Tag Archives: Lacey took a Holiday

How To End a Story by Lazarus Barnhill

What about a good ending? Here are the final paragraphs of Charlie Cherry’s Ninth Step, a work that will be coming out in the spring of 2014 from Second Wind:

Susan answered the door, barefoot and wearing the clothes she had worn to school that morning, her shirttail out.

“Charlie!”

“Hi.”

“Uh—did you—did you find her?”

“Yep.” He nodded. “I did.”

“Are you—did she—”

He shook his head. “She’s remarried.”

“Oh.” She tried not to show the relief that spread across her face. “What about Sloan? What about, you know, your amends?”

“Well,” he said slowly, “I can tell you all about all that. But that’s not really the reason I came back.”

Susan slouched against the doorframe. There was a hint of anger in her voice. “Just looking for a cheap place to spend the night?”

“Not really.” He looked over his shoulder at the Mazda. “You have a week-and-a-half off beginning now, don’t you?”

“Yes,” she replied cautiously.

“Well, I got my doings done and I’ve still got the better part of two weeks myself. I have a few hundred bucks just burning a hole in my pocket, and I was wondering if you’d like to go down to San Antone and walk the river with me.”

For a moment she hovered in the doorway. She stepped toward him and leaned forward, looping her arms around his neck and pressing her lips to his.

She breathed at length and said, “Do you want to leave in the morning?”

“Well look. We kind of rushed into things last night. Surely we can slow down and do thing a little more romantically.”

Her expression was curious. “More romantic than last night? Like how?”

“Well, let’s go pack your stuff, and I’ll take you for a moonlight ride with the top open on my rocket. We’ll cruise on down to this barbeque house I found in Dallas. Best pecan pie I’ve had in fifteen years.”

She was smiling, her arms a swing and her face moving gently a few inches beneath his. “Then what?”

“Well, then we’ll drive on down the road ‘til we find just the perfect spot to spend the night.”

“Salado.”

He shrugged. “Wherever you want, darlin’.”

They kissed, a deep, sweet kiss. He straightened.

“Come on now. I’ll help you.”

She turned and went inside. He watched her graceful steps. “Pack light. I imagine I’ll be picking you out a few things. How do you suppose you’d look in one of those white senorita dresses?”

“A senorita with freckles?”

“I love freckles. . . . Susan?”

“Yes?”

“How do you feel about stepchildren?”

Before we talk about what’s right (I hope) with the passage above, let’s talk about what can go wrong with the ending of a story. If we put our heart’s blood into writing a manuscript, we need to make sure we don’t bleed out before we reach the end of the story.

First, there is no “happily ever after” if we are writing for adults. In this sense, Margaret Mitchell did a better job of ending Gone with the Wind than Shakespeare did with Hamlet. At the bittersweet ending of GWTW, Scarlett is torn with grief and guilt, and yet clinging to hope. The story has come to an end, but the reader is left yearning for more. Indeed readers immediately and constantly clamored for a sequel. There could never be a sequel to Hamlet—everybody was dead. Killing off your main characters is often (as demonstrated by the current most popular male romance author) just another way of not having to deal with the complexity of human life. Hollywood movies, of course, are the land of “happily-ever-after-pat-ending-where-the-good-prevail-and-the-bad-get-what-they-have-coming.” But if you decide your story is going to be more real-to-life than a Hollywood blockbuster, you as an author have to decide to give your readers what the story allows you to give them.

In the passage above from Charlie, I give my readers multiple resolutions to several issues the main character faced throughout the story: what became of the girl he loved and was violently separated from in high school; what will he do to the vicious adult who beat him mercilessly when he was a teenager; what will happen between him and the girl who secretly loved him in his youth? In each case the result was not what the reader might have suspected. My intention is that the reader find the ending surprising, hopeful, plausible, uplifting and fun.

Another huge, disappointing mistake authors make is that the ending does not live up to the buildup of the narrative. There is a famous horror author who does a splendid job of building suspense and anticipation throughout his overly long novels, only to have them fall flat time and again because of really lame endings. Your ending has to be as big as the story that precedes it. When readers hear Charlie, above, promise Susan he’s going to tell her what happened to him that day, they know that she will be astonished—just as they were surprised—to hear what he found out in the previous few hours.

Finally, leave your readers wanting more. All of the major questions and issues Charlie Cherry faced at the beginning of his story have been resolved by the end, but the resolution is intended to make the reader want to know what happened next in the characters’ lives. I’m not suggesting that you leave yourself an opening for a sequel—although books do sell better if they are part of a series. Rather I’m saying that you want your readers, after they finish that last line, to keep wondering what will become of these characters they’ve come to know, with whom they’ve experienced adventures.

So a good ending 1) is plausible, realistic and complete enough to satisfy all the main themes of the story without solving all the world’s problems, 2) has an ending that is as big and satisfying in its resolution as the story that precedes it, and 3) leaves your readers brooding about the characters and events and feeling sorry that the story has ended.

And that, I think, is a good place to end the essay.

***

This article is anthoNovel Writing Tips and Techniqueslogized in the Second Wind Publishing book: NOVEL WRITING TIPS AND TECHNIQUES FROM AUTHORS OF SECOND WIND PUBLISHING, which was the 100th book released by Second Wind.

“As someone who constantly evaluates novels for publication, I was astonished at the breadth and clarity of the wonderful advice contained in this handbook. It addresses concerns as grand as plot development and as simple but essential as formatting your submission. It offers crucial advice on literary topics ranging from character development to the description of action. Virtually every subject that is of great concern to publishers — and therefore to authors — is covered in this clear, humorous and enormously useful guide.” –Mike Simpson, Chief Editor of Second Wind Publishing

***

Lazarus Barnhill is the author of Lacey Took a Holiday, The Medicine People, and Come Home to Me, Child (with Sally Jones).

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How To Begin a Story by Lazarus Barnhill

Novels, novellas and short stories are very distinct literary forms. O. Henry’s short story The Gift of the Magi is hugely different in its construction from Tolstoy’s War and Peace. One would be tempted to say that, as different types of literature, they have virtually nothing in common.

The longest epic and the shortest tale, however, can have two enormously important things in common: they can engage the reader from the beginning and they can leave the reader satisfied but wanting more at the end. In this brief essay I’d like to share my ideas about what makes workable beginnings and endings. I think these ideas are universal in that they apply to creative fiction regardless of its genre, setting or length.

A key idea expressed to me repeatedly by the folks at Second Wind is that my story should grab and hold the attention of the reader from the very first line. As one of the editors expressed it to me, the first line should seduce the reader deeply into the narrative. I’ve been told that a good example of this is the first line of my novel Lacey Took a Holiday:

She woke up realizing she had been sleeping in a bed smaller and softer than the one in which she made her living, and that she was wearing the sort of flannel nightgown she hadn’t worn since she was a little girl.

What’s good about this sentence? It begins a story with no build up (back story). Another way this is described is in media res (“in the middle of things”). Speaking for myself, I find that introductions, forwards, preludes, prologues or whatever you want to call them tend to slow down the process of a story. True, there are a lot of great novels with prologues (Brad Stratton’s White Lies is one; so is Nicole Bennett’s Ghost Mountain. These two novels, however, each use their prologue to describe a crime and they do so with no back story whatever. In this they are exceptions that prove the rule).

In the text above, the reader immediately knows something about the character being described, the setting and even a little of the history of the character. An author should be able to weave back story into the narrative as it moves along. By the bottom of the first page, the reader knows a lot more about the woman being described, but not because the author has blatantly explained it. I have found that readers will be quite attentive and sleuth out the things they want to know about your characters, which will further draw them into the story.

This leads to the concept I call “introductory mystery”: the beginning paragraphs of a story, regardless of its length, deposit curiosity in the mind of the reader so that she/he will be drawn along into the narrative at least long enough to discover why a character said something or reacted in a certain manner. One example of this appears in the opening pages of Come Home to Me, Child, the crime/mystery novel I co-authored with Sally Jones. Within half a page the main character, Elaine, is interrupted and overwhelmed by her new neighbor, Police Chief Larry Daughtry. As the narrative continues after Daughtry abruptly walks away, Elaine asks Tim Starling, her contractor, to explain this intrusive man with whom he has long been acquainted:

“What about the chief?”

“He went into the Marines. Became a military policeman or shore patrol—whatever they call ‘em. Did three or four hitches and came back to work in law enforcement around here. He started as a Cochran County deputy and, about five years ago when the chief’s spot came open in Veil, he was the natural choice. I guess.”

“He seemed happier to see you than you were to see him.”

Starling chuckled. “I always thought Larry was a kind of a thug. He bullied me. Not that he was the only one.” He began to stretch his tape measure along the yard. “It’s the divine right of football players to torment band guys.”

Although the contractor’s explanation satisfies the introductory mystery of what sort of person has just barged into Elaine’s life, the story proceeds to plant more elements to hook the reader’s curiosity: why does the officer know so very much about her family; why is he so interested in her recent medical problems; and why is the police chief so interested in Elaine’s plan to move her gazebo twenty feet across the yard? These seeds of mystery blossom through the course of the narrative in ways intended to gratify the reader’s curiosity, but also to draw him/her ever deeper into the story.

As the police chief in his oppressive manner reveals to Elaine just how much he knows about her and her family, the reader is also learning the back story of what brought the main character to this place at this time and what is happening in her life. If, as an author, you can keep the pacing and dialogue smooth and natural—allow subject matter to emerge as it would in the flow of normal conversation—the narrative will give ample opportunity to simultaneously reveal the back story of the characters even as you develop them and their relationships.

So a good beginning 1) seduces the reader further into the story, 2) begins with narrative at the expense of back story, 3) plants elements of mystery in the reader’s mind—some to be quickly revealed even as seeds of greater mystery are planted, and 4) reveals back story through the narrative process so as to introduce the reader to the characters without impeding the process of the story itself.

***

This article is anthoNovel Writing Tips and Techniqueslogized in the Second Wind Publishing book: NOVEL WRITING TIPS AND TECHNIQUES FROM AUTHORS OF SECOND WIND PUBLISHING, which was the 100th book released by Second Wind.

“As someone who constantly evaluates novels for publication, I was astonished at the breadth and clarity of the wonderful advice contained in this handbook. It addresses concerns as grand as plot development and as simple but essential as formatting your submission. It offers crucial advice on literary topics ranging from character development to the description of action. Virtually every subject that is of great concern to publishers — and therefore to authors — is covered in this clear, humorous and enormously useful guide.” –Mike Simpson, Chief Editor of Second Wind Publishing

***

Lazarus Barnhill is the author of Lacey Took a Holiday, The Medicine People, and Come Home to Me, Child (with Sally Jones).

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Caddo Creek by Lazarus Barnhill

So I’d like to introduce some folks to you and the best way, maybe, is for you to overhear them interacting. Here is an excerpt from my new novel, Caddo Creek (and I’ll tell you a little about it below). The folks in this passage are: Corral Walker, a graduate student studying botany at the University of Arkansas; Henry Louis Truett, IV (whom everyone calls “Four,” an Afghanistan War veteran who is also a student at the U of A; and Aunt Eleanor, Four’s lovely fifty-five-year-old aunt. In this vignette, Four has brought Corral to Eleanor’s home to introduce them and so that she can see a photograph of his great-grandmother, to whom she bears a striking resemblance:

Eleanor stopped in the sunny dining room, standing before a wall that apparently served as a family portrait gallery. Immediately before Corral just at eye level was an old black and white photograph. She leaned forward in amazement at what appeared to be an image of herself. The woman in the photo seemed a few years older than Corral and perhaps more petit. She wore a dress suited to the early 20th century and had long hair pinned close to her head. Her features, from the round, inquisitive eyes to the short, pert nose and oval face were virtually those of Corral Walker. She felt her hand rise slowly to the glass, then draw back.

“It’s my grandmother, my namesake. Eleanor.”

“We look so much alike.”

“Exactly alike to my eye. Eleanor was her given name, but she went by Lacey. Lacey Warren.”

“Is she—”

“She died long before I was born. She is sort of a mystery person. She married Grandpa Andy when she was twenty-six or so, but it’s like she just suddenly appeared out of nowhere on his mountain.”

“His mountain? Caddo Creek?”

“No, they lived in North Carolina, up in the Blue Ridge Mountains near a little town called Boone.”

Corral nodded. “I know about Boone. Appalachian State University is there.”

“Yes. Lacey and Andy had one child, my mother Elizabeth. And Lacey died of cancer when Mom was in her late teens.” She looked at her nephew. “I hope you two came hungry.”

He nodded. “We did, ma’am.”

Eleanor put her hands on his shoulders, physically moving him in the direction of the front door. “Well then, here’s what you need to do, son. Go down to the grocery store. Not the one at the bottom of the hill. I mean the one over by—”

“Townsend’s Market?”

“Yes. You’re a smart boy. Because?”

“Because they have Pillsbury flour?”

“Self-rising. Might as well get me two sacks. You don’t need any money do you?”

“Uh, no ma’am.”

“Good. Get going before we starve.”

Studying the other photos on the dining room wall, Corral tried—unsuccessfully—to suppress a smile. She heard the front door open and close, then felt Eleanor standing beside her again.

“He seems to do just what you tell him.”

“He’d better. That’s how he was raised. And he’d better hop to and show that same respect to you.”

“Actually he is very polite and respectful.”

“Good.” Eleanor tapped the glass on the portrait of her grandmother. “She was a prostitute.”

Corral turned to the older woman. “Excuse me?”

“Yep. She was working in a cathouse all right. That bit of information has been passed down from one woman to another. Supposedly none of the men in the family know it.”

“Really? She was a . . .”

“That’s what my momma told me.  And Lacey told her. Grandpa Andy was a World War I veteran. His first wife, Lib, died in childbirth. Sometime after that he stopped off at a place in the North Carolina piedmont, for a meal as the story goes, not realizing it was whorehouse. As I heard it, Lacey was drunk and passed out, and he kidnapped her.”

“Kidnapped her?”

“Um hmm. Threw her over his shoulder and just carried her out. The fellow who ran the place tried to stop him and Grandpa whipped out a big pistol and backed him off. Drove her right up his mountain and sobered her up. After that she fell in love with him.”

“That’s—that’s amazing.”

“I think it’s romantic as hell,” Eleanor said, her hands on her hips. “Makes me wet just thinking about it. Want to help me fix supper?”

***

Lacey Took a HolidayCaddo Creek is actually a sequel to my first published novel, Lacey Took a Holiday. This new volume is intended to be the second of a four novel set: The Mountain Woman Romance Series. The excerpt above, as I recall, was actually included a couple years ago in a Second Wind anthology. I look forward to having the novel in print this fall and I hope everyone enjoys reading it as much as I enjoyed writing it.

—Laz Barnhill

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Interview with Lazarus Barnhill, Author of “The Medicine People”

What are your books about?

There are two answers to that question. First, I’m very fortunate because my publisher allows me to have books in more than one genre. Currently I have both romance and crime/mystery titles in print. Coming up soon, I hope to have several mainstream novels in print as well. The second answer is that my books are all about believable characters facing believable issues, forming believable relationships and rising up in inspiring, creative but believable ways.

How long do the ideas for your books take to develop?

Beside my bed I keep a spiral notebook that has the outlines for two dozen books in it. Whenever I get an idea for a book, I write down a tentative title (you call the baby something when it’s born, although in the long run it creates its own true name), the basic plot and the key characters. Over time I, as I brood about the stories, I’ll go back to my notebook and add more detail, alter the plot, rename the characters, etc. The stories continue to grow. In a way they “become ripe” over time—that is, I get to a point where I can’t help but start the actual writing process. Each ripens at its own pace. Caddo Creek, the sequel to Lacey Took a Holiday, chronologically takes place ninety years after the original story and was actually conceived after the “first sequel,” Lacey’s Child. I guess the bottom line to the question for me is that a story is a living thing: it develops within the author’s being and emerges when the time is right for it.

Who are the main characters of your stories? Do you have a favorite? Is part of yourself hidden in them?

All the characters in my stories are based at least in part on people I’ve known or encountered. I embellish or diminish aspects of them as suits the need of the narrative. In The Medicine People, Ben Whitekiller, the catalytic figure whose return to the little town where he is wanted for murder sets off an unstoppable chain of events, and Robert Vessey, the detective who hated and wanted to kill Whitekiller for decades, were actually both based upon the same person: my uncle Herb, an Oklahoma peace officer and Native American who wrestled throughout his life with his own demons. Lacey, the beautiful and feisty main character in Lacey Took a Holiday, was based upon a very spirited artist I knew many years ago. Andy Warren, Lacey’s antagonist and eventual love interest, was based upon a fellow I knew who was everything I’m not: tall, quiet, confident and patient. I have not yet written myself into a novel as a character. I’m not sure I’d give myself an even break. Because I try to breathe life into all of them, I can’t say that one is my favorite. I am partial to strong-willed, bright, determined female characters like Lacey, Deena in The Medicine People, Elaine in Come Home to Me Child and Corral in Caddo Creek. I like creating male characters who are independent and will go their own way, yet care enough about others to make sacrifices: Dan Hook and Johnny Whitekiller in The Medicine People, Andy Warren and Curly the saloonkeeper in Lacey Took a Holiday.

Do your books have “takeaways,” goals you intend your readers to grasp? How do you know when you’ve finished a novel?

The course of my life has exposed me to a lot of good and bad experiences, a lot of admirable and wicked people and a lot of wisdom and stupidity. I think, as we age, we discover many of the same truths in life, which is to say that a story can be true or it can be false: true in the sense that it resonates with what we learn as live; false in that the action, dialogue or development of the characters violates our sense of real life. For example, at the conclusion of Margaret Mitchell’s Gone With the Wind, which is a great romance novel that breaks a lot of the genre’s rules, the reader is confronted with a huge irony: Scarlett discovers she loves Rhett just as Rhett decides he won’t squander anymore time trying to win her love. As melodramatic as the setting is, it’s a “true story”. So I would say my goals for my stories are 1) to write truth stuff (all the characters are believable, engaging and worth caring about) and 2) to end at a point where the specific themes of the story are resolved, but the reader is left wondering what happened to the characters next. At the end of The Medicine People, one of the characters has been shot, one jailed for attempted murder, one exonerated, a secret love has been revealed and two passionate but completely unconventional love affairs have begun. I want the end to be satisfying, but also compelling. Years ago I wrote a fantasy novella. It’s still the first piece of my fiction that I still consider worthwhile. I sent it to my mother who read it at one setting, called me up and demanded that I write a sequel. “Ah,” I thought, “I have arrived!”

Have you always wanted to be a writer?

When I was a child of four or five, Wednesday nights were “dollar nights” at the Riverside Drive In: a whole car load of people could see the movie for a buck. My parents and sister would sit in the front seat and I’d sit in the back. Periodically during the show, I would say what the character on the screen was about to say. Eventually my parents got really tired of that and forbade it. But something took root in me even back then. As an elementary school child I would constantly start stories that ended up being only a page or two long — and made me feel like a failure. When I was in sixth grade I lay awake one night and created a story that involved every child in my homeroom class. With the blessing of Miss Roach (and, no, I did not make up that name), I laboriously wrote the story down — probably thirty-five or forty pages — and was given permission on the last day of school to read it to the class. With about five pages left (I was just about to be machine gunned by the villains, having recovered the money they stole from the bank), the principal came in and said that we were free to go to the playground or to stay inside. The students immediately bolted — not one even asking how the story ended. I decided then to write the sort of stories that people would not be able to put down . . . and I’m still working on that.

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“Come Home to Me Child” by Mike Simpson

Laz Barnhill has submitted another manuscript to Second Wind—a crime/mystery novel called Come Home to Me Child. Right now it’s in final editing and, in a couple months, his third title with us will be available. It’s about time. His romance (Lacey Took a Holiday) and his police procedural (The Medicine People) have been in print since 2008 and continue to sell. As with his earlier works, Come Home to Me Child does a good job of drawing the reader into a deceptively simple world full of interesting, believable characters who find themselves in remarkable predicaments; the characters develop along with the story and the resolution leaves the reader wanting more.

This novel tells the story of family that finds it necessary to move away from the Dallas Metroplex so Elaine, a wife and mother in her forties, can recuperate in a peaceful setting after a near-fatal aneurysm. Just after they move into their new house in the backwater town of Veil, Elaine discovers that years before a little girl was kidnapped out of the very bedroom in which her own young daughter now sleeps. Things start going “bump in the night”; or do they? Creepy neighbors intrude on her privacy; or do they? The unfolding story of the missing child reveals a miscarriage of justice; or does it? Elaine can’t be sure whether things are really happening in the world around her, or just within her injured mind.

What’s fundamentally different about this novel is that Laz has a co-author: his wife. She has chosen to write under the name “Sally Jones.” Why did they decide to collaborate on the novel and how did she come up with the pseudonym?

As he tells the story, two years ago they were traveling to the beach. Knowing they had hours of nighttime driving ahead and he was already a little sleepy, Laz badgered his wife into helping him outline a murder mystery in which his in-laws were the main characters. Since his wife has four sisters and four brothers-in-law—all with distinctive personalities—there was no shortage of vivid characters for the story. Over the course of four hours—and with lots of negotiations about the story, the heroes and villains, and the resolution—the novel was plotted out just about the time they got to Sunset Beach. And it was promptly forgotten. After all, it was just an exercise in staying awake on a long drive.

Months later during a Christmas visit with his in-laws, Laz’s wife mentioned to her parents the mystery they had dreamed up on the way to the beach. Immediately his mother-in-law insisted that they complete the story and submit it for publication. Fifteen months later, the story is at last complete—and the Barnhill’s are still married. The one concession Laz regrets making, he says, is that there is no sex in the book:

“I can bump off my in-laws, beat them up and throw them in jail. But the thought of writing about them having sex just creeped me out.”

So what about his wife’s alias? Years ago Laz and his wife (real name “Nancy”) were invited to a very prestigious gathering of corporate executives, the sort of folks who could make or break his budding career. At the opening of the banquet, the important guests paraded down a receiving line, introducing themselves to Laz and all the other young professionals in attendance. In those days his wife had bright red hair and that night she had worn a very attractive, attention getting yellow dress. At one point as the noteworthy movers-and-shakers were passing by, greeting his wife and then him, Laz noticed he was getting a number of strange looks. Turning to Nancy, he saw she had removed her wedding ring and was wearing a nametag that read: “Sally Jones.”

“When we started thinking of a penname for her, ‘Sally Jones’ instantly came to mind,” he said. “My wife is like a character in my novels—unpredictable and unforgettable. It’s always risky not keeping an eye on her.”

Maybe after Come Home to Me Child, Laz will have to write a novel in which “Sally Jones” is the main character.

–Mike Simpson

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Writing: Uncovering A Surprising And Beautiful Buried Treasure — by Lazarus Barnhill

Decades ago when I was in my early teens, my father and I were driving through the mountains of southeastern Oklahoma — laden with switchbacks, dips and hairpin turns — when we saw a motorcycle come toward us and flash past in the opposite lane. It was ridden by a helmetless Native American whose face was totally expressionless. Sitting behind him, a young woman pressed herself against his back, her eyes closed — whether in ecstasy or fear I did not know. The bike was moving so rapidly I caught only a two or three second glimpse of them. Still the impression, as you can tell, remained with me for a lifetime. My dad was also seized by the vision. I could sense him reflecting on their appearance and disappearance and I heard him mutter, “What about that? An Indian on an Indian.”

That solitary image remained with me in the brooding recesses of my awareness for forty years until it became the central vision, the cathartic scene of a novel that built itself around that impassive visage of the man on the motorcycle. My second published novel, The Medicine People, began in my mind with an imagined picture of that Native American standing silently in a jail cell, his hands around the bars, waiting for a certain person to come and speak with him, knowing the dialogue between them would permanently alter both lives.

That’s my creative process; that’s how stories develop themselves for me: I experience something striking and the retained memory of it marinates and evolves in the depths of my mind. The stories grow, sometimes as with Medicine from the middle simultaneously toward the beginning and end, but sometimes from the end backwards or even, conventionally, from the start to the finish.

Once the basics of the story have germinated and I have a grip on where they are going, the real fun begins. With my first published novel, Lacey Took a Holiday, I was inspired by a Natalie Merchant song that described a cowboy professing love to a drunken saloon girl. She wakes the next morning to discover he has disappeared. From that image, Lacey the character and Lacey the story took root in my thoughts. By the time I started actually writing the book, I knew where the journey was going to take this saloon girl. The actual writing process had more in common with uncovering a surprising and beautiful buried treasure than figuring out how to put the “flesh” of details on the “skeleton” of preconceived story. From that single original image, the story develops and completes itself.

That’s the basis of my little literary world. Writing is exciting and strange — how odd to think that an entire story can coalesce and emerge from the flotsam from my lifetime of disorganized observations and faded memories. And, for me, perhaps the most exciting aspect of writing is the notebook I keep by my bed with the basic images—some with partial outlines and possible characters — for two dozen “treasure chests” I haven’t yet begun to open.  —- Laz Barnhill

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Romance Giveaway for Valentine’s Day. Free ebooks! Everybody wins!

Second Wind Publishing is celebrating close encounters of the romantic kind this Valentine’s Day by giving away free romance ebooks! All you have to do to receive your ebook is to leave a comment mentioning which one of the following books you want to read. We will send you a coupon code to use at Smashwords.com where you can download your free ebook in whatever format you choose.

Hand-Me-Down Bride by Juliet Waldron:

Hand-Me-Down BrideSophie is far from her German city home, newly married and even more newly widowed. She is left virtually penniless and adrift in post Civil-War Pennsylvania, where she is resented by her dead husband’s family. The last thing she expects is to be is attracted to another member of the scornful Wildbach tribe.  

Karl Joseph is still trying to forget the war, as well as the painful relationship he had with his father. He’s the first member of his proud family to want to “just be an American.” The last thing he wants is a German wife!

Hand-me-Down Bride blends all the elements of a tender romance with a genuine, old-time country setting.

Nora’s Soul by Margay Leah Justice

Nora Kendall believed in angels. Once. But then she lost her brother to cancer despite all of her prayers – and she lost her faith in all things angelic. Now, she is a lost soul who wanders through life like a sleepwalker, playing it safe and leaving the risk-taking to others.

Kyle Cameron is one of those risks. Burned by a bad marriage, his only concern now is providing a stable life for his children, who are left motherless by the unexpected death of his wife. This means working overtime to grow his architectural firm into a viable business – and leaving the care of his children to the care of someone he trusts. Despite his past connection with Nora, Kyle isn’t certain that she’s the right person for the job. He also doesn’t want to reconnect with her and repeat history.

But fate – and the machinations of two angels – has other ideas.

Fate and Destiny by Claire Collins

Discovering Destiny was the last thing Andrew Greer expected.

 Alone in a desolate cabin, Andrew Greer was perfectly content to wait out the blizzard with his adventurous dog, Shadow, as his only companion. Fate decided differently. When Shadow discovers the unconscious and injured woman, Andrew has no choice but to take her to the safety and warmth of his retreat.

 Destiny weaves a tale of kidnapping and murder. Is she the witness and victim to the crimes? Or is she really a conspirator getting away with murder? Andrew is determined to protect Destiny and find out the truth. Can he find the real killer before it’s too late? Or has he already found her? Only Fate knows for sure.

Images of Betrayal by Claire Collins

Abandoned by her family, Tysan works as a waitress in a cheap diner. One cold evening, a beguiling, rugged young man barges into her life. He possesses the remarkable ability to take photographs of events that have not yet happened. Ty narrowly avoids a harrowing death in a disastrous explosion, only to be drawn into a dizzying cascade of conflicts involving a new family that takes her in, Walker-her apparent savior, David-her new admirer and her own family. Kidnapping, betrayal, obsessive love and courageous lovers co-mingle in this romantic thriller.

Lacey Took a Holiday by Lazarus Barnhill

She sold her soul for a bottle. He stole it back.

Lacey Grady is “a woman of leisure” and an alcoholic. Andy Warren is a bitter and jaded WWI veteran whose wife and only son died during childbirth. When Andy recognizes that Lacey is drinking herself to death, he kidnaps her out the brothel where she works and takes her to his mountaintop farm.

Besides being a sweet romance, Lazarus Barnhill’s Lacey Took a Holiday is a profound and profoundly moving story of redemption.

Indian Summer by Dellani Oakes

Lg51ROsDmoLXLIn the spring of 1739, Gabriella Deza stands poised on the verge of womanhood.  A product of her guarded upbringing, she is naive in the ways of love until dashing Manuel Enriques declares his love for her.  Quite by accident, Gabriella uncovers a plot hatched by British spy whose job is to capture the town and fort, Castillo de San Marcos.  Armed with her information, Manuel embarks on a dangerous mission to entrap the spy and save the town from being overthrown by the British.  Unfortunately, Gabriella herself is caught in the trap and kidnapped.  Can Manuel find and save her before it is too late?

Love is on the Wind, an anthology of love stories by the authors of Second Wind Publishing

Some of the stores included in this anthology are: “Love Transcends” by JJ Dare, “A Good Day” by Suzette Vaughn, “A Weeping Moment” by Christine Husom, “Fractured” by Dellani Oakes, “High Court of Love” by Amy De Trempe, “The Perfect Kiss” by Jerrica Knight-Catania, “Puppy Love” by Claire Collins, “A Hunt and a Kiss” by Juliet Waldron, “A Time for Dreams” by Mairead Walpole, “Stormy Weather” by Sherrie Hansen.

So, which book do you want to read? Hand-Me-Down Bride, Nora’s Soul, Fate and Destiny, Images of Betrayal,  Lacey Took a HolidayIndian Summer, or Love is on the Wind? Now’s your chance!

This offer expires on 2/20/ 2011.

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The First Chapter of Rubicon Ranch Has Finally Been Posted!

We’ve been promising you a novel experience, a collaboration by authors of Second Wind, and finally the day has arrived! The first chapter of Rubicon Ranch has been posted. You can find the first chapter here: “Chapter One by Pat Bertram“. Next week we will be posting a chapter by Lazarus Barnhill, author of the wonderful books Lacey Took a Holiday and The Medicine People. We hope you will join us in our adventure!

Here’s how the story begins:

Melanie Gray dressed all in white—loose cotton pants, billowing long-sleeved top, wide-brimmed straw hat, flowing scarf. She checked her pockets to make sure she had her cell phone, camera, and extra memory card, then grabbed a canteen of water, slung the strap over her shoulder like a bandolier, and stepped outside. Heat scorched her lungs and the glare of the desert sun burned her tear-sore eyes.

She hesitated. Maybe she should stay inside today. Seven o’clock in the morning, and the temperature had already climbed into the hundreds. She was more of a mountain girl—though at forty-three she could hardly be called a girl—and preferred the cool of higher elevations. To be fair, Rubicon Ranch lay three thousand feet above sea level, and the harsh weather and bleak desert vistas suited her present mood, but she hadn’t slept well lately, hadn’t slept much at all since Alexander died, and she had little strength to deal with the present heat wave.

Damn Alexander anyway. Why did he have to wreck the car and get himself killed? Didn’t he know better than to text while driving? And how could he have already spent their advance? Had he squandered it on the woman he’d been texting?

Melanie strode down the driveway to Delano Road, wishing their publisher wasn’t holding her to the contract for this final coffee table book. If she still had the advance, she could return the money, find somewhere to burrow, and heal in privacy, but now she had to finish the book of desert scenes by herself, and she knew nothing about photography—Alexander always took the pictures, she wrote the blurbs. Her only option was to shoot as many photos as possible using her small digital camera, and hope that by lucky accident some would be publishable.

When she reached the road, she hesitated again. Right or left? Odd how she couldn’t seem to make up her mind about anything since Alexander’s death. Not that it mattered which way she went. Most roads in Rubicon Ranch eventually wound to the desert.

Turning left on Delano Road was the shorter route—the desert lay a scant one hundred yards from her rented house—but she seldom went that way. Cut off from the vast stretches of wilderness by rocky knolls, the region had become a cross between a town park and a city dump. She’d have to dodge bicyclists, skirt discarded furniture, and climb over the steep knolls to get to the wilds. Turning right, as she usually did, she could amble through pleasant suburban streets before reaching the trails that would take her to the remote wilderness areas.

The heat radiating off the blacktop made up her mind for her. It would be cooler in the desert, if only by a couple of degrees, so the sooner she got there the better. She turned left.

As she neared the house two doors down, she felt the disturbing sensation of being scrutinized. She didn’t need to search for those observant eyes. She knew exactly who was watching. An old man always sat on the porch, like a land-locked amphibian, staring at everyone going by. Another reason she preferred the long way—she hated anyone knowing her business, especially now when her emotions were so raw.

“Damn you, Alexander,” she whispered fiercely. “How could you have done this to me?”

Click here to read the whole chapter: Rubicon Ranch, Chapter One by Pat Bertram

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Bumping Off My Inlaws

I’m about to bump off several of my in-law’s—and I don’t feel bad about it all.  Truth be told, I’m really looking forward to it.

This mayhem all began, you see, when my wife and I were invited to spend a couple days at the beach last October.  We didn’t leave until later in the day and our destination was four hours away.  I’d been burning the midnight oil in preparation for the excursion and felt myself getting really sleepy a couple hours into the drive.  Over the years I’ve learned a number of secrets that help keep me alert: drinking large soft drinks (particularly if they are in paper cups setting between your thighs), chewing sunflower seeds, playing the A harp (blues harmonica) or singing along with my CD’s.  Rather than resorting to those tried-and-true methods, however, I decided to try something different.

I turned to my wife and said, “We’re going to write a book together.”

Nancy is an unequivocal critic of novels—mine and others.  A lover of crime/mystery novels, she is quite definitive in her taste.  She was aghast at the thought of writing with me.  “Besides,” she said, “every good idea for a murder mystery has been used again and again.”

“Then let’s come up with something new,” I persisted, “an idea you’ve never heard before.  There will be some common themes, but let’s make the story as original as possible.”  The more she resisted, the more determined I was to draw her into the creative process.  “Who is the most unlikely hero you can imagine?” I asked.

She named her youngest sister, a person who is not only unassuming, unassertive and extremely dignified, but suffers from the sort of chronic illness that places certain restrictions on her physical activities.  So we focused on little sister and upon recent actual happenings in her life (moving to a new, smaller community; an oldest child going away to college; meeting new neighbors).

At that point it began to be fun for Nancy.  We started casting various members of her family in the story and plotting what sort of wonderful and tragic things might befall them in the novel.  We found that, by using the personalities and characteristic traits of her kinfolks, we agreed on what sort of people they would be in the story and what roles they would fill.  We figured out eventually where we wanted the story to go—including whom we wanted to bump off.  We could not agree, however on the precise series of events that would allow us to bring about the desired conclusion (when it comes to actually typing out the story, I’m going to wait until she goes to bed and change things around to the way I want them).

So here’s where the story begins (and no, my sister-in-law did not have this happen to her and her family): the family of a woman in early 40’s moves from a large southern city to a small rural community.  Doctors encouraged this move as a way of providing a bucolic setting for the woman to continue recovering from a near-fatal aneurysm that left her with severe stroke-like symptoms.  The first night in her new home, she rises and walks through her darkened house to the kitchen, only to see what she thinks is her new next door neighbor stalking through her backyard.

What happens next?  Mostly to assure herself that she only imagined seeing him, the woman begins a passive investigation.  She discovers the previous residents of the house had a young daughter who disappeared ten years before.  The boyfriend of the neighbor’s teenage daughter had disappeared the same night, and the little community had come to assume the teenage boy had abducted the girl, harmed her and then fled.  After waiting and hoping there would be some resolution to their daughter’s disappearance, the family made the decision to give up on the tenth anniversary of the abduction.  They put the house up for sale and moved away.  As the main character discovers what has happened, she becomes quite alarmed because she has a young daughter who is sleeping in the very room from which the little girl was abducted.  The working title of our little murder mystery is Come Home to Me, Child, the words spoken every night for ten years by the mother of the abducted girl.

Nancy assumed I would drop the idea once we made it home from the beach and back to our “real world” concerns.  In fact it sort of irritates her that I still intend to write the book and list her as co-author (I have the perfect pseudonym picked out for her).  I must press forward with this, of course.  How can I resist snuffing out a few of my favorite in-laws?  —Lazarus Barnhill, author of The Medicine People and Lacey Took a Holiday

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In Praise of Romance

Can a man write a romance novel?

I remember one of my college English professors talking of wanting to “pick up a little spare change” as a graduate student.  He decided to write short stories using a female pseudonym and submit them to women’s magazines (this was back in the early 60’s, when magazines published a lot more short fiction).  His comeuppance was almost immediate: several editors sent him personal rejection letters, telling him to stop trying to write as a woman.

His words came back to me in the summer of 2007 while I was competing in the Gather.com romance novel contest.  The first chapter of my novel Lacey Took a Holiday was getting a lot of kind feedback, much of it from other authors and almost all of them women.  Then Starr Toth, the fine romance author whose story Lie to Me took second place in the contest, read and commented on my entry: “This feels like a mainstream novel with romantic elements, rather than a straight romance.”  Busted!  Starr had figured out in one brief chapter that the book wasn’t a “true” romance.  “Oh, she’s just prejudiced because I’m a guy,” I thought.  This was just an insidious prejudice against men writing romances, I assured myself,.

I have to say that a lot of people liked Lacey, including the Second Wind Publishing people, and I guess the book had enough good stuff in it to make it into print (although I still get comments that the book is not really a romance).  The great thing about the Gather contest and being published along with other romance authors is that I have been give the opportunity to learn a lot about romance—books, I mean.  In fact, I think I’m on firm footing when I say I’ve learned things about romance novels that most guys never understand.  So here are some of the really important things I’ve learned about romance novels:

Fine romance novels are quality works of literature.  Well-written romance is the prose equivalent of fine poetry.  Face it, Jane Austen was a romance author.  If she were living today, some dippy reviewer would be criticizing her for trying to make social commentary in romance novels.  For sheer descriptive power and lyrical beauty that simultaneously deals with the consequences of human actions, you owe it to yourself to read Dellani Oakes captivating Indian Summer or Sherrie Hansen’s poignant Night and Day.  Oakes story deals with Florida in the 18th century, while Hansen’s is a post-modern story of a love affair that starts on the internet—but the social consciousness is a gripping element in each.

In ways other fiction genres cannot match, well-written romance captures and suborns a setting and makes it a compelling servant of the story being told.  How I wish more people would read Juliet Waldron’s magnificent Hand Me Down BrideIt captures precisely what rural life was like in the days immediately following the Civil War (and her characterizations are perfect).  Suzette Vaughn does double duty in her Badeaux Knights.  She depicts small town, Generation X life along the sleepy Gulf Coast, while giving a wonderfully detailed account of Renaissance enactors.  Stormy Weather, Sherrie Hansen’s heartland romance, absolutely captures the essence of a Midwestern small town—gossip and all.

Romance has a unique ability to make the supernatural and the spiritual plausible and accessible.  It’s probably impossible to find two more disparate examples of this than Amy De Trempe’s Loving Lydia and Mairead Walpole’s A Love Out of Time.  De Trempe blends 17th century Catholicism and passionate human love into a tale that is as full of aching and longing as it is of faith.  Walpole takes an equally ancient set of religious beliefs—that are also startlingly contemporary—and twines them into a marvelously intricate story of lovers and a group of sisters who are, well, more than human.  The charming, devilish romance Nora’s Soul, by Margay Leah Justice, manages to spin two tales simultaneously: while a beautiful human couple find themselves drawn inexorably back to their childhood love, a pair of angels vie for a young woman’s soul.  Janette Rochelle Lewie and Suzette Vaughn in very different ways take on the pantheon of the ancient gods.  Lewie skillfully unpacks an ancient myth in a steamy, modern way in Sonya Recovered.  Vaughn, in Mortals, Gods and a Muse, does a magnificent job of demonstrating for modern readers the ancient conceit of what happens when the gods start messing with your love life.

A well-written romance can be every bit as thrilling and suspenseful as the best crime novel—and a lot more emotive.  Safe Harbor, Sherilyn Winrose’s first novel, is a tremendously intense, breathtaking roller coaster that just incidentally is really all about a sweet, compelling love story of a young woman and man trying to right wrongs.  Life and death, virtue and vice, love and deceit all hang in the balance in both of Claire Collins first two novels—that in truth are remarkably distinct.  In Fate and Destiny—a Gather contest semi-finalist—Collins wows readers with a tale at turns frightening, heart-warming and hilarious.  Her second novel, Images of Betrayal, seems to be a paranormal thriller, yet turns on profound psychological insights, all the while describing pure first love.

The truest, grandest form of romance novels, the regency, is among the most exacting and rewarding types of literature.  Back in the days of my ignorance, I referred to these as “lords and ladies books.”  I had no idea the level of historical and geographical knowledge it takes to write these novels.  I had mentioned Amy De Trempe above and I should note that, like Loving Lydia, her second regency title, Pure is the Heart, is seamless in its accuracy—and delightful in the poignant story it tells.  Tart, funny and ultimately joyful is the best way to describe Lucy Balch’s romp of a regency novel Love Trumps Logic (and, brother, she’s right about that!).  Then there is Jerrica Knight-Catania’s first offering, a tender novel of justice and duty (here we are back at Jane Austen again) called A Gentleman Never Tells.

How very distinct from one another these titles are.  Indeed about the only thing they have in common is that they were all written by outstanding women authors.  It’s more than a little ironic that my first published novel falls into the genre of romance.  At least my romance colleagues at Second Wind are kind and accepting.  Maybe one day I’ll be brave enough to try a second romance novel—just to prove that a man can do it.  —Lazarus Barnhill, author of Lacey Took a Holiday and The Medicine People

Check out the Second Wind Romance Sampler. It includes the first chapters of all these romances, and it’s free! Click here: to get your free download.

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