Author Archives: laurawharton

About laurawharton

Laura S. Wharton is the author of four books: two historical novels for adults and two fun mysteries for children (so far). She lives in North Carolina, though way too far inland. She looks forward to moving back to the coast so she can sail. Daily. Learn more about her books at www.laurawhartonbooks.com.

Chocolate for Diets? Wonderful News!

I am a chocoholic. I love the stuff: Plan chocolate chips, hot chocolate, even an occasional chocolate brownie will do. Today’s news report that chocolate is indeed gaining more ground as a health food was refreshing. Chocolate is a health food – in it’s purest form, without all the processing, sugary additives, and dark is the best form. That is old news.

Add to it, though, that people who eat reasonable quantities of the stuff can increase their metabolism, and we will soon see a new chocolate diet craze. Who is with me?

Let’s see: it’s 10:30 a.m., and it’s never too early for chocolate. I’m off to the kitchen in search of chocolate before I get back to my latest work in progress. How about you? What’s your favorite kind?

Laura S. Wharton is the author of The Pirate’s Bastard, available from Second Wind Publishing. Learn more about Laura at http://www.laurawhartonbooks.com.

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Different Audiences, Different Appeal

By Laura S. Wharton, author of The Pirate’s Bastard and other titles

The old television show with the two adopted boys living a new fancy life came to mind the other day. “Whatyoutalkingabout?” was the catch phrase of the show. I almost let that phrase slip between my lips in answer to a question about how I could write for adults as well as children.

Different strokes for different folks. In other words, considering an audience’s reading level is key before telling any kind of story. If you’re a parent and you’ve read countless children’s books to your kids at night as I have to my son—a bedtime ritual that creates life-long readers, by the way—and then read yourself to sleep with a book of your own choosing, you can easily see the what I mean. They are all stories. Different, yet the same in many respects.

First, the obvious differences: length, plot complication, pictures (or lack thereof), details, subject matter, and ease of reading all come to mind when I review my son’s bookshelf and the stack of books beside my bed. Yet there are similarities. There are a few central characters, there’s a plot, there’s an arc of action and resolution, and in many of the books we read in this house, there’s an element of humor.

If a story contains similar traits, what difference does it make if it’s for children or adults? It just makes sense that a good story is a good story, regardless of the audience.

Read any good children’s books lately? Here are a few what I would call “cross over” books—well written and able to hold the attention of adults as well as advanced children readers. Add to the list as you will. I’d love to hear your suggestions.
1. Ted Bell’s books, Nick of Time and Time Pirate
2. Anthony Horowitz’s masterful spy books, the Alex Rider series
3. Walter R. Brooks’ classics, the Freddy the Pig series
4. Jenny Nimmo’s Charlie Bone series

Learn more about Laura’s newest works at her website, http://www.laurawhartonbooks.com or her blog, http://laurawharton.blogspot.com.

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New Year’s Resolutions By Laura S. Wharton

New Year’s resolutions frequently end up in the waste can (along with the desire to shrink the waistline) not too long after they are made. The one about losing weight lasts as long as the energy to drag oneself to the gym daily typically is the first to go; but there are others.

My resolutions usually include a daily word count for whatever work-in-progress has my attention at a year’s beginning. When I wrote The Pirate’s Bastard, it seemed like it was more of yearly word count – that novel took six years to research and write in the age before Google. (A hearty thank you to all the reference librarians at the N.C. Archives who helped me to locate the information needed for that colonial-era story of the illegitimate son of pirate Stede Bonnet.

My current work-in-progress is a mystery for children. It involves an area I know well, and combines several subjects that I enjoy (sailing, cooking, and bird watching). I’ve been less stringent on the word count given the timing of the project’s start date (November) and pursuant holidays, and as a result, I’ve not gotten as far as I’d hoped I would. With the New Year right around the corner, it’s time to get back to it. I want to finish this one by the end of January. That means I have a lot of work to do – like writing a minimum of 2,000 words a day. That means getting back into my habit of rising early (4:00 typically works for me), and writing for several hours before the family has to wake. That quiet time is critical for me.

Have you made your resolutions for 2012? If you’re a writer, what are your plans for your projects? I’ll wish you luck on yours if you’ll do the same for me. Happy New Year!

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Satisfying the Adrenalin Junkie Within by Laura S. Wharton, author of The Pirate’s Bastard

I prefer romaction stories – a little romance set in a story with a whole lot of action. My first novel, The Pirate’s Bastard, was set in colonial times. A young orphaned boy escapes taunts of neighborhood gangs in Barbados by coming to the New World as a servant to a friendly minister who guides his spiritual growth and nurtures his professional interests. Our hero matures into a fine shipwright, working his way up in the world as he tries to forget about his notorious pirate father’s misdeeds. He falls in love with a young miss, and all seems destined for triumph until his dead father’s first mate comes into his life with a threat of blackmail if our hero doesn’t sail back to Barbados for hidden pirate treasure.

I admit I was heavily under the influence of Inglis Fletcher, an incredible writer from the 1950s who wrote a wonderful series of a dozen 400-page books set in colonial times. She wasn’t well liked by her small-town neighbors because she wrote about their ancestors, but the books are collectors treasure now a-days. I didn’t consider them romance novels either because I had a pre-conceived notion of what a romance novel was: Harlequin formulaic pulp that followed a prescribed path filled with attraction, obsession, tragedy, and triumph, in that order.

So with Inglis Fletcher’s characters firmly in mind, I sat down to write My First Novel. I didn’t set out to write a Romance Novel, but a swashbuckling tale of a young man’s attempt at overcoming his errant father’s legacy. Readers insist the book is a romance, not only between the hero and his lady love, but also between his parents whom he never really knew. He’s had to uncover, layer by layer, who they really were just as lovers discover secrets of each other. In the end, who is to say what a romance really is—or isn’t?

I wrote from a man’s point of view, and also had a lot of fun writing dialog with a pirate’s voice for my favorite bad-boy character of all time, Ignatious Pell, the first mate to pirate Stede Bonnet. I chose a real-life setting in both time and place, visited the ruins of several historic sites and state archives for my research, and wove my fiction with facts for a tidy story. The bulk of the manuscript was written well before the age of the Internet (when dinosaurs roamed the earth), and took me six years to research and write. It wasn’t high literary style, but a story that I needed to write. The finished manuscript was a mere 56,000 words, and it took me four years to land a publishing contract. There was no six-figure advance, only royalties—and believe me, I was ecstatic to see the first royalty check be it ever so small!

In my most recent novel, the heroine learns that love isn’t always what it’s supposed to be, nor are people who they claim they are, either. Set in 1942 in a small coastal North Carolina town, the story includes facets of World War II and its impact on coastal regions, businesses, and inhabitants. Again, I’ve researched fact and mixed it with a strong dose of fiction, creating characters to fit the time and place, pacing my dialog to tease the reader to continue turning pages, and building up a stormy near-finale that questions everything that came before. It is historically accurate in every way possible, except that it’s fiction. My male editor claims he “melted” at many of the passages and dialog conveyed by the male protagonist, so I guess you could say this story is steamy. Since I wasn’t under the influence of another novelist, this is very different than my first attempt at fiction (and a lot better, I admit). It too is a strong potion of romance and action, which I seem to need in my fiction addiction. I confess: I’m an adrenalin junkie.

How do you know if you’re an adrenalin junkie? You’ll notice that the stories you gravitate toward are based in adventure of some sort. You look forward to diving in early and staying up way too late to finish because you’re caught up in the adventure. Look at the incredible success of Diana Gabaldon’s romantic adventure Outlander series. These sorts of books offer a few hours of escape from mundane lives (even if these lives are filled to capacity with activities). Routines and hectic schedules do not an adventure make. So I encourage you to think about romaction as a possible solution to hum-drumness.

Exercise: I submit that all romance books are romaction stories. Let’s see if you agree.

On a piece of paper (or in your computer), make a list of three columns. In column one, write the titles of ten to twenty books you’ve read recently and really enjoyed. This list is going to be important in later chapters, so keep it close by. In column two, categorize the kind of adventure it is—note, this isn’t the genre (cozy murder mystery, historical, young adult, or international intrigue), but an assignment of the adventure in the story, such as “World War I spy meets nurse on the battlefield”. This instantly tells you the adventure’s time period and setting (WWI battlefield). In the last column, identify a romance each story contains (in my example, spy and nurse), and give each romance a score of one to ten where one is “not terribly important to story line” and ten is “this is the story line”. Go ahead. I’ll wait.

Now review your list. I bet there’s a variety of adventures and different types of romance on your list. Do you see any common traits? Time periods? Settings? Types of romances? What we’re doing here is identifying the kind of romance story that gets your motor started. This exercise should help point the way to what kind of story you are most familiar with, at least from a reader’s point of view.

Now I’ll ask again: are you an adrenalin junkie? Your list should point you to your answer.

Learn more about Laura and her books at http://www.laurawhartonbooks.com. Connect with her at http://www.LauraWharton.blogspot.com or http://www.twitter.com/LauraSWharton.

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On Butt Glue, Diplomacy, and Lying: Lessons Learned

by Laura S. Wharton, Author of The Pirate’s Bastard and Leaving Lukens

A year has come and gone since my first novel, The Pirate’s Bastard, was launched. The strong reviews of my colonial tale continue to come in, and I’m pleased to say I’ve learned a great deal about book publishing and promotions that I can apply to my World War II “romaction” novel, Leaving Lukens, which is about to be released. (Romaction: a little romance mixed in with a whole lot of action set on the North Carolina coast near New Bern, Oriental, and Ocracoke. And yes, there’s a sailboat involved.)

For instance, I’ve learned that writing a full-length manuscript requires a lot of butt glue. Getting up early nearly every morning takes perseverance, to be sure. But staying seated for my allotted writing time is challenging when there’s laundry to do, breakfast to make, correspondence to send, or one of a dozen other pesky tasks niggling away at my in the mornings. It’s only through the sitting that the writing gets done. The good news is that as a result, the second novel only took six months to write (versus the six years the first one took) – a vast improvement in production scheduling. Now I know when the time comes, completing a third and a fourth won’t be impossible.

I’ve learned that sometimes, diplomacy has a cost. I had the honor of speaking to fourth graders recently at my son’s school – all 60 of them at one time. They are learning about writing (beginning, middle, end), and the teachers felt it might be fun to have an author speak with them. Together we built a wildly ridiculous story about an alien who visits their school and has a really, really bad day. Each child had to help create a twist or turn in the plot (a small “story ball” can be a useful teaching tool for kids and adults), and it was a fun exercise. But when a girl got “stuck” on how to get the alien out of the S.W.A.T. car her neighbor as just put it in, I told her to lie. That’s right. I told a room full of nine-year-olds it was okay to lie – as long as they did it only when they were writing fiction and it helped them get through what some writers call a block, which I don’t believe in, ever. Imagine the look on the principal’s face as he walked into the room just as I was affirming it was okay to lie. The kids loved it. Had I been diplomatic and told them to figure out another way out of a stuck situation, I would have lost the audience. The cost of being brutally honest in this case was the principal’s horrified look and his hasty retreat. (Might just be the last time I’m asked to speak at his school.) On the other hand, my son’s teacher called me early that morning to ask me NOT to mention the title of my first book for fear of offending some child’s parent. Okay. And when the children asked me what the first book was called, I had to say, “I can’t tell you,” but go to the local bookstore and ask. I focused on Leaving Lukens instead. Diplomacy probably cost me a few book sales of The Pirate’s Bastard which can be enjoyed by mature children and adults, but the teacher was happy, so she may invite me back. We’ll see how that goes.

Many lessons made an imprint on me this year, most all of them positive. I’ve learned promoting books is no different than promoting other products that no one really needs. It’s essential to create desire, or fill a perceived need (escape for a few hours), something inherent in marketing any item. I’ve learned how valuable social media can be in making friends and making sales, and not necessarily in that order. And I’ve learned that the dream of being a novelist is alive and well among the young: of the 60 students I spoke to that day, over 30% confessed in sweet thank-you notes that they wanted to be writers someday. That lesson in and of itself was probably the year’s best.

Laura S. Wharton is the author of The Pirate’s Bastard (Second Wind, 2010) and Leaving Lukens. Visit http://www.LauraWhartonBooks.com to learn more about her writing projects or to get your own copies of her historical “romaction” novels.

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The Waiting Game By Laura S. Wharton, author of The Pirate’s Bastard and soon to be released Leaving Lukens

Now that the novel is done, the edits are approved, and the beautiful cover is designed, the Waiting Game begins. I sent out advance review copies of my latest novel, Leaving Lukens, to big name reviewers—Publisher’s Weekly and the American Library Association’s BookList among them—months ahead of the book’s publication date. They require this kind of window to see if a book passes muster, gets assigned a reviewer, and then gets a decent review. In the terms of a game, I made the first move. Now it’s their turn.

And I have to sit on my hands and wait until they move. I can start promoting the book, but a solid review would help move the promotions along. And since the desired outcome of promotions is book sales, which I shouldn’t do before the book’s official publication date arrives in December, it’s challenging to be patient. I have never been criticized for being too patient, so it truly is a challenge to plan my next strategic move.

That said, I still have promotions and signings planned for my first novel, The Pirate’s Bastard, published by Second Wind Publishing. I’ll be at the following events:
 Winston-Salem’s BookMark Festival (September 11)
 Maritime History Council’s annual conference in Wilmington (September 28-30)
 Davie County BookFair (October 1)
 Mt. Airy Regional History Museum, Autumn Leaves Festival (October 14)

If you’re in the area, stop by and say hi! It will make The Waiting Game move along that much quicker if I spend time among friends.

Laura S. Wharton is the author of The Pirate’s Bastard (2010) and the forthcoming novel, Leaving Lukens.

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Connections

By Laura S. Wharton, Author of The Pirate’s Bastard and Leaving Lukens

I struggle with internet connection at my rural home. Some days, I can get online easily. Other days, I feel like I’m standing on a hill far, far away from civilization trying to decide whether sending smoke signals would be better than using a mega horn to get my message across. Some days, I have a connection before it’s dropped … never to be made again while I’m sitting in front of the computer, trying my level best to get messages out.

We’ve switched cables, computers, internet providers … everything imaginable except our location. Still, the lack of connection goes on (or off, depending on your point of view), and with the current economic conditions, we certainly won’t be able to move anytime soon to get better, or more constant, connections. So what’s a writer to do, besides having another cup of tea, hoping that “eventually” the connection will come back? Short of packing up my laptop and going to a wifi hotspot, not much.

Since I have a good deal of down time waiting for internet connection, this issue naturally leads me to think about connections writers make with readers in stories. My father says he’s watched books transform from “who-done-it” to “where-done-it” stories – focusing so much on place, on description of flora fauna, or surroundings, or what the victim wore on the night of the murder. He points out that if all the adjectives were taken out of current books, there might be four words left to tell the story. I suppose that’s okay, as long as those remaining four words actually do the job of 70,000 plus words and connect with the reader for a memorable experience. But which four words would work? It depends on the kind of connection a writer wants with a reader.

I’m guilty of putting a great deal of emphasis on a story’s place. In The Pirate’s Bastard, the tale is set in colonial coastal North Carolina. A tale of history, piracy, blackmail, and ships, what resonates most with reviewers is the lush emerald green marsh grass from which the lead character Edward Marshall takes his name when he comes to the new world, escaping his past and his pirate father’s deeds. Readers also comment on the way I’ve described the grounds and waters near the grand mansion that Orton Plantation was going to be, where Edward served as an agent for the wealthy land owner.

In Leaving Lukens, I set out to write an adventure story filled with a little romance. According to my editor, it’s a romance filled with lots of action. I could connect with readers on the romance level, or the action level. The place connection could be strong, too, since the story is set in the small North Carolina village of Lukens on the opposite shore from Oriental and features New Bern prominently. But what about the history angle? That might be the greatest connection with readers. It’s honestly my favorite part of the story. The impact of World War II was felt hard along our coast: German U-boats sank many American tankers filled with goods bound for England in the lend-lease program. Oil, debris, and even sailors’ bodies littered our otherwise pristine beaches. The black stench of war hung in the coastal air for days after a sinking, according to eyewitness accounts. Pleasure boat-building companies stepped up their production capabilities to supply minesweepers and other ships for the war effort. And little towns like New Bern swelled with military men, or vanished from existence thanks to the “last straw” effect of a war like no other.

My characters experience all this (and so much more) in Leaving Lukens. I wonder how the story will connect with readers and reviewers when the book comes out this fall? Assuming I get a connection today, I’ll upload this blog posting, and look forward to the feedback readers might offer.

Laura S. Wharton is the author of The Pirate’s Bastard and the upcoming novel, Leaving Lukens. Learn more about her and her work at http://www.LauraWhartonBooks.com, http://www.LauraWharton.blogspot.com, or connect with her at http://www.twitter.com/LauraSWharton

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MacGyver is Alive and Well

Remember the 1980s show, MacGyver? It’s about a top-level agent who gets himself and others he’s sent to rescue out of trouble by rigging whatever is on hand into makeshift solutions. Sometimes he mixes household cleaners to make a bomb. Sometimes, a shiny gum wrapper becomes a fishing lure (that works). Other times, he uses a paperclip and old string to set off a series of distracting events to give himself enough time to escape.

Because of his antics (or the show’s writer’s keen sense of the way things work — one of the writers, by the way, was Henry Winkler of “Fonz” fame) MacGyver’s name has officially become a verb. The meaning of the word is easy to guess. When one MacGyvers something, one is being creative with whatever is on hand to find a solution. In one of my favorite magazines, Latitudes and Attitudes, an interesting article used MacGyvering in the Engine Room as a title for a story about an industrious use of a bike’s inner tube.

One of the characters in my upcoming book, Leaving Lukens, also MacGyvers his own solution to a problem using clockworks. I guess I’m showing my age, but maybe the old television show was influential enough to plant a seed decades ago.

Do you MacGyver?

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The Journey

Journeys are amazing to me. Filled with contradiction, having a destination in mind can be exhilarating, yet the transformation occurring while “away” is subtle. I started thinking more about journeys – those planned and the ones never undertaken – when I friend of mine sent me a copy of The Pirate’s Bastard book review he read in Latitudes and Attitudes, a wonderful magazine for seriously fun-loving sailors. I’m incredibly pleased to have an opportunity to reach this audience, given the nature of the nautical fiction I write. I wish I, too, were still a sailor. I still have fun, just no boat on which to sail at the moment. But I have fond memories of my own sailing days. They drift by occasionally like whiffs of salt air over a rising tide.

Which brings me back to the thought of the journey. In my forthcoming novel, Leaving Lukens, (Fall 2010), the primary character faces a number of journeys with trepidation. Her transformation from being somewhat wimpy to being strong enough to embrace what each journey holds in store is fun to write. Like all good stories, transformation is essential. If everyone remained static, there wouldn’t be any story at all. The lesson for her being offered by different support characters is that she should enjoy the journey as much as the destination. In real life, that’s key as well. Monotony can be challenging; yet it’s in the monotonous that tiny discoveries and slight transformations can occur if we are willing really see. It’s in the paying attention that we learn; and in the learning, the transformation. Here’s to the journey. And here’s to summer breezes filling sails for all of you who still have sailboats.

Laura S. Wharton is the author of The Pirate’s Bastard and the forthcoming historical novel, Leaving Lukens. Visit her website, http://www.laurawhartonbooks.com, for more information.

The Pirate's Bastard featured in Lats and Atts Magazine!

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History Writer’s Dream?

This weekend, my family and I visited New Bern. This small coastal town is remarkable for many reasons, but my chief interest in it is the history. If you’ve read my first novel, The Pirate’s Bastard, you know I’m all about history. So is New Bern. The streets and buildings are steeped in it. New Bern’s history goes way beyond colonial, though.

For instance, the new education center was built on the site of Balbour Boatworks, a manufacturer of pleasure craft until it turned its incredible boat-making muscle toward building mine sweepers for World War II as part of the lend-lease deal. If you “don’t know much about history, ” New Bern’s educational center is a great place to start. Part of the war effort seen in New Bern’s modern – if you could call it that—landscape is still visible on Hancock Street. The train track that used to carry parts to Balbour Boatworks is still there. It also carried soldiers, Marines, and other military personnel to the town for nights at the USO, a soda at nearby shops, or a fun day before shipping out. I can easily imagine young girls leaning over porch rails to ogle handsome men in uniform of every description.

Pleasure-craft docks, as plentiful now as they are in the music-filled marina, were few in 1942 but they mingled amidst the huge ships being launched at Balbour. A couple sailing into New Bern for a day or a weekend was certainly welcome. I can imagine that the noisy shipyard sounds and noxious smells greeting them were far less pleasant than what we experienced over the weekend.

Visiting a place like New Bern is an incredible treat for a writer of historical fiction. You will be able to learn more about New Bern’s past in my forthcoming novel, Leaving Lukens, which is set in 1942. For more information, check out http://www.laurawhartonbooks.com.

Laura S. Wharton is the author of The Pirate’s Bastard and the forthcoming novel, Leaving Lukens. Read more of her blog entries at http://laurawharton.blogspot.com/

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