Good Day! Char Chaffin reporting for blog duty! First of all, thanks, Gerri, for hosting me today.
I thought I’d jump around a little, and talk about not only my newest release, Unsafe Haven, but the inspiration behind it, and what I’ve discovered about myself since I began my own writing journey.
Wait, come back! ::panics at mass exodus of Gerri’s readers:: Ah, they’ll return as soon as they find out I’ve got a fab giveaway! Which I’ll reveal, later on. Always like to keep my audience riveted . . .
I’ve learned a lot since that first moment when I sat down at my keyboard and (naively) exclaimed, “I’m going to write a book!” I started later in life than most writers, never dreaming I’ve ever want to publish anything. I was almost fifty years old when I updated my writing, from a way to goof off, to writing in earnest. Still, it was more of a lark at first, something to do late at night when there was nothing on the tube and I’d exhausted my bookcase for unread material. But once I got into it, I found out that maybe I’d like to “Be Published,” after all. And I thought, how hard could it be? Look at how many writers fill up the shelves with all kinds of books. I figured I could write as well as any of them.
Yes, I was a bit overconfident, not to mention idiotically misinformed. Writing a book takes far, far more than I’d ever have thought, back when I sat there and fiddled around with my keyboard and my own version of, “It was a dark and stormy night.”
Beyond the hours and hours away from family and friends, missed outings, hastily scraped-together dinners, forgetting to clean the house, do laundry, or sleep, writing takes up a bit of time in your life. ::cough majorunderstatement cough:: It can make your children run amok and your Significant Other think you don’t love them anymore. It’s so utterly, completely absorbing. Talk about a greedy mistress, writing definitely qualifies. If you tell yourself, “Oh, I won’t let that happen to me,” then you’re lying to yourself, because it happens. Ask any writer and they’ll tell you all about it.
Writing is the single most uplifting and yet often despair-inducing profession in the world. Of course, this is only my opinion, but I bet plenty of writers will agree with me.
The words flow: “Yay! I’m up!” The chapters drag and suck canal water: “Boo! I’m down!”
You send out your manuscript to three dozen agents, convinced you’ve sent them the next Gone With the Wind: “Whee! I’m amazing!” The rejections come back as form letters or emails that give you no clue why three dozen agents just refused your work: “OMG, my life is over!”
And that’s only the first few years of writing.
But, when it hits, when everything comes together and you strike gold: wow, what a feeling. It makes you think of yourself as utterly invincible, as if you could scale the highest rainbow barefoot, then dance down the other side and fall into a pot of gold.
Then the edits come. Pages and pages of them. And life sucks, all over again. It’s a roller coaster of frayed nerves and high/low emotions and pep talks that never seem to help—and I wouldn’t trade a single day of the process, because as Nora Roberts once said, “Like baseball, if writing were easy, then everyone would do it.”
I was in the middle of a major move from Alaska to the Lower Forty-Eight when I decided I wanted to Be Published. Nothing like making that kind of a decision during the most nerve-wracking move of my entire life, right? I’d already plotted out what would become my debut novel: Promises to Keep, set in the Shenandoah Valley of Virginia. We settled in Upstate New York and I began crafting my book in earnest, thinking I’d have it finished in a few months and published a few more months after that.
Eight years later, I published it with Soul Mate Publishing, and count myself lucky it didn’t take any longer than that. I worked on edits and polishing for over two years.
Writing’s a slow process, but it’s well worth the time writers invest. Critique groups and/or partners, crafting workshops, writing conferences, all the little and big things that guide you through the process, are necessary and vital. Can you get published without that lengthy procedure? If you’re very, very lucky and you submit your manuscript during a “dry spell…” Gad, what am I saying? There are no dry spells! Publishing houses are always looking for the next fabulous book, and for each of those rare finds, about a thousand authors vie for just ten minutes of an agent’s or editor’s time.
Competition? In the writing biz? Oh, you bet.
That said, once you get a novel under your belt, so to speak, the second book comes a bit easier and is usually published quicker, too, especially after you establish yourself with a publisher who appreciates your writing and knows how to help you promote yourself. Again, I lucked out, because my editor at Soul Mate Publishing loved my second novel, and published it with wonderful enthusiasm.
Which brings me to my newest release, Unsafe Haven. If my first book was the realization of a long-anticipated dream, then Unsafe Haven could be considered the novel of my heart, because I set it in Alaska, where I lived for sixteen years. Where Promises to Keep is sweet and romantic, Unsafe Haven is passionate, suspenseful and, in certain places, raw.
I began Unsafe Haven last year when I was visiting Fairbanks, helping daughter Sue Ann, son-in-law John, and newborn granddaughter Faith Charlene. I had two wonderful months with my girls and my guy, and I savored each and every day because I knew I’d have to make it last quite a while until I could get up to see them again. I thought to myself, “Okay, I can extend the warm fuzzy being home gives me, by starting my Alaskan novel set in the Interior.”
Alas, wrong region.
My heroine, Kendall, wouldn’t have felt safe in Fairbanks. It’s too accessible. Anyone can just fly right into FairbanksInternationalAirport, handy as you please. Easy accessibility to The Last Frontier is a wonderful thing. But not when a character has to escape a sociopath fiancé and run for her very life. That’s when the remote regions come in handy.
I decided on Southwest Alaska, creating a small, predominantly Native Alaskan village set about a hundred miles from Bethel in an area surrounded by small lakes and a low mountain range. Because I did want it to be somewhat prosperous, I created a zinc mine near enough to the village that a decent, twelve-or-so mile road would be necessary. Just long enough of a road to hook my village to its slightly bigger (but not prettier) sister village of New Mina (also fictional), on the KuskokwimRiver. I researched terrain and tundra to make sure I could describe the flora with enough accuracy that my readers would be able to ‘see’ my village of Staamat.
Now I had my setting, obscure enough that a person could stay easily hidden but not so obscure that a determined nutjob wouldn’t be able to find my girl. I gave Kendall a lovely face and form but her true beauty is on the inside where it counts the most. She’s tall, slender, with golden brown curls and eyes that have witnessed more than her share of pain and horror. She’s very leery of men, and for good reason. Alaska is a place of sanctuary for her, a final hiding place where she doesn’t have to answer questions about herself, where she can live a safe life. Romance is the furthest thing from her mind when she gets to Staamat.
Then I threw a monkey wrench in her plans and gave her a hero.
A Native Alaskan cop with a big heart, a need to protect and a real love of family seemed like the perfect match for my vulnerable Kendall. My hero, Denn Nulo, is tall, muscular, amber-eyed and black-haired, devoted to his little sister, and wants to cherish Kendall. He’s got a dry sense of humor and a strict sense of right and wrong. When he and Kendall meet, there are plenty of sparks: hers are reluctant and his are eager.
After that, the story kind of wrote itself.
Writing what you know is a lot of fun, I must admit. But writing in familiar yet unknown territory is even more fun. Especially when my husband Don willingly joined in and helped with some of my research. I’d say, “Here’s what I want to do,” and he’d jump on his laptop, make a few clicks and shake his head. “You can’t do that, but you can do this,” he’d say.
Unsafe Haven was a labor of love the way any novel is, when it comes from a writer’s mind and heart. You pour your blood onto those pages and hope they’ll gel into a story others will enthusiastically embrace. All along the way, you question yourself: did I put enough cliffhangers and plot hooks into it to keep my readers engaged? Is the romance romance-y enough, are the characters fascinating, the scene settings detailed, the overall tone a real page-turner? Will my cover art make a browser do a double-take? Will my book blurb fire them to fork over the cash to buy it?
Well, here’s my cover, so you can see for yourself:
And here’s the book blurb, which hopefully will leave all of you panting for more:
For Kendall Martin, a small, remote village in Southwest Alaska seems like a good place to start over. On the run from an abusive relationship, she leaves everything familiar behind and begins a new life as owner of a small souvenir and sportsman trading post in picturesque Staamat.
Denn Nulo knows everyone in town: he’s the Chief of Police in Staamat. He’s lived there all his life, except for his college years, spent in Anchorage. Originally planning on practicing criminal law and living in Anchorage permanently, Denn is forced to change his plans when he receives word that his widowed mother has passed away, leaving his young sister, Luna, alone. Denn comes back to Staamat to care for Luna.
When Kendall meets Denn, she begins to believe there are truly good men in the world. Denn is everything she wants: strong, loving, dedicated to family, protective . . . and patient. There is instant attraction between them, but Kendall is leery of men, and Denn craves a serious relationship that includes marriage and children. Their courtship is a conflicting mix of hesitancy and passion, with Luna, desperately needing a mother figure in her life, cheering them on.
As Kendall learns how to trust again and her romance with Denn grows more intense, a local woman who’s had her eye on Denn for years releases a torrent of damaging jealousy. . .and the nightmare from Kendall’s past discovers where she’s hidden herself.
Unsafe Haven is available at Soul Mate Publishing, Amazon and Barnes & Noble. I hope you enjoy reading about Denn and Kendall, taking a short vacation from your day, and spending it in Staamat, SW Alaska, in the amazingly amazing Last Frontier.
I promised a fab giveaway: not only will I send an ebook copy of Unsafe Haven to one lucky commenter, but that commenter will also receive a print copy of my debut novel, Promises to Keep! Just leave your email address in your comment so I can find you.
Want some links? I’ve got ‘em:
Char Chaffin: http://char.chaffin.com
Book Trailer for Unsafe Haven: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZJieck3U17Y
Come find me on Facebook and Twitter:
And, here’s an excerpt from Unsafe Haven, to further tempt you!
Kendall unlocked the front door of the Last Outfitters Post and stepped outside. In the sunlight the ‘Grand Opening’ banner she’d affixed over the entrance flapped in the brisk morning breeze, accompanied by the occasional caw of a raven. On each side of the portico, hanging baskets of petunias, fuchsia and lobelia grew a bit more each day, adding a nice splash of color. The urge to clap in delight proved too much to resist, and she didn’t care if anyone saw her. Even so, she checked out the parking lot, just to make sure she hadn’t been observed, then shook her head at her silliness.
Her first two weeks open for business had surprised her with its success. A steady, daily flow of customers reinforced her certainty she’d done the right thing by moving to Staamat and starting a new life. It amazed her, how many local people planned hiking and fishing adventures and came to her for their supplies.
They weren’t all local. Tourists now came to Staamat, some staying in New Mina, Aniak or Bethel, and others vying for a reservation at The Four Hills Inn. They zipped around on rented bicycles or on foot, cameras clicking away, willing to pay for a quick airlift to some of the villages sporadically scattered from here to Bethel. Several enterprising locals who owned vehicles hired themselves out as impromptu cabbies, and even a few boat owners ferried visitors up and down the Kuskokwim. One of Frank Purna’s cousins ran a seasonal air and water taxi service.
A retired musher, who lived fifteen miles north of Puffin Circle, brought his dogs into town and offered dogsled rides, substituting special wheels for the standard sled skis. Tourists loved it. The bustle of activity and commerce added life to the usually quiet Staamat streets.
Summer had come to Southwestern Alaska, and Kendall found herself utterly charmed by the longer days and the sun’s welcoming warmth. Much of her nervousness about hordes of tourists streaming into Alaska had diminished, too. Perhaps the cheechako was slowly becoming a sourdough, after all.
With the exception of a few high school students nosing around without buying anything, she’d had decent sales every day. Now, on Saturday, she anticipated another six hours of hearing her cash register ring.
Moving to the main counter, she straightened a display of teriyaki jerky and refolded a stack of sweatshirts emblazoned with a grinning mosquito and the words, Alaska State Bird. The goofy looking, bloodsucking insect—wearing bunny boots, no less—reminded her to spray her arms with Deet when she ventured outside. Otherwise, she’d end up with plenty of bites.
The string of bells over the doorway jingled, and Kendall smiled with pleasure as Luna ran in. “Kennie, Denn says you’re putting me to work.” She threw her thin arms around Kendall’s waist and gave her a breath-stealing squeeze.
“Umph.” Kendall made suffocating noises while Luna giggled and squeezed harder. When she could inhale again, she dropped a kiss on Luna’s head. “How are you feeling today? Denn said you had a rough evening.”
“I’m okay. I had a reaction to some salad dressing Jo gave us. She puts fireweed honey in it, and I kind of forgot I wasn’t supposed to eat lots of it.” Luna pulled away and prowled the nearest rack, flipping through tee shirts and hoodies. She sent Kendall a mournful look. “It was so good, I took twice as much as I should have. But I felt a lot better after I puked.” Her grin back in place, she dashed to the counter and swiped a piece of jerky. “See, I’m good to go.” She bit in with enthusiasm.
“Drink some water after you eat that, you nimrod.” Denn stepped into the store, a stern expression on his face. He winked at Kendall. “Make sure you dock her pay for snacking on the job.” He closed the door and removed his cap, shaking his hair loose.
Kendall’s pulse stuttered at the sight of that fall of black silk. He caught her stare and a languid smile broke over his face. She blushed, and the smile widened.
His advance toward her set her heart to pounding. Dressed in his uniform, his rolled-up sleeves a concession to the warm day, Denn cut an imposing figure. Yet his size had ceased to intimidate, not after a month of getting to know him. He reached her side and curled his arm around her shoulders, pressed a kiss to her forehead, as comforting as the one she’d given his sister.
“Hi. I’ve brought you slave labor. Please wear her out so I can strong-arm her into bed right after supper.” His low words teased the stray hair at Kendall’s temple. The heat from his lower lip, as it caught one of her curls and brushed it aside, would have buckled her knees if she hadn’t been holding the edge of the counter.
He chuckled softly in her ear, an acknowledgment of what his nearness did to her. When she reared back, the gleam she spotted in his amber eyes couldn’t be mistaken for anything but desire.
I’m not ready for this. Her brain admitted the truth even as her body relaxed, leaned into his, and made itself at home. The moment lengthened into seconds as she enjoyed his warm strength, refusing to further question her need for caution. He would never hurt her; she knew this.
Luna skipped closer, wearing a camouflage baseball cap boasting a set of stuffed moose antlers. “I don’t think this cap’s gonna fool any moose.” She viewed herself in a nearby mirror, striking a pose. “You should send me to Anchorage, Denn. I could be a model.”
“For what? Bullwinkle?” Denn yanked the cap over his sister’s eyes. “Get real. You’ll go in the mines with a pick and a shovel, and give me all the gold you find,” he growled, twirling an imaginary mustache.
“Ha, as if.” Luna danced around him, caught random locks of his hair and yanked them, fast and sly.
He lunged after her and stuffed her under his arm.
“Let go! I have to work for a living, you know.” She wriggled like a slippery eel, her brows scrunched in a mock frown. “Let go, or I scream police brutality.”
“You watch too much CSI. Go make yourself useful.” He released her with a swat to her jeans-clad bottom, and she ran toward the back storeroom where Kendall had left the door unlocked. Luna would spend the afternoon unpacking and pricing several boxes of Alaskana souvenirs.
He turned to Kendall. “What a screwball. You might have to handcuff her to the storeroom to get any work out of her.” His comment and their antics had made her grin even as the residual tenderness for Luna, reflected in his eyes, simply melted her.
“She’s your entire world, isn’t she?” Kendall heard the catch in her voice.
Denn nodded. “Yes, she is. Luna is the only family I’ve got left. Her health problems scared the crap out of me when we first discovered she had diabetes. Try explaining to a five-year-old why she can’t eat grape jelly or a Hershey bar. She tried my mother’s patience not only daily, but hourly. I still shudder to remember what it was like to give her insulin shots.” He leaned against the counter, his mind obviously dwelling in the past. “When I left for UAA, it was hard on Mom even though she knew it was best for me to go. Luna had only been on insulin for maybe six months. I honestly don’t know how Mom got through it.”
He scraped a hand through his hair in the gesture of frustration she’d come to recognize. “I’d fly home between semesters, and they’d both be wrecks. A couple of times I thought, what the hell, I’ll just quit school and come back to help Mom. But whenever I brought it up, she’d get mad and forbid me to drop out.”
“She sounds like an amazing woman.”
“Yeah. Mom was one in a million. Her faith in me kept me in school. But then she died, and I had to quit, anyhow.”
“Denn . . .” She didn’t know what to say. Five years wasn’t nearly long enough to get over such a tragedy. He still dealt with the pain of his mother’s passing. She could sure relate, even if the words wouldn’t come so easily.
Kendall moved closer and laid a hand on his arm. Quietly, she said, “Your mother would be proud of the life you’ve made. The way you are with Luna, loving and devoted . . . if your mother were here, she’d tell you what a wonderful job you’re doing, parenting your sister. Not everyone could handle her health issues, either.” Her hand slid up his arm, curved over his shoulder and reached his cheek, to cup it gently. “You should be proud, too. Coming back here was the right thing to do, and you never hesitated. Did you?” She searched his eyes as she spoke.
“No. I never hesitated. I packed it all up and moved here, and I’ve never once regretted it. Well, maybe a little,” he admitted. “It was hard to say goodbye to a college degree, only eight months away from the damned diploma.”
“Well, nothing says you can’t take some online courses, or whatever’s available out this far, and finish, get your diploma. Right?”
He smiled at her, one heart-stopping, breath-stealing smile. Taking her hand from his cheek, he brought her palm to his mouth and pressed his lips there. Against her skin he murmured, “Nothing at all.”
Wow. That was great! Thanks Char.
Thanks so much, Gerri, I had a blast hanging out with you today!