Sparkling Vintage Fiction. Among other things.

Writing Life

Musings and updates

It’s been pretty quiet recently here on the blog. For those of you who read my fiction (and if you’re not, why not??? Just kidding … sort of), I’ve been working with an editor on polishing up Ain’t Misbehavin’, the sequel to You’re the Cream in My Coffee, slated for March 2018 publication.

I also finished up a fun short story starring Helen Corrigan (Marjorie’s younger sister–sort of like Skipper to Marjorie’s Barbie), called “Playing for Keeps.” You can get it free by joining the Sparkling Vintage reader community (sign-up to your right), or buy it for a buck on Amazon.

In June had a fantastic time at the Historical Novel Society‘s conference in Portland, Oregon. I spoke on the topic “Anatomy of a Book Launch,” discussing activities surrounding the launch of You’re the Cream in My Coffee last fall. I opened up about which tactics I felt were “worth it” in terms of building a readership and drawing attention to the book, and which ones I would skip in the future, and what I wished I’d done differently. The audience appeared eager to hear what I had to say and we had some great interaction. Other highlights of the conference included meeting several authors I admire, including Laura Frantz and Libbie Hawker, and absorbing tons of inspiration and tips on improving my writing and research methods. I felt at home among people to whom I didn’t have to explain or justify my fascination with days of yore. The conference took place smack in downtown Portland (two words: Powell’s Books), which gave me a change of scenery and also reinforced my love of rural life. So many people. So much noise. My introverted was happy for the change of scenery, and even happier to return home to my peaceful mountain.

Speaking of peaceful, I’ve decided that’s my word for Summer 2017. On the personal side, I’ve been healing up from a major health scare and surgery that happened in the spring. I’m doing great now and am practically good as new, but my energy level took a big hit and I’ve had to pull back temporarily on my usual darting-hither-and-yon lifestyle. This summer so far has been a quiet, low-key time of healing, reflection, and re-evaluation. As I prayerfully examine my priorities, I’ve come to realize I haven’t always been putting time and energy where I’d like to (my spiritual life, my health(!), writing new fiction, sharing thoughts on this blog, engaging with the Sparkling Vintage community) in favor of things more urgent in the moment, maybe, but less important in the long run. Trying to figure out what changes need to be made going forward.

Finally, I was pleased to learn that You’re the Cream in My Coffee has been named a finalist in the debut-novel category of the ACFW Carol Awards. Looking at the list of finalists, I’m both honored and humbled that Marjorie made the cut.

And that’s enough rambling for today. I’m lining up some fun posts on ways to vintage sparkle to your summertime, so check back soon. As always, I welcome your thoughts, questions, and suggestions at jenny @ jenniferlamontleo dot com.

Sparkle on!

 

Talking about writing, Prohibition, and more

 

Not Peter Leavell (but the hat would be a nice touch) Photo source: nymag.com

I was very pleased to be interviewed by accomplished author (and fellow Idahoan) Peter Leavell, author of Gideon’s Call and West for the Black Hills, on behalf of American Christian Fiction Writers. He asked insightful, thoughtful questions about the 1920s, the writing process, and more. Check out the interview here.

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Does Fiction Sometimes Grate on Your Last Nerve?

dorothy-parkerHello, Sparklers.

I’ve been enjoying literary agent Ann Byle’s “I’m Annoyed by Christian Fiction” series of posts, starting here (be sure to read the whole series–there are some things she likes about it, too!). As annoyances, she names things like too many “zings” per page. A “zing” is when the hero admires the heroine’s alabaster skin and the heroine admires the hero’s rippling biceps–some zings are needed to establish attraction, but too many can be like too much pepper in the soup. A little goes a long way.

Another phenomenon Ann mentions is the “I’m fine” syndrome, where characters toss off deep lacerations, lack of food or sleep for days, etc., with a glib “I’m fine,” reminding me of Monty Python’s Black Knight: “‘Tis but a flesh wound.” (stagger, stagger).

Several readers joined the chorus, expressing fatigue with heroines who are impossibly beautiful, heroes who are invariably handsome, and damsels who forget to eat when under stress. (Some people do lose their appetite. Others rip through entire boxes of graham crackers smeared with Nutella. Don’t ask).

I have a few pet peeves of my own, including loving and loyal best friends who appear in exactly one scene and are never heard from again, simply to advance some plot point, and children who remain unflaggingly adorable, winsome, and charming for an unrealistic 24/7.

Anyway, I was relieved to see that You’re the Cream in My Coffee does not annoy in the ways Ann and her followers mention.

*Lead character Marjorie is not impossibly beautiful. She’s not even particularly slim. Her hair tends to frizz, and she laments that the straight, boyish fashion silhouette of the 1920s does not work well with her curves.

*The man she’s engaged to marry is good-looking, but he wears spectacles, so his vision is not 20/20, so he’s not an unflawed specimen. And The Other Guy has a rugged battle scar down one side of his face. Think Ross Poldark.

poldark-scar

(Okay, you can stop thinking Ross Poldark. Really. No, seriously, stop. Earth to Sparkler! Earth to Sparkler!)

*Yes, there are some zings in my book. But not three per page. And the thing that Marjorie most appreciates about her true love is not his biceps or his green eyes, but the way he–

AHA! You thought I was going to give something away, didn’t you? Not a chance.

What annoys you about the fiction you read (Christian or general)? What do you like best about it?

You’re the Cream in My Coffee is available in Sandpoint, Idaho, at Sandpoint Super Drug, Vanderford’s, the Bonner County History Museum Gift Shop, and the Corner Bookstore, and in Coeur d’Alene at the Sower Bookstore and the Well-Read Moose. Support the little guy! In many cases you can order online or by phone. If all else fails, of course, there’s always that big South American river.

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Sparkling Vintage Fiction: SARATOGA LETTERS by Elaine Marie Cooper

saratoga-letters-coverToday I’m delighted to welcome Elaine Marie Cooper to A Sparkling Vintage Life. Elaine’s newest novel, Saratoga Letters, set in New York during the Revolutionary War period, releases this week from Lighthouse Publishing of the Carolinas.

Saratoga Letters tells the story of the Battle of Saratoga, the first great victory of the American Continental Army, through the eyes of Abigail, a patriotic woman forced by her Loyalist uncle to nurse wounded British soldiers. Two centuries later, the anniversary of the battle draws together Abby, an American, and a descendant of a British soldier, and adventure ensues. Bestselling author Laura Frantz says of the story, “Poignant and suspenseful by turns and graced with an uncommon spiritual depth, this novel is historical fiction that truly grabs your heartand feeds your soul. My favorite Elaine Cooper story to date!”

Enjoy listening in on our conversation, and if you have any comments or questions for Elaine, leave them below or get in touch with her at elainemariecooper.com or on Facebook.

Jennifer Lamont Leo: Welcome, Elaine! When will Saratoga Letters be published?

Elaine Marie Cooper: It releases October 4 and I am so excited! (JLL: That’s tomorrow, folks! Get your Amazon-clicking finger ready…)

JLL: The story is set in Saratoga, New York, in 1777. What has intrigued you about this time and place in history?

EMC: Several things. First, since I grew up in Massachusetts, I have long been enamored with the history of the beginnings of our country. But I was particularly drawn to Saratoga because my own ancestor fought in the battle there in 1777—as a British Redcoat! I had long wanted to visit the site because of that. When I was there, my writer’s muse became intrigued by the possibility of a multigenerational suspense story. This was a first for me and I’m very excited about this story!

JLL: What sparked your imagination for this particular story?

EMC: Believe it or not, it was a lost key to a motel room! Crazy, I know! All the “what-ifs” began to play in my mind and, before you know it, a plot birthed in my writer’s muse. 🙂

JLL: Tell us a bit about your research process for Saratoga Letters. Do you have any favorite resources that you turn to for research?

EMC: My very favorite sources for research are historians. I love picking the brains of those who share my love for history. They never ask why I need a minor detail about something—they just understand. Saratoga Letters took on a whole new challenge however because I was researching two completely separate centuries. It was a huge challenge to get details about 1977 because there was no internet then and many of the real-life details were often hidden in old newspaper stories or files in a historical archive. The great part about this was meeting so many helpful contacts in the Saratoga area. I’m so grateful for their help!

JLL: What do you most hope readers will take away from Saratoga Letters?

EMC: I think the key thought that readers of this book may take away is a truth about good vs. evil.

JLL: Are there any particular triumphs or challenges you’re facing in your
writing life these days?

EMC: My biggest challenge this past year has been my health. I had a total knee replacement a year ago that became infected. The resulting surgeries and course of serious antibiotics really challenged me! I’m so relieved to say that this seems to be behind me now and I am back to writing again.

JLL: How do you stay spiritually grounded during the writing and publishing process?

EMC: If I don’t start my day reading the Bible and praying, I might as well not bother to write that day! I feel so strongly that the message in my words must glorify God and I pray that it always will.

JLL: Are there any particular authors and/or books that have inspired your writing journey?

EMC: Laura Frantz!! She is my historical fiction hero! I cannot tell you what a joy it is to have her endorse Saratoga Letters!

JLL: What’s on your music playlist?

EMC: The soundtrack to “Son of God.”

JLL: Any movies (old or new) that you’d recommend?

EMC: One of my favorite historical movies is Last of the Mohicans. It’s definitely not for children, but it is an amazing look at early America during the French and Indian War. I also love the 1939 movie Drums Along the Mohawk. The Patriot with Mel Gibson, the AMC TV series Turn, and the PBS series Poldark are among my favorite historicals, as well.

JLL: What’s the next book project coming up for you?

EMC: I currently have two children’s books with my agent. It is a series of books that features siblings of children with special needs. I also will be researching a sequel to the 1777 portion of Saratoga Letters. I am VERY excited about that!

JLL: Is there anything you’d like readers to know about you that I haven’t asked? If so, tell us!

EMC: I honestly never imagined that I would become a writer of historical fiction. I spent years working as a nurse, and the fact that I now immerse myself in little-known historical tidbits is quite amusing to me! But I am so grateful to the Lord for allowing me this opportunity to write stories that I love and, I pray, that my readers will love as well.

JLL: Thanks, Elaine!

EMC: Thank you so much, Jenny, for having me as your guest!

Snap up your copy of Saratoga Letters!

Elaine M. Cooper

Elaine M. Cooper

Award winning author Elaine Marie Cooper is the author of Saratoga Letters, Fields of the Fatherless, Bethany’s Calendar and the historical trilogy called the Deer Run Saga. Her passions are her family, her faith in Christ, and the history of the American Revolution. She grew up in Massachusetts, the setting for many of her historical novels.

Her upcoming release is Legacy of Deer Run (CrossRiver Media, Dec, 2016)

Cooper has been writing since she penned her first short story at age eleven. She began researching for her first novel in 2007. Her writing has also appeared in Fighting Fear, Winning the War at Home by Edie Melson and the romance anthology, I Choose You. She has also written articles for Prayer Connect Magazine, Splickety Prime Magazine, Better Homes & Gardens, and Life: Beautiful Magazine. She began her professional writing career as a newspaper freelancer.

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Sparkling Vintage Fiction: The Sanctum by Pamela King Cable

sanctum coverToday on A Sparkling Vintage Life we step back to an era of history that was perhaps less “sparkling” than “sparking”: the southern U.S. in the late 1950s, where racial tensions crackled and smoldered and threatened to burst into flame. (Sound familiar? The more things change …)

Author Pamela King Cable explores this volatile time period with sensitivity, grace, and a sense of God’s faithfulness in her new novel, The Sanctum–which is now a bestseller, having reached the top 100 on Amazon in the category of Contemporary Christian Fiction!

On a November day in 1946, Neeley McPherson turned five … and accidentally killed her parents. Thrown into the care of her scheming and alcoholic grandfather, she survives by her quick wit, and the watchful eye of an elderly black man, Gideon. In 1959, as equal rights heats up the South, authorities accuse Gideon of stealing a watch and using a Whites Only restroom. Neeley, now thirteen, determines to break him out of jail.

When the infamous Catfish Cole, Ku Klux Klan Grand Dragon of the Carolinas, discovers their courageous escape, he pursues Neeley and Gideon into the frozen Blue Ridge Mountains to a wolf sanctuary. There Neeley crosses the bridge between the real and the supernatural. But will Neeley’s actions lead to tragedy again? Or will she finally realize the desire of her heart?

Let’s welcome Pamela to A Sparkling Vintage Life.

The Sanctum is set in the southern U.S. in 1959-1960. What has intrigued you about this time and place in history?

I was born in the South, a coal miner’s granddaughter, but my father escaped the mines, went to college and moved his family to Ohio to work for the rubber companies in 1959. I spent every weekend as a little girl traveling back to the Appalachian Mountains.

Many of my stories are based on people I’ve known and places I’ve been. History also plays a great part in my work. As a writer it is my desire to transport a reader’s mind—but my ultimate joy is to pierce your heart. When I was a little girl someone in my family taught me respect for all people. He said we were related to the great Martin Luther King since after all, my maiden name is King. I soon realized it wasn’t true, but I never forgot what he said. Later, I discovered blatant prejudice had incubated for decades within my family. My southern grandparents believed wholeheartedly in segregation.

pamela king cable

Pamela King Cable

For over a decade I lived near Summerfield, North Carolina, located northwest of Greensboro. This area is historically saturated with horse and tobacco farms, which today still dot the landscape. By chance I discovered James W. Cole (1924-1967) was ordained into the ministry in Summerfield at the Wayside Baptist Church in 1958. He toured as a tent evangelist and broadcast a Sunday morning radio program, becoming an active member of the Knights of the Ku Klux Klan, and eventually the Grand Dragon of North and South Carolina. The man intrigued and appalled me, and since the first part of the book takes place in Summerfield during that time period, I wrote him into the story.

What sparked your imagination for this particular story?

Late in 2008, and for the next two years, I labored over a new story to give myself a break from the heat and intensity of my novel, Televenge. Little did I know of the fierce obsession and passion that would overtake me in writing The Sanctum. Wanting to include the possibility of the paranormal and spirituality from different points of view, I focused on a young girl with fuzzy, red hair who called herself Neeley, and the story began.

This skinny, parentless thirteen-year-old who wore thick eyeglasses and hand-me-down dresses captivated me from page one. Placing my little redheaded girl on a tobacco farm in 1959, and in the caring hands of an elderly African-American male, a rugged individual who wasn’t afraid of his gentle side, I quickly fell in love with them. The novel slowly wrote itself, dragging my heart behind it.

The International Civil Rights Center and Museum is located in the recently restored Woolworth’s building in downtown Greensboro, a Woolworth’s that also found its way into my story. As I further studied the Civil Rights Movement, I thought of it in terms of rights for all people. My great grandmother was a full-blooded Cherokee, according to our family’s historian. So I then researched the Trail of Tears.

And finally the wolf appeared. An animal that has fascinated me all my life, the wolf is about family and order. It is a subtle character, but a voice to be reckoned with. I studied wolves carefully, and found people who loved the animal enough to create wolf sanctuaries. I spent time on a sanctuary near the town of Bakersville in the Blue Ridge Mountains, a five-hour drive from my home. When I arrived a sign read “The Wolf Sanctum.” From that moment I called my novel, The Sanctum.

What do you most hope readers will take away from The Sanctum?

That above all else, God is faithful.

Most of my readers have reported they feel drained. As though they’ve stepped through a portal in time. They’ve been informed, enlightened, and yet their hearts have been pierced clean through. They’ve said to me many times that the characters became alive. I want all of my readers to experience that. To want to linger inside the pages, to live in the story until it becomes a part of them. Until the story is pressed into the recesses of their memories.

Are there any particular challenges you’re facing in your writing life these days?

I believe it’s with the publishing industry in general. The industry is in desperate need of a major overhaul. The length of time it takes from finishing the novel to publication is painfully long. There’s got to be a better, faster way for traditionally published books to get to market. Also, the worn-out process of retailers returning our unsold books, it’s still the most ridiculous part of this business. Total nonsense. If the Gap can’t return its unsold blue jeans to the Levi Company, why should Barnes & Noble be allowed to return its unsold books to the publisher? This is an antiquated process that needs to stop. Now.

How do you stay spiritually grounded during the writing and publishing process?

Spiritual life-changing moments in my life have consistently fed my desire to write. However, those moments came at a price. Compassion and love from my Heavenly Father saved me from the bottom of my barrel, from the depths of despair. In the midst of the darkest valley of my life, He raised me up and placed in me a desire to pierce the hearts of my readers with the written word straight from my sanctified imagination. He delivered me, saving my life more than once. It wasn’t just the hand of God that moved; it was His whole arm. There is nothing like experiencing the miracle hand of the Master first hand. The undiluted and undisputed faithfulness of God molded me as a woman of faith, and as a writer. Remembering all of this keeps me spiritually grounded, in every aspect of my life.

Who is the one person who has influenced your professional life the most and why?

Donald Maass, author and literary agent. Don is to the writer what Lee Strasburg was to the actors in his time. I am a graduate of the 2005 Breakout Novel Intensive and have studied under Don at different times and locations around the country. Don made me a better writer, and I am ever grateful to him for it.

Are there any particular authors and/or books that have inspired your writing journey?

On my thirteenth birthday, I received a copy of Gone with the Wind. I devoured it in a weekend. Margaret Mitchell became my hero until I discovered Flannery O’Connor, Harper Lee, and Eudora Welty. The rich story content of the South fans the flames of many writers’ fires. But for me, their work was a springboard, catapulting me into the possibility of creating my own unique stories driven by compelling and unforgettable characters.

I love the works of many authors. Pat Conroy, Lee Smith, Silas House, Dorothy Allison, Alice Munro, Diana Gabaldon, Maya Angelou, Barbara Kingsolver … the list could fill this page.

Favorite musical artist. Do you listen to music when you write? What?

Growing up in the late 60s and early 70s, I’m a classical rock kind of girl. I have many favorite artists. But when I write, I listen to music without words. Words are distracting. Classical music, or arrangements from motion picture soundtracks can set a scene into motion. I’m not one to write in coffee shops or anyplace with commotion. I work hard to keep my ADHD self on track.

Any movies (old or new) that you’d recommend?

Movies I can watch, and have watched, over and over are as follows: Steel Magnolias, Green Fried Tomatoes, The Color Purple, The Help, National Treasure, Places in the Heart, Driving Miss Daisy, Matewan, Forrest Gump, Hope Floats, Winter People, Cold Mountain, A Time to Kill, Divine Secrets of the Ya-Ya Sisterhood, Ghosts of Mississippi, The Legend of Bagger Vance, Selma, Coal Miner’s Daughter, The Apostle, Lee Daniels’ The Butler, and To Kill A Mockingbird.

What’s the next book project coming up for you?

Plot outlines for two books: Bitter Homes and Gardens, and The Pinnacle

What is one of your favorite lines (scenes, quote from a character) from you current book?

“My life had to change, and yet I knew, living in North Carolina, danger arrived in winter. Southerners hole up during cold weather. Food is tasteless, and the world around us smells like our rusted tin roofs. Religious conviction freezes on our faces, but our sins are not confessed. I was a child of winter. I had learned the consequence of snow and cold. It was a dreaded time of year, knowing every cold and flu season brought me bad luck and closer to truths too terrible to bear. But the day I turned thirteen began a new chapter that taught me bad luck could turn into good luck, even though it might take time. Even though the evidence of good luck is often invisible as a bubble at first. Even though the evidence of things unseen can make you think you’ve lost your mind.” ~ Neeley McPherson, The Sanctum

Is there anything you’d like readers to know about you that I haven’t asked? If so, tell us!

For me, it is within sanctuaries of brick and mortar; places of clapboard and canvas that characters hang ripe for picking. From the primitive church services of the mountain clans to the baptisms and sacraments in cathedrals and synagogues all over the world. From the hardworking men and women who testify in every run-down house of God in America to the charismatic high-dollar high-tech evangelicals televised in today’s megachurches, therein lie stories of unspeakable conflict, the forbidden, and often, the unexplained.

Thanks, Pamela!

You can find Pamela’s blog on her website, and also on Facebook, Twitter, and Goodreads.

 

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Sparkling Vintage Book Review and Interview: THE MIRACLE MAN by Buck Storm

miracle manIn the nine years that I’ve lived in northern Idaho, I’ve continually been impressed by the quality of the local literary community. Who knew there were so many intriguing  authors, writers, and booklovers living in these parts? And then to discover that I share a publisher with one of them–well, to my mind, that makes us sort of literary cousins! Join me in welcoming fellow author and North Idahoan Buck Storm to the Sparkling Vintage blog.

On a recent sunny day I had the privilege of chatting with Buck over coffee. His debut novel, The Miracle Man, was published in 2015 by Lighthouse Publishing of the Carolinas.

But Buck’s is not only a novelist–he’s an accomplished musician and songwriter, too (another form of storytelling). As a soloist or as one half of “Stonehill and Storm” (with Christian-music powerhouse Randy Stonehill), Buck “plays live throughout America and the world, in venues that range anywhere from churches to concert halls, prisons to soup kitchens to barrooms,” as stated on his website.

When not traveling on tour, Buck and his wife, Michelle, call North Idaho home. They enjoy hanging out with their grown kids and renovating their 1908 house–of which, I must admit, I’m envious. To my delight, it turns out that the Storms, too, are fans of “all things vintage,” scouring the area for cast-off treasures that just need a little TLC to restore them to their former luster.

Buck Storm, storyteller and songwriter

Buck Storm: storyteller, singer, songwriter

But back to matters at hand . . .

Set in 1951, The Miracle Man tells the story of Luke Hollis, police chief of sleepy Paradise, Arizona. When an unexplained healing occurs during a service at the Mount Moriah Pentecostal Church of God, Hollis finds his simple belief system challenged and his life changed forever. Throw in a struggling minister, a world-class grifter, and a stranger with an unbelievable story of love and redemption and the stage is set for The Miracle Man. By the time it’s all over everyone involved will come face to face with a power that’s greater and more wonderful than any of them could have ever imagined.

I loved this book, especially its vivid descriptions, memorable characters, wry humor, and powerful story of redemption. It’s the kind of story you find yourself rolling over in your mind, days after finishing it.

Here are some highlights from our conversation:

Jennifer Lamont Leo: Thanks for meeting with me, Buck. The Miracle Man is set in the early 1950s. Why did you choose that time period?

Buck Storm: I don’t really know … I think it chose me! Growing up in Arizona, a lot of guys I knew were from that postwar time period. I loved listening to their stories.

Jennifer: Is Paradise based on a real town?

Buck: Paradise is fictional. I’ve placed it in the area around Payson, Arizona, but it’s not based on any particular town.

Jennifer: Is any part of the story autobiographical?

Buck: No, except to the extent that, like Luke Hollis, I have arm-wrestled with God. The truth is, God is involved in your life, whether you know it or not, whether you acknowledge it.

Jennifer: That’s an important message for people to hear.

Buck: Yeah. If our lives are grounded in faith, then our writing comes out of that faith.

JLL: What have you enjoyed reading/watching/listening to lately?

Buck: I recently enjoyed the movie Smoke Signals [ed. note: based on a story by another notable Northwest author, Sherman Alexie]. I’ve been reading Charles Martin, Elmore Leonard, and Larry McMurtry, paying special attention to their use of dialogue. As a songwriter, I appreciate dialogue that has an almost lyrical quality, like [songwriter] John Prine. I’m on the road a lot, so I listen to audiobooks while driving.

Jennifer: Speaking of being on the road, tell us a bit about your music. How would you describe it?

Buck: I’d call it Americana, both in genre and content. It has elements of country and folk, a sort of vintage acoustic style. You can listen to it at buckstorm.com.

Jennifer: Do you take copies of The Miracle Man with you on the road?

Buck: Yeah. A lot of people who come to hear us play have responded very positively to the book.

Jennifer: What writing projects are you working on now?

Buck: My next novel, Truck Stop Jesus, will be published in November 2016. And I’m working on a third novel, The Beautiful Ashes of Gomez Gomez. I also write a blog called Tips for the Traveler, where I share some of the thoughts I have while traveling.

Jennifer: Life on the road must give you a lot of time to think. It helps your creativity.

Buck: Yes, it does.

Jennifer: Thanks for talking with me today, Buck. I look forward to future visits to Paradise, Arizona.

Buck: Thank you.

Look for The Miracle Man (available now) and Truck Stop Jesus (coming in November 2016) at your favorite online bookseller. For more about Buck Storm, visit his website, buckstorm.com, where you can read his blog, listen to his music, and find out more about his upcoming tour schedule, book releases, and more.

 

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Sparkling Vintage Reads and Giveaway!: An Interview with Sarah Sundin

Anchor in the StormOne of my very favorite historical eras to read about is World War II, a naturally dramatic time period that lends itself to engaging stories. With eight novels set in that time period, Sarah Sundin has become a master of the genre. Her latest book, Anchor in the Storm, has just released from Revell to widespread acclaim. Publishers Weekly said, “Sundin, exhibiting her usual flair for 1940s history and setting, will delight WWII buffs.” Booklist called it “an optimal hybrid of 1940s crime and romance” And RT (Romantic Times) Book Review gave it four stars, saying, “Full of exciting intrigue . . . just the right amount of romance to balance out the drama.”

Sarah Sundin

Sarah Sundin

Here’s the scoop: For plucky Lillian Avery, America’s entry into World War II means a chance to prove herself as a pharmacist in Boston. She loves the wartime challenges of her new job but spurns the attention of society boy Ens. Archer Vandenberg. As Arch’s destroyer battles U-boats along the East Coast, Lillian uncovers a black market drug ring. Arch and Lillian work together on the investigation, but can he ever earn her trust and affection?

If you’d like to enter to win a free copy of Anchor in the Storm, simply post a comment below or send an e-mail to jenny (at) jenniferlamontleo.com. The winner will be drawn at random on Monday, May 9, 2016, and I’ll notify the winner.

Jennifer Lamont Leo: Welcome, Sarah. Anchor in the Storm is the second release in your Waves of Freedom series, set during World War II.* What has intrigued you about this time in history?

Sarah Sundin: The World War II era has always fascinated me—and not just because of the swinging music, cute dresses, and men in uniform. It was a time when ordinary men learned they could do extraordinary things, and when women tried exciting new roles. The war highlighted the darkest nature of humanity, but it also brought out the best. It’s an era full of drama, daring, and romance—perfect for a novel.

JLL: What sparked your imagination for this particular story?

SS: My husband and I are both pharmacists. A few years ago he made a transition from medical research to community pharmacy, and he was stunned at the extent of the narcotic abuse epidemic that’s now making the news. He cracked down on shady prescriptions, and my novelist’s brain began to churn. What if he angered someone big in the illegal drug community? But what if it happened in World War II? And the pharmacist was a woman? And I gave her a physical disability to make things even more interesting…?

JLL: Tell us a bit about your research process for Anchor in the Storm. Do you have any favorite resources for World War II research?

SS: For starters, I had to research life in the US Navy, the U-boat war off America’s East Coast, pharmacy practice, and Boston during World War II. My favorite resource for WWII military research is the HyperWar website, which contains hundreds of documents—manuals, official histories, and more. For researching the Battle of the Atlantic, I’ve been a frequent visitor at uboat.net, an extraordinarily thorough and well-researched site. For Lillian’s story, my favorite resource was a book called Pharmacy in World War II by Dennis Worthen.

JLL: What do you most hope readers will take away from Anchor in the Storm?

SS: Both Arch and Lillian have placed their identity and security in their careers. But when those careers are threatened, so is that identity, that security. I hope readers will learn along with Arch and Lillian that our true identity rests in Christ alone, and that the Lord is our security. That’s the “hope we have as an anchor of the soul” (Hebrews 6:19).

JLL: Are there any particular challenges you’re facing in your writing life these days?

SS: My family is going through a lot of change. Our oldest son graduated from college and got a Real Job, our daughter got married—and they’re all living a full day’s drive away. Our youngest son graduates from high school next month and ships out to Navy boot camp this summer. These are all happy and wonderful things, but change is…change. And deadlines are deadlines.

JLL: How do you stay spiritually grounded during the writing and publishing process?

SS: God has a way of keeping me grounded and bonking me on the head any time that head threatens to get swollen. I can count on it—and I’m glad of it. He’s also placed wonderful, godly friends in my life who know me as “Sarah,” not as “Sarah Sundin, Author.” They slap me upside the head when I get whiny or fretful or just plain annoying. With all the head-bonking and head-slapping, I should have a concussion by now.

JLL: What are you reading these days?

SS:  Funny you should ask, because I recently finished a charming, sparkling novel called You’re the Cream in My Coffee, by a certain Jennifer Lamont Leo (shameless plug intended).

JLL: You are too kind. 🙂 🙂 🙂

SS: And I just started reading another debut novel called Close to You, by Kara Isaac—it’s about a woman who conducts Tolkien tours in New Zealand and a man who’s stuck on a tour against his will. Great fun!

JLL: What’s on your music playlist?

SS: An awful lot of big band music! Glenn Miller, Benny Goodman, the Andrews Sisters, Artie Shaw. I love it, and it puts me “In the Mood” to write my stories. Now it’s your turn to slap me.

JLL: What’s the next book project coming up for you?

SS: The third book in the Waves of Freedom series, When Tides Turn, is going through edits right now, and I’m starting work on my new series about three estranged brothers who fight on D-Day from the sea, the air, and the ground.

JLL: Thank you so much, Sarah. Anchors in the Storm is a marvelous story.

SS: Thank you so much for hosting me today!

*(Breaking news: The first book in the series, Through Waters Deep, has just been named a finalist in the prestigious INSPY Awards for faith-driven fiction!)

About Sarah: Sarah Sundin is the author of eight historical novels, including Anchor in the Storm. Her novel Through Waters Deep was named to Booklist’s “101 Best Romance Novels of the Last 10 Years,” and her novella “I’ll Be Home for Christmas” in Where Treetops Glisten was a finalist for the 2015 Carol Award. A mother of three, Sarah lives in California, works on-call as a hospital pharmacist, and teaches Sunday school. http://www.sarahsundin.com

Disclosure: I’ve been given a review copy of this book by the publisher. This generosity, while appreciated, has not biased my review. I also post some of my reviews on Amazon and Goodreads.

Sparkling Vintage Musings: Why I wrote this novel (and an invitation)

A fun present from my agent, now hanging by my desk.

A fun present from my agent, now hanging next to my desk.

Every so often someone asks what my novel is about. But recently someone asked me why I wrote it. That was a new question for me. I needed to give it some thought since I, too, was curious why I wrote it. For me, the best way to figure out what I think about something is to write about it. So here goes.

At the risk of sounding a bit unhinged, I typed “Chapter One” when I started hearing the characters in my head, and I knew they wouldn’t leave me alone until I told their story. But of course there’s more to it than that.

In middle school I had a friend who was fascinated by the American Civil War (or the War Between the States, or the War of Northern Aggression, depending on where you sit. In middle school I sat in Illinois, the Land of Lincoln, so connect the dots.). Anyway, my friend couldn’t get enough of reading about the war, watching movies about it, and talking about it (at least to me, her similarly nerdy friend. Let’s just say an obsession with the Civil War doesn’t win popularity points in middle school.) She knew the names of generals, the dates of battles, the words to marching songs. But when I’d ask her why she had such a deep interest in the Civil War in particular, she didn’t know why.

For reasons I don’t fully understand, I’ve long been fascinated by the early 20th century, from 1900 through World War II. I think there’s something about people of faith banding together and pulling through hard times–wars, the Great Depression–that inspires me. I’m also attracted to eras that were in many ways much harder than our own, but in other ways simpler and slower-paced. Yet at the same time, not boring.

The Roaring Twenties in particular is rich territory for fiction. The era crackled with excitement. The aftereffects of a world war and enactment of women’s suffrage shook things up like never before. The automobile gave dating couples more freedom—and subjected them to more temptation—than they’d ever experienced in their parents’ front parlor. The highly publicized Scopes trial forced many people to examine their faith: some clung more tightly to it while others abandoned it. And of course there was the inherent drama of Prohibition, the tension between the “drys” and the “wets,” and the rise of the criminal underworld. Chicago, the setting of You’re the Cream in My Coffee, was at the epicenter of it all.

Further, the era had much in common with our own. It was a time of great upheaval between the older Victorian values and way of life—largely damaged if not shattered by World War I—and the rebellious, freethinking youth culture. In You’re the Cream in My Coffee, the protagonist, Marjorie, finds herself torn between the glittering world of the “flapper” and the traditional conservative values she grew up with. This is, of course, a universal theme that resonates with Christian women today—how to live in the world but not be consumed by it, and where to draw the line.

There’s also a spiritual thread to the story. You’re the Cream in My Coffee is in no way autobiographical. Even so, like Marjorie, I’ve known heartache and have blamed God when things didn’t turn out the way I wanted. At times I’ve made poor choices, headed down thorny paths, chosen questionable companions, and just generally been my own worst enemy. But our God is a God of second chances. And third, fourth, and fifth chances. As different as we are, Marjorie and I share a story of healing and hope, and faith in the One who gives them to us.

So that, in a nutshell, is why I wrote this story. If you’re reading this post in August 2015, then know that you’ve popped in at an early stage of the journey. Recently I contracted with a publisher. I’m currently scribbling away on a revision due this fall, fixing some timeline and pacing issues and the occasional anachronistic detail (gasp! and here I tried to be so careful…). This winter we’ll be finalizing the title, planning the cover, and doing all manner of furious underwater paddling to prepare to launch in about a year.

Would you please consider coming along for the journey and being part of my crew? I’ll be putting together a sort of inner circle, a team of a limited number of people I’m calling the “Cream Team,” to help brainstorm ideas, offer feedback at various points, spread the word about the book on blogs and social media as the publication date nears, and–above all–support the whole project in prayer. In return, Cream Team members will receive sneak peeks, yet-to-be-decided (but cool! definitely cool!) gifts and perks, not to mention my undying gratitude. It’s still early days, but if you’re interested in being part of the Cream Team, e-mail me privately at jenny @ jenniferlamontleo.com (without the spaces) and let me know you’d like to help.

All I ask is that Cream Team members be active on social media in some capacity (i.e., Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, your own blog, whatever) and enjoy reading fiction. If you want to be supportive but you’d rather chew tinfoil than read fiction, there will be other ways to get involved. 🙂

Have a question about the novel, the writing process, the Cream Team, or anything else? Leave a comment here or e-mail me at the address above. I’d love to hear from you.

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