Author: Sharon Hughson

Sharon Lee spent her youth talking to animals, who never replied, until she escaped to Narnia, where animals did talk back. The magical portal of reading made her a dream weaver. Now, she invites fantasy addicts and dreamers to time travel into immortal, mystical realms.

My Love-Hate Relationship with Travel

It’s been a mild winter. And except for the excess of gray days, I’m dealing with it rather than dreaming about escaping to a land of blue skies, tank tops and all natural Vitamin D. Still, there are travel plans in my winter.
This time, it’s a “work” trip. I’m attending my first ever writer’s retreat, and it just happens to be in Destin, Florida. (I know, how sad to travel to Florida in February).
A couple days before my departure, Old Man Winter decides to make a visit to the Pacific Northwest. That nice guy dumped several inches of snow on the ground after teasing us with the idea several times during January and February. This storm will blow over before my flights are affected.
Or an Arctic system will drop on top of the mass of moisture, depositing more snow on my front lawn.
My husband drove through sideways snowfall to take me to the airport. It wasn’t bad enough to cancel or delay my flight, was it?


I arrived in San Francisco (I’m taking a circuitous route to the Emerald Coast, one of the things I don’t love about traveling) early. Excellent. Plenty of time to find breakfast and lunch to take on the next flight.
There’s a funny story here about a misplaced spoon for consuming the yogurt parfait I purchased for breakfast. Punch line: I found the plastic utensil in my purse after I’d finished eating the yogurt.
Everything’s on time as we travelers board the plane heading to Houston (this is the longest flight on my trip). “All systems are go,” says the pilot (okay, he didn’t say that but that’s what he meant).
Then we sit at the gate. Alas, the plane backs up. This false hope is followed by a brief respite a few feet away from the gate.

“Our runway assignment is changed,” the pilot informs us. (Yes, he actually said that.)

He taxis the 737 away from the gates. San Francisco Bay comes into view (I didn’t realize it was so large until we flew over it earlier) to the right of the plane. My window seat offers me an impressive view of flocks of waterbirds living large in the eddies along the edge of the runways.
Blue skies mean nothing. There are gusting winds in San Francisco, forcing the Air Travel Know-alls to require all flights into SFO to use the same runway as those departing.

For once I didn’t envision a mid-air crash. I have places to be.

At some point (about 40 minutes after the stated departure time), the plane picks up speed and we’re in the air.
I won’t bore you with the mundane details.
Suffice it to say that this flight landed at Houston about 30 minutes before my final flight was supposed to depart.
It landed in Terminal C. My next flight is on a small express shuttle, and those depart from Terminal B.
I’ve never been to Houston. I have no idea how near (or far) these terminals are. My husband is texting me with details about some Sky Tram, but I see no signs for it. I do see arrows pointing to Terminal B.
So I walk. Make that a power walk (which is about 1 mph faster than my normal walk, 4 mph. Let’s face it some people don’t even jog at 5 mph, so I’m rushing through the airport, dodging slow travelers, and trying not to bowl over those people who wander like sleepwalkers.)

When I make it to the B Terminal, they haven’t announced my flight. Whew!

My shoulder throbs from the pressure of my laptop bag. My feet flame like the friction of walking ignited them.
The flight is announced. We head down stairs into another tunnel of gates. Then we stand in our respective boarding group lines for close to 30 minutes.
Waiting on a crew.
I ran through the airport for this? I’m panicking about missing my shuttle to the retreat and the CREW OF ONE meant to serve us a drink and hand us a pack of ten mini pretzels hasn’t arrived?
There are a few bags that haven’t made it either. Other people’s connecting flights arrived late. As a woman on my previous flight informed me, “If you have checked luggage, they won’t leave without it.”
Eventually, I made it to my destination. I didn’t miss the shuttle. There were four other women waiting to catch it too.

But all this heart-pounding had me thinking about my love-hate relationship with travel. What do I love about it? What do I not like?

Things I love about traveling:

  • Seeing new places
  • Escaping rain to find sunshine
  • An excuse to eat trail mix
  • Trying new food
  • Experiencing new cultures

A list of hateful travel possibilities:

  • Crowds of people
  • Late flights
  • Traffic
  • Delayed flights
  • Screaming babies and small children
  • Chatty seat mates
  • Airplane restrooms

Don’t judge me for these short lists. I really do enjoy traveling. But I’m not a huge fan of traveling by myself.
This is why I’m married to Mr. World Traveler (aka Mr. Wonderful) because he always takes care of the headache-inducing aspects of travel. And if that isn’t wonderful, I don’t know what is.
Do you like to travel? What’s your favorite mode of travel? What don’t you like about that mode?

Love Summer Romance? Get ready for ONE SULTRY DAY

Another new book from me? Two in one week? Well, this one is in the early stages. This week my publisher is revealing the cover and blurb information.

I’ve always been a fan of summer romance. Last year, I got a great idea for a “meet cute” while I was hiking with my best friend from high school. She’ll be shocked to discover I’ve dedicated this story to her, I’m sure.

What? You don’t know what a meet cute is? That’s when the two individuals who will fall in love in the book (story) first meet.

If you’ve read my other stories, here are some examples. It’s when Ashlyn hit Dylan with her car (“Dream Architect” in the ACCIDENTAL VALENTINE anthology). For Marcus and Ronnie in the Virtual Match novellas, it’s when they first meet in the coffee shop. (“That geek is the one sending me those too hot to handle texts and emails?”)

Anyway, enough about this subject. You’re all here to see the amazing cover and hear about the new stories.

Roane Publishing proudly presents:

ONE SULTRY DAY – A Sweet Romance Anthology

Featuring FOUR summer romances by FOUR different authors

Buy it at your favorite online retailer August 6, 2018


Escorts for Hire – Heartaches for Free by Deryn Pittar

University drop-out and current barista, Sandi Fletcher-Bain upgrades to a position as a quality controller for a new agency established by her friend Jess. An agency designed to provide escorts for discerning women.  Anything’s better than driving an espresso machine. Despite her shattered ego after a disastrous breakup, Sandi decides to try it for a month.

Sadly, the assessments aren’t any more fun than making espresso. The first subject, Jeremy Miller, gets the Aunt Freda special and Sandi manages to send him running for the last train back to the city.  Her second assessment is ruined by an accidental meeting with her ex-fiancé Simon.

Back at the cafe, things get more complicated when Jeremy looks her up wanting a do-over. When Jess says Simon has applied to be an escort, Sandi is forced to explain why she broke off their engagement and why Jess shouldn’t hire him.

The bigger question: why is Jeremy no longer available?

Ghosts of Summers Past by T.E. Hodden

For five years Bunny has never once felt alone. He has been haunted by the tragedy that stole Hanna, his first true love from him, and has always felt her presence on one shoulder, and blame on the other.

Now Alice, a minor star from the show he writes, is on the verge of becoming more than just a friend, and the sun-baked palm beaches are almost feeling like home.

Can Bunny face the ghosts of his past? Or is history about to repeat itself in the most terrible of ways?

Love Unexpected by Sharon Hughson

Grad student Ivory Konner relishes a summer of guiding rafts on the Wenatchee River far from the expectations of her parents and the reminders of her recent dumping. She isn’t looking for romance when a thin guy and his dog nearly send her plummeting off a hiking trail.

Cancer survivor Prescott Colyer drops out of college, escapes to his uncle’s photo gallery in Leavenworth, WA, and quietly pursues his art. But when a collision on a hike exposes him to pain-free physical contact, he risks everything for a girl who’s not interested in romance, not even for the summer.

Once Ivory connects with Prescott’s art, she offers to help him build a business. As they spend time together, her heart takes on its own mission.

Can their unexpected encounter urge Prescott out of isolation? Will Ivory include love in her long-term plan?

Second Chance Summer by Lily Carlyle

Twenty years ago, Summer and Jason’s summer romance seemed destined to last. Until Summer abruptly broke it off, with little explanation. Heartbroken, Jason leaves the Outer Banks—indeed, the entire East Coast—waiting two decades to return. When he comes home to settle his great-aunt’s estate, one of the first people he sees is Summer.

She’s ready to tell him the truth about that summer. But is he ready to listen?

A Sneak Peek Inside

Because this is my blog, and you are my favorite people in all of Readerville, I’m going to give you a glimpse inside this story.

This is from the submitted, unedited manuscript, so no guarantees that it will look precisely the same when you see it in print come August.

From chapter one of “Love Unexpected”:

A dog’s bark echoed from below. The portion of trail Ivory glimpsed seemed clear, but many people had brought their canine friends on the expedition. The deep tone of this bark reminded Ivory of her worst childhood memory, being chased down by a huge dog that bit her calf.

Her heart pounded as the recollection replayed. Or maybe it was from the pace she’d set, because she was practically jogging down the mountain.

The switchback disappeared around a corner of jutting rock and dirt. Ivory’s feet slid on loose pebbles. She threw her hands out for balance, glancing at the sheer edge only inches from her misbehaving hikers. When she glanced up again, a German Shepherd trotted around the bend, nearly slamming into her knees.


Her soles scrabbled on the lip of the trail, forward momentum careening her toward the drop. She thrust her shoulder toward the hillside and slammed into the lens of a camera. Pain spiked through her shoulder, but her racing mind screamed about the edge.

She lifted her gaze from the drop off only to headbutt the camera’s owner in the nose. He grunted and arms whipped around her waist. Together, they tumbled against the hillside. His head snapped back and his chin smacked her brow bone.

Ivory threw her hands up to stop another collision, placing them on shoulders barely wider than her own. Her stinging eyes riveted on a face inches away. A pointy chin tilted down and black hair, askew and sporting a dent from a hat, flipped in the wake of the abrupt halt.

Ivory stared into dark eyes, shocked by the striking amber ring around the iris. Something nudged against her legs, pinning her against the stranger. His camera dug into her collar bone.

“Sorry.” The word escaped on a wheezy breath.

“Rem, back up.” His tenor voice coughed out the command.

Ivory flattened her hands on his chest, noting slight definition beneath the breathable fabric. Pressure eased from her legs, but when she tried to inch backwards, her heel met resistance.

The stranger’s mouth puckered and Ivory leaned her head away, heart diving against her breastbone again. A sharp whistle pierced the air, and the block against her feet moved.

Hands rested on her hips, hot even through the layers under her sweatshirt. Ivory slithered backward, sighing once her body was free from the agony of the camera’s press.

“Are you okay?” His eyes stared into hers, the corona of light in their depths snaring her attention. “I should have had Rem heeling.”

Help Spread the News

There will be a blog tour and a release blitz for this title. If you want to get a free advanced copy in exchange for an honest review, that’s also an option.

Click on the button below to fill out the form. Someone from Roane Publishing will get back to you with details and all the information you need.

Who’s ready for summer? ME! And that includes a little (fictional) summer romance, too.

Back to Sweet Grove: LOVE’S LITTLE SECRETS

Today the second Sweet Grove Romance is born into the world of published books. You can snap Love’s Little Secrets up on Amazon, and check in with Kyanna and Roth while discovering the truth about Norma and Herman Wells.

The idea for this story was born as I drafted and revised Love’s Late Arrival. I really liked the high school secretary, Norma Wells, and I kept wondering why she stayed with that chauvinistic husband of hers.

It’s been five years since my own silver anniversary party, but the question that really got me going was: what if Herman had a son who crashed Norma’s anniversary party? All the other questions that helped formulate the plot sprung from that one.


Norma Wells is having a silver anniversary party under duress. Tabitha Olsen and the ladies of First Street Church won’t let such an important anniversary slide by, but Norma isn’t sure there’s much to celebrate. For the past several years, she and Herman have drifted further apart, and she wonders if she even loves him anymore.

Herman’s been wrestling with a lot of changes at work. But he doesn’t talk about that with Norma. It’s his job to take care of her and protect her from the harsh realities of life. Besides, who wants to talk about demotions and pay cuts?

When Herman’s well-hidden secret crashes the silver anniversary party, everything changes. This is only the first wall to crumble in Herman’s life.

Will he finally treat Norma as a partner? Or is Norma finished with him now that she knows he betrayed her in the worst possible way?
Romance shouldn’t end after the wedding and honeymoon. This story focuses on the struggles of marriage between Christian and non-Christian and the truth about real love and forgiveness.

Read an Excerpt

From chapter two:

Norma addressed everyone by first name, smiled, touched them with warm hands. She asked them about pets, children, gardens, and their health. It struck him that she belonged in Sweet Grove, but most of the faces were only vaguely familiar to him since he’d been on the road for so many years.

Herman stood beside her, munching on a generous slice of cake. Everyone loved her. A stirring in his chest reminded him of his affection, dampened by time and distance, and the bitterness of her broken dreams and his unfulfilled plans. He’d never stopped loving her, even when his duty kept them apart.

If the gem on her finger didn’t prove his love, certainly the four-bedroom farmhouse on twenty acres must do the trick. Every anniversary and birthday, he brought rose bushes and flowers, which she loved planting. And that darned gazebo she’d wanted a few years back, situated just so beneath the arching shade of pecan trees, had been a special addition.

Norma’s hand stayed on his arm as she led him through the crowd. Herman spoke a few words to everyone, nodding in acceptance of their well wishes. Talk of the Apple Blossom festival circulated, smothering him. Finally, a woman hugged his wife and her hand dropped away from him. He sidled toward the door.

A motor revved, roaring nearby before cutting off. Many heads turned toward it. Herman stepped closer, yearning for fresh air and space without clingy near-strangers.

A dark-haired young man in a black leather jacket swished through the doors. His fawn-colored skin contrasted with the white walls. Tousled curls flopped nearly to his shoulders, and he glanced around the room. White teeth flashed when he answered a query from one of the men clutching a cup of coffee near the door.

Herman glanced toward Norma, meeting her questioning gaze. He jerked his head toward the door. It was too soon to expect they could leave, but surely she wouldn’t begrudge him a few moments away from the crush.

He shuffled toward the door in time to hear the coffee man growl, “Don’t know no Manny Wells.”

The sound of the name anchored his feet in place. Only one person called him Manny Wells. One person he never wanted to see in his hometown.

“Do you mean Herman Wells?” Summer Davis slipped beside the older man, a carafe of water in her hand. “This is his anniversary party.”

“Can you point him out?” The younger man’s voice was smooth but unfamiliar.

All three of them turned, and Summer’s finger pointed directly to him. Her lips moved, but Herman heard nothing above the slamming of his heart against his eardrums.

The handsome stranger’s amber-flecked brown eyes fixed on Herman’s pale ones. His square jaw and wide nose were twins of Herman’s while the rest of him reflected the Hispanic beauty of his mother.

“Dad.” Fire lit the boy’s eyes, and his full lips didn’t smile.

Herman stiffened. Questions swirled through his mind at dizzying speed, and the sinking sensation in his stomach turned the spice cake to gravel.

What’s Next

You’ll meet some new characters in this story. I intend for you to like them enough you’ll want to read their stories in a few months.

Bailey Travers, the Wells’ neighbor, is the hero in the next book in the series. Love’s Lingering Doubts is scheduled to release on July 3, 2018.

I’m planning Ariel Stryker’s story for September 10, when the new young adult sub-line of First Street Church romances debuts. Adonis will play a role in that story, too, but my brain is churning up ideas for a romance all his own. If anyone deserves it, I’d say it’s Adonis.

With all the changes Kindle Direct Publishing is making to the Kindle World system, I don’t know if there will be more than these four books. But I’m committed to finishing out the 2018 projects I’ve planned.

What other characters would you like to know more about? Would you like to see me continue with the Sweet Grove Romances?


The Great Gatsby stalks me from one high school language arts class to the next. In St. Helens, he prowls through the junior classrooms and in Scappoose, his story resounds with the freshmen.

This disparity in curriculum gave me pause.

After all, I’ve taught students between the ages of twelve and eighteen for many years. There is a huge difference in the analytical abilities of freshmen (fourteen or fifteen-year-olds) and juniors (sixteen and seventeen-year-olds). Can Gatsby’s theme and content bridge this gap? Will freshmen understand the depth of Fitzgerald’s message in the same way juniors do?

The proof is in the pudding. And I won’t be around to see the end product.


In the freshmen classroom, the project due at the end of the reading is a theme timeline.

This is an art-heavy project. Students will identify the (a) theme of the book and create a timeline of events that support that theme. As I talked about in a recent post about theme, it must be evidence-based using words from the text rather than experience-based.

If these students can prove their interpretation with sufficient text examples, they will have nailed a theme. I believe there are many, but Nick Carroway does a fair job of stating an obvious one in the first paragraph of the novel.

You can’t judge a person because you don’t know what they’ve been through.

Everyone judges Gatsby as a successful and wealthy man who loves throwing parties. He’s affable and generous, and everyone is happy to take part in his excess but none of them show up to pay respects at his funeral.

So what sort of person was Jay Gatsby really? I’m not sure we really know. A poor man who sought his big break and found it, but all the success in the world couldn’t overcome his insecurities. His life ended before he could reap the benefit of finding true love with Daisy.


The juniors are focusing on the symbolism in Fitzgerald’s classic novel. There is plenty to be found.

The one chapter I read with these students had several symbolic things in it, but many of the students missed their significance. Even when I stopped and asked leading questions, they blanked out.

I fear the teachers will be disappointed at the outcome of this assignment.

Like theme, symbolism is one of those things that gets emphasized in high school (and college) literature classes. Symbols can be subject to interpretation. I spoke more about that in this post about Blue Being Blue.

In my mind, symbols take more time to recognize. The harder you have to look for one, the more unlikely it is to be one. When analyzing a novel, only obvious symbols should be considered (as far as I’m concerned).

I believe symbolisim requires deeper reflection on a text, so perhaps the varied focus of the curricula explains things. The choice of this text for students at different intellectual stages of development might make sense in this case.

Literary Takeaways

No one argues the state of The Great Gatsby as a classic. It should certainly be part of a robust literary education.
Or should it?

As an author, I rarely give thought to symbolism in my writing and thought of theme is something done during revisions. Since I write genre fiction, that’s to be expected. Nothing I write will be considered a classic. No one will teach my short stories or novellas in their English class.

I’m sort of glad about this. Even speaking to readers about my books can be disheartening if they don’t “get” what I wanted to say. The thought of some English teacher claiming the technology in the follow up novel to “The Demon Was Me” represented evil as much as the demons makes me cringe.

Mostly because I didn’t even want my demons to represent evil. They were being trying to survive, and the way they did it destroyed regular people. Can you see a deeper truth in this? One that might be important for young adults (the intended audience) to understand?

I think students in today’s classrooms would be more engaged if more contemporary novels were taught in classrooms. My experience teaching a group of middle school students Hunger Games proves this point. They were low readers, many with language disabilities, so they missed much about theme and symbolism, but they could plot out the story and relate the character arc of Katniss Everdeen. Doesn’t appreciation of story have a place in a language arts classroom?

Fitzgerald is a notable wordsmith. His descriptions are lovely and borderline purple prose. Since he puts so much of himself into a story, readers feel intimate with the characters. But most of his stories are lacking on plot.

Maybe teaching one literary classic per year would suffice in high school English classes. Introduce reluctant readers (which most young people are these days because…technology) to a few masters. Let the assignments practice important life skills: like disseminating essential information and conveying ideas with clarity.

Because how often have you needed to identify a theme or recognize symbolism in your day-to-day life? It’s nice to want kids to broaden their horizons and look outside the box for beauty, but if they can’t balance their checkbook or hold down a job, does that truly matter?
What classics do you believe are essential for every young American to read? What skills should be taught in language arts classes?

Deep Thinking at the Writer’s Retreat

My Muse is extroverted in every imagined scenario. My actual body and mind are introverted enough to happily stay home every weekend reading a book.
While Musie celebrated the idea of the Deep Thinker’s Writing Retreat, my mind shriveled into the fetal position and begged to visit a library instead. Preferably the one on my iPad which wouldn’t involve moving away from my couch.
Since the retreat was in Florida, my body argued with my feeble mind. “There will be sunshine and blue skies. We can get our daily dose of Vitamin D without taking that soft gel.”

The part of my brain that knows I need a writing tribe and that my writing is falling short—somehow, since I can’t get an agent to jump on it—also slapped the curled mound of quivering gray matter. After all, 2018 is a year for metamorphosis, and the biggest part of that is with my writing.
The battlefield inside didn’t stop me from packing a bag or waking up at 3AM. On waged the upheaval between mind, soul and Musie, while I kissed hubby goodbye and boarded a plane for the first of three legs of the journey to Destin, Florida.

My Expectations

It was a writing retreat. I expected to write.

In fact, I set myself a goal of completing 5,000 new words for the third Sweet Grove Romance. I figured, that’s five hours. I’ll be there six DAYS, surely there will be at least five hours to write.
Not if I expected to sleep.

Not if I hoped to glean the lessons I needed for character development.

I know this is my weak area, and the retreat organizers gave us three days to work on our characters. In fact, we spent hours brainstorming the hero and shero of every retreat attendee.
This after the entire group tossed out ideas for characters of the “group” story we were brainstorming.

Brainstormers Extraordinaire headed by Susan May Warren

Brainstorming is my super power. No less than six people told me that at the group. One woman (a former managing editor for Zondervan) told me to expect an email from her every time she got stuck.
But the only time I got to write anything was on the final day of the retreat. Then I was expected to craft the first scene we had brainstormed earlier and share it with my group mentor, Susan May Warren.
She wanted me to share a rough draft scene with her? Was she honestly expecting to see my best work?
Enough of that. Even if the retreat wasn’t what I expected, it was an incredible experience.

A Day in the Life

I don’t sleep in. The fact I was in a different time zone didn’t matter.
I woke up around 5:30 AM (3:30 my time). My roomie woke up, too, and we headed down to the beach for a walk. This became our normal morning routine for the next four days.
Breakfast was meant to be served at 7:30. The oven wasn’t cooperating, so that didn’t happen the first several days. (Eventually the maintenance man arrived and determined that the convection setting was the default, so the retreat hostess had been using that instead of a regular bake setting.)
At 8:45, Rachel Hauck led the group in devotions. She’d recently taught a class on the Song of Solomon at her church, so we got some condensed thoughts from that.
Enlightening, for sure. I was considering the intimacy of my relationship with Christ…and finding it sadly lacking.
Then the morning sessions began. These were the topics:

  • Stories that matter
  • Characters that matter
  • Lindy Hop MEGA
  • 4-Act Plot
  • Plot your bookends
  • Scenes that matter
  • Building your premise

No, we didn’t do ALL those the first day. There were two morning sessions and these were the topics for those sessions (ten planned sessions in all, although it ended up only being eight).
After lunch, the larger group broke into two smaller brainstorming groups of six attendees, one mentor and one scribe (the Administrative Assistant for My Book Therapy was our scribe and the retreat hostess was the scribe for the other group. Both of these ladies are published authors).
Here’s what the afternoon brainstorming sessions were supposed to look like:

  • SEQ Brainstorming (four sessions)
  • Plot Brainstorming (two sessions)
  • Black Moment Brainstorming (one session)
  • Scene One Brainstorming (one session)
  • One session of writing time
  • Two sessions for one-to-one meetings with mentors

Note how I said “supposed to” in the preceding sentence? Yeah, the brainstorming of the hero and shero took the first three days of the retreat for the six authors in our group. A full hour or more per character.

This is what a character SEQ looks like

This left no time for scene brainstorming because the rest of the sessions were needed to brainstorm six plot outlines (LINDY Hop four-act plot diagram).
I will say that we brainstormed the black moments and first scenes as we went, so all the bases were covered.

The Lindy Hop plot for my novella

The first three nights, we watched a movie from 7 to 9 PM. Each person was assigned something from that day’s lesson to find in the movie and we discussed it after the film.

  • We used THE SECRET LIFE OF WALTER MITTY to discuss characterization on Friday night.
  • On Saturday, we talked about the major plot points with THE LEGEND OF TARZAN.
  • They made us cry on Sunday with THE IMPOSSIBLE. We talked about why that movie “worked” when the story was not action-packed. How did they build the emotional tension?

Not surprisingly, the emotion building still fit into the LINDY Hop structure we’d been learning.
Using movies is a great way to solidify the importance of characterization and plot. Everyone has the same frame of reference, so the question of subjectiveness is alleviated.

The spot where phone calls home happened

For the most part. There were varying themes for TARZAN that could be determined by naming different things as the “man in the mirror” moment or “black moment.”
The Deep Thinkers Retreat might not have been what I was expecting. (Notice I didn’t call it a writing retreat there. I think it’s meant to be a writer’s retreat rather than a retreat for writing.) Still, I learned so much that my brain overloaded on the flight home.

The perfect place for writing

My next Sweet Grove romance was written using these methods. In July, you can judge for yourself if this retreat made me a better storyteller.
What makes something a retreat? Have you ever when to a retreat with one set of expectations only to discover it would deliver a different set?

Two Honors Classes Prove the Truth about Theme

Two classes of fifteen juniors in high school read the same story and come up with completely different themes for the story. What truth about theme could this possibly prove?

Read on if you haven’t already guesses the answer. (Or scroll to the end if you’re THAT person.)

As an author, I think about theme. I don’t generally think about theme when I’m first drafting a story. At least not in the concrete way English teachers try to teach it.

Since I prefer reading plot driven stories, those are the kind I generally write. Of course, they involve interesting and relatable (I hope) characters who will change, learn and/or grow by the time the plot culminates.

During my rewriting phase is when I ask myself, “What do I want readers to take away from this story?” For me, that is the essence of theme. In the language arts classroom, theme was said to be “the central idea or meaning of a story.”

Doesn’t my definition sound like something a person would actually say? (Could be because I said it.)

On this particular Wednesday, I read the short story “Love in LA” by Dagoberto Gilb (an award winning short story author) to (or with) two different classes of 11th-grade students (mostly girls, by the way).

Jake rear-ends a cute, young babe with his ‘58 Buick. Her brand new (‘93) Toyota doesn’t fare so well. You might think this is a story about these two hitting it off and ending up in love, but this is “Love in L(os) A(ngeles)” so that’s not what happens at all. Instead, she tries to get the information she needs to get her car fixed while Jake tries to get her phone number.

First Period

The lesson for the day was a Socratic Seminar around this story. As the substitute teacher, I was the facilitator, and I had to insert a few more ideas during this class period. It was before 9am, so most teenagers lack full cognitive functioning.

I read the first paragraph (the longest one in the story) and one of the students read the rest. She had a difficult time keeping her eye rolls at bay in some areas. Jake fancies himself to be quite the charmer, but even his target realizes he’s more of a con man.

The first and last paragraphs refer to freedom in contrast to the sticky situation in Los Angeles at that moment, a traffic jam.

After more than 40 minutes of discussing Gilb’s methods of characterization and what the title had to do with the story, the students were asked to write what they believed the theme was. It was like pulling teeth to get someone to have the courage to share theirs.

                    “Freedom doesn’t come without a price.”

Examples from the text supported this idea. Since the first and last paragraphs reiterated the pursuit of freedom as Jake’s main goal, it seemed like a good bet that could have been the “central idea or meaning of the story.”

Fourth Period

This group of all girls came in, energized from the lunch break they’d just had. They were chatty, but not disrespectful and happy to discuss the literature at hand.

After I read the story to them, that is.

This class judged Jake to me having a mid-life crisis (while first period thought he couldn’t have been older than 35). They saw his reliable, old classic car as a symbol for his “old life” as a younger man. His flirtations with a girl they felt was maybe 22 were really his attempt to return to “the good old days.”

In fact, the word freedom was never mentioned until, at the end of class bell, when I told the class what theme first period came up with. And I could hardly contain my grin.

“Sometimes dreams are beyond reach.”

“Sometimes it’s too late to go back to what once was.”

“If you want to reach a goal, you need to do more than dream about it.”

All of these were themes the students tossed around toward the end of our discussion. Furthermore, the evidence they cited in the text supported these as the central idea of the story.

The Truth about Theme

Theme in literature might not be subjective (since the text must prove it) but it is open to interpretation.

At the end of that second great discussion, I wished for Gilb’s phone number or email address. I wanted to ask him if one (or all) of these themes where indeed the meaning he intended to convey with this short story.

Not that it matters. The students had already proven what I’ve always know to be true:
Theme is the meaning the reader gleans from the story.

Yep, it’s not about the author’s intentions at all. Sometimes, readers might discover the truth an author buried in plain sight within a text. Other times, their personal experiences and worldview might glean unintended ideas and meanings.

The long introduction to theme in the lesson plans said, “Although readers may differ in their interpretations of a story that does not mean that any interpretation is valid.” They support this by saying that the statement of theme “should be responsive to the details of the story.” Meaning a reader’s experiences can’t outweigh the actual statements of the text.

One of the girls in the second class said, “Well, that line shoots down my idea.” This when I read one sentence from the text which stated the opposite of what she was sure the author intended to say.

Which of these themes was the one Gilb intended? Or did he have an entirely different meaning behind the writing?

Truthfully, themes are an amazing way to concentrate analysis on a text. However, even in a short tale, there is the possibility that readers will have a takeaway that the writer never intended. Conversely, they might not “get” the point the author hoped to convey.

Is it true that theme is open to interpretation (and thus subject to misinterpretation)?

Seven Things I Learned from Publishing in Kindle Worlds

Every story and book I’ve published has taught me something about the publishing industry. Since Amazon gets a lot of flak about taking advantage of authors, I wanted to share what I’ve learned from publishing in Kindle Worlds.
First off, Kindle Worlds are considered fan fiction. I’m not a fan of this genre or this label.
Furthermore, I’m not a huge fan of the original First Street Church novellas written by Melissa Storm. I am a HUGE admirer of Melissa because she believes in supporting authors with every resource at her disposal.

I’ve mentioned before that I don’t read romance. Okay, that’s false now that I’ve dedicated myself to publishing three romance novellas this year and getting my first romance novel into print.

My first choice for reading material is not romance. And if I pick up a romance, I prefer romantic suspense. Sure, the romance is important but it isn’t the sole focus of the story.
So what the heck am I doing writing in a genre I don’t prefer to read?

I’ve been asking myself this question at least once a week since the dawn of my contract with Kindle Direct Publishing.

Now, on to what I’ve learned from this experience:

  1. The timeline of publishing may be shorter than with traditional publishers, but it isn’t quick and easy. Let me add: I have only contracted for a bonus with the first book released in November. This is an incentive from KDP to get authors involved in these universes they “own.”
  2. There is even LESS communication with KDP than with any other publisher I’ve worked with. Even the small house that took two years to print the anthology I was involved it had a specific editor who replied to my emails in a timely manner. Not so much with the KDP representative.
  3. It’s better to get support from other authors when you’re uploading your first book. The cover portion of the upload is confusing (set up so you will design your cover right there), and I was glad that there were multiple authors in the FSC Facebook group who could walk me through it.
  4. You won’t sell a ton of books. Even authors with huge followings who mailed their large lists of subscribers found they didn’t sell the expected number of copies. Which seems strange since Amazon promoted the heck out of these books on release day.
  5. The influx of cross-over readers takes time. In fact, I didn’t see a huge rise in subscribers to my Facebook page (we ran a promotion) or my email list when the book released.
  6. Staying the course with multiple avenues of exposure is still necessary. Once I finally got my spot in the Sweet Grove Sentinel (newsletter for the Kindle World), I netted 53 new subscribers in one weekend. Wow!
  7. Quantity is as important as quality. I believe the more titles I publish in this world will grow my following. Since there are so many books and authors in the First Street Church universe, the readers can’t be expected to buy ever one of them. At least not within the first few months.

    In the end, I don’t feel I’ve wasted my time and effort writing for Kindle Worlds. Yes, they own all these stories—forever—but I could take the characters to a different location if I wanted to publish outside of the First Street Church universe.

    Do you have any questions about this form of publishing?

Florida in February

Who wouldn’t want to go to Florida in the middle of winter? (Okay, winter is only a month from being “officially” over, but still.)

What writer wouldn’t want to attend a five-day writing retreat with two best-selling authors? Maybe someone, but not this author.

I wish I could tell you more about it, but at the moment, I’m in transit. Since the retreat is held at a house in Destin, Florida, I’m having to zig and zag all over the place to get there from the Pacific Northwest.

I left before 7 am this morning from Portland to fly to San Francisco. From there, I’m heading off to Houston, which appears to be the only major airport on the west side of Destin with flights to the little airport.

I arrive at 6 pm, exactly one hour before the shuttle leaves from the airport to take a bunch of us writers to the retreat.

Bright and early (okay, not really early in my book) on Friday morning, the retreat begins with breakfast and devotions led by Rachel Hauck. Not sure who that is? One of the best-selling authors. She writes Christian historical romances and historical fiction, so if those aren’t your genres…you’re forgiven.
There will be classes in the morning. Group sessions for brainstorming and applying the lessons.
In the afternoon, I’ll be writing my next Sweet Grove romance novella. That’s the entire focus of this retreat for me. I hope to come back with 5-10 thousand new words. If nothing else, I’ll have an incredible hooking scene and complete understanding of my characters’ motivations.

Because the first draft WILL be written before the second book releases on March 13.

Yes, here’s the pretty cover, in case you missed my post about the series. (You did? Here’s the link.)

Don’t worry, I’ll be sure to let you know how well the retreat worked out for me. Maybe even this time next week.

Or maybe not since I’ve scheduled March 1 as an official “recovery” day from all the travel and lack of sleep.

Where is your ideal winter vacation spot?

Transformation: Me

Transformation means a complete change. Are you sick of hearing about it yet? This is the third and final post in the series about my 2018 word of the year.

Whenever I choose a word, it might be meant to impact a certain area of my life. For example, when I chose to have an attitude of gratitude in 2016, that was mostly a mental transformation.
However, the memes I shared on social media also affected my author brand. My change of attitude helped me with my physical goals of reaching a healthy weight toward the lower end of my “target.”
However, I wasn’t intending to change from creepy caterpillar to winged butterfly. There will be no plastic surgery to alter my face and form. No mutations are being invoked at the cellular level.
So this means my personal metamorphosis has specific parameters.

Physical Transformation

After years of resolving to lose weight, I’ve given up on setting my goals in those terms.

Yes, I have an “ideal” weight in mind.

But this transformation is more about building muscle, endurance and all-around fitness levels.
Along with that, I’m juggling food choices until I land on something that will help me do what I’ve always done: eat what I want and maintain my weight.
In younger years, this meant working out a little longer or harder for a few days before or after a splurge (like Thanksgiving dinner with all that cornbread dressing and gravy).

However, my fifty-year-old body isn’t keen on cooperating with that. I thinks that doing the same workouts is a big waste of time, and it will greedily cling to every scrap of chocolate ingested. And place it inconveniently on my waistline.
So I may have my work cut out for me to morph into a butterfly in the physical realm.

Spiritual Metamorphosis

Last year knocked me down and kicked me repeatedly while I huddled in the fetal position protecting my head from the blows.

The biggest battlefield was in my spirit.

I’ve always prioritized my spiritual self. I learned long ago that when my spirit went hungry, it drained my emotions and physical strength. Eventually, I withered.
That’s where I ended up last year.
Now it’s time to cocoon that ugly caterpillar and rely on the Holy Ghost to transform her into something resembling a Christ-like individual.
One area I’ve lacked in years past: meditating on scripture. It will blow your mind to realize how much more often meditating on scripture is recommended over simply studying and learning it.

So why haven’t I focused on it before now?
Your guess is as good as mine, but that’s what I plan to do to fortify my spirit for the next big battle.

Writing Transformation

Yes, it might seem the website and branding should fall in this category, but I don’t see it that way. Those are about my CAREER as a writer.
I’m changing my focus in writing. In turn, the website and branding need to reflect that.
This year my writing is going to focus on Christian and inspirational work. Yes, I have a sweet romance coming out this summer, but I wrote that story in 2017. I hope to release a sweet romance novel, as well, but it’s a compilation of the novella series I penned from 2015 through 2017.

Every fiction story I write this year will have a Christian worldview. They will be intended for readers of Christian fiction (specifically romance, but my romances are atypical).
I hope these readers will enjoy my writing style enough to purchase my sweet romances. They will certainly be candidates for picking up Reflections from a Pondering Heart or either of my Bible studies.
I am changing from a general market romance author to a primarily Christian author. I hope that will include women’s fiction and fantasy as some point in the future, but the metamorphosis has to start small.
What area is most difficult for you to transform?
If you missed my earlier posts, you can read about my website transformation and the transformation of my brand and platform by clicking on the appropriate highlighted word.

For more information about all my releases, jump on board for Hero Delivery and snap up some free fiction as a “thank you” for signing up.

Transformation: Genre Branding & Platform

It’s hard to make a change when you don’t have consistency. Or at least that’s what I told myself about my author brand and platform. And then came 2018 and its Word:

The truth is, I’ve been walking around rather apologetically since I started this professional author gig. Well, except for a few months around the time of this release:

“What do you write?” People would ask.
“All sorts of things.” And then my eyes would dart to the side. “Most of my published stuff is romance, but I have one YA Fantasy and a women’s fiction novel.”
I’m guilty. I was ashamed to admit that I wrote romance. Many of my author friends are angry and revolted as they read this.

Because romance writing isn’t anything to be embarrassed about. Is it what I “dreamed” of writing? Nope.
But it IS what I’ve been able to market to publishers, and where most of my readers come from.
This is the year I embrace that identity. With one caveat, of course.

My Brand: Before

I’m not even sure I had a brand before this. Check out the things I used for continuity across every social media platform.








If you saw those things, what would you guess I wrote?

What? It doesn’t scream any genre at you?

That would be because I wrote so many genres I feared embracing anything that might look distinctively romance or fantasy or nonfiction or Christian.
Is it any wonder I haven’t been able to build an audience? No one can figure out what it is I’m selling here.

My Brand: After

One thing I’ve heard over and over is: “As an author, YOU are your brand.”
But what does that really mean? What does that LOOK like in logos and colors and fonts?
I am a person who loves to read many genres and has too many ideas to contain in a single writing category. So do I brand multiple personalities? How?
This is what I learned from a quick quiz from Kaye Putnam and her Brand Personality Quiz:
1. I have elements of several personalities in my brand
2. The ones that appeal to me most are Hero and Magician
3. To settle on ONE or know how to properly combine these, I needed to discover what I want my ideal clients (readers) to FEEL
Light bulb moment.
I knew the answer to this. So I took some time considering it more deeply.
I want my readers to feel understood and hopeful and encouraged. I want them to be empowered to chase (and capture) their own dreams.
Yes, I want to offer them escape, but more than that I wanted them to see themselves between the pages and know they are not alone. Someone relates to how they’re feeling and what their lives are throwing at them right now.
Then I outlined all of that and shipped it off to a designer. Perry Elisabeth is a freelancer I met through a Facebook Group. I’d been admiring her cover designs for months and I’d succumbed to the magnetism of her WriteMind Planner.
And this is what she came up with.

There was a transformation here, right? I can build a platform with this distinctive symbol.
Based on that, what genre would you guess I wrote?

And if you say “romance” or “women’s fiction” I won’t cringe. Because in 2018 I’m going to publish three (or more) Christian romances with women’s fiction themes and motifs.
More on that later.
What do you think of the new look? What/how does it make you feel?