January 26, 2014

Inside South of Stavewood

      Spoiler Alert! If you haven't read South of Stavewood please do!

      South of Stavewood is a story about demons. I did not choose the title without thought. It could have been Beyond Stavewood or Up the Road from Stavewood but the word south means something. When things go wrong they are sometimes said to go south. Thus the title. Emma comes to Minnesota to escape a demon, her addiction. Roland cannot run from his demon because it lives inside his body. Mark's demon comes in a different way.
      Every one of us brings something into a relationship. We bring our past and our fears and ourselves. I wanted to show this in all of my books. In Stavewood, Timothy has the physical strength to take on the world and wants to believe it makes him strong enough to take it on alone. Despite showing her fears emotionally, Rebecca has her own ways of taking on her fear, sometimes by trying to internalize. In South of Stavewood the characters' vulnerabilities are easier to see. Emma arrived thin and ill and Roland can't let himself heal from his terrible accident. I wanted to show that love can be a great healer when it is allowed to grow.
      In Mark's case however the inexperience of youth gives him and Bernadette confused ideas of what love is. Mark has a clearer idea because he watches the love of the people around him growing, but his youth makes him overconfident. Sometimes in life the hard lessons we learn can never be changed, yet forever change us. This is what the events that are South of Stavewood do to the characters.
      I have to say that I like all of my characters. They are all reflections of what I have learned in my life. Roland is to me an example of how darkness, allowed to grow in the mind and heart, can shut us away. He is bitter and deeply impacted by his own fears. Fear itself can be crippling. Emma's depression tries to find relief in her drug addiction. Laudanum was in common use in the time of this novel. An opiate tricks the mind effectively, a demon in the guise of a friend, like many drugs. I was never an opiate addict, thankfully, but I was a very heavy smoker for years and I know addiction takes great strength and determination to overcome. I think that addiction may even be harder for a strong-willed person to overcome. Fighting with your own bullheadedness only complicates things. Emma is strong but her love of Roland becomes strong enough for her to free herself of the addiction. The scene where Roland walks easily across the field to meet with Emma is one of my favorite in all of my books. It is a scene of strength and obstacles overcome.
      Mark's lessons go on to another volume and like all of the lessons of life his battles are specifically his own.
      Until the next posting... thank you for reading, as always.   ~ Nanette

Between the Lines

       Again watch for spoilers here. Instead of reading this now you might want to read the Stavewood saga first, besides this will make so much more sense!

      Good morning readers. Before posting my next thoughts, mostly on South of Stavewood, I feel I have other things I would like to mention. I woke up to several emails and messages this morning, all wonderful! I am learning. I am learning not only how to write better every day, but how to be a better writer. By being a better writer I mean not learning how to turn a prettier phrase in a novel but rather how to communicate better with the people who read my books. I am learning how to listen to their questions and not just let out the vulnerability I sometimes feel in my characters. Let me tell you that if, when you read one of my books, your chest tightens or you smile to yourself or read through your tears you are not alone. I know this not so much because readers tell me this, I know this because it happens when I write. When I finished South of Stavewood I could barely see the screen. I had already laid out Home to Stavewood and I knew what lay in store for Mark and Sam. Yes, I cried. When I get a letter or email from someone who says that they fell in love with one of my characters or that one of my stories broke their hearts I understand. They broke mine too. And this is how I am learning. I am learning that all of the emotion I feel when I write is okay. I have learned that more from my readers than myself. If I expect your heart to break when you read one of my books then I must admit that mine breaks too. There I said it. Thank you to all of the writers who have said it to me.

January 25, 2014

Where Stavewood Began

      If you have not read the Stavewood books then I must warn you that this posting will contain bits about the story. So here I insert *Spoiler Alert*. Just warning you.
      One day a story came to mind. It was the story of Timothy Elgerson. I knew him, how he looked, how he behaved and his background. Another time I wrote a story about a mail order bride.  The concept was always fascinating to me. Where is a woman in her life that she will set everything aside for something new? For love? I always treasured stories about settlers and pioneers. Stories like Giants in the Earth and The Emigrant novels. Most of what I read was about Scandinavian settlers, but not all. I read about pioneer women and I read about love. Whether or not we admit it I think finding someone who understands us is almost as important as finding food and rest and shelter. Timothy and Rebecca are characters who cannot deny that need in themselves, even if they try. One day they came together in my mind.
      "What is Stavewood?" is the most common question I hear about the book. Stavewood is actually the name of a tall pine very suitable for building barrels. A wood that holds things. I think love is that way. It remembers and clings and when your heart is full, like a barrel, the wood expands and grows stronger.
      The second most common question is, "Do you know that Timothy fellow in the book?" I can't help but smile when I am asked that. No, I do not physically know Timothy Elgerson. He does however live in my heart and my imagination. I never imagined when I wrote the book that one day someone would face me and talk to me about the characters as if they were real people. In my mind they are, but that's in my mind. The first time someone asked about Timothy I knew he was set free somehow. Now Timothy and Rebecca weren't just in my mind, now they were real to someone else. And every person I speak to sees them a little differently. To some Rebecca is too fragile. To others she is young and determined. Now they don't belong just to me, they belong to my readers. It's fascinating, and something I never expected to happen. At first it was so strange and then it became wonderful. It is what makes my readers magical and special to me. They know my characters now too. Even more fantastic is when they relate to them.
      When I write, I have a story with a beginning, a middle and an end. Then I start typing and it comes alive. I am still learning all the time how that process happens. My husband asked me if I had Stavewood, the property, in three dimensions in my mind. I did and that is how the map of Stavewood came alive in the second book. I told him what I saw and he delightfully drew it out. He is also the one to thank for the wonderful character of Mark. Mark started out as a vehicle in the story.  Timothy needed a reason to order a bride. With a child he needed a mother. When my husband was taken with Mark I saw him in a different way. He became more than a vehicle and is one of my favorite characters and one of the most popular. No, I don't know him either.
      I learned from Mark too. I learned as a writer how to take a beloved child character, bring him up into a young man and then <gasp> make him sexy as well. It took a lot of thought. I had help there from Colleen. When you see him on the barn floor through her eyes he is no longer a child.
      The third most common question I hear is "Will there be a fourth book to Stavewood". To this I am asking, what do you think?
      In the next post I will talk a bit more about the characters of Stavewood and who they are. Thank you for reading. Really, thank you.

Back to Basics

      During the holidays of 2013, after having turned out several novels over the year, I took a long break. It was a break from writing, yes, but it was much more. I sat back and smelled the roses. I caught up with all the things I had been glossing over in my house and in my mind.
      Now I admit it, I really enjoy cleaning. When Ira Levin wrote his book the Stepford Wives his main character, Joanna, didn't like how the women of Stepford were all turning into hausfraus. Perhaps his story was meant to reach female readers who wanted something more than running a home. Not me. I read and reread the parts about how she visited friends and they looked amazing. Their houses smelled great and they were completely caught up in maintaining their homes. I thank Martha Stewart for popularizing homemaking again. I feel so strongly that my next book, The Matter with Margaret, will be very influenced by my feelings about being an accomplished homemaker.
      One of the things that I really had on my mind over the holidays, was what readers have said to me about my books. I can't even begin to list all of the changes being published has brought to my life. There are some however I would like to share.  I honestly wish I could sit down with every person who reads my novels. I know my books are not always every person's cup of tea. I have no problem with that. I would prefer to hear that than a lie meant to spare my feelings. Less-than-glowing reviews can be helpful too. They point out shortcomings I know I have (I really rely on an editor) and help me make my stories better. And sometimes criticism makes me realize I have to stand up for what I feel when I write, even in my own mind.
      But of course I can always just eat up those conversations with people who get the books. So today I am writing about my writing. Where it started and where it came from originally. I won't cover all thoughts, or all books in one posting, of course, but I will try to start at the beginning and pour it all out .
      To begin...why romance? When I discovered I loved reading it was not until I was in high school. There were no novels in my house, no one who curled up with a good book, no bedtime stories. I read because I wanted to know what the kids around me knew. The smart ones who read. One of the first things I read was Tolkien. Stiff to start, but I liked it. I read the required books from the school list over the summer vacation. Lost Horizon and The Pearl. I discovered that my mind could go places someone else described. It wasn't just me in my own crazy head but a writer who fired my imagination. One day I saw a box of books set at the curbside with the covers removed. I picked up The Thorn Birds  and The Wolf and the Dove. I enjoyed The Thorn Birds very much, but The Wolf and the Dove really caught my attention. I searched out everything I could by Kathleen E. Woodiwiss. Now I have read them all. Margaret Mitchell's Gone With the Wind is my favorite book, but I still love to be swept away in a Woodiwiss love story. Some of her books, like Ashes in the Wind I have read several times. It is through her books I found that I love writing about history and being in love.
      I started writing my own short stories. I'd write them out and put them away and life would take over. I wrote a lot in my head. Then one day a bigger story began to grow in my mind and I felt as if I couldn't keep from writing it. It was Stavewood.

To be continued...