Tuesday, March 27, 2007

Western Perfection

Warning: book recommendation follows -- if you don't read another book in the spring season that everyone says will get here eventually, do read this one. The following comes courtesy of Tammy Barley, who interviewed my ACFW bookseller-bud Jeanne Leach...

One foreword -- Jeanne has waited quite a while for this book to release. Due to life intrusions and other glitches on the publisher's part, its debut has taxed all of our patience...but now it's out, so buy and READ THIS BOOK!

Western romance author, closet humorist and down-to-earth friend, Jeannie Marie Leach good-naturedly let me pepper her with questions over her newest release THE PLIGHT OF MATTIE GORDON. The interview took an unexpected turn, one which left me feeling closer to God.

TB: Tell us a little about yourself, about your home in Colorado.

JML: I've gone past the age of 50 and was surprised and delighted to find that a good part of life still happens past that age. David and I have been married 32 years. We never had kids of our own, so we borrow other people's kids for a while, spoil them rotten and then give them back. We also have a 130 lb. Alaskan Malamute, whom we spoil too.

We live in the mountains of Colorado at an elevation of 9,097 feet above sea level. Having grown up in the Black Hills of South Dakota, the mountain girl in me couldn't be squelched. Eventually, hubby also decided he was a mountain man, so here we are, surrounded by 13,000 ft. snow covered mountain, beside an icy lake.

TB: Every author has a unique story of how her career began. What led you to write Christian romance? Who or what has most influenced you?

JML: Back in the mid '80s a girlfriend discovered Janette Oke books. We shared them and became hooked. I never told anyone that I'd been "thinking" up stories since I was a teenager. These stories would sometimes take me a year to complete. After reading Ms. Oke's books, my stories took on a Christian romance twist that wasn't there before.

I finally asked my clinical psychologist father-in-law if what I was doing was normal. He asked me a couple questions and soon leaned back in his chair. "The only difference between you and a writer is that a writer writes these stories down."

I started typing at the computer and never looked back.

TB: When did you first envision the storyline for THE PLIGHT OF MATTIE GORDON?

JML: It was over four years ago that I first started working on THE PLIGHT OF MATTIE GORDON. What I like to do is think of a character, then figure out what would be the worst thing that could happen to them.

I'd just seen the Black Canyon of the Gunnison in western Colorado for the first time, and was totally awed by it. The information on the Black Canyon said that outlaws had hidden there back in the early days of the west.

I started to wonder what would happen if ordinary people lived there, and soon I had a picture of Mattie in my mind. Add to that an outlaw son, and the story took on a life of its own.

TB: You wrote many sides to Mattie Gordon's character with which women can identify. What do you like best about Mattie?

JML: My favorite things about Mattie are her tenacity, her single-minded purpose when it came to her son, and the hope she held in her heart that as long as Will had breath, she knew God could save him.

So often, when we don't see the answer to our prayers according to our timetable, we give up and lose hope. We convince ourselves that it will never happen and give up trying. Mattie never gave up!

TB: Other than a bounty hunter, who is Cyrus Braydon?

JML: Cyrus is a tough man on the outside with a tender spot he'd shoved down inside long ago. In order to maintain that rough exterior, he'd nearly forgotten that part of him. Until he met Mattie, he'd been able to keep reigns on his tenderness, fooling most people into thinking he didn't care about anyone or anything. But when faced with the unfailing and unconditional love of a mother for her son, the tenderness came out, and he had quite a time dealing with it.

TB: What inspired you to choose the southern plains states - Kansas, Oklahoma, Texas - as part of the backdrop for this story?

JML: It was a process that took time. First, the Black Canyon of the Gunnison is out on the high plains. One could ride right past it within a few hundred feet and not know it was there. I liked that as a hideout for the gang. That would be why they were able to stay hidden for so long.

Then, I also needed a cow town, someplace where cattle shipping was prominent, and when I realized Hayes, Kansas was exactly what I needed, I had to figure out how I can get a hidden canyon close enough to Hayes to be a viable solution to Will's cattle sales, yet far enough away for him to not fall under people's scrutiny. So I set my hidden canyon in the southwestern part of Colorado. While the plains may be flat, they are full of surprises and places to hide.

TB: Different places in your book you hint at the miracles God works in our lives. Has God touched you with a miracle? If so, what meaning did it have for you?

JML: God has touched me with MANY miracles down through the years. In most recent years, they always pointed to hope.

TB: If you could personally share one truth, one bit of Christian wisdom you feel God would have you give, what would it be?

JML: Prov. 13:12 tells us that hope deferred makes the heart sick. I've been heartsick before, and it's not a good feeling. When you lose hope, you feel you don't have anything to live for, and your future abounds in bleakness. To lose hope is to forget that God is still on the throne, and that he is still working on your behalf to bring about great things for you.

But Jeremiah 29:11 says, "For I know the plans I have for you, declares the Lord, "plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future." The passages that follow that say that if you seek him with your whole heart, he will be found by you.

This message of hope has become the theme of all my books. In fact, one woman who has read my book sent me an e-mail message saying she now had hope for her 16 year-old son because of Will and Mattie. Wow!

So my message to readers is to NEVER GIVE UP! As long as you have breath, you can hope for a bright future, a future led by God.

TB: Many thanks to Jeanne Marie Leach for sharing! If you'd like to know more about the author or her work, feel free to visit her at www.jeannemarieleach.com or http://www.ShoutLife.com/JeanneMarieLeach.

~Interviewed by Tammy Barley, author and reviewer

See what I mean? Now go forth and buy this one.

Review: "The Plight of Mattie Gordon" by Jeanne Marie Leach

This is one of the rare books that has made me laugh, cry, and lifted me to greater hope in the Lord.

Mattie Gordon, a widow, is mother to Will and his men, a group of cattle drivers who bunk at the Gordon ranch between jobs. Or at least, she believes her son drives cattle…until bounty hunter Cyrus Braydon shows up with a poster that reads "Wanted: Cattle rustling, horse theft, murder. William Gordon. Dead or alive."

Afraid for her son's faithless soul should he be captured and convicted of murder, Mattie quickly rides out, desperate to find Will and convince him of God's salvation before Cyrus tracks him down.

In Boise City, Oklahoma Mattie meets Cyrus again. Her heart is pulled to the good man he is, leaving her conflicted since he is dutybound to stop her son. When Mattie discovers she is being followed, she has no choice but to share information that will enable her and Cyrus to find her son together, no choice but to trust the bounty hunter to protect her and to take Will alive.

"The Plight of Mattie Gordon", a novella, is Jeanne Marie Leach's second Christian Western romance. I laughed over comical one-liners, enjoyed the unique storyline and a few pleasant twists. I personally prefer to see the visuals in more detail, but the plot and Mattie's character - one I strongly identify with as a mom - drew me. The theme of entrusting our children's faith to the Lord is powerful, not one I'll soon forget. If you enjoy Western romances or women's fiction that speaks to your heart, this is for you.

Leach's next book, Shadow of Danger, will debut late this spring. I'll be watching for it.

~Reviewed by Tammy Barley, author and reviewer

Friday, March 23, 2007

Keeping On

Been involved in heavy-duty discussions with a writing associate about craft, expectations, haste, tardiness, and other issues. When I say heavy-duty, it means examining the core issues: why we write; what would happen if we stopped; can we stop; what it means to grasp for the highest pinnacle of excellence that's within our grasp.

Like I say, heavy. We two have very different writing styles, emotional wiring, approaches to life -- almost the whole smash. So what keeps us writing-friends?

I think it's that we understand each other. While her path is not mine, and mine not hers, we can empathize. She spots -- and elicits -- the very best writer I can be. Whether I can bring out her most excellent ways, I don't know. I'd be honored to try.

We talk about writing from the heart, the things that tickle us most. We talk about writing to the market. For some fortunate writers, these two paths intersect.

So far, it hasn't been true for us. Though both of us are published, it hasn't led to bigger contracts or higher profiles. So we're left with examining why we write, how we must write if we want to stay sane...

More later, once I figure it out.

Monday, March 19, 2007

Abandoning Subtlety

Subtle, as most of you blogophiles already know, I don't do. Gentle hinting is not my greatest strength.

That said: READ THIS BOOK! Its title is A VALLEY OF BETRAYAL. Tricia Goyer wrote it. I almost resent this book for being so good--it takes me away from my slow-going WIP, which we won't talk about right now because I think y'all should Read This Book!

Tricia kindly asked me to participate in her blog tour. While reading (did I mention you should do the same?) I got curious: how does a 21st century lady get interested in the Spanish Civil War, of all things?

Here are my curiosity-bits and her answers:

1. What was the toughest piece of research you did for A VALLEY OF BETRAYAL?

The most difficult parts are those dealing with the political climates of that time. One of my characters, Deion, is part of the Communist party. Today's reader has one view of what that means, but in the 1930s there was hope found there. In a country that was still segregated, the idea of "equality of men" was a huge draw, especially for African Americans.

2. How did you get into the mindset of the early Hitlerites?

Good question! My "research" into the mind of Hitler's soldiers started with my first novel, From Dust and Ashes. Starting with that novel, I've always included the point-of-view of the "bad guys." I suppose I wanted to figure out what made them tick. Research REALLY got involved in my second novel, NIGHT SONG. It was then I saw the Nazi beliefs as a religion. They saw Hitler as their savior and were determined to follow him ... no matter the cost. And, if they didn't, they lost their lives, and the lives of their families. That's a pretty good motivator!

With these things already in mind, I looked into the motives behind the earliest pilots who flew over Spain. I read books written by some of the pilots and tried to figure out what made them, personally, tick. I discovered that it was a great honor not only to fly, but to serve in the military. As you may know, after World War I, Germany was not allowed to have a military. So, in Spain this was their way of once again gaining respect after feeling as if their country had been disrespected for so long. There were also individual motives, but mainly these men felt they bore the worth and strength of Germany on their shoulders.

3. Did you travel to Spain to research there?

No, I wish I could have! Instead I dove into the books. I was also blessed to interview men who were there, and get the help/insight from a missionary friend who currently lives in Spain. When I was researching for my novel, ARMS OF DELIVERANCE, one of the autobiographies I read was from a man who was a B-17 bomber pilot over Europe--but before that, he was an American volunteer for the Spanish Civil War. I had never heard of this war before, which happened right before WWII in Spain. I started researching and I was soon fascinated. Some people call it "the first battle of WWII" because it's where that Nazis first tried their hand at modern warfare.

For this series I dove into the lives of an American artist, a few international volunteers, a Basque priest, and a German pilot. I research the real people first, and then the plot for my novel builds. Soon, I have to make myself stop researching to start writing. Research can be addictive!

4. What aspects of the politics of 1939 seemed most foreign to you?

All of the politics! Things were VERY confusing in Spain in the late 1930s. There were a group of people (the rich, the military, the state church) who liked how things were. Then there was a group that didn't ... everyone else. These others searched for answers in democracy, communism, and numerous other political systems. It took a LOT of research and study to get everything straight in my head who was on whose side, and why.

5. Do you plan on telling more of Sophie's story?

Yes, my second novel A SHADOF OF TREASON comes out this fall. In fact, book #2 picks up the very day where book #1 left off. It continues on in Spain in the lives of these characters, and ... well, soon they discover that more is at stake than what any of them originally thought. It's also published by Moody and it will hit store shelves September 1, 2007.

Generation NeXt Marriage will be released in January of 2008 and My Life unScripted, a teen devotional for girls, this summer. And, of course, I've got several other projects in the works, including A Whisper of Freedom, which is the next novel I have to write.

Those are Tricia's answers. The aspect of the book that gets my highest thumbs-up is her marvelous flair for description. You can almost sense yourself walking down the street of the French/Spanish border town, taking in the flavor of the breeze, sensing the fears of the people.

If I ever write a historical, which at this point doesn't seem terribly likely since I'm bogged down with my contemp, this is the flavor I'll be shooting for.