Wednesday, November 30, 2011

From Romance Writer to Songwriter

by Anita Mae Draper

I thought I'd change things up a bit and show you a video at the start of the post today. It's only a min and a half long, so take a peek and then I'll explain why I'm so enthused about it.

Isn't that nice? The song was written by Janet Tronstad and her friend, David White.

Janet is the author of the Dropped Stitches and Dry Creek series of books from Harlequin Love Inspired and Love Inspired Historical.

Janet Tronstad and David White (Taken from the video)

I've known Janet since 2006 when I joined the eHarlequin Community and started hanging out on the forums - specifically the writing and Steeple Hill boards. It's a great place to learn and hone the writing craft and make friends at the same time. I don't know how many of the 2,000+ eHarlequin members are published, but it's a huge percentage and they're willing to help the unpublished join them.

I received my first rejection - a 3 line form letter - back in 2007. Since I'd submitted that first manuscript to Steeple Hill Love Inspired, it was only natural for me to go looking to the Steeple Hill forum for answers. Okay, I admit... it was a lot of crying, too. But it was the only place I knew where people understood what I was feeling.

How could they reject my query and not tell me anything except that it wasn't suitable. Not suitable? I'd read over 200 Love Inspired novels by that time. Of course it was suitable! How naive I was back then. I thought it was the editor's job to tell me why my manuscript was rejected. I said on the forum, "How am I supposed to fix it if I don't know what is wrong?"

And that's when Janet stepped forward and offered to help. She said she'd give me a quick 30 min turnaround of the first three chapters of my manuscript. I jumped at the chance and emailed it to her. Within 20 mins she replied with several things she thought I was missing. The biggest one was lack of conflict, followed by goals and motivation. Yup. The big ol' GMC.

I'll always be grateful to Janet for steering me in the right direction, as well as the encouragement. She said I had potential and one of these days I'll prove she was right.

I still have much to learn however, if that last rejection is anything to go by. And one of the best ways to learn is to read from someone who's mastered the craft. Like Janet Tronstad. I believe at this time Janet has 29 books in print and I've read 24 of them. Four are sitting in my to-be-read (TBR) pile, and one (with Jillian Hart) was just released.

Last month I received my 6th rejection - my 4th from Love Inspired. And surprise! This time the editor gave me a whole slough of reasons. But instead of telling you what she thought I was lacking, I want to tell you what Janet does right and how I hope to gain insight from her writing to improve my own...

Sleigh Bells for Dry Creek, Love Inspired, Oct 2011 is #22 in Janet's long-running Dry Creek series. The cover is Christmassy, peaceful and inspiring with a western couple enjoying a sleigh ride. (You all know how much I love my sleigh rides.) Yet contrary to the cover, by the end of page one we know the stormy skies are a reflection of Wade's turbulent life. All he wants to do is rest his rodeo-worn body and dream about the girl he left behind 9 years ago whose spearmint gum scent had such an impact on him that he bought a packet of the stuff on his way out of town. The same packet he carries in his shirt pocket as a constant reminder of Amy and the possibility of a better life. Only a few pages later, Wade sees Amy, realizes she's still in town, and knows he has to explain why he stole a kiss and left without saying goodbye.

Amy was only 15 yrs old when Wade kissed her on the church steps, said he'd marry her - right before he left town. She waited for him. She turned down dates so she wouldn't betray him. She ignored the gossip and turned away from pitying looks. Until she saw the neighboring newspaper photo of a woman giving Wade a kiss along with his rodeo trophy. He'd been so close but hadn't tried to see her. Hadn't appeared to lack for company, either. That's when she knew his kiss hadn't meant anything to him and she was free to find someone else. But first love roots deep and she'd never met another man who hitched her heart like Wade.

That's all in the first chapter of Sleigh Bells for Dry Creek. I've glossed over the facts, but Janet tells it with such heart-wrenching emotion, I'm locked into the book. It's the little details like Wade keeping the packet of gum because it reminds him of her. I care that Wade doesn't know Jesus. And I empathize with Amy because she feels God has forgotten about her. I want everything in their path to be cleared away because they're hurting and the only way to happiness is if they are reconciled together and with God. Yet, the four of us have a long road ahead.

And I loved every minute of it. Janet's song has the same emotion but on a different level.

The YouTube version is only part of the song as Janet has released it as an MP3 download on Amazon. That means for 99 cents, you can download the complete version to your MP3 for your own convenient listening pleasure.

Download "Denim Sky (Montana Quilting Song & Dry Creek tribute)". If the link isn't working, go to and click on MP3 store in the left dropdown sidebar. Type in "Janet Tronstad" and this comes up, Or click here.

Read Janet's blogpost where she explains how she puts her books into song. Visit Janet's website for more info about her and her books.

Do you know of any other authors who use music to promote their books?


Anita Mae Draper is retired from the Canadian Armed Forces and lives on the prairie of southeast Saskatchewan, Canada with her hubby of 30 plus years and 2 of their 4 kids. She writes stories set on the prairies of Saskatchewan, North Dakota, Montana and Wyoming. Anita Mae has semi-finaled in the Historical Romance category of the ACFW's 2011 Genesis contest and finaled in the Inspirational category of the 2011 Daphne du Maurier, the 2011 Fool for Love, the 2011 Duel on the Delta and 2009 Linda Howard Award of Excellence contests. You can find her at  

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

The Tale of the Fairy Tale

by Suzie Johnson

Most children love fairy tales – the wonder of other worlds, the idea that wishes might be granted by some form of magic. Little girls, especially, are enamored of the Disney Princesses who found their origins in the fairy tale – Cinderella, Aurora, Snow White, Ariel, Belle, Jasmine, Mulan, Tiana, and now Rapunzel. Of course, Pocahontas is a Disney Princess as well, but hers wasn’t a fairy tale. Hers was the real deal. Many girls, even if they live a happy, normal life, dream of being a fairy-tale princess, swept away from a life of drudgery by a handsome prince.

If someone asked who wrote the first fairy tale, many would say the Brothers Grimm. Others would say Hans Christian Andersen.   Sadly, many might say Walt Disney and his crew. But the truth goes back further than Jacob and Wilhelm Grimm or Hans Christian Andersen. It even goes back further than Charles Perrault.

Story-telling is as old as Adam and Eve. Before the advent of the printing press, storytelling was a way to pass oral histories from generation to generation. It was also a way to charm and entertain the listener. Peasants working in the fields might tell stories to pass the time; families sitting around the fire at night would be entertained by stories their father or mother would tell them. Upper-class nobility enjoyed stories as well. If a tale that originated in one village made its way to other villages, that was considered a point of pride among villagers, so it’s no little wonder that fictional tales evolved with the desire to impress listeners.

Fairy-tales of old were called magic tales, wonder tales, or wonder folktales at one time. They focused on the disadvantaged hero or heroine who overcame terrible circumstances, often by way of magic. Many featured characters (male or female) who were banished from their homes and villages, characters who were abused, poverty-stricken or cursed in some way.

As they were often filled with magic, superstition, and pagan beliefs, magic tales were not Christian-centered. Nor were they directed at or suitable for children, even though children were often part of the listening audience. They were often filled with cruelty and violence, interpreted as warnings to listeners. Priests took it upon themselves to create new versions of the tales, which were then retold and passed down. And still, these tales were not for children.

The printing press revolutionized storytelling. The first printed fairy tales were designed to amuse educated readers, who usually were among the upper-class. In France, it became popular to incorporate fairy tales into parlor games held by aristocratic women. Acting them out, retelling and inventing new tales became popular in Paris. Thus, in the 1690s, several writers published entire collections of fairy tales.

Charles Perrault is perhaps the most famous out of this group of authors, with the 1697 printing of Tales of Times Past, known more familiarly as Tales of Mother Goose. In spite of that commonly known title and conceivably friendly title, these tales still were not aimed at children. It wasn’t until the end of the eighteenth century that some publishers began to publish stories for children. Still, fairy tales were considered useless, frivolous, and even dangerous for children.

In the early nineteenth century, illustrated chapbooks with stories such as Cinderella, Sleeping Beauty, and Jack the Giant Killer were printed. These soon became popular with children even though they were still considered unhealthy for their minds.  

It wasn’t until writers began to use the stories as a way of teaching moral lessons and good manners, that fairy tales were published for children. The Brothers Grimm revised their own collection of tales, first published in 1812, toning down the adult elements and adding Christian values. Still, they managed to retain the magic and wonder of the original oral tales. Eventually, parents and teachers began to accept that these stories would not damage their children’s mental well-being.

When Hans Christian Andersen published his tales, humor and Christian values combined with plot to the delight of young and old. Translations almost immediately spread across Europe and America. From that point on, many writers sought to spin versions suitable for children.

Even today, more than three hundred years after the first printed fairy tales, these stories – though often different from the original versions – live in our hearts and imaginations, and serve as a continuous source of influence on books and movie scripts.

Do you have a favorite fairy tale? Do you prefer the Disneyfied version, or some other version?

Do you enjoy retelling of fairy tales, such as the Melanie Dickerson’s The Healer’s Apprentice and The Merchant’s Daughter?  

Have you watched the new television show called Once Upon A Time? If so, what do you think of it?

Suzie Johnson and her husband are celebrating their 30th wedding anniversary today! Suzie writes inspirational novels, both contemporary and historical, is a member of ACFW, RWA, and is a cancer registrar at her local hospital. She lives with her husband and naughty little cat on an island in the Pacific Northwest, and is the mother of a wonderful young man who makes her proud every day. You can visit her blog, Suzie's Writing Place at

Monday, November 28, 2011

A Chat with Barbara Early, Author of Gold, Frankincense and Murder

I have the great pleasure of interviewing Barbara Early about her new release Gold, Frankincense and Murder, now available in Kindle, Nook, and PDF formats.

So, Barbara, tell us where you are from.

North Tonawanda, NY. Quite a mouthful, I know. But it’s a small city bordered by the beautiful Niagara River on one side, and the historic Erie Canal on the other, about midway between Buffalo and Niagara Falls.

Oh, that sounds lovely. And, when you were a child, what did you want to do when you grew up?

As a child I switched career goals every five minutes. I remember once wanting to be a librarian, so I put lending cards in all my books. I wanted to have my own restaurant for a while--probably until I realized how tiring standing on your feet in a hot kitchen could be. I wanted to be a cake decorator, and then a caterer when I found out what that was. When someone suggested I become a nurse, I went with that for a while until someone told me I could be a doctor. That lasted until I dissected my first frog. (Which I still insist was backwards, by the way, and the basketball coach who was filling the teaching position didn’t understand that it happens.) I don’t recall, at least as a child, ever wanting to write books.

Oh, that sounds like me! I didn't figure out I wanted to write professionally until I was in my mid-twenties! What do you do when you are not writing?

I’m on Facebook way too much. I also like to play Scrabble and other games--both online and in person. I enjoy cooking and baking. Cleaning, not so much. But I do it anyway. Besides that, I just started a job as an editor for Pelican Book Group, who published Gold, Frankincense, and Murder. When I saw the open position posted on the web site, I thought the experience might be useful.

When did you first realize you wanted to be a writer?

Not as early as many writers. I wrote some puppet shows for church, and I knew I enjoyed that. But then later I played around (and yes, I mean played) with fan fiction. I never intended it to be more than a fun diversion. But as I began crafting stories, and wanted to learn to make them better, I fell in love with writing.

Oh, goodness, I just discovered fan fiction myself. Great fun, but I probably waste too much time reading and writing that instead of doing my real job. When did you first consider yourself a writer?

I had the hardest time calling myself a writer. Perhaps because my first attempts were just for fun, and I wasn’t sure I had what it took. I think the label became more comfortable when others began seeing me as someone with serious aspirations--maybe the contest final in the ACFW Genesis.

What would you say is your interesting writing quirk?

I seem to memorialize my cats in my books. I think it was because we lost our first cat when I was writing my first novel. Before I knew it, she had made an entrance into the story. It seemed to work, so I left it in. Our black cat disappeared while I was working on Gold, Frankincense, and Murder. So he showed up in that story. I miss him terribly, but it seems he has a little bit of immortality in print. And if I may say, he looks handsome on the cover.

I do that, too! All my books MUST have cats. Where do you get your ideas for your books?

I tend to start with character first. I look for an unlikely amateur detective. Who is least likely to get the job done? LOL. If there’s to be a romance, I would look for a character who is, in some way, the detective’s opposite. For the murder (and there is always a murder), I often look to the newspapers for motive and means. I’ll take a simple story and add what-if’s until it is completely unrecognizable.

What has been the toughest criticism given to you as an author? What has been the best compliment?

The toughest criticism I ever got was at my first writing conference. I signed up for a paid critique. While I had favorable feedback at my local writing group, I wasn’t sure how my work would stand up to a professional look. And the author told me that while I wrote well, my story put him to sleep! But he was right (and I won’t tell you how long it took me to come to terms with that), and I went back and rewrote much of it, trying to make sure there was more tension of some type in every scene. And that rewrite finaled in the Genesis. My best compliment to date? My second paid critique, when the author said the novel was ready to go, and that she had read it aloud to the people around her (an agent in the room),and everyone was laughing. And yes, it was supposed to be funny.

How did you come up with the title of your new book?

Well, the initial title was “Canned Pears in Heavy Syrup.” And since it was a Christmas release, I wanted something with a little more holiday spirit. I asked the "Inkies" to help me brainstorm. Anita came up with “Mayhem and Mistletoe” and I liked that a lot, but when I Googled it, it seemed like it had been used quite a bit. So I wrote down all the Christmas and mystery related things I could think of containing the letter M. When I had myrrh and murder on the list, I realized you could place one in for the other. I suggested Gold, Frankincense, and Murder. Everybody loved it. Brainstorming over.

Yes, it's a wonderful title! Is there a message in your story that you want readers to grasp?

This is a short, fun read. But if I had to pin down one message from the story it would have to be, “Be careful you don’t become so independent and self-sufficient that you forget you need God.”

Can you tell us about your challenges in getting your book published?

I think the biggest obstacle for me has been that the genre I would love most to write in, is not popular in Christian fiction at the moment. Not many agents or publishers are looking at cozies. (Although I guess the Amish cozy is picking up steam.) Of those few that are, most want romance to be a major part. And my first novel wasn’t that. This is a shorter work that does have the romance and the mystery.

CBA mystery is a tough sell right now. I hope that's changing. Maybe your book can be the start of a new trend. So, tell us about it!

The story centers around a high school geometry teacher named Donna. Donna has remained single longer than many of her friends. But finally she meets a guy at the local food bank where they both volunteer. They get friendly. She gets to wondering if maybe they could be more than friends. And then he disappears. Donna goes looking for him, and meets his neighbor, Sam.

Sam is almost a polar opposite of Donna. Where she is reserved and analytical, he’s gregarious and emotional. And a beefy weight-lifter type that Donna refers to as “calendar art.” Well, the mystery (and the romance) is on, as Sam and Donna work together--although somewhat reluctantly on Donna’s part--to try to find out what happened to the missing man.

What do you think makes a good story?

I’m fond of mystery, so I’ll comment on that genre. I think a good mystery will challenge the reader, while being possible (but unlikely) to solve. The characters will be people you’d want to know (or feel like you already do), and the setting should make you want to visit.

Did you learn anything from writing your book and what was it?

I think it was that everyone likes a little romance. This was the first story that I attempted that had romance mingled with the mystery, and it surprised me how light a touch you could play the romance and have it still be a romance. And I like that. My protagonist is an analytic type, and she doesn’t have much patience for all the mushy stuff. And when it happens to her, it only comes with a bit of self-loathing, which was fun to write.

Oh, count me in. I always want at least a little romance no matter what genre I'm reading. Do you have any advice for other writers?

Temper your dreams with shorter, attainable goals and lots of hard work. There is a fine line between a dream and a delusion.

Why did you choose to write cozy mysteries?

I love cozy mysteries. I find them relaxing and entertaining, and like the added challenge of trying to solve the mystery myself. I was first drawn to the mixing of humor and mystery through the television show Monk.

Oh, Monk is a great show and he's a wonderful character. So what about you as a character? If you were written about in the newspaper, on the front page, what would the headline say?

“News runs out of important people to cover,” probably.

 Hey, that's mine! Thanks for the laugh and for the interview. I hope Gold, Frankincense and Murder sells a million!

DeAnna Julie Dodson has always been an avid reader and a lover of storytelling, whether on the page, the screen or the stage. This, along with her keen interest in history and her Christian faith, shows in her tales of love, forgiveness and triumph over adversity. She is the author of In Honor Bound, By Love Redeemed and To Grace Surrendered, a trilogy of medieval romances, and Letters in the Attic, a contemporary mystery. A fifth-generation Texan, she makes her home north of Dallas with four spoiled cats.

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