My Process

It’s the beginnings of things that interest me: Doc Holliday before he became a Western icon; a Caribbean pirate who started out as a wealthy plantation owner; a Native American Indian chief who was descended from Scots royalty.  Then curiosity takes over and I become a researcher, digging into archives and visiting museums and libraries, interviewing family members and historians, traveling to the places where the characters lived and the action happened.  As I study, the facts fall into something like a plot and a theme begins to appear.  The information fills file cabinets and fleshes out a timeline of the character’s life.  I turn the timeline into a skeletal chapter book, adding in my notes and the plot and action as far as I know it, so that before I begin the actual writing, there is something like a novel already waiting for me.  You could print the pages and read through, and have a good idea of the storyline, the characterization, the ending.  And then the real work starts.

Writing is a love-hate relationship for me.  Sometimes it’s easy and the words flow and I love it.  Sometimes I struggle for hours or days with a single paragraph and I hate it.  I writing at mackinac island michigannever have classic writer’s block, running out of words.  I have plot block, which is much worse, running out of story.  It’s when I can’t figure out how to connect point A to point C that I really hate my life.  And often it’s not just a leap from A to C that I have to maneuver, but from A to E by way of B, C, and D, which are the logical suppositions that take the story from the history we know at A to the history we know at E – everything along the way being only plausible conjecture.  Being constrained by the history is often harder for me than having nothing but my imagination to guide the story.  I can imagine all kinds of things.  It’s imagining them within the confines of known history that is challenging.  But somehow it all works out and the paragraphs turn into pages that turn into scenes that turn into chapters that turn into a book – or two or three. 

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The Power of Point of View

(Guest Post on Sarah Johnson’s “Reading the Past” Blog 2013)

Sarah Johnson’s wonderfully written review of Inheritance, the first book in my historical novel trilogy, Southern Son: The Saga of Doc Holliday points out one of the challenges in writing fiction set during the American Civil War and Reconstruction: the difficulty of dealing with the “inherent racism” of the time. Although the Southern Confederacy was fighting for more than slavery in its war on the Federal government, the perpetuation of the “peculiar institution” was at the core of the fight. So a writer telling a story set in the Old South has to acknowledge the central issue of the era, even if that issue isn’t a central theme of the book.

It would be tempting to insert one’s modern perceptions into the narrative, commenting on or criticizing the racist attitudes of the times. Such editorial comment, however, puts a distance between the reader and the characters and detracts from the sense of time and place of the story. How, then, to accurately show the social ills of the Old South without seeming to approve of them? Without some negative commentary the story might seem to celebrate the institution of slavery.
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The Power of Story

(Keynote Address at the Blue Ridge Writer’s Conference 2014)

He was Georgia’s best-known Western legend, infamous in his own time and famous in ours for the part he played in the Gunfight at the OK Corral, becoming a celebrity in literature and film, with his character featured in more than 70 movies and TV shows. She was Georgia’s first superstar, her every activity chronicled in newspapers and magazines, with crowds of admirers camping out on her lawn. At Davison’s Department Store, where she’d gone to buy a dress for a big premiere, she was followed into the dressing room by fans who pulled at her hair and tore off her clothes as souvenirs. Yet neither of them was looking for notoriety; they just wanted to live ordinary lives. It was the power of the story that make their lives extraordinary. And amazingly, Doc Holliday and Margaret Mitchell, author of Gone with the Wind had a family connection.  And to explain that surprising bit of Georgia history, I first need to share some of my own history.  You might call that the story behind the story. 

And my story starts here with my own Mormon pioneer ancestors who crossed the Great Plains in covered wagons to settle the American West in the days of the real cowboys and Indians. One of my grandfathers became president of the Cattleman’s Association in Portland, Oregon. The other left the silver mines of Eureka, Utah behind to mine a different kind of fortune in early pioneer Hollywood.  And that’s when my mother’s cousin came to stay with the family and became a film actress, costarring in a series of movie Westerns, like Silver on the Sage and Hidden Gold with cowboy actor Hopalong Cassidy. Her name was Ruth Rogers—that’s her on the right playing the pretty but plucky love interest. She even did a film with a young John Wayne in The Night Riders.

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The End?

Finishing the manuscript is just the start of the Business of Writing. (From a blog post for

So you’ve finally finished your masterpiece, read and edited and proofed and reread the carefully typed manuscript, and now it’s ready for the two most wonderful words in a writer’s vocabulary: The End! And soon, you’ll be querying agents and sending off submissions, receiving an offer of representation, and watching a bidding war between all the top publishers in your genre. Hey, it could happen!

But before it does and before you type “The End” at the bottom of your final page, you’ve still got some work to do. Because finishing the manuscript is just the start of the business of writing.  Now you have a synopsis to write, and you may find it even harder than writing the work on which it’s based. And doing it right may mean the difference between landing a book deal and languishing in the slush pile of an agent’s office. Even if you’re intent on self-publishing, a synopsis is elemental to the success of your book.

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