Wednesday, July 19, 2017

Digging Up Gettysburg: Behind the Scenes Research Hart's Latest Novel

Allow me to introduce you to a very good friend of mine, Sandra Merville Hart. Sandy and I met through ACFW and frequently share rides to our state chapter meetings. I asked Sandy to be the guest on today’s blog  because her newest book,  A Rebel in My House just released this past week.  Sandy is passionate about the possible behind the scenes stories emerging from the Civil War era. For todays post, Sandy offers tips for new writers on conducting research to make your own work stand out. Enjoy! And be sure to leave your comments for Sandy.

Every new author with a story idea wonders, “Where should I start?” For those who want to write historical novels, begin with research.

Reading articles from trusted sites online—such as those ending in .edu or reputable history sites—is a nice place to start. These may give more questions than answers.

The next stop is probably the local library. Inspect the library’s catalog for nonfiction books pertaining to a novel’s setting. If an event (a battle, a train wreck, an earthquake) touches your story, take detailed notes from sources that include the page number to make it easy to find again should the need arise.

If resources allow, consider visiting the novel’s setting. Local museums—and staff—are wonderful sources for historical background. You can never use all you learn, but your story gains a new depth from careful research.

For example, I had written an unpublished novel that included the Battle of Gettysburg so I already had lots of notes when beginning my writing journey for A Rebel in My House. Yet those notes focused on other details not included in my new novel. I started over.

I began researching for this novel with a trip to Gettysburg. A battlefield guide, Clay Rebert, tailored a ranger tour around my novel questions about Tennessee troops. Three Tennessee regiments fought the beginning battle on July 1st and didn’t fight again until they joined in Pickett’s Charge.

A fun tidbit about our ranger is that our time with him went over and he was in danger of missing lunch. He accepted a couple of my homemade chocolate chip cookies and a bottled water to tide him over.

Other ranger talks taught different aspects of the battle. They brought those long-ago days to life in my imagination.

My husband and I explored multiple museums including Gettysburg Museum of History, General Lee’s Headquarters Museum, Jennie Wade House, Shriver House Museum, and “The Women of Gettysburg Tour.”  

We walked the town’s streets around the “Diamond” or the town square where women and children suffered through an occupied town. I had to show what the citizens endured.  

What if a Gettysburg woman fell in love with a Confederate soldier? What if they both made promises to loved ones? Some promises are impossible to keep …

I spent the next five to six months reading battle details, soldier diaries and accounts, and Gettysburg resident accounts. I studied period accounts to understand prevailing attitudes and beliefs. When I felt like I’d been there, I knew I was ready to write the story.

Your novel may not require this level of research, especially if the historical period isn't your main aim. However, acknowledging local or national events during the time period your story takes place lends authenticity to your story.

About Sandra Merville Hart:
Sandra Merville Hart, Assistant Editor for, loves to find unusual or little-known facts in her historical research to use in her stories. Her debut Civil War romance, A Stranger On My Land, was an IRCA Finalist 2015. Her second Civil War romance novel, A Rebel in My House, is set during the Battle of Gettysburg. It released on July 15, 2017. Visit Sandra on her blog at

Book Blurb:
When the cannons roar beside Sarah Hubbard’s home outside of Gettysburg, she despairs of escaping the war that’s come to Pennsylvania. A wounded Confederate soldier on her doorstep leaves her with a heart-wrenching decision.

Separated from his unit and with a bullet in his back, Jesse Mitchell needs help. He seeks refuge at a house beside Willoughby Run. His future lies in the hands of a woman whose sympathies lay with the North.

Jesse has promised his sister-in-law he’d bring his brother home from the war. Sarah has promised her sister that she’d stay clear of the enemy. Can the two keep their promises amid a war bent on tearing their country apart?

Wednesday, July 12, 2017

Does Everyone Have A Story?

The world is a stage and every person is an actor…
But is everyone a playwright? Is everyone a writer?


Everyone has a story, but not everyone is a storyteller.

Ask any published author and they will tell you of at least one wannabe writer talking to them about a book they need to write –a surefire best seller. It is usually a story of their own dysfunctional family and they are certain someone will make a movie out of it.

The simple truth is this: All families are dysfunctional. Nothing new there. Life isn’t fair. Nothing new there.

I sat next to a very interesting woman at a church luncheon this past week. I only met her one other time so it was good to get to know her better. She started the conversation with, “You’re a writer, right? I have a story that needs to be told.”

Bells went off in my head. Here’s another one. I smiled and listened as she began talking about her past. I must admit she has led an interesting life and against great odds.

Hers isn’t a story of a dysfunctional family. It’s the story of a dysfunctional society… a story of how we treat people who are different from us. She is one smart cookie. But what really grabbed me was when she turned, looked me straight in the eyes and said, “I have a story, but I’m not a writer. I would need someone like you to make sense of it all so others could appreciate it.”

Everyone has a story, but not everyone is a storyteller… or a publishable writer. She knew enough to know that.

The question then begs, what should a person do with their life story, shy of turning it over to someone else to write?

I suggest we should all preserve our stories in written form. Keep a journal, write descriptions of family members, write the stories handed down to you from parents and grandparents. Preserve your history.

Three benefits of writing your own story:

First, the more you write, the better writer you become. It’s true. The more you write, the better you write. Take a few minutes each morning or evening to preserve a personal or family story. You don’t have to revise it, edit it, or make it beautiful. You simply need to write it down. Revisions can come later if you like.

Second, writing your story will give you insights you never imagined. I hesitate to call writing therapy because I am not particularly qualified to suggest that, but for me, writing is indeed therapeutic. Putting on paper what I see or perceive, what I feel and experience, helps me sort out what really took place and keep everything in perspective.

Third, and this is where the true writer in you comes out, writing your story down with all the intricate, quirky people you call family, helps you develop true-to-life characters for your books.

Is your life story a best seller? Possibly… but not likely. However, it is important. It’s important to you and to generations to come. It may be fodder for a fictional story or it may serve only to help you gain perspective. Writing your story down is still of value…even if no one ever makes a movie of it. It’s your life and that means it is worth preserving.

Happy writing!

Wednesday, July 5, 2017

The Unshakeable, Unsinkable, Unmistakeable Center of You and Your Writing

What are your core values?

July 4th brings to light values we as Americans hold dear: Truth, Justice, Freedom, and the American Way. It is an appropriate time to exam our individual core values as writers.

A young woman reading Designinga Business Plan for Your Writing reached the point in the book where she was ready to draft her mission and vision statement. There was one glitch. She wasn’t sure she knew exactly what I meant by “core values” or if she had any core values to identify. Instead of throwing her hands up in despair, she contacted me.

I love it. A person who wants to learn and grow asks questions. The act of asking shows me she is a willing student of the craft of writing. Our online discussion led me to address the issue of core values in this post.

Hopefully, this will help other writers on their quest to publish.

First, let’s take a look at the context. Here is an excerpt from the book:

“Let’s look first at the mission statement. I looked up the word mission in my online dictionary. The business dictionary speaks to “core purpose” or “intended direction.” I also found synonyms such as “commission,” “undertaking,” or “quest.” My favorite definition is the one I found on It reads, “An important goal or purpose accompanied by strong conviction.” Yep, that’s what we need.” (Designing a Business Plan for Your Writing, Rebecca Waters, 2017)

Your core values define that purpose and strong conviction you hold near and dear to your heart. Your core values delineate those lines you will not cross –even to win a contract with a publisher.

Core values serve as a guide for your actions. In the corporate world, they keep a company on track to meet their goals and fulfill their mission. In the writing world, they act as a guide for producing the quality of work the author expects of himself or herself.

Here is an example from my own writing life.

I hold a strong conviction to not read or write anything that goes against biblical teachings. Therefore, I will not read a book that has erotic sexual content or exalts practices such as witchcraft or satanic worship. Yes, those acts are real and alive in the world, but they defy the life God has outlined in the Bible for me to live. Though I have writer friends who embrace all that sort of content, from my perspective I become what I read…and write…so erotica and witchcraft and the like are off limits for me.

Biblical principles shape my core values. For other writer friends, a cause is at the heart of their writing. I have a friend whose mission is to make people aware of child abuse. I can’t write about children being abused. It is beyond my imagination and sickens me to think about. But bringing the issue to the forefront is part of her mission. She uses her writing to make people aware and effect change. At her core is a cause. A conviction.

Allow me this one last example from one of the best storytellers and oral historians I ever knew –my maternal grandmother. My sweet grandmother suffered from Alzheimer’s disease. In her final years she couldn’t remember names or string together meaningful sentences in a conversation. But if you started to sing one of the old hymns she would join in and not miss a word. If you started to pray with her, she would pray with you without missing a beat. Alzheimer’s messed with her mind, but could not shake her core. At the core of who she was, at the very center of her life, was her faith.

What are your core values? What is unshakeable in your life? You don’t have to share those here, but if you do, it could be an interesting discussion. At the very least, spend some time thinking about what is at your core. What do you hold near and dear to your heart? What shapes your writing?

Do you see yourself as a writer? Is your dream to publish? Designing a Business Plan for Your Writing helps you create a map you can follow to make your dream come true. The examples, reflective assignments, and challenges walk each reader through the process of constructing a thoughtful and achievable plan. While the handbook offers examples of structure, it is in no way formulaic. The plan you design to be a published author is customized to fit your personality traits, your specific gifts, and your busy life.

To purchase your copy, CLICK HERE!

Wednesday, June 28, 2017

New House, New Office, New Book?

New house? Yes. New office? Definitely. New book? No.

As I shared a couple of weeks ago, the moving process –going through things deciding what to keep and what to pitch energized me to revise Libby’s Cuppa Joe. Keeping the good stuff…tossing the rest.

These past two weeks I reintroduced myself to the characters and plot. I like the book but I know it needs work. You cannot lay down a plot and write off the cuff and expect the story to be stellar on the first or even second draft.

So what have I done so far?

First, I had to reread the entire manuscript to remember all of the nuances I had included.

Second, I switched the order of the first two chapters. It is amazing what that simple change did to immediately engage the reader. 

Third. My main character, Sonja, is a young woman bent on business success. She has loving parents who did their best in raising her, but Sonja has rejected church with all its trappings. She pretends to be someone she is not when she is around her family. I realized in reading through the manuscript, I need to make that point clear earlier in the story. I’ve changed some of the conversations Sonja has with friends to reflect her perspective and worked on some of her thoughts or motives as she makes decisions in those first few chapters.

It is a fine line to walk. I want Sonja to be a likeable, nice woman. A good person. I also want her to struggle with what she believes and to be a bit confused. I want her, like so many others, to confuse a personal God relationship with membership in a church.  That part of the revision will morph over the course of many chapters.

Finally, I’ve added a few quirks to a couple of minor characters. I’m happy with those. They will help the story along and give the reader some relief from time to time.

I have more to do. I discovered a couple of places in the middle where the reader is bogged down with details. I also think I rushed through a crucial life changing event that could serve Sonja well as she rethinks her own life and future. Those changes will come over the next few weeks and will likely add a couple of thousand words to the manuscript.

The big lesson here? Revision is not the same as editing. There are no hard and strict rules for revision. Revision takes time, immersion in the text, and a willingness to change.

New house? Yes. New office? Definitely. New book? Hmmm…maybe. At least it will be a better one.