Monday, July 31, 2006

Edgy Fiction and Chickens with Shelley Bates

Today we have the edgy, the wonderful, the magnificent chicken-raising author, Shelley Bates. (Yes, chickens. We’ll come back to that.) Shelley has a B.A. in Creative Writing from the University of California at Santa Cruz and an M.A. in Writing Popular Fiction from Seton Hill University in Pennsylvania. She sold her master's thesis to Harlequin after she graduated in 2002, and it subsequently became a double finalist in the 2004 National Readers Choice Awards.

Grounds to Believe, her debut novel from Steeple Hill Books and the first book in her Elect Trilogy, won the 2005 RITA Award for Best Inspirational Novel of the Year from the Romance Writers of America. The second book in the trilogy, Pocketful of Pearls, is a 2006 RITA Award finalist, and the last book, A Sounding Brass, has just been released by FaithWords (formerly Warner Faith).

DM: Shelley, thank you so much for being here. You’ve earned the title of “edgy” with your books. Can you tell us why and what that means for your books?

SB: Publisher’s Weekly started it by classifying me with a few other books under a headline of “Faith on the Edge.” So hey, who am I to argue? I think we call something “edgy” if it’s on a subject we’ve been conditioned not to talk openly about. I talk about the toxic church, which can be controversial and painfully personal for many people.

DM: Your books have deep issues that really pull readers in and make them think. Do you write with that goal in mind or does it organically occur as you begin to plan your stories?

SB: That’s me—a deep thinker. Not! My books come out of my own experience, which led to a lot of soul searching and to very personal conversations and interviews with people. The central theme I write about always involves a woman breaking out of structures that other people have imposed on her. I think it’s a theme that many women deal with in their day-to-day lives, and many don’t know how to change the thinking that keeps them in the cage. The characters in my books illustrate what happens—for good or ill—when you try to escape the structures made of rules and focus solely on your relationship with God.

DM: You openly share your experience with a “toxic” church and even brought this issue into your books. How has this past experience affected your writing and your stories? Do you feel God has put you in this time and place to help others see the difference between a healthy church and a toxic church?

SB: I think He must have. I’m getting opportunities and honors that would never have happened if God hadn’t been in on it.

DM: What’s your secret to keeping a balanced writing life?

SB: I used to manage time for a living as an executive assistant to a busy VP, so I’m used to parceling out my day in chunks. This chunk goes to e-mail and promotion, this one to the day job, this chunk is sacred to writing, this chunk goes to having a cold drink and playing with the chickens. However, there’s a difference between being able to portion out chunks and actually getting tangible work done in them. I’m still working on that part. But I guard my writing time fiercely. I think we have to value our time—it’s an indication of how much we value our work.

DM: What comes first for you, the story or the characters?

SB: My books always seem to start with an image—like a picture or a still shot from a movie—that becomes the opening scene. It has people and objects and buildings in it, and I have to figure out why they’re there, who they are, and what they’re going to do about it. For instance, Pocketful of Pearls began with the image of a woman confronting a homeless man on the back porch of her house. It was dark, lit by a bare lightbulb overhead, and the house was full of people. I learned that the people were there for the funeral of her father, and the homeless man turned out to be the hero who saves the heroine’s life in more ways than one. But it all began with that one dark image.

DM: How do you develop your characters?

SB: Uh … I guess “I don’t know” isn’t the answer you’re looking for, is it? They seem like memories of people I know, if that makes sense. I usually give them a central characteristic (for instance, in A Sounding Brass she’s a big-city girl born and raised in a small town, he’s a smart-mouth cop) and then work inward and outward from there. How would his dialogue sound if he’s always quipping and fencing with people verbally? How would she relate to people around her if she feels they’re trapping her in the town? Stuff like that.

DM: A Sounding Brass is the third book in the Elect Trilogy. How did this story come about?

SB: Like Pocketful of Pearls, it’s based on true events (believe me, you can’t make this stuff up). A radio evangelist came to the town my cousins live in, and during the course of his "ministry," managed to defraud the entire town to the tune of hundreds of thousands of dollars. I cut that article out of the paper right away, because the pricking of my thumbs told me it would make a great basis for a story.

DM: What kind of research did you have to do?

SB: I spent an evening at 91.5 KKUP here in Santa Clara, which is a small independent radio station that I basically lifted in its entirety and put in my fictional town of Hamilton Falls—right down to the coffee pot. The DJ (Jackie, who hosts the Thursday night bluegrass and folk show) showed me how all the decks and players worked, how the sound mixer worked, and let me take pictures and make diagrams. Then I took the station manager to dinner, and she told me how you would launder money through the station. It was great.

DM: OK, I’ve made everyone wait long enough. Tell us about your chickens. How did you wind up having chickens for pets?

SB: This bird walked into my yard one day … No, really. She did. She walked in and announced she was staying, so my dh built her a coop. That was Electroclux, an Isa Brown. And since chickens are flock birds, she was getting depressed without a companion, so I went to the animal shelter and saw this forlorn little bird sitting in a cage with its wings all droopy, going, “I hate my life.” So of course I took her. That was Cocoa Puff, an Ameraucana. Then a clerk at Gene’s Fine Foods brought me a hen in a box who had been living on their refuse pile. That was Genie, a Black Australorp. Then some folks down the road said they were moving and could I take their birds … That was Schatzi, Penny, and Blue, all Ameraucanas who lay blue and green eggs. Currently I have eight, including the Peepers, who are lovely Golden Comet pullets. They know their individual names (Dinah and JoJo) but they’ll come as a pair (Peepers) when you call them, too.

Chickens are smart. They have the intellect of an 18-month-old human, so they can learn language. Mine know about a dozen English phrases, and they all know and respond to their names. They’re very affectionate, too. When I got back from the Faith-Building Fiction book tour last month, I couldn’t sit down without a bird being on my lap and one on each shoulder. They just wanted to let me know they’d missed me and were glad I hadn’t been eaten by a predator. They make great pets, and the eggs are a fringe benefit. If you open yourself to chickens, they will come.

DM: Shelley, thank you so much for sharing yourself and your wonderful books with us. I love your stories.

SB: Thanks, Dineen—I always appreciate an opportunity to talk books and birds!

Be sure to check out Shelley’s fabulous website, too, for more information about her books and her chickens! Leave a comment for a chance to win a signed copy of Shelley’s latest book, A Sounding Brass.

Wednesday, July 26, 2006

A Story Too Difficult To Tell

Ever had a story you just couldn't tell? I don't mean gossip. I mean a story sitting in your head, but you just can't seem to get it down on paper the way you want to. I used to go through this with art. I could see the image clearly in my head, but what wound on paper was always a far cry from the image in my mind.

At least with writing , it's a sense of what the story is to be and not an exact replica. I have freedom to take the seed of an idea and grow it on paper. But what about those seeds that turn into a fully bloomed flower in your mind? You write and write and worry whether or not the words pouring on the page do a fair representation of what your mind has created. With art you always had a pictoral representation to judge. With writing you have words which, to you, may portray exactly what you want, but to another, not so much.

I guess art can be as subjective as writing. What we feel is a masterpiece may be hailed worthless trash by a random critic or doofis. (Hey, you call my art trash, you're a doofis.) But at some point I think we have to trust the creative process and recognize it as God's gift. He's the ultimate creator, and we are made in his image, to create, to love, to grow. That's a hard place to get to. Our egos tend to get in the way.

The struggle is imminently present. How do I get the words on the page, and how do I know they are the best they can be? I can worry myself in circles with this and write not a single word. See the vicious circle? Could this be what is called writer's block? I don't know.

I do know the page is there, and it's not blank. I'm pushing through it, putting words to the page. They may not be grand, but they at least eliminate some of that glaring white space.

Sunday, July 16, 2006

A New Chapter

Ever feel like you're entering a new chapter in your life? I've been feeling a lot of those lately. They seem to mostly center around my kids. The first hit when my youngest (12) daughter stood next to my older (16) one. My mouth dropped in wonder. I'd been waiting for this day, knew it would happen, but to actually see the younger one had passed her older sister in height just about did me in. The inevitable had snuck up on me, and there it was.

The most recent has been watching my older daughter get into the car BY HERSELF and drive off. This just gives new terror to life. Now I have a whole new appreciation for my parents. I can truly relate to the unsettled and staggering feeling of watching your child take control of a very large machine. Prayers were sent up heavily and will continue, as you can imagine.

I told my husband I'd swear the oldest was just born a few years ago and the younger just a few months past. I look at them and see young ladies already. Especially the 16 year old. Soon she'll be out on her own, making her own decisions. Egads, someone knock me out and wake me when she's worked out all the crap of the twenties. LOL!

I don't know if I've done everthing right. In fact, I know I haven't. I'm so glad God is catching the slack and fixing what I screw up. Here's a little blurb I did for my church newsletter. Hope this speaks to you.

Winston Churchill once said, “Success is not final, failure is not fatal: it is the courage to continue that counts.” I think God sees our faith the same way. Belief isn’t final—we must continually practice it. Doubt isn’t fatal, but it does require honesty and sometimes a swift kick in the rear. What matters is that we continue on, knowing that despite our shortcomings, God makes up for what we lack. And He is the king of second chances.
So, what chapter of life are you in?

Monday, July 10, 2006

We Have a Winner!

The winner of a copy of MaryLu Tyndall's book, The Redemption, is Lynetta! Congratulations!!! Lynetta, email me your information so I can forward it to the powers that be. LOL!

Now for fun, you get to listen in on a late night converstation with my good but goofy friend Heather...

Dineen: What are we going to talk about?
Heather: I don't know. This was your brilliant idea. What time is it anyway?
D: It's 12:30 am my time, 2:30 your time.
H: Yes, I can add 2, thank you.
D: Very funny.
H: Are you still typing this?
D: Yes.
H: Are you 3 years old?
D: Umm, last time I checked I was 40. LOL!
H: Yeah, you turned 40 and lost your ever-loving mind.
D: LOL! Yeah, it checked out and insanity checked in.
H: LOL! Don't forget to say your friend Heather is a brilliant writer.
D: My friend Heather is a brilliant writer.
H: It was brilliant, brilliant. Get it right. Maybe we should pick a topic.
D: Ok, genius, shoot!
H: It's 2:30 am where I am and you woke me out of a sound sleep. You pick the topic.
D: Hmmm, let's see. We could talk about how you're almost done with your book.
H: (groans) Why would we want to talk about that?
D: Is this the end of the convo?
H: No comment...

Friday, July 07, 2006


The Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man’s Curse starts today! So you can go watch pirates and then read about them in M.L. Tyndall new book, The Redemption, the first book in the Legacy of the Kings Pirates series. Now read carefully because you're on a treasure hunt, but you won't know what it is until you get to the end!

MaryLu Tyndall is a wife, mother, former software engineer, and author of inspirational historical novels. Her current series, Legacy of the King’s Pirates is set in the 1600s and is about Christian Pirates in the Caribbean. Pretty cool, huh?

DM: MaryLu, thank you so much for being here. Tell us how you wound up writing stories about Christian pirates?

MLT: A few years ago after watching the Pirates of the Caribbean movie, I thought to myself: Why should wicked pirates have all the fun? Most people in the world—including some believers themselves—consider the Christian life to be boring. I, for one, have not found it to be so, and I decided it was about time we showed them the truth! What better way to do that then through the adventurous life of a Christian pirate roaming the Caribbean? Then, of course, you throw in a beautiful lady, a villainous pirate, a few tavern brawls, sea battles, a mutiny, and a prison break, and you have a great story surrounding the theme of God’s love.

DM: Tell us about The Redemption and the message this story has to share.

MLT: My story begins when the heroine, Lady Charlisse Bristol, sets off on a voyage in search of a father she never knew, only to find herself shipwrecked on a deserted island. After weeks of combating the elements, her salvation comes in the form of a band of pirates and their fiercely handsome leader, Edmund Merrick. While battling his attraction to this winsome lady and learning to walk a more godly path, Edmund offers to help Charlisse on her quest—until he discovers her father is none other than Edward the Terror, the cruelest pirate on the Caribbean.

The Redemption was born out of a difficult, personal journey. Like the heroine in my story, I too grew up without a father’s love and spent many years searching for acceptance and value. I rejected God and didn’t realize that only in His arms would I find what I was searching for. There is a deep part of my soul written in the path Charlisse, my heroine, must take to find God’s love—a path that I hope will provide a healing touch to many lives.

DM: As a new author, what’s been your greatest challenge?

MLT: My greatest challenge has been the pressure of meeting deadlines for the other two books in the series. It’s one thing to be creative on your own time and without anyone’s expectations put upon you, and quite another when you must create a great novel by a certain date. The pressure can be daunting at times, but it has been good for me in that it has driven me closer to God, and I lean now more fully on Him than I ever did.

DM: What’s your secret to keeping a balanced writing life?

MLT: Prayer. I start off my day with prayer. I pray before I begin to write, and I thank God for the writing I completed when I turn off my computer at night. God first, Family second, and then my writing. If I ever get those three out of order, then I start getting frustrated and anxious. Interruptions are a part of every writer’s life—especially mothers! I try to handle them by learning when to say yes and when to say no, and then looking at them as Divine appointments, not interferences. The Lord knows how much time I need to write, but He also knows when I need to rest. I try to follow His leading.

DM: Your books have a very strong faith element. Do you do that consciously or does this grow out of the characters naturally?

MLT: Both. Before I even write a word, I come up with a strong faith-related theme for my novel, and I develop my plot and characters around that. But as my characters move through the story and grow as individuals, they often add additional facets to the original theme or grow in their faith in a way I least expected!

DM: What comes first for you, the story or the characters?

MLT: Definitely characters. If you have deep, interesting characters, you can put them anywhere, in the middle of a desert or in a one room apartment, and you will still have a great story. I spend a lot of time developing my characters before I even have the details of my novel worked out.

DM: How do you develop your characters?

MLT: I do not enjoy long extensive character charts, so I developed my own shortened version which details out their physical appearance, goals, secrets, their past, main desires, fears, weakness, personality types and then mannerism and quirks. I try to find a picture from a magazine or the internet that looks most like them to me and keep that close at hand. Recently I have just begun to use the interview process, especially during a scene I’m writing. I walk right up to my character (which is really cool because they are usually on a pirate ship!) and I ask them how they are feeling about what’s happening, what do they think of so-and-so character? And what is their next step? Believe it or not, they sometimes amaze me with their answers.

DM: What kind of research did you have to do?

MLT: Because I cannot transport myself back to 17th Century Caribbean (DARN IT!), I was forced to do extensive research on the time period, the clothing, the mannerism, culture, food, etc. I purchased many textbooks on the subjects and also found a lot of great information on the internet. I also read a ton of books about pirates, both fiction and nonfiction, and watched every movie I could find that related to either pirates, sailing, or the general time period of my story. Having grown up in south Florida, I remember vividly what the ocean sounds like, how a warm breeze feels blowing through my hair, the crunch of the sand under my feet, and the feel of ocean spray showering over the bow of a sailing ship, and I used those memories in my book as well.

DM: MaryLu, thank you so much for sharing yourself and your inspirational stories with us. I’m looking forward to reading The Redemption.

MLT: Thank you Dineen for such great questions and for allowing me to share about my book. My prayer is that the Lord puts The Redemption into the right hands where it will not only entertain the reader but bless and encourage them as well.

Now here’s the best part. Leave a comment for chance to win not only a copy of her book but tickets to The Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man’s Curse movie. Glass Road PR is slipping a pair of tickets into one of the books they will be sending out to winning participants.

Be sure to check out MaryLu’s website for more information about her books and her inspiring faith. And don’t forget to leave a comment here for a chance to win a book!

Attention Treasure Hunters: Clue #4: Who are the 3 contributors to this blog?

Wednesday, July 05, 2006

Today's the Day!

The Scenes and Beans character blog starts today. Character blogs are nothing new, but different writers are blogging as Brandilyn Collins' characters from her book, Violet Dawn. As a bonus, you can sign up to read the first 12 chapters of Violet Dawn online. You'll get one or two chapters a week for seven weeks. Be sure to click on that nifty logo up there or on the sidebar and go check it out. Thanks!

Monday, July 03, 2006

Announcements From Our Sponsor (aka Me)

First things first. I'd like to wish everyone a fun and safe 4th of July. Have a blast, guys, and be safe.

The lucky winner of T.L. Hines' book is Heather Tipton. Woohooo!!! Way to go, Heather.

Finally, dear friend Camy Tang has something special to share with us:

The Story Sensei Summer Sale
A writers' summer event!

From now until July 15th, I will be holding a fabulous contest for my Story Sensei critique service.

I will draw the names of TWO lucky winners! They will each receive:

A free synopsis critique – up to 10 pages single-spaced, a $40 value!


A coupon for 25% OFF any manuscript critique – whether full or partial manuscript, any number of words. For a 100,000 word manuscript, that's a savings of $250!

In addition, EVERYONE WHO ENTERS will receive a 10% OFF coupon for any service, whether synopsis, query letter, or manuscript critique (full or partial). For a 100,000 word manuscript, that's a savings of $100, just for entering.

Go to my Story Sensei blog and post a comment to enter the contest!