From HS Creative Writing Assignment to Debut Novel: The Evolution of Matty Redd
by Ryan Steck
|*image from Pixabay|
|*image from Pixabay|
Erica here: I am delighted to welcome today's guest-blogger, Amanda Wen. Amanda is a debut author, and her new book is called Roots of Wood and Stone, a split time set in Sedgwick County, Kansas. As a native Kansan, I was so excited when I read the synopsis for this book. Amanda is published by Kregel, my publisher, so we're not only Kansans at heart, we're pub-mates! If you get a chance, I recommend following/friending Amanda on social media. Her posts about her kids, affectionately dubbed "The Wenlets" are hysterical!
If you’ve been a writer for any length of time, you’ve probably been asked—or perhaps wondered yourself—where to get story ideas. For my debut, Roots of Wood and Stone, the answer centers around a century-old farmhouse, an ancestor’s memoir, and my mom’s hobby of genealogy.
Mom’s been tracing our ancestry longer than I’ve been alive, so my childhood is peppered with vacations to places like Bean Blossom, Indiana (really!). While my mother combed through census records and property deeds, my brother and I would spend hours in small town libraries and courthouses devouring Dave Barry and Calvin and Hobbes, watching the clock, and trying to ignore our snack-deprived stomachs. As a kid, this resulted in decidedly lukewarm enthusiasm for my mom’s hobby, but now as an adult and a writer, I’m immensely grateful for all the stories she learned over the years, some of which have found their way into fiction.
But if you didn’t spend your formative years vacationing to Middle-Of-Nowhere, West Virginia, all is not lost. I’m here with a few easy pointers to help you start learning your family’s stories, and possibly even sowing seeds for your own.
If you’re fortunate enough to still have your parents or grandparents around, take time to listen to—and maybe even record!—their stories. You might be surprised what they already know about who you are and where you came from. In addition—and historical writers can attest to this—such conversations are invaluable when it comes to details like food, slang terms, and trends of bygone eras. But even if you’re a contemporary writer, story ideas can still surface. Maybe your grandparents’ meet-cute can find its way into your next contemporary romance!
|From Amanda's Family Archives|
The Internet is also chock-full of resources for genealogists. Ancestry.com, a site my mom has used for years, contains a wealth of birth, marriage, and death certificates, passenger registries, military records, census indices, and more. If someone else has already looked into your family, that information will be there, so you might find a photo of an ancestor you never even knew existed! You may learn that one of your forbears was killed by a falling icicle (as one of mine was) or that your great-great-grandmother was carried across the Isthmus of Panama on the back of a native guide (also a true family story). Ancestry has a monthly subscription fee for those who really get into it, but if all you’re needing is ideas, their free 14-day trial should suffice.
Another amazing—and free!—online resource is Find A Grave. Tombstone inscriptions frequently include valuable genealogical information like birth and death dates as well as names of parents, children, or spouses. Before the Interwebz, the only way to find this information was to physically visit the cemetery. This meant that, yes, our family vacations also involved trudging through cemeteries in indescribably remote places, scraping away lichen to reveal worn inscriptions, and very often picking thorns out of our socks for hours afterward (“What’d you do on your vacation?” “I went to Disney World! What about you?” “You wouldn’t believe me if I told you…”). But now with Find A Grave, you can pay a virtual visit to any cemetery with just a few clicks of your fingers.
As with Ancestry, Find A Grave often contains a wealth of information submitted by other users. This information can and often does include obituaries, photos, and links to other family members, all of which can easily spark story ideas. Through Find A Grave, I learned the story of my great-great-great grandmother, Sarah Stevens, who, along with her infant son, George, died shortly after she and her husband, William, arrived as early settlers of Sedgwick County, Kansas. Included in her online memorial is a quote from a biography of her husband: “[William] was visited with a sore affliction in the death of his wife, which occurred the following year, 13 May 1871, while she was still a young woman, being but thirty-eight years of age.”
This quote really sparked my imagination. What would a recently-arrived pioneer do when gutted by such a “sore affliction?” How would he cope with the tasks of running a farm and raising his other children and emerge with his faith intact (as was the case with William Stevens)? These questions, and the resulting rumination, eventually found their way into the pages of Roots of Wood and Stone in the character arc of my historical-timeline hero, Jack Brennan.
I won’t spoil Jack’s story for you, but I will give you a post-script to the story of William and Sarah Stevens. One of their older children, Mattie, was my great-great-grandmother. She went on to marry another pioneer, an Irish immigrant named Francis Little. That memoir I mentioned at the beginning of this post was Francis’s memoir, and that farmhouse? That was Francis and Mattie’s house. While researching the book, I learned that a distant cousin still has access to the (now-abandoned) home and offered to give me a personal tour.
Of course I invited my mom.
I hope I’ve helped spark a new way to get inspiration for all you Seekers, and I can’t wait to see what stories emerge as you all mine your heritage for ideas. Have you ever put any of your family history in a story? Any memorable ancestor stories you’d like to share? I’d love to know! Leave me a comment below, and one lucky commenter will win a signed paperback copy of Roots of Wood and Stone!
Get your copy today!
Amanda Wen is an award-winning writer of inspirational romance and split-time women’s fiction. She has placed first in multiple contests, including the 2017 Indiana Golden Opportunity Contest, the 2017 Phoenix Rattler Contest, and the 2016 ACFW First Impressions Contest, among others. She was also a 2018 ACFW Genesis Contest finalist.
In addition to her writing, Amanda is an accomplished professional cellist and pianist who frequently performs with orchestras, chamber groups, and worship teams, as well as serving as a choral accompanist. A lifelong denizen of the flatlands, Amanda currently lives in Kansas with her husband, their three adorable and hilarious Wenlets, and a snuggly Siamese cat. Roots of Wood and Stone is her debut novel.
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Happy Monday after Thanksgiving! Carrie here & while movers are loading all my (and my husband's) earthly possessions and more boxes of books than should be legal onto a truck bound for Georgia, debut author (and Seeker Villager) Ann Brodeur is here to share her heart with us as she sails off the island!!
Welcome, Ann - and BIG CONGRATULATIONS on your debut novel! We are thrilled for you!
My name is Ann Brodeur. And I’ve sailed off the island.
Whew! I’ve been waiting to say that for years, and I am so happy to be sharing that news today. Like many of you, I’ve been a dedicated follower of Seekerville for a long time.
Thanksgiving seems like it happened months ago for those of us living in the Great White North (a.k.a. Canada). We celebrate the holiday on the second Monday of October when all the trees are displaying their magnificent colours and we are deep in the autumn flavours of Pumpkin Spice and Maple. And for a fun fact (that I didn’t learn until this year) Canada’s first thanksgiving celebration happened FORTY-THREE years BEFORE the pilgrims celebrated the first American thanksgiving (Canada’s first was in 1578 and America’s was in 1621).
*picture taken by author
But I digress…
I hope all of you had a wonderful holiday despite the craziness 2020 has brought.
This journey to publication has been a lot like sailing in unchartered waters. The waves have been rough, and at times it felt like I was sinking without hope of rescue or coming out of the storm unscathed. And there were better moments where calm waters prevailed.
Then…there was land.
I’m so thankful to be on land.
I think of my Grade Five Librarian (that was eons ago when no one had a home computer, we stayed outside until the streetlights came on and we had to WALK across the room to the television set to change the channel). Mrs. Waind encouraged me to enter a writing contest, and I won. The first seed was planted.
My high school teachers who ran the literary magazine and school newspapers taught me how to find a story and how to edit the work. I loved those club meetings.
I think of my college English professor who planted the idea of someday writing for Harlequin (I’m not there yet, but I’m trying!). At the time, Love Inspired had just launched, but all I knew of the parent company was those bodice-ripping front covers (and no – I never picked up one of those; they terrified me). It wasn’t something I would consider until twenty-two years later.
I’m thankful for my experience working at Mission Aviation Fellowship. My boss at the time saw potential in me and added grant writing to my already full portfolio. Finding the story from real life and weaving a compelling narrative was something I thrived on. It was through grant writing I re-discovered the love of story.
My best friend gave me my first copy of Writers Digest magazine and filled my carry-on suitcase with books on writing. Apparently she’d grown tired of me just talking about “maybe-someday”.
My local chapter of Multiple Births Canada put out the call for articles dealing with issues surrounding twins, triplets and more for the volunteer magazine (we have twins). An article I’d written for the magazine won an honorable mention in the Writer’s Digest Writing Competition in 2017.
It was with that contest placement I seriously thought about writing long term. My youngest was an infant and I knew I needed to upgrade my skills in order to re-enter the workforce. My heart was pulling me toward grant-writing again.
But God had a different plan.
As I started to pray about what I should do, which courses I should take to sharpen my skills, I kept getting the sense I wasn’t to go back to the non-profit world. Instead, there was a recollection of all those seeds that had been planted in the garden of my heart, and I started to wonder if I should write a book.
Wonder of wonders, I checked out Harlequin’s website. There was a romance blitz - an opportunity to write a first chapter and a synopsis for consideration. And there was only two weeks left to submit. Being the over-achiever I am, I read absolutely everything I could find on how to write a romance and what a synopsis was. I spent feeding time day-dreaming of the perfect plot and what my trope would be. Mistaken identity. Twins. Exotic places. Tropes and hooks that were perfect for romance readers. I wrote my chapter, sent in my submission, and…waited.
To make a long story short – I had a full request (which was ultimately rejected) but with amazing feedback and an invitation to send another project to the editor. Since that time, the line has made changes that I’m not totally comfortable with. But I’m thankful for Nic. She opened my eyes to the world of possibilities and gave me the confidence that writing was worth pursuing.
And you know those critique days? Take every opportunity to use them! I had submitted my first few paragraphs of my debut for one of those days (the one with “Hallmark” stamped all over it…). I took the advice I received, made changes and saw the difference to my text. It’s in the details and the Seekers have an eye for it.
I’m thankful for Seekerville and the investment they make every week into our lives.
There have been contests with judges. Writer groups and individual writers who have taken a moment of their time to answer a question or to offer advice. Webinars. Online courses. Authors-in-Residence who have shown me how to make my story stronger. Beta readers who have been pretty blunt in their opinions. Editors, designers and printing presses. And prayer warriors who have prayed me through the journey. A godly husband who holds down the fort and pushes me out the door to write. My kids who pray for “Maman’s book”.
And God. He’s given me the stories to write. Without His direction, there wouldn’t be a story worth telling in my heart.
Without any one of these people I’ve listed, my novel wouldn’t be out in the world.
So even though the journey has been challenging, disappointing, exhilarating, and sometimes downright frustrating, I am truly thankful for those who have helped me along the way.
To you, it may be a little thing or perhaps an inconvenience, but to one aspiring writer it could be the difference in helping him or her sail off the island.
So – to the Seekers and all those who have helped me along the way, I am forever thankful that you are a part of my story.
And now your turn: What things are you thankful for as a reader? As a writer?
by Ann Brodeur
Unwrapping their past – one secret at a time.
Owning her own PR firm is all reporter Stephanie Clark wants for Christmas, but the idea of running a prestigious election campaign in the country’s capital throws her stomach into knots. A last minute vacation road trip to focus and seek God’s direction for her life ends up in disaster when she gets caught in the worst snowstorm to hit Vermont in over a decade, crashing her into a small town and the one person she’d rather forget.
Former photojournalist Jason Miller hadn’t planned on being solely responsible for saving his family business from financial ruin. He’s barely keeping the newspaper in print, his News Editor has gone AWOL during the town’s most celebrated holiday festival, and reports of missing Christmas decorations have everyone on edge.
When a desperate knock at the newsroom door brings a ghost from Christmas past back into his life, can Jason make up for his prior behavior without breaking his promise to Stephanie’s father? Will Stephanie’s quest to solve the town’s Christmas caper—and uncover the truth about Jason’s disappearance—cost her everything she’s ever wanted?
When she’s not reading, writing, chasing after her kids or enjoying long chats with her husband, Ann can be found drinking coffee, that’s been reheated several times throughout the day. She aspires to someday drink a hot beverage in one sitting.
SOCIAL MEDIA LINKS:
Join other readers in finding out the latest news from Ann and for bookish fun, by signing up for my newsletter on my website: http://brodeurwrites.com/
Check out novel inspiration, book reviews and more on my Pinterest page: https://www.pinterest.ca/brodeurwrites
Follow and Like my author page: https://www.facebook.com/annbrodeurauthor
Ann is offering a giveaway of a Christmas Ornament to Canadian readers only (due to postage costs). This giveaway is open to all Canadian residents who have reached the legal age of majority. Giveaway value of one item is $10CDN or less. Valid except where prohibited by law. No purchase necessary. Redemption is contingent on answering a skill testing question. Winner has until Saturday, December 5 at 1:00pm EST to claim their prize, otherwise prize is forfeited.
Thank you, Ann!!! Y'all, let's show Ann some Seekerville love today! Comment below (and sign up for her newsletter while you're at it!) with your congratulations & what you're thankful for as a reader and/or an author!
|via Kylli Kittus on Unsplash|
|via Rodion Kutsaev on Unsplash|
|via Simon Hattinga Verschure on Unsplash|
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