Becoming History

Our area newspaper has a “Local History” section, where it reprints news from 100 to 75 to 50 years ago and so forth. Recently, there was a section under “35 YEARS AGO,” and it was about my first publication, SWEET PRAIRIE PASSION, Book #1 of my SAVAGE DESTINY series. Apparently, I am now a part of “history.” Well, being born just five months before WWII ended, I guess I qualify, but I’m not terribly happy about the fact that that was 73 years ago! 

I wrote a WWII story around 10 years ago that I never published because it needs work, but the other problem was where to place it as far as genre. Could it really be called “historical,” as compared to the 1800’s type novels? I guess by now it could be, so maybe I’ll go through that manuscript again and think about how to improve it. But if WWII is now a part of true history, them so am I!

Reading that “35 YEARS AGO” snip in the paper hit me a bit hard. Has it really been that long? I honestly have almost no memory of when or how I wrote 68 books since then. Sixty-seven have been published and I just turned in #68 to my publisher. Now I’m working on #69 and I’ve submitted a proposal to my publisher for a brand new series idea. My original writing goal was to publish 100 books, but maybe it’s more realistic to hope for 75 before I die. So far my health is holding out, so we’ll see.

It doesn’t “feel” like 35 years, but then most of us have that problem. We think something happened “a couple” of years ago and we find out it was 10 or 12 years ago. Where does all that time go? Maybe we just stay too busy to notice. We go from school to college to marriage to babies to full time work while raising a family to graduations and weddings and grandchildren, and it all flies by in the blink of an eye and suddenly … here we are … with GROWN grandchildren. We are suddenly the “old ones.” When did that happen? I never noticed any of it.

And through all those “life experiences” above, I wrote … and wrote … and wrote. And I am still writing and have even more stories in my head and hoping God will give me time to write those, too. At least once I’m gone, the books I’ve written will continue to be available for years afterward and will become a bit of a legacy that will also become “history.” SWEET PRAIRIE PASSION and my entire SAVAGE DESTINY series continues to sell in surprising numbers. Some day the history section of the newspaper will read “50 YEARS AGO” and “75 YEARS AGO.” Hopefully all the 68 (+) books I’ve had published before I die will still be selling, so that a part of me can continue to be with my grandchildren and great-grandchildren! And I will continue on into “history.”

The After-Book Let-Down

The theme of this blog refers to how I feel when I am done with a book and I send it in. When I finish a book, and probably because my books are so long, I feel a big let-down and am depressed for several days afterward. After writing a 400-500 page book, usually 100,000 to 110,000 words, it’s hard to let go of the characters and “send them away” to the publisher.

Imagine packing up your own children and sending them off to a stranger who will then manage their lives from then on (i.e. edit your book and do things to it to make it even more marketable) – and knowing once you send your children away, they will never be returned to you. That’s kind of how it feels to work on a big novel and then send off the finished product.

Writing a story doesn’t involve just sitting down to the computer and putting an idea into words. That idea might have been brewing for months or even years, the characters living in your heart and mind all that time. Jake Harkner from my Outlaw series has lived in my heart and mind since about 1991, when I wrote down the idea for his story on the back of a check book with an eyebrow pencil because it suddenly came to me and I didn’t have a pen handy. That first book was published in 1993 and it took me 20 years to convince a publisher to let me write a sequel, which of course turned into four books and now I want to write a fifth. Part of the reason I want to write that fifth book is because I DON’T WANT TO LEAVE THESE CHARACTERS! I want to keep them alive for me and for my readers.

And now I know why it has taken me so long to even begin writing the contemporary Native American romance I talked about on Facebook a few days ago. The characters have been inside my heart and head for about 20 years now – maybe longer – and I know that if I write this book and actually sell it, I will have to “let go” of these characters. They won’t be just mine any more. Sounds strange, I’m sure, to non-writers, but I suppose as a reader who might love my characters as much as I do, they get the same feelings when the finish reading a book for which they have waited months to be able to read, especially books that are part of a series. They get done and they wish there was more because they don’t want to leave those characters.

Back to my comment about writing not being about just sitting down and getting it into a computer. Any well-written book takes weeks or months (sometimes years) of research before you even write it. So you go through all of that, and then you write the story – which normally takes 3-5 months for me. Sometimes, though, as with DO NOT FORSAKE ME and with my recent new book LOGAN’S LADY, the story is so real and already written in my head that it just pours out of me. I’ll sit for hours and days and weeks on-end doing almost nothing else but write – in which case I can turn out a 400-500 page book in about 6 weeks.

Either way, that first draft is not the finished product. I print it out – read and edit – go back to the computer and enter the edits – print it out again – read it again to check those edits, in which case I find even more things that need to be “fixed” – go back to the computer and enter all the new edits – read it again for even more edits – go back to the computer and enter those edits – then print it out once more and read the whole thing before I send it in to the publisher. So overall, you are with the characters night and day for weeks or months.

Then you send in the book. It’s like popping a balloon. Your elation at finishing a big book lasts only a day or so and then it’s – “Now what?” I want to go with my characters to the publisher and “protect and defend” them. “Don’t mess with my babies,” I want to say. The publisher has ripped them out of my arms. Plus, I feel like someone just took away my job and now I have to find a new one. “What do I work on now?”

My husband says I deserve a break, and I suppose I do, but I begin to panic. What if this book bombs? What if I never sell another book? I need to start another story and work on more ideas and make sure my publisher will take more – or make sure I have new stories ready to publish on Amazon so that my readers always have yet another book to look forward to.

If I had my way, I would continue my series books on and on into the children and grandchildren. I would stay with those families or couples I created for as long as possible. And if it was physically possible, I would publish a new story every month to keep my readers happy. Alas, there is only one of me and this old body can only sit for so long without aches and pains. Still, I try to ignore them because I want nothing more than to keep writing and keep turning out new stories.

Yet through all the 67 books I’ve now had published, so many of my characters will live with me forever and ever – most notably Zeke and Abbie Monroe from SAVAGE DESTINY – Caleb and Sarah Sax (from my BLUE HAWK trilogy) –Maggie Tucker and Sage Lightfoot from PARADISE VALLEY, Sunny Landers and Colt Travis from THUNDER ON THE PLAINS, Gabe Beaumont and Faith Kelley from TAME THE WILD WIND, Addy and Parker Cole from UNTIL TOMORROW, Lettie McBride and Luke Fontaine from WILDEST DREAMS, Two Wolves and Claire from CAPTURE MY HEART and A WARRIOR’S PROMISE, and of course Jake and Randy Harkner from my OUTLAW books. There are so many more! If you go to and type in my name, you will find pages and pages of my titles.

Sometimes I scan all my books and I wonder what will happen to all those characters after I am gone. Who will love and cherish them as I do? I’m so glad to realize that my readers will. And if they keep recommending those books to their family and friends, most of my books will continue to sell for a long time after I'm no longer in this world, which means my characters will live on for a long time to come. As far as I am concerned, they did live once for real and they told their stories to me from the past. I guess that’s why most of my books came out of me so easily. Those characters just visited me for a while and whispered their stories to me. I simply wrote down what they told me happened and how they felt about it. And yes, I’m just crazy enough to think that I just might meet some of my characters in another world, another life.

Can you tell I’m feeling sentimental? I hope Sourcebooks takes good care of my new “baby.” They are already working on a cover!

What’s In a Name?

Recently I eMailed my local writers’ group (Mid-Michigan Romance Writers of America) and joked about how sometimes we writers get our characters’ names mixed up. For the last two months I’ve been writing almost constantly to finish my newest book for Sourcebooks – LOGAN’S LADY. In the midst of that, I had to stop and work on edits to my March book for Amazon, A WARRIOR’S PROMISE. The heroine in WARRIOR is named Claire – and in LOGAN’S LADY the heroine is named Elizabeth.

Fiction vs Reality

Writers are often asked if their characters are based on someone they know. I have realized that my reply to this always seems defensive – “Heavens, no! I don’t want my friends or people I know casually to think I am writing about them! They might be offended, and I live in a small town. My characters are purely fictitious.” 

Don’t Get Sad … Get Mad!

Did you just get another rejection?

Has someone dissed your book?

Has someone said that if you write romance, you’re not a “real” writer?

Are you stuck with your “sagging” middle? (I mean your book, not your body).😉

Focusing Your Ideas

Any “born” writer knows that it’s pretty hard to shut off your brain when practically everything you read, see and hear becomes a possible story idea. The news is packed with them – crimes of every sort – governmental espionage – historical events – major auto accidents – and even (too rarely) GOOD NEWS stories that give you an idea for a sweet, romantic tale.

Stick to Your Guns

“Stick to your guns” is not just fitting for my theme, which is to write from your heart and write what you believe in, but also fitting because “guns” are most certainly a big part of what I write! 

Turning Your Great Idea Into a Book

I can’t count the number of times an aspiring writer has told me, “I have a great idea, but I don’t know how to make it into a whole book.” Or, “I started this book with a great idea, but I’ve reached a wall that I can’t get over. I don’t know where to go from here.” I’ve been in that same situation more than once myself, but one thing I’ve learned over the years is that if you’re a born story-teller, you can write your way through almost anything.

What Makes Your Hero and Heroine Real and Memorable?

I have written articles and blogs on creating “real” characters for years, but I’ve never been able to pinpoint the answer to an often-asked question: “What is the secret to creating characters that to you and your readers are so real and memorable that you and they both feel these people really lived?” 

The Long Journey

I have been writing books since 1979, when I penned my first novel - a 3,000 page disaster called WINDS FROM OREGON! I took a couple west on a wagon train, and anything and everything that could happen to people heading west in the 1850’s happened in that book. Those two should never have survived! And I didn’t know how to skip time, so it was practically a day-by-day blow all the way to Oregon. Hence, 3,000 pages! I never sold it, but it was a real learning experience, and I know now that I’ve used bits and pieces from that story in my later books.