Romance at the Grand Canyon

SB2017_020As part of a spring break road trip, my husband and I visited the Grand Canyon last week. I’d done a small plane tour many years ago, but this was the first time for either of us to walk the south rim of the park. Have to say it was pretty incredible. We arrived in late afternoon as the sun was beginning its descent, and the moon was rising. Made for some nice photos.

We stayed overnight in the Village, then went back to the scenic vistas of the south rim the next morning. There were fewer people, and we wandered the path without jockeying for position at the lookout areas.

At one area, a little farther out from the main path, we came upon a young couple enjoying the view, and they asked if we’d take a photo. Lucky them. Their timing was perfect, as my husband is a professional photographer.

Turns out they’d just gotten engaged! And it just happened to be our anniversary. Kind of cosmic. We spent the next several minutes chatting and taking photos. The photos probably won’t be their “official” engagement pictures, but I’m sure they’ll be treasured. Of course, he didn’t take just one. He knew how to place them for the best lighting, and the best composition. And he remembered to have the young woman place her hand where her new engagement ring was front and center. It was a short but fun photo shoot.

I don’t remember their names. We’ll never see them again. But it added to the romance and ambiance of our Grand Canyon experience. This is how memories – and stories – are made. Little snippets. Chance meetings. Unexpected connections. Intertwined with life’s big events.

They don’t know us, but we’re forever part of their story. I love that.

Sing Me a Story

CDsStories. Some writers can draw a reader in with just a short novella. Others require a saga. I’m pretty much in the full novel category. I like multiple plot lines woven through my books, and depth in my characters, so it takes me about 95,000 words to craft a novel.

But some people can draw you into a story in less than two minutes. Songwriters.

It occurred to me yesterday when I heard Harry Chapin’s song Taxi while driving in my car that some amazing stories can be told in a very short amount of time.

While I considered that, I also realized that I’ve always been drawn to songs with a story. I listen to lyrics. I love Bruce Springsteen. He’s a master story singer. Think My Home Town, Brilliant Disguise and The River. Deep, emotional and poignant tales that resonate and stick with me – and lots of other people, obviously.

The song Taxi is a classic example. That song says so much, but it’s not short on detail. Not only do we clearly understand where both Harry and Sue are in the present, we know Sue’s address, what she was wearing, and their backstory! Chapin did it again and again with songs like Cat’s in the Cradle and Sequel to Taxi. In fact, every song on his Greatest Hits CD tells a story.

One of my all-time favorite songs is Faithfully by Journey. It’s a snippet, just a quick glimpse into a couple’s lives. Somehow, in just a few lines, the music and the words combine to draw me in and evoke an emotional response. Other stories-as-songs that come to mind are The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald by Gordon Lightfoot, Lyin’ Eyes by the Eagles, The Summer of ’69 by Bryan Adams, and It’s All Coming Back to Me Now by Celine Dion. I know, I’m showing my age here. A newer one that comes to mind is Nickelback’s Photograph. It paints such a vivid picture in just a few lines. Don’t you want to know what the hell is on Joey’s head?!

Of course songs have the benefit of additional elements – musical instruments, repetition and rhyme to engage us. Books have only words to build interest and evoke emotion. Not sure whether stories as songs can offer any tips or wisdom to novel writers, but it’s something to think about, especially when it comes time to craft that back blurb or elevator pitch.

I know there are hundreds of others. Too many to list. But I’d love to know some of your favorite stories as songs. Please share!

Of Belles and Books

bhuff copyHello, everyone! Happy Monday to you! Today it’s my pleasure to have Belle Blackburn as my guest. (It’s okay if you suddenly have the urge to belt out a chorus of  “Be My Guest, Be My Guest, Be My Guest.” I did.) Belle is, of course, an avid reader, but also a talented writer who enjoys mixing a variety of genres into her novels.

Welcome, Belle!


What genre(s) do you write?
Primarily historical fiction but you could slip it into a few other categories like mystery, romance, history and medical.

How did you become interested in that genre/topic?
This sounds so cheesy but it was seeing Gone With the Wind when I was 14 years old. I knew there had book_template_10_12_2014-upload-2been a Civil War but it was just some dates and battle names in a history book, which bored me immensely. My mother took me to the movie and it really made an impact on me. That was the first time I had heard about how war affected civilians as well as soldiers. I still remember the shot of all those wounded soldiers lying in the sun (half of which were dummies). My brother was in the military at the time so I was very sensitive to that. I then read the book and have had an interest in history since, though I usually focus on civilians. If you are looking for book spotlighting the military, battles and weapons, there are many out there by experts in that field and I am not one.

How long have you been writing and how many published works?
I have planned to write since second grade and got a minor in journalism, but did not produce my first book until a couple of years ago. I wrote a murder mystery and needed it to be set in a time without forensics and since Nashville was a busy and important place during the Civil War, I chose that time period. I like to discover history in the setting of a good tale so I slipped Nashville’s war story into it. It does take a ton of research but I love it. I am now writing the sequel.

What’s your favorite part about writing?
Experiencing the flow. Sometimes I just can’t get it on paper quick enough and it takes on a life of its own. I have had bossy characters who insisted on having things their way, which I had not planned. I know to appreciate those times because sometimes it drags. And, of course, five star reviews are pretty awesome. ☺

In writing historical fiction, you must have done some research. What are your sources? Are there any particular historical “nuggets” you found while researching? And travel required?
I spent a lot of time in the Nashville Room at the main library. I loved finding books that were eyewitness accounts. I also contacted several of the local historians, who were very helpful. I discovered a thesis about daily life in Nashville in the 1850s at the Vanderbilt Library and that gave good insight to the city. My biggest problem was finding out about the law of the time and I finally found a legal historian. The research into the medical practice of that time was very interesting in that it held no resemblance to today’s medicine at all. It is so easy to deride their medical practices but I know in 150 years they will be feeling the same way about our time. I often wonder if our generation’s time will be known as The Chemical Age. And I have to say researching is tremendously easier with the internet! As far as travel, it was mostly limited to within the city – libraries, historical sites, presentations or to meet a historian. I’m sure there was some European connection to Nashville in the Civil War that I will have to go research!

Tell us a little about your main character.
Kate is…a bit flawed. Mostly she is just young and inexperienced and, like people of that age, thinks she has all the answers. She is a bit brash in her thoughts, which she at least has enough sense not to vocalize. She does grow a lot in the 1+ year this book covers. She is at the core a good person but stubborn when she has something in her head, and doesn’t always make good choices. I sometimes have inspiration for a character from a real person but Kate is just purely out of my head.

What do you hope readers will enjoy or take away from reading your book?
I hope first that they enjoy a good yarn and love the characters, but secondarily I would like for them to learn things they never knew before.

Please share a couple of favorite lines from your book.
This is like asking me to choose a favorite child but I will settle on one from the first page – “I went to church to practice hate and revenge.”

Where do you get your story ideas?
History guides my story. My characters have to operate within the confines of true history, however, their own stories can come from anywhere. I have incorporated some of my own experiences as well as others. Most of it just comes out of my head or my husband’s. He is my male muse since he has a great imagination and creative mind. I will get stuck at points and I will ask him how this character is going to get to this place or how I can make this happen and he usually has a good idea.

Is there anyone in particular who has influenced your writing career?
I am grateful to the teachers who encouraged me along the way. The author Susan Howatch influenced me with her intelligent and insightful Starbridge series of books, as well as Wheel of Fortune. I learned that no matter how much I think I know a situation, other people see the same thing quite differently. And most people do not even know themselves. She likens the personality to an onion, where the outer layer is the glittering image you present the world, then you start stripping off the layers until you get down to the very core, and your true self is usually not what you think it will be at all.

What do you do when you’re not writing?
It usually involves my hands in the dirt or on an animal but very soon it will involve my first grandchild. I will wash my hands first before handling him, afterwards with the other two.

What’s one thing about you that most people don’t know?
I was voted Most Mischievous in high school.

What’s next on your writing journey?
The sequel to the first book. Got some loose ends to tie up.

So, I’m curious have you ever (or how many times) dressed up as Belle from Beauty and the Beast?
I have now!11009853_444800109009429_4739684308411501706_n

Connect with Belle!