Emotions from Life Experiences Help Writers Build Deeper Characters

This Sunday is Mother’s Day. The first one without my dear Mom. She passed in February. As I thought about my loss, the feelings of sadness and grief gripped me. Reflecting back on that moment now that it’s past, I realized I could use those feelings in my story worlds.

I’ve read posts from writer friends who share how writing a particular book drained them because raw emotions rose up as they worked out the characters’ dilemmas. I can so relate. When my baby sister died of cancer, I couldn’t deal with the C word or with hearing happy tales of people’s recovery. My mother passed from dementia and my father from Alzheimers. Both words leave a bitter taste in my mouth.

Time has healed those initial aches. I can unwrap them when I need to find the right words to describe my character’s grief. Those emotions coat the edges of what I want to convey through my stories.

Delilah James in my upcoming release Rescuing Her Heart is dealing with guilt, anger, grief and bitterness from her late husband’s abuse. I have never known domestic abuse, but those same emotions have hounded me in other life experiences.

The older I get, I find more emotional rocks to stumble over. Ones I had no clue of as a teen or young woman. That may be why it took me years to feel confident in trying my hand at novel writing.

I noticed when asked to critique new authors WIP pages that the younger the writer, the shallower the emotional arc. It’s hard to write about married life if you’ve never experienced it. In like manner, grief may not be in their wheel-house yet. There are younger writers who have had deep-emotional trauma that, if they are willing, can channel it into their stories.

The same can be said for older writers crafting stories for middle-grade or teens. Feelings from those years have probably faded to a quiet ache, if it wasn’t extremely traumatic. So, unless they kept a journal from their youth, they may have difficulty creating a true age-appropriate character. Yet, there are older authors who have been writing for that genre for years. They’ve captured the emotional essence of youth and presented it believably on paper.

Am I saying only write from fresh emotions? Of course not. We sometimes must completely process our emotions that arose out of an event. Your emotional memories of trauma need to fade so you can heal. Only then can you have a character deal honestly with their situation. And I’m not saying you can’t write about what you’ve never experienced. Being near someone facing hard times, going through it with them, can stir up deep empathy you can use to develop a character. It comes down to the depth or rawness of the emotions experienced and how healing overcame.

As a writer, you can journal your feelings while going through a difficult time. Describe in detail how your chest ache feels. Did you lose your appetite or binge eat? How did that make you feel? Even a brief sentence expressing your angst can be a gateway in the future to unlocking those emotions when you’re ready to use them in your story.

I spent time with my parents as Alzheimers and dementia changed them. Their behavior was so different from the parents who raised me. I wrote a minor character in my contemporary romance, New Duet, who was at the beginning stages of dementia. I found some humor there from my mother’s funny comments to add to Clara’s persona.

Mom got funnier as the dementia progressed. Child-like, really. I watched my mother fade away and even more so with Covid keeping us apart. These past few years of watching my parents leave my life by measures was much harder than I imagined.

In the future, those very feelings of loss may wind their way into a new character. And for the reader the story will be richer because my life-experiences will breathe life into that character. I don’t need to focus on dementia and aging, but those same feelings of watching someone drift away can describe losing a child to illness or a loved one to substance abuse.

Have you found adding bits of yourself makes your words richer?

If you’re curious about Clara in New Duet, the e-book is free through Sunday, May 9th on Amazon.

Tips from My Own Writing journey

My debut novel Secrets & Charades released in 2017, ten years after I wrote the first draft and completed a fiction writing course. I received 21 rejections as I pitched that book to 21 different publishers. Each time I’d rewrite and improve the content based on what I was learning at writer’s conferences and on the suggestions I received from the publishers (if they gave any.)

I entered contests to get more feedback. I won the Editor’s Choice Award in 2014, which earned me coaching and edits to hone my story. That lead to publication. Since then, I’ve published two other novels with two more to release this year. And two more that have yet to find a home.

I learned a few important things during that ten-year journey from rough draft to publication.

  • Never give up on your dream.
  • Stay teachable, so you are approachable.
  • Network with other writers, editors, and publishers, you never know when the door will open for you.
  • Share what you know with novice writers.
  • Humbly receive critiques and advice from other writers.
  • Be thankful for all those willing to share their knowledge of publishing.

I discovered all these valuable tools while sitting in writer’s conference classes and workshops. I listened to the author’s journeys and found inspiration. I paid attention to changing trends and gained the encouragement to go on.

Authoring a book is hard work, getting it published is harder and marketing for good sales is the hardest of all. I went into this novel writing thing very naïve of those facts. I assumed because publishers requested my manuscript after my pitch that they would scoop it up. Had I known these same publishers review hundreds of manuscripts a month and may only choose a handful, I might have been less devastated.

If you are just starting your writing journey, learn all you can. And for the published author, never stop learning.

Hope this bit of encouragement benefits someone today.

Do you have a word of encouragement for other authors? Share in the comments.

Coming soon!!!

Rescuing Her Heart, book #2 of the Healing Heart Series releases July 6, 2021 and is available for pre-order.
https://www.amazon.com/Rescuing-Her-Heart-Healing-Hearts/dp/1645263193

Two things happening today

My book Secrets and Charades is on sale for 99 cents until the 25th. Part of some marketing I am doing to promote it.

This was my attempt at a meme on Canva. Still have a learning curve. I have other memes but wanted to try something new. Sometimes it feels like I do more marketing than writing.

Also today I am live on Wordplay, Kristen Raymond’s podcast. It was a fun interview. Being unrehearsed made it interesting and also very nerve-wracking. You can check it out at the link below. It gives you several options to use to listen. Listen quick because I’m talking fast. LOL! If the link doesn’t work for you from here cut and paste it into your  browser.

 

https://www.wordplaypodcast.com/2020/06/episode-176-guest-cindy-ervin-huff.html

I waited to post my blog today so this link would be available.

If you’d like to promote your books with a podcast interview you can also sign up to be a guest on Kristen Raymond’s podcast at http://www.kristenraymond.com.

 

 

Shameless Self-promotion

For introverted authors one of the most painful things to do is self-promotion, It’s a key part of the business of writing. Not every word out of our mouths should be some form of buy my book.

But writers must speak the words:

New book available

My book won an award

Best-seller

Top ten

If you read that genre consider my novel

All these comments can be mention on social media without  looking someone in the eye. Even that can be a challenge. I prefer to promote others and not myself. It’s not easy to encourage others to buy my books. But I must.

The ratio of book promotion to other things on social media is said to be 1in 5 or 1-7. This means one social media post to every 5 or 7 posts should be buy my product (books). All the other posts can vary from a reference to the content of your books, i.e. story behind the story, research tidbit or interesting side note. The other posts can be pictures of your new shoes, dinner or old family photos. The same with blog posts, it’s okay to shamelessly promote your books as long as there is balance.

 

This post has two announcements that are shameless self-promoting.

 

My contemporary romance New Duet was a finalist in the 2019 Selah Awards. And New Duet placed second in Serious Writers fiction category. I’m glad I took the risk and entered the contests. Here’s the link to New Duet. It’s also available in audio and e-book format.

Cyle Young presented me with the 2019 Second Place Fiction Serious Writer Award for New Duet.

 

Next announcement

My newest project Smitten Historical Romance Collection: The Cowboys has my novella Healing Hearts along with three other author’s wonderful stories. We all love cowboys, so the stories were fun to write.

Here is the link to pre-order it. Pre-orders help with sales ranks on Amazon on release day August 15th. If you love historical romance and cowboys pre-order at great price.

 

I promise to keep my self-promotion to a minimum in  future posts. If you’ve been following me, you know I love promoting other authors and sharing writerly things. Subscribe to Jubilee Writer and you’ll receive an email every time a new post is available. And don’t forget to buy my books. 😊

 

 

A Successful Author Fair

 

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Here I am at White Oak Author Fair in Crest Hill Illinios. Note I didn’t bring a lot of books because sales is not the focus.  This library treated the authors well, even provided lunch.

 

How to get the most out of Author Fairs

In case you haven’t guessed Library Author Fairs are not to sell books. Which is why I am very selective about the ones I attend. That is a day of my life I can’t get back, so I try to choose wisely. A well-run fair like the one I attended recently, can be of benefit to you as an author.

Let me list the ways

  1. Exposure

Smile and chat with readers who walk by. Have lots of bookmarks and other swag available for passersby to take. Invite FB friends and family to stop by.

  1. Grow your email addresses

I offered a chance to win a $10 Amazon card for signing up for my e-newsletter.  I got more names then I sold books. Those I hope to convert to fans as they receive my monthly e-newsletter.

 

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Author Mary Lynette More stopped by and agreed to guest on my blog

 

  1. Networking

I love to interview authors for this blog. I found some interesting ones to add to my calendar. Fairs are a time to share information such as advertising tips, best places to have book signings and find other serious writers to form writer’s groups or just hang out with. I make it a point to do something for other authors if I can, you never know when a connection will be advantage in the future.

  1. Donate your books

Check first to be sure your book will be displayed on a shelf rather than sold. Having your book on a local library shelf is huge. That donation is tax deductible by the way.

  1. Sell books

Yes, you may or may not sell any books. The average is 1-5. The co-authors at the table next to me sold out because family members and friends of one of the authors made it a point to come to the event. (refer to tip #1)

 

Writers what has  been your experience at Author Fairs ?

Readers why do you attend author fairs?

Don’t forget to subscribe before you leave if you want to recieve author interviews and other writerly things in your email.

 

 

Setting Mirrors Character Part 2

I’m picking up where I left off last post. I reviewed how the right setting helps the character reveal backstory and inner conflict in a natural way. Today I want to share a few examples of setting projecting mood.

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Secrets & Charades is my Historical Romance set in 1872. Dr. Evangeline Olson goes west as a mail order bride. A newly married couple who are strangers are going to be nervous and fearful until they get to know each other. Jake is a very practical man. Their first stop on their journey back to the ranch is at one of his line-cabins. It’s a soddie (a house constructed of dirt) that his men use if they are too far away from the ranch to make it home before dark. This is their non-honeymoon night based a a promise Jake made to Evangeline when they first met.

Evangeline scanned the dimly lit room. The lantern revealed bunk beds built right into the dirt wall, inhabited by insects. “That bed might move after all,” she muttered under her breath. “Would you prefer I cook?” She hoped her reluctance wasn’t obvious in her voice. “Show me what supplies you have.”

“I generally keep a few things on hand, but there’s other provisions in that box on the table. I’m gonna tend the horses. Watch the damper on the fireplace. It has a mind of its own.”

Evangeline’s hand trembled as she began the simple meal preparation. After placing two potatoes to bake in the hot ashes and securing a pan of beans on the fire, she set about cleaning the table with the underside of her dress. A spider met its demise as it crawled across the table.

“God,” she whispered. “I asked for a change. Help me make the best of it.”

As she reached into the box for the tin plates, she gave thanks for one blessing. “This is the least romantic place I could imagine. I hope Jake agrees.”

 

The dirt and dimness help emphasize her anxiety and her last line flows from her heart to her surroundings.

In this next example Jake takes her on a side trip on the last leg of the journey to the ranch. They visit the homestead he grew up in. This gives him an opportunity to tell her some unpleasant things about his past as they look at the run-down place.

 

Standing in the ruins of his past, Jake shared his history. “Ben taught my pa everythin’ he knew about ranchin’. They became good friends.”

“When did you move from here to your ranch?”

“After the war, I came home in pretty bad shape. The girl I’d hoped to marry had married my little brother, Robert.” Jake tried to sound matter-of-fact even though raw emotions lingered near the surface with his fatigue. “My pa died while I was off fightin’. I couldn’t bring myself to live in the same house with Robert and Nora, so I hired on as foreman for Ben.”

Evangeline nodded for him to go on.

“I was drinkin’ and carryin’ on, tryin’ to forget the war, not proud of my actions back then.” He removed his hat and wiped the sweat from his forehead with his sleeve. “Ben took me under his wing and showed me the light. Helped me forgive myself and receive God’s forgiveness. Came to Jesus because of Ben. I owe him my life.”

As they wander through the abandoned house and barn, Evangeline suggested they fix the place up. Her attitude gives him hope that this marriage can work.

There are times in the close confines of the wagon they fuss with each other because of fear and fatigue. Readers learn bits about their personalities as the story continues.

 

As you build your story world, think about places certain things can be revealed.  Places that seem natural for inner reflection or verbal sparring. I just completed a novella set in a blizzard on a ranch in Kansas. My settings are limited through most of the story. There are many scenes in the cabin, some in the barn. But key scenes take place out in the snowy woods, and in town.

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Don’t just write a setting for setting sake. Your last vacation destination to Merrimac Caverns might not be the best setting. Unless, the fear and anxiety you experienced while the tour guide led you through the dark recesses fits your heroine’s escape plans. Then bring up all those observations and link them to your characters feelings.

A tour of downtown Aurora in New Duet was necessary for my readers to understand Isabella’s new life. Evangeline’s first visits to shops in Charleton, Texas in Secrets & Charades helps readers know her better as she met its inhabitants. And the store room on the snowbound ranch in my novella gives a feel for the past without lots of verbiage.

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What is your favorite scene from a novel that brought you closer to the characters?

 

 

 

 

 

How Setting Mirrors Characters Lives

 

The right setting can turn backstory into revelation. Where things are brought to light is as important as what is shared. As in real life the right setting can draw out truths. Some people think best when they are walking along their favorite path. A conversation over a cup of coffee with a good friend might open the door to sharing a secret. Changing a tire in the rain can bring out frustration and anger over things unrelated to the tire.

When I wrote my first two novels, various setting helped set the mood for what was going on with my characters. I love dialog, but spewing out information for the sake of information is so much backstory.

In my contemporary romance. New Duet, Isabella Wilson is rebuilding her life. Her controlling late husband and his mother told her how to think. Escaping to Aurora to start over is a big step for her. After reconnecting with her sister Mindy, the two of them go to lunch at an Irish Pub. Mindy points out all the interesting architectural features knowing Isabella’s artistic mind would enjoy the atmosphere. Here is a portion of Isabella’s inner thoughts as she enjoys the ambiance.

Isabella’s neck ached from trying to see every corner of the room without leaving her chair. She envisioned Maureen’s shocked expression if she saw them eating in a bar. The thought made Isabella smile. Not one muscle tightened into a cower. No carefully worded reply to the picture of Maureen’s scowl came to mind. Ming’s joyful presence was a buffer for her thoughts.

Notice how backstory is interwoven naturally.  We see how much her mother-in law and late husband still have control over her.

Here is a piece of dialog from the same setting that gives us more backstory without bemoaning her fate in a narrative info dump fashion.

Ming gave her a mischievous grin. “Guess what’s downstairs below this very restaurant.” She leaned forward. “The Basement of the Dead.”

“What?”

“A laser tag game where you get to shoot Zombies. On

Halloween, it has a pretty impressive haunted house.” She laughed and pointed. “That look on your face is priceless. All shock and awe.”

Isabella schooled her expression, embarrassed. “I’m sorry, the church Ron and I attended might have boycotted it.”

See how much more powerful the comments are in context of the setting?

I sent Isabella to an Art Gallery that featured Wounded Warrior Art and Photos. She is trying to coax her artist muse back to life. The final photograph helps her resolve to overcome. The soldier is in his formal army uniform with all his medals. He is seated in a wheel chair with a leg of his uniform folded up. She sees something familiar in his eyes.

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Isabella gazed at the photo a while longer. If this soldier could exude peace with his visible wounds, she could seek that same peace with her internal ones. Father, I want to try. Confidence rested on her shoulders for the first time.

Artists feed their souls with art. Isabella finding confidence and peace from a well-done photograph fits her character and makes it believable that she would respond as she does. It’s not preachy but natural.

In my next post I’ll share examples of how the setting mirrors the mood of a character in a scene.

 

 

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Tell me what you really really want

Question Marks

Since I started this blog in 2010 I’ve shared a variety of writerly things and interviewed some fantastic authors. Today I decided to open it up to my readers to give me suggestions. What writerly things would you like to see on my blog? Are there favorite authors or upcoming authors you’d like to see on my site? I want to always be relevant so share with me your ideas.

What is one or a few things you’d love to know more about as a writer? Do you have some writing tips you’d love to share?

 

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Secrets & Charades has won three awards

 

Post your ideas here and I’ll get on them. I’ll bring guests aboard to address things that I lack knowledge.

I hate to post a blog for the sake of posting one. There are times I only post once a week rather than twice because I didn’t have something of value to share.

 

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New Duet is more than just a romance.

 

Asking you all for input will continue to bring value to Jubilee Writer.

I want to be the best encouragement I can for fellow-writers. Tell me what you need.

If you would rather email me or message me on Facebook you may. Please don’t ask me to post negative things about anyone in the writing field.

 

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Secrets & Charades audio version is doing well. Meghan Kelley is a wonderful narrator.

 

 

Looking forward to your ideas.

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An Out of the Box Book Signing Venue

DSC_1315Finding places for book signings can be such a hassle. The possibilities of sales are risky. When I wrote my latest release New Duet I placed it in Aurora, Illinois with the intention of garnering a fan base from my hometown. To gain those readers I had to have book signings locally.  Which required me to leave my writing cave. One of the settings in my book is an Art gallery frame shop called If These Walls Could Talk. The owners support the arts. My heroine Isabella goes there to view the artwork and gains inspiration for her life.

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When I approached the owners about having a book signing they were excited. Aurora has entertainment every first Friday of the month from April to October. We agreed First Friday in August would be the perfect time to showcase me. Each First Friday has a theme. In a city of 200,00 there are activities at various venues down town.

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If These Walls Could Talk arranged to have the block in front of their store closed off for an Artist Block Party. The artist set up on the block to sell their wares. Many created pieces during the night. One woman held an art class for passersby. There were no other authors there.

 

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Notice the easel, paints and military items. These represent the characters of Isabella and Dan in New Duet.

 

The shop offered light refreshments and a wine tasting to those who came by to see the art inside. Jennifer is a smart marketer. She displayed my books in her window for two weeks before the event and they will remain for two weeks after. My book trailer played on a loop in the window.

I sold more books then I have at any event. Patrons came in and I mention my book was set in Aurora and this shop was one of the scenes. That intrigued them. (Key marketing point: Talk to people don’t just sit behind your table and hope to sell books.) I had copies of my historical romance Secrets & Charades on the table and those sold as well.

People who wouldn’t normally buy inspiration romance or shop in a Christian bookstore purchased New Duet. I found avid readers who were thrilled to get an autographed copy from a local author. The art community is a great supporter of one another. Often we forget writing a novel is an art form.

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I met ladies who are part of a book club. Who knows I may get featured there.

Getting my face out there in a non-typical book signing setting was fun and hopefully brings me new fans.

I offered a chance to win a $10 amazon card if they signed up for my e-newsletter.

I’d do another event like this in a heartbeat.

How about you? What venues were gold for you?

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An Interview with the Hero of New Duet Dan Sweeney

As promised, I have Dan Sweeney, the hero of my latest novel New Duet. And once again we’ll be talking about some interesting factoids that may not have made it into the novel.

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Welcome Dan, or should I call you Daniel?

No ma’am, the name is Dan. Dad never liked long names. Then Uncle Paul told me an Old Testament character was named Dan. I had a heck of a time convincing teachers and the army that Dan was my legal name.

If you hadn’t mentioned the army, I’d have guessed it by the ma’am address. Is that where you lost your leg?

No, ma’am. I left my fingers in Afghanistan and shards from an IED explosion cut my cheek. I lost my leg in the good old USA. You’ll need to read the novel to get the whole story. God only knows why I’m not dead and only lost my leg. I’m grateful for the second chance. I’d planned a career in the army so it’s taking time to readjust to civilian life and my disability. It’s harder than anything I did while in uniform.

Tell us a bit about Brutus.

Even though I tell myself I don’t need a service dog, I do. Brutus keeps my panic attacks at bay reducing my need for meds. He helps me if I fall. Super dog, Brutus knows how to perform tasks beyond my needs. Which is at times annoying. He was trained for a boy with severe disabilities who died. Brutus has bonded with me. He seems to know my thoughts. He’s a great companion but his manners around women need work.

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I understand you have a home in Aurora you’re fixing up. Why Aurora?

My uncle lives in Aurora. I’m not close to my sister, and my folks passed. I graduated from East Aurora High School, so it made sense to find a place there. I’ve been working on it every leave I had for three years. Then I had the accident. My buddy Steve and a few friends rehabbed the bathroom and some doors to make my ranch home handicap accessible. I won’t let them do any more. It’s my house, my project.

How’s your social life?

You sound like Steve. He grilled me on it hard one day. Tried his hand at matchmaking. And I’m not saying anymore, ma’am. Any further reference to my social life is on a need to know basis. Only those who buy New Duet will be upgraded to need-to-know status.

Clever, Dan, very clever way not to reveal too much of the plot. What’s been the hardest thing for you since you got out of the service?

Adjusting to a lost leg and a lost career. I’m back in college with a bunch of kids and it’s not easy. But good friends, a supportive family, my goofy dog and a special someone makes the adjustment easier.

 

Thanks for giving us a peek into your world.

Here’s the link to the book trailer.

New Duet is available in e-book and paperback on Amazon. You can request it at any bookstore and it’s also available to order online at Barnes & Noble. Don’t forget to subscribe so you don’t miss future posts with interviews of real people and information on other writerly stuff.