Monday, December 29, 2014

New year: New book

Like the year 2014, the first book of The Stone House Legacy is almost in the can.  Proof copies are going out to reviewers and Beta readers. The final release date is scheduled for February 1 and a Launch Party is planned for February 22. (More information will be coming out soon.)  If you would like to be among the first to read and review this book, please contact me below for your copy.

Set in the birthplace of the John Birch Society, during the turbulent years of the early 1960’s, The Stone House Legacy reveals mankind’s stubborn inclination to repeat the mistakes of past generations. For nearly a century the old stone house has kept its secrets hidden deep in the limestone hills of central Indiana. When an idealistic young minister decides to develop the site as a religious retreat for ecumenical thought, however, the secrets of its past cast a dark shadow over his plans. Eventually, he must choose between his religious and political beliefs and the safety of his family.

Since the book is part of a trilogy, I have already begun work on Book II.  The book will focus on the historical events of the 1970, in particular, the struggle for women's rights.  However, in this book, I  also hope to explore the somewhat complicated relationship between mothers and sons. I am especially interested in how the absence of a strong father figure affects this relationship. Some of the characters from Book I will reappear with a whole new set of problems to overcome.

The working title for Book II is The Stone House Legacy: From Stone to Steel, but that could change as the work unfolds.  I am aiming for a 2016 release for this version and I hope to set up a system for taking preorders as well. Watch this site as well as my author page on Facebook for the latest updates.

On another note, I have completed the reediting and interior reformatting for Windborne and I will be re-releasing it with a new cover design this spring. For those of you who may have missed it the first time around, Windborne is a novel of empowerment and awakening.  Three generations of women born in the windswept Kansas Flint Hills set aside their own hopes and dreams to support the dreams of the men they fall in love with. But in the Flint Hills dreams often wither and die from hardships brought on by climate extremes, economics and politics. As each woman struggles to hold her family together through pain and heartache the dream begins to unravel and she must discover the hidden strength and power that lies deep within her to realize her own dreams.

All in all, it looks like a very busy 2015.  I hope you will join me in making it the most successful year ever!


Tuesday, December 2, 2014

The Legacy of Strong Women

During this time of reflection and thankfulness, I look back on the people who have made an impact on my life and the list of honorees are too numerous to mention. I credit the men in my life for making me fearless and keeping me humble.  In particular, my husband and my son have allowed me to lean on them when time and circumstances overwhelmed me. They had the uncanny ability to refill my reserves when I felt drained and empty. But the strength I drew from them is quite different from the strength I drew from the women in my life. Women are often the unsung heroes of fiction. And it is for that reason that I have chosen to represent strong female protagonists in my writing.

It is the special bond between mothers, daughters, and sisters that ultimately shape the women we become. Unfortunately, when the bond is broken or weak, so is the woman.  Without a strong woman in her life, a she often turns to a man to provide the strength she needs.  Unfortunately, this type of relationship can ultimately lead to subjugation and dependency. (I realize that this is a generalization that may not be true in all cases, but for the sake of argument, bear with me.)

I also believe that we are all are strongly influenced by the culture of the times in which we come of age. At the risk of sounding trite, women have come a long way from the 1970's "either/or" vision of women as housewives or career women. We have even realized that the 1980's view of the superwoman who could actually do it all was completely unrealistic.  Today, the men in the relationship no longer feel threatened by "women's work" and they eagerly embrace their roles as fathers as being more than merely a biological function. With this in mind, I like to place my female protagonist squarely in conflict with the historical and political culture of the times.

As I look at the women in my life - my mother, my sister, my daughter, and my daughters-in-law - I am thankful that they are all strong women and that the times in which we live celebrate that fact. They are not only capable of standing alone on the strength of their own independence, but they have made the men in their lives stronger because of it. They are equal partners in their relationships and will settle for nothing less. This is the legacy they will pass on their children.


Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Cover Reveal

Here it is...the cover for my new book, The Stone House Legacy. Watch for the release in January, 2015.

For nearly a century the old stone house has kept its secrets hidden deep in the limestone hills of Indiana. But when an idealistic young minister decides to develop the site as a religious retreat for ecumenical thought, the secrets of its past cast a dark shadow over his plans.

Set in the birthplace of the John Birch Society during the turbulent years of the early 1960's, The Stone House Legacy reveals mankind's stubborn determination to repeat the mistakes of past generations.

Sunday, October 26, 2014

The Legend of the Stone House

Since it's almost Halloween and the stone house in this legend is the inspiration for my new book, The Stone House Legacy, I thought I would republish a blog from November 4, 2013. Hope you enjoy it.


The house was once part of an early settlement called Neosho City, founded by a group of religious zealots from the East who bought the land on speculation and offered the lots to anyone willing to follow the charter rules they set out.  The settlement was to be a "city of no sin" and the inhabitants were to follow a strictly vegetarian diet.  They were to eat nothing they couldn't grow themselves and they were not to use any medications to cure or prevent illnesses.  Death was simply God's will and they were not to interfere.  The women were to tend the fields while the men attended religious meetings and prayed for God's blessings upon the community. This, they believed, would ensure their prosperity. But Mother Nature didn't get the message.  A few summers into the settlement a severe drought ruined the crops and left the settlement to suffer through one of the hardest winters on record with no food.  Starvation and sickness descended upon them and the aged and the children were the first to feel the effects. 

Sunday, October 12, 2014

Captain Kirk Lives!

On September 8, 1966, Star Trek made its debut on NBC. Star Trek was not simply a far-out science fiction program- it was a science fiction program that reflected the America of the 1960's.  Throughout the series, characters, themes, motifs, and of course, individual episodes made strong comments on sexism and feminism, racism and improving race relations, as well as militarism and peace, all major social issues during the late 1960's, and to a different degree, social issues of today.

I admit, with no shame, that I was a “Trekkie” during  the first incarnation of the show. I had an immense crush on Captain Kirk (a.k.a. William Shatner). He became the yardstick by which I measured every man I knew.  The problem was that he set the bar for sensitivity, integrity and leadership so high that no man (or woman) could measure up to it. He was like Martin Sheen’s president in The West Wing - above reproach and much wiser than those around him.

Captain Kirk saw the world as it should be. He wasn’t threatened by women in leadership roles. He didn’t seem to notice that his crew included not only women, but also those of different races and ethnicities.  He wasn’t shocked by the grotesque appearance of space aliens. He simply accepted them all as individuals.

His “mission” was one of peace.  As an explorer, he had an intense curiosity about civilizations and beings that were different, but he did not judge them as inferior because of those differences. He looked first for common ground upon which relationships could be built.

The major plot line of The Stone House Legacy follows closely the social and political events unfolding in the early part of the 1960’s. I have tried to focus on how these events affected the lives and relationships of ordinary people and not just the ones who managed to procure their fifteen minutes of fame on the emerging monster that has become “live TV”. 

But in fiction, there is a fine line between creating a character and creating a caricature. As I began to work through rewrites of the chapters it suddenly dawned on me that I had reincarnated Captain Kirk as my protagonist! The difference is…my hero is plagued by a fatal flaw. I think this makes him more real and hopefully more human. I hope you think so too.

Sunday, September 21, 2014

Stone House Pitch

After a ten day scouting trip through Kansas, Missouri, Indiana and Ohio, I have pinpointed the specific locations for The Stone House Legacy. In doing so, I have been able to tighten the plot and fully develop the characters.   I am excited to finish the story so I am targeting a release date in early 2015. But I need your help.  I am including a brief pitch for the novel below, and I would love to hear from you.

  • Have I piqued your interest?  
  • Does it make you want to pick up the book to find out what happens? 
  • What kind of cover art would enhance the intrigue and add to the mystique? 
  • Does anyone out there know a good book cover designer?
I'm also soliciting beta readers who would be willing to read the final draft and provide feedback before it goes to print.  I'll supply a Word file, but in exchange, I would like you to provide a brief (45 word) endorsement that I could print in the book. Let me know if you're interested.  I'd love to hear from you.

Wanda DeHaven Pyle

The Stone House Legacy

For nearly a century the old stone house has kept its secrets hidden deep in the limestone hills of southern Indiana. But when an idealistic young minister decides to develop the site as a religious retreat for ecumenical thought, the secrets of its past cast a dark shadow over his plans.

Set in the birthplace of the John Birch Society during the turbulent years of the early 1960’s, The Stone House Legacy, reveals mankind’s stubborn determination to repeat the mistakes of past generations.

When he returns from Vatican II in Rome as a protestant observer, the Reverend Simon Kingsley is filled with radical new ideas concerning long-held religious beliefs.  He envisions a new order of religious and political thought where people of all races and religions can come together to seek common understanding.  Unfortunately, there are forces working against him who see this as a threat to their way of life and a direct link to communist thought.

When the Simon joins the struggle for civil rights, he becomes a target for radical groups seeking to stop the movement in its tracks by discrediting and destroying its leaders.  Simon dreams of a sanctuary for rational thought and understanding, but his eloquence and the strength of his convictions are no match for the fear, distrust, and hatred that runs rampant through society.  His outspoken opinions soon place the reverend and his family in grave danger. Eventually, Simon must choose between his religious and political beliefs and the safety of his family.

The Stone House Legacy explores the issue of separation of church and state during a time of religious and political upheaval. It is a fast-moving tale of youthful idealism in conflict with mid-western isolationism against a backdrop of fear and greed. 

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Life's Choices: Repaint or Remodel

At some point in our lives, we must all face the decision to repaint or remodel.  My bathroom was right out of the 1970's...long laminate counter with a single sink at one end and a built in dressing table at the other. Women haven't sat down at a dressing table since the 1950's! What to do? It was the old "lipstick on a pig" dilemma. No, the best thing I could do to put this dated room out of its misery was to gut it and start fresh. But did I really want the expense and the inconvenience of a remodel? It was, after all, only a bathroom.

How many times in life are we faced with the decision to make the best of a bad situation or cut our losses and start over? Many years ago, my husband and I had to make the difficult decision to pull up our roots and leave behind family and friends to start over.  We had worked long and hard to get to a certain point in our lives, but we had reached a dead end.  We were stuck and no longer moving forward. If we stayed, the future looked bleak and disappointing. We were up against a wall. But we were reluctant to give up everything we had worked for to start over.  It was a step backward in order to move forward. We knew what lay ahead if we stayed put, but starting over was full of unknowns. What if it didn't work out?  Would we ever regain what we stood to lose? What if the future was no better than the present?

We took the leap. It was difficult. I had to give up my dream home and move into a much older, smaller home. I had to pull my children away from familiar surroundings to start school among strangers. I wish I could say that making the decision was the hardest part, but it wasn't.  Starting over was full of disappointments and self doubt when things didn't go as smoothly as we had hoped. No one rushed to offer us jobs or welcome us to our new surroundings.  We were alone and lost. Money was tight.  The little extras we had taken for granted were now luxuries. Everyone had to cut back. We began to look backward with regret.

But there was no turning back. Bridges had been burnt.  There was no other choice but to move forward. So we did. And at times it was like walking a tightrope without a safety net.  Several years have passed since we made that decision and life has evened out.  We have been able to move past our "stuck" position and squeeze more out of life than we ever thought possible. There were casualties along the way...things lost that can never be regained...friendships that cooled and waned.  But in the end, the pain and inconvenience of starting over was well worth it. 

I've watched others in my life face similar decisions and my heart goes out to them.  In the beginning, it's all so exciting and life is full of promise. But there is also pain.I want them to know that the pain will pass and that if they keep focused on the future, things will eventually turn out for the best. 

So what's my point?  Roll up your sleeves and remodel that outdated bathroom!

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Living in "the Zone"

Finding time to write is never easy.  I have recently returned to the workplace (part-time) and although the work is stimulating and rewarding, it does interfere with my writing. I sympathize with those who are holding down a full-time job, supporting a family and still trying to find time to write.  My hat goes off to you!

Writers are a strange breed.  It's sometimes easier for them to retreat into the fantasy worlds of their own creation and miss what's happening in the world they actually live in.  Sometimes I find myself so lost in thought that I am oblivious to conversations happening all around me   Other times I find myself looking at life from a distance as an observer instead of immersing myself in the activity of living the moment.  I don't like to be disturbed when I'm "in the zone". 

But I've matured...a nice way of saying I've gotten older...and priorities change. I'm spending more time with my grandchildren and I am amazed at how quickly they change.  I don't remember my own children changing so fast.  How did I miss those moments?  What else have I missed?

I wish life would give us "do-overs".  There are a few things I would do differently. For starters, I wouldn't take life so seriously.  I would laugh more and not dwell so long on past hurts. I would be more patient and understand that both children and adults go through phases in their lives when they need support, guidance and understanding and that the best course of action is not to judge, but to listen. However, to really listen one must be present in the situation...not just physically, but emotionally.  And that means leaving the "zone" and reentering the real world.  The fantasy world will always be there, but time in the real world is fleeting.  I don't want to miss another minute of it.

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Loose Ends

It seems that I have spent my whole life tying up loose ends. Once I think I’m finished, I see something else that needs to be done before I can say that the job is complete.  This obsession with loose ends often impedes my ability to finish a task.  I find it difficult to walk away knowing there is something left undone.  I find myself constantly revisiting past projects to improve and make them better by tying up one more loose end.

On the other hand, I sometimes find that the amount of work required to tie up all those loose ends, is so daunting that it is easier to give up on a project rather than tackle the task.  I’ve never thought of myself as a quitter, but I admit that there have been times when I backed away from a job or even a promotion because there were so many unknowns and loose ends.  I was too discouraged to even begin!

But the old adage is true: “Every journey begins with a single step.” I took that step when I wrote and self-published my first book. I knew nothing of publishing and I was reluctant to turn the whole process over to someone else without knowing what I was getting into.  So I closed my eyes and took a deep breath and forced myself to take that first step. I asked questions.  I made mistakes. I learned.  I am by no means an expert, but I am no longer terrified.

Now I find that the more I know, the more I need to know…more loose ends!  It is so easy to get caught up in the details that I lose sight of the goal.  Lately, I have immersed myself in learning the ropes of marketing myself and my work. I have spent hours researching and building a following on social networks.  I have developed press releases and promoted myself at book signings and book clubs. As a result I have neglected the most important and joyous part of being a writer…writing!

After publishing my debut novel, I still wake up in the middle of the night thinking of ways to make it better. I’m trying to stay focused on my next project, but I am haunted by the loose ends from my previous work.  I know that at some point I will revisit it and republish a second, improved edition for no other reason than to bring some closure to those loose ends.

As I near the resolution of the plot for The Stone House Legacy, I am consumed by the amount of loose ends that I have left dangling. There are so many details that need to be flushed out and explained before this draft is complete that I have allowed myself to become paralyzed by inaction. The task is so overwhelming that I have been unable to move forward. I have even contemplated giving up on the whole idea.

I have come to this critical decision point so often in my life. Looking back, I see that there were many times when I gave up on something when taking a single step forward would have gotten me moving again. I believe I have a story to tell. I believe that it will not only be entertaining, but insightful. I believe that the story will not be told unless I tell it. I think I am ready to take that next step. Wish me luck!

Thursday, May 29, 2014

What's the meaning of this?

You may be wondering where the title of this Blog came from since it's not really about school marms and cowboys.  It's actually more about relationships. I have always been fascinated by the unexplainable attraction between certain types of individuals.  Using my own family and acquaintances as the norm is, I know, an overgeneralization, but nevertheless, it bears consideration.  

The school marm is usually pictured as a woman teaching in a one-room schoolhouse. She is generally thought to adhere to severe arbitrary rules and be strict on those who failed to comply with those rules. She likes the power and control of being in charge. Hers is a no-nonsense world of rules and rituals.

It is said that a cowboy is not only defined by the work he does, but by the way he carries himself.  It is a culture of work ethics, not big talkers. Cowboys love nature and the natural world.  They want to die working…not working for money, working to make things better.  They love the land, the ranch and the plains.  They know it intimately.  Unfortunately, these characteristics do not always translate well in relationships. Early western movies portrayed the cowboy and his horse riding off into the distance and leaving the girl behind.  Why is that?  Perhaps it’s because women talk. They need verbal communication in a relationship, and cowboys love solitude silence.

So what is the attraction between these two seemingly opposite types of individuals? Is it simply a case of opposites attracting? I think not.  Beneath her tough exterior, the school marm harbors a deep seated desire to improve the world she lives in.  She sees education and the strict adherence to rules as a means to an end.  She is, after all, a dreamer…just like the cowboy.

The cowboy, on the other hand, lacks the ability to impose order on his chaotic world.  Deep down he knows that he cannot not succeed in making any significant changes to the world unless he understands and works within the rules that govern society. In a sense, he longs for order while at the same time, he is rebelling against it.

The same kind of push-pull attraction can be said to work for most relationships. What is it that attracts the charismatic leader to the shy, withdrawn individual?  More importantly, what sustains the relationship when theses opposite forces come into conflict as eventually they must?

And therein lies, the crux of the situation and the basic plot line for my writing. I like putting these characters in difficult situations to see which one rises to the top…which one takes control…and how this crisis changes their relationship.

Friday, May 9, 2014

Blog Tag: How I Write

Let's have some fun! 

If you're reading this blog and you like to write whether it be a diary, travel journal, blog, poetry, fiction or nonfiction, why not share your process with others by answering these four questions and pass it on! If you don't have a blog site of your own, then answer the questions right here in the comment section at the end of this one.  I'll post it for you!

What Am I Working On? I am currently at work on my second novel which will be the first in a series following the lives of the family of Simon Kingsley. This novel takes place in Indiana during the turbulent early years of the 1960's. A young minister and rising star on the evangelical stage takes a stand against civil injustice and brings the wrath of the John Birch Society down on his career and his family.
How Does My Writing Differ from Others of Its Genre? I write literary fiction set against the culture and isolationism of the Midwest.  I like to look at the present through the lens of the past to see what patterns emerge and what behaviors seem to repeat themselves through the generations. I'm working on finding a comfortable balance between internal and external conflicts so that the action of the plot does not get lost in the character's internal struggles.
Why Do I Write What I Do? I write to clarify my own thinking. I started this blog to explore my own past and discover some answers to questions that had haunted me throughout my life.  That part of the blog turned into my first novel, Windborne.  Now I write to discover ways to hone my craft. I use it to explore how characters might react in certain situations.  But most of all, I write because I love it!
How Does My Writing Process Work? I've written several blog pieces about this so I won't bore you with a rehash. The best way to describe my process is "gasps and spurts"! The story comes together in pieces like a jigsaw puzzle. I write and rewrite as I go along. It's like traversing a maze.  Sometimes I think I'm on the right track only to run into a dead end.  Then I have to back track and start over in a new direction.

There you have it! Your answers don't have to be lengthy or filled with intellectual insight.  Let's just have a conversation and see what happens. You can also reach me on Facebook at  or Twitter at  I look forward to hearing from you!

Sunday, May 4, 2014

The Language of Literature

What sets literary fiction apart from commercial fiction?  Is it the complex, literate, multilayered language?  Is it the relatability of universal dilemmas? The answer is “Yes!”

Among the arts, literature is unique in that it uses as its medium the language of everyday communication. One major difference is that literary language remains present in the reader’s mind in the form of stylistic questions or multiple interpretations in a way that everyday language does not.

This is not to say that literary fiction is all about the wording at the expense of the plot. In good literary fiction the characters must still face challenges and evolve just as they do in commercial fiction.  However, in literary fiction, the plot tends to be more subtle, often unfolding within the mind or emotions of the character. More often, in commercial fiction the plot involves continuous action. It is more about how a character interacts with events in the outside world. Thus, the reader becomes an observer rather than a participant who brings his or her own meaning to the work.

In Windborne, most of the plot is inferred by the choices the characters make. It requires a great deal of empathy to relate to the characters as humans and to deduce the hidden motivations and desires that lurk beneath their actions.  Things happen on the surface, but what is really important are the thoughts, desires and motivations of the characters as well as the underlying social and cultural threats that act upon them. The reader has to recognize the small tuning points as well as the highs and lows of the plot based on what they know of the characters.  They must bring their own experiences and knowledge of human nature into the work.  

In The Stone House Legacy, I am attempting to fold more action sequences into the inner life of the characters. The plot is more overt, but what happens out in the world isn’t as important as what happens within the minds of the characters. By using an Epilogue and Prologue to foreshadow the action of the plot I hope to refocus the reader’s attention on the characters’ inner struggle rather than how they defeat or are defeated by external forces.

The prose is pretty straightforward, but I am attempting to use more literary devices such as symbolism, allusion and imagery that will leave more room for interpretation. The plot points all relate to the inner mind and may be hidden in quiet moments and small, but powerful, revelations.  I realize that this may make it more challenging for the reader, but I believe it will be worth it!

Friday, April 25, 2014

Preview: The Stone House Legacy

I'm often asked about my writing process.  When do I find time?  How do I discipline myself to sit down and put thoughts and ideas into words.  I know that most writers will tell you that they set aside a time period every day to write, but my mind doesn't work that way.  

I am a verbal processor.  I need to talk things through and actually hear my own thinking before I can write. So I tend to bore my friends and family with my ideas while I figure things out.  I find that the conversation stimulates my thinking and gives me a new perspective on the theme. I'm always rejuvenated and more motivated to write after these conversations. And the writing is better!

Therefore, I am asking for your help!  Posted below is a link to the first two chapters of my new novel. It is the story of a young minister who is a rising star on the evangelical stage in the early 1960's.  But when he challenges the violence and chaos of the times, he places his career and his family in grave danger. (Still working on the "elevator pitch", so could use some help here as well!)

Click on the link below to view the Preview and leave your feedback. I am especially interested in your reactions to the characters and the initial plot conflicts.  In other words, does it entice you to want to read further? Any help will be sincerely appreciated!  Thank you.

Friday, March 28, 2014

The Story Before the Story

Regardless of purpose or plot, three-dimensional characters that live and breathe and walk around in your head are what give a story life. One critical way to breathe life into a character is to provide a backstory. Generally, this is the character’s history that precedes the events of the plot and lends depth or believability to the main story.  It also provides motivation for the way the character responds to these events.

Backstory may be revealed by various means, including flashbacks, dialogue, direct narration, or recollection. In Windborne, most of the backstory is revealed through direct narration and dialogue. Each character’s story begins chronologically earlier than the narrative of primary interest.  This was done to provide motivation and believability for the character’s reactions later in the story.  For example, Virginia lavishes her love on her handicapped sister and her first born child. When she loses both, she begins to withhold affection from anyone else close to her and instead becomes overprotective of her few possessions. Helen grows up neglected and insecure: as a result, she ties herself to an abusive relationship thinking it is what she deserves. Leah longs for the security and stability she never had as a child, only to discover that it comes with a price—her independence.

In The Stone House Legacy, the backstory will be revealed through a combination of flashback and narration. Unlike Windborne, the backstory will not chronologically precede the main story. Instead it will be revealed gradually as the story unfolds.  The protagonist and antagonist will be more clearly defined so the challenge will be to find the “fatal flaw” in the antagonist that makes him vulnerable and the single redeeming characteristic in the antagonist that makes him sympathetic. Both must be revealed at just the right time to move the plot forward without giving anything away!

Many writers are masters of the plot, but fall short when it comes to making their characters real enough to be believable. It takes time to get to know your characters personally. To do so means getting inside their heads. In discovering their past and their memories, you must also analyze the effect these things have on the person they become in your narrative. You must get beneath the surface and really get to know your character.  If they are real to you, chances are they will be real to the reader.

Sometimes this means revealing more of your own past than you may be comfortable with. The good news is that you can still hide behind the thin veil of your character and choose just how much or how little to reveal. You can also embellish those details that help to move the plot forward and eliminate those that do not.  In Windborne, I  resurrected some painful memories, but the result was not only cathartic, it took the past off my shoulders and placed it squarely on the shoulders of my character.  I no longer have to own in alone! 

Tuesday, March 11, 2014

Jigsaw Stories

How do stories come together?

Some writers prefer to work from an outline, others like to free-write in search of a story line.  I liken my style more to a jigsaw puzzle.  Anyone who has ever worked a jigsaw puzzle will tell you that we always begin with the frame. The frame has clear cut edges and often outlines the setting of the picture.  Once the frame is in place we begin looking at the larger images of the picture, seeking out patterns and lines that continue or complete the image. Finally, we fill in the details that add depth and complexity to the picture.  These are often the most difficult pieces to find. They are usually very similar in appearance with only subtle differences in size and shape.  It takes a discerning eye to discriminate and determine where each piece fits to complete the picture. Leave one piece out, no matter how insignificant it may seem to the larger picture and the puzzle is unfinished and disappointing.

In Windborne, the frame of the story is the basis of the setting in the rolling Kansas Flint Hills.  The setting is a constant throughout the story as each generation interacts with it based on the culture of the times. The larger images are the characters that move the story forward through their actions. The details are the nuances that form the theme and central ideas in the story.  This is where the writer employs literary devises such as symbolism, imagery and irony to add depth and complexity to the story.

In The Stone House Legacy, the frame is the story of the past. Since the frame in this story is used to hold together the picture of the present that is the heart of the novel, I have employed the use of a Prologue and Epilogue to define it. This time, the plot takes center stage as the characters struggle to overcome the major conflict in the story. Since this is the most important element in the puzzle, it is critical that the action of the plot builds so that each minor conflict leads to the major crisis. The reader must be brought along with the rising action. Once I have satisfactorily built the plot, I can go back and supply the details that give the story its dimension.

 I have a lot of work to do!  Stay tuned to follow my progress!

Saturday, February 15, 2014

Whispers From the Past

“The value of history is, indeed, not scientific but moral: by liberalizing the mind, by deepening the sympathies, by fortifying the will, it enables us to control, not society, but ourselves – a much more important thing; it prepares us to live more humanely in the present and to meet rather than to foretell the future.”

Carl Becker, 1873-1945, U.S. historian

The title of my first book was inspired by a quote by Haruki Murakame from "Hear the Wind Sing." Having grown up in Kansas where the wind is incessant, it was a logical symbol for the sometimes random and unexplained events that affect our lives in ways we cannot control. By focusing on the lives of three women over three generations the book reveals the patterns of behavior that are passed from mother to daughter throughout the generations.

As the story unfolded, I became more intrigued by the repeating patterns of history and how the passage of time and cultural changes affect the way each generation reacts to similar circumstances. When I stumbled upon the quote by Carl Becker, I was inspired, in my new book, to look at the obvious similarities between the political and moral struggles during the turbulent years of the early 1960's as compared with those of a similar time in history one hundred years earlier.

Not content with a simple comparison, I wanted a more personal view of the moral and ethical decisions that drove some to commit heinous acts against of violence against their fellow man and others to place themselves in grave mortal danger to stand up against it. So I have placed my characters in situations where they must make a similar choice.

Most of us have at one time experienced a feeling of deja vu where we were overcome with the strong sensation that an event or experience currently being experienced has been experienced in the past, whether it has actually happened or not. It's as if a small voice from the past is whispering the reminder in our ear. I decided to use this phenomenon to create a historical conscience that would serve as a moral compass for the characters. It  provides a ghostly reminder that we have walked this path before in a different time and place.

The challenge is to leave enough question in the reader's mind to wonder whether we have actually learned anything from history or whether we are doomed to keep repeating it. Beyond the time periods addressed in the story, there are obvious comparisons to the politics and cultural struggles of the present time. Without pointing them out, I hope the reader will draw his or her own conclusions about the patterns revealed in the story. At the very least, it should make for some interesting conversations among those who read it.

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

In Search of the Garden of Eden

Ever since they were cast out of the Garden of Eden, mankind has been seeking a return to a self-sustaining utopian society based on peace, harmony and communal living. Perhaps at no time in history was this more evident than during the 19th century when hundreds of such societies littered the nation’s landscape, most disappearing within a few years without a trace.

Often led by charismatic leaders with high religious or secular moral ideals, these settlements experimented wildly with different models of government, marriage, labor and wealth. Unfortunately, paradise in the present has always been elusive but that hasn’t stopped people from trying. Seekers attempting to leave behind the conventions and restrictions of traditional society have created self-sustaining communities ranging from groups of tofu-making hippies in rural Virginia to expatriates living in treehouses in the Costa Rican rainforest.

So why have they failed?  For one thing, the bar is constantly being raised. Life in a modest American home today would have been the envy of the Middle Ages.  It seems that humans are not able to maintain a moral, financial or educational equality.  People will always want more, or someone else’s toys.  Competition is a core human quality of “survival of the fittest.” Any land of milk and honey automatically attracts swords and muskets.

Secondly, although acceptance into these societies is often carefully controlled and outsiders are not welcome, internal power grabs are even more poisonous to utopian dreams than external threats. Utopian leadership based on the model of the “benevolent prince” or “philosopher king” is inherently unstable. There are inevitably factions out of power who are unhappy with things. Charismatic leaders typically do not provide successors with anything like their talents. The competition for succession invariably favors not the wise, but the ruthless.

Finally, ideals are constraints, and the more constraints one tries to impose, the less viable the community will be. Since most religious utopias imposed constraints on the members’ worldly desires, they needed a mechanism for self-selection and, thus, exclusion of non-believers. Over time, however, these constraints become weakened through changes in leadership and outside influences and the lines between the society and the outside world become blurred.  In the end, each member must choose his own way.

In my new book, The Stone House Legacy, I will explore this phenomenon in more detail. I will look at the failure of one such settlement through the lens of modern day society. Are we doomed to continue to make the same mistakes in our search for paradise? In James Madison’s view, “If men were angels, no government would be necessary.

Tuesday, January 7, 2014

The Mystique of Charismatic Leaders

I have always been fascinated by the concept of charismatic leadership.  What is it that makes the charismatic leader almost god-like in the eyes of their followers so that people line up behind them without question? What is the psychological bondage between leader and follower that makes them succeed? What are the attributes of such a leader, how does the social situation give rise to their power, and finally, how does the interaction between the leader and his followers give rise to his power?

Gandhi and Hitler were both charismatic leaders.  They were able to establish a strong connection with their followers based on a personal conviction, bordering on the if they alone had received the vision directly from some higher power. These men possessed the ability to connect with a large audience of supporters, often by reinforcing and then heightening their existing beliefs. They were brilliant communicators, always certain of their beliefs.

Both leaders rose to power at a time when their followers were in distress and were looking for someone who would identify himself with their problems.  The social situation was becoming increasingly worsened and the leader appeared at a time when people were looking for a savior. The leader represents a radical change in the current situation and his conviction arouses the followers to become part of the change.

It seems to me that charismatic leaders must face a critical turning point at which they must choose between the power and prestige of their position and their belief in their own god-like powers or accept their own mortality and move toward routinization of leadership, thus relinquishing their power over their followers. Those who try to hang on create a type of cult leadership based on authoritarian methods, while those who relinquish the power of leadership lose followers and quickly fall out of favor. They leave themselves open to attack from opponents who seize upon the opportunity to discredit the charismatic leader in order to advance their own cause.

As I begin work on my next novel, I hope to explore this phenomenon in more detail by bringing my main character to the decision point and seeing which direction he chooses.

Coming in 2014 (hopefully!)
The Stone House Legacy by Wanda DeHaven Pyle