wisemanToday’s guest is Patty Wiseman, a lifetime member of the Worldwide Who’s Who for Professional Women and the author of historical romances.  Twice she has won first place in romance with the Texas Association of Authors. Here’s some important advice from Patty on setting.


I cannot emphasize enough how important setting is in your novel. It’s what makes a book cinematic, fuels the imagination, makes a scene turn into Technicolor in the reader’s mind and become vibrant and alive. My series is set in the 1920’s and I spent a lot of time researching the era. I wanted to get it right, bring the reader into my world.

There are certain elements of setting which you must implement in your writing to bring the story to life.

  1. Period – What era are you writing in? In this element you need to remember the physical, sensuous world. Their clothes, hairstyles, food, transportation, buildings, the sounds, the smells, etc. Make sure you get it right, put your reader in the story by getting the time period correct.
  2. Time Span – What time frame does your story cover? Does it span a few days, weeks, or years? This needs to be clear to the reader. Take care of your transitions in time, eliminate the confusion. If it spans years, you may want to check facts. Things are invented or become obsolete. Make sure the automobile was actually invented by that time for example.
  3. Location – World building is important, whether you are putting the scene in a known location or building a new world. For each scene set the  lstage for your reader. It can be a subtle nuance, or a prominent building, but always let the reader ‘see’ where the scene takes place.
  4. conflictWiseman-Unklikely Arrangement – Your protagonist must have a struggle, some kind of obstacle to overcome. Keep this in mind when creating your setting.
  • If your character has an inner struggle, you have many choices to allow this scene to play out. In his study, on the beach alone, in a quiet forest, even walking down a busy street lost in thought. Put your reader there.
  • If it is a personal conflict with friends or family, create a setting where this would logically happen. At a family gathering, reading the will, family game night, out with friends, etc. Put your reader there.
  • If your main character is fighting society as a whole, a belief het wrap his mind around, standing his ground for something he believes, fighting for good against evil, setting is very important. It must be believable, and time relevant.

To produce the setting for my “Jazz Age” series, I leaned on the stories I heard as a girl as my grandparents recounted the stories. I listened to the language, the descriptions, etc. Those images were imbedded in my mind.

The voice of the characters came naturally. However, as I continued, it was clear I would have to do more research., books on the ‘roaring twenties’, friends I made in Detroit, Mi., and articles on the internet about the era helped to broaden my ‘feel’ for the time.

Immigration was very active during this time frame, so I researched where my characters immigrated from. I adopted mannerisms, customs, etiquette, and language that would be relevant to those characters. Sometimes we forget to round out our characters by investigating their past. This is important, for it gives your character credibility. Their past can make a big impact in the setting of your story; make them stand out as real, viable people.

My hope is that we make our characters believable by adoptingwiseman-An Unlikely Conclusion coverl all aspects of their personality and how their background molded them into the people we see in the story.

In my last book of the series, An Unlikely Conclusion, I ended up doing more research than the other two because of a train wreck I made the focal point in the story. As I researched the train, I felt myself taken back to a time and place long gone.

Immerse yourself in your story. Your readers won’t be disappointed you took the time and trouble to create the magic.

JIM:   Check out all of Patty’s books at:

  • And leave a comment if you can.  Even a two word comment would be appreciated.  Thanks. 


The Six Most Difficult Things for a Novelist to Do

aimsworth1Today’s guest post is from Jim Ainsworth, an excellent writer and a true gentleman.  He got into writing while he was working as an accountant.  A publisher approached him and ask him to write a book on some phase of accounting.  Jim did and it was successful.  So, others followed.  But you and I know it’s easy to gravitate to fiction, so Jim took up fiction writing and has produced some excellent books that are definitely worth looking at.  But, here’s Jim’s take on the difficult task of a fiction writer. 

 About six years ago, a small publisher offered me a contract to write a book on the perils and pitfalls of writing and publishing. He even offered a small advance. You writers out there know how rare that is. But I have not written the book yet because I still need a way to end it. When one reads a book about a problem, one expects a solution.

After almost fifteen years of writing novels, I still have not figured things out. And I am still a little surprised at the bias against fiction, especially non-genre, character-driven fiction.

I think that these are the six most difficult things for a writer of such novels to do:  

Number six: Write a synopsis. Synopses used to be about 20 or 30 pages Ainsworth-Go down looking cover JPEGfor a 350 page book. Now, they are usually one or two pages. We must tell what our book is about in about 500 words or less. Try doing that when you are not writing plot-driven fiction. Try fleshing out five or more characters in a page or two without sounding silly.

Number five: Write a query letter. Make it engaging, yet professional, agents and publishers advise. List your background and qualifications, your book’s genre and word count, a synopsis of everything that happens in your manuscript from beginning to end, describe the target audience for your work (and no, all the readers in the world is not an acceptable answer),and by the way, keep it to one page, please. Also, if the margins are wrong, it will often be rejected out of hand. Then wait six months. In one case, I had a query answered four years after my book was published.

Number four: Write a logline. This is your elevator speech, just in case a very naïve agent catches you on an elevator and asks you what your novel is about. I expect somewhere in ancient times that actually happened, but nobody can prove it. In most of the big conferences I have attended, agents run for their rooms and lock themselves in just as soon as their presentation is finished.

Number three: Write copy for the cover of your book. See numbers four and six.  One would think we could use those for cover copy, but they are never the exact number of words and four and six are written for agents and publishers. This one is for readers.  

Number two: Get an agent or publisher to read any of the above. They look for blockbuster potential, and non-genre, character-driven novels seldom become blockbusters.

Number one:  Market this type of book after it is published. 

Yes, I know all the stories about unknown authors Ainsworth-HL Burning front coverwho finally hit it big. J.K. Rowling and Harry Potter, Stephanie Meyer and the Twilight vampire series, E. L. James and the Shades of Grey erotica series (some call it mommy porn), John Grisham selling books out of his pickup in Wal-Mart parking lots. 

Many first-time best sellers came about because of a fluke, a happenstance, a key contact, or a tremendous amount of money spent on a fine publicist. I don’t mean to imply that the best-sellers are not good books, only that there are many superior books that never sell a tenth as well (if at all). 

So all I have to do is make myself the beneficiary of a fluke, create for my fifteen minutes of fame that will cause my books to skyrocket to the best seller lists. Stieg Larsson and his The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo, The Girl who Kicked the Hornets’ Nest, etc… made it big by dying. Scratch that.

And yes, I do believe in flukes. I enjoyed one big fluke and a few smaller one when I wrote non-fiction. So for now, I will just continue to work on finding the solution so I can write the last chapter of that book.



Jim Callan:  If you disagree with JIm’s six tasks, or want to add another, please add your thoughts in a comment.  Thanks.  Find more about his books at:

Searching Her Ancestors Led to Historical Novels


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Our guest today is Cindy Thomson, a writer and an avid genealogy enthusiast. Her love of history and her Scots-Irish heritage have inspired much of her writing, including her new Ellis Island series. Cindy is also the author of Brigid of … Continue reading

Marni Graff Has Done It All


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Today, I’m interviewing Marni Graff. She has been a nurse, a TV and movie consultant, a mystery writer and a writing instructor. She’s studied at the Iowa Writing Program and at Oxford University.  Here is an interesting woman.  Jim:  You … Continue reading

Best Seller Cynthia Hickey

Thickey - author photooday’s guest is best selling Cynthia Hickey.  She has five books published through Barbour Publishing.  She has several historical romances from Harlequin’s Heartsong Presents.  She has sold over 160,000 copies of her books.

JIM:  Where all did you live during those growing up years?

Cynthia:   I was born in Redondo Beach, CA but moved from there when very long. We alternated our time between Oklahoma, Arkansas, and Germany, finally settling in Arkansas at the age of ten when my father retired from the Army and returned to his home state.

 JIM:  Did any of those places have a particular influence on your writing?

Cynthia:  Arkansas has. Most of my stories take place in the Ozark mountains. It’s the home of my heart.

 JIM:  ve never before known anyone who worked in a pickle factory.

Cynthia:  It was the perfect high school job. Football was so popular with the town residents, that we had Friday nights off work to attend the games during football season. I did a little bit of everything during the two years I worked there: tossed out hamburger pickle slices that had holes in them, worked the relish and spice line, flipped jars, and worked the conveyor belt when the cucumbers arrived from Texas, sometimes with a snake or two mixed in.

 JIM:  You have quite a few inspirational novels and a bunch of general novels.  When you finish a book, how do you decide what kind of a book to write next?

Cynthia:  A literary agent once told me that I have more story ideas than anyone they’ve ever met. I keep a file on my computer of these ideas and when I finish a book, I browse this list. Sometimes I choose something from the list, other times, I’ve got a brand new idea.

 JIM:  You said your first novel was Fudge-Laced Felonies.   How long did it take you to write it and then how long to get it published?

Cynthia:  I wrote this cozy mystery in three months on a dare. When a publisher started a new cozy mystery line, a friend told me I should write for it. I had no idea what a cozy mystery was. This friend dared me to write it, and voila … my first book was born. I rarely turn down a dare.

 JIM: What is your secret?

Cynthia:  Strong discipline, a daily writing goal, a wonderful imagination, and God’s help. My novels include everything from novellas to full length works of 90,000 words.

 JIM:  Wait, now.  You have seven children.  Where do you get the time?

Cynthia:  Luckily for me, all but one of my children are grown and moved out. The sixteen-year-old is busy with school and work. I didn’t start writing seriously until my children were independent.


JIM:  Tell us a little about your latest inspirational novel.

CyHickey- Unconventional Lady covernthia:  An Unconventional Lady is book two in a series based on the historical Harvey Girls. Annie Rollins is adventurous and wants nothing more than to lead tours into the Grand Canyon. Her widowed mother has other ideas and signs Annie up as a Harvey Girl to teach her refinement and a woman’s proper role in the world. What happens next, is a sweet, fun, little romance between Annie and the man her mother hired as the guide.

 JIM:  Tell us a little about your latest general novel.

Cynthia:  My latest general novel is actually a zombie novella. I started writing these because my son and grandchildren wanted to be main characters in my books. I had no idea they would be as popular as they are.

 JIM:  And what comes next?

Cynthia:  My next release, coming out July 1, is the third book in the Harvey Girl series, and I’m starting a new series for Harlequin’s Heartsong line that deals with finding love among natural disasters.

 JIM:  Lastly, where can we buy your books?

Cynthia:  My website at lists all of my published works. Come sit a spell an browse.




The Women Took Over

srock-aToday, I am pleased to have Sharon Srock visiting.  She started with science fiction and now concentrated on Christian fiction, with three books in her Women of Valley View series. Here’s how her life has changed since she started the series.

Sharon:  Mine is the story of an ever-evolving community. When I first started to write the Valley View series, I had no idea that the characters would become so real. I guess that happens to all writers. How can you eat, sleep, and work with people, twenty-four hours a day, for years, and have it any other way? They’ve each whispered their own story line to me and demanded equal time on paper. I was good with that, they weren’t. These greedy women, once granted the small freedom of the written page, demanded not only stories of their own, but a town to live in, families to raise, jobs to go to, and a church to attend. I live in small town Oklahoma, so I gave them the mythical Garfield, OK to live in and a beautiful little church, Valley View, as a place of worship.

I started with a single character who looked a lot like me. Callie is in her mid fifties, married with kids and grandkids, she teaches a Sunday school class at the church she’s attended nearly forever, and works at an OB/GYN clinic. I could identify with this person, I knew who she was (me), I could hear her voice in my head, and I was comfortable in her skin. It was easy to write from her point of view. Callie and I were one in the same, and we coexisted quite nicely together. Then a strange thing happened. Callie developed her own personality. She outgrew me. Callie is bold where I’m shy, she’s wise where I struggle. It wasn’t long before Callie wasn’t just a character on a piece of paper, she was the person I wanted to be when I grew up.

perf5.500x8.500.inddFrom that one person, a community was born. Callie needed a husband. Enter Benton who resembles my own hubby in appearance if not in deed. Callie needed a best friend so Karla received breath along with her husband Mitch. I wanted to appeal to more than the over fifty crowd, so forty something Pam and almost thirty Terri stepped onto my page. Who knew things could get so out of hand? Pam needed a husband and kids. The church needed pastors. No one wants to read about a group of church women sitting around, talking and eating cheese cake. Where’s the conflict? Enter Samantha, Iris, and their estranged father, Steve. Who knew Steve and Terri would fall in love and generate a second story? Who knew that Pam’s vicious ex-husband would get saved, move back to Garfield, and spawn a story worth telling in a third book? Who knew that Samantha…Well, you get the picture. Pushy, pushy women!

Sigh…With Callie and Terri both a reality, Pam releasing in April , Samantha’s story under consideration, and Kate’s tale in progress, I have no idea how far these very determined ladies will take me, but I’m looking forward to the journey.

 JIM:  Thanks, Sharon for a very interesting look at how our characters become real.  Here’s  a short blurb on Sharon’s new novel, Pam.

Pam’s divorce broke her heart. The cruelty of her ex-husband broke her spirit. A bottle of sleeping pills almost took her life. Four years later the scars of Alan Archer’s emotional abuse are beginning to fade under the love of her new husband. When Alan returns to Garfield, Pam must learn that buried secrets and carefully cultivated indifference do not equal forgiveness.

Alan Archer has returned to Garfield with a new wife and a terminal heart condition. His mission? To leave a Christian legacy for his children and to gain Pam’s forgiveness for the sins of his past.

Please visit her AMAZON page to find current info on her books:

Connect with her at



What to Write, After We Write

SwinneyProfile (1)This week, we’re visiting with C. L. Swinney, a man who burst onto the writing scene with such great enthusiasm he overwhelmed some of us. He reads, he writes, he blogs, he writes poetry, he writes mysteries.  And having worked at this, he has something to say – about the real work of being an author today.

There’s so much to being an author- most of it happening AFTER we’ve put words down, and that alone can be a monumental struggle. In today’s market, where everyone believes they too are the best authors on the planet, you must search for your own voice, niche really, that isn’t already being used by a thousand other writers. I tend to try to relate this madness to what happens on American Idol. Thousands of people line up truly feeling they can sing, but within seconds, they become the laughing stock of television and only one in a million make it. For writers, it’s the same; about one in a million will make it. Roughly 85% of authors who get published or publish their own work will sell less than a hundred copies, and this includes friends and family (our biggest fans). It’s a sad reality, but one many of us choose to subject ourselves to it. Nevertheless, we thrive on the dance we play with our writing and readers. It keeps us writing, reading, and trying to be better at our craft. We’re glutton for punishment and tend to stay caved up in our homes. It’s the introvert lifestyle that stymies real potential to reach hundreds and even thousands of new readers.

 So, in as few words as possible, I’m going to break down what I think is necessary to break out of your slump and embrace 2014. I believe you will sell more books, but more importantly, make new friends if you consider these points. **Disclaimer-BE FOREWARNED, I DO NOT HOLD BACK PUNCHES.


 Been there, done that. Type the word into Google and see how many thousands of definitions materialize. What does that mean? It means it was a buzz word that continues to be abused by small publishers trying to squeeze everything they possibly can out of the authors they already take to the cleaners. The Big Five call this promotion-they pay for it and do it for their authors.


 Today there are literally hundreds of blog sites and millions of blogs. If you don’t have superior content or pictures (best would be including both), know about SEO, back-links, targeted websites, or have several thousand real email accounts YOU ARE WASTING YOUR EFFORTS. You would be better served having a website. Don’t use free templates. Pay someone to make yours at least as good as the next author.


 This, to me, isSwinneyGray Ghost copy (2) a MUST. I’ll tell you why. As my good friend John Brantingham explained to me, people don’t buy your book from the actual reading, but they will POSSIBLY buy your book based on your message. Can they relate to you? Do they find you interesting? Ask yourself, do I even have a message? If you don’t, you should. As far as the nerves that accompany standing in front of people and reading your work go, suck it up. Deal with it. Stumble and get a dry mouth, freak the hell out. It’s GOOD FOR YOU. And, it shows you’re human. Humans relate better to humans, not robots.


Again, you MUST do this. I’ve been talking about this for years and I’m really tired of hearing people saying it’s too difficult to do. Guess what, use Hootsuite. It’s free and does the work for you. You can pre-arrange messages written one time that will automatically push out to all of your social media sites at once. There’s no reason you shouldn’t be doing this. If you don’t think some of the sites are useful, don’t use them. However, I challenge you to find a single bestselling author not using social media.

 I’ve got plenty of more tid-bits that I’ll be sharing on guess blogs over the next few months. Please feel free to email with questions. I answer them all.

JIM:  Okay. There you have Swinney’s take on the work after the writing.  Leave a comment or a question.  Swinney won’t shy away from answering.