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Seekerville: The Journey Continues

9 Tips for Writing an Epic Novel by Guest Kathleen D. Bailey

  By Guest Kathleen D. Bailey


            Two distinct sets of villains. Two orphaned children. A man without a country and a woman with too much past. And a rambunctious young country where anything went, especially in the West. What could possibly go wrong?

            When I began drafting “Redemption’s Hope,” the third book in my “Western Dreams” series, I knew it had to be different from the first two. “Westward Hope” and “Settler’s Hope” were traditional romances, with a “him” and a “her” battling forces that would keep them apart. While the first book takes place on the Oregon Trail, the external conflict comes from how the hero and heroine respond to the challenges of the trail and how their relationship plays out against it. It’s still the Oregon Trail, but it’s all about them. The second book, “Settler’s Hope,” takes place in one small Oregon Country settlement, a raw hamlet the Irish-immigrant heroine isn’t all sure she wants to make her home. Still the Oregon Country, but all about her.

9 Tips for Writing an Epic Novel by Guest Kathleen D. Bailey


            But I knew a one-horse town or even a wagon train tour wouldn’t offer enough scope for my third book, the story of Jenny Thatcher. Gun-toting, swaggering, pants-wearing, horse-stealing but now God-serving Jenny. A girl who was larger than life even in someone else’s book. And her love interest White Bear, a Native man who didn’t feel at home in either world, his or hers, and was larger than life in his own way.

            They had been apart for three years, so the story had to involve a search for each other.  And cruel forces to keep them apart. 

Jenny and White Bear needed a bigger stage for their story to play out from. I found it in the epic format. 

Jenny and White Bear would roam what was then the known world, from Taos to San Antonio to New Orleans to St. Joseph, and through places that didn’t yet have names. They would come together briefly for three glorious days in New Orleans, then be separated by the powers of evil. (See above, two sets of villains!) They would spend the remainder of the book trying to get back together, until a final showdown on the snow-covered plain where it all started three years before. And they would do it with a slew of secondary and minor characters, some real historical figures, some that should have been. 

            Here’s how I made it work.

1.     While I often write my books piecemeal, doing scenes as they occur to me and patching the whole thing together like a quilt, I knew that wouldn’t work for “Redemption’s Hope.” Too many moving pieces, too much risk of losing one or several threads. So I wrote this one in linear fashion. I made notes for things I might want to include in subsequent chapters, but the general progression was chapter by chapter.


2.    Details do matter, and in the big book it’s more than just mistaking hazel eyes for blue. With two separate sets of villains, I had to distinguish them not only from each other, but from the other set of bad guys.  I stressed their physical appearance, and also gave one of Jenny’s pursuers an extra interest in abusing her sexually. It never happens, I wouldn’t do that to Jenny, but it gave her pursuers another level of complexity, and gave her one more thing to fear.

3.    I also had to pay attention to timelines, both real and fictional. I printed out a couple of lists of events in my period, 1849 and 1850, and sprinkled them liberally through the novel.


4.    I really wanted a couple of real historical characters, and I settled on Christopher “Kit” Carson and Mrs. Susannah Dickinson, the wife of Alamo hero Almaron Dickinson. I researched both heavily until I knew what they might have said to Jenny. But every word and interaction has to move the story forward, even in an epic. I had to not only have them do cameos, but to interact with Jenny in a meaningful way. Carson helps her escape from two killers who’ve tracked her to Taos. Mrs. Dickinson’s influence isn’t so dramatic, but in chatting with Jenny, she influences Jenny to wonder if she would be as brave as Mrs. Dickinson, and stay with White Bear through something like the Alamo. Modern writers don’t have the luxury of a Charles Dickens, or even the 20th-century’s James Michener. Everything has to count in some way.

5.    I also wanted to show the entire scope of the West at the time, so I threw in some fictional characters such as Jenny’s friend Noonday Smith, the would-be gold miner. The same rule went for these as it did for the real characters: they needed to interact with Jenny and her situation, and not just be window dressing. I’ve been fascinated for years – and appalled – by the Creole custom of powerful men taking on “quadroons,” pretty mixed-race women, as mistresses. The process was institutionalized, sanitized and sanctioned in 19th-century New Orleans. I wanted to have Jenny meet a quadroon, and found it in Dominique. But Dominique had to be more than an interesting sidetrack. I found her purpose in having Jenny reflect on her own past as a saloon girl, and fear exposing that part of her life again. She wants Dominique to find God, so she tells her own story as she explains the plan of salvation. It gives insight into Dominique—and Jenny.

6.    At some point I also had to decide what to leave out, and that’s hard with something as vast as the West. The American West was not only physically big, but had a range of characters and potential experiences. As my word count crept up and my characters careened toward their final battle, I knew I couldn’t fit in a cattle drive or a barroom brawl. But that’s all right. There are other Western books to be written, and I can put my stamp on those two classics in another story.

7.    With two sets of villains and Jenny and White Bear spending so much time apart, it was also crucial that I establish Where Everyone Was At A Certain Time. I printed a special copy of my chapter outline and color-coordinated Jenny’s enemies, White Bear’s enemies, Jenny and White Bear as to where they were in a given chapter.  A map of the United States also helped, with color-coordinated push pins guiding me through. Color-coordination is my fallback position for most organizing.

8.    For my epic, I also had to break with the conventions of the romance novel. White Bear and Jenny don’t meet or reunite in the first chapter, because the body of the story is about their search for each other. So I had to establish early on who White Bear was to Jenny, who Jenny was to White Bear, and that they had never forgotten each other. And I had to ramp up the anticipation of their reunion. Flashbacks are a powerful tool. Don’t overuse.

9.    Most of all, I needed to make their quest matter, especially for Jenny. Jenny, my former saloon girl, so tough on the outside, but hurting on the inside, so deeply even she doesn’t realize it. Jenny has accepted the Lord as her Savior, gone her way and sinned no more. But she still bears the load of guilt from all the years she didn’t serve Him. She buries her past in hard work at her horse farm and good times with her friends. But when she finally breaks away to look for White Bear, she also breaks away from the conventions that were holding her guilt at bay. As she roams the West she comes face to face with what she was, who she is now, and the full scope of the Father’s redeeming love. I had to make the journey matter for White Bear too, as he learns that Jenny is strong enough, and then some, to be married to a Native man. They needed to find not only each other, but themselves. 

9 Tips for Writing an Epic Novel by Guest Kathleen D. Bailey

This is what needs to happen in an epic. I could have just concentrated on the plot, the twists and turns, mixing suspense with a travelogue and tying it up with a big bow of narrow escapes for its paper-doll characters. Some writers have done that. Some readers don’t mind. But Jenny and White Bear deserved more: an internal journey to match their external one. I hope I gave it to them.

Now it’s your turn. What do you like/dislike about the epic form? Writers, how do you make it work, or why don’t you write them? Readers, do you enjoy reading epics?


Kathy is generously offering giveaways today to three commenters! Let us know in the comments if you’d like to be entered for either a paper copy of "Westward Hope," an e-copy of "Settler's Hope," or a New England gift pack.


9 Tips for Writing an Epic Novel by Guest Kathleen D. Bailey

Kathleen Bailey is a journalist and novelist with 40 years’ experience in the nonfiction, newspaper and inspirational fields. Born in 1951, she was a child in the 50s, a teen in the 60s, a young adult in the 70s and a young mom in the 80s. It’s been a turbulent, colorful time to grow up, and she’s enjoyed every minute of it and written about most of it.

            Bailey’s work includes both historical and contemporary fiction, with an underlying thread of men and women finding their way home, to Christ and each other. Her first Pelican book, ‘‘Westward Hope,” was published in September 2019. This was followed by a novella, “The Logger’s Christmas Bride,” in December 2019. Her second full-length novel, “Settler’s Hope,” was released July 17, 2020. She has a Christmas novella, “The Widow’s Christmas Miracle,” scheduled for this December as part of Pelican’s “Christmas Extravaganza,” and is completing “Redemption’s Hope,” the third and final book in the Western Dreams series.

She lives in New Hampshire with her husband David. They have two grown daughters.

            For more information, contact her at; @piechick1 on Twitter; Kathleen D. Bailey on Facebook and LinkedIn; or at



The Birth of a Series: The Amish of Weaver's Creek

The Birth of a Series: The Amish of Weaver's Creek
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by Jan Drexler

My next book releases tomorrow, September 18, and I’m busy working on the second book in the series, so I thought we’d talk a bit about how this series came about.

This post isn’t a lesson on how to write a series – it’s a narrative about how your series could be written.

We’ll start at the very beginning (a very good place to start!)

Two years ago this week, I was at ACFW 2016 in Nashville. Maybe I met some of you there! One of the things I enjoyed was a breakfast meeting with my editor from Revell, Vicki Crumpton, and Michelle Misiak and Hannah Brinks from Baker’s marketing department (Revell and Bethany House are both part of Baker Publishing.) We discussed my current series at the time (The Journey to Pleasant Prairie) and bounced around some ideas of what my next series might be.

From that meeting, I had an inkling of what this next series should be…but that was just the beginning of my work. I had a lot of research to do before I could think about submitting a proposal.

I knew this series would be about the Amish, and I knew it would be historical, so I started reading through my research materials. I found a book called “Mennonites, Amish, and the American Civil War” by Lehman and Nolt, and I knew I had my time period. As I continued my research, I discovered that there were Amish who fought in the war – very few – but that fact was the nugget. The series was born.

The Birth of a Series: The Amish of Weaver's Creek

I created a place – Weaver’s Creek in southern Holmes County, Ohio. Then I created a family – the Weavers. I gave the family members names. Abraham and Lydia are the parents, and they have six children (four of them married) and nine grandchildren. Then I started thinking about which family members would be the main characters for the three books in the series.

Wait a minute…back up. At the same time as I was creating this family and their neighbors, I was thinking about the scope of the war, the setting (central Ohio), the political climate of the time, and the coming schism in the Amish church. All of those things also needed to be included in this series. 

The Birth of a Series: The Amish of Weaver's Creek

Let’s think about what a series is:

It’s a group of books, each telling an individual story within a larger story arc. The series might consist of many books (like the House of Winslow series by Gilbert Morris which has forty titles!), or only a few. Most series published now are three or four books long, although with indy publishing, a series can be as long as an author and readers wish it to be.

The larger story arc for The Amish of Weaver’s Creek is the Civil War. The first book starts in the spring of 1862, when the war is a year old, and I think the third book will end around 1866, a year after the surrender at Appomattox. 

Once I had developed my time line, I found three major historical events that would serve as the background for each of the three books in the series. Then I determined who the lead characters would be. Finally, I created a brief synopsis for each of the books. 

The Birth of a Series: The Amish of Weaver's Creek

My proposal was ready. I submitted it through my agent. My editor liked it (yay!), and she took it to the publication committee. They approved it (yay again!) and offered me a contract (big yay!)

Now I really had to get to work. The first book is done and ready for readers, but the second book in the series is due October 1st, and the third book is due in October 2019. It is work, and it gets pretty hairy sometimes (especially this close to a deadline!) but it is always wonderfully rewarding.

This is my dream job, and I am always, always, grateful. I am enjoying an embarrassment of riches!

The Birth of a Series: The Amish of Weaver's Creek

Now, let's talk!

Do you read series? 

Do you like series that revolve around one character and one story, or a series that has a distinct story for each book but are related through the setting and characters?

Have you ever attempted to write a series? Do you think you ever will?

One commenter will win a copy of “The Sound of Distant Thunder,” the first in The Amish of Weaver’s Creek series. 

The Birth of a Series: The Amish of Weaver's Creek
Order Here!
Katie Stuckey and Jonas Weaver are both romantics. Seventeen-year-old Katie is starry-eyed, in love with the idea of being in love, and does not want to wait to marry Jonas until she is eighteen, despite her parents' insistence. So much can happen in a year. Twenty-year-old Jonas is taken in by the romance of soldiering, especially in defense of anti-slavery, even though he knows war is at odds with the teachings of the church. When his married brother's name comes up in the draft list, he volunteers to take his brother's place. But can the commitment Katie and Jonas have made to each other survive the separation?

From the talented pen of Jan Drexler comes this brand new Amish series set against the backdrop of the Civil War. She puts her characters to the test as they struggle to reconcile their convictions and desires while the national conflict threatens to undermine and engulf their community.

The Joys and Challenges of Crafting A Series of Connected Stories

The Joys and Challenges of Crafting A Series of Connected StoriesHi all, Winnie Griggs here. Today I want to talk about one of my favorite subjects, namely Connected Stories.
Connected stories refers to a multi-book series written by one or more authors where all the stories have one or more connecting thread.

As a reader I’ve always loved them.  After all, what can be better than knowing that the characters and story world you’ve just invested so much time and emotion into are going to show up again in one or more books to come. 

On the other hand, as an author it never occurred to me to try to write a series of connected stories myself, at least not until I wrote my seventh book, The Christmas Journey.  The heroine and hero of that book each had siblings who really tugged at me to tell their stories.  I ended up writing two more novels and one novella in the story world of Knotty Pine, Texas.

Since then I’ve completed a ten-book series called The Texas Grooms and participated in the three book Irish Brides continuity with two other authors. I’ve also got another couple of series in the works that I’ll talk about in another post.

For those of you interested in crafting a series of your own, I thought I’d share a few insights I picked up along the way.

The Joys and Challenges of Crafting A Series of Connected Stories

Not every story lends itself to being part of a series.  Some are stand alone and rightfully so. On the other hand:
  • Do you have one or more secondary characters who are strong enough to carry their own book? 
  • Do you have a theme or trope you want to explore in several ways with different characters?
  • Do you have one character whose story and/or growth arc you want to tell over multiple books?
If you can answer yes to any of these questions, then you MIGHT have the makings of a series.
Other things you need to consider:
  • Can you make the books in your series different and intriguing enough to hold your readers’ interest, but alike enough to make each feel like part of a cohesive series?
  • Do you have the discipline as a writer to stick with the series to the end?
  • Are you organized enough to keep up with all your character and story world details from book to book?
  • If this is a multi-author series, do you play well with others or are you more of a lone wolf when it comes to writing projects?

The Joys and Challenges of Crafting A Series of Connected Stories

There are a number of different ways to tie your series of stories together. 
Some ways you can connect them are:

·       Through a cast of characters connected by family, where a different member of the family is each featured in their own book. Examples of these type series are:
*   Debby Giusti’s Amish Protectors series – the heroines of the three original books are all sisters
*   The Seven Brides for Seven Texans series headed up by Erica Vetsch – the seven Texans referred to in the series title are all brothers
*   The 6 book Texas Twins Love Inspired continuity that Glynna Kaye participated in is built around siblings
*   Jan Drexler’s The Journey to Pleasant Prairieseries also has interwoven sibling connections
*   Mindy Obenhaus’s Rocky Mountain Heroesseries revolves around the stories of 5 brothers.
*   My own Knotty Pines series is connected by a tapestry of siblings.

·         Through a cast of characters connected by occupation or vocation.  Examples include:
*   Debby Giusti’s Magnolia Medical series where the heroes and heroines are scientists at the same laboratory in Atlanta.
*   The Seven Brides for Seven Texas Rangersseries headed up by Erica Vetsch features heroes who are all Texas Rangers from the same squad

·         Through a common location or community.  Some examples are:           
*   Glynna Kaye’s Hearts of Hunter Ridge series all take place in the same small Arizona mountain town.
*   Mary Connealy’s Montana Marriages series feature heroes who all live in proximity to each other
*   My own 10 book Texas Grooms series are all set in the fictional town of Turnabout, Texas and feature a community of recurring characters

·         Through a cast of characters with a shared experience. Examples are:
*   Mary Connealy’s Trouble In Texas series – all three of the heroes were prisoners in Andersonville
*   The first 4 books of my Texas Groomsseries – this was originally conceived as a four book series (later expanded to ten) featuring the 4 men who came to Texas from Pennsylvania to take part in a marriage lottery of sorts

·         Through a theme or trope.  An example of this is:
*   Ruth Logan Herne’s Double S Ranch western series – these stories loosely portray the three men from the Prodigal Son story
*   Melanie Dickerson’s Fairy Tale Romance series – each book in the series is a reimagining of a classic fairytale.
*   Erica Vetsch and I contributed to Journeys of the Heart, a three-author novella collection where the three stories were connected simply by the theme of travel across distances and from an old life to a new one.

If you’re familiar with the books in the examples above, you’ll notice there are several that could have fit under more than one category – this is not unusual. 
There are probably other way to connect stories, but I think this covers the most common ones. 

Now let’s discuss some pros and cons of writing connected series.
The Joys and Challenges of Crafting A Series of Connected Stories


  • They help to build a reader following – as I said at the opening of this post, readers love connected stories.  If the first book in the series does its job well, you’ll have readers eagerly looking forward to the next book in the series
  •  Writing connected stories can help you write faster. This is because, in most cases, you’ve already done most of the work of building your story world when you wrote the first book of the series. Subsequent books will only require that you build on this rather than forcing you to start over from scratch.
  •  Connected stories allow you to play with a larger story arc. With a series of connected books, you can expand themes and story arcs across multiple books rather than relegating them to the confines of one book.
  •  With connected stories, depending on the type of connection, you can often revisit characters. Those characters you’ve invested so much time and emotion in can now live beyond the pages of their own book and make appearances in future books as secondary characters.


  •       There’s no getting around it - it’s a challenge to set everything up correctly.  When you’re planning to write a series, it is crucial that you set up your story world and its inhabitants in the very first book in a manner that will support all the subsequent books.  This can be especially tricky if you don’t have a firm idea of where you want the series to go.
  • Then there’s the challenge of including backstory from prior stories into your subsequent books. You want readers who might pick up a book in the middle of the series to be comfortable in the world you’ve created and at the same time you want readers who have been with you from the beginning not to feel like you’re weighing down the current story with too much repetition of ‘what came before’.  It’s a delicate backstory balancing act that you’ll have to learn to master.
  • Writing connected stories forces you to keep up with minor details from prior books.  When you’re working on a series of connected books it’s important to come up with a good system to keep up with all the little details that may appear from book to book - what is the name of the school’s principle, what street is the library on, is the river east or west of town, what’s the name of that dog that showed up in book 1 - those sorts of things.
  • There’s the danger of getting in a rut - writing about the same story world with the same cast of characters can sometimes lead to you as a writer getting tired of the whole thing before you reach the conclusion of your series.  This can be disastrous, not only for your sense of fulfillment as a writer, but also for your readers – a lack of enthusiasm on the writer’s part will often translate into a so-so story for the reader.
  • You can also run into trouble meeting reader expectations for your vision. Readers will form their own expectations of what subsequent books in the series should focus on.  They’ll form attachments to secondary characters that you may or may not plan to feature in the future.  Or they will try to pair up characters that you have other things in mind for.  This is not necessarily a bad thing – it shows the readers are really invested in your series. But, as the author, you need to be prepared to respond to this sort of feedback.

Do the pros to writing a series outweigh the cons?  That’s a personal question that will be answered differently for each author and each series.  But there is no doubt that a series of connected stories, when executed well, are big hits with readers.

The Joys and Challenges of Crafting A Series of Connected Stories

So, how do you feel about connected stories? And what did I miss in my analysis?
Join the discussion - I'll be selecting one person from those who leaves comments to receive all 4 books in my Knotty Pine series, and one person to receive a copy of the Journey's of the Heart novella collection that features stories from me and Erica.

9 Tips for Writing an Epic Novel by Guest Kathleen D. BaileyThe Birth of a Series: The Amish of Weaver's CreekThe Joys and Challenges of Crafting A Series of Connected Stories

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