Monday, October 20, 2014

What's the Deal with Back Story?

Back Story
Contrary to popular belief, backstory is a good thing.

Now, before y'all call for a lynching party, let me tell you what it's good for and what it's not good for. After all, backstory helps you, the author know your character. What makes her tick? What formed her worldview? Why does he dislike women who have a good business head?

Let's get the "not" out of the way first. The reader does not need to know the backstory of your characters to understand the plot—at least not in the beginning. A bit of mystery about the character is a good thing. It draws the reader onward to find out why this otherwise nice guy is so antagonistic to the heroine.

I always tell new writers to think of it this way. You're attending a party, and you host introduces you to a new neighbor. You start off the conversation by telling her your life history, and the new neighbor will be in jeopardy of whiplash, looking for the host—or anyone for that matter—to rescue her.

Readers who are bombarded with backstory in the first few chapters of a novel with either skip over it or close the book for good. Either way, putting it in wasted your time.

Now, let's look at what backstory is good for and how to discover it. First, I conduct a character interview (CI). Think of that as a journalist interviewing a subject for an article. In my CI, I dig and prod for the character's secrets and for his or her fears. What happened in their childhood that had a major effect of them?

After I've completed the CI, I write a stream of consciousness (SOC) backstory. This is where I go back two or more generations. People are the product of their ancestors' worldview. For example, let's say your great grandparents lived through the Great Depression. They probably could get more for a quarter than anyone you know. They taught your grandparents, who taught your parents. But did your parents continue that trait or did they, because of their more affluent status, break away from it?

It's within the SOC backstory where I discover so much about my character. Besides their worldview, I learn the lie they believe about themselves, and that lie will color their motivation, and that motivation will drive their plotline. Your characters will either fall victim to their lie or they will try to prove it wrong. 

Remember, the key is: Lie drives motivation drives plotline.

Much of what I learn never makes it into the manuscript, but if makes the characters come alive. They're three-dimensional and when they are real to you, the author, they become real to the reader.

One of my beta readers said after reading Chapel Springs Revival, "I love the people. I want to find out more about their lives."

And that's the goal for backstory.

Friday, October 17, 2014

Social Media ~ a Brave New World

Social media. It’s a new world that I kind of like, being a sanguine. It's my contact with the outside world while I'm writing (or after I get through for the day). And they have some really clever icon sets you can use on your site! This one above is my favorite. I've got to replace mine with these. 

I recently learned there are different ones for different age groups. The young crowd, under 25, likes Tumblr and Instagram. I think they use Twitter, too. The older folks use Facebook, Google+, Pinterest and Twitter. Authors and readers use Goodreads.

I like Facebook but get frustrated with the algorithms use to decide who sees my posts. Google+ has a public button you can send your blast to. I’ve seen a rise in my followers since I started using the public button.

But, I don’t seem to see the same interaction on Google+ as on Facebook, which I’m more familiar with. However, I’m trying to learn more about Google+.

I like Goodreads, but once again, I’m not sure what the best use is for me. I’d been on there for a while as a reader and have over 161 book reviews up at this time. Now as an author, I don’t quite know how to best make use of it.

Part of all this is I hate to keep blasting my friends with BUY MY BOOK. It’s not part of my nature. I can do it for friends. I’m very comfortable doing that. Just not for myself.

But getting back to social media, what’s your favorite? And how do you use it?

Thursday, October 16, 2014

Research Tips for Strengthening the Suspense Threads in Your Novel

Sandra Orchard is the award-winning author of Deadly Devotion and Blind Trust with Revell Publishing and of many novels with Love Inspired Suspense. Her stories have garnered several Canadian Christian Writing Awards, a Romantic Times Reviewers’ Choice Award, and a Daphne du Maurier Award for Excellence in Mystery/Suspense. She and her husband of 25+ years live in the heart of Niagara, Canada, not far from their three grown children and two adorable grandchildren. Learn more and check out the special bonus features for all her novels on her website or connect on Facebook


Since books and movies are fraught with inaccuracies when it comes to police and forensics etc, it’s easy to perpetuate those in our own stories. And to be honest, when I ask my go-to detective or my go-to former FBI agent questions, they’ll often say it’s fiction, you can fudge it to work. But…

The more you know about the elements in your story, the more authentic you can make them sound.

If you write in your contemporary novel that she smelled cordite after a gun was fired, every reader who knows anything about guns will know that you haven’t done your research—not the impression you want to make.

So where do you get your information? 

The internet is most writers first stop. You can input just about any question into Google’s search engine and get hundreds of thousands of answers. Some that might even be right.

But don’t let the internet be your only stop.

Other fabulous secondary sources include training manuals and autobiographies. They are great references and provide tons of inspiration for actual scenes you might use in your book.

When I wrote my upcoming release, Identity Withheld, which has a firefighter hero, I read a firefighter’s training manual and watched countless YouTube videos of fires to see how they travelled and to see what firefighters were doing and to hear what was going on. I often Google sounds and listen to them over and over so I can describe them.

Another great thing about the internet is that it makes it easy to connect with primary sources. Professionals in various fields, from police to lawyers to weapons experts, have started websites or yahoo loops to answer writers’ questions. A couple of my favorites are The Graveyard Shift and the Crime Scene Writers’ Loop.

But don’t be afraid to call or email professionals directly. While researching Identity Withheld, I spoke to volunteer firefighters, full-time firefighters, a retired fire chief, a paramedic and a retired fire marshal. Each provided different insights that proved vital to crafting the story. And all were eager to share their knowledge.

If you can visit such professionals in person, all the better!

Seeing and handling and smelling and otherwise experiencing the things you wish to include in your book is invaluable in depicting it in a gripping way. The Writer’s Police Academy was such an opportunity for me.

I did the same Firearms Training Simulator that recruits do and I’ll tell you when I shot a hostage taker in the head and saw his brains splattered on the wall behind him, in the uncomfortably realistic interactive video, I nearly went ballistic on the cop who commended me on my great shot.

But whew, afterward, could I ever accurately write about what goes through your mind and body in moments like those. And I had a far better appreciation for the internal conflicts my characters might deal with as a result.

Locally, you could visit a shooting range or participate in a citizen’s academy.

Be bold.

Thanks to being bold, I was able to meet my heroine’s “colleagues” at the St. Louis FBI headquarters while visiting the city to research the backdrop for my next mystery series with Revell.

The FBI has a unit dedicated to providing assistance to authors and movie producers. There is a formal process for seeking assistance, which you can read about here:

My contact has been fabulously helpful and arranged for an on-site interview while I was in St. Louis. The Special Agent and media contact I met while there were incredibly generous with their time, and patient in answering my questions and offering insights into how they operate.

It will be another year before that story hits bookshelves, but in the meantime, you can check out how I incorporated my fire investigation and witness security research into Identity Withheld:


After exposing an illegal adoption ring, newly named “Kara Grant” is promised safety in Witness Protection. But someone has found her—and wants her dead. If only she could trust the handsome firefighter who catches her fleeing from a suspicious fire. Jake Steele seems to think she’s guilty of burning her own home. But how can she tell him who she really is and what she’s been through without bringing danger to the widowed father’s door? Yet with the criminals fast closing in, taking such a risk might be her only chance at survival. Because the price she’ll pay for her silence could be her life.

As a special bonus, Deadly Devotionfirst book in Sandra's Port Aster Secrets will be offered in free e-format on October 16th for one day only.

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

The Winner of Lisa Wingate's basket of goodies

Chosen by is Jodie Bailey! Jodie email me your mailing address and Lisa will get this out to you. Congratulations!

Lisa Wingate, Huckleberry Hound, and a Giveaway

Selected among BOOKLIST'S Top 10 of 2012 and Top 10 of 2013, Lisa Wingate
skillfully writes novels that Publisher's Weekly calls "Masterful" and ForeWord Magazine refers to as "Filled with lyrical prose, hope, and healing.” Lisa is a journalist, an inspirational speaker, a reviewer for the New York Journal of Books, a columnist for Southern Writers magazine, and the author of over twenty novels and countless magazine pieces.

Her books have held positions on many bestseller lists, both in the U.S. and internationally. She is a seven-time ACFW Carol award nominee, a Christy Award nominee, an Oklahoma Book Award finalist, a Christianity Today Book Award nominee, an Inspy Award nominee, a two-time Carol Award winner, a LORIES Best Fiction Award winner, and a Utah Library Award winner. Recently, the group Americans for More Civility, a kindness watchdog organization, selected Lisa along with Bill Ford, Camille Cosby, and six others, as recipients of the NationalCivies Award, which celebrates public figures who work to promote greater kindness and civility in American life.  Visit Lisa at her website.

­SFF/Ane: Lisa has a fabulous basket to give away today. Be sure to leave her a comment to be entered in the drawing. U.S. residents only, please.

Lisa, I heard a little known fact that you were a college classmate of a certain well-known and loved country singer, whom you asked to sing at your wedding—before he was famous. Tell my readers about that.      

So true. The amazing Garth Brooks was at Oklahoma State University when hubby Sam and I met. Our best dates were boot scootin’ at Garth’s local gigs. We did a lot of Texas Two Step and all the line dances in our jeans and boots, big belts and cowboy hats.

At the time, Sam was into songwriting and strumming also, and country western was our thing so we were friendly groupies. Garth had promised to sing at our wedding (oh my heart, be still!), but when he graduated between semesters, he couldn’t wait to head out to Nashville. He’d kept his promise to his parents to get an education and he was ready to follow his dream. 

He left town only two weeks before our wedding ;o( and the rest is history.  See those tears?  Of course, we loved seeing his quick rise to the top of heap and never missed a TV show featuring Garth.  And, seriously, can we recognize talent or not?

The Story Keeper is on my TBR pile. The premise is fascinating, and Colleen Coble equated it to To Kill a Mockingbird in its impact. How did you come up with this story?   

After turning in the first draft of The Prayer Box, I literally dreamed a story about a young New York editor who finds a forgotten manuscript partial on an old slush pile. She’s captivated by the tale of Sarra, a young Melungeon girl, trapped by dangerous men in turn-of-the-century Appalachia. Sarra’s circumstances in some ways mirror the editor’s painful childhood in the Blue Ridge Mountains. In my dream, the search for the manuscript’s author took her back home after many years away, leading her to a place called Mirror Lake, deep in the mountains.

When I woke, I poured the story concept onto paper, all at once, complete. Over the course of twenty-three novels, I’ve never done that before, and I knew that this story was something special. I was scheduled to meet with my editor the next week, so I took the synopsis along and told her about the dream and the story concept. We agreed to substitute it for the book that was to follow The Prayer Box.

When I contacted my friend and long-time mentor, Ed, to tell him I was writing another Carolina-based book, so I had another project for the two of us, he was elated.  I described the location as I’d dreamed it, and gave him the name of the place in the dream – Mirror Lake. Imagine my surprise when Ed wrote back, “The name Mirror Lake really brings back wonderful memories that span time from the sixties to the present. When I was at Clemson, sometimes during the winter, when one of my friends could get a car, we would go to Highlands to ice skate on Mirror Lake. If we could get some dates to go with us, that was all the better. While I didn't own ice skates nor could I skate, I loved to watch others skate. Mirror Lake and the Highlands area were beautiful places. Those were some great times.”

When that email arrived, I became fully convicted that this story was meant to be. During last year’s book tour, Ed and I took time to drive through the Blue Ridge together, visit Pisgah, Mirror Lake, Stumphouse Tunnel, and many of the old places Ed remembered. We hiked, talked, photographed, and finished our trip by passing through Clemson, where the editor character in the story was given a life-changing scholarship that frees her from a family patterns limited by poverty, geographic isolation, and the control of the Church Of the Brethren Saints.

This is Lisa's giveaway!
I’ve read several of your books, and there’s a recurring theme (one close to my heart) of relationships between the women in families. What within you or your past has sparked that?   

It’s true, my stories often touch on intergenerational relationships among the women in a family, sometimes happily and occasionally sadly. A mentoring relationship between an older and a younger person is a key element in my stories. Some of my characters don’t have a family role model, but I provide a mentor, often a woman to encourage them, to impart a little wisdom, to give them a hand up.

How do I work those mentors into the story? Most often my stories start with a character in a particular situation.  Usually, I meet the main character at a point of crisis, when something unexpected and unplanned has occurred, turning the character’s former life upside down.  I like to put an older and wiser person in the character’s path, someone to help the character along the rocky path to a more authentic life.

My grandmother, visiting me after my first son was born became that kind of mentor to me as she told stories of her life as a young mother. Those stories were the inspiration for Tending Roses, my first mainstream novel. Kate is struggling, as I was back then, with the question of  when or whether to return to a career. It was a life-changing time for me as my grandmothers life lesson stories gave me permission to enjoy staying home and being the mother of a young baby.

So many of today's sound bites are sensational, and awful, and when you take in all of those things, it is easy to lose faith in the world and in the goodness of people. I want to create books that are entertaining, but also good for the soul ––that don't leave readers feeling sad or disappointed, or wishing they hadn't read the book at all. I think we are all called to add something good to the world, to inspire and uplift, to add our colors to the canvas. I have met so many people who have wonderful ways of doing that. I admire them. I want to be like them. I love to write about them.

What’s ahead for you? What are you working on now?           

Mainly, the third Carolina novel. We’ll return to the Outer Banks and Jen will meet up with Tandy and the Sandy’s Seashell Shop sisterhood and visit my favorite OBX haunts…  Well, I have to keep some secrets, but I promise to reveal a big one in that book, so stay tuned.  The release date is September, 2015, but the title hasn’t been announced yet.

Also, as soon as I finish this interview I’m starting an e-novella that will most likely be released about June, 2015. It will be an additional story related to the Carolina books. The title is a total secret not only to others, but to me. I have to do some serious thinking and sorting of several ideas. So, now you know I’m more of a “pantser” than a planner.

Many of my readers are writers.  What does your writing day look like?               

Only three years ago I would have told you about crawling back in my bed in
the mornings with my cup of coffee, my laptop table, and my imaginary friends and starting to write after my guys left for school. Later, the laptop and I would move to the porch or the living room and I’d pound the keys, taking occasional breaks for Mom’s chai tea, phone calls, and to visit with Dr. Phil for a while so he wouldn’t get to missing me. But, things have changed.

My boys have left the nest and there is only Huckleberry, my literary dog to provide comic relief and hugs. Alas!  Now there are little photo op moments punctuating my writing day. The photos are liable to show up on Facebook with Huck looking cute or pensive or wearing a new outfit. Now and then Huck even recommends a new book to read.

But, I digress. These days, I usually start my day propped up in bed answering a little email, posting something on Facebook, maybe tweeting. Then, picture me with earbuds and iPad by my side talking to Siri and my imaginary friends. It’s so like playing let’s pretend, my favorite childhood game. I plan and describe the setting, become my main character and start meeting and talking with other characters and we travel through their issues, conflicts, struggles and happy times. Now and then Huck and I move to the sunroom or the porch. Some of his favorite times are when we walk around the back pasture with just talking away and throwing a ball now and then…

It’s true… there is a lot of editing needed, but even with that, it is a faster way and the bonus is that I’m so inside of my creative brain. Not even a small part of my brain is thinking, t-y-p-e and how do you spell exaggerated. I’m right there in the story letting it flow…

My mom likes me to tell everyone that she was suggesting dictating for years, and I would say, “There’s no way I can write that way. I need to type and see the words on the page.” After making friends with Siri on my first iPhone, I started dictating some of my emails and one day I decided to email a dialogue scene I was struggling with and… you know the end of the story.

You can find Lisa on her website, Twitter, Facebook, Pinterest, The PrayerBox Pinterest Board, her blog, and Southern Belle View Daily. To sign up for Lisa’s newsletter, click here