Pickles and Ice Cream?

faberToday’s guest blogger is Elaine Faber. She lives in northern California with her husband and multiple feline companions (naturally). She is a member of Sisters in Crime, California Cat Writers, and Inspire Christian Writers where she serves as an editor for their annual anthology. And, she’s giving away a book to one of you who leaves a comment.

Pickles and Ice Cream? 

  1. Where does an author get the inspiration for a fiction novel? This was the first question I heard today from an attendee at an Author Reading Event. Every writer has a different answer because there is no one right answer.

Some authors include personal experiences. Some writers base their characters on friends, relatives or next door neighbors.  A gossip column or a newspaper article about a particular event might become the basis of a novel.

Many authors come up with a rough idea for a plot and characters, and then let their fingers do the walking and the characters tell their own story.

faber-cover_cat_eyes-mWhen I started Black Cat’s Legacy, I remembered an anecdote my parents told about me burying my toys in the sand and then my dad had to find them. I remember thinking, ‘what if a toddler buried something that showed up years later and was the clue to solving a murder?’

From that idea, I started Black Cat’s Legacy, but what was the rest of the story? Before I knew it, Black Cat (Thumper) jumped into the story and took over. He became the catalyst of the ‘tale’, working behind the scenes with his ancestor’s memories, to help solve the cold case murder in spite of the difficulty of people who ‘couldn’t see a clue even when he put it right under their inferior noses.’ The plot did eventually involve a toddler burying something that played into the mystery, but only in a very minor way. Who knew?

So a kernel of an idea can spark a tale that tells itself once we begin to write. My characters speak to me and I’m OK with that. Sometimes I don’t even know what’s going to happen next until the words are on the page. I have to follow their lead until the scene plays out. Many authors report the same thing. When characters kidnap the storyline, they can take it into a completely different direction than we planned.

When your character makes a provocative or unpredictable move, it can be unnerving. You’re staring at the computer screen wondering, ‘what the heck just happened? How am I going to get him out this?’

That’s usually when the mischievous character decides to take a vacation and leave you trying to resolve the muddle they just created. And your mind is blank and you’ve ‘got nothin.’

Which leads us to the second most common question asked in an Author Reading Event.

  1. What do you do when you get writer’s block? Again, there are as many answers as there are authors. But here is the best one I’ve ever heard.

In my novel, Black Cat and the Lethal Lawyer, at one point we had afaber-Cover_Front (2)c fire creeping toward the living room and a metal box falling off the mantle, knocking Brett unconscious.  Now what? How could Kimberlee save him? What happened next? So I asked myself, ‘What’s the worst thing that can happen?’ Using that as a guideline, I conjured up several alternatives, picked one and ran with it.

Here’s an example: Your character is frying bacon and the skillet catches fire. What happens next? ‘What’s the worst thing that can happen?’ Maybe she pulls the fire extinguisher off the wall, but finds it empty…of course!  So she grabs her cellphone to call the fire department. Dead battery.

So she runs out the door, screaming, “Fire, fire.”

A religious zealot is standing on the doorstep, handing out tracts. “You tell it, sister. Hell fire is for eternity.”

… And so forth and so on. You get the idea. Look how easily my imagined skillet fire scene just got away from me. I hadn’t planned anyone at the door.  I thought she’d just grab a fire extinguisher and put out the fire. As usual, my 30-second character took over, and I was wrong…. But with my characters, I’m used to them being in control.


How do you answer questions about story concepts and writer’s block? Does anyone out there have another way to address these questions?

JIM:  Okay, guys.  She’s posed two questions.  Anybody want to take a stab at answering one – or both?  Elaine will give a copy of one of her cat books to someone who leaves a comment.  I’ve read her Cat Legacy book and it’s fun.  Might as well leave a comment and maybe win a book.

Here’s a brief blurb on two of her books.

Black Cat’s Legacy, a tale of intrigue and murder with a touch of whimsy. With the aid of his ancestors’ memories, Thumper helps pursue a cold case murder.

Black Cat and the Lethal Lawyer, a tale of betrayal and greed with a splash of fantasy. Thumper accompanies his family to a horse ranch near the Mexico border where they confront wild horses, embezzling, false identities and attempted murder.

Ms. Faber’s novels are available at Amazon.com. and on her personal website, www.mindcandymysteries.com


4 Tips All Writers Can Use

Slattery - headshot2013cToday, Jennifer Slattery is offering four tips that all writers can use.  Jennifer writes soul-stirring fiction for New Hope Publishers.  Her debut novel, Beyond I Do, was released last summer and her latest, When Dawn Breaks, released in December. Here’s Jennifer’s tips.


Anyone can pound words onto the screen, but it takes skill and practice to craft an engaging story. To do that, writers need to:

  1. Give our readers credit.

In our desire to make our readers understand us, catch any foreshadowing, and correctly read intended emotions, we may be tempted to over-explain. And repeat ourselves.


And again.

There’s nothing worse than reading something numerous times, even if it’s reworded. Give your readers credit and expect them to pick up on your message the first time. Most of them will and will feel quite proud at having done so.

  1. Be original.

This applies to big-picture content as well as words and phrases. Avoid clichés and find unique ways to state things instead. I’ve read about way too many stomach flutters and racing pulses. The occasional stomach upset is okay, but skilled writers go beyond the common descriptions, perusing psychological sites and body language books to find other equally telling, less clichéd physiological responses.

Keep your readers guessing. If they know what we’re going to say or how the conflict will resolve before they finish the book, why should they finish it? This can be difficult for romance writers. When crafting a romance, the novelist needs to move the story toward an emotionally satisfying ending. But you still need to avoid eye-glossing predictability. As your hero and heroine move toward happily-ever-after, throw a few obstacles in their way. Create a reader expectation then flip things. Give readers a reason to turn that next page… otherwise they won’t.

  1. Address a felt need.

If you want people to talk about your books, articles, and blog posts (i.e., if you want to generate a book-selling buzz), you need to touch their heart. What do people long for and how can you bring that into your writing? Have one of your main characters struggle with something we can all relate to. For example, your hero could be nearing a mid-life crisis. What does he need? Purpose? A dream to believe in? Something to live for? Or perhaps your heroine is lonely, or lugging around baggage and longing for freedom.

But again, don’t slam your reader over the head with this. Instead, weave hints throughout your novel, perhaps a glance toward a fun-loving couple, a tear after reading an emotive poem, a sifting through old mementoes.

Remember, you’ve got an entire novel to introduce your characters to your readers. By itself, each clue may seem insignificant, but over the course of a story, they paint a vivid picture.

  1. Make sure every word packs a punch.

Slattery-cover-WhenDawnBreaks-cThe best writing is clear and concise. Why take two paragraphs to say something that can be stated in one? Why use ten words when five will do? For example, spoke softly can become whispered. Nodded her head simply nodded. Do we need to know a smile “graced her lips”? Where else would a smile appear? On her foot?

Speaking of clarity, whenever possible, use words that evoke images or stir emotions. For example, don’t tell us he sat in the shade of the tree. Name the tree so we can see it, and if she’s flustered, have her “plop down”. If she’s sad, maybe she “slid to the ground”.

Great writing takes work, knowledge, and perseverance. Select each word, each plot or idea, carefully, and take the time to get to know your reader. Address a felt need and do so with creativity, immersing your reader in your book and giving them every reason to turn that next page. Doing so will add punch and emotive value to your work which in turn will create a loyal readership.

JIM:  Thanks, Jennifer.  Good points to keep in mind when writing.  Here are some links where you can find out more about her new novel.  and below the links is a blurb on her latest novel, When Dawn Breaks.

On Amazon: http://www.amazon.com/When-Dawn-Breaks-A-Novel/dp/1596694238/

 On Barnes and Noble: http://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/when-dawn-breaks-a-novel-jennifer-slattery/1120694122?ean=9781596694231

 On CBD: http://www.christianbook.com/when-dawn-breaks-a-novel/jennifer-slattery/9781596694231/pd/694231

 When Dawn Breaks:

As the hurricane forces Jacqueline to evacuate, her need for purpose and restitution propel her north to her estranged and embittered daughter and into the arms of a handsome new friend. However, he’s dealing with a potential conspiracy at work, one that could cost him everything, and Jacqueline isn’t sure if he will be the one she can lean on during the difficult days ahead. Then there are the three orphans to consider, especially Gavin. Must she relinquish her chance at having love again in order to be restored?

Read a free, 36-page excerpt here: http://issuu.com/newhopedigital/docs/slattery_sampler/1






Add Suspense – in Chapter 1


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 Today, Stephanie Pritchard talks about creating suspense in a novel.  I just finished reading her book Stranded: A Novel.  She’s knows about suspense. So take a look at what she has to say about it here.  And leave a comment for … Continue reading

Yangtze: Beauty and economic value join forces

The Yangtze River

The three Gorges Project on China’s Yangtze River is the largest hydro-electric project in the world, in terms of installed capacity.  Appropriate for the country with the largest population in the world.

 Fully operational in 2009, fourteen years20141022_195210 after start-up, the dam now backs up as much as 32 million acre feet of water.  But to create such a reservoir, it was necessary to relocate over 1.3 million people.  When filled, it flooded about 244 square miles.

 To kimberly-7 copynegotiate the 360 feet difference between the downstream river and the upstream river, a system of five gigantic locks were built for each direction.  These allow for multiple ships to move upriver at the same time multiple ships are moving downriver.  Each ship will require approximately four hours to pass through kimberly-5a copyall five locks.


 To help speed things up, a ship lift has been built which will cut the time to traverse between the two levels to about thirty-seven minutes.  However, the elevator will handle only ships with gross weights between one thousand tons and three thousand tons. Of course, the elevator also has to haul the water necessary to float a three thousand ton vessel.  Impressive.  At the time we were there, the elevator was complete but had not been put into operation. 

 20141024_044827aNow, five years after completion of the Three Gorges Project, several million Chinese live on the banks of this fourth longest river in the world. In some area, hundreds of twenty-five to thirty-five story apartment and condo buildings line the banks.  Huge bridges tower over the waterway with amazing frequency. Unfortunately, even on the Yangtze, pollution is a serious problem.

 The scenery through these gorges is spectacular. Sheer kimberly-3cliffs cascade to the water, sometimes allowing a narrow road to pass; sometimes not. As you float along, ancient pagodas high on the mountains are highlighted against the sky. And while modern architecture can be seen from almost any point on the river, the influence of ancient China is evident everywhere.

 pagoda on YangtzeOur four days on the Yangtze River were a constant exposure to nature’s grandeur and beauty. As visitors, we could ignore the tremendous economic value of this section of river.  But the striking beauty and the closeness to ancient China made this yet another highlight of our visit to China.

Please leave me a comment on China and the Yangtze, and “like” or “share” this post.  Thank you.

Jim Callan




The Writer’s Excuse


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Today’s guest is Martha Rogers, a former English and Home Economics teacher who lives in Houston.  Martha was named Writer of the Year at the Texas Christian Writers Conference in 2009.  She has written two series and several novellas.  She’ll … Continue reading

Research As a Brainstorming Tool


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Today Misty Beller is giving us some good tips on research, and how it can help contemporary writers as well as historical writers.  Misty writes Christian historical romance.  She was raised on a farm in South Carolina. She lives with … Continue reading

The Wonders of China

I don’t want to make this blog a travel log.  But a number of you have asked about the trip and China.  So I will do a few posts on China, maybe on an every other week basis.  And I’ll try to keep them brief.

 First the overall look.  We spent three weeks visiting Beijing, Xi’an, Hangzhou, Shanghai, Yichang, the Yangtze River, the Three Gorges project, Chongqing, Guilin, and Hong Kong.  We flew between most stops, cutting down travel time. Between Hangzhou and Shanghai, we took a 180 mph, very smooth train.bldg -ibm

 Let’s start with Beijing.  A city of 21 million, it is modern, clean, with a lot of beautiful landscaping and amazing architecture.  We saw more imaginative architecture in Beijing that in all of the U.S.. 

 Tian’an Men Square, the largest such square in the world, is a vast open concrete area flanked by Mao’s mausoleum, the China National Museum and jim in tian'an men sqflower basketvarious government buildings.  Here are two pictures we took in the square.

 Close by is the Forbidden City, the exclusive domain of the imperial court of China for 24 emperors over a period of 500 years. Completed in 1420, it provides a wealth of magnificent  imperial architecture. great wall crowded

 And of course, The Great WallConstruction on this phenomenal structure started roughly 700 years before Christ and continued for nearly two thousand years, although it’s generally dated back to 200 B.C.  Most of what survives today was built during the Ming Dynasty (1368 to 1644 A.D.).  During the Cultural Revolution (late  1960s), the Chinese were encouraged to take bricks from the wall to build their houses.

 great wall - topIt is generally considered to be about 4,000 miles long. It is roughly 25 feet high and varies in width from 15 feet to 30 feet.  As many as 63 million people visit the wall in a year.  We walked part of the wall.

 One of the things that impressed us was the sense of history here. The people think of how things fit into the dynasties.  They talk about things that happened 3,000 years ago.  All in all, an impressive country, whether you like its manufacturing, its politics, or its current activities. 

 More in two weeks.  Please ask questions if you’d like, and let me know if you want more on China or if I should just stop.  Thanks.  

Jim Callan                         



An Author Needs a Teachable Spirit


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This week, I am privileged to have the multi-award winning author Lena Nelson Dooley.  Lena had sold over 800,000 of her books, spoken to groups in six states, and co-hosts a blogtalk radio show.  She and her husband live in … Continue reading