hero. I’m writing a character now with a significant birthmark who is otherwise stereotypically lovely.

What do you say? Do you want more physically flawed characters? Or would you rather preserve the illusion that there’s such a thing as someone who looks good all the time?

I think I’ll go with minor flaws, but I’m not giving any character I write hair like . . . well . . . like mine after a stint in the yard in the heat!

Appalachian Thursday – Feuding

feud1I’m currently working on a story idea that involves a feud. One of my goals in writing stories set in my beloved Appalachians is taking some of the stereotypes and clichés and either debunking them or shedding new light on them.

So. Feuding. In the style of the Hatfields & McCoys.

Except theirs was not the only historic feud. A friend who is a Kentucky native lent me her copy of–brace yourself for this title–A history of the feud between the Hill and Evans parties of Garrard County, Ky. The most exciting tragedy ever enacted on the bloody grounds of Kentucky.

Well, count me in!

Written in 1854 by Lieut. J.J. Thompson, this book is priceless. Never mind the feud, the writing is captivating. In Chapter IV, he tells of false accusations spread about Dr. Evans by Mrs. Rus Hill. Here’s an excerpt:

“She took her child into her arms, and with the sincere affectation of an expert actress, set out from her lone cabin of rudeness, and made the welkin ring with lamentations for her miserable fate. The proud hills, disdaining to listen to such airy wailings, repulsed the empty sounds and with reproof echoed them from their rock-ribbed sides to the ear of their degenerate mistress . . .”

This continues as a spectacular run-on sentence, but you get the gist. Apparently even the landscape took a side in this feud. And I am determined to work “welkin” into my next novel. (It means the sky or the vault of heaven. Of course it does.)

I’m only five chapters in and no one has died yet, but they are certainly whaling on one another. The whole thing started one winter when Dr. Evans hired Dr. Hill’s “negro woman.” Then, in the spring, Dr. Hill decided he wanted use of her services and, “thought of no better way of securing them than by inducing her to run away.” He sent his niece to do the inducing and when Dr. Evans took issue much head whacking ensued. I mean that literally. Dr. Hill hit Dr. Evans in the back of the head with a “large hickory stick.”

Seriously. I can’t make this stuff up. Then there’s a set-to at a BBQ, false accusations, doctors undermining one another’s diagnoses . . . good stuff. I’m not sure if anything will make it into my story but I’m having a grand time learning about this “most exciting tragedy.”

You just can’t beat real-life. But you CAN read this treasure for yourself. It’s on-line HERE.

What Character Did You Want to Be?

Me in a sleeping cap

My Laura Ingalls sleeping cap.

I literally wore out a set of Little House on the Prairie books. I read the covers right off of them and kept going until they were in pieces.

I LOVED those books. And I wanted to be Laura. I wanted to wear a sleeping cap when I went to bed in a loft. I wanted a sunbonnet (even though Laura refused to wear hers). I wanted to ride to town in a wagon and write on a slate. Shoot, I already had the freckles!

Of course, I also wanted to be Heidi. I still have the copy of that book my mother read to me over and over and over again. I wanted to eat toasted cheese and go to the pasture with the goats to pick flowers. I wanted to sleep on a bed of sweet hay (I asked Dad if I could–we DID have a barn full of hay. He said no). I also kind of wanted the nice clothes Heidi got when she was packed off to the miserable city, but I felt like a bit of a turncoat for that.

I didn’t just read those stories when I was a child, I lived them. I opened the books and disappeared inside, traveling to the prairie or the alps as surely as if I’d had a plane ticket. Actually, those places were more than real because they lived in my heart.

As an adult, I don’t read books in the same way. Oh, I still enjoy reading stories, but I guess I’ve lost that feeling that what I’m reading could happen to me. The world of possibilities has narrowed as I’ve aged. I’m probably not going to head west in a covered wagon. I’m probably not going to help my best friend walk again.

But then again . . . when I write stories I get to flip through a world of possibilities and choose the ones that speak to me. The ones that touch my heart and stir my soul. I think that’s what I love best about being a writer. I create characters and then gift them with beauty, joy, hardship, and transformation.

And if I want one of them to sleep on a bed of sweet-smelling hay, there’s no one to tell me I can’t.

How about you? Which characters have you wanted to be?

Queen of the May

May QueenThere are stories all around us. All you have to do is listen.

A dear friend’s mother offers a wealth of inspiration for my Appalachian stories. Anne grew up on a tobacco farm in Kentucky, but spent considerable time with grandparents in town. While she did help with farm work, she was more likely to be found reading.

And she still is.

Tomorrow is her 96th birthday. One of my favorite stories of hers is how she was almost Queen of the May. When she was a child at school, one of the girls would be selected to lead the May Day celebration each year. This is an old-time tradition that often included a parade, May baskets, and dancing around a May pole. It goes back to the Celtic celebration of Beltane and there are variations galore.

Since it was her birthday, Anne assumed she would be chosen queen.

She wasn’t, but her best friend was.

On the way home, her friend gave Anne the crown of May flowers she’d been given as queen. Anne promptly went home and told her mother she had been named Queen of the May.

But lies, even sweet, childish ones, eat away at our well-being. Anne, overcome with guilt, finally confessed the truth with tears.

So every year, we celebrate Anne as Queen of the May (in the photo above she’s a mere 92). Tomorrow, she’ll get to be queen once again.

Happy birthday Queen Anne–thanks for the wonderful stories!

Southern Kentucky Book Fest – Come See Me!

I’m super excited to be heading to Bowling Green, Kentucky, this week for the Southern Kentucky Book Fest. I’ll be teaching a class titled “Setting as Character” at 9 a.m. Friday morning, attending a meet the authors reception Friday evening, and sitting on a panel titled “People, Places, and Pie” Saturday morning. That last panel is with Karen Spears Zacharias, Ann Gabhart, Naomi Miller, and Rachel Miller so it’ll be a treat for me as much as anyone!

I’ll also be signing as many books as they’ll let me!

The Southern Kentucky Book Fest is one of the state’s largest literary events and is presented by Barnes & Noble Booksellers, Warren County Public Library, and WKU Libraries. The event is in it’s 20th year and I’m honored to be included.

And while it’s great to meet readers, I’ll confess I’m also pretty excited to get to hang out with some author friends. In addition to the ladies on the pie panel, I’ll get to see some other author friends and hopefully meet several new ones. Writing can often feel incredibly solitary, so having an opportunity to spend time with other writers is always a treat.

If you’re in the vicinity of Bowling Green this weekend, I hope you’ll come out to see us. And if you’d like to register (the event is free), click HERE to learn more.

Dreaming Big – Once Upon a Prince

upon a princeWhen Rachel Hauck released Once Upon a Prince, I hesitated to read the story. I was afraid it was going to be just another reinterpretation of Cinderella. And while I LOVE Cinderella, did we really need another, modern version?

Boy, was I wrong!

Oh, there are echoes of Cinderella, but somehow Rachel has managed to craft a surprisingly believable commoner falls for royal story with a wonderful faith theme woven through.

And now, it’s being released as a Hallmark movie.

The thing is, shortly after an author’s book is released, friends and readers start saying things like, “This would make a great movie.”

And your job, as the humble author, is to thank them and say things like, “Oh, well, it’s tough to get a movie deal.” Or, “There are so many great stories out there–who’s going to notice mine?”

But secretly you’re thinking, “Yes! It would make a great movie. When’s that going to happen?”

Well, for Rachel, it’s happening this coming Saturday at 9 p.m. Eastern on the Hallmark Channel. Which could easily lead to things like comparison and jealousy.

But here’s what I know about Rachel. She’s written 30 or so books. Lots of them have won awards. Some haven’t. She’s incredibly active in the world of Christian and romance writing. She teaches. She mentors. She endorses books by new authors. She sits across the table at lunch and listens with her heart.

And now, for Rachel, her dream of a movie is coming true. I, for one, can hardly wait! Check it out this Saturday at 9 p.m. on the Hallmark Channel.

Sometimes I (gasp!) read reviews

reviewsSo many authors will tell you not to do it. Some even have friends who read reviews for them and only pass along the ones that are really stellar.

Because even if there are only a handful of bad reviews, they tend to dent your confidence. Some will even batter your confidence and make you wonder if you really ARE a fraud.

Even so, I read reviews. I LIKE hearing what people thought of my books. Once in a while I even learn something I can do better. One reviewer pointed out my tendency to use the word, “somehow,” which seriously weakens whatever it is I’m trying to say. I totally need to thank her!

So, last week, I popped in on Goodreads and saw that The Sound of Rain had some new reviews. Mostly good (phew). But one . . . oh my. Sometimes, a reader will just get whatever it is I was trying to do in a way that clarifies it even for me. A reviewer named Kav did that last week.

I try to be careful about “tooting my own horn” here on my blog, but this review brought tears to my eyes. So here you go. A review from someone who totally made my day and reminded me why I keep writing.

Sometimes the people who needed the most help didn’t look like they needed any help at all.” (p 290)

Sarah Loudin Thomas has a lyrical style that is sheer poetry. I find myself reading out loud from time to time just to hear the impact of her words. The Sound of Rain is an exquisite escape into another time and place. And I have a secret fascination for all things Appalachia. Stoic people, hardworking and proud. They blend faith and culture into a fascinating seize-the-moment kind of living that really speaks to me.

But Judd leaves that life in a bid to escape heartbreaking reminders of all that he has lost. He flees the darkness of the coal mines for the promise of light in work above ground in South Carolina. What he doesn’t realize is that he carries that darkness within him. (Exactly! -SLT)

By contrast, Larkin’s light shines brightly. Enthusiastically. Misdirected at times but she has a gift for brightening the lives of the people around her. It’s a dangerous gift in the hands of someone who doesn’t recognize its power — and Larkin doesn’t in the beginning of the story. She’s spoiled and idealistic which Judd finds both frustrating and fascinating. But he’s drawn to that inner glow and Larkin is equally intrigued by a real-life mountain man.

In some ways, Judd and Larkin’s stories seem independent of each other as their goals lead them in different directions. That doesn’t mean they don’t share a lot of ‘page time’, because they do and when that happens there’s an undeniable connection that speaks of hope in their future. Of course, there’s a lot to work through before Thomas brings us to that end. Larkin needs to grow up some, and Judd need to open up more. There’s a lovely spiritual undercoating that binds their stories together even when they are miles apart.

Sarah Loudin Thomas delivers another stunning portrayal of life and love and the faith that connects it all.

Thank you, Kav, for being an incredible encourager.