Writers Block Themselves

Our Monday Fox asked:

What are some ways you deal with writer’s block?
I can tell you how others don’t deal with it.

The inability to finish a story, to get past a plot hole, to link one set of happenings to another in a story has never been a real problem for me.

I swear to you, it’s never stopped a story for me, not to the point where I can’t go on, to not continue the story.

In fact, very often I surprise myself with the  realization that I have foreshadowed what the story needs earlier on.

It happens so often that the image of Alec Baldwin in “The Hunt for Red October”  comes to mind when he was trying to think of how the officers, (if indeed they were defectors), would get the crew off of the nuclear submarine and realizes that they had a built-in excuse, the pertinent word being “nuclear”.


It’s almost frightening; my subconscious is doing the writing.

 If I have not been writing or haven’t looked at a piece of work in a while and am concerned about picking up the thread,  rereading what I have and getting into the story just makes it start flowing again. Generally, my writing is linear, but at times certain scenes write themselves in my head and as I put them down, the characters sometimes take off on their own while I am typing. Right now I am working on tying together scenes in one story that have been collecting dust in my files and again, I found that  I had portended circumstances  for one to slip into the story smoothly without having realized it.

Therein lies my theory as to why so many great ideas are lost and never expounded upon, how so many valiant efforts and hard-wrought works have fallen by the wayside, why so many people with great ideas for books never complete them:

over-plotting.

I have personally been involved with a number of people who had wonderful stories to tell and often, their completed passages have knocked my socks off. These people could can put words to paper, (as it were), and bring scenes to life, but they are unyielding; they know what they want to say, they want to say it in a certain way, and they want their characters to act in certain ways and do certain things at certain times.

They have notebooks and digital notes full of ideas and passages. They have sticky notes covering walls and some even have storyboards, and yet they can’t get it to go. They can’t finish. They can’t even put these great ideas, scenes and dialogue together at all and the work, some wonderful works, are lost and the writers are  disheartened because

they thought that they had to plot it all out carefully and completely,  and

they don’t trust their characters.

These people over-think, they are single-minded. Characters don’t always want to cooperate, characters need to be given the opportunity to grow beyond the original idea for the storyline, and others just need to be allowed to bow out, or take a lesser role in the story. If the writers is trying to force the characters to fit into their solid ideas like square pegs into round holes, the writer is going to be banging his or her head up against corners, and they will give up in complete frustration, certain that they are not cut out to write. Over my long decades, I have watched friends and family members stop writing for these reasons and it breaks my heart every time. They lose faith in themselves all because they can’t get their original ideas and careful plans to mesh.

If they only knew how much more awaits them if they were to ‘wing it’ a bit more.

One of my past guests, writer and phycologist-to-Hollywood-writers Dennis Palumbo, says that when his clients come to him and say that they have “writers’ block” he congratulates them, that they have arrived at a new juncture in their writing. I recommend his Book,”Writing From the Inside Out” [See post:https://fourfoxesonehound.wordpress.com/2019/05/17/guest-dennis-palumbo/]

No matter what, writer’s block is trying to tell the writer something.   They need to put that piece away and write something completely different for a while. Then they should reread what they wrote and remember what they wanted to say in the first place, but they also need listen to their characters, trust them to know what the characters  would and wouldn’t do. Then they should change the scene or situations if inspiration strikes them, and they need to let it strike. They have to let revelations hit them like lightening or whisper in their ears, they just have to open their minds and listen when it does.  Darlings don’t have to be killed, just  converted, or saved for another time. Another work may suit them better.

If I can learn to be flexible, anyone can learn to be flexible. 

The trick is to not completely give up, or give in.

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Maneuvering Around Obstacles

Ways I Cope with Writer’s Block

By Jeff Salter

I don’t think I’ve ever done the stereotypical bit where I just stare at a blank page / screen for long periods and can’t come up with any words. [And I hope I never do!]

But I have been through phases where I can’t seem to concentrate, or just don’t feel like putting in the effort required to think creatively (within the demanding structure of a novel). And, of course, I procrastinate. [I’m far too easily distracted by social media, email, and some of the time-consuming lolly-gagging that has – unfortunately (in recent years) – become part of my daily routine.]

But let me mention something that was similar to writer’s block — in the sense that SOMETHING was keeping me from returning to a fully-drafted novel to get it into publishable shape. That something was – and I was basically aware of this at the time – purely emotional.

My third novel – its first draft just completed as my loved and respected father-in-law was dying in the hospital – featured him as one of the prominent secondary characters. I’d been killing myself to complete a readable draft because I wanted him to read it… so he could see how he was depicted and how several of his relatives and friends had inspired other characters. But his soul departed this earth before I could complete my draft. That left me feeling frustrated and hurting — I had failed in my effort to share with him my tribute to the greatest generation (of which he was a part).

I think it was that grief and sense of failure that basically froze me for the next 14 months and kept me from returning to that draft and whipping it into shape. A 14-month dry spell!

Oh, I don’t mean I wasn’t writing anything, because I wrote some family history and had ‘starts’ on eight other novels (since beginning that third one). But I wasn’t working on the revisions to my third novel… which, I believed, had the most potential for publication.

So I began worrying again. You know, about that dark procrastinating cloud of not being able to finish something. Then, one Saturday, instead of doing what I had planned [visiting a local trade show]… I pulled out that third novel and determinedly began my re-writes. During the next three months, I completely overhauled it. [That manuscript was still far from “ready” however. It went through another complete overhaul before I slashed some 55,000 words and got it into a publishable length. It was released by Clean Reads in May 2013, just over five years after my F-I-L’s death, and about four years after I’d finally forced myself to dive back into it. NOTE: during those same four years, I also wrote five other novels and got two of them published!]

Blocked? Or just re-routed?

Now that I’ve detailed this example of my 14-month impasse – and the emotional reasons for it – let me get to the actual topic for this week: Ways that I cope with writers’ block.

Notice that I’ve titled this blog post, “Maneuvering Around Obstacles.” I worded it that way because there’s a difference between being BLOCKED (as in “halted”), and merely being forced to find an alternate route to your destination.

Though I’ve never possessed any of the computerized “map” gizmos – and hope I never will – I’ve been a passenger in vehicles which were being directed on the desired route by a determined automated voice. In one, which I believe was called Garmin, I remember it repeatedly stating, “Recalculating route,” or some-such. You could almost sense the frustration in that computer programs’ voice… that its initial directions were not being followed and the driver had exerted some independence or initiative.

Well, I took that brief detour with Garmin navigation simply to say that its programmed voice never said, “you are blocked and you cannot move forward.” Inevitably, it was programmed simply to find you a different route — take a detour (if necessary) but then get you headed back toward your original destination.

As writers, we don’t – at least not YET – have a program telling us, “in 1000 words, bring Character A back into the scene” or “in 50 words, make an immediate POV shift.” And if we did have such a program, I doubt many of us would use it. [Because many authors I know – myself included – tend to let their characters run fast and loose!]

How to cope

Bet you thought I’d never get back to the topic at hand. When things have been tenuous at my writing keyboard, I have resorted to things like these:

* working with my hands at something (assembling a chair, building shelves, mounting brackets somewhere, re-working the handle of a hunting knife, etc.). These breaks are good for multiple reasons: they tend to cleanse my writing palate and they check things off my household to-do list.

* exercise and/or communing with nature. Since Jan. 2005, I’ve gone to exercise approximately three times a week, usually for an hour or more each time. It’s not by choice, it’s by the express orders of my then-rheumatologist. But it’s surprising how many story threads, plot ideas, or character notes I can come up with while I’m pedaling a stationary bike for 40 minutes.

* nap / rest. I’ve had – since spring of 1974 – non-stop, chronic fatigue. I don’t think it had a name back then, but just imagine being totally exhausted all the time — from waking in the morning until sleeping at night, never feeling rested. Sometimes, at my keyboard, I realize that I’m simply too tired to concentrate. So I nap. Every day.

Question:

What about YOU? If you’re a writer, have you ever been blocked? Did you figure out why? How did you work your way out of it?

[JLS # 545]

Posted in advice, Jeff Salter, Miscellaneous, writing | Tagged | 9 Comments

Writer’s Block

This week we’re talking about how to deal with writer’s block. Writer’s block is a funny thing. An author will be writing along with everything going well, and all at once she hits a wall. No more words will come. It’s a very disconcerting thing when it happens.

I’ve had writer’s block before myself. Happily for me, it did resolve itself. One thing I did was to step away from the project for a time. Then, when I’d go back I could see the manuscript in a new light and was able to proceed.

Another thing I’ve done is to just write through it. I wrote some pretty awful stuff, most of which had to be thrown away, but the simple act of writing something seemed to help.

The third thing I’ve done is related to the first. I set the work aside and read other people for a while. I’ve always been a reader so I found new enthusiasm for writing when I found a new book I enjoyed.

I think that sometimes authors get writer’s block when they get discouraged. There’s nothing like working and slaving over a book only to have people ignore it once it’s published. If I ever felt discouraged I’d think of all the people who wanted to write a book but couldn’t. I’d also think about the fact that some publisher thought my story was good enough to send me a contract. I’d also feel thankful for my small fan base that seems to enjoy most of my stories. I started writing mostly for myself. It made me happy to create a new place and people. I hope I never forget that if my books make me happy it doesn’t matter if they’re on a bestseller list or not. (Although that would be fun!)

Authors, what about you? How do you deal with writer’s block?

Posted in Miscellaneous | 8 Comments

Writer’s Blocked- Detour Ahead

This week we’re talking about how we deal with writer’s block. I wish I had some wonderful advice or great techniques for how to get over writer’s block but if I’m going to be honest I don’t. I haven’t finished a novel in a few years for this very reason.

I get to about a quarter of the way into a story and everything just goes blank! I know how I want the story to go because I can see it play out in my head but I can’t seem to translate that onto paper. I don’t know if it is all the distractions in my life. I really think it is a combination of things. I had some pretty harsh criticism that has replayed over and over in my mind. I have been dealing with my own health issues and that of my children. Then staying busy taking care of not only my family but helping my parents and sister as much as I can. Then when I do get a chance to sit down I’m so tired that I can’t keep my eyes open to write. When I do get words down on the screen they just don’t flow like they used to. It could be the glare of the screen or the distractions that the internet brings. In the past I have simply just walked away from whatever frozen project I was working on and move on to the next one. This has become a horrible trend. I have dozens of discarded projects.

I decided to try something else. Last week I ran to the store and purchased a hardcover notebook. I have decided that I’m going to use this to work on my next project. Maybe writing on actual paper with pen will let the creativity flow more. I won’t have to deal with the headaches the screen brings or the distractions of the internet right at my fingertips. I am going to set aside a portion of the morning for writing. I’ve always been a night writer, often staying up until 3 A.M. to write but now I find that if I stay up past 11 I’m exhausted the next day, all day long. So I’m going to try writing in the morning.

I’m hoping with this week’s topic I will find some great tricks to try for when I hit a roadblock. I really need to figure out something other than just moving on to the next project.

Posted in Miscellaneous | 7 Comments

Getting Unstuck

Image from Depositphoto.com

This week I asked my fellow bloggers to share ways that we deal with writer’s block.

Since I’m used to dealing with several different issues at any given time, I’m often faced with the inability to write when I have the time, or “on command” as it were. And right now, available time to sit and write is at a premium. I’m dealing with packing up my household in preparation for moving to a new home. We’ve been here for thirty years, so there are lots of memories here. I have lots of decisions to make as far as what to keep, what to sell, and what to give away or toss. 

Fortunately, our decision to move was not a sudden one. I had time to get used to the idea, and while we began our search, I took the time to write an outline of what the next story would be about. I’m definitely a plotter when it comes to writing, so having story details nailed down helps a lot.

Another thing that helps me is having writing friends who get together on a regular basis just to write. One of my writing groups has regularly scheduled Zoom meetings three times a week during which we check in at the top of the hour, declare what we’re going to work on, and then turn off our microphones and cameras while we work. We check in again at the top of each hour to share what we got done and what we want to do next. I’ve managed to get a lot of writing done during these meetings, although lately I’ve been using the time to work on my blog post or plan the university class I’ll be teaching in the fall. In addition to checking in, we use this time to brainstorm solutions to plot problems or unruly characters.

I’ve also put out calls on social media in various writers groups or even or sometimes to the people who follow my author page, asking for someone to help me solve plot problems and often had productive discussions that resulted in my being able to continue writing. 

Despite all the available willing helpers, there are times when I just need to figure things out myself. A few years ago, I attended a workshop given by my good friend Elizabeth Meyette. She’s been a guest here at Four Foxes, One Hound with her mystery series. In her workshop, Elizabeth gave several great ideas for dealing with the dreaded inability to figure out what comes next in our stories. But the one that stuck with me – and the one I’ve used more than once – is the trick of writing the question that needs to be answered with my dominant hand and then putting the pen or pencil in the other hand. I was extremely skeptical until I tried it. At the time, I was working on my historical novella Lost in Lavender and I needed to figure out how my hero, a landscape architect, would meet and spend time with my heroine, a milliner. What would be the impetus for starting their relationship? At the workshop, I wrote the question with my right hand and then put my pen in my left hand. And then, in very shaky penmanship, I wrote He has a poor sense of direction. Aha! Problem solved. My hero, James Benton, repeatedly got lost when walking from one place to another, but for some reason kept finding his way to her hat shop. From there, the story flowed. I realized he was a lot like my true-life hero in that he would become lost in his thoughts and forget where he was. 

Since then, I’ve used this technique a few more times. If it didn’t take so long to write longhand, perhaps an entire book could be written left-handed!

Posted in author's life, Daily life, Dealing with stress, decisions, Life, Patricia Kiyono, The Author Life, writing | Tagged , , | 14 Comments

Guest: Author Alexa Kang [Free book offer]

Guest: Author Alexa Kang [Free book offer]

I picked up Alexa Kang’s “Shanghai Story” for something a little different to read.
I had no idea just how different it would be.

It is the bravest piece of work that I have ever read.

Even more impressively, Alexa managed to do it frankly while keeping it a ‘clean read’.

The only book I can compare the ‘warts-and-all’ treatment of the facets of war in this book is “The Naked and the Dead”, but Alexa manages do it without falling back, (as Norman Mailer did), on sex, vulgarity and baseness.

 While looking into her Rose of Anzio series and short stories,(one prequel, one sequel), I see that I am not the only one who recognizes the courage and depth of Alexa’s work, as many WWII sites and buffs in the U.S. and in England, (as the main characters are American and English), laud her work and accuracy.

I amvery much looking forward to reading her Nisei series about Japanese-Americans surrounding WWII, (the “Nisei” are second-generation), and the painful and unimaginable position in which they found themselves.

No people’s history should be lost.

Welcome, Alexa!

When I first started to write this interview, I had only read Shanghai Story and was overwhelmed. As I looked into your other works, I have been equally impressed, but I will start with my original questions, if you don’t mind. I know that I will gush over Shanghai Story. I’d love to also gush over the Rose of Anzio short stories, (I’ll Be Home For Christmas and Christmas Eve in the City of Dreams), but that would give far too many spoilers.

(Please forgive me for talking more myself than is seemly for an interviewer. I was simply this moved by what I have read of Alexa’s work so far.)

Alexa, I hardly know where to begin, as Shanghai Story is truly rich in so many facets of the world, especially China, in the story’s time period. You have so much information and with social differences so far removed from most people from western civilizations, yet you manage to make it clear to the reader. I didn’t find it necessary to consult the simple glossary which you provided, or the ‘cast of characters’ during reading the book, but I did read through them at the start, which was most helpful.  I was pleased with the clear introduction giving the honorifics and the transliteration. Please explain to our readers the difference between the ‘old’ Wade-Giles Romanization, (which most of us read growing up), and the ‘pinyin’ system you decided to use, and any other information pertaining to the introduction.

Hi Tonette, thank you so much for your compliments about my book. I’m honored to be invited for an interview on your blog.

For me, Shanghai Story was a very ambitious project. I wanted to chronicle the history of how China descended into WWII. It was very challenging to take the enormous amount of history, with the complexity of all the events that had occurred, and present them in a fiction story that could be easily comprehensible to readers.

The decision to use Pinyin came down to the reality that Pinyin is now the dominant and official system of Chinese translation. Wade-Giles would have been more historically accurate and easier for readers who don’t know Chinese. Pinyin contains some Romanized spellings which look impossible to pronounce (e.g.: “qin”). My editor and I discussed the pros and cons of each. In the end, I think that as Mainland China continues to become a more engaged and integral part of the global community, Wade-Giles will, for all practical purposes, become obsolete. I want my story to be accessible to future generations of readers who will be primarily familiar with Pinyin.

That said, I did keep the Wade-Giles translations for a few things. The main one was the Whangpoo River. This river was a landmark even back in the pre-war era. It felt wrong, like a temporal error, for the characters to refer the name of this river in Pinyin in their dialogues or their internal thoughts, especially when they are referring to or thinking of it in English.

Whether to use honorifics within the story was another decision my editor and I discussed. I didn’t see any way to exclude honorific in dialogues when all the characters speaking were Chinese. They had to be using honorifics. For example, Clark’s younger sisters would not under any circumstance have addressed him by his name. So, despite the challenge this would pose to readers, I decided to use them, with the inclusion of a reading guide for honorifics at the beginning of the book.

One thing the readers might not know is that I’m fluent in Chinese. I wrote all the dialogues between Chinese characters by first imagining them in Chinese. Then I drafted their dialogues accordingly in English, but not in the way that a translator would do it. I didn’t simply translate to convey the literal meaning of the text. I crafted the dialogues in English to simulate as closely as possible the speech of the Chinese characters, because I wanted my English readers to hear what a Chinese person would hear. At the same time, I made sure that the Chinese characters’ speech did not sound like stereotypical Chinese speech. I drafted the English equivalents so the dialogues would be how an English speaker would’ve said it, but without losing the Chinese words that were used. In this way, I included a lot of Chinese idioms on the Chinese dialogues and Clark’s internal thoughts, without the idioms sounding like something out of a fortune cookie.

Despite that I am a romantic, what also kept me reading was your bravery in your not pulling any punches. Not one group goes without you pointing out where they fail in their words and actions, or where each person falls or stumbles. There is no character who has superhuman virtues, no group above unrighteous thought or behavior, and you point out the realities of them all. No one is spared your light shining on their wrongdoings, not just Mao and the Communists, the Opium tradesmen, Hitler and the Nazis, but the Japanese, the English, the Americans, Chiang Kai-Shek, his wife, (Soong Mei-Ling), the KMT government, and nearly every other facet of Chinese government and society, along with the usually spared Jewish community.

What gave you such courage to tell it as it truly was without simply lauding the better factions, or, (as in some cases), the lesser of evils?

I do feel keenly the pressure on writers in our political climate today. With Twitter policing the public sphere, there is a lot of scrutiny on how we portray different groups of people. I’m a bit more shielded than contemporary fiction writers because historical fiction readers skew older, and are generally less embroiled in social media controversies. Historical fiction readers are also extremely demanding when it comes to historical accuracy. They don’t want anachronism. Many of my readers are of ages at which they can still remember and relate to the people and situations I write about. I myself remember very well the world of my late grandmother, who lived through WWII. I saw how she and her friends lived, and the impact the war era and the post-war world had on them. In my books, I’m presenting the world of the past as I remember it. Perhaps younger people today would find that world problematic, but the truth that I personally know and remember is undeniable and indisputable.

But you’re absolutely right that today, writing about different groups of people is a treacherous landscape to navigate. It is the reason I felt compelled to include an Afterword to explain why I wrote some characters of certain backgrounds in negative or positive lights, and why I included racial slurs in some scenes where I felt doing otherwise would be disingenuous.

While it is quite frightening for me to write this way, I don’t feel brave at all. I think the brave ones are the soldiers and resistance fighters who fought during WWII, and the victims who faced the atrocities of that war, then survived and overcame the sufferings and injustice inflicted upon them. I watch a lot of documentary footages of WWII for research. I’ve seen bombs and missiles dropping on men on battlefields, and on women and children in towns and cities. Comparing to all those people, what I did was nothing. Learning about people who lived during the war era gives me the perspective not to lose sight of how much easier our lives are today compared to those who went before us.

One thing that guides me when I construe characters is my view on human nature. I think that all the ways we categorize people are external. We group people by nationality, religion, race, ethnicity, etc. But for all our external differences, underneath, we’re all human driven by the same motivations and desires. We have the same capacity to do good and evil. I’ve traveled extensively around the world. Everywhere I went, I saw that people want the same things: health, love and acceptance, money, security, power and influence, validation and justification, superiority over others. We also have the propensity for compassion and to do good, especially for people we care about. So while we have cultural differences, our human nature is the same. From this standpoint, my approach is to present my characters as fundamentally human. This way, the characters would be relatable widely to all audiences regardless of the characters’ backgrounds.

Lastly, I have a policy of trusting my readers. I tell my readers that I trust them to interpret my stories. When we trust our readers and invite them to judge for themselves, we elevate them. In response, they feel their opinions are valued, and they make a greater effort to engage with nuances and complexities. When we don’t give them the chance to think and be the judge, all they have left is to decide whether they agree or disagree with you.

Presently, we are all under some pressure to not speak of certain things that are viewed as problematic. There is a concern that if we let problematic things be told, it could cause harm. But taking that view with fiction would mean we believe readers are not intelligent enough to be exposed to the vast area of gray between black and white, and to think for themselves. I’m not comfortable with this approach. It feels disrespectful to my readers. I start with the premise that my readers can understand and interpret my stories when exploring the complexity of our world through fiction, without me telling them how to think.

Perhaps my view is foolhardy in today’s world, but I’d like to hold on to it for as long as I can. I hope we are still able to process and interpret complexities. Even if not, I don’t feel I’m the authority to tell readers what is the correct way or incorrect way to look at the world. What I want is to present history to them as truthfully as possible, and let them decide for themselves what to make of our past. When the book is in their hands, it is their journey.

I read about Soong Mei-Ling and her sisters many years ago, and I was sure that even though much was exposed at the time, not all was told. You do no protection of Mei-Ling. I have not gotten farther into the series, but could you tell me if her sisters also show up in your story?

Madam Chiang/Soong Mei-Ling will appear again in Book Two, Shanghai Dreams, but her two sisters will not be in the later books in this series. The Soong sisters are 20th century legends. There’s a story in there to be told to the Western audience for sure. (No, I’m not making any promise to be the one to write it!)

Besides historical personages, were there any of your fictitious characters based on real people? For instance, is Greg Dawson based on Claire Chennault?

Yes! A major character, Alex Mitchell, will be introduced in Book 3, Shanghai Yesterday. He is based on Carroll Alcott, an American radio personality in Shanghai during the time period when my story took place. Mr. Alcott was a courageous man who waged a war on-air against Imperial Japan for its aggressive expansion into Asia and its military’s human rights abuses. However, Alex Mitchell is younger and much more handsome. Alex is one of my favorite characters in this story. I had so much fun writing him.

The character Greg Dawson was not based on Claire Chennault, although I did imagine Dawson to be an American pilot who worked for Chennault.

I want so to continue reading the Shanghai saga and more, but frankly, with the old servant going home to Nanking/Nanjing, I am going to do so when I personally feel stronger. How much can I risk asking you to discuss the subject of The Rape of Nanking without too many spoilers for your story?

Since my story is set in Shanghai, none of the main characters will directly witness or experience the Rape of Nanking. Also, the massacre at Nanking is very well-known. I did not feel the need to retell the gruesome details at length for readers to understand the atrocities that took place. Rather, I used the opportunity to adapt into the story a historical figure who would challenge the readers to think about who could be coined heroic in times of war.

The first character we meet in Shanghai Story is “Yuan Guo-Hui”, aka, “Clark”. He is a young man returning to a traditional/ transitional China after studying in America for six years. What inspired the character of Clark?

I had three goals in mind when I construed his character. First, I really, really wanted to write an Asian male lead. When I look at current English historical fiction novels with Asian leads, the central character is almost always a suffering Asian woman. Her travails are always a result of her being a woman in a sexist society. Her roles would be confined, and her powers would be limited. I wanted to get away from that narrative and write something different.

Secondly, I wanted to write about the political history of the war. I love writing epic dramas with larger-than-life characters. If a WWII story set in China is about a woman, the scale of her story would have to be smaller. Her challenges would have to be on a more personal scale, especially if she is the type of powerless, impoverished woman so often written about. With Clark, a young man from a prominent family in Shanghai, I could put him in the center of all the forces of influence in the city. He could interact on the same level with all the movers and shakers with the power to shape the road to the war and its outcome.

My third goal was to make him a bridge between the East and the West, not just in the story, but also as a bridge to bring Western readers unfamiliar with China into pre-war Shanghai. Clark is a man of Chinese heritage with Chinese values, but he is westernized. He is not completely foreign to new readers, and they can connect to him right away. When they begin following his journey, they don’t have to overcome a mental barrier to relate to him.

Asian men are very under-represented in American fiction. I hope Clark and my story will add something different to the WWII fiction genre.

I personally never understood how anyone could be happy in an arranged marriage. To do it for family position and security could be seen as a duty and for honor, but to willingly choose to put your body and soul into another person’s hands willingly and be happy about it is beyond me, (although it is still being done and I have had friends who want it.)  Alexa, you manage to put into your story every point of arranged marriages, the pros and cons in particular societies, and the games that are played by all parties, including Shen-yi, Clark’s life-long fiancée. The theme continues in your Nisei War stories.  What has been your experience with arrange marriages?

It’s crazy when we think about how recent the idea of choosing your own spouse is in most parts of the world. I would never want to be in that situation, but arranged marriages were historically how people married in many countries.

My late maternal grandparents met by arranged marriage. My grandmother was only nineteen and my grandfather was in his early thirties. She barely saw what he looked like before their wedding. It was an accepted custom back then where they came from. They only lived together for a few years after they married. He was working in Cuba before that. During their marriage, he continued to spend long periods abroad. It’s actually not considered unusual for Chinese people to live and work abroad away from their families for extended periods. The practice is quite common even today. My grandfather died abroad in his fifties. Honestly, I don’t think my grandmother minded much that he was gone for most of the time they were married.

Family/cultural/national duty and honor are recurring themes in all of your series’ families. Have you found this a common attitude around the world?

These themes are certainly important to all cultures, but I think the Chinese have traditionally placed a much higher value on family duty, and they’re more bound to cultural expectations.

National duty tends to be more relevant to people who are in positions to act and protect their country, like my character Clark. Otherwise, it’s not something most people feel obligated to beyond a concept, unless the government imposes it on them based on certain ideologies, like fascism and communism. WWII is very interesting because around the world, a generation of young men was either indoctrinated into the belief that they owed a duty to their countries (e.g. Germany and Japan), or called to duty by conscription (e.g. the Allied countries).

Are there any of your family’s experiences in this series?

No. People in my family were common folks. They never experienced the kind drama wrote about in Shanghai Stories.

The other major character in Shanghai Story is Eden Levine, a Jewish expatriate who got out of Germany with her family in a timely manner. [China had open borders and many Jews sought and found refuge there while America and some other countries were dragging their feet.] I had been surprised some time ago at the extensive Jewish community in China today, but I had not realized just how far back it reached and how it managed to survive throughout the changes in modern Chinese history.

Eden’s bravery for standing up for an injustice to a person who does not want her help and the anger and disappointment of her family and community is realistically played. How did you develop Eden’s character, and those of the different Jewish communities in China?

I wanted Eden to serve as the moral compass of the story. She’s in a world where multiple fractions of people with competing interests were pushing different agendas. It is a ruthless world where nobody is completely innocent. Even Clark has to bend the rules when he has no choice. Unlike him, she doesn’t have a greater burden to carry on behalf of his country and his family. She could be true to herself where he couldn’t. Her choices depended entirely on her own conscience. Through her character, I wanted to explore if a person could persist in doing what is right based solely on her conscience.

In each book of the trilogy, Eden is presented with a situation where she has to wrestle with her conscience to make a difficult choice. In Book One, she has to decide whether to stand up for someone who is, in every manner of speaking, her mortal enemy—a Nazi. I wanted to see how a person could go against the pressure of the community, when it would be so much easier to stand by and do nothing. I think for Eden, it’s even more than that. Since she has reasons to believe his innocence, if she does not try to help him, she would be no different than the people back in Germany who stood by while the Nazis persecuted the Jewish people. So what would she do?

The attraction between Eden and Clark is something which they deny to themselves, let alone to each other. Did this story start out with their relationship to each other or more about China and WWII as a whole?

I intended the story to be about China and WWII. The attraction between Clark and Eden, however, brings a human side to the story. Forbidden love between interracial couples is no longer taboo in most parts of the world today, thankfully. But it was a super fun for me to write that story arc.

I have to say that the way Eden and Clark are portrayed on you website are the best match I have even seen to descriptions of characters in books! How did you manage to get them so close?

Thank you!! I’m so surprised you asked. Readers don’t often realize all the work we put into packaging the story to give them a full, immersive experience. I spend a lot of time creating graphic images for my new releases. For Shanghai Story, it took me many, many hours searching for the right photos of models on image licensing sites. I then worked with my graphic artist to create images for my website and social media for the book launch. Technology today is amazing. We can do so much digitally to get everything the way we want. I’m truly lucky to be writing novels right now. So many options and possibilities are available to us that weren’t before.

I know now that I should have started with your Rose of Anzio series. My uncle was a minister and a chaplain who was decorated for his service at Anzio. He was so moved that he wrote poetry about the sadness upon seeing his men dead in the field, the snuffing out of young, promising lives.  How did you decide that the battle for Anzio would be the focal point of your saga?

First, thank you to your uncle for his service. From all the diaries and journals of servicemen I’ve read, I know that his work had been invaluable to give them the spiritual and emotional support they needed. Does your family still have any of the poems he wrote? Perhaps your family might consider sharing them online with others who are interested in WWII?

Rose of Anzio was my debut series. It’s not related to Shanghai Story, and they could be read in either order. I chose Anzio as the story’s backdrop because I wanted to write about a part of WWII that historically hadn’t gotten as much attention. I’ve learned so much about the Battle of Anzio since then. Anzio was a long and brutal campaign. I’m glad I was able to contribute in a small way to keeping alive the memories of those who fought there.

Your website has photos of places in Italy that you mention in Rose of Anzio. Were you familiar with these places beforehand or did you go there to do research?

No, I wasn’t. I learned about all the places through research. After the series was released, I took a private WWII tour of Sicily and Southern Italy. I visited all the battle locations I had written about. I wanted to see those places for myself, and to give my readers real-life visual references for the story. My tour guide was wonderful. She got us passes to some places that are closed to the public. For example, we got to visit the part of the beach where the Third Division first landed. That area is now an Italian military training ground.

I was very happy to see from that trip that my descriptions on geography and places in the books were very accurate. The tour helped me see in person why the landscape of the region made the battle so treacherous for the Allied troops. Our soldiers were basically sitting ducks in a wide-open space for the Germans to shoot at them from every direction.

Your reviewers also mention how well you portray war and the medical staff without being overtly gory. How did you do your obviously extensive researches this subject and for all of your works?  Does research take longer than you expected?

I don’t have any time expectation as to research when I write. It’s hard for me to know how long it would take to find the information I need. Sometimes a small but necessary detail, like what kinds of bag, or camera, or pen people used in a particular year, might take me hours to discover. Other times, I might find a video on YouTube taken of a town in the 1930s or 1940s, and it would show me everything I need to know to write a scene. Writing about the battles and medical situations required more expert opinions. For Rose of Anzio, I was able to do the basic plotting by reading primary sources. The U.S. Army and the U.S. Army Medical Department also have a trove of records available online to the public. I found a lot of specific records on military organization and administration at Anzio, and the planning for support by medical and supply units.

I also had the fortune of coming across a British military historian on an internet forum who helped me map out and set up my battle scenes. During the editing process, I had an editor who is a U.S. Army veteran review and edit all my battle scenes. For medical questions, I relied on personal friends who are doctors and veterinarians (in a scene involving a dog).

What were some things which surprised you which you found while digging into background information for any of your works?

Right now, I’m doing a lot of research into what happened to Japanese-Americans during WWII. I learned that in 1944, Roosevelt and Congress passed the Denaturalization Act to encourage them to renounce their American citizenship. I never knew this. That was horrible! These were American-born citizens. Where did the government want them to go? And how could they demand patriotism from Japanese-Americans on the one hand, then passed a law to tell them the country didn’t want them as citizens? I also learned that if a Japanese-American woman married a Japanese immigrant, she would automatically lose her American citizenship. Both of these laws call to my mind similar laws and actions the Nazi regime took toward the Jewish people. They are very disturbing and upsetting.

On a lighter note, when I was writing Shanghai Story, I was surprised to learn the rumor that Soong Mei-Ling had an affair with Republican presidential nominee Wendell Willkie. The rumor was likely true. It was said that Chiang Kai-shek had barged into Soong’s room one morning with guards to try to catch them in the act, and he looked under the bed to see if Willkie was hiding there.

I think that people from most cultures have, and still have, questions about their ‘patriotism’ and allegiances from those who feel superior by virtue of how long their people have been in America, (which can be ironically, conversely applied to Indian/Native American people). I recently met a woman whose parents of German descent met in a Texas internment camp during WWII, but the Japanese-Americans were hit the hardest. How did you decide to do a series about their stories? Did any one particular story, person or family inspire you to write of their hardships and of the choices they made, and those that were made for them?

My choice to write a series about Japanese-Americans came, again, from my goal to bring something different to the WWII historical fiction genre. For this series, I draw on the anecdotal accounts and stories of many real-life Nisei (second-generation Japanese-Americans during WWII). I’m Asian-American myself. Although I didn’t experience something as drastic as internment, I can relate to their experience and how they felt growing up with two cultural heritages. I know what it was like for them to be viewed as being not American enough, and the prejudices they faced.

I will say though that we’ve come a long way. The kind of discrimination they contended with in their lives lasted through the 1980s when I was growing up. Personally, I feel the social climate has improved over the decades. As Asian minorities, we are more visible. Generally speaking, we can enter places without feeling we don’t belong. Of course, there are a lot of ways we can still improve. I also don’t know if it’s ever possible to change the mind of every person who holds racist views. But if we want to make things better, we can’t just look at everything that’s wrong. I don’t think it’s healthy mentally to only dwell on all the things that are wrong. We need to look at the positive changes we have made, so we can learn from them and build on them. We need to see that we have made progress, so that we have a reason to believe our world can be better and there is hope.

Have you decided on how many Nisei War stories there will be?  I know that you intend for these to stand alone, but will they continue with the same characters?

For now, I’m planning five books, but no guarantee!!! The books will each be about a different character, but all the main characters will be linked to each other somehow.

Although you show characters finding the ‘righteousness’ of WWII, you certainly do not glorify war in any way. Congratulations on finding a balance.  Haven’t you found that most stories about war lean only one way or the other, total war glorification or complete and total non-violence, (even to no self-defense)?

I don’t know if this is generally the case in war fiction, but I think this is often true in WWII fiction, particularly in WWII movies and TV series. This is probably because we think of WWII as “the last good war”, where the Allies and the Axis can so easily be characterized as good vs. evil. Of course, the facts weren’t so simple. The Allies were never as morally superior as fictionally portrayed. Still, this is the only war that we can view through a black and white prism because it was in part a war of ideologies. It was a war to determine whether democracy, Communism, or fascism would win and dominate. It was also a war where the subject of race came to a head, not just in Germany, but also in Asia, and in Western colonies. As the narrative goes, good triumphed over evil. As fiction creators, we can take the liberty to glorify the violence of war on the Allies’ side, and condemn the brutalities on the Axis’ side.

Contrast that with other wars. Before WWII, wars were fought to extend the power of the ruling elites. They were fought over land, territories, and resources, so it’s harder to view those wars through the lens of good vs. evil, unless we’re talking about overthrowing an evil king or emperor. For fiction about these wars, we have protagonists we root for, but I’m not sure if we necessarily have to view the winning side as the righteous one.

After WWII, we had the Korean War, then Vietnam. Our views toward the Vietnam War are much more divided, and I think fiction on the Vietnam War reflects that. Post 9/11, we’ve been continuously involved with the regional wars in the Middle East. But the political situations there are so complicated, it’s impossible to clearly portray any party involved as simply good or evil. Glorification of any party or the violence involved is much harder.

On the other hand, WWII also lends itself to stories where we can completely avoid the reality of war violence. WWII elicits a level of nostalgia. The 1930s and 1940s were decades of great cultural advancement. In pop culture, we had big band music, jitterbug dancing, and glamourous Hollywood stars. The transportation of millions of soldiers around the world brought these cultural elements to the rest of the world. Next to that, the war was fought in many places where we like to romanticize: Paris, London, and the colonized towns in Africa and Southeast Asian cities. Romance was a big part of WWII. We have endless real-life stories of soldiers falling in love overseas, and girls-next-door writing letters to homesick soldiers who they married when the war ended. As fiction writers, we can create full stories just about these non-battle-related subjects. I cannot think of another war that we can romanticize this way to such a great extent. Certainly not for any of the wars that happened post-WWII. If you write war stories about Vietnam or the Middle East, the stories would be pretty grim.

You’ve probably answered this dozens of times, but please tell those reading here how you went from writing manga fan fiction to writing historical novels.

Haha! It was all serendipity. I honestly never aspired to be a writer. When I was a child in the ‘70s, I was a fan of a Japanese anime TV show and manga series called Candy Candy. It was a story set in the early 1900s. Its plot was in the tradition of Heidi and Anna of Green Gables, except the story followed the main character, Candy, into early adulthood. Candy Candy has a global fandom because the anime was broadcasted in Asia, South America, and Europe. However, it was not shown in any English-speaking countries. It was a very powerful story during its time, and it influenced a generation of girls around the world. Today, it has a cult following of women who grew up with that story.

Anyhow, the way the story ended was very unsatisfying. The main issue was that the author left it open whether or not Candy would reunite with the man she loved. Their separation was traumatized our minds and we never got over it. The lack of resolution plagued us for decades, and fans began writing fanfics to “fan-fix” the story. The first one circulated among fans by snail mail. Then the internet came along, and all the Candy Candy fans found each other online. We started creating websites and forums to share our memories, and we wrote many more fanfics to reimagine the missing parts of the story and the characters. I was one of the fans who was compelled to write a fanfic novella to bring Candy and the man she loved back together. 

Several Candy Candy fanfics achieved iconic status within the fandom. Mine was one of them. I was shocked to see how well my little fanfic novella was received. It was fan-translated into Spanish, Italian, and French. Afterward, I wanted to write a love story about the children of the main cast of Candy Candy. These children didn’t exist in the cannon, but were purely my own imagination. Because Candy Candy ended in the mid-1920s, the story about the children of the cast would have to take place in the middle of WWII. At first, I didn’t know if I could go through with it. It was one thing to write a story, but to have to do deep research into WWII was a different matter.

Still, the urge to write this story was so great, I went ahead. This story ultimately became my debut series Rose of Anzio. The main characters, Tessa and Anthony, are my imagined children of the characters from Candy Candy. Rose of Anzio took me more than a year to write. Each time I finished a chapter, I would post it on the Candy Candy forum where I was a member. The fanfic readers were fantastic. They gave me so much support, comments, and feedback. When I decided to publish Rose of Anzio to a wider audience, they became my first customers because they wanted to own a copy of the story and hold the books in their hands. Rose of Anzio, in fact, is now very well-known in the Candy Candy fandom. I have thousands of requests for it to be translated into Spanish. On the Amazon Japanese store, there’s a book review in Japanese that talks about Rose of Anzio being inspired by Candy Candy.

Here’s a postscript to that venture. In April 2019, the author of Candy Candy, Keiko Nagita, attended the Livre Paris book fair to promote the release of the French translated edition of Candy Candy rewritten as an adult novel series. A group of my Candy Candy friends and I decided to go to the book fair to meet her. (I met these friends online through Candy Candy. This childhood story brought us together as lifelong friends.) My friends urged me to bring a copy of Rose of Anzio to give to Ms. Nagita. I wasn’t sure initially. Ms. Nagita is an idol to me. But I followed my friends’ suggestion. During one of the author’s meet-and-greet events at a book store, I was able to tell Ms. Nagita her story inspired me to write Rose of Anzio. I asked her if she would like a copy. She was so kind! She not only said yes, but asked me to sign it! So she now has a copy of Rose of Anzio-Moonlight.

You have a few supernatural elements in some of your stories, but not in many. I have to say that so far, one is a very touching story that will stay with me. Do you plan on adding any more of this type of spiritual element to your works in the future?

As of now, I have no plans to write a new one. I am a fan of the paranormal genre. Sometimes I think about writing a horror WWII flash fiction story as a free treat to my readers for Halloween, but I never got around to it. With the way the market is segmented today, and the application of algorithms in online retail stores, we are bounded to producing books in our chosen genre in order for the books to sell. I have a number of WWII stories I still want to get out of my head. I may consider writing in a different genre at some point. For now, it’s more a dabble now and then for fun.

Do you know where your muse will next lead you?
 

I do. After the Nisei War Series, I have another series in mind, plus another potential spin off from Rose of Anzio about a secondary character in that series. We shall see.

I know that I’ve handed you a lot to work on, Alexa. Is there anything else that you would like to say to our readers?

For anyone who hasn’t read my books, I hope you will give them a read.  If you sign up to my newsletter, you will receive a complimentary copy of Christmas Eve in the City of Dreams, a spin-off story from the Rose of Anzio series. 

Signup link: https://alexakang.com/nlsubscribe/websitesignup/

Thank you so much for your time. Please let everyone know how they can learn more about you and your writings:

Amazon Author Page: https://www.amazon.com/Alexa-Kang/e/B01AXTLTS4

Website: http://alexakang.com

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/roseofanzio/

Bookbub: https://www.bklnk.com/categories.php

Link to the Shanghai Story trilogy: https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B07JDL5N6J/

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Reviewing a Childhood Classic

The Original Text of Boxcar Children

By Jeff Salter

On one of the FB groups (I belong to) where some of the “old-time” children’s series books are discussed, someone recently mentioned something about the original Boxcar Children series having been revised at some point… presumably because certain details were now considered a bit dicey. When I read that, I wondered, “what on earth could have been dicey about the Boxcar kids?”

Someone (on that thread) explained that at least one of those details had to do with their father being a drunk… and dying (drunk) shortly after they’d moved to a new town.

Well, that’s certainly an unseemly beginning of their story, but I saw no need for any later editors to have censored those facts. Nevertheless, the interchange about this book aroused my curiosity and I decided I must obtain a copy of the original 1924 text. So I did.

Summary

There are four siblings in the newly-orphaned family: two boys and two girls. The oldest (Henry) is 13; next is Jessie, a girl of 12. Violet is next and the youngest is a boy (Benny) who’s around 3, as I recall.

These kids had been told by their late father that their only living relative was a grandfather who supposedly disliked them… he was a cruel man who had basically disinherited their (alcoholic) father when he’d married and started this young family. [There’s no mention of their mother, presumably deceased.]

Now that the kids are orphaned, some of the local neighborhood folks want to “help” — but the only assistance they can imagine is either to admit the kids to an orphanage or to deliver them into the hands of the grandfather they’ve been taught to fear.

So, as you’ve likely guessed, the kids slip away during the night and begin a trek to a different town, some distance away. As they near this new place, they discover an abandoned freight car on a dis-used railroad spur, tucked away in a forest. In those woods they can trap small game, and there’s a nearby brook where they can drink and wash. There are berries and fruits about. So these plucky, resourceful kids will be able to stay together and face whatever obstacles come their way.

Henry ventures into town to find work and earns enough to buy a few staples. Jessie visits a town dump, where they find a few pans and plates that they can wash and use to cook meals.

The older boy – working odd jobs in town – is very careful not to tell anyone where he lives, or who he lives with, or that they are orphaned. But bit-by-bit, a few concerned citizens begin to piece together the truth of these kids’ situation.

Soon the younger girl gets sick and needs medical attention — and there begins the degree of attention (from citizens in this new community) which potentially threatens this little family’s isolated independence.

Review

I found their story charming. Their poverty reminded me of the stories my father told us about his own early years… in which there was often hardly a scrap of food in the house and the older siblings had to hunt for hard work just to bring in a few coins.

And I was really impressed with the cheerful way they all worked together… and looked after each other. There was no sense of self-pity and no expectation of “charity.” They were willing to work hard to procure what they needed to survive… and what they wanted most was to be allowed to remain together as a family.

Another reason I enjoyed this story was because it ties in with what I suppose is a fairly common theme of a typical child’s life when things at home aren’t going his way — that he’d consider (or actually threaten) “running away from home.” I can recall making such an announcement to my mom at various points during my early years. [She always cheerfully told me to “be sure to write”!]

I feel no need to read any additional entries in this extensive series, but I’m glad I located and read this first installment… in its original text.

Information

[From Wiki:] The Boxcar Children is a children’s book series originally created and written by the American first-grade school teacher Gertrude Chandler Warner. Today, the series includes nearly 160 titles, with more being released every year. The series is aimed at readers in grades 2–6.

Question:

Have YOU ever read any title in the Boxcar Children series? If it was this first title, did you read the original text… or was it one that had been revised?

[JLS # 544]

Posted in book review, book series, Books, characters, childhood, Children's books, Family, Jeff Salter, memories, reviews | Tagged , | 11 Comments

Introducing Laura Haley McNeil and the Beaumont Brides

Friends, please help me welcome Laura to Four Foxes One Hound.

A native of California, Laura Haley-McNeil spent her youth studying ballet and piano, though her favorite pastime was curling up with a good book. Without a clue as to how to write a book, she knew one day she would. 

After college, she segued into the corporate world, but she never forgot her love for the arts and served on the board of two community orchestras. Finally realizing that the book she’d dreamt of writing wouldn’t write itself, she planted herself in front of her computer. She now immerses herself in the lives and loves of her characters in her romantic suspense and her contemporary romance novels. Many years later, she lived her own romantic novel when she married her piano teacher, the love of her life. 

Though she and husband have left warm California for cooler Colorado, they enjoy the outdoor life of hiking, bicycling, horseback riding and snow skiing. They satisfy their love of music by attending concerts and hanging out with their musician friends, but Laura still catches a few free moments when she can sneak off and read. 

Beaumont Brides Boxed Set Books 1-3

Here come the brides!

Book 1: Wherever Love Finds You

It’s his game. He makes the rules. Rule number one – only he can break the rules.

Zach Lowe lives his life without relationships in business and personally. Getting involved doesn’t work well when you’re the Black Knight of Wall Street.

Ellora Duvall, the sweet kid who crushed on him in high school, waltzes into the world of corporate finance with the same wide eyed innocence she had in chemistry class. He hadn’t expected her to affect him the way she did, but he’s in control. A few weeks with Ellora will be pure pleasure, then he’ll move on. She’ll understand. He should, too.

Who broke his rules?

Book 2: When Love Whispers

Sometimes, love comes in packages.

As the top ranked student at Charleston’s military academy, Preston Lowe excels in class, in sports and with women. Only Willow Dockery, a barmaid at the city’s trendy nightclub, sees the pain in his eyes when he’s out with friends having a good time. But Willow doesn’t know how Preston inwardly struggles to forget a past that could derail the career he’s worked hard to achieve.

Willow wrestles with her own secrets. After a disastrous relationship leaves her broke and disillusioned, she vows never to let anyone rob her of her dreams again. But as she gets to know Preston, it’s as if their tumultuous pasts meld together into something so startling it transforms their relationship and their lives forever.

Book 3: Call It Love

A kiss isn’t just a kiss …

Struggling actress Addison Duvall hustles background acting jobs at the Hollywood studios in hopes for her big break. When she’s cast as the stand in for the lead actress in a blockbuster spy film, she can’t believe her luck. The surprises rush in―her first test shot is with Hollywood heartthrob Spencer Kingsley. Her even bigger surprise is when the director yells, “Action!” and Spencer presses his lips to hers in a kiss.

Behind Spencer’s Hollywood façade hides the secret pain no one suspects. He’s the first to take a risk except when it comes to his heart. He can’t deny he and Addison have chemistry―chemistry onscreen and off―and he’s tempted to lower his guard. She seems real, not like the women he usually meets.

Once Addison’s star rises, so do Spencer’s doubts. She’s no different than the others looking for the connection to catapult their careers. He won’t let another woman damage his heart. His decision made, Spencer wishes her success.

But it’s already too late. How does he heal this Addison shaped hole in his heart? Should he risk more heartbreak for another chance at love?

Excerpt: Chapter One Call It Love

Addison Duvall stood apart from the cast and crew crowded across the Hollywood soundstage and ended the call on her cell phone. She dropped her head back against the concrete wall and closed her eyes, but that did little to still the emotions rising in her chest. 

Her agent, Donny White, had just told her she didn’t get the part on the sitcom that she was sure she had. The director was looking for someone tanner, blonder, shorter. She could be all those things if given a chance. She could go to a tanning salon, dye her dark hair, and slouch. 

Donny laughed and told her he’d scheduled her for another audition. “Don’t worry, kid. I’ll get you something,” he said. But he said that every time they talked.

Sometimes she wondered if she should’ve accepted the teaching job she’d been offered and stayed in Colorado―even if it was January and freezing.

Conversations on the set silenced. Addison’s eyes flew open, and she clutched her copy of the screenplay for When We Say Goodbye to her chest. She’d been hired as the stand-in for Irene Wayne, the female lead in this top-budget spy film, and she didn’t want to miss her cue. 

A tall, powerfully built man stepped onto the set. Spencer Kingsley, the film’s star, was the grandson of Hollywood great Mirabelle La Marr Kingsley and the hottest actor in town. His parents would’ve been acting legends had a tragic accident not claimed their lives.

Addison’s heart beat rapidly. She might be Irene’s stand-in, but this was the closest she’d ever get to Spencer Kingsley. When Irene’s scenes were shot, she’d be with Spencer in nearly every scene. Lucky girl. 

Spencer’s blue gaze swept over the cast and crew and he greeted everyone near him, from the key grips to the supporting actors. Addison’s pulse quickened at Spencer’s outrageously handsome face and his easy manner. 

If Addison hadn’t taken Donny’s call, she would be standing with the extras in the cast, and Spencer would’ve talked to her. He stopped and chatted with a group of women standing a few feet away from Addison. They were leggy, tan and blond, and giggled when he said hello. He looked past them and straight at Addison. 

Spencer’s dazzling smile radiated, and he moved past the women and extended his hand to her. Everyone around her quieted, their stares like coarse sandpaper rubbing against her skin.

“You’re Irene’s stand-in for the Ruby character,” Spencer spoke into the silence. “Addison Duvall.”

Addison’s mouth dropped open. He knew her name? “Yes,” she stammered. Logical thought vanished from her mind. Staring into his brilliant blue eyes, she slipped her hand into his. It was large and well-shaped, its strength filling her with warmth.

“It’s nice to meet you.” His mouth spread into a roguish grin, and his hand fell away. “I’ll see you around.”

Chilly air rushed in where his heat had cocooned her. 

Turning away, Spencer moved across the set to the row of canvas chairs emblazoned with the names of the leading cast and crew.

The extras pushed around her, all gushing at once. Spencer knew Addison’s name. That had to mean something. 

If only that were true. Doubt crept in. Why would a big Hollywood star want to remember the stand-in for his leading lady? The answer was simple. He wouldn’t.

Spencer stood next to the film’s director, Howie Post. They laughed as if one of them had cracked a joked, then their conversation seemed to turn serious. Spencer lifted his gaze to where Addison and the other extras stood, but he wasn’t looking at the extras. He was looking at her. Howie looked at her, too. Addison let out her breath. Were they talking about her? Spencer said something to Howie that made the director lift his brows. 

“Get Irene.” Howie’s voice boomed through the hangar-like structure. He looked at his assistant, Effie. 

The young woman nodded. The strain of not knowing where Irene was pressed lines into her smooth cheeks, and she darted behind the cameras. 

Addison scanned the crowd, but didn’t see Irene. Not unusual. The actress was known for arriving on set bleary-eyed and late. Photos of her nightly antics graced the entertainment websites. If Effie had to search for Irene again, filming would be delayed, which meant Addison might be late for her catering job at The Palacio Hotel tonight. Her stomach knotted. She hoped Effie found Irene, and quick. 

A few minutes later, a pale Effie rushed onto the set. Whatever she said to Howie made his eyes bulge.

“What do you mean you can’t find her?” Howie’s face reddened. Before Effie could answer, he yelled, “She’s fired.” 

Everyone on the set stared at him. No one moved. No one breathed. Addison’s heart throbbed a sickening beat. Did that mean filming was canceled? Or would the set be locked until Irene was found? If it were locked, Addison would miss her catering job for sure. Not good. She needed the money. 

Howie’s stormy gaze swept over the crowd. He opened his mouth and yelled, “Get me Addison Duvall.”

Spencer looked at her, his blue eyes as beautiful as they were serious. The extras around Addison turned and stared. 

Addison’s knees turned to water, and she grabbed the back of a chair. “Me?” she whispered. Why did Howie want her?

“Where’s Addie?” Howie looked at Effie. 

His assistant scanned the crowd. When she spied Addison, she pointed. 

“I’m here.” Addison gulped air and moved past the tall blondes. With a weak smile, she gave a slight wave.

“I want you here.” Howie pointed to the floor in front of him then stared at his tablet.

Addison clutched the bound screenplay to her chest and wove through the crowd. When she reached Howie, Spencer smiled at her and stepped to one side. 

Howie looked up from his device. “You got a script?” His gaze dropped to the well-thumbed binder.

“Yes, sir.” She held it out to him.

“I don’t want it.” A frown pressed between his brows. “You’re going to need it.” His gaze moved from her to Spencer. “You got one hour, then I want you in makeup.” 

Addison didn’t know why Howie looked at her. She was a background actor. She had no reason to report to makeup.

Turning away, Howie strode through the crowd. “Set up the next scene,” he shouted.

The camera crew jumped to their feet and rushed across the set.

Addison stared after Howie, confusion roiling through her mind. 

“Are you ready?” Spencer’s deep voice broke through the commotion surrounding them. When she looked at him, he flashed her a reassuring smile.

“I might be if I knew what I should be ready for,” she said.

“We’re rehearsing the next scene, the one I was supposed to shoot with Irene this morning.” His manner was casual, relaxed. 

Addison closed her eyes and shook her head. “I don’t understand. Why am I rehearsing for Irene’s role?”

“I believe Howie made it clear.” Spencer looked at her, his brilliant gaze intense. “This role no longer belongs to Irene.”

And now a word from Laura.

Writers seem to have two basic styles of writing:

  1. They write by the seat of their pants, or
  2. They outline.

As for me, I’d love to have the discipline to outline. I’ve read tons of craft books about how it saves time and keeps the author on track for the plot and the ending. Outlining is a cure for that frustration of going off on a tangent and then realizing I have to cut the last twenty pages I wrote because it no longer fits into the plot. My deleted scenes file tends to be quite lengthy.

With the best of intentions, I outline. Because I write romance, I know the ending. It’s how I get to that ending that can increase my annoyance. I’d like to say it’s not my fault. I should know by now my characters will do something totally unexpected taking me in a completely different direction that I’d planned. When that happens, the outline flies out the window. I’m sitting on the edge of my seat, steam pouring out of my laptop with one question dangling in front of me:  And then what happened?

So I guess I’m a hybrid writer. I will continue to start my book with an outline. It helps me to get to know my characters, but as my characters become more real to me, they tend to surprise me. With their own personalities and their own ideas, they will continue to do exactly as they please, and that’s when I feel more like a reader than a writer barely able to contain my impatience to turn the page to find out what happens next. 

When I started writing the Beaumont Brides Series, I knew I wanted to write about adult children from two different families who find they have more in common than high school friendship. Kim Lowe, the mother of six sons, and Steve Duvall, the father of six daughters, shock their families with one little detail: they just got married.

I hope you’ll want to read the Beaumont Brides Boxed Set Books 1-3 and that you’ll enjoy the ups and downs of twelve young people excited to embark on their careers but tend to get caught up in this crazy little thing called love.

Be well and safe, dear friends. God bless you all!

Laura, thanks so much for sharing the Beaumont Brides with us. The series sounds fantastic.

Posted in Miscellaneous | 1 Comment

Presenting Laura Haley-McNeil

My guest today is Laura Haley-McNeil. Laura, thanks so much for joining us Four Foxes One Hound. We can’t wait to meet you and sample your work.

Biography

A native of California, Laura Haley-McNeil spent her youth studying ballet and piano, though her favorite pastime was curling up with a good book. Without a clue as to how to write a book, she knew one day she would. 

After college, she segued into the corporate world, but she never forgot her love for the arts and served on the board of two community orchestras. Finally realizing that the book she’d dreamt of writing wouldn’t write itself, she planted herself in front of her computer. She now immerses herself in the lives and loves of her characters in her romantic suspense and her contemporary romance novels. Many years later, she lived her own romantic novel when she married her piano teacher, the love of her life. 

Though she and husband have left warm California for cooler Colorado, they enjoy the outdoor life of hiking, bicycling, horseback riding and snow skiing. They satisfy their love of music by attending concerts and hanging out with their musician friends, but Laura still catches a few free moments when she can sneak off and read. 

Laura Haley-McNeil – My Writing Style

Writers seem to have two basic styles of writing:

  1. They write by the seat of their pants, or
  2. They outline.

As for me, I’d love to have the discipline to outline. I’ve read tons of craft books about how it saves time and keeps the author on track for the plot and the ending. Outlining is a cure for that frustration of going off on a tangent and then realizing I have to cut the last twenty pages I wrote because it no longer fits into the plot. My deleted scenes file tends to be quite lengthy.

With the best of intentions, I outline. Because I write romance, I know the ending. It’s how I get to that ending that can increase my annoyance. I’d like to say it’s not my fault. I should know by now my characters will do something totally unexpected taking me in a completely different direction that I’d planned. When that happens, the outline flies out the window. I’m sitting on the edge of my seat, steam pouring out of my laptop with one question dangling in front of me:  And then what happened?

So I guess I’m a hybrid writer. I will continue to start my book with an outline. It helps me to get to know my characters, but as my characters become more real to me, they tend to surprise me. With their own personalities and their own ideas, they will continue to do exactly as they please, and that’s when I feel more like a reader than a writer barely able to contain my impatience to turn the page to find out what happens next. 

When I started writing the Beaumont Brides Series, I knew I wanted to write about adult children from two different families who find they have more in common than high school friendship. Kim Lowe, the mother of six sons, and Steve Duvall, the father of six daughters, shock their families with one little detail: they just got married.

I hope you’ll want to read the Beaumont Brides Boxed Set Books 1-3 and that you’ll enjoy the ups and downs of twelve young people excited to embark on their careers but tend to get caught up in this crazy little thing called love.

Be well and safe, dear friends. God bless you all!

Beaumont Brides Boxed Set Books 1-3

Here come the brides!

Book 1: Wherever Love Finds You

It’s his game. He makes the rules. Rule number one – only he can break the rules.

Zach Lowe lives his life without relationships in business and personally. Getting involved doesn’t work well when you’re the Black Knight of Wall Street.

Ellora Duvall, the sweet kid who crushed on him in high school, waltzes into the world of corporate finance with the same wide eyed innocence she had in chemistry class. He hadn’t expected her to affect him the way she did, but he’s in control. A few weeks with Ellora will be pure pleasure, then he’ll move on. She’ll understand. He should, too.

Who broke his rules?

Book 2: When Love Whispers

Sometimes, love comes in packages.

As the top ranked student at Charleston’s military academy, Preston Lowe excels in class, in sports and with women. Only Willow Dockery, a barmaid at the city’s trendy nightclub, sees the pain in his eyes when he’s out with friends having a good time. But Willow doesn’t know how Preston inwardly struggles to forget a past that could derail the career he’s worked hard to achieve.

Willow wrestles with her own secrets. After a disastrous relationship leaves her broke and disillusioned, she vows never to let anyone rob her of her dreams again. But as she gets to know Preston, it’s as if their tumultuous pasts meld together into something so startling it transforms their relationship and their lives forever.

Book 3: Call It Love

A kiss isn’t just a kiss …

Struggling actress Addison Duvall hustles background acting jobs at the Hollywood studios in hopes for her big break. When she’s cast as the stand in for the lead actress in a blockbuster spy film, she can’t believe her luck. The surprises rush in―her first test shot is with Hollywood heartthrob Spencer Kingsley. Her even bigger surprise is when the director yells, “Action!” and Spencer presses his lips to hers in a kiss.

Behind Spencer’s Hollywood façade hides the secret pain no one suspects. He’s the first to take a risk except when it comes to his heart. He can’t deny he and Addison have chemistry―chemistry onscreen and off―and he’s tempted to lower his guard. She seems real, not like the women he usually meets.

Once Addison’s star rises, so do Spencer’s doubts. She’s no different than the others looking for the connection to catapult their careers. He won’t let another woman damage his heart. His decision made, Spencer wishes her success.

But it’s already too late. How does he heal this Addison shaped hole in his heart? Should he risk more heartbreak for another chance at love?

Excerpt from Call It Love

Chapter One

Addison Duvall stood apart from the cast and crew crowded across the Hollywood soundstage and ended the call on her cell phone. She dropped her head back against the concrete wall and closed her eyes, but that did little to still the emotions rising in her chest. 

Her agent, Donny White, had just told her she didn’t get the part on the sitcom that she was sure she had. The director was looking for someone tanner, blonder, shorter. She could be all those things if given a chance. She could go to a tanning salon, dye her dark hair, and slouch. 

Donny laughed and told her he’d scheduled her for another audition. “Don’t worry, kid. I’ll get you something,” he said. But he said that every time they talked.

Sometimes she wondered if she should’ve accepted the teaching job she’d been offered and stayed in Colorado―even if it was January and freezing.

Conversations on the set silenced. Addison’s eyes flew open, and she clutched her copy of the screenplay for When We Say Goodbye to her chest. She’d been hired as the stand-in for Irene Wayne, the female lead in this top-budget spy film, and she didn’t want to miss her cue. 

A tall, powerfully built man stepped onto the set. Spencer Kingsley, the film’s star, was the grandson of Hollywood great Mirabelle La Marr Kingsley and the hottest actor in town. His parents would’ve been acting legends had a tragic accident not claimed their lives.

Addison’s heart beat rapidly. She might be Irene’s stand-in, but this was the closest she’d ever get to Spencer Kingsley. When Irene’s scenes were shot, she’d be with Spencer in nearly every scene. Lucky girl. 

Spencer’s blue gaze swept over the cast and crew and he greeted everyone near him, from the key grips to the supporting actors. Addison’s pulse quickened at Spencer’s outrageously handsome face and his easy manner. 

If Addison hadn’t taken Donny’s call, she would be standing with the extras in the cast, and Spencer would’ve talked to her. He stopped and chatted with a group of women standing a few feet away from Addison. They were leggy, tan and blond, and giggled when he said hello. He looked past them and straight at Addison. 

Spencer’s dazzling smile radiated, and he moved past the women and extended his hand to her. Everyone around her quieted, their stares like coarse sandpaper rubbing against her skin.

“You’re Irene’s stand-in for the Ruby character,” Spencer spoke into the silence. “Addison Duvall.”

Addison’s mouth dropped open. He knew her name? “Yes,” she stammered. Logical thought vanished from her mind. Staring into his brilliant blue eyes, she slipped her hand into his. It was large and well-shaped, its strength filling her with warmth.

“It’s nice to meet you.” His mouth spread into a roguish grin, and his hand fell away. “I’ll see you around.”

Chilly air rushed in where his heat had cocooned her. 

Turning away, Spencer moved across the set to the row of canvas chairs emblazoned with the names of the leading cast and crew.

The extras pushed around her, all gushing at once. Spencer knew Addison’s name. That had to mean something. 

If only that were true. Doubt crept in. Why would a big Hollywood star want to remember the stand-in for his leading lady? The answer was simple. He wouldn’t.

Spencer stood next to the film’s director, Howie Post. They laughed as if one of them had cracked a joked, then their conversation seemed to turn serious. Spencer lifted his gaze to where Addison and the other extras stood, but he wasn’t looking at the extras. He was looking at her. Howie looked at her, too. Addison let out her breath. Were they talking about her? Spencer said something to Howie that made the director lift his brows. 

“Get Irene.” Howie’s voice boomed through the hangar-like structure. He looked at his assistant, Effie. 

The young woman nodded. The strain of not knowing where Irene was pressed lines into her smooth cheeks, and she darted behind the cameras. 

Addison scanned the crowd, but didn’t see Irene. Not unusual. The actress was known for arriving on set bleary-eyed and late. Photos of her nightly antics graced the entertainment websites. If Effie had to search for Irene again, filming would be delayed, which meant Addison might be late for her catering job at The Palacio Hotel tonight. Her stomach knotted. She hoped Effie found Irene, and quick. 

A few minutes later, a pale Effie rushed onto the set. Whatever she said to Howie made his eyes bulge.

“What do you mean you can’t find her?” Howie’s face reddened. Before Effie could answer, he yelled, “She’s fired.” 

Everyone on the set stared at him. No one moved. No one breathed. Addison’s heart throbbed a sickening beat. Did that mean filming was canceled? Or would the set be locked until Irene was found? If it were locked, Addison would miss her catering job for sure. Not good. She needed the money. 

Howie’s stormy gaze swept over the crowd. He opened his mouth and yelled, “Get me Addison Duvall.”

Spencer looked at her, his blue eyes as beautiful as they were serious. The extras around Addison turned and stared. 

Addison’s knees turned to water, and she grabbed the back of a chair. “Me?” she whispered. Why did Howie want her?

“Where’s Addie?” Howie looked at Effie. 

His assistant scanned the crowd. When she spied Addison, she pointed. 

“I’m here.” Addison gulped air and moved past the tall blondes. With a weak smile, she gave a slight wave.

“I want you here.” Howie pointed to the floor in front of him then stared at his tablet.

Addison clutched the bound screenplay to her chest and wove through the crowd. When she reached Howie, Spencer smiled at her and stepped to one side. 

Howie looked up from his device. “You got a script?” His gaze dropped to the well-thumbed binder.

“Yes, sir.” She held it out to him.

“I don’t want it.” A frown pressed between his brows. “You’re going to need it.” His gaze moved from her to Spencer. “You got one hour, then I want you in makeup.” 

Addison didn’t know why Howie looked at her. She was a background actor. She had no reason to report to makeup.

Turning away, Howie strode through the crowd. “Set up the next scene,” he shouted.

The camera crew jumped to their feet and rushed across the set.

Addison stared after Howie, confusion roiling through her mind. 

“Are you ready?” Spencer’s deep voice broke through the commotion surrounding them. When she looked at him, he flashed her a reassuring smile.

“I might be if I knew what I should be ready for,” she said.

“We’re rehearsing the next scene, the one I was supposed to shoot with Irene this morning.” His manner was casual, relaxed. 

Addison closed her eyes and shook her head. “I don’t understand. Why am I rehearsing for Irene’s role?”

“I believe Howie made it clear.” Spencer looked at her, his brilliant gaze intense. “This role no longer belongs to Irene.”

Laura, I enjoyed your excerpt very much. I hope you have good luck with your boxed set.

Readers, don’t forget to leave your questions and comments for Laura.

Posted in Miscellaneous | 4 Comments

Guest Author: Jessica James and the Shades of Gray trilogy

My guest this month is a fellow member of the Marketing for Romance Writers support group. Jessica James responded when I mentioned to the group that I was looking for clean romances to promote here. She is celebrating the release of her Civil War trilogy, called Shades of Gray. The first book, Duty Bound, was released last week. Book two, Honor Bound, will be available this week, with Glory Bound scheduled for next week.

Asked for details, Jessica tells us: Duty Bound is Volume I in the Shades of Gray Civil War Serial Trilogy. Called the “greatest love story ever told” when it was first released in 2008, the book has been expanded and enhanced in this new three-book series that according to InD’tale Magazine, “stays in the reader’s mind long after the last page is turned.”

I asked Jessica to share with us her inspiration for the series and the book. Here’s her reply:

****

I often get asked about the inspiration for my novels and the Shades of Gray Trilogy is one that can be traced to a real-life historical figure. The character of Colonel Alexander Hunter came about after I moved to northern Virginia and learned about the legendary—and almost mythical—Confederate cavalry officer John S. Mosby.

It is impossible not to learn about Mosby when you’re traveling in Loudoun County, Va. A sign with the figure of a caped man on horseback welcomes visitors and lets them know they are entering “Mosby’s Confederacy.”

Mosby and his band of recruits caused havoc in the Federal ranks from 1863 to 1865. Like the fictional Colonel Hunter, Mosby grew into a myth, effectively using terror as his weapon of choice and surprise as his watchword. The Yankees believed that Mosby and his band of outlaws appeared and disappeared with the mist; that when they arrived they made no sounds, and when they departed they left no tracks.

And just like Mosby, Colonel Hunter and his men appear “out of nowhere,” and disappear “in the same direction.” This trait gave the real-life Mosby the added distinction of being called “the Gray Ghost of the Confederacy.”

Today, travelers on Route 50 (John Mosby Highway until recently stripped of its name) can still enjoy the beautiful vistas and quaint towns and villages where Mosby and his Rangers once roamed. It is one of the few areas of northern Virginia that has been preserved and retains the historical character of the past—so much so that I was able to visit many of the houses where Mosby and his men once stayed.

Just as John Mosby inspired me, I hope that Duty Bound—and the entire Shades of Gray Trilogy—inspires readers to learn more about the brave men and women who were willing to sacrifice so much for their beliefs and values.

Of course the novel is, above all else, a love story set against the backdrop of war. With a determined, tenacious character like Colonel Hunter, I pondered the question: What if honor and conviction—the very soul of a man—clash with loyalty and love?

Throughout the Shades of Gray Trilogy, the characters are forced to make the difficult choice between following their hearts or standing for their convictions.

Will they choose honor? Loyalty and allegiance?

Or love?”

You’ll have to read the Trilogy to find the answer, but a wise person once said, “There can be no bond stronger than that which unites enemies.”

Blurb:

Duty Bound takes readers across the rolling hills of Virginia in a page-turning tale of love and war, as a Union spy spars with a legendary Confederate cavalry commander. Gallantry and chivalry are put to the test when Colonel Alexander Hunter discovers that Andrea Evans is not only the woman he promised his dying brother he would protect, but is the mysterious spy he has vowed to his men he would destroy.

Duty Bound, Vol. 1 of the SHADES OF GRAY CIVIL WAR TRILOGY, is available at Amazon, Barnes and Noble, iBooks, Kobo, and Smashwords

Author Bio:

Jessica James believes in honor, duty, and true love—and that’s what she writes about in her award-winning novels that span the ages from the Revolutionary War to modern day.

She is a four-time winner of the John Esten Cooke Award for Southern Fiction, and has won more than a dozen other literary awards, including a Readers’ Favorite International Book Award and a Gold Medal from the Military Writers Society of America. Her novels have been used in schools and are available in hundreds of libraries including Harvard and the U.S. Naval Academy.

Jessica can be found at her website, on her blog, and on Twitter, Facebook, Pinterest, Goodreads, BookBub, Amazon, YouTube, and One Link. You are invited to sign up for her Newsletter for more news.

Posted in authors, book series, Books, Clean Writing, Guest author, Guest author post, historical, Patricia Kiyono, romance | Tagged , , , , , | 13 Comments