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Prologues: Hate Them or Love Them

I liked teasing as a kid and flirting as a teen. And when my friends reciprocated, I liked that too. Back and forth, we'd playfully entice each other to do the unexpected. Thanks to them, I have many memorable moments to keep me company as I rock away through my senior years.


Perhaps this explains why I like to write and read prologues. What's better than a short, high-tension beginning to a novel? Or being teased by an awesome foreshadowing? Or being enticed by the drama to come?


The prologue has a long line of naysayers: readers won't read it; readers don't read it; readers don't like it; readers won't get it. Really? Where is the empirical evidence?


T.R. Robinson publishing takes the doubters to task, showing that 92.7% of readers responding to their survey DO read prologues. How scientific was their questionnaire? Nothing about sample size or response rate, but at least they've asked some readers about their preferences, and some responded.


Then enter the cynics who chastise authors who write prologues, calling them lazy, boring, and unimaginative, and proclaim prologues provide zippo to a story.


When I hear something is impossible, my optimism spirals into high gear. I guess that might be why my works, Blackhorse Road, Flower Girl, and A Flawless Witness have prologues—I like the challenge of putting the naysayers to rest.


Here are a few novels that have teased, awed, and enticed me with their prologues. 

·        True Colors – Kristin Hannah

·        The Next Ship Home – Heather Webb

·        Before We Were Yours – Lisa Wingate

·        The Home for Unwanted Girls – Joanna Goodman

·        Dragon Fish – Vu Tran

·        The Mystery of Mrs. Christie – Marie Benedict

·        The Nickel Boys – Colson Whitehead


So much for the naysayers!


P.S. This was the feature article in my October Newsletter, Between the Scenes.  Missed the newsletter and the other great articles?  Subscribe here.

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Like the Chicken and the Egg . . . Which Comes First: Character or Plot?

A few weeks ago, a journalist asked me which comes first . . . the plot or character. Answering, I said, "Character comes first."

For my stories, a plot doesn't exist without the presence of a character. Character makeup drives my stories and steers the story's path. How might the story in Blackhorse Road or Flower Girl have turned on a dime with changes in the character's makeup?


So what's my special elixir?


Before characters are worthy of being featured in my stories, they must pass an exhaustive interrogation of sixty questions!


Here's a sample of three questions Suzanna had to answer before claiming the first-place spot in Flower Girl.


3. General physical description:  Suzanna is the American ideal of wholesome: Five feet five inches tall, 115 pounds, with a Dorothy Hamil look—light brown thick hair cut in a stylish wedge of the 1980s, silky complexion, sparkling eyes, and charming sexiness. In all, she is a package of the right balance between winsomeness and sweetness


35. What is your character afraid of? What keeps him or her up at night? An unrealistic belief that all people can be saved from themselves. Suzanna has to accept that she cannot be everyone's savior. She learns about Prochaska's model of behavioral change and, in the end, realizes that before people can change, they have to want to change.


36. What does your character think is his or her worst quality? Suzanna's inner critic has a constant theme:  Why did you. . .   That theme is translated as a rumination of should-haves and could-haves. Suzanna doesn't recognize this self-defeating quality until she realizes that living in the present is much more potent than ruminating about the past or worrying about the future.


Sixty questions! Yes, character interrogation takes a lot of time. In the end, like a good interrogation, the character's "truth" is revealed.

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Cultivate a Flower Buddy

It's no coincidence Flower Girl is . . . well, filled with beaucoup flower references. For centuries, authors have usurped the "language" of flowers (floriography) and used these for symbolism, secret messages, and emotional communication.

Shakespeare's plays are loaded with references to herbs and flowers.


Flowers are scene stealers in poetry, too: daffodils for William Wordsworth, tulips for Sylvia Plath, roses for Dorothy Parker, and one of my favorites, The Soul of the Sunflower by Sara Jewett. Of course, the Victorians mixed and matched their flowers to create various secret messages.


Beyond these charming tidbits is the fascinating role of flowers in promoting our wellbeing. Cultivating a Flower Buddy can enhance mental and emotional health, cites Psychology Today. Among these are stress reduction, better memory retention, reduced depression symptoms, and seven more. To delve more into the weeds, one study suggests purple and blue flowers improve mood and increase comfort, relaxation, and cheerfulness in the workplace.


The bottom line:  Cultivate a Flower Buddy—a buddy who always listens, is "mum" about your secrets, and helps you flourish. 

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Hidden Mysteries in Diaries, Journals, and Other Primary Sources

How does an author give her readers a rich story setting? Author Sabaa Tahir says readers don't want descriptions of food, clothing, and places. They want "to understand the world to its core, through the eyes of those who live in it."


To help me to set the mood, tone, and time in my stories, I read published and unpublished diaries to inform me about the era. These first accounts provide a powerful tapestry, helping me understand the context and challenges in which the characters in my stories live.


In the current novel I'm writing, set in the early 1900s, outbreaks of viral diseases, often resulting in pandemics, were part of the lives of my ancestors. Incorporating the actual mood and tone of the time would not be possible without access to narrative first accounts from diaries, letters, and newspapers.


Below is the 1924 diary of a twelve-year-old relative who lived in a small town in Ontario, Canada, not far from Detroit. The young teenager's voice of clipped entries reveals the devasting impact of an outbreak of smallpox. With no other entries about everyday life, one can only imagine the effect of so many deaths on this young person. 


Wed. Feb. 20, 1924: Smallpox broke out at the Gordon Deneau farm

Fri. Feb. 22, 1924:  Went to school; got vaccinated.

Sat. Feb. 23, 1924:  Daddy got vaccinated. John and Clara Shaw died today.

Sun. Feb. 24, 1924:  Church closed today. Mr. Jack Deneau and Henry Dube died today of smallpox.

Mon. Feb. 25, 1924: Melinda Meloche was buried, died of smallpox.

Tues. Feb. 26, 1924:  Mrs. Ernie Shaw took sick today.

Fri. Feb. 29, 1924:  Daddy and I are both sick from our vaccinations. Bert Deneau and his son died, and also Mrs. Henry Meloche.

Sun. Mar. 2, 1924: Mrs. John Shaw and Mrs. Cox died today. Mrs. Anna McLean died today.

Tues, Mar. 4, 1924: Gus and Joe Deneau died today and also Mrs. Fields.

Thurs. Mar. 6, 1924: Ralph Shaw died today. Mrs. Dougal's baby died today. Went out for first time since vaccination.

Sun. Mar. 9, 1924: Chloe Deneau died. Went to church. Long list of deaths read at church.

Tues. Mar. 11, 1924: Mrs. Ernie Shaw died at 5:00 AM and was buried at 11:15 AM.


Who would have thought that the Roaring Twenties included such smallpox outbreaks?

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Flower Girl A Novel . . . Writing the Uncomfortable Truth about Self-Awareness and Change

Midwest Book Review, Senior Reviewer Diane Donovan says, "Collections strong in women's literature and fiction surrounding domestic violence and recovery processes will find Flower Girl an evocative, compelling read that chooses no easy paths to resolution. Suzanna's changing choices and perceptions are outstanding examinations of the darkness that pervades her world and provide important keys to recovery that women will want to learn about."


Writing a novel of women's fiction is devoted to portraying and examining a woman's journey to a fulfilled self. Life is a highway with ups and downs . . . it isn't all straight, flat, or comprised of gentle grades. Instead, it is complicated by gnarly twists and turns, impeding the protagonist's self-discovery and ability to live and give voice to her values. Life can be beautiful, thrilling, and amazing . . . but it can also be messy, chaotic, confusing, and even dirty and ugly.


The stories I write show how the protagonist progresses in self-discovery and faces life's obstacles. Such self-awareness can be exhilarating and freeing. But it can also be unsettling when it demands accountability and commitment to change.

Writing Flower Girl was fulfilling . . . but to achieve that self-satisfaction and be true to my mission, I had to come to grips with writing about situations that are difficult and uncomfortable—narcissism, denial, emotional abuse, and sexual assault, among them.


To show the protagonist's mettle required to plunge her into self-discovery amidst tricky and sometimes terrifying circumstances and then hold her accountable in overcoming these. Self-awareness, accountability, and commitment to change, though difficult, had to be the foundation for the protagonist to achieve a flourishing life.

In Flower Girl, I show readers a journey of self-discovery and accountability, which I hope might challenge them, like Suzanna Jordan, to live their truth. Though sometimes bumpy and slippery, the road to achieving a life filled with engagement, satisfaction, positive relationships, meaning, and achievement is worth the trip.

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What I'm Reading

If you are intrigued by ghosts, enjoyed The Ghost Whisperer TV series, or just like a light mystery, The Ice Cradle by ghost whisper Mary Ann Winkowski is a perfect choice for a winter night read.


When I read a book, I try to look for what's under the surface; I don't think some reviewers on Goodreads looked deep enough with this book! Underneath the supernatural, this is a story about the human experience--peoples' aspirations, sorrows, regrets, love, and relationships with one another.  Digging below the superficial, Winkowski gives the reader a lot to consider about tolerance, forgiveness, and compassion in this story.


I've had a few edgy paranormal-like experiences and took the opportunity to include some of these as background material in Flower Girl—from Suzanna's Boston terrier's unexplained encounters with apparitions to pacing footsteps marking a beat in the loft of Suzanna's home, The Honey Bear.


I challenge my readers to look under the superficial and see how these experiences might be placeholders for something deeper.

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Flower Girl: A Jigsaw Puzzle on Steroids

Producing a book is like assembling a jigsaw picture puzzle on steroids. Not only does each piece have to fit into the right place, but it also has to be put together in the right place at the right time.


Traditional publishers have greased the production process over the years with tools, money, and a seasoned team. But the self-published author doesn't have these advantages. To get the puzzle pieces in proper order, the self-published author has to be good at the craft of writing and be a good business manager, project manager, and marketing guru.


This means educating herself on book production, acquiring a new and diverse set of skills to produce and market her work, assembling a team with unique expertise, and funding and managing the entire process of getting the right pieces together at the right time.


The Book Launch Party proceeding the release of my new novel was a great time to celebrate and give a deep bow of gratitude to my team for helping this self-published author put the right pieces together at the right time.


Here's the lineup of the team who made Flower Girl possible with a deep bow of gratitude to each:

·        Diane Donovan: developmental editor

·        Kim Bookless (Bookless Publishing Consultant) copyeditor

·        Pat Hertel: proofreader and copyeditor

·        The Beta Readers:  Carol, Denise, Janet, Lisa, Marian, Meghan, Sue

·        Ruth Miller (Ruth and John Creatives): cover designer

·        Steve Passiouras (Bookow Print and Ebook Formatting): Interior design

·        Rachel Song (Songbird Editing): Social media coordination

·        Heather Wallace: Marketing consultant

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Positive psychologists say accomplishment rates right up there with experiencing positive emotions and relationships and meaning and engagement in life for people to flourish.  


If this is the case, then I'm flourishing!  Completing Flower Girl, my second novel, and having it poised for publication on January 11th—well, that's an accomplishment by itself.  Add to that is the review Flower Girl just received by Diane Donovan, Senior Reviewer, Midwest Book Review.


Donovan's review highlights the kernels within the journey of the character Suzanna Jordan that make for a flourishing life. Donovan picks up on the underlying theme—Life is messy, but beneath peoples' imperfections, they can find a way to carve out meaning and accomplishment in life:


" . . . readers will avidly follow Suzanna's pursuit of a better life and her realizations about what influences have blinded her, in the past.

Its attention to realistic descriptions of this process and the changing momentum of Suzanna's world creates an outstanding inspection of the undercurrents and influences life holds as she strives to keep her personal North Star firmly in mind against all odds."


The final paragraph of the review, though, fills my heart with accomplishment, meaning, and positive emotion. I want to write stories about the human experience—to show how ordinary people tackle challenges, live through sorrow and betrayal, struggle with doubt, but find a way to act on their aspirations.  I want to deliver stories that transport the reader to the most unexpected places within themselves.  The final paragraph in the review shows that in Flower Girl, I might have achieved this.


"Collections strong in women's literature and fiction surrounding domestic violence and recovery processes will find Flower Girl an evocative, compelling read that chooses no easy paths to resolution. Suzanna's changing choices and perceptions are outstanding examinations of the darkness that pervades her world, and provide important keys to recovery that women will want to learn about."


For the complete review, visit:  http://donovansliteraryservices.com/december-2021-issue.html#fgg

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A Leap of Faith

Leap of faith:  Engaging in something and believing it will work out even though there is no evidence or assurance of the outcome.


By training and characteristic, I like plans. In fact, I love plans—PERT and GANTT charts, lists, timelines, data flow diagrams—you name it, and I've probably done it. No leaps of faith or flying by the seat of my pants in computer programming, either.  Systems analysis was my brand. 


So, taking a leap of faith and plunging into fiction writing was uncharacteristic. Or was it?  I'm thinking my character strengths (as assessed by the Values in Action—VIA—survey of strengths) of bravery, creativity, and curiosity were smoldering and waiting for the right time to fire up and break free from doing the sure, anticipated thing.


And what fire the flames ignited! 


For me, writing fiction checks all the boxes that make a flourishing life—called PERMA in positive psychology terms—I couldn't be happier or feel more fulfilled.


Writing sets off positive emotions—seeing and experiencing things differently and deeply—joy, happiness, awe.  Engagement—being totally immersed in the creative process where one day bleeds into another and time goes so fast it stands still. Developing new relationships—relationships with the craft of writing and an entire community of authors, writing professionals, and readers sharing their expertise and helping each other. Fulfilling my meaning in life—supporting others through my stories and characters to be their best selves; showing them that being human is messy, but we can all find our North Stars and fulfill our potential.  And experiencing the fruits of taking that leap of faith—achievement—by walking the path and saying yes to the journey, an achievement itself.


Take a leap of faith. Free those smoldering embers inside yourself—the fire it ignites may pleasantly surprise you.

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One Way or Another--Authors are Explorers

"The writer is an explorer.  Every step is an advance into a new land."  --Ralph Waldo Emerson


I am an explorer when I write. As I walk on the well-trodden path, studying my values, beliefs, culture, and experiences, scrubby side trails invite me to take a chance, leave behind the superficial and known, and take the risk to explore the concealed, unresolved, and mysterious.  Blackhorse Road took me on the forgiveness trail and led me to take more risks and roam bumpy paths in Flower Girl—ones needing more unraveling—shame, self-discovery, agency, and purpose.   


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