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I met this book on a friend’s book review blog, and it sounded intriguing. I was not disappointed. What’s not to like about a main character with a blank past, vague memories of another world, romance, danger, world travel and even time travel?

One night, a young woman finds herself in a New York museum with no memory of who she is or how she got there. An employee gives her a job researching an ancient civilization, the Minoan culture, and that becomes her life. Kallie is content with her place in the basement office of the museum, until she is thrust into the limelight at a fundraiser. It is there that she meets Dimitri Andreas, a wealthy and handsome benefactor of the museum, whose favor she must seek. Her sales pitch is a disaster, but she meets Dimitri personally, and he seems more interested in her and her research than in her failed speech.

A series of unforeseen incidents bring them together, but they come from different levels of society, and Kallie harbors her secret of a missing past. When she is asked by Dimitri to join a team to Egypt to look for artifacts from the Minoan civilization, she realizes she has a strong affinity for the region. She also comes to see that Dimitri Andreas is also not the person he seems to be. When their desires would pull them together, their secrets keep them apart.

The sequence of events creates plot intensity, the characters are strong figures who seek their true identity with integrity and courage, and even the artifacts they seek are not what they expect. Throw in an antagonist who cares for nothing but the end game, and the intensity increases.

I particularly enjoyed Kallie’s journey of self-discovery, allowing her true character to emerge.

Interesting links:

Book Reviewer Janet Sketchley

Author Tracy Higley

Tracy Higley

 

 

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My walk this morning reminded me of the indie publishing journey I’ve been on for the past few years, as I saw tansy and thistle growing along the fence line.

After much research and many trials, I created Tansy & Thistle Press…faith, fiction, forum. I already had a website, but I wanted to use create my own logo, describing the content of the site and the blog.

The creation of the independent business was a steep learning curve for sure, but I expected the choice of a name to be fairly simple, to think of something that portrayed what I write, and to polish it.

It turned out to be an exercise in frustration, as every name I tried was already used by at least one of the millions of people who have websites. I like the thistle idea, because we have thistles here, but it needed something more. It must have been my husband who suggested tansy, another type of invasive weed that grows heartily in our area. The tansy is yellow, the thistle purple, and I liked the sound of them together: Tansy & Thistle Press.

For the subtitle, I wanted to include fiction, because that is mostly what I write, and my faith always seems to come out in it, whether I plan it or not, which is also what I want to offer. But I also have a blog, and how does that fit in? Again, it was my brilliant husband who suggested the word forum, as a place to discuss faith and fiction and other topics.

I registered the business name and logo January 6, 2016, using the image above that a business on Fiverr created, and have enjoyed using it since. I continue to write, working on the third book in my In Search of Freedom series, and hope to have it available either for Christmas or shortly afterward. If life would stop interrupting, it would be easier, but I am enjoying this summer with family and friends, so at times, the writing is pushed back. But I will pursue it in order to tie up this series with Far Side of the Sea, as soon as possible.

I love music, always have. As a kid, I imagined I would someday sing beautiful flowery song endings that went on for bars, in a high range. As it turned out, I’m an alto, and a very moderate one at that. And flowery endings have mostly fallen out of fashion, except for opera. Of which I’m not a fan.

I don’t have details or data about the influence of music on the brain, but I can speak from experience. There are pieces of music that create such nostalgia that I can still visualize the event where they were played or sung, the place in the story I was writing. I often have music playing in the background while I write, and even though I, personally, must choose instrumental music that doesn’t steal my concentration, when I hear a particular piece, I still fall into the part of the story where that music was played.

Music not only relaxes or stimulates, depending on style, it also affects the body physically— blood pressure, anxious responses; emotionally—remember the song that played when you met your spouse; mentally—concentration and focus; spiritually—again depending on the genre and style, but consider worship songs that draw you closer to God; psychologically—causing feelings of distress or relief, and everything in between. Music has been used for millennia to stir up feelings of motivation and devotion.

I enjoy instrumental piano music, especially with a contemporary beat. I am also a fan of soft rock (“Call me a relic, call me what you will, say I’m old-fashioned, say I’m over the hill…”), and some of the more trendy trained voices (think Andrea Bocelli or Josh Groban), sometimes blended with rock. I despise country & western, to my husband’s chagrin, and can’t figure out where that aversion began, because I don’t mind the old western songs my dad used to listen to on the record player (Sons of the Pioneers, Wilf Carter). In moderation.

What is your preferred genre of music, and do you listen to it while writing / reading? How does it affect you and what reaction are you looking for? I’d be interested in your feedback. And remember, this is totally personal, no rights or wrongs.

JAN: Today I am interviewing author Sharon Hamilton, who writes as Sharon Plumb. Thanks for joining us today, Sharon. How long have you been writing and how did you come to it?

SHARON: My earliest memory of writing is at a child-sized table in our kitchen when I was in kindergarten. I have always written stories, although I stopped for a while when I was studying computer science at university. When my children were young, I decided to try again. I enrolled in a course in writing for children, and I have been writing ever since.

JAN: Who are some of the people who most influenced your decision to write?

SHARON: My grade 7 English teacher liked my stories and told me I should be a writer. Other teachers gave me good marks on my writing, and my parents enjoyed reading it and kept copies. More recently, the members of my writing groups and encouraging comments from a few editors and publishers have kept me going.

I try to encourage others as well. Writing is a tough, lonely business to be in, and we can all use some kind words!

JAN: That’s the truth! What’s your preferred genre?

SHARON: I have written picture books, a middle grade mystery adventure, young adult fantasy, poetry, songs, children’s plays, and a full-length Easter musical, so I don’t actually stick to one genre. My religious writing has mostly been dramas and songs, often together. I also write children’s Sunday School curriculum, and enjoy illuminating theological concepts through story.

In my secular stories it seems that whatever I set out to write turns into fantasy—not swords and wizards, usually, but the broad category of things that couldn’t actually happen in the real world. My YA novels have dragons on another planet. Another has a farm of giant vegetables. A work in progress has creatures that live underground in the Earth’s upper mantle. My picture book is about a bear that shovels snow off his roof. But I also like to know how things work, so I often end up with a kind of science fiction-fantasy blend.

JAN: Very diverse. Why do you write?

SHARON: That’s a really good question. The quick answer is compulsion. If I don’t write, I become sad. Although I love putting words down, I often get tongue-tied when I speak. Writing helps me figure myself out. [I agree! sez Jan.] The process can feel difficult, frustrating, and endless, but I’m never happier than when I’m doing it.

The answer to the deeper question, what do I hope to achieve by writing, is one that I have been asking myself for a while now. Obviously, I want people to read what I write, and I hope they will take away something of value. Through my religious writing, I hope people will understand something about God in a new way, and desire Him more. But what are the secular stories for? Entertainment, yes. The main goal must be to write a compelling story that someone will actually want to read. I also hope they will learn from my research and find new delight in the natural world: the tagline on my website is “Exploring Nature in Imaginary Worlds.” But is there more?

Writing is how I process thoughts about the world and faith and how they interact. My stories, though not overtly Christian, do contain Christian themes. I hope my Christian readers will find them. The non-Christian readers may or may not notice them, but I hope the ideas will resonate. As Jill Briscoe said, “When you are a writer, what you are is written all over a plain white sheet.” I hope that what I am and what spills out through my stories will be magical to someone.

JAN: Excellent thought. I just read that our “job” as Christians is to abide in the Vine, and Christ’s part is to bring fruit from our faithful abiding. So, as we write, honestly and transparently, our light is visible and powerful.

How and where do you write? Are you a plotter or a pantser?

SHARON: I write at my desk, at my treadmill, and some mornings at a table with a friend or two who are also writing. I am a plotter. Before writing anything, I figure out the world, the characters, and the basic plot by filling notebooks with ideas, questions and possible answers. As scenes spring into my mind, I jot them down too, and eventually the story takes on a nebulous shape. When I’m ready to write, I outline each scene as I get to it with the following questions: What does each character want to achieve in this scene? Where is the conflict? What will be the outcome?

Of course, things turn out quite differently once I start to write. I discover details I didn’t know, or characters do things I didn’t expect, and I have learned that this is when the story comes alive. I still outline as I go because I find it hard to write pleasing sentences and generate ideas at the same time. But I expect my outline to change. As the story gets more involved, I make charts to keep track of how my characters are thinking, planning, feeling, and interacting about the various things that are going on.

I recently purchased Scrivener, and am experimenting with outlining on its corkboard. I like being able to see the story at a glance, but because I go down a lot of rabbit trails at first, I suspect I will still use notebooks for pre-writing and go to Scrivener when I have a pretty good idea of what the story is.

JAN: This sounds like an efficient plan, but a lot of work, as is any approach to writing. By the way, I use Scrivener and love it.

Where do you get your ideas? What inspires you?

SHARON: I never know where an idea will come from, so I try to be open. I read different kinds of books and magazines and pay attention to things happening in the world at large and around me. I have several projects in progress, and sometimes I will notice something that could be used in one of them.

Often I get ideas from reading the Bible or related books. For example, one of the main ideas in Draco’s Child  came from Jesus’s words, “Unless you become like a small child, you cannot enter the kingdom of heaven.” I wondered what it would be like to physically become a small child again. So some of my characters do this.

The world is full of ideas, and I am realizing that it is important to write about things I care deeply about—even if the shape they take is fantastic and seemingly far from the original inspiration. It takes a long time to write a novel, and there has to be something that calls to me from a deep place or I will lose interest. Sometimes the deeper ideas don’t become apparent until late in the process. It is a kind of dance to follow ideas and see what shape they will take. I have to trust that there is more there than I can see at the start.

JAN: How do you research and how do you know you can trust your sources?

SHARON: I do internet searches and follow a lot of links. I look for several different sources to see if they agree, and also try to choose sites that look reputable, by people who look like experts.

JAN: What do you like most / least about writing?

SHARON: Most: Creating a world and characters to live in it and following their story. Finding the right words. Revising the story once all the elements are there—like icing a cake to make it beautiful.

Least: Querying publishers. The process can be so discouraging and take so long that any excitement about the story dries up. I am considering self-publishing in the future so I can be in control and don’t have to do this anymore.

JAN: What are some of the best methods of promoting your work?

SHARON: I have a website and I’m on Facebook, but I’m not actively promoting any books right now. I write blog posts occasionally and plan to do it more regularly once I make room in my life to do it. I will have to look at this more seriously once I have something to promote again.

JAN: How do you balance professional time with personal time?

SHARON: It is very easy to put aside my writing in favour of the multitude of urgent things that always need to be done, especially when they have tangible outcomes that help people, and my writing usually doesn’t. I struggle a lot with valuing my writing enough to give it priority.

My husband told me that whatever he does first thing in the morning is what gets done that day, so I try to start the day with writing and not even look at email or my job list until afterwards. Writing with friends is helpful because it is time set aside for that purpose. Having a critique group is also helpful because it provides deadlines and encouragement.

JAN: What are you currently reading? Do you prefer digital or print?

SHARON: I just finished reading A Recipe for Bees, by Gail Anderson-Dargatz. The author gave a writing workshop here a couple of weeks ago, and one of the things she recommended was to interview people to get insights into their situations and their ways of looking at the world. The character in this book is wonderfully alive, so I think she is on to something. I also recently read Kristine Scarrow’s new novel, 11thHour. It’s a chilling look at mental illness in teenagers. I also read Kirsten Britain’s Green Rider, the first book in her fantasy series. The book I am most waiting for is the third one in Patrick Rothfuss’s series that began with The Name of the Wind.

Usually I prefer print books, but at times it can be lighter and handier to read digital. You can’t easily share digital books. But they’re cheaper. Libraries are wonderful for both kinds.

JAN: What are some of your favorite things? What makes you unique?

SHARON: I like gardens with fresh strawberries and rhubarb, but not mosquitoes. I like singing and making music. I like books that make me forget where I am. I love riding my bike. I like seeing fields of grass wave in the wind, and I like mountains up close.

JAN: You sound like a poetic soul, certainly a creative one. What keeps you going in your writing career?

SHARON: When I’m writing a Christmas play for our church or when I have a critique group (or blog interview!) deadline, I produce because I have to. Most times, the motivation has to come from within. If I’m in the middle of a story and the words are flowing, or if they aren’t but the stumbling point feels like a puzzle to solve, the project itself drives me. I have a goal and a direction and know what needs to be done. Or I can’t bear to leave my characters in their predicament and have to slog forward until they are out.

Other times, especially if I’m between projects, or I’m facing a string of rejections or being ignored by publishers, it is hard to muster the enthusiasm to write anything. I wonder if I’m wasting my time and should find something more obviously useful to do. At these times, I have to remind myself why I write at all. I love the process and it makes me happy. I have some combination of talent and learning that makes me able to do this. Jesus said we should use our talents and not bury them. Here, I have to trust. Trust that if God gave me the talent and this overwhelming desire to tell stories, and I offer the gift to Him, he will make my work bear fruit. That somewhere, sometime, someone will read it and be inspired, or encouraged, or helped.

Sometimes, someone does tell me they like my stories—maybe a teacher or a student when I’m doing a reading, or a friend who emails, or an editor. Recently, someone I don’t even know put a nice comment about Draco’s Child  on Goodreads. That kept me going for a long time.

JAN: How is your faith reflected in your writing?

SHARON: In my Sunday School plays and songs, pretty directly because they teach Bible stories and illustrate concepts about God. In my fantasy stories, much more subtly. In the Draco’s Childworld, the characters are colonists on a new planet, but the planet is hostile and it becomes apparent that they will not survive unless something changes. It turns out that what has to change is them—only when they become small children again can they grow into a form that will allow them to thrive. This comes directly from “Unless you become like a small child, you cannot enter the kingdom of heaven.” The whole story can be read without recognizing this analogy, but it is there. The novel I just finished is about a young dragon who needs to save his people from destruction by an incoming comet. But it is also about walking by faith when you don’t know what to do.

JAN: What are some things you learned from your own writing?

SHARON: I have learned humility. It is REALLY HARD to write a good novel with well-formed and evocative prose, relatable characters with believable motivations, a plot that makes sense, an ending that satisfies and fulfils the promise made by the opening, and an inspiring message. There is always a better way to write. I have also learned to listen to my characters. They need to behave according to who they are and not according to what I think the plot needs them to do.

JAN: Well said, Sharon. What is your ultimate writing goal?

SHARON: To write good stories that will resonate with readers. I would also like my stories to draw people closer to God, whether that means understanding something in a new way, feeling his joy, or just appreciating in a fresh way the marvelous intricacies of this world he gave us to live in.

JAN: Any advice for a beginning writer?

SHARON: Read a lot of good books. Write a lot, and expect to do a lot of revising. Keep learning about the craft because there will always be ways to improve. Find a critique group. Write about things that you care deeply about. Enjoy the process and try not to fret about the outcome. I’m still working on this one. And the others.

JAN: Thanks so much, Sharon, for telling us about yourself and your writing. There is deep insight in many of your responses that makes me want to further consider the questions for myself. I wish you many blessings as you continue on your literary journey, and in your personal life as well.

BIO: Sharon Plumb grew up writing stories in a small town that no longer exists, in the mountains of northern British Columbia. Then she moved to the flat prairies, where she  writes stories about people and places that don’t exist. She has written picture books, novels, poems, songs, and plays, most of which she has also directed. Her picture book Bill Bruin Shovels his Roof was published by Scholastic Education.  Draco’s Child, a young adult fantasy novel, was published by Thistledown Press. She lives in Regina, Saskatchewan.

Check out Sharon’s Facebook page and her website.

July 2018 New Releases

More in-depth descriptions of these books can be found on the ACFW Fiction Finder website.

Contemporary Romance:

A Widow’s Hope by Vannetta Chapman — After tragedy claimed her husband’s life and her son’s ability to walk, Hannah King doesn’t want a new man. She has her family, a home and mounting debts. Scarred Amish bachelor Jacob Schrock offers Hannah the job she desperately needs. But while Hannah helps Jacob resolve his accounting issues, can she and her little boy also heal his wounded heart? (Contemporary Romance from Love Inspired [Harlequin])

Firestorm by Laura V. Hilton — Bridget Behr can’t shake the guilt that it was her fault her family moved—and is too afraid to trust anyone, especially the flirtatious, overly-friendly Amish man who lives next door. Just as Bridget is finally settling into friendship, a new life, and maybe even love, a devastating forest fire ravages the county, destroying both land and the Behrs’ dreams. Now Bridget and her family must decide: will they leave behind the ashes and start anew in another Amish community? Or will they dare to fight for the future they’d hoped for in Mackinac County? (Contemporary Romance from Whitaker House)

General Contemporary:

Ride to the Altar by Linda W. Yezak — Cattle are dying on the Circle Bar, putting the Texas ranch in financial jeopardy. Newly engaged Patricia Talbert and Talon Carlson must root out the cause before they can concentrate on wedding plans—which involves Patricia’s traveling to New York to patch things up with her domineering mother. While she is away, Talon discovers that the attacks on the ranch are connected to the murder of his first fiancée over eight years ago. Before they can move forward together, each have to resolve the past. Will they be able to start their new life with a clean slate? (General Contemporary from Canopy Books of Texas)

General Historical:

My Heart Belongs in Galveston, Texas by Kathleen Y’Barbo — Dodging bullets takes a simple missing person case to a new level as Jonah Cahill, a Pinkerton agent, and Madeline Latour, an investigative reporter, form a tentative truce in Galveston, Texas, 1880. Are they on to a much bigger story when their best witness is suddenly kidnapped? (General Historical from Barbour Publishing)

Historical Mystery:

The Reckoning at Gossamer Pond by Jaime Jo Wright — Two women, separated by a hundred years, must uncover the secrets within the borders of their own town before it’s too late and they lose their future–or their very souls. (Historical Mystery from Bethany House [Baker])

Historical Romance:

This Freedom Journey by Misty M. Beller — Adrien Lockman left France to finally live life on his own terms, but when he discovers a half-starved and half-frozen woman in the treacherous Canadian mountains, the truth soon becomes clear—the only way they’ll survive is together. (Historical Romance, Independently Published)

The Widow’s Plight by Mary Davis — After moving to a new town and joining a quilting circle, a single mother steps out of the shadows of abuse and into the sunshine. But will a secret clouding her past cost her the man she loves? (Historical Romance from Mountain Brook Ink)

River to Redemption by Ann H. Gabhart — Orphaned during an early 19th century cholera epidemic and helped by a slave to find a new home, Adria Starr must now stand up for his freedom—and maybe find her own in the process. (Historical Romance from Revell [Baker])

A Rumored Fortune by Joanna Davidson Politano — A young heiress is suddenly the poorest wealthy woman in all of England when her father dies without telling anyone where he put his money. (Historical Romance from Revell [Baker])

Mystery:

Shifting Sands by Elizabeth Ludwig — A mysterious key hidden in the depths of an ancient lighthouse unlocks family secrets hidden for generations. (Cozy Mystery from Guideposts Publications)

Guarded Prognosis by Richard L. Mabry — At first Dr. Caden Taggart feared for his freedom, then for his ability to cope, and eventually he feared for his life. (Medical Mystery, Independently Published)

Romantic Suspense:

Darkwater Secrets by Robin Caroll — When Adelaide Fountaine, the general manager of a hotel in New Orleans, finds the body of a guest who was stabbed with a kitchen knife, her childhood friend Detective Beau Savoie is shocked to discover a connection between his friend–the woman he’s quietly loved for years—and the murdered guest. But Beau can’t press Adelaide too hard . . . because he’s keeping secrets of his own. Can Adelaide and Beau afford to hide from the truth with a killer on the loose? (Romantic Suspense from Gilead Publishing)

Camp Hope by Sara L. Foust — Facing dehydration, starvation, and a convoluted kidnapper, will Amy succeed in recovering her precious foster daughter or get lost in a vast wilderness forever? (Romantic Suspense from Mantle Rock Publishing)

Dead Drift by Dani Pettrey — Seven years ago, operative Luke Gallagher vanished to join an elite team of terrorist hunters. Private investigator Kate Maxwell never stopped loving or looking for Luke after he disappeared. But she also never imagined he left her or his life by choice. Now he’s back, asking her help to stop America’s newest terrorist threat—an attack that would shake the country to its core. Together they must navigate secrets, lies, and betrayal, all while on the brink of a biological disaster. Will they and their love survive, or will Luke and Kate become the terrorist’s next mark? (Romantic Suspense from Bethany House [Baker])

Young Adult:

Launch by Jason C. Joyner — Teens with special abilities are invited to an exclusive conference where tech billionaire Simon Mazor is looking for those who can help him influence the world. (Young Adult from Little Lamb Books)

I met the If I Run series when we ordered the first two books for our church library. Knowing the quality of Terri Blackstock’s writing, we were confident the books would be well-written, but I had no idea how drawn I’d be to the characters and the story.

The first book is named after the series: If I Run. In a nutshell, Casey Cox is a young woman whose father supposedly committed suicide while on the local police force. This happened when Casey was twelve. But she has never believed her father would take his own life, or make sure it was she who found him. Ever since, Casey has been trying to find the truth about what happened to her father.

Now, Casey stumbles onto the horrific murder of a close friend, and realizes she will be accused of his murder if she sticks around. She’s convinced someone is setting her up to get her off the trail of the truth, and she has a pretty good idea who’s behind the scheme. But no one will believe her. Until she knows more, she cannot fight, so she flees.

While in disguise, trying to hide from those out to arrest her for murder, she comes across a case of kidnapping. She can’t let it go when she sees evidence near where she’s been living. Dylan Roberts, a former military man, now a private investigator, sets out to help the police find Casey, and in the process, he also starts to wonder whether everything is as it seems. Casey just doesn’t seem like a killer.

This book is an easy read, but so intense I could hardly put it down. This quality continues in the next installment, If I’m Found, where Casey finds herself involved in another side-case while still trying to stay out of the crosshairs of those who seek her. News is spreading so that more careful disguises are necessary to keep her from being recognized by the general public. Technology helps her to contact her family and Dylan, but where there is technology, there are those who can hack into it. Again, Casey’s capture seems imminent.

I had to wait until the library ordered the third and final book in the series to find out what happened to Casey. If I Live was even more exciting than the two preceding books. Casey continues to hide, with help from someone who believes her story, and while in hiding, she continues to work with this person to find enough information to catch the dirty cops in their own game. Her life is on the line. If they find her, they’ll kill her before she has a chance to stand trial. Lots of twists and tension in this book, and an ending both surprising and satisfying.

Besides the cat and mouse tension, someone else is looking for Casey. As she dodges capture, which seems more inevitable every day, she starts to think about God, and what faith in Christ could mean to her life…if she believes it. Her spiritual journey is woven beautifully into this fast-moving story, giving the reader more to think about, a more rounded story that offers hope no matter the physical outcome.

I recommend this series to anyone who loves suspense and well-crafted characters. A very influential story from a favourite author. To learn more about Terri Blackstock, click on her photo below and you will be sent to her website.

P.S. Here’s a cool thing I discovered on Terri’s website: if you look at the page, you’ll see that when the covers or this series are lined up, they form a picture.

Terri Blackstock

I’ve visited a couple of local cemeteries recently, because my siblings and I need to choose a memorial marker for our mother. Some people stay as far from graveyards as possible, but I find them restful, at least in broad daylight. The dates and names give wings to my imagination.

Just as the people buried in the churchyard are more than granite engravings, our fictional characters need to be more than life-size cardboard cutouts. The years that lie between birth and death dates are mysteries, untold stories of real people.

One stone marks the life of a wife/mother who died at the age of 22. Why? An accident or illness? What happened to the child? I feel the grief and lay my hand on the stone as I pass.

A large, flat engraving includes details of birthplace, emigration, moves, farm locations, spouse, children. Few are this informative, but it tells the story of an eventful life, well-lived. These details considered important enough to be carved in stone.

Several small graves lie in the shade of the poplars, babies that died at birth or in their early childhood. Stories of unexpected loss and grief.

Ideas come from everywhere, and a cemetery is a tremendous resource. It can also remind us of the fragility of life, the brevity of the time we have to make our mark between two dates.

If you’re looking for writing ideas, inspiration, or perhaps a quiet and meditative walk, visit a cemetery, and remember that:

“Precious in the sight of the Lord is the death of his faithful servants” Psalm 116:15 NIV.

 

 

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