When Not To Put Your Own Life Experience On Paper

My 85 year old father.

My 85 year old father.

Writers are encouraged to write what they know. Write from life experiences. But some experiences need to ruminate for years in the subconscious mind before they see the printed page. Others never become a subject of an article or the character in a novel. Those parts of life are too painful.

Right now I am in that season of watching my parents decline. My father’s Alzheimer’s is taking him away from his family by degrees every day. I can’t even journal my feelings. It is too hard to think about. My sister and I are working toward placing my dad in assisted living. The stress of all this drama has brought lots of confusion, anxiety and anger into my mother’s life. Another burden for us to bear. More heartbreak.

Diverting focus

These emotions color some of the characters in my latest novel, but even that is but a shadow of the full blown emotional ride I’m experiencing this time in my life. Balancing time for grandchildren, work and writing is challenging enough. For me, focusing my writing on my present struggles would push me right over the insanity hill into depression. Writing about imaginary characters struggling with different issues is a relief. Writing movie or book reviews, devotions and these blog posts are therapeutic. It takes my mind to a different place. When I return to my real life I am more able to cope.

Someday I will probably chronicle my journey as an elder caregiver. Someday I’ll have words of wisdom to dispense that will help my readers cope. I might even create a heroine who walks through these same experiences. Or a hero who is losing his reality. But not today, not this week, this month, this year.

When I’ve absorbed all the pain and gained the knowledge God has for me through this trial, then I will have a complete message to share. A story with believable details. Something that can heal hearts others can relate to. Until then, I harbor no guilt sheltering my feelings.

Tez Brooks wrote his book years after his divorce and single parenthood. The timing was perfect.

Tez Brooks wrote his book years after his divorce and single parenthood. The timing was perfect. https://jubileewriter.wordpress.com/2015/03/08/the-single-dad-detour-tez-brooks-shares-his-journey-and-a-book-giveaway/

Timing is key

I write this post to encourage other writers. It’s ok if you don’t write about everything going on in your life. The hard things can remain private. You are not a reality show participant that needs to embarrass yourself to build a platform for readership. As you grow your fan base and share your life with your readers, it’s like any other friendship—you reveal more to some people than others. Fans and readers fall in that acquaintance category, and until and unless God directs you to write about any particular trial, you can keep it to yourself.

I know of writers who are going through divorces, lost loved ones, loss of their homes and horrendous health issues. Yet they write about everything else and save their immediate trials for their close circle of friends.

Raw emotions injure

Raw emotions are never good fuel for writers. They’re like green wood in a fireplace. They spark and pop while burning, causing injury to those nearest the fire. It creates too much smoke and preserves the pain longer. If you must write while it’s raw, get it all out on paper. Every awful thing you are thinking and feeling. Then DO NOT publish it. File it away to look at when you are in a better frame of mind. I’ve heard of writers destroying their careers by spewing raw feelings in a blog. Wait until enough time has passed so objectivity can rule your opinion. Then shift through your words for those gems of truth. Trash the rest of it. If you are honest, there may not be any gems, only condemning stones.

Writers control their world

Your writer’s life is your own. So, when someone says “You should write a book about that.” Put on your non-committal expression and change the subject. Only you will know when the time is right. Then your words will accomplish exactly what you intended.

What do you do with all the trials going on in your world as you pursue writing? When do you know its time to write about it for publication.

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Riding A Horse With No Name

I’ve ridden very few horses in my life. But I’ve ridden on the best of them through the pages of a book. My sister, Linda, however, not only rode horses but also owned a few and did rodeo roping and barrel racing. She was one of my go-to people when I did my research for my historical romance. I was quite surprised to learn that cowboys didn’t name all their horses.

photo by morguefile.com

photo by morguefile.com

Horses were work animals serving a purpose like cows, sheep and chickens. Most horses on a ranch were used for tending cattle and transporting cowboys from point A to point B. A wise cowboy took care of his horse before he took care of his own needs. The horse he was riding aided in his survival. A well-rested, well-fed horse made the difference in the productivity of a ranch and the success of a long cattle drive. Can you imagine naming a herd of horses? It wasn’t practical.

photo from morguefile.com

photo from morguefile.com

Many cowboys didn’t even own a horse. They owned their saddle and rode whatever horse the rancher provided for him. Those who did own a horse consider it one of their prize possessions. Nameless horses tamed the west on cattle ranches, Calvary units and service animals helping lay railroad ties. So important were horses in the old west, stealing them was a hanging offense.

photo from morguefile.com

photo from morguefile.com

Jake Marcum in my novel Secrets and Charades has a fine gray horse named Traveler. Jake served in the Confederate Army in the Civil War. If you’re up on historical trivia Robert E. Lee’s horse was named Traveler. Jake admired the man and respected his horse enough to give him a noble name.


Tony Sanchez named his horse Bonita. He spends his spare time working with Bonita teaching her tricks. He is very attached to his horse and is the top horse whisperer on the ranch. He trains Artie Weaver’s horse to follow the lad like a dog. This is connected to an important plot twist.

Jake gives Evangeline a gentle mare named Sage. Evangeline has not had good experiences with horses. So Sage will also play a part in her healing.

photo from morguefile.com

photo from morguefile.com

Nameless characters are also present in novels. An incidential human character may not have a name either. The waiter is the waiter and remains nameless. He serves a purpose in the scene, but unless he is a pivotal character in future scenes, he remains nameless.

A horse has no name unless there is a connection to the human characters that contributes to the plot. So if the horse has a name be prepared to see some specific action occur in the plot with that horse’s name on it. 🙂

What fictional horse is your favorite horse hero?

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Evangeline with the Burgundy Hair : Creating A Heroine

burgundy hair 2

Monday I shared how Jake the hero in my novel, Secrets and Charades came to be. Today I’d like to introduce the heroine by her most startling feature—her hair. How to describe Evangeline’s hair color was a challenge. I could picture it so clearly in my mind’s eye. A girl I went to high school with had the most beautiful red hair, but it wasn’t red like Lucille Ball or Carol Burnett. It was more…more burgundy. Evangeline is the heroine and strong-willed mail order bride to my determined cowboy Jake. She has green eyes but no freckles. Her skin is peaches and crème. You know, porcelain skin with just enough blush on her cheeks to draw attention to her eyes. But she’s tall for a woman in the 1870s and a doctor to boot. A rare combination for the time and not a desirable mate for most men.

Evangeline is compassionate, determined and intelligent. She’s strives for independence and surrounds herself with a cloak of confidence. Beneath it all is a deep-seated fear that creeps out of the shadows to taunt any happiness she might reach for.

1870s woman

I wanted Evangeline to look different than the many heroines I’ve read about lately. I wanted her to have an unusual hair color and height not common for a woman of the era. No actress came to mind when I created her. She appeared before me complete with her own history and begged for her story to be told. She has not change one iota from the first moment she revealed herself to me. Jake on the other hand grew a mustache and sported a scar on his cheek after our first encounter.

Evangeline represents those women who feel their past has so tainted them they can never consider marriage as a path for their lives. Evangeline’s journey mirrors so many woman who still hang onto the past like a badge of dishonor that they fear others will discover and then reject them.

Her unique burgundy hair represents how she views herself. Different from other women. Stained, yet, her past has shaped her into the strong woman she is. Her whole existence is to help readers who can relate to her find closure and completeness. The 1870s were a less forgiving time and society’s view of women much more controversial.

Her painful past haunts her and colors how she responds to her new life. It’s a time to face her fears and grow into the woman she was meant to be and find love in the midst of it all.

If you were writing an unusual female character what would set her apart? Tell me in a comment below.

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Creating Jake: My inspiration, Readers Imagination

Sam ElliottSam Elliott is the epitome of the cowboy persona he’s successfully portrayed for decades. He tops John Wayne in my book as best cowboy ever on the silver screen. His smoldering eyes and soft-spoken manner always make the womenfolk swoon. He is the basis for my hero in my novel Secrets and Charades. Although Jake’s hair is black he has the mustache and the persona of Sam.

I didn’t actually paste a picture up of Sam as I wrote. Many novelist have photos of their characters in their workspace. I’ve seen enough of his movies to sense how his cowboy characters would react. However, I’ve tempered that persona a bit because Jake is a man of faith. His faith plays an important role in how he interacts with his world, on the ranch, the cattle drive, in town. Jake is awkward around women while treating them with the utmost respect. Even the disagreeable ones won’t hear a mean word directed toward them.

He’s a hard-working, determined rancher with dark places in his past. Guilt pushes him to be a better man for his niece, his ranch hands and his mail-order bride. Can you envision Jake?

Tom Selleck john cusack

Because Secrets is historical, I can’t mention he looks like Sam Elliott. That would be so wrong. We are in the 1870’s and I want my reader to be there with me. My description might stir up an image of a different actor for the reader. Perhaps Tom Selleck or John Cusack or any number of your favs. Which is wonderful because as the reader you get to decide what he looks like.

Henry-Darrow Erik-Estrada

I wrote a very short description of Tony Sanchez. A secondary character and Jake’s ranch hand. My sister was totally enamored with him. “You described him perfectly.” My brief description of his Mexican heritage complete with black hat, silver head band and spurs gave her all the information she needed to visualize him. I had pictured Henry Darrow from an old TV series High Chaparral for Tony but she may have been thinking of Eric Estrada. (You know, the motorcycle cop from CHIPS.)

If the setting for a novel is contemporary, it’s easy to refer to a character as a Sam Elliott or Tom Selleck look-a-like. Although I have a friend whose reference to Medea got shot down by a publisher. Apparently, the publisher had no idea who the character Medea was and felt others would not. (I digress.)

Cowboys are the ultimate hero in American literature, even today with Science Fiction heroes traveling the galaxies. Think Hans Solo. The cowboy persona lives on. He rights wrongs, lives by a moral code and saves the ranch, the damsel and his horse with no thought for his personal safety.

If you were creating a cowboy character what actor would he resemble?

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Writing Exercise: Trust What You See

paint brushes-edited

Writers are artist in every sense of the word. They create worlds on paper that inspire and comfort. They see things below the surface. I found this quote inspiring.

“I remember standing on a street corner with the black painter Beauford Delaney down in the Village, waiting for the light to change, and he pointed down and said, ‘Look.’

“I looked and all I saw was water. And he said, ‘Look again,’ which I did, and I saw oil on the water and the city reflected in the puddle. It was a great revelation to me. I can’t explain it.

“He taught me how to see, and how to trust what I saw. Painters have often taught writers how to see. And once you’ve had that experience, you see differently.”

 ~ James Baldwin

Did it inspire you? Let’s see how much. I ask my husband, Charles Huff to choose one of his photographs for my readers to use as a writing exercise. He gave me two great ones. So, you choose which one inspires you.

Writing exercise:

Look at this photo. Write the first things you see.

Charley's landscape

How about this one? What do you see at first blush?

Charley's paramont pic

Now like James Baldwin take a second look. What do you see now? Engage your senses beyond sight. What do you hear, smell, (yes really! Use your imagination.) Write a tight paragraph or two. Who knows this might be the beginning of a new novel idea for you. 🙂

I’d love to see these photos through your eyes. Post your writing exercise below.

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A Saturday of Non-Writing Writing


I was so looking forward to Saturday. I’ve been working extra hours at my job and this Saturday was the start of the Labor Day weekend. Three days to carve out extended periods of time to write. Three days to create words on page after page. I had my writing to-do-list of projects. Several blog posts and novel edits at the top of the list.

Saturday found me spending time with my elderly parents, cleaning house with my granddaughters as well as having them cuddle and snooze in my lap while I sat trapped in a family room chair. My writing mused had gone back to bed and I found myself fighting sleep as my dozing 3 year old granddaughter flayed and wiggled.

The day was productive as far as a clean house and happy grandchildren were concerned. That’s always a good thing. Clicking my remote while trapped beneath cuddly girls I found one of my favorite writer movies. (I’m sure you have one too.) The Magic of Belle Isle. It reminded me that no matter what is going on in my life I am destine to write. I reviewed it in a previous blog you can check it out here.

5414_Magic of Belle Isle (2012)

The main character Monty has abandoned his writing after the death of his wife. As the story unfolds the family next door begins to interact with him. Their presence revives his desire to write and his joy for living. He changes into a better man using his gifting once again.

Even though I knew how the story would turn out there is always something new to discover the second, third and fourth times around. As the credits roll I am inspired again. I embrace this writing life with all its interruptions. I pick myself up, not wallowing in the discouragement of missed opportunities. Instead I create a blog based on a day of failure intend for writing goal success.

As I’ve often heard from various authors. We never truly stop writing, the words ruminate in our minds while our bodies are engaged in other pursuits. The Magic of Belle Isle awaken so many ideas in my mind. Novel ideas, article ideas, blog ideas. My mind rekindled amidst the stressful and unplanned activities of my Saturday.


So, now it’s Sunday morning and I finish up this little reflection piece with the help of my muse who is totally rested from Saturday’s non-activity. Together, we will tackle my to-do-list refreshed by the creative juices we stirred into action on our non-writing Saturday. Today I post this blog and continue drawing lines through items on my writer’s to-do-list excited to see what creative words I write today that weren’t even in my mind on Saturday.

How do you handle non-writing writing days?

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Family: The Writer’s Cheerleader

My sister Carol Ervin and I pose with Thomas Jefferson. The last outing we had together.

My sister Carol Ervin and I pose with Thomas Jefferson. The last outing we had together.

Today would have been my baby sister Carol’s 55th birthday. She died two years ago of liver cancer. Carol was one of my cheerleaders. Writers are always advised to not rely on family to critique our books because their opinion is tainted by their love for us. That’s so true. But as I think about my sister, I know the void in my writing world without her.

She read the first draft of my first novel and gave me an honest opinion. She loved it but knew it still needed work. As I work on my second novel, I wish she were around to read it and give me her thoughts on it, as well.

While we do need honest critiques and real help from our writing community, we still need cheerleaders. Family and friends buoy us up when we are ready to quit this writer’s life madness and go do something more fun.

My mother, Audrey Ervin, has always been a reader and my biggest cheerleader.

My mother, Audrey Ervin, has always been a reader and my biggest cheerleader.

My mother saved every article I wrote when I was a columnist for the Beacon News. She kept them in a scrapbook. Recently, she gave me that scrapbook along with some children’s magazines I had written for. All of these words dated back decades. It felt strange to see my work treasured like an elementary student’s special awards and artwork.

My sisters Linda Ervin and Carol Ervin always an encouragement.

My sisters Linda Ervin and Carol Ervin always an encouragement.

My other sister, Linda, also read my first draft and shared it with a friend at work. They read when they should have been working. She gave me information about horses from her years of experience riding, roping and cleaning stalls. Her praise of my descriptions was priceless.

They keep the fire from dying

Carol would ask how my writing was going, and when I’d quit writing for a decade my mother would always say, “You were really good.” Then she’d joke. “You should write a book about me; it would be a best seller.”

When I finally heard God nudge me back to my calling, it was family that inquired about my progress.

Yes, our family and friends can also be our greatest naysayers when we don’t give them our undivided attention because of deadlines. But they are the first to buy our books and brag to their friends about us. They are our best marketers.

So, as I look back on times gone by with my baby sister—all the fun, fights and frustrations—I’ll always be grateful for her support of me and belief in me as a writer.

Who in your family is your biggest fan? I’d love to hear about them.

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