Friday, April 22, 2011

Why, Scotland?

I’m happy to have Elaine Coffman as my guest today. Elaine is a third generation Texan, claims she is a cross between champagne and apple pie, and feels taking risks is good for you.

She is a woman who has worn many hats in her life and says about herself: “...I worked as a lifeguard. Later on I raised Quarter Horses and Brahman cattle. That was when I owned ranches. And I've drilled oil wells, taught elementary school, and during all this, I miraculously managed to raise three well-adjusted children.”

Elaine has chosen various settings for her books but she keeps coming back to Scotland. She explains what it is about Scotland that draws her so strongly.

I am often asked why I choose Scotland for the setting of most of my books, and I find myself wondering, how I can cram the myriad of reasons flying around in my head, into a few words. I LOVE SCOTLAND—it has a rich, tumultuous history and calls to me in a way that I don’t know how to fully describe. Sometimes, I go so far as to ask, how much time do you have? For it would take more than a wee bit o’ time to tell ye why Scotland always lingers in my mind as a setting.

But the true answer goes much deeper than that, for my reasons are as varied as the land itself, for even the coldest of hearts cannot be moved by Scotland’s tragic past, so full of forlorn causes, thwarted ambitions, heart-wrenching failures, and the ultimate humiliation by England. Yet, in spite of it all, something about Scotland is eternal, for she is Niobe, turned to stone by grief, yet weeping still, the symbol of eternal mourning. Tempered by never ending sorrow, Scotland calls out to me, like echoes from the past . . . secret, mysterious, evocative, and eerily stirring, waiting for me to give them a voice. The call is strong— and I wonder if it is the voices of my own Scots ancestors, or mayhap it goes back even further, to the earliest inhabitants themselves: Pict, Celt, Norse, Dane, Scot, and yes, even the English.

The only thing small about Scotland is the size of the country, for it is a land long on history, with a strong heart, and wrenching sorrow. No other country can match it in sadness, conflict, haunting beauty, poignancy, or the enigmatic loneliness of the land itself. Simple and yet complex, beautiful and dramatic, Scotland rises out of the cold depths of the North Sea like a clenched fist.

Sadness and regret still run strong, and you’ve only to listen to the mournful tunes of a bagpipe to feel it, even now. And when the last notes have faded away, a great silence falls over your soul, while the images are still running around in your head, and you are reminded of all they endured, what they lost, and how much the rest of us were spared. When it comes to woe, Scotland wins, hands down.

In a land ignited by the flame of pageantry that smolders even now, one cannot help but think of Scotland in terms of obelisks and Celtic crosses, the bones of saints, the relics of Vikings, a stone for beheading, the bravery of the Black Douglas, and the heart of Robert the Bruce. You sense that since the first inhabitants arrived they have been haunted by conflict—and you begin to understand how a people could become as hard as Grampian stone; as flinty as the sound of a Highlander’s Gaelic.

Scotland is a haunting song that continues to play on my heartstrings; a tale that should be written with a generous spirit in sparse prose. One cannot help but admire the steadfast strength of a people who have taken the destruction of their clan system, the taking of their land, the eviction and emigration of their families, and the loss of their independence, who can stand upon the wreckage of their lives and build a stronger one where it stood. Yet, through it all, something as fragile and threatened as the genes for red hair and freckles has managed to survive.

And the stones of Callanish still stand near the sea as they have for 6,000 years, eerily reverent…

  • What draws you to stories set in Scotland?


He’ll Help a Woman in Need No Matter Where She Came From

Alysandir Mackinnon rules his clan with a fair but iron fist. He has not time for softness or, as he sees it, weakness. But when he encounters a bewitching young beauty who may or may not be a dangerous spy, but surely is in mortal danger, he’s compelled to help…

She’s Always Wondered if She Was Born in the Wrong Time…

Thrown back in time to the tumultuous, dangerous Scottish Highlands of the sixteenth century, Isobella Douglas has a lot to learn about her ancestors, herself, and her place in the world. Especially when she encounters a Highland laird who puts modern men to shame…
Each one has secrets to keep, until they begin to strike a chord in each other’s hearts that’s never been touched before… You can read an excerpt of the first chapter on Amazon

Since her first publication in 1988, New York Times Bestselling author Elaine Coffman’s books have been on the NYT, USA Today Top 50, and Ingram’s Romance bestsellers lists, and won four nominations for Best Historical Romance of the Year, Reviewers Choice, Best Western Historical, and The Maggie. Elaine lives in Austin, Texas, where she is working on her next book! For more information, please visit

.NEXT WEEK: Monday Musings, Wednesday, Lisa Dale with SLOW DANCING ON PRICE’S PIER Friday, Steve O'Brien with Bullet Work


Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Straddling The Line Between Genres

My guest is Fiction author, Pat Bertram. She has written several books that don't fit neatly into genre but straddle the lines. Pat's not the only author out there writing that way. I've read several books of late that are thriller with an element of paranormal, romances with more of a thriller than suspense element, action/suspense/ with a strong element of romance. Personally, I see nothing wrong with adding those elements.

What about promoting these kinds of stories? Pat discusses what it means to her as an author and the fact that her books are single title and not part of a series.

All the books about writing I ever read stressed the importance of genre. The books recommended choosing a readily recognizable genre and sticking to it. Apparently, readers like to know what kind of book they are reading and don’t take well to authors who hop from one genre to another (and if readers do accept it, agents and editors sure don’t). The books also suggested developing a series character in that specific genre, one who is so compelling people will be waiting for the next book. And readers who come late to the series go back to read earlier books, so sales take on a life of their own, each book helping to sell the others.

Seems simple enough, but I ignored the advice. Each of my books is a stand-alone novel without a series character, and each straddles a shadowy line between genres. Since I didn’t create a series that helps promote my oeuvre, and me; I have to start over each time a new book of mine is published, promoting each book individually, finding a new readership.

I’ve experienced all the setbacks that bedevil authors -- too little support, too many rejections, too much time dedicated to writing-related activities, such as editing and promotion, and not enough time dedicated to writing. But the most disheartening of all is the difficulty of generating momentum with non-genre, non-series books.

And yet . . .

We can only write what we are compelled to write. We each have a vision, and we must be true to that vision, true to ourselves, true to our stories.

Diane Arbus, noted American photographer, said, “I really believe there are things nobody would see if I didn't photograph them.” And so it is true with writers. We see things, either in the world or in the world of our imagination, that nobody would see if we didn’t photograph them with our words.

Each of my books shows a particular vision of the world, as I know it. A Spark of Heavenly Fire shows the horror of an all-too-possible pandemic, the even more horrific steps the government is ready to take, and the various ways, both heroic and craven, people might react to such an eventuality. More Deaths Than One shows the unthinkable results of mind control experiments, experiments that have actually been perpetrated without our knowledge. Daughter Am I is a more light-hearted romp, a treasure-hunting tale of finding oneself in a most unlikely way. And Light Bringer, my newest novel, hints at a world where the Sumerian myth of a tenth planet -- a planet of doom -- is fact.

The disheartening aspects of writing without the scaffolding of a genre are more than offset by the joy of having created four unique visions of the world, dozens of characters who would not have life without me, vivid word pictures that exist only in my books. Like my lake of flowers from Light Bringer:

Becka kept running, needing no footpath to lead her to their destination. She could feel the music tugging at her, guiding her, singing her forward.

At first a faint red trumpeting, the music swelled into a full orchestra: orange church bells, yellow bugles, green violins, blue flutes, indigo cellos, violet woodwinds.

Beneath it all, she could hear the grasses murmuring, “Hurry, hurry.”

And then there it was, spread out before her in a shallow thirty-foot bowl. A lake of flowers— chrysanthemums and tulips, daisies and daffodils, lilies and columbines and fuchsia—all blooming brightly, all singing their song of welcome.

  • Readers: do you prefer series or stand-alone books?
  • Writers: what things would people be deprived of seeing if you didn’t photograph them with your words?
Light Bringer Blurb:

Becka Johnson had been abandoned on the doorstep of a remote cabin in Chalcedony, Colorado when she was a baby. Now, thirty-seven years later, she has returned to Chalcedony to discover her identity, but she only finds more questions. Who has been looking for her all those years? Why are those same people interested in fellow newcomer Philip Hansen? Who is Philip, and why does her body sing in harmony with his? And what do either of them have to do with a shadow corporation that once operated a secret underground installation in the area? Excerpt

Pat Bertram is a native of Colorado.

When the traditional publishers stopped publishing her favorite type of book -- character and story driven novels that can't easily be slotted into a genre -- she decided to write her own.

Light Bringer is Bertram's fourth novel. Light Bringer, Daughter Am I, More Deaths Than One, and A Spark of Heavenly Fire, are all available from Second Wind Publishing.  You can also find Pat: Website, Blog, Facebook


Monday, April 18, 2011


“Mary, Mary, quite contrary, how does your garden grow…?”

I’m not sure how all Mary’s silver bells, and cockleshells, and pretty maids all in a row are doing but I can’t seem to find mine—garden, that is. I wonder if Mary would mind if I borrowed a few of her maids? Surely they know how to weed?

We’ve had a lot of rain of late. The yard has gone from the dead straw color of winter to green, lots of green. Holy cow, no wonder I can’t keep up with the weeds in my garden areas.

I do have a very nice and lush group of weeds though. Very pretty, and some even flower—except they are destroying the theme I’ve designed for each garden. Not to mention interfering with new spring plants and bulbs I need to  put in..

So I’ve been weeding. I have bulbs to plant, dammit. Then comes the problem of certain things that are supposed to be coming up now and it’s hard to tell if they are flowers or weeds. I almost uprooted some Lilies—these look like a type of grass when they first come up. I literally pulled about dozen marigolds before I realized it wasn’t the daisy weed like thing (I think its part of the ragwort family) I thought it was. They look very similar to each other when two inches tall. Fortunately, the soil was wet enough it didn’t hurt the marigolds and I was able to replant them.

I got to thinking, while I was weeding, how it reminds me of editing. I know, I’ll admit I’m strange and my mind even stranger in it’s leaps and bounds.

There are times the writing mood, zone, or whatever you want to call it, hits me like rain on dry ground. There’s thunder and lightning in my head and the ideas and story comes in like a downpour. At those times I can produce several thousand words in one sitting and a few hours.

The words are good. Just like many *weeds* are good. But some of them hinder rather than enhance the theme of the story. When that happens, you have to weed out the unnecessary words. The difference between weeding my garden and my manuscript is most of the garden weeds I throw away. Not so with my word weeds. Those are stored in a file because you never know when they might need to be *replanted* or used in another area.

I have good tools to help me with weeding the garden. I also have tools to help me with weeding my manuscript. Dictionaries, because the computer doesn’t always recognize certain words, much less if they’re spelled correctly. I also have a manuscript analyzer, which helps with things like repetitive words and phrases. I also have one which I need to locate on my database again that will tell me if my manuscript is too *feminine* in the use of words. In other words it can suggest whether a man or a woman wrote it based on word usage.

I have two signs hanging in my office. One says, “Write What You Feel” speaking of emotion, the other says, “Keep the details to the Now of the story” to remind me about backstory.

  • So how does your *garden* grow?
What tools do you use in weeding your manuscript?
  • Do you indiscriminately yank or do you have an editing system?