Tuesday, December 9, 2014

The Holiday Author Event: People, Pitches, and Panaché


Book lovers, authors, friends and family converged on The Pressroom in downtown Phoenix this past Saturday afternoon (12-06-14). When we arrived at the parking lot next to the venue, we noticed some streets were blocked off with orange cones. It turns out the city of Phoenix started early to block streets for the Electric Light Parade taking place that evening. In addition there was at least one auto accident nearby that closed an intersection briefly. Roadblocks couldn't keep away people hungry to meet authors, buy books and get them signed and soon the large space was filled! You can get an idea of the size of the hall from the picture above taken before the doors opened. 


 My husband Frank agreed to be my side-kick and cashier for the day. In keeping with the Arrowstar Series theme of the Wild West, Frank dressed cowboy style and donned a black cowboy hat with a silver band. One of my friends commented on a photo she posted on her Facebook page that even though he wore a black hat, there was nothing sinister about the Italian cowboy.

Seventeen people entered the drawing to win the complete Arrowstar Trilogy, and I happily delivered the trio to the winner on Monday. Besides the drawing generating interest in the books, two big posters flanked our six-foot table. One sported the Arrowstar arrow from the book covers and advertised the drawing, while the other showed the horsewoman slinging her rope from the cover of The Storm Women, inviting event-goers to Join the Adventure!


Gathering almost 70 authors in one place for a huge event such as this one is the brainchild of Laura Orsini, a marketing guru and leader of the Meet-Up Group, Phoenix Publishing and Book Marketing. Her husband, Mickey serenaded the gathering with his own guitar accompaniment, and Molina’s of Scottsdale made lunch a real treat with several kinds of burritos and rice and beans alongside tortilla chips. Drinks for the crowd were plentiful from the bar at the back of the hall.


My first book signing ever gave me a chance to think up some witty one-liners to use with my signature on the front page of the Arrowstar books. My favorite one is short and sweet, Giddyup! I enjoyed personalizing books for readers, and I sold more books than I had anticipated! A very nice woman who shall remain nameless found a comfy couch out of the hubbub of the room and began reading Arrowstar, the first book in the series. My first reaction was one of sheer terror that she wouldn’t like it, but she kept reading for quite some time. Whew!


Getting ready for the event, publicizing it and interacting with readers all day long falls under the category, “Take a chance; amaze yourself.”  I certainly ranged outside my comfort zone in many ways. The experience brought me face-to-face with readers, and for that opportunity, a little discomfort was well worth it!

Today’s Tidbit: Authorship requires far more than mastering the craft of writing.

Read On!!

Cheryl (aka C. K.)

Photos by Frank Del Monte and Dianna Renfrow




















Saturday, November 22, 2014

Writing the History of Women of the West


 Contemporary Women’s Fiction describes Arrowstar’s genre, and while not officially historical fiction the books in the series give readers a sense of the history still apparent in Arizona’s ranching communities today. The Storm Women comes close to being designated historical fiction because the19th Century mining towns mentioned existed at one time, and the newsworthy events tucked in the story line actually occurred.

The actress Nellie Boyd mentioned in The Storm Women actually lived and managed a theatrical company in the Wild West. This companion book to Charade recounts a slice of life in 19th century Arizona territory that includes accurate descriptions of the rigors of stagecoach travel and also a bit of the history of the Civil War as it was fought in the West. I don’t consider this novel historical fiction because the main characters weren’t players in the real history of the West.

Hopefully the characters of Arrowstar come alive for readers, and they feel as if they were experiencing the story right along with them. My favorite books are populated by women who follow their dreams and tackle life with determination and purpose. I think I long to be like them!

I’ve just finished reading the novel Cattle Kate, and I can recommend it with enthusiasm. The review I wrote for the novel on Amazon.com follows. I hope you get a chance to read this amazing story. And I urge you to remember that your reviews are like gold to authors.

Cattle Kate – A Novel

Written by well-known Arizona journalist and author Jana Bommersbach, the novel Cattle Kate turns long-accepted legend, gossip and intentional misrepresentation upside down. Bommersbach’s accurate account of Ella Watson’s life adds a brand new page to the annals of Wyoming’s frontier history.

Bommersbach dug deep and shoveled the deceitful grit and gravel of Wyoming Territory aside to unearth the facts about the life of this determined and much maligned Western woman. Watson never in her lifetime answered to the fabricated name Cattle Kate.  Her life differed wildly from the stories told about her and this piece of historical fiction sets the record straight after 125 years of slanderous gossip.

Beyond reading the very enjoyable unfolding of Watson’s life, the endnotes and bibliography speak volumes about the extensive research the author completed in order to tell the story. This fascinating trek through the homesteading period of Wyoming Territory left this reader with a renewed respect for the women who ventured West on the strength of a government promise of good land to settle and one day own.

Today’s Tidbit: Women’s history aches to be written and shared.

Read On!

Cheryl


Thursday, October 30, 2014

An Interview with the Protagonist of Arrowstar

Talk Show Interview with Star Lance

The host of the radio show, “Lou Grant’s Bookshelf” interviews antiques store owner and historical novelist, Star Lance from Mineral City, Arizona.

Host:  Welcome to “The Bookshelf,” Ms Lance

Star:  Thank you for inviting me, and please call me Star.

Host: I understand you have just released a new historical novel. Would you tell our listeners a little bit about it.

Star:  Yes, my second historical novel, The Storm Women just launched in October. This novel further unravels the mystery of why there are no men buried in the Storm family’s cemetery plot up behind the church in Mineral City, Arizona. The women buried there have fascinating histories, and this novel picks up each of their lives beginning with Margaretta Storm way back in 1857 San Francisco. It also explores the beginnings of rock & roll in 1950’s Los Angeles and brings each of the women’s lives into sharp focus. Readers will learn what it’s like to travel from San Francisco, California to Mineral City, Arizona by stagecoach. In addition, they get to attend a burlesque show in Tombstone and see the ghost town of Pearl come back to life.

Host: What drew you to the town of Mineral City when you were considering moving out West and where exactly is Mineral City?

Star: I saw an ad in the back of Women of the West magazine encouraging tourists to visit the old Weaver Gold Mine in Mineral City. It had just re-opened after a small vein of gold was discovered in what was thought to be a worked-out mine. For some reason that little ad stuck in my head. Maybe it was the idea of someone striking it rich by unexpectedly finding gold that drew my interest. Anyway, I started keeping an eye out for any other news about this small western town. And what was your second question?

Host:  Where is Mineral City located in Arizona?

Star:  Oh yes, it’s just a bit south and about 75 or 80 miles east of Tucson, not too far from the town of Safford and smack in the middle of horse and cattle ranchland.

Host: Why did you decide to buy the contents of the Bobby Flint estate for your antique store?

Star: When the following month’s issue of Women of the West arrived, I naturally looked to see if that ad was still running. When I found it, I noticed a smaller ad next to it advertising an estate sale along with a name and number to call.  After talking to the person who was managing the sale, I really got the itch to follow a dream my husband Max and I had talked about for years.

Host: And that dream was?

Star:  Our dream was to retire to some small town out west and open an antique store to keep ourselves busy. I was already working part time restoring items for an antiques dealer, so I knew a little bit about the business. To pursue that dream on my own following Max’s death seemed like a good way to recover from the debilitating grief I was experiencing.

Host:  What inspired you to write The Storm Women and A Train Robber’s Tale?

Star: A friend of mine suggested I make provenance tags for some of my antiques and that got me back into writing after years of not pursuing the career in writing I’d planned when I graduated from Indiana University. I soon realized that Arrowstar, my antiques store wasn’t going to make it if I didn’t supplement its income. My very good friend Kat Abbi suggested I write a book about Bobby Flint to make up for the store’s shortfall. I was extremely lucky to have my first book picked up by a publisher. Actually, I owe a great deal to my agent and another friend who referred me to him.

Host: What are you writing now that The Storm Women is finished?

Star:  I’m thinking of writing about some of the famous people who have lived in the area around Mineral City like Tom Mix for instance to name just one.

Host: I’m sure our listeners will be eagerly awaiting its publication. It’s been a delight having you on our show. Come back again when you finish the next book.

Star: It’s been my pleasure to be here, and I’ll definitely be back to talk about my next book. Thank you for the invitation!

Host: And that’s “Bookshelf” for today. This is your host Lou Grant wishing you as always: a good book, a comfortable chair and a radio to keep you company.

Holiday Author Event

REGISTER early and win a bag full of goodies at www.holidayauthorevent.com

Saturday, December 6th, 10 a.m.-4 p.m.

The Pressroom • 441 W. Madison Street, Phoenix 85003
Click here for map: 
https://goo.gl/maps/YRQ6u


  

Friday, October 17, 2014

Women Who Make History


I’ll be the first to tell you that I’m not one of those women who will make history. I’ve been watching the series called Makers on PBS, and I’m fascinated. The episode I just watched highlighted women in the entertainment business who broke new ground in the writer’s room and in the director’s chair as well as in front of the cameras. Remember Marlo Thomas and the television show That Girl? I lived for that show. Then along came Mary Tyler Moore with her funny, edgy show that put workplace biases on display without cramming them down anyone’s throat. These characters were hip single women with drive slugging it out on their own in the big city.

Looking back on the 1960s and 1970s I can see myself skirting all the big issues women were arguing over. I sort of stood back and watched. When divorce knocked me for a loop in the 1980s, and all the 50s style rhetoric I’d grown up with went up in flames, my interest got much, much bigger. I became that single woman slugging it out in the workplace, and I finally understood what all the fuss was about. The Makers gives voice to the intensions behind the scenes of the everyday images in movies, television and advertising.  It’s heartening to realize just how much women have shaped and changed our society in the many arenas previously out of reach to them.

Watching these documentaries has me thinking about how I’m shaping my characters in the Arrowstar series of books. My intension when I’m writing the characters of Star, Kat, Carla, Ricki, and Margo has been to transport readers to a mind-place way out of reach of their everyday stresses.  There is grit and dirt in the streets of Mineral City to be sure, but there’s also a feeling of community that runs deep. There’s a final resting place behind the church on the hill at the end of Main Street where connections to the ones who built the town with muscle and hope are real and visible. It’s comforting to me that outsiders like Kat, Carla, and Star have earned their way into the fabric of a town populated with people who hold so strongly to traditions and bloodlines dating back to the 1800s.

The question that’s nudging me right now has to do with edge. My main focus when choosing a book to read has always been escapism. That’s what I want for my readers as well, but what about deeper meaning and an edginess that pushes buttons and makes readers want to rise up and see above the trees? The women of Makers had vision and courage. They made history and the women of Arrowstar salute them. My hope is that Arrowstar’s characters inspire readers to make some “personal history” of their own, whatever direction that might take them. Certainly readers see that these characters are not without their flaws, and yet they persist in pursuing their rightful place in the scheme of things. As Lou Grant in the Mary Tyler Moore show said so well, “You’ve got spunk!” and then mumbled, “I hate spunk.” Arrowstar’s women aren’t looking for approval; each one is looking for the end of her own particular rainbow. Maybe that’s edgy enough.

I look forward to hearing from readers. Won’t you consider dashing off a comment to ckthomas@cox.net? I’ll do my best to respond.

Type your email address in the box in the right-hand column of this page, and I’ll occasionally let you in on sneak peeks about Bobby Flint and Patsy Rodriguez while I’m writing A Train Robber’s Tale.

Tidbit: Let’s keep on running after rainbows, but always remember to walk in the rain just for fun sometimes.

Read On!
Cheryl


Wednesday, October 1, 2014

Buried Under the Marketing Tree


Come with me, sit under the marketing tree for a minute, and read the kind of prose I’m writing these days:

Check out the NEW ARROWSTAR COVERS with INSIDER CAPTIONS!
Click the tab above to see the C.K.Thomas – Author – Insider Page!

The complete Arrowstar Series is now on Smashwords and Barns and Nobel’s Nook along with Honor Bound. You can pre-order The Storm Women for e-book delivery to your device on October 15. Stay tuned for news about the paperbacks. Just check this blog’s newsletter page from time to time, or easier still, pop your email address in the box at the right, and the dates will come to you.

The leaves from the “marketing tree” keep falling faster than I can rake them and put them in a basket. Notice that this blog now has an added page you can access from the tabs at the top of the page just below the picture. Readers easily return to the blog page by clicking the Home tab after checking out this new little technology trick.

Obviously “indie” authors get a real dose of do-it-yourself thrills while navigating the many ways the Internet provides for marketing and publishing a novel. The words, “too much screen time” echo inside my head daily as I attempt to let the world know about the updated Arrowstar Series, and its newest release, The Storm Women. I feel like screaming, “We are here, we are here, we are here!!” Luckily I don’t – not too often anyway.

By the beginning of next week, I should be holding a proof copy of the Arrowstar paperback in my hands. That day will make all these marketing days so worth it!

Today’s request: Promise there will be a rainbow when the thunder stops!

Write On!

Cheryl

Monday, September 22, 2014

Writing, Revising, Editing, Formatting, Marketing, Publishing and Other Demanding Challenges

The company Formatting Experts delivers top-notch, personalized service with no money required up front to format my books for print and electronic distribution. Relax, I keep telling myself, but I still wake up in the middle of the night thinking about the most recent set of formatted pages I've approved or returned for corrections.

For instance, we've massaged the text of Arrowstar multiple times while getting the new e-book’s end page ship-shape for readers. We've included a link to Charade  and  the  chance to read the first chapter immediately following the end of Arrowstar. Doing so makes buying the second book in the series a snap. Finalizing details like these generate email decision-making that clearly reminds me of those long-since-past, eight-to-five workdays.

This adventure into authorship has taught me to be very forgiving when I find copy-editing mistakes in books I’m reading. Arrowstar has been read for errors multiple times by me and my copy editor, and yet I found one more change to be made just yesterday! I believe it when I’m told that the brain sees what it expects to see on the printed page and not necessarily what is really printed. In other words, our mind’s eye makes tiny corrections for us based on our expectations.

An eye to marketing the books also figures into this “formatting” process. Although Arrowstar has been available as an e-book since 2011, I don’t have access to Amazon’s email list of people who have bought the book. With this re-launch of all the books in the series and the first publication of The Storm Women, there exists a need to communicate with loyal readers. The end-pages of the books provide  an opportunity to gather not only an email reader list, but also request reader reviews.

On the surface, these add-on’s seem easy, but the “devil” truly is in the details. Building an email address list requires signing up for a mailing service like Mail Chimp where the addresses can be stored and a process for mass emails can be established. Beyond that, an automatic return email must be created along with incentives for readers to enjoy giving up their email addresses. And this example describes but one of the many layered steps to publication and distribution.

I now have so many websites, passwords, and accounts to keep straight that I have to refer to my secure password keeper multiple times during a day’s work toward launching the books. I consider myself very fortunate  to have my granddaughter, who just got her BA in Communications, putting in as much time as she can spare to act as publicist for the books.

In the midst of the anxiety surrounding the series launch, I’m pushing myself to get “out there” to promote the books in person.  I've joined a networking group for authors, and I’m looking  for local book clubs where I can pitch the series. Will all this activity actually lead to book sales? I’m hopeful and determined and cautiously optimistic about the chances, but in all honesty, I’d rather be back in Mineral City exchanging barbs with my characters.

A quote that keeps me sane: “Determination and persistence alone are omnipotent.” Silent Cal (President Calvin Coolidge)

Write on, Read on, and Keep on Keeping On!
Cheryl




Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Horses of the Arrowstar Series: Marmalade, Toast, Syrup and Buttermilk, the burro

I’m an urban cowgirl with imaginary horses. There are 32 acres of Arizona ranchland in the southeastern corner of Arizona I call my own, but I don’t own a horse or ride one on a regular basis. Not long ago I wrote a blog titled What if You Must Write What You Don’t Know?  In spite of not being able to claim the elite title of Arizona Cowgirl, I’ve created characters who fit that mold very well. Kat owns a ranch she inherited from her grandmother and at one time trained to be an Olympic equestrian. Star, on the other hand, has always wanted to be a cowgirl, but like me grew up in the city. Now that she’s moved to Arizona, she’s going after that dream by taking riding lessons from her friend Kat. Both Ricki and Jim Kane grew up in ranch country and have been riding since they were kids.

There is a mystique about horses and riders that sends our thoughts roaming into the western landscape. I believe characters who choose animals as companions express depths of compassion and caring readers appreciate. These horse-country dwellers have a certain toughness and confidence about them. After all, they not only ride their horses, but know how to rub them down after a long ride, brush out their tails, saddle and bridle them and make sure to feed and water them properly. Not to mention having the knowledge to tend to their ills and have the good sense to call the vet only when it’s warranted. My granddaughter who rides the “range” up north in the state of Washington tells me that a truly accomplished rider not only masters all the equestrian skills, but cares for her horse as well, including feeding, watering and mucking out the stall.

I’ve schooled myself in various ways in order to write about horses and cowgirls. Many years ago I earned the horsewoman badge in Girl Scouts by attending camp where I learned to ride using either a Western or an English saddle. Before the badge became my trophy there were plenty of chances to master quite a few of the above-mentioned skills. Unfortunately, when camp ended, so did my association with the horses. Of course, I’ve participated in trail rides over the many years I’ve lived in Arizona, but I would never answer the question, “Do you ride?” with a resounding, “Yes.”

I have a good friend who has owned, ridden and cared for horses her whole life. She kindly took me out to West World in Scottsdale to watch a competition in the huge covered performance arena there. Walking the dusty path between the stalls while kicking up dust that settled on our boots and jeans, we talked about the joys and also some of the hard realities of horse ownership. That day gave me a feel for the cost, the time and the effort that goes into this popular, but somewhat daunting pastime.

Having heard in the news about horses used by drug runners in Mexico and Arizona that often are abandoned in the desert, I researched this growing problem. Considering the cost of keeping a horse healthy and well fed, it’s a credit to the groups taking them in that they’re able to operate at all, barely surviving on donations and volunteer help. In Charade the second book of the Arrowstar series, having Star find Syrup the horse she desperately wants to adopt among a group of those rescued horses, seemed like a good way to highlight this little- known effort to rehabilitate and adopt these horses out to caring owners. Ricki’s horse Marmalade and Jim’s horse Toast turned out to be part of the glue that brought Ricki and Jim together in Arrowstar the first book in the series. After all, if you’ve got toast, you definitely need marmalade!

The Storm Women, the new Arrowstar release in October 2014, introduces a little gal called Dusky to Buttermilk the burro. In the aftermath of a very difficult time, Dusky’s aunt claims, “In a way, I think that colt saved little Dusky,” Sarah told Margaretta as they worked side by side in the garden, keeping an eye on Dusky as she mucked out Buttermilk’s stall in the small barn behind the kitchen house. And perhaps Sarah is right about that, but I’ll let you decide as you turn the pages of this new addition to the Arrowstar series.

The nitty-gritty details of ranching, horse training and care come, as usual, from sites dedicated to horses on the Internet. Here are some links you might want to investigate if your interests run to horses and the hardy souls who love them:

http://www.twisterheller.com/index.htm - Horse Ranching in Arizona

Read on! Ride on! Write on!

Cheryl

To receive announcements about new releases, sneak peeks, and insider tidbits, won't you please share your email address using the form provided (at top right). Your address will never be sold or shared. That’s a promise!


Monday, September 8, 2014

Are Petunias Lonely?


Some of us are old enough to remember the song that goes, “I’m a lonely little petunia in an onion patch, an onion patch, an onion patch – Oh, won’t you come and play with me?” by The Happy Gang. Writers spend lots of time in the onion patch trying to make their words bloom into pages of prose their readers will enjoy and possibly even treasure. When a petunia sprouts in the garden, it needs nurturing of all sorts like watering, fertilizer and maybe even a few whispered endearments to help it grow and eventually bloom into its deep purple, blue, pink, or red glory.

Novels, like petunias, need all kinds of nurturing, too.  Books need T.L.C. delivered by writers, publishers, and promoters before landing in the laps of readers. Writing a novel, I’m quickly finding out, represents only one quarter of the effort it takes to bring a novel to a reader. Three-fourths of the effort to catapult a book into the hands of the public goes to formatting and marketing.

If most “indie” (independent) authors are like me, they would much rather be putting words on paper than struggling with fonts, gutters, front matter, back matter, sizing, pricing and selling. Launching the Arrowstar series on October 1 in both print and e-book format across many electronic platforms and through many print distributors often seems to me like being smack-dab in the middle of “an onion patch!” Some days I find myself wanting to pick up my petals, hike up my leaves, and run screaming from the garden! And then I think about the quote that I always include at the end of my emails, “Take a chance; amaze yourself.”

Being a lonely petunia probably doesn’t describe most writers, because, after all, we have our characters to keep us warm. But, the gritty art of writing does tend to be a very solitary occupation. What balances the hours and hours sitting solo in front of a computer screen? I believe some of that balance comes from reading reviews and comments written by fans. Readers’ opinions are highly valued by authors. Constructive criticism might lift a writer out of a writing rut, and praise certainly urges a writer onward.

The next time you finish a book that made you smile or brought you to tears, think about taking the opportunity to write a review or make a comment. It’s not easy out here in the onion patch! Your favorite authors will be thrilled to hear from you.

To receive announcements about new releases, sneak peeks, and insider tidbits, won't you please share your email address using the form provided (at top right). Your address will never be sold or shared. That’s a promise!
  
Read On!

Cheryl  

Sunday, August 31, 2014

Writing Time Passing


I get tangled up in numbers when I’m writing. I ask myself questions like the following:

How old would that character be in 2014?
When did that happen in the first book in the series?
What day would it be now if three days have passed?
The baby is born in a certain year, was my character still young enough to give birth?
What was the date the baby was born?
How many years have passed since the time frame of the last book in the series?
How old would the baby and the mother and father be in this book?
Is the kid old enough to be a toddler now?
How late in the 20th Century did criminals rob trains?
Is my character too young to have been a train robber?
How old is my character anyway?

When I first started to write, one of the hardest techniques to master was the passing and tracking of time. I still have not mastered it! I have to be ever so vigilant to keep my characters from stepping out of their own personal time zones.

Here's at least one device I have mastered, the three dots, asterisks, or whatever cute curlicues a writer chooses to put between paragraphs that free the reader from living though the tedious details of time passing. For instance, the writer can avoid writing, “She pulled her chair back from the table, put on her coat, walked out the back door, and ran into the road. She walked and walked and walked down the dusty track until three days later when she came to her daughter’s house in the woods.”

Instead, I can let the reader imagine that the character got up from the table, walked out the door and made it to her daughter’s house by simply putting three asterisks between the paragraphs where she left and the one where she arrived. The graph following the asterisks for instance can begin with a conversation she’s having with her daughter. They can talk about the dusty track and the strain of walking so far in so many days if the reader needs to know. If not, the story continues with more interesting details.

The real reason I can’t keep track of what day it is in my stories could be that personally I really don’t care. However, I’m fairly sure some and maybe most of my readers do want to know. Lately I've had pretty good luck making all parties my characters put on take place on a Saturday night. The rest of the week I just let float by with references to sleeping, waking, traveling, and eating meals. I’m hopeful this ruse works and if the reader really longs to know if it’s Monday or Thursday then they can figure it out for themselves.

Actual years are much trickier for me. I’m constantly referring back to the previous book in the series to make sure I keep the time frame straight. It’s annoying and interrupts my writing flow. I do keep a list of dates, places, and characters close at hand on the computer, but it needs to be more extensive. Secondly, I think when I write A Train Robber’s Tale, I’ll expand and print that list so I won’t have to leave the page where I’m writing to find out facts I need to know quickly.

When someone says writing is not magic but a craft to be mastered, I believe it. However, when I read back over something I've written, sometimes I’m amazed at where my imagination has taken me. Often I ascribe the writing to the characters who evidently must be whispering in my ear. On my own I couldn't possibly come up with all these wonderful written images that make a novel.

I’m hopeful I’ll learn to better handle the speed bumps of writing that involve numbers, dates, lists and calculators. In the meantime, I hope my readers will make up for my lack of mathematical genius, and puzzle things out for themselves or just plain forgive me.

Think about this: Writers adore readers, so consider posting notes often. Be gentle.

Read On!
Cheryl

Keep an eye out for The Storm Women in print and as an e-book soon on Amazon.

(Also available on other e-book platforms along with others in the Arrowstar series)

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

An Insiders’ Tour of The Storm Women


As you probably know by now if you’ve been reading the blog, The Storm Women is a companion book to the second novel in the Arrowstar series Charade. The women of the Storm family inhabit the pages of Charade, but in limited cameos. This companion novel builds on those cameos and traces the Storm women’s ancestry back to Margaretta Storm just as she begins her dancing career at the tender age of 23 in 1857. The life stories of five generations of Storm women, as told through the historical fiction of Star Lance, traverse the Civil War years of the 1860s, and chronicle the births of the Storm family’s daughters in 1859, 1861, 1888, 1890, 1915, 1935, and 1961.

Spoiler Alert: To fully savor Charade without ruining its secrets, it would be wise to save reading The Storm Women for dessert.

Just in case there is any doubt, Star Lance is the protagonist of the Arrowstar series. Star not only owns an antique store, but writes historical fiction novels as well. The Storm Women is her second novel, and I’ve chosen to give her credit with an author tag on the book’s cover that reads c. k. thomas with star lance. I hope fans of Arrowstar and Charade enjoy reading this “bonus” book just as much as the first two books in the Arrowstar series.

From my Thomas Family History on Ancestry.com, I’ve taken the liberty of using some women’s names from my own family line. My paternal grandmother hailed from the Horton clan and among the women of the clan I discovered Almanza J. Kirkham (Stormy) and Ladoska Anna Horton-Partlow (Dusky). Fascinated with these monikers from another era, I continued to mine the gold of family given-names to round out my cast of characters for The Storm Women: Sarah Swing-Horton, Carrie Edna Horton-Thomas, Opal May Horton (who lived to be 100!), and Margaretta Belle Horton-Purvis (who sadly died at 25).

These women’s lives, whose first names I have “borrowed,” have absolutely no resemblance to the women in my story. However, using their names has reminded me of the huge debt of gratitude I own to my ancestors for surviving, so that I might have life. It makes this story feel just a bit more alive to me. While I’m sure there are traits I have that I wish they had not passed on to me, I’m equally sure I’ve benefitted more from  strengths I’m bound to have inherited from them.

The Storm women are a fierce and independent lot fueled with ambition, fortitude, conviction and some all-too-familiar failings. I hope their characters reflect what it means to be women of passion, determination and perseverance. What a romp it has been watching them live their complex lives, crying with them in the night, and smiling broadly when they triumphed.

Watch for The Storm Women coming soon in e-book and in print on Amazon.com

An entreaty to consider: Women, pay homage to those who have paved the way.

 Write On!

Cheryl

Monday, July 28, 2014

Stalled Writing The Storm Women

I’m sitting on the back patio watching the goldfinches decorating the thistle-seed feeder and the hummingbirds dive-bombing each other for rights to the sugar water. The water dripping from dish to dish in the Mexican fountain makes a soothing background for thinking. It’s 88 degrees already at 7:45 a.m. in Phoenix and there’s not a breath of air moving across the glassy surface of the swimming pool.

Margo Storm has me stumped for the moment and even though it doesn’t look like I’m doing any work on the novel right now, I am! I’m ruminating. At about 50,000 words into the novel, I’ve decided to go back to the beginning to insert Margo’s present-day story between each of the chapters chronicling the lives of the women buried in the Storm family’s cemetery plot.
Beyond the ruminating, one other maneuver I’ve employed to extract myself from this stall involves reading stories other novelists have written. Even though I sometimes feel guilty about taking time out from the writing, I think it’s a necessary practice to reset my imagination. Sitting out here reading, watching the birds, the sky and the clouds, opens up my world beyond my computer screen. Themes and devices running though other writers’ stories inspire me to think more broadly about the one I’m writing.

Pausing to let myself enjoy the life going on around me helps banish the fear that looms large when words and ideas refuse to flow. While reading, I’ve been reminded of a theme that will fit into Margo’s life perfectly. Now I’m onto some new directions for Margo’s character and new insight into how to make her life the ongoing chain that links the lives of all the Storm women.  Now, to get on with it!
I thought of a quote this week to share with you : “Boredom is the soil of creativity, inspiration its seed and imagination its flower.” Cheryl Thomas

Write On!
Cheryl

Sunday, June 29, 2014

When Characters Hijack the Outline

Today I took a look at the outline for the final chapters of The Storm Women. Last week I finally put Chapter 14 to bed and found that the Chapter 15 outline takes the story places my characters no longer want to go. I rather guiltily deleted the Chapter 15 outline in its entirety and began writing the following chapter without losing the basic thread of the story.

The question facing me now, “Does an outline help or hinder the writing of a novel?” I’ve heard some authors say they wouldn’t think of writing without an outline, and others who feel constrained by using one. Of course, I expected changes in the outline would emerge, but not so drastic as to cause the demolition of an entire chapter. And I have a feeling much more dismantling is yet to come.

Now that I’ve gotten to know Opal better, I can see the story playing out in a much different way than I’d planned when I wrote the outline.  Secondly, each of the elements in the outline take many more words to express than I imagined. And third, as the characters reveal themselves, their personalities begin to dictate the plot line.

I recently read that it’s not good to worry about the plot too much, but rather to let the characters actions and personalities reveal the story’s direction. It seems this gradual process gets sidelined when a predetermined destiny is spelled out in an outline. Here I thought I’d done a great thing by actually finishing an outline for this novel. Previously I’d get only halfway into a novel’s outline and maybe that’s not such a bad thing after all.

Defining my writing process has proven to be much more complicated than I originally anticipated. I’ve developed a style, but I’m still struggling with the best ways to approach the writing. I’m really annoyed with my characters for running amuck of my precious outline!

Tidbit: Giving up is not an option.

Saddle Up!
Cheryl

Sunday, June 22, 2014

What if You Must Write “What You Don’t Know?”



“Write What You Know” has been drummed into my head by teachers, magazine articles and books about writing since I got the bug to write years ago. Now one of my characters has escaped from Arizona to the heart of Los Angeles. She arrives in 1955 to make a mark in the music industry. Here I am trying to write “what I don’t know.”
  
I’m making headway in becoming familiar with the landscape where my character, Opal, walks, lives, and works. Can you believe I’ve found videos and photos from the 1950s on the Internet? One of Opal’s closest friends lives in the area known as Bunker Hill, and I’ve viewed a driving tour around those streets that was filmed in the 1940s.
  
This area wasn’t a victim of urban renewal until the early 1960s, so the buildings I’m seeing in the video would have survived into the 1950s. It’s a place where old Victorian houses reside among brick and mortar apartments and hotels. There are drug stores, dry cleaners, small grocery stores and other mom-and-pop businesses conveniently tucked within walking distance of these residential buildings. 
  
I also discovered a cache of photographs of Bunker Hill taken by George Mann during the 1950s. His daughter found them in the basement as she prepared for a move. She held exhibits of his work and now they are posted on the Internet. What a treasure trove of street scenes and structures just as they looked when my character lived among them.
  
With these images lodged in my mind, I’m having better luck imagining Opal walking those streets and settling into the city. L.A. is a world away from the dusty streets of Mineral City, but Opal feels at home here in the company of a diverse and creative community of musicians, poets, actors, and artists. She thinks she might find her voice here and make a name for herself out from under the thumb of her mother.
  
Just a thought: Sometimes writing feels like swimming through a murky pond.
 

Solution: “Just keep swimming!”

Write On!
Cheryl

 

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

Bop and Swing = the Sound of Cool West Coast Jazz




If you were in Los Angeles in the 1950s and hot to hear West Coast music, you’d head to The Lighthouse CafĂ© or maybe The Haig. Then again, you might take a walk on Central Avenue in Watts. You’d likely hear R&B and jazz floating out of every jazz club door. Musicians like Etta James, the bassist, composer, and bandleader Charles Mingus, Lionel Hampton, trumpet players Miles Davis and Jack Sheldon knew the place. If you’re curious, listen to “Central Avenue Breakdown” and let Lionel Hampton and Nat King Cole take you “right downtown” on YouTube: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IBGgWzAC7y4

 

I’d like to walk down Central Avenue back in the day 10 years before the six days of Watts’ riots in the summer of 1965 and listen to those mellow sounds all night long.

 

Research sure can be fun! A couple of other things I ran into while rooting around in 1950s LA were the Watts’ Towers and the Angels Flight Railway. I guess I’ve had my head in the sand because I was unfamiliar with both. In case you’re in the same fog as me, the Watts’ Towers were built by an Italian artist over a period of 30 years. You can still visit them and marvel at their height, whimsy, and oh-my-gosh power. The Angels Flight Railway with its trolley-like train cars used to transport people up steep Bunker Hill. It’s been moved due to urban renewal, but you can still visit and ride. Delightful!

 

Have I written a word over the last two days? I’d have to answer with a resounding NO! I did catch up with Opal, but I still needed to feel the pulse of LA in 1955 and listen to its heartbeat. Bless YouTube for providing all those things. There are 1950s films, audio of the music of the times, and lots of inspiration for a writer on the trail of an elusive character who refuses to show herself. I think I’m sneaking up on her now, so maybe tomorrow there will be actual words on paper. Perhaps she will agree to walk down Central Avenue with me and listen to the music.

 

Movie Quote: “Take a walk on the wild side, Lowenstein!”  Nick Nolte to Barbara Streisand in The Prince of Tides. Let’s try that in LA!

 

Write On!

Cheryl

 

Friday, June 13, 2014

I'm Back!!!!

After clickling through to my blog from Facebook this morning, I discovered I'm no longer locked out of Blogger. Hooray! I guess there must have been technical troubles with the site itself rather than with my particular blog.


That's the good news. The bad news is that I haven't worked on The Storm Women for several weeks! I've had the "cough from Hell" for about a month and a half. It turns out a blood pressure medicine called Lisinopril - an ACE Inhibitor - is responsible. I'm certainly not taking that anymore since I'm one of the 20% of people with this side-effect.


I now have some soft-gel caps called Tessalon Perles that are supposed to suppress this persistent nagging cough. I'm up to 200 mg. of it now with mixed results. I'm praying I'll be able to stop coughing soon. I am truly worn out with these severe coughing fits. Sleeping is quite a trick as well since I'm frequently awakened with the cough.


I'm still writing about one of my central characters, Opal. She's the wild child from the 50s and 60s, so the research into the music biz in L.A. during this time has slowed me down a bit. I'm fascinated by what I'm learning about the musicians at the birth of rock-and-roll. The phenomenon began with Rhythm and Blues and guys like Johnny Otis, who turned out to be a big player in the LA music scene with his Barrelhouse Club and California Rhythm and Blues Caravan in the late 1940s and early 1950s.


It's difficult for me to imagine the flavor of the times in LA, so I'm listening to the music and trying to transport myself across time. I'm counting on finding Opal, her unique sound and her hopes and dreams skipping along inside those notes.


Wish me luck as I try to get back into the flow of the story after such a long break. I find myself playing writer avoidance games again, and it's so discouraging. I want so much to get this first draft finished and start polishing!


I'm delighted to be communicating again, and I hope you'll come along as The Storm Women novel takes shape. I hope you'll encourage me to put aside all this struggle and angst as I dig back in.


Full Moon at dawn thought: Get with it! It's a new day.
I'm Currently Reading: The Shoemaker's Wife by Adriana Trigiani


Write On! Read On!
Cheryl

Sunday, April 20, 2014

Harder Than You'd Guess

Last evening I watched Billy Crystal's 700 Sundays, a one-man Show on HBO. He's been presenting it on stage in New York City and has just released it for TV. I'm so glad he did.

If you get an opportunity to see his performance, don't hesitate. It's really worth your time. It's poignant, funny, sad, and engaging as only Billy Crystal could make it. He's a terrific writer, actor and comedian in addition to having lived an extraordinary life.

Watching 700 Sundays has inspired me to take another turn at trying to write my own story without making it read like a tedious recitation comparable to the "begots" in the Bible. I think the characters in my story have enormous appeal if I can keep their appeal from getting lost while I wander through my life's meanderings. After writing three novels and being half way through writing the fourth, you'd think I'd be adept at figuring out how to pull this off.

I once had a writing instructor who wisely cautioned his students that writing about yourself is harder than you'd guess. I think he meant to say that writing about yourself and making it interesting to someone else is harder than you'd guess. Maybe we're so wrapped up in our own experiences that we forget the reader hasn't "been there nor done that." We're coming from the perspective of someone who knows what things looked like, smelled like, and among other things, felt like. Maybe we're forgetting how much detail someone might need to appreciate the story as we ourselves do.

In the meantime . . . I'm working on writing Chapter 13 of The Storm Women. I'm embarking on writing Opal's life, and I think she will be the most interesting character to write about. She lived the hippie lifestyle of the 60s and made her mark writing music and lyrics.

I'm writing this on Easter Sunday, April 20, 2014. The day dawned warm and sunny here in Phoenix, Arizona, USA. As I was blogging about writing my own story, I realized that Jesus lucked out. Several guys got together long after His life's story ended and wrote all about it. It's a best seller even!

How did those men know what to write and how to write it? They obviously disagreed about some of the facts, and they didn't know Jesus personally in the literal sense. I wish I could have spoken with Matthew, Mark, Luke and John about how they managed to write such an enduring classic. Certainly their characters had enormous appeal.

Departing observation: Whether flesh and blood or creatures of fiction, our characterizations can make or break our stories.

Keep the faith and keep on writing!
Cheryl

Monday, March 24, 2014

When a Character Refuses to Speak

Sometimes a week sails on without so much as a whisper from a particular character. I don't look at this lack of communication as writer's block. It feels more like swimming in a pond of murky imagination. I depend on my characters to come alive and dictate their wants, needs, and feelings. Last week no dictation happened.


The personality of the particular character in question took shape during the writing of Charade. I didn't like her then, and I don't like her now. If you've read Charade, you might have guessed I'm writing about Carrie Storm. There's something blocking me from walking in her shoes.


What would her childhood have been like traveling with her mother, Dusky as she performed for a Wild West Extravaganza in the mid-1900s? Something in Carrie's formative years turned her into the reclusive, secretive woman she became. As a teen she lived through the Great Depression. Those lean years must have taken a mighty toll on a kid without a permanent place to call home.


Carrie lived in a Gypsy wagon perched on a railroad flat car, constantly being transported from venue to venue. Did she see the hungry looks on the faces of young men riding the rails trying to find work during the Dust Bowl years? Was she afraid of becoming like them, footloose and desperate? Who are you, Carrie? What makes you tick? Talk to me.


Today's Lesson: 
When sticky words flow like honey on a cold day, write them anyway!

Cheryl






 

Saturday, March 8, 2014

International Women's Day

Today, I'm remembering two questions, and more clearly the one answer to them: Why would anyone choose to get a BA in women's studies? What are you going to do with it? The answer to those questions harkens back to the early 70s when I was a young, stay-at-home mom with three little ones.

Don't get me wrong. I adore my children, and today I adore my six grandchildren very much. Back in the 70s I was longing for something more, but I didn't know what. I was also heading for a break-up that would thrust me out of the house into a world I was ill-prepared to face. Finishing my bachelor's degree in women's studies in the year 2000 was a direct result of feeling duped by the American culture of the 50s.

After choosing English as a major in the late 60s, I wanted to study women when I returned to college, so I could write about them. Women have struggled, even before the days of the old west where many of my stories are set, to free themselves from the constraints of whatever society they have been born into. I write about strong women characters because I want women to be aware of the potential within themselves to excel wherever their passions lead.

I was passionate about my growing family, and I'm just as passionate about my skills as a writer of fiction. On this International Women's Day I'm pausing to think about the lives of the women who paved the way. I'm choosing to pursue my passion for writing, and especially today I'm remembering the countless women who sacrificed to open my eyes so I could discover that potential.

One answer to many questions: I often turn to this much quoted phrase written in 1927 by American writer Max Ehrmann:  "You are a child of the universe, no less than the trees and the stars; you have a right to be here."

Write On!
Cheryl

Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Pining Away in Pearl, Arizona

I'm writing chapter six of The Storm Women and finding myself drawn into the melancholy of Gabe Rafferty. He's such a love-sick guy, longing for a woman whose sights are set on the allure of the professional stage. This man continues to be so infatuated with Almanza that he's blinded to the love that's right in front of him. He's willing to wait forever if it means he can be with her for just a few weeks at a time between tours.


If you've read Charade, you already know about the ghost town of Pearl where Gabe Rafferty presided as sheriff back in the 1870s and 80s. Digging up his past and Almanza Storm's has been Star Lance's most recent occupation while she runs her antique store in Mineral City. Star, the protagonist of the Arrowstar series sells the historical fiction she writes as she attempts to make ends meet in this out-of-the way corner of Arizona.


I'm exploring as an actor might, the mind of the character, Star Lance. Looking at writing The Storm Women though Star's eyes is an exercise in fiction-writing times two! How would she construct dialogue, describe characters, and follow the threads of her research into the 19th Century? Since The Storm Women will be published under Star's authorship, I need to be true to her character.


I'm highly intrigued by what life might have been like for these women of the Storm family and others who peopled the western towns of Pearl, Tucson, Mineral City, Prescott, and the like during the late 19th Century. These women were more than brave, they must have had iron backbones to survive the times.


The west coast, of course, was settled first as pioneers came round by ship, but the interior was slow to civilization. Yet, there were actresses who managed theatrical touring companies, traveling on the back roads of Arizona through wild country rife with life-threatening dangers. What drove these amazing women? I hope you're anticipating the publication of The Storm Women so you can find out.


Today's pearl: I'm learning to "write on" even when I'm uncertain of the outcome. Words written when I'm wandering often surprise me at being just the right ones after all.


Write On!
Cheryl




Sunday, February 9, 2014

Finding Out What You Never Guessed You Wanted to Know Circa 1879

Outlining The Storm Women from beginning to end has eliminated the "now what" question each time I complete a segment of the story. However, I've been tripped up when the places I've chosen for my traveling troupe of players to travel, in the outline, aren't even on the 1879 map! I gobbled up one whole writing day last week blundering around on the Internet trying to locate a town just a bit bigger than "two tents and a trading post!"


The following day, I stumbled upon Charleston, Arizona, with, among many other establishments, its fine hotel, four restaurants, a bakery, a post office, a lawyer's and a doctor's office, plus not one, but two livery stables. In 2014, Charleston and Millville, the town on the opposite bank of the San Pedro River, exist as ghost towns accessible only by shank's ponies. Things, and as I'm finding out, places do change mightily over the years, especially when the phrases "strike it rich" and "all played out" dictate the head count of a particular locale.


I may have spent time "blundering around" on the Internet, but in that process I discovered some treasure. The Arizona Citizen newspaper in Tucson, Arizona, from 1879 reports, on its front page, local stories of murder and mayhem, matters working their way through the territorial legislature, theater openings, and adverts for hotels, restaurants, and stores selling everything a miner needs to go prospecting right down to boots, shirts, pants and underwear.


Tucson evidently flourished toward the end of the 19th century, and the news stories of the day provide some rare candor and lively reading entertainment. It's worth joining www.newspapers.com just for the fun and fascination of reading some really, really old news!


I.O.U.: What if Apaches, highway robbers, deeply rutted roads and rattlers had kept our Old West ancestors from digging up fortunes in gold, silver, and copper?


Write On! Read On! Enchantment Awaits!
Cheryl























Friday, January 31, 2014

Stranded on the Informaton Highway

Back in the 19th century, it took eight days to travel by the Butterfield Overland Stage at 4.5 mph from San Francisco to Tucson, Arizona. Fascinating! The real "fun" of the trip came from sharing your coach with up to eight other passengers, knees interlaced, facing each other for lack of space. Couple this reality with traveling 24 hours a day, every day of the trip with only brief stops to change horses and get a drink of water or a bite of food.  Also, consider the reality of your stage traveling though a remote landscape inhabited by hostile natives and dangerous highwaymen (and at least one woman stage robber I read about).


Yes, I'm stuck researching facts about the old West, while writing The Storm Women. The good news being, I'm dogged about finding out what I need to know to make the story come alive. The bad news obviously comes down to enjoying the research so much it slows down the writing process. I offer you no cure for this phenomenon, but if you're a writer, you'll want to consider getting over, around or through this road block when creating your next novel. Please let me know if you've discovered a clever way to avoid this little writing-process mud bog.


That said, I've got to take a few words to say how much Internet research means to writers of the "great American novel." It's like finding gold under the walkway from your front door to the driveway. No more driving to the library and digging though piles of books, while making notes on little blue-lined white cards. No more shuffling through those unorganized slips of paper to find the exact quote you remembered writing down, but can't seem to sort out from all the rest. In my opinion, the Internet is better than chocolate pudding for breakfast!


Today's wisdom: Internet investigation feels like free-styling on the "information sidewalk" and grabbing some air over the road blocks.


Write On!
Cheryl





Monday, January 20, 2014

An Ending with a Twist

Saturday turned out to be an especially productive day for The Storm Women. When I wrote Honor Bound back in the 1990s, I had in mind the story I wanted to write and a hazy idea of some specific scenes I intended to include. Writing proved to be a struggle while working full-time and going home in the evenings to three teenaged children. However, I did have the support of two good friends at work, who were enormously helpful as I put the book together.


When I began Arrrowstar, I had no idea where the story might lead, and I discovered it took on a life of its own as I wrote. Often I wrote passages that sounded great, but took off in directions I hadn't thought I would find myself going! Then it came time to write Charade, and I understood how much an outline would greatly streamline the work. However, I got about half way though the outlining process when I just couldn't seem to go any further. So, I began to write. When I arrived at the last item in the outline, the going got really tough.


Now I'm pleased and excited to tell you, I finished an outline of 25 chapters for The Storm Women on Saturday. I'm thrilled I was able to put together an outline for the entire book, and an added bonus came when I thought up an ending with a twist!


I had thought these companion novels would be novellas, but this outline makes The Storm Women look like a full-length novel. I'm so glad to have all of you along for the creative process. Blogging seems to help me keep my priorities clear cut and my intentions in perspective.


Today's nugget: Inspiration seems to dawn when I least expect it.


Write On!
Cheryl

Monday, January 13, 2014

Ready, Set, Write!

If you've read Arrowstar, you should get an email from Amazon with instructions about how to update your copy of the e-book. I've made some changes and added some important items such as the copyright notice and dedication in the front matter of the book. The table of contents is now at the beginning of the book where it belongs. 


If you bought Arrowstar very early on, you'll see new cover art as well as the other changes. Several readers felt the flow of events were sometimes hard to follow, especially in the early chapters. I've added dates and chapter headings in response to this helpful feedback. Keep it coming! Let me know what you think when you get a chance.


Now that the second edition of Arrowstar and the first edition of Charade appear to be in good order in the Kindle books section of Amazon.com, I'm feeling settled enough to begin writing The Storm Women. I'll be the ghost writer for Star Lance as she gives voices to the women of Mineral City's Storm family, who, until I dig them up, reside in the cemetery up on the hill, behind the church at the end of Main Street.


What if we find out these pioneer women kept secrets even darker and more sinister than those revealed in Charade? What if a murderer lies buried among them? What if the murder victim rests nearby her killer? What if the murder remains unsolved among the cold cases on Rafferty's desk? What if, what if, what if . . . I like to ask those kinds of questions to awaken the muse and set the story in motion.


I've decided this companion book to Charade might do well as a novella (15,000 to 30,000 words in length). However, intentions often change when the characters begin to come alive and start insisting on their own way. I hope you decide to come along for the ride and check on progress as I dig up dirt and sift through years of living, lies, loves, and lore.


Are the Storm women as pure as the driven snow or black-hearted and sinister? Are some of them saints while others are sinners? As you can see, I'm already kicking around the tone of the book and musing about the design of their lives.  I'm thrilled when I hear from readers, so let me know how you feel about the Storm women. I always listen to the "what ifs!"


*Monday's wisdom: "Persistence and determination are omnipotent . . ."


*President Calvin Coolidge


Thank you for standing by. . .


Write On!
Cheryl