Friday, May 30, 2014

Good News, an Interview, & a Giveaway!

Well, I promised you all an update!

My next-to-be-published book is a middle-grade fiction read, set in Regency England. :-) My inspiration? First, I've long admired Jane Austen's books, and second, my 9-year-old niece expressed the need for more high-quality, wholesome, interesting books for her age/reading level! Thus, Jemima and the Mystery of the Missing Cufflinks has been born. Jemima strikes me as a mixture of Jane Austen and the Mandie series, meant for ages 9-12, though younger children with higher reading levels would enjoy it, too, as well as slightly older children.
This is the first book in what I intend to be a five-book series (Lord willing) entitled, "The Sudbury Family Adventures." Each book will center around one of the Sudbury family children. What is Jemima about? Read on! :-)
In Regency England, Jemima and her siblings can hardly contain their excitement when they learn that Cousin Aimée plans to come for an extended visit. Eleven-year-old Jemima especially looks forward to Aimée’s arrival, as her cousin is exactly her age.

However, Aimée turns out to be a different sort of girl than Jemima expected. Disdainful and rude but oh-so-accomplished, Aimée certainly doesn’t want Jemima to be her friend … and Jemima doesn’t want to spend any more time with Aimée than she must! Yet when household items start to go missing, including Reverend Sudbury’s heirloom cufflinks, Aimée accuses the Sudburies’ faithful servant Robert of theft. Secret searches, overheard conversations, and night adventures lead to a solution to this mystery story in which Jemima learns that Jesus can give her the power to love her enemies.
Planned Release for Jemima and the Mystery of the Missing Cufflinks: Mid-summer!
Expect to hear more about this book and its wonderful characters in the weeks ahead! :-)

And... I have another book (the one I've been working on this late winter/spring) planned for release in September/October. The exact date is yet-to-be-determined, but I will be slooowly leaking info about this as the Lord allows it to come together. :-)

So, lots of exciting things coming up on the road ahead. I covet your prayers for me, dear readers, as I seek to write for Christ's honor and truth.

And, as Jane Austen's Emma would say, "Now for the Cream..."

Here I was, looking for a great new medieval read, and to my delight, I discovered ...

Another Alicia! :-)


Alicia A. Willis is the author of To Birmingham Castle {Comrades of Honor #1}In Search of Adventure {Comrades of Honor #2}, Remembering the Alamo, and God of Her Fathers. She's a homeschool graduate, church pianist, and writer who lives with her family in New Mexico (hence the Alamo connection). Writing fiction, Alicia concentrates on deep historical authenticity; her books will bring the past to life and are great for supplementing historical studies in school as well as for personal enjoyment. :-)

I asked Alicia if she'd like to visit with us today because her latest book, From the Dark to the Dawn releases July 18, 2014, and - BE STILL, MY BEATING HEART! - it is set in Ancient Rome!

Here's a peek at the {very exciting} cover:

Now, pour yourself a cup of coffee (my recommendation) or tea (if you must) and pull up a chair. We're talking about inspiration, favorite books, and the writing process. We'd love for you to visit with us! :-)

What authors have inspired you to write? Do we see any of that inspiration in your writing?

Alicia W: Florence Kingsley and Louisa May Alcott were my biggest inspirations. Some folks have told me that they see a classical style in The Comrades of Honor Series, so I am assuming that they did rub off on me! However, it would seem they influenced me only in my medieval books.

Can you let us know your favorite books?

Alicia W: Prisoners of the Sea, Pearl Maiden, and Sir Knight of the Splendid Way. They are all classics and all historical-fiction.

Alicia, as a fellow writer, I'd love to know - What does your own writing process look like?

Alicia W: I begin by forming some characters and a general plot in my mind. I then start doing research for whichever era I am writing in. When I have enough information to start, I begin writing! I am a perfectionist and endeavor to write the manuscript correctly the first time around, mainly to save myself editing time (I dislike getting sick of a book by too many rewrites). I continue to research while I am writing. When the manuscript is complete, I do one rewrite and several proofreads. Then the book goes off to my endorsers and beta readers for a final proof.

Has your writing changed since you wrote your first book? How?

Alicia W: My first two books (and the final book in The Comrades of Honor Series will be written this way) were written classically. I intended it this way, as I feel the Middle Ages is best represented by a classical touch. However, since then, my three other titles were written with a more modern writing approach.

How do you come up with titles?

Alicia W: I base the titles off of a particular theme I wish to incorporate in the book. For example, Remembering the Alamo is about a youth group who – guess what?! – remembers the story of the Alamo.

Is there a particular theme that comes out in your writing?

Alicia W: Mercy and chivalry seem to come out a lot! Mercy is my spiritual gift, so that makes sense. And what young lady doesn’t like polite gentlemen? J

What literary character are you most like?

Alicia W: Do you mean from my own books? If so, disposition-wise, Moriah in From the Dark to the Dawn has some strong similarities to me. Interestingly enough, Philip (of the same book) is also like me in many ways. I wouldn’t say that characters from any of my other books are similar to me, however.

What are you reading right now?

Alicia W: I am reading Chasing Mona Lisa by Tricia Goyer. A fascinating, page-turning work of historical-fiction!

Dear readers, if you would like to learn more about Alicia, The Comrades of Honor Series, or her other books, she'd love to have you stop by:

Her Facebook Page - Be sure to like it for updates!
Her Website
Her Blog
Her Amazon Page


If YOU would like to WIN an e-book copy of YOUR CHOICE of Alicia's currently-published novels, enter the GIVEAWAY below! :-) 

Alicia will be providing a PDF e-book copy, which works on any e-reader. Don't have an e-reader/Kindle/Nook/etc.? Amazon provides a FREE Kindle reader for your desktop, so don't be shy... Drop your name in the hat! :-) And feel free to share so that others can join in the raffle!


a Rafflecopter giveaway

Friday, May 23, 2014

The Time of Metal and Wheels

Like Paul, I think I was born out of season. Or perhaps it is just that our modern day-and-age advances at too quick a pace for these hobbit feet to keep up with...

I went to the library the other day. And I'd like to know:

Am I the only person who thought that the librarian at the check-out desk is supposed to check out your books?

I understand - I weep over it, yes, but I understand - that the days of physical card catalogues have passed. {When I was a little girl, I remember the beautiful dark wood card catalogue in our town's library ... Its mysterious contents mapped the heavenly world of books before me ... On its top sat an enormous paper-mache dinosaur, utterly fascinating to a five-year-old.}

I realize that we are now done with the trivial ink-stamping of due dates; we have modernized; we now print those dates on little sheets of paper that get lost, thrown away, and keep no record of who has had the book before us.

I see that we now have electronic books that can be checked out of the library's virtual collection. And as an author, in a purely pragmatic sense, I benefit from e-books.


But it does make one wistful.

The incident with the check-out librarian happened in this way. I've been collecting research material for my next project... and my next-next project. :-) So I went to the library to see what they had to offer on the subject at hand. This is always a dangerous venture for me. Sure enough, two hours later, I emerged from the stacks, balancing a couple dozen books precariously in my arms, grinning foolishly from ear-to-ear because of my triumph. Despite the two self-checkouts available, I headed over to the check-out librarian {a real person, not a robot} because I thought I might have a small fine to pay off.

The librarian's eyes widened at the sight of my Tower-of-Pisa-like pile planting itself on her desk. I handed her my library card and paid my fine. Then I said, "And I'm going to check these out." She looked at the stack and then over at the self-checkouts silently. She didn't reach for the books. After an awkward second or two, I said, "Can I check them out at this desk, or do I have to use the self-checkout?" She said slowly, "I can do it, but you'd better use the self-checkout."

And I did use the self-checkout, retrieving my white check-out receipt from the printer. The librarian was just doing the job she was told to do, nothing more or less. But the incident has ground itself into my head and made my heart ache a bit.

C.S. Lewis said,

"We read to find that we are not alone."

It's funny that in this increasingly-global world, we find ourselves more and more alone.
We watch movies by ourselves on our own little laptop, absorbed by the 17" screen, just big enough for ourselves, with a plug for our personal earbuds.
We put our e-books on our personal Kindle or Nook, not on the family or even study bookshelf where others can see them, touch them, read them.
Our library books no longer have the names and dates of people who lived 40 years before us penciled in on the inside cover, letting us know that we are one person in a long line who have read and adored the same book as we do. We sever our ties with all humanity.
Everything is personalized but impersonal. We forget the old paths. We forget there were old paths or people who traveled on them. People who are connected with us by the grit of what it means to be human.
I'm reminded of Treebeard in The Lord of the Rings. He tells Merry and Pippin that Saruman's downfall has been that he now has a "mind of metal and wheels."
And I think, shouldn't a library be the last place for "a mind of metal and wheels," the last fortress against the dehumanizing of this age?



What do you think, dear reader?

Friday, May 16, 2014

Endings First

Yes, I admit it. I'm one of those people: I read the ending of a book - almost every time without fail - before I read the beginning.

I began doing this without realizing it, far back in middle school, I think.  Then one day, I came to the stark observation that not everyone reads the ending first!  It was shocking. I hadn't known that.

I felt guilty for awhile, thinking that perhaps I wasn't doing it "quite right," and so I tried to be a proper reader, starting on page 1 and finishing with "The End."

It didn't work. For better or worse, I reverted to my criminal ways. But the effort was useful to me because I questioned why, in fact, I am drawn to reading a book backwards. And I think the main thing is this:

If a story ends well - not necessarily happily, but well - I am willing to slog through the rest of the book. If it doesn't end well, it {usually} isn't worth reading. For me, I can think of maybe two books with bad endings that are worth reading, whereas I can think of dozens with mediocre beginnings and shaky middles that finish well and are worthwhile as a result.

Knowing this has helped me as a writer because I recognize that I must end the story right.  And that "right" might not make everything sparkle with fairy dust. The lead character might still die. That's life, folks. But, for me, the ending must provide some hope - and that must not be just an earthly hope.

I'm writing the ending for my current project either today or tomorrow. Like The House of Mercy, this story has a somber tone at times, yet I want the book as a whole - and especially the ending - to display the quality that the unicorn's name hints at in L'Engle's A Swiftly Tilting Planet: Gaudior - "more joyful." In that book, Gaudior is a creature of The Old Music, the music which "all the stars sang together."

And isn't that the point of true story-telling? To share in the joy of our God's great story? To take part in the ending which is also a beginning? To put all the little pieces He has placed in our hearts into the puzzle of His Whole Story and to one day rejoice with Him in the eternal Now?

C.S. Lewis so beautifully put it in The Last Battle:

“And as He spoke, He no longer looked to them like a lion; but the things that began to happen after that were so great and beautiful that I cannot write them. And for us this the end of all the stories, and we can most truly say that they all lived happily ever after. But for them it was only the beginning of the real story. All their life in this world and all their adventures in Narnia had only been the cover and the title page: now at last they were beginning Chapter One of the Great Story which no one on earth has read: which goes on for ever: in which every chapter is better than the one before.”  


What about you, friend? Do you ever read "backwards?" What do you look for in a good ending?

Friday, May 9, 2014

The Current Enterprise - Update

There are plotters...

There are discoverers...

And there are cuckoo-clocks.

I am all three.

{There are also jabberwocks, but that is a discussion for another time.}

I often start with an inkling of an idea... combine it with several others... throw out some of the characters... change the direction of the scene halfway through .. and {usually!} end up where I thought I was headed in the long run.

This leads to massive revisions at times to make everything fit just so.

I am on the brink of completing the first draft of my current enterprise. Lord willing and the crick don't rise, as my Latin teacher used to say, I will finish this draft by the end of next week if my coffee supply doesn't run dry. ;-)  Needless to say, I am VERY EXCITED to complete this first draft - the first draft always - always - always takes the longest for me to finish.

After that, I'll be taking two weeks to revise - revise - revise.

Then, my "beta readers" will take it over to critique it, make suggestions, and all that good stuff. :-)

Then we get another revise - revise - revise session to incorporate suggestions and to make corrections.

Then final readings and formatting to catch whatever slipped through the cracks in previous revision sessions.

Then it goes to my "street team" ... more on that another time. :-)

I can't wait to tell you about this story! :-) It's sat on my heart and boiled in my brain for years. But I want to finish the draft before letting the rabbit out of the hutch, so to speak. :-)



If you haven't LIKED my Facebook page, we've got ourselves a new little widget to the right. Click on it, and you'll be directed right there. :-) More little tidbits get onto my author FB page than this blog - since it's updated more frequently - so if you're interested in knowing the latest, hit "Like" and on the drop-down menu, set your preferences to receive all updates in your newsfeed. :-) Feel free to "Share" as well.


The House of Mercy {Kindle edition} has a NEW COVER! :-) If you like John William Waterhouse and the Pre-Raphaelites, you'll love it. Let me know what you think as I may be changing the print cover as well. :-)


Friday, May 2, 2014

The Power of Saying, "YES!"

We hear a lot in this modern age about knowing how to say, "No."

"No" to more responsibilities.

"No" to bringing something to the bake sale at school.

"No" to door-to-door salesmen in the garb of Girl Scouts.

"No" to that impulse buy at Wal-Mart.

And these are all legitimate things to which to say, "No," if the Holy Spirit is leading you in that way.


Yet as a writer, I must constantly exercise the power of saying, "Yes."

When I taught children's theatre, we incorporated improvisation warm-ups. The most important rule of improv is this:


Always say, "Yes."

When your improv partner suggests going to the circus, say, "Yes, let's go."

When your improv partner asks if you could help her fix her screened door, say, "Of course."

When he asks if you want to walk the dog, say, "Sure, why not?"


If you say, "No," during an improv warm-up, you risk stopping the action and you force your partner to find another question to put to you, hoping that you'll say, "Yes," this time!

And, of course, there are {rare} times when you are creating a strange sort of character who might always answer in the negative, perhaps for a comic effect.

But the vast majority of the time, in improv, the actors should support one another - notice I didn't say agree with one another - by saying, "Yes."

Writing is a lot like improv.

The more I write, the more I'm convinced of this. Book scenes compose chapters just as, in a play, scenes combine to create acts. Sometimes, for those of us who combine plotting with fly-by-the-seat-of-your-pants writing, it's hard to figure out how to get from one scene to another, how to show growth in the character.


Perhaps, though, even saying, "no," turns into a "yes." the sense of saying, "no," to one thing means we say, "yes" to something else. In a very prosaic example, if I say, "no" to having oatmeal for breakfast, I'm saying yes to something else, whether that's another kind of breakfast or just plain going hungry {a VERY rare choice for me!}.


So I've been practicing this principle this week with my current project {details on that soon!}.

My main character has come to a crisis to which I thought she was going to say, "no." I've felt a little stuck-in-the-mud with how to get this character from here to there - I usually know how the story needs to end in the most basic sense. And so I came to that crisis and I thought to myself, What if she says "yes" instead of "no?" I could feel the main character's fear as she answered in the affirmative to something that seemed out-of-character for her... but really wasn't; I had just begun to stereotype my own character, if you can believe that!


The funny thing was, the plot began to move again as soon as she said that magic word.

It opened up all sorts of doors!

{As a sidenote: This is true in the Bible as well. If Eve had said, "No," what kind of story would we have had?!

None, my friends. None. And look at Adam. Now there's a man who would have made an excellent improv artist.

Eve: Would you like a piece of fruit?
Adam: Yes!

I am in no way advocating sin or celebrating the Fall of Man, but there it is.}


We talked a lot about doors last week.

You know, I'm starting to see every opportunity I present my characters with as another door. And I'm also beginning to sense that my main character better answer in the affirmative most of the time because I'm finding that storytelling is a lot like improv.


See, the Good Lord knew theatre would come in handy someday.


I'd love to hear your thoughts on this as well ... Feel free to drop a comment below.