Category Archives: Lessons in being a Novelist

Austen Men in My Life

Charles Bingley

Writers borrow from their own lives when they construct their characters and circumstances. I am at my most realistic when I insert a scene or person from my own life into the story, for I can feel the emotions and describe the events very well, especially if I was experiencing strong feelings when I lived it.

Austen men

Yesterday, I was thinking of that and of the very different Darcys Laura Hile and I have written. Her Darcys are playful. They banter with cheerful Elizabeth. My Darcys are kind and courteous, but they brood. They’re moody, and Elizabeth is by turns angry, sad, happy – she’s all over the place. Like me.

I have been told that I’m dramatic. I might be.

Anyhow, I now realize that I’ve combined Austen’s characters with bits and pieces of people I’ve known throughout my life. As I processed that epiphany, I began to think of the men (and boys) I’ve known and how bits and pieces of them have made it into my characters. I knew all of them well. Some of them were classmates, some were casual dates, some were/are friends or relatives, some were boyfriends, and one is my husband.

In fact, I have known all of the Austen men. Let that sink in. I was able to think through Austen’s characters and select the man I know/knew who fit that character. I knew Darcys, Bingleys, Hursts, Wickhams, Collinses, Edwards, Toms, Brandons, Wentworths, Tilneys, Knightleys, Churchills, Mr. Bennets, – all of them.

My first boyfriend was definitely a Bingley – sweet, kind, cheerful, well-liked, lovable, unfailingly polite, popular, and courteous. I dated him for three years and never heard a cross word from him, though I’m certain he heard a few from me. Unlike Austen’s Bingley, he was very intelligent and spiritual. I think that’s why my Bingleys are always smarter and more capable than the Austen original.

Is there a Bingley in your past?

For the next few months, I plan to trace Austen’s characters, male and female (yes, I knew those, too) through my life. Please feel free to join me.


Don’t Give Up

Never count me out . . .

I am famously stubborn. My family and friends (and a few frenemies) will attest to that fact. However, the past year was so difficult that I couldn’t think well enough to write. It took all my concentration just to do the things which were required by my jobs.

During the past couple of weeks, I have received encouragement from an unexpected source: my neglected plants.

Last November, I put most of my plants in the garage, but I watered them hardly at all until a week ago. This poor arrowhead philodendron seemed completely lifeless, but look at it now. I cut away all that had died, put it on the back porch, watered it often, and voilà!

The same is true of this poor pothos plant.

The spider plants are recovering as well.

The fact that I returned the plants to the back and front porches shows that I had not completely given up on them. I hoped there was a spark of life there, so I nurtured it. I gave it what it needed: sunlight and water.

God does that with us. My life verse is Philippians 4:13, “I can do all things through Christ Who strengthens me.”

When I am ready to quit, God gives me what I need. He gives me strength. He nurtures me.

II Corinthians 5:7 says, “We live by faith, not by sight.” What a breath-taking statement! Had I gone by the appearance of the plants, I would have thrown them out, thinking they were dead. They weren’t. When I treated them as if they were alive, they revived.

I was like those plants. I was depressed, and I had to fight to plaster a smile on my face, but God is always good. He did not give up on me. He did not let me quit. He’s still working on me.

Another applicable principle is that pruning often helps a plant that looks dead. I cut the dead growth away so that it would not take energy from the plant. John 15:2 says, “”Every branch in Me that does not bear fruit, He takes away; and every branch that bears fruit, He prunes it so that it may bear more fruit.”

God pruned me during the past year. I still have things He wants me to do. I have fruit to bear, books to write, music to play, and children to teach.

He isn’t finished with me yet, and He isn’t finished with you either.

Writing Revolution

Yes, you can teach an old dog new tricks.

I’m in the very final stage of publishing my newest book, Understanding Elizabeth. Because it’s my seventh indie publishing effort, some steps are easier for me, but others have become more complicated.


My earliest writing (the Guardian Trilogy) consisted of outlining the basic plot, writing the chapters, sending my work to my betas, taking their corrections, posting on Beyond Austen (as well as Derbyshire Writer’s Guild, Darcy & Lizzy, Fanfiction, and Austen Underground), formatting, one final edit, and publishing.

I now understand that it is much easier to format as I write, so that isn’t the huge headache it used to be, but I have become much pickier (real word?) about my writing.

I rushed to publish my first six books, but with this latest one, I have taken six months between completing the writing of the story and publishing it. In addition to all the steps listed above (minus posting on all those forums except Beyond Austen), I have gone through six edits and rewrites. I finished the final rewrite yesterday, and I’m nearly ready to release my child to make her way in the world.

Today, I hope to put the book in the print template so I’ll have a page count for the cover designer. I also want to finish the formatting of the ebook version and send it to my very talented friend, author Wendi Sotis. She’s a wizard at all things tech, and she has the final look at my formatting.

With a little luck, I may publish the ebook Saturday. 

Exciting times!


Traveling in my mind

booksI freely admit that I’m a science fiction geek. I love futuristic stories and fantasy. Series stories, such as The Hunger Games, Divergent, Twilight, and the Penryn and the End of Days books (which is not a Biblical depiction of angels), capture my imagination. I gobbled up the Lord of the Rings and The Chronicles of Narnia. My mind lives in those worlds.

The only book I’ve ever read which truly surprised me with its ending is Ender’s Game. The series is fascinating, though I had to stop reading several books into it. Author Orson Scott Card got too strange, even for me. He introduced elements of witchcraft which made me uncomfortable.

My husband said Ender’s Game has bad language, but I confess I read so fast I didn’t notice it. However, he is very likely right, though I don’t remember it. He counts the swear words in movies, and we don’t watch any with the worst words. I suppose I just block it in my mind when I read.

Ender’s Game is a military science fiction novel. Because Card wrote it realistically, the book is violent and graphic. It’s not for the squeamish. What caught me was the brilliance of the concept. The space training facility was real to me. I forgot I was reading a book. I simply couldn’t put it down. The film version has been toned down and edited, but it is still good. Ender’s Shadow, a prequel about his friend Bean, was also excellent. These books get into the workings of the characters’ minds. Card excels in showing why they do the things they do.

If you love only romance, this book is NOT for you. There is NO romance in the series.

Ender and his companions are children. If children in danger upsets you, don’t read it.

In short, I am not recommending Ender’s Game to everyone.

Please keep in mind that I’m telling you about books which caught my imagination and spurred me on as a writer. I read all sorts of genres.  I know that many of you will not like what I like. Also be aware that I might read what I could never write and publish. I never have swearing, graphic violence, or any unBiblical precepts in my books.

Tick-tick-tick. Time for writing class!

Here I am, ready to shop for notebooks.

Here I am, Chai tea in hand, all set to shop for their class notebooks. That’s 6:58 a.m.

In a last-minute turn around Friday, my high school fiction writing class zoomed to life. And here I thought I was going to have 2016-17 off. Nope, it’s a go. Time to introduce the world of commercial fiction writing to a new group of young writers. Hooray!

The students are excited, and so am I. I still don’t know precisely how many I’ll have, but I’ve spent today getting ready. So far the class consists of only guys. Isn’t that great? I’m hoping some of the girls will have an opening in their schedules. I’ll find out Monday.

Truth to tell, I benefit more than than any student. I read the articles aloud along with them; I watch the TED Talks and selected episodes of OPB’s On Point. I enjoy analyzing the movies. And as I add to their notebooks, I again interact with quotations–wise advice from authors who have come before. I need all the reinforcement I can get.

My guys from 2013, in a pathetic "book publicity" attempt

My guys from 2013, in a pathetic “book publicity” attempt

Our class sessions are focused on growth. I attempt to duplicate my own early experiences with fan fiction, in which I fearfully shared my writing with the wide world. Wonder of wonders, I discovered that I could be entertaining. In the same way, I read aloud each student’s story — and their classmates love listening. Even now, former students reminisce about favorite stories. Storytelling is powerful. There’s latent talent, but there’s also skill. And craftsmanship is something that can be learned.

1st-year-1“Somebody’s got to write bestsellers for the next generation,” I tell them. “Why not you?”

Why not indeed.

Former students have told me that this was their favorite high school class.  Truthfully, that’s because of them, not me. “This class is as good as you make it,” I say when we begin in September. And my students never disappoint.

Laura Hile (1)

It’s sort of like the Hood-to-Coast…

Not for the faint of heart. Photo: The Oregonian / Oregon Live. Image is link.

Not for the faint of heart, this race series. Photo: The Oregonian / Oregon Live. Image is link to article.

Hood-to-Coast, the 199-mile relay

The H2C course, all 195 miles.

A relay is a team sport and also a solo endeavor. Portland’s famous Hood-to-Coast race is 195 miles of lonely endurance. Yes, runners are part of a 12-person team, but they do their work alone. See those runners on the highway? Lots of that mile-by-mile stuff.

Writing a book is kind of like this. There are checkpoints to be passed, and teammates to take the baton for a while–for editing and cover design and promotion. But for the most part it’s a solitary endeavor. Word-by-word-by-word.

Southwest Christian High School Alumni Team, 2015

Southwest Christian High School Alumni Team, 2015 UPDATE: Of 1050 teams, Southwest placed 117th!

My Ben and his wife Jessica ran the H2C on Saturday. For fun, can you imagine? They are athletes and so are their friends. My friends are writers and musicians. I spent the day flogging the manuscript.

To be fair, they think I’m the crazy one. Why would anybody want to write a book? Sometimes I wonder the same thing.

I don’t wear jogging shoes but I do have a course map. And as I turn from creative work to manuscript clean-up, this grid of scenes has been a lifesaver.

Just so you know, I’m planning to hit the Finish Line (Darcy By Any Other Name book release) at the beginning of October. If not before. Details to follow…

Course Map

When you realize that you have to be the Tortoise

Photo: (Creative Commons Flickr)

Photo: Kaybee07 (Creative Commons Flickr)

Photo: David Stanley (Creative Commons Flickr)

Photo: David Stanley (Creative Commons Flickr)

“Slow and steady wins the race,” right? I was in grade school when I learned the lesson of Aesop’s The Tortoise and the Hare. I liked this story. I knew that the tortoise was better than the foolish hare, and I was even happy that he was the winner.

But I lived my life as if I were the hare. Because the hare was strong and fast, he could run when he felt like it. His do-it-at-the-last-minute skills (the bane of smart people) worked for him. Best of all, along the race route the hare was able to kick back and relax. What’s not to like?

Being the tortoise is just plain hard. The poor fellow plodded along, one foot in front of the other, hour after hour. It takes guts and determination to remain on-task.

Oh, I still run portions of my life along “when-I-feel-like-it” lines, but it’s not working well. (Case in point: house chores.) My ability to juggle multiple tasks and keep a running to-do list in my mind isn’t what it used to be. My fly-by-night last minute skills no longer cut it. I’m learning to plod along.

Photo: Tomi Tapio K (Creative Commons Flickr)

Photo: Tomi Tapio K (Creative Commons Flickr)

Writing is probably the most tortoise-like task I face because producing a novel requires staying at it. Or in my case, stopping and then starting again, day after day. Darcy By Any Other Name, in draft form, currently weighs in at 113,000 words. A testimony to the every day courage of the tortoise!

“A day may come when the courage of men fails…but it is not THIS day.”
– Aragorn  (J.R.R. Tolkien)

Ah, but the hare has his moments. He rushes in and does the polishing work, putting the right emotional spin on each chapter. With his “feel-right” approach, he’s my go-to for dialog and sparkling banter. Best of all, he’s the one who will drop everything and meet a friend for coffee.

I can’t always be the tortoise, right? I’d be vacuuming and dusting instead of reading a book, and how dreary is that?