A to Z blogging Challenge: R is for Research

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“R” is for Research

Love it or hate it, every writer needs to do it. Whether writing fiction or non-fiction, your book can benefit from research. Since the research aspect is obvious for non-fiction, and I don’t write non-fiction anyway, this blog will focus on researching for fiction.

Ideas for Research

Characters – we want our characters to have unique talents, interests, and abilities, but we also want them to be realistic.

Got a child in your story but no child at home to base him on? Visit family or friends or even the library. Pay attention to the unique speech, mannerisms, interests, and interactions of children of different ages.

Got a teen in your story? Head out to the mall for some people watching! Pay attention to clothing styles and jewelry, along with the unique way each teen’s personality shows through body language and verbal communication.

For adult characters, consider people in your family or workplace and note different characteristics, personality quirks, and manners of speech that might work for a character in your book. Warning: don’t create a character that resembles a real person too closely if the person might take offense.

IMAG0097I modeled Toby Brandt in Roland West, Loner on my oldest son, who has autism. This character captures the personality and interests of my son at age 8 or 9, including his manner of speech and interesting behaviors and obsessions. And even some of the story conflict. While every child with autism is unique, I hope that people will find Toby a realistic character.


Setting – long, detailed passages of weather or setting descriptions will bore our readers, but we need enough details to allow them to picture the setting in their minds.

When possible, go on location to gather details. Go into the woods, warehouses, wilderness, or wherever your scene takes place. Take a notebook and focus on all five senses. When you can’t go on location or you want even more ideas, use the research of other writers, for example try the Setting Thesaurus on the Writers Helping Writers website.

I will share another favorite resource for setting details on the “V” blog next week.


Story ideas – these can come from anywhere and go in any direction but getting a few facts can go a long way in making a story feel believable. We don’t want readers to be thrown out of our story world because something doesn’t ring true.

Rightfully Ours Front (002)In Carolyn Astfalk’s new release, Rightfully Ours, sixteen-year-old Paul Porter relocates to Pennsylvania during his dad’s deployment. He makes a temporary home with the Muellers and develops a friendship with Rachel, the Muellers’ teenage daughter. Their abiding friendship deepens as they work side by side to uncover what could be lost treasure.

Author Carolyn Astfalk wanted to get her facts straight with this story so she researched sink holes (where and how they happen and how you rescue someone from one). She also researched how custody of a minor is handled when a single parent is deployed. And, she had to research how gold bars are authenticated.

Her hard work researching for this story makes it all the more believable and allows readers to truly immerse themselves in the romantic and adventure-filled story line. The e-book is available on Amazon and the paperback is coming soon. You can check out the book trailer here.


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The ideas for my dystopian trilogy came directly from the news. Governments too often step on the rights of the individual. Scientific and technological developments often cross ethical boundaries. And special interest groups attempt to indoctrinate us in order to push hidden agendas.

Because this trilogy is set in the near future, I did an incredible amount of online research into actual ideologies that influence world governments, the latest scientific developments, and cutting-edge technology. Unlike some dystopian stories, nothing that happens in this trilogy is that farfetched. If we don’t reclaim our culture and cling to faith, family, and freedom, this is a real possibility for our future.

The more I learned from research, the more I realized I needed to write this dystopian story. I only meant to write one book and get back to my other stories. I wanted to end Chasing Liberty showing a seed of change being planted. But I couldn’t stop thinking about it. What exactly is this freedom we should be fighting for? And how can one person make a difference?

This trilogy is available through most online booksellers and you can find the book trailers on my website.


What type of research have you done for your stories and what are your favorite resources?

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Blogging from A to Z Challenge: Letter G ~ Guam

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“G” is for Guam

When I accepted the blogging from A to Z challenge, I intended to post about writing and books. What does Guam have to do with it? Every writer began their journey as a writer somewhere and mine began on Guam.

My father entered the Coast Guard at a young age. He was a radioman.

So our family moved around often. While my earliest memories are from my preschool years in California, I have a thorough recollection of my time in Guam. Living on an island was fun! Although, I admit I had no idea just how tiny Guam is.

My sister and brother and I loved exploring the woods behind our house and playing with strange bugs and with our friends. We did the same things any kid does, playing on playgrounds and riding bikes.

But my sister and I also played games that led to me becoming a writer. We played roll-playing games, using our favorite characters from movies and TV shows.

1978 TV programming: The Hardy Boys Mysteries, Battlestar Galactica, Welcome Back Kotter, Little House on the Prairie, Happy Days, Laverne & Shirley, The Incredible Hulk, Wonder Woman…  And of course our favorite movie was Star Wars (A New Hope), which came out in 1977.

These games developed over the years. We created many of our own characters, and we started writing our stories down and illustrating them. I wish I had all our old stories and pictures! But I still have some of the characters that we developed in those early years. Modified versions of them are in all of my stories!

Faith was a natural and joyful part of my life back then. I believed everyone in the world was good and knew Christ. We attended Santa Barbara Catholic School with the sweetest sisters I’ve ever met. Several Chomorro women used to teach us how to make treats with coconut and how to weave baskets and mats from palm fronds.  It seemed to me that everyone on the island participated in our celebrations and processions and gatherings.

Life was exciting and fun and good back then. And I hold those memories dear and close to my heart. But I also want to share elements of it, if I can. So in all of my stories, I try to capture something of the joy of adventure, faith, and goodness.

So Guam is where the inspiration began for me. Where did it all begin for you? What inspired you to become a writer?

Blogging from A to Z Challenge: Letter B is for Battle and Beauty

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Blogging From A to Z April 2017 Challenge

I was thinking of the letter “B” yesterday, thanks to this blogging challenge. And I came bwordsup with so many big, beautiful “B” words!

It reminded me of the last Table Topics subject we were given in Toastmasters. We picked a letter of the alphabet from a jar and had to talk for 1-2 minutes about words that began with that letter.

Battle and Beauty

Writers know how important “battle” and “beauty” are to a story. Every story needs conflict. The battle can be internal or external, but it’s better when it is both.  We can all relate to internal conflict because we face it every day: self-doubt, selfishness, anger, stepping outside our comfort zone, taking the risk to stand up for what you believe, etc.

The internal battles are often as dramatic and maybe even more important than the external battles in which we find ourselves. When you get down to it, salvation is linked to the internal battle.

And what would a story be without beauty? What would life be without it? Characters are not satisfied with the mundane. That would be boring. They seek so much more. They long for the beauty of friendship, love, victory, success, or the beauty of conquering self in an internal battle.

Beauty speaks to the depths of our hearts. We are called to eternal beatitude with supreme beauty, the Blessed Trinity. All our longings for the good and beautiful are a reflection of the longing for eternal good and beautiful.

Since “B” is also for books, I now share three books which demonstrate the excitement of the battle in the quest for beauty.

Susan Peek’s fast-paced saint stories for teens (and adults):

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Life is an Adventure

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This will be my first Toastmaster talk. I will give it next week! It’s only supposed to be 4-6 minutes. I’m worried it will go over, especially if I try to pause at appropriate places. I hope I’m not so worried that I run it all together into one long sentence, without stopping for breaths. Then I’ll pass out. Oh! Don’t think about it!!!! You’ll be fine. Breathe!

Life is an Adventure: My Life Story

G. K. Chesterton said, “An inconvenience is only an adventure wrongly considered; an adventure is an inconvenience rightly considered.”

From the youngest age, I thought of life as an adventure. I never knew what would happen later in the day or the next day.

One of my earliest memories is of my first solitary adventure. I was four years old. My father was in the Coast Guard, and we lived in a trailer, in Training Center Petaluma in California. At the end of the street grew a big field of tall grass that swayed with the wind. Behind the field stood a row of tall trees, the entrance to what I thought of as a fairytale woods. One day, I decided to explore. (Not sure where Mom was or why she let me wander off, but it was a tiny street with fields all around it). So there I was with blue sky and white clouds above me, pushing through grass that went over my head, no longer able see the line of trees, but certain I headed in the right direction. Maybe halfway through, I stumbled upon a circle of flattened grass and a baby deer. I’d never seen a fawn up close. My heart leaped and I stumbled back. The fawn jumped up too and ran in the opposite direction.

I never made it to the fairytale woods, but the experience left me with the impression that life is an adventure and you never know what you’ll stumble upon.

A few years later, we moved to Guam. We lived in a two-story cement house with the most interesting trees in our yard: banana, coconut, and flowering hibiscus. We played with geckos, toads, and lime green baby praying mantises, and we played with our friends, of course.  Woods were behind and beside our house, the “boondocks” we called it. Out exploring, we once stumbled upon a boar and a strange foundation.

May 21, 1976 Typhoon Pamela tore through the island with 140mph winds and destroyed everything. I did not see the storm the way an adult did, the way our parents did: worrying about the destruction. Too young to wrap my mind around that, I marveled at the way the rain seemed to fall sideways. So thick and white, it made me think of snow, though I had never seen snow before. It was a little scary at night as the harsh winds rattled the shutters over our windows and rain crept inside, making big puddles in the house. After the storm, two Navy men stayed with us to help with the cleanup on the island. One taught me the alphabet in sign language and how to draw faces.

From there we moved to Oahu, one of the Hawaiian Islands, and the adventure continued.

new-pic-a-02-20-2017-041552pmOlder now, I usually knew what would happen later in the day, but I still didn’t know what tomorrow or next week held. When not in school, I spent my time outside, climbing trees and exploring the wooded areas between the houses with my friends. My sister and I also spent more time playing imaginary games which led to some of the best adventures of my life up this point. We created our own role-playing games, using our favorite characters from TV and movies. As the game developed over the years, we created our own characters too. When school got in the way of playing, we began writing stories with our characters. As we got older, we took turns writing chapters of an ongoing story. Each of us would leave the characters in a cliffhanger that the other had to write their way out of. This went on for years, ending sometime in high school. Our characters are probably still hanging on a cliff somewhere.

I stopped writing for a time. My father retired here in Ohio, which meant our family would never move again. I began to face new challenges and trials, and less adventure. I saw snow for the first time, which was pretty to look at but had me shivering and cold to the bone. Besides the cold, school got tougher, and life got harder. In many ways, the adventure ended.

Then sometime in my young adult life, I realized how I could rekindle the sense of adventure in my life. I needed to write again!

3D-Book-RolandI threw myself into it. Writing is a ton of hard work but incredibly rewarding. It took years to really master the craft, many books on writing from the library, critiques and advice from other writers, but I finally got my first book published by a small publisher about five years ago. I now have six self-published books, an article in Catholic Digest, and two short stories in an anthology. Three of my books have won the Catholic Writers Guild “Seal Of Approval.” One book won a second-place award from the Catholic Press Association. And I’m currently working on three stories with several more ideas bouncing around in my head, several more adventures.

Writing has been an adventure that I absolutely love. And I hope each of my books has a similar effect on my readers.  

But my number one adventure has been marriage and family life. I always considered myself a very independent woman and I didn’t have marriage on my mind. I moved out at age 18, worked full time, went to college part time, and bought my first new truck as soon as I was able–a stick-shift that I had to teach myself to drive the same day I bought it.

14045883_10210620570817011_3412781792549616514_nBut in 1989 at age 22, I met and fell in love with my husband. Two years later, we married and began a life of adventure together. We spent one year in Arizona, moved back to Ohio, bought and fixed up a house together, studied for and joined the Secular Franciscans, and adopted three wonderful boys who are now with us on the adventure.

Although I’ve recently turned 50, I know in my heart that the adventure will only get more exciting in the days ahead.

As Helen Keller once said, “Life is either a great adventure or nothing.”