I know it seems many of my blogs are for other writers, but I think readers get as much out of my “advice” blogs as do authors. Not only is it likely that some of my readers are also aspiring authors, but I think readers enjoy learning the many aspects of writing and what their favorite authors go through in writing and decision-making.

        As I write my sixth Outlaw Hearts story, BLAZE OF GLORY, I realize I am having a blast! Why? Because the characters and everything about them are so deeply familiar to me. Another fan recently told me she loves the Harkner family and feels as though they really lived. She finds herself thinking about them often and imagining their daily life. That tells me I am doing everything right with these books – building characters to the point of realism and in a way that makes my readers anxious for every new addition to the Outlaw Hearts series.


       Jake and Miranda Harkner, their children and grandchildren, and their big ranch in Colorado, are all very, very real to me. And because I am so familiar with this family and their backgrounds, their continuing story is pouring out of me with no effort, no outline, no dread of having to sit down and keep writing, and no feeling as though writing this book is “work.” It isn’t work at all. It’s pure pleasure. That got me to thinking how nice it is to be able to write what’s familiar, as opposed to starting a brand new book about brand new characters with a brand new plot – and risking running into walls and painting myself into corners with events and twists that don’t work out the way I thought they would.


        Any author would love to always write only the familiar. I know exactly how Jake would react to every little thing that happens in this book. I see him conversing with his son or his wife. I see his darling little granddaughters. I hear their giggles. I see the love in Jake’s eyes for his beloved wife, whom he truly adores because he feels so undeserving of her and so obligated to her for putting up with the rough life she’s led because of his outlaw past. I understand Jake’s deep, psychological problems, his anxieties, his drive to protect those he loves and how and why that drive sometimes gets him into trouble. Jake and Randy’s love story is enduring and memorable. His relationship with his grown son makes me cry. They are so close. I find myself wishing that every book was this easy to write. Even though it will be close to 500 pages, it’s been no effort to sit down and write a good 2,000-4,000 words a day.


        Then there is the UNfamiliar – the brand new story with brand new characters about whom I know nothing. I have to flesh out new characters, give them a logical reason for the decisions they make in the story. I even need to flesh out the “bad guys,” because no human being is all good or all bad. The better I get to know the characters, the easier it is to write the story. With the UNfamiliar, I often have an “aha!” moment when I am trying to hook the characters together for a climactic moment in the story. But through it all, I have to feel good about these new characters. I have to like them. I have to decide on their backgrounds, the reasons for the decisions they make and for how and why they fall in love. Sometimes getting to like a character better is as simple as changing a name, or changing their point of view.

        Most important, I want my readers to understand and empathize with my characters, even the unsavory ones. If I can make readers truly care about the characters and the story, then I’ve done my job right. And the more I, too, personally care about them, the more “alive” they become for me, and the better my story, because now it is very real for me and I can walk right into these peoples’ lives and write their story as it happens.


        Familiar is easy. UNfamiliar is a lot harder, at least in the beginning. But all authors need to write the UNfamiliar because all readers want new stories – so authors can’t help but delve into completely new plots and locations and characters. The only time I get nervous about whether or not readers will like my “next” book is when it is a brand new story. When I write sequels about familiar characters, I am far more comfortable with reader reaction. If they have read the first or second or fourth book – or every single book leading up to the next one – they know the characters just as well as I know them, and they are anxious to find out what is happening with their favorite hero and heroine.


      BLAZE OF GLORY is going to be a very powerful, emotional tale that will fit the title. Jake Harkner can blow up a story with his famous .44’s in a way only this man can blast into history with fire spitting from his six-guns. And throughout the book, Jake’s love for his wife and family shines through when tragedy forces him into a major decision that will have my readers sitting on the edge of their seats, wondering how this story will end. Anyone familiar with Jake and the way he thinks knows this man is as unpredictable as the wind, a man guided totally by emotions and a psyche formed as a small boy abused by a cruel, drunken father. Jake has known violence all his life, but deep inside lies a very big heart that beats for the woman who keeps him sane, his beloved Miranda. Knowing this man so well just makes writing his story pure pleasure and so easy.

        When I finish this book, I will go back to the UNfamiliar . . . sort of. I plan to write a book I’ve wanted to write for about 30 years – my first contemporary. The characters are familiar to me because they have been in my mind all these years. I have “seen” them in my head – pictured hundreds of “scenes” – I know the complete scenario for the book. However, contemporary writing is totally UNfamiliar to me, so I am very nervous about writing this book. And after this one, I will go in to TOTALLY UNfamiliar territory when I start writing more Outlaw Trail stories and other stories of western romance that for now I haven’t even thought about. But every waking hour, and often in the middle of the night, I am thinking about various plots that I could develop into a new story.


        Familiar or unfamiliar, a writer never, ever stops brewing new stories in his or her head, and we all have those nights when we can’t sleep – nights when we get up and quickly write down the “next” new idea!





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