Goals: When Dreams Meet Reality

Reading glassesLast week I came within two pounds of reaching what I have long thought of as my ideal weight. And I realized something . . .

. . . losing those last two pounds probably isn’t going to make an actual difference in my life. I had this sort of vague idea that once I got to this magic number my body would be different. And it is. Just not in the ways I imagined. I’m still what you might call pear-shaped. I still have that softening flesh on the undersides of my arms. I still don’t want to be seen in a bathing suit–unless it’s one of those Victorian dress things.

Reaching my goal is a good thing–but it hasn’t transformed me into a swimsuit model. MAYBE, my body just isn’t built for modeling swimsuits. Maybe I’m just the same ole ME, only a few pounds lighter.

And isn’t that the way with goals?

All too often, I think once I meet X goal, my life will be different. And by different I mean better. Much, much better. Once I get married. Once I get the perfect job. Once I move into the perfect house. Once I win a writing contest, get an agent, find a publisher, have a book in print, have five books in print, win that award . . . and on and on.

There are two problems with pinning your hopes and dreams on meeting a specific goal. 1) When you meet it, it isn’t quite what you expected. It’s good–but it’s not magic. 2) Turns out there’s another goal just beyond it. It’s good to meet my goal weight, but now I need to work on fitness. It’s good to have multiple books in print, but now I wonder if it’s something I could ever earn a living at.

I’m not saying you shouldn’t have goals. But I am suggesting that goals are simply checkpoints along life’s highway. They aren’t a destination so much as an overlook where you stop, take in the view, and decide where to head off to next.

So how about you? What goal are you currently working toward and what do you think will happen when you get there?

Appalachian Thursday – Cover Reveal

While my fourth novel–The Sound of Rain–won’t officially release until early November, I can now share the cover with you. And I’m head over heels for it!

The designers said they wanted to do something a little different this time and I offered lots of suggestions and samples of covers I thought conveyed the “feel” of this story . . . which probably didn’t help them at all.

But that’s okay because Bethany House designers are some of the best in the business and they can be trusted! So here it is . . .



I love the antique, nostalgic feel which is my BRAND y’all! And then those raindrops. And the e.e. cummings lack of capital letters in the title. Lovely!

And, as you can see, Larkin is NOT blonde, but has brown to auburn hair. Well of course she does. As soon as I saw the dress, I wrote it into the story (I was working on edits at the time). It makes me happy to “find” the cover when I’m reading, so I assume others like that, too.

Here’s one version of the back cover copy:

Judd Markley is a hard working coal miner who rarely thinks much past tomorrow until he loses his brother—and nearly his own life—in a mine cave-in. Vowing never to enter the darkness of a mine again, he leaves all he knows in West Virginia to escape to Myrtle Beach, South Carolina. It’s 1954, the seaside community is thriving, and Judd soon hires on with a timber company.

Larkin Heyward’s life in Myrtle Beach is uncomplicated, mostly doing volunteer work and dancing at the Pavilion. But she dreams of one day doing more—maybe moving to the hollers of Kentucky to help the poor children of Appalachia. But she’s never even met someone who’s lived there—until she encounters Judd, the newest employee at her father’s timber company.

Drawn together in the wake of a devastating hurricane, Judd and Larkin each seek answers to what tomorrow will bring. As opposition rises against following their divergent dreams, they realize that it may take a miracle for them to be together.

I’m a cheater

Family photo
Me with two of my best sources for research.

I write historical fiction . . . but I cheat.

I only just realized this as my third novel was about to release last year. I’ve long struggled with genre and fitting what I write into a specific slot. Maybe it’s historical. Maybe it’s romance. Maybe it’s historical romance. OR it just MIGHT be women’s fiction.

Regardless of my dithering, my books are often characterized as historical fiction. Which is fine with me. But then I realized something . . . I don’t work nearly as hard as most other authors of historical fiction do.

I really enjoy the genre and often read it. Right now I’m listening to Newton & Polly by Jody Hedlund. It’s about John Newton–the author of Amazing Grace. The descriptions of clothing, social customs, and John’s time as a sailor are vivid. It all feels very real to me—I know Jody did her research.

Which brings me to cheating. I research very little. Oh, I look up timelines and newspaper headlines for context, but I’m not exactly immersing myself in 18th century England. I don’t have to research conditions aboard ship or the danger of opposing the slave trade. I don’t have to wonder about clothing and bathroom issues. And if I read someone’s diary, it’s just because I want to.

All I’ve really needed to do thus far in my writing journey is listen and ask questions.

The furthest back my novels have gone is 1948. My father was born in 1941 and he remembers a good bit. As did my grandmother who shared many a story before she passed.

It’s as though I’ve been researching my books all my life. In West Virginia, one of our primary forms of entertainment is sitting around telling stories. This drives my husband nuts. He’ll look at me as Dad launches into the story about a dog named Sloomer and mouth, “We’ve heard this one.”

Yes, we have. And hearing it again will only drive it a bit deeper into my psyche—will only make it that much more real when I translate it for my readers.

The upshot is, if you’re a writer, there’s more than one way to skin a cat. Digging deep into research—becoming an expert on a specific time period—is wonderful. I have deep respect for writers who spend at least as much time researching as they do writing.

But when I took a notion to write historical fiction, all I had to do was dredge up the stories I heard at my father’s knee. All I have to do is close my eyes and think back to those stories I heard sitting on the porch of an evening.

Common advice is to write what you know. I say, write what you wish you knew.

Top Posts of 2016

chartsI’m kind of a data nerd. I like charts and statistics. Survey results make me giddy.

So, at the end of another blogging year, I like to take a little time to look back over the data. And inside my blog there’s this fabulous little tab titled “Stats” that let’s me do just that. You may not care about blog stats, in which case consider the next few minutes free time to do something else. But if, like me, you dig data, then here we go!

I began blogging in 2010 when I had just over 1,000 views–mostly my mother visiting again and again. By 2013, I’d gotten in the grove with nearly 9,000 views and around 3,000 visitors. So not just my mom. In 2015 and 2016 I seem to have leveled off with around 13,000 views and 6,500 visitors. Is that good? I have no idea, but it feels pretty good to me.

In 2016 I posted 107 times–twice a week with a few extras thrown in. Here were the top five posts for the year:

  1. Appalachian Thursday–Old Christmas (This was carryover from a 1/31/15 post.)
  2. Let’s Talk About Sex . . . In Christian Fiction (Published in October 2011, this post appears to be what’s called “evergreen.” Sex attracts attention. Who knew?)
  3. A Blessing Disguised as a Medical Emergency (If you ever need to boost blog traffic, having a stroke and writing about it is super effective.)
  4. The 10 Comments Authors Like to Hear Most (People seem to LOVE top 10 lists.)
  5. Appalachian Thursday–The Outhouse at My Wedding (I’m guessing the juxtaposition of outhouse and wedding piques readers’ interest!)

Other interesting (at least to me) bits of data include:

  • 89% of my readers are in America; 4% are in Canada, 1% in Brazil (really??); 1% in the UK; and .5% in Australia (thanks Rel)
  • Most people find my blog via Facebook (#1) and Google (#2) with Twitter a distant third
  • The top search term is . . . Sarah Loudin Thomas (people are spelling my name right!)

So what’s my takeaway from all this lovely data? Be honest, be real, stay active on Facebook and be nice to my mom–I still think she’s my biggest driver of traffic.

Writing “Real” Characters

One of the nicest compliments I’ve gotten about my books is that the characters seem real. Well thank goodness, because sometimes I forget and think they are!

One of the most common pieces of advice writers hear is: Write what you know. That works great for me. I grew up in a family of storytellers—the seventh generation to live on our farm in West Virginia. Dinnertime was filled with tales of our days, sometimes with a little embroidery thrown in, and if we ran out we could always ask Dad to retell one of our favorites. It’s those stories of his growing up that are almost mythical for me. So many of the characters—my grandparents, great uncle, great grandmother, Dad’s childhood acquaintances—were gone by the time I took an interest. Even so, they live on through his stories. Now I have a chance to go back to that “simpler” time when life was pretty well confined to a small community of people who supported each other. I know I romanticize it, but I think that’s okay. My stories are a love letter to Appalachia.

Grandmas and me

So over the next few weeks, I thought I’d introduce you to some of the “real” characters who inspire my books. The photo above is of me in my Grandma Burla’s lap. (Burla . . . Perla). I did get to know her well. She died just a few years ago at 97 and she was a great resource for stories about other family members who had gone on before.

The lady on the right is my Great-Grandma Jane. Now she IS mythical. She died when I was ten or thereabouts. I remember her, but was too young to appreciate what a wealth of information she carried. Here are a few of my favorite tidbits about Grandma Jane courtesy of my dad:

  • She once took a partial deck of cardboard playing cards from Dad, ripped them in half, and threw them in the coal stove.
  • When she prayed aloud in church, she prayed, “Lord, if I have sinned, forgive me.”
  • When books from the community’s bookmobile were being damaged, Dad discovered the culprit when he saw her tear a page out because there was a “bad” word on it.
  • She was once interviewed for the newspaper and was mortified that they quoted her as if she talked in a country, colloquial style. She did not.
  • She didn’t roll up her sleeves when washing dishes or clothes so as not to be unseemly in showing too much skin.

Now, I cannot attest to the truth of all these statements. Dad IS a storyteller. But, oh, what a rich picture they paint!

Unrealistic Romance Novels

love-560783_1280I’ve had cause to read some mainstream romances lately–a genre I haven’t dipped into for years. Back in high school and college I couldn’t get enough of them, but they just haven’t been in my reading pile for quite some time.

I’d forgotten how unrealistic they are.

And no, I’m NOT talking about the romance. I’m talking about the FOOD.

Back in the day, I would have been thrilling along with each brush of the hero’s fingertips across the heroine’s cheek. Held my breath as they leaned in for the kiss. Sighed when things went inevitably wrong.

Not so much these days. I know the formula, so it’s harder to be swept away. But what these people EAT. Now that is pure, delicious fantasy.

The main characters are, of course, perfect specimens of human beauty. And yet they consume enough calories to keep a family of four satisfied.

One heroine, who is runway model tall and willowy, has a penchant for an over-the-top chocolate baked good. When stressed or upset, she goes to a local bakery and buys a box of sweets, then consumes several full servings. She does have the decency to mention–in passing–that she has a fast metabolism. I’ll say.

Another heroine wears a clingy, skimpy dress to a seven-course gourmet dinner, admits that she stuffs herself, and then has the gall to wonder if the dress might show a teeny bit of tummy pooch. Where’s your Spanx, girl?

Okay. I’m guilty, too. I feed my characters well. They enjoy big, family dinners and lots of country cooking. But I don’t go on and on about their stunning physiques. Shoot, some of them are pudgy.

But at least my meals are well-balanced. In one book, the main characters kept having meals together along the lines of an entire meat lover’s pizza with wine or country-fried steak with mashed potatoes. Give ’em a vegetable, please!

Isn’t it funny how your focus shifts as the years go by? I’m not looking for romance anymore–I have my sweetie by my side and kisses when I want ’em. But to be able to eat eggs Benedict for breakfast, a cheeseburger and fries for lunch, and a giant bowl of pasta with bread and wine for dinner? Now that’s the kind of fantasy I can get into.

Appalachian Thursday–A Tapestry of Secrets

Tapestry editsSorry, it’s not much of a post today. I have two weeks to finish the next-to-last round of edits on book #3–A Tapestry of Secrets. So, here’s a peek at how my evenings look right now.

Of course, I love it!

Except for those moments when I think, Oh my goodness–does this even make sense?!?

Fortunately, there are also those, Hey, that’s good. Did I write that? moments as well.

SO looking forward to sharing Ella’s story, although the story within the story is my favorite part. Perla, summer 1948, when she met Sadie’s father . . . Secrets will come to light!