CAFE: A gathering place. A place of refreshment.

Thirsty for the latest releases in Christian fiction? Ready for a peek into the world of publishing and writing conferences? Hungry for spiritual and real-life nourishment? Pull up a seat; you're in the right place, and I'm so glad you've stopped by.

Thursday, April 28, 2011

Stringing Together a Novel

For some people, novels arrive fully formed in their brains, via a dream or a story the author has been nursing for years. Broken Wings was more like a pebble here, a pearl there, a flicker of an idea that wasn't quite flesh and bones. It actually had its origins in the stories my mother-in-law and dad told me about living through the Great Depression and the Dust Bowl days.

You see, when I first started writing, I went to a conference and learned they have contests! I was fascinated by that and went home and wrote a short story. For eight months I wrote, researched, and polished my entry which I called "Sand Plum Summer." It took place during the Depression and was about a young girl who prayed for a baby brother. On Black Sunday, a dust storm whipped through this farm family's corner of Oklahoma. The next day, three children were found in a shack. Their mother, out picking sand plums, perished in the storm, and the children (yes, a baby brother!) were taken in by the farm family. I loved this story, entered it in the contest, and much to my surprise, it won 1st place and was the first money I ever earned as a writer.

I thought of the characters off and on over the next few years, and it kept coming back to me that the oldest of those three orphans surely had a story to tell. Why were they stranded? What did she remember? At some point I knew her mother was fleeing an abusive husband. But was there a story there?

Then one day I read an article in the Tulsa paper about the possible renovation of the Big Ten Ballroom which had hosted jazz greats back in the forties and fifties. Maybe this orphaned girl grew up and became a jazz singer. She would, of course, be old now so perhaps she needed to tell her story.

About that time I'd also read a couple of "framed" stories where an older narrator tells a fascinating story of his or her youth (Water for Elephants, The Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet). I began stringing the pearls I'd gathered together, but still didn't have a real story.

When my first novel was accepted, the editor (bless her heart) asked what else I had. My agent sent her a completed young adult story I'd just written. It was rejected. Do you have something else?

Well . . . there's this jazz singer.

After that, things went into high gear as my agent and I brainstormed how the story could be told using the fragments I had. We had to have current conflict and situations. I knew the singer would be telling her story to a younger person and came up with a young professional woman in need of a friend - a woman who's being abused by her fiance. Abuse became the silk cord that held the beads in place and united the two characters. We added a few more beads, discarded some that didn't work out. In a four day period, I wrote a synopsis (summary) of the story and three chapters. My agent submitted it, and a few days later, I was offered a two-book contract.

Broken Wings is a story of friendship, perseverance, and loss, but there is great hope in the characters. And I'm nearly certain the jazz tunes I played non-stop while writing the story seeped into the pages. In five short weeks, the book will be on bookstore shelves. I hope you'll pick one up and give it a home. Already I'm thrilled at this early review. It's a scary, but thrilling, thing to put one of your babies out there. I'll be hosting some contests here and on FaceBook in the next few months so I hope to see you there.

I'm off to gather some more pearls to string together for a new story. Maybe I'll stumble upon some gems!

Saturday, April 23, 2011

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Duststorms Then and Now

This has been a horrible year for folks out in western Oklahoma and much of west Texas. Rainfall is measure in one-hundredths of an inch and every precious drop is welcomed. The drought and high winds have birthed many dust-filled days and wildfires. Thousands (maybe millions) of acres of land have burned along with many homes. More and more people are talking about how this must've been what the "dirty thirties" were like when dust storms came one upon another during the Great Depression.

I have family and friends in the "dustbowl" of Texas and Oklahoma and ventured out there last week to celebrate a birthday, visit, and give a couple of talks. The first full day there was glorious - bright blue skies, wide open spaces that made me want to lift my face to the sky and inhale the beauty of it. Two days later, while I was at my dad's, the wind woke me up at 4 am. Fierce. Howling. Daddy and I stood at the picture window and watched the yellow sky, the wind whipping at everything in its path, stirring up dust. We pointed out a tree line in the distance, its form dark, barely distinguishable. By noon, the trees were no longer visible, the sky just a continuous brown smudge.

Daddy lived through the dust bowl on a farm less than ten miles from where we stood watching the wind blow. It didn't take much encouragement from me for Daddy to tell me about those days. Here are his random memories.

Phyllis, Dall, LaRue, Mike (my dad), Evain

"My daddy went to bed and cried every night, wondering how he and Mother were going to feed and care for five kids. We had milk cows, but we couldn't afford to feed them and times were bad for all of us so the government shot all but one of the cows. They let us keep the one so us kids would have milk. The dirt was so bad, though, that it caked up all over her body and crusted over, clogging all her pores. She couldn't breathe, and got sick. We locked her in the milking stanchion and poured water on her, tried to scrub the built-up dirt off, but it didn't help. Our one milk cow died."

We refilled our coffee cups, grateful for storm windows and the secure house. There were no such luxuries in the thirties.

"We hung sheets and blankets over the doors when the dirt was blowing. Daddy caulked all around the windows so even on nice days we couldn't open the windows and get fresh air.  Even sealed up, the windows leaked dust, and us boys would take our little tractors and plow the dirt that settled on the window sills." He ran his finger along the sill, his chin quivering.

"We had a dog named Jack. Just a non-descript mutt about so high." He pointed to his knee. "We couldn't feed him, so my brothers and I caught rabbits. You could walk right up to them and pick them up. So much grit had blown in their eyes, they couldn't see. We slammed them against the oak wagon wheels and threw them over to Jack so he wouldn't starve."

In better times
"I think I remember Black Sunday. For some reason, a lot of the storms came on a Sunday, but if it's the one I'm thinking of, there was just a black line on the horizon to the north, extending to the west. It got wider and wider and as it got closer, birds started flapping overhead, flying higher and higher trying to get above the dirt cloud. The sky was black with the clouds and what seemed like millions of flapping birds trying to escape the storm. The birds were just about as spooky as the dust storm."

Around four o'clock Daddy and I traced our steps back to the picture window. The tree line in the distance had come back in view, the sky now just dull and tired looking. Daddy pulled on a jacket, covered his mouth with the silk kerchief he wore to keep out the elements. "Time to feed the colt." I watched as he walked to the barn, his body hunkered into the wind which was still pretty gusty. A short time later he returned and pulled two chicken eggs from his pocket - the daily offering from the two hens who'd gone about their business, wind and dirt or not.

And I think that's the way it is. Life does indeed go on for most of us. And on reflection, I'm thankful for a dad who still remembers the storms of life, that he and others have survived to share their stories. I'm thankful for a praying grandfather who saw his prayers answered and lived to see better times. And  I'm thankful to you, my readers, for sharing time with me.

Do you like to hear stories of your parents and grandparents? How do you think events of the past shape who we are today? While I didn't grow up during the Depression, I grew up hearing stories of it. It has shaped who I am and what I write. I hope you'll join me next time as I tell you how those stories have infused my writing. Until then, be safe.

Monday, April 11, 2011


Saturday night was the annual Oklahoma Book Awards Celebration presented by the Oklahoma Center for the Book. I was honored that Chasing Lilacs was a finalist for the Fiction category. So many great authors and illustrators come from my state, it's hard not to feel a teensy bit proud. And while my book didn't win, I was glad when the author who sat next to me at the book signing event did take home the medal. Congrats to David Gerard for his book God's Acres!
David Gerard, Winner of the Fiction Award

These kinds of events both scare me and thrill me somehow. Several judges came by and talked to me about my book and how relevant it was to life in the fifties. Others chatted with Max and made him feel welcome. Oklahomans are like that - good people who take you in and make you feel special. An unexpected treat was meeting Kitty Pittman who reviewed my book on her Okie Reads blog. Here's her summation of the Book Award evening. What she failed to mention was that she - Kitty Pittman - received the Glenda Carlile Distinguished Service Award. Kudos!

Kitty Pittman - as lovely in person as she is on her blog
My favorite date, as always!

Former Oklahoma Lieutenant Governor, Jari Askins, was the master of ceremonies and shared about her lifelong love of books and memories of trips to the library as a child. Rilla Askew, a beloved Oklahoma author received the lifetime achievement award.

Our good friend Jingyau

Sounds of the harp filled the background as we enjoyed a scrumptious dinner, good fellowship, and added another page to the scrapbook of lovely memories. Have I mentioned lately that I LOVE books? I love to read them, write them, talk about them, and most of all celebrate them.

Thanks Oklahoma Center for the Book for making the celebration a night to remember!!