The “What If” Mindset of Authors

Since this will be my last blog for SoulMate, I felt the need to make it a bit more personal than the others. My hope is what I say will give you insight as to why many of us continue writing, despite the obstacles.

I’ve attended enough writers conferences to realize that many authors got their start when they were young children: creating journals, entering local contests, and writing essays that were far superior to their classmates. Quite possibly I might be alone in this assumption, but my feeling is that there are thousands of potential writers out there who have yet to put pen to paper, but are instead, creating characters in their heads–characters who eventually fall on the written page.

This is actually how I got my start as a child. I never kept a journal, never entered a writing contest, never really considered that my innermost thoughts could be of any importance.

This was the last picture of my brothers and I together before we were placed in foster care. My mother had suffered a nervous breakdown and was sent to a mental institution where she remained for seven years. My father, sadly, went AWOL. Like most young children with overwhelming problems, I played the “what if” game with myself. What if I’d been born into a different family; what if I traded places with a wealthy family instead of being subjected to poverty?

When I was in the second grade, I lived with my very domineering, cranky grandmother. Life was definitely tough, with very little to look forward to…which brings me to how I got started writing…

As a seven-year-old, I didn’t really sit around with a notepad and jot any ideas down, but what I DID do was sit in my grandmother’s basement and create imaginary characters in my head–one of them was a kind, gentle, caring mother who had a special lilt to her laugh (unlike my own deranged mother who screamed at everyone around her–another character was a funny, lovable, supportive father (in contrast to the one who left us to fend for ourselves) who took care of his three children. These characters became in the “what if” game I often played.

I’m happy to report that my story truly ended up being a Cinderella story. That being said, during a horrendously difficult period of my life when I desperately needed an escape, creating imaginary characters in my head helped me fill that void. Without that vivid imagination, I don’t know how I would have survived. My undergraduate psychology degree tells me this was a healthy coping mechanism.

At the age of nine, I ended up in a permanent foster home. At the school I attend, my classmates were extraordinarily supportive of me and encouraged me to write down my thoughts. They enjoyed my adventures I shared on the playground, and I think that began my belief that what I had to say might be of some importance to others. I remain friends with several of them to this day.

My own Cinderella story ends here–with my husband of forty-five years and two of our six grandchildren. Jim probably doesn’t know it, but his beta personality shows up in many of my male characters–particularly in the SoulMate books which are based in Alpine, Texas. I think in the hubster’s heart, he’s probably a true cowboy.

But I’ve digressed…the point of this post is to remind all of you that somewhere out in the vast wilderness of life, there’s probably a child (or adult) with a story to write. We don’t all begin as skilled authors, outpacing our classmates when it comes to writing essay. But we definitely have a story to

tell…and that’s why no matter how discouraged we are; how many rejections we receive; how many writing contests we lose; how few books we sell, we owe it to ourselves to make damn sure our stories are told. Keep writing; never give up; dump the naysayers and follow your dreams.

Hugs and Loves,

Tessa Gray


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Too Much Work … Not Enough Holiday Time

deadlineI know, I know, everyone’s thinking holiday blogs, holiday blogs. I’m not quite there yet. I would be but I still have work to do that takes precedence over the pre-Christmas tidy, or decorating, or wrapping presents. Just a side-note, I’ve already finished shopping. AND I did put up my outside decorations on what was possibly the last warm day in Eastern Canada until next April.

In addition to my own writing, I’ve taken on a new job as an outline writer. Now I can’t imagine writing a book, especially a romance, from someone else’s outline. My characters often kick my butt and run off in an entirely different direction. I can’t picture being tied to someone else’s idea of how the chapter should go.

Yet, here I am, being handsomely paid to fill another author’s head with great characters and an even better plot. The funny thing is, I almost talked myself out of the job. By being honest.

snoop writesPart of the interview process required me to read two assigned books from their current catalog and then answer some pre-designed questions about the books. Problem was, I wasn’t impressed with either book. As a matter of fact, I was unimpressed. With the first book there was no real plot and, what there was, strayed off into left field so often I’d forgotten the initial objective. And, worst of all, there was no resolution. The second book ended about one third of the way through, followed by scene after scene of sex. Not lovemaking, just sex.

I answered the questions, as asked, but then felt compelled to ad lib. I posted the questionnaire to the proper place and waited, somewhat impatiently, for the CEO to review my answers and then tell me to go “take a hike”. Instead, he did something totally unexpected, he went out and bought two of my books and read them.

During our follow-up conversation, he admitted he was a bit peeved at my harsh critique. He also admitted he’d never read the two books I’d been assigned. After taking the time to read those two and the two books I’d written, he said he had no choice but to give me the job if I still wanted it. He also offered me the opportunity to write for them under one of their corporate pseudonyms. I accepted the outliner position and declined the other. I have enough of my own writing to complete. I didn’t need to add another full book to my workload. Especially one that wouldn’t bear my name.

The entire experience did leave me wondering though … just how many of these companies use outliners and ghost writers? I like to think when I connect with another author, it’s a personal connection not just an auto-bot for selling books. It also reminds me of how grateful and blessed I am to have a wonderful publisher like Soul Mate. I know, with them, what I see is what I get!

~ ~ ~

One of the books the CEO chose to read was Home is Where the Hunk is, my multi-award-winning secret baby book from Soul Mate Publishing.

16.1 HomeIsWhereTheHunkIsWhen globe-trotting photographer Allison Cain comes home to her family ranch in Montana it’s to get to know her nephew and to make amends with the widowed brother-in-law she’s left alone to raise his young son.

Evan Carver could never deny his late wife’s younger sister anything, despite the fact she’s been conspicuously absent over the past three years since her sister’s death. Now she’s home again on what she’s called an extended vacation. Evan’s first concern is for his son, Cody, and how his aunt’s visit will affect the five year old when she decides to return to her high profile career.

Allison has no intention of going back to work. In addition to getting to know Cody, she needs to confess her biggest secret to Evan. How do you tell the man you’ve always loved that you’re not just his son’s aunt, but also his mother?

~ ~ ~

Just to show that I do have some holiday spirit, I’ll be drawing three names from those who comment on this post and giving each winner an autographed copy of Home is Where the Hunk is. You may even get it in time for Christmas!


Posted in Nanobytes From Nancy!, Soul Mate Publishing | 3 Comments

Giving Back

Here in the United States the Thanksgiving turkey is nothing but leftovers, which means that we are officially entering the season of giving. I’m not a fan of a black Friday—I’m too much of an introvert to get a thrill from battling it out at a crowded shopping mall—but I do appreciate the newer tradition of #GivingTuesday when holiday shoppers are encouraged to consider donations to a worthy cause as an outside-the-box gift idea.


 Photo by Annie Spratt on Unsplash

I have a few youngsters on my lists who might enjoy the “gift” of sponsoring a farm animal through Heifer International or a fun wildlife charity. Why the World Wildlife Federation even gives funky socks with a donation—perfect for a stocking stuffer!

On a more personal level, the dark of winter puts me in a reflective mood, ready to give thanks for the blessings in my life and also reach out a helping hand to those who need it. Aside from making donations, I also find it satisfying to volunteer for local organizations this time of year—even a few hours at a shelter or a food bank makes a big difference in my community and the experience enriches my own life as well. Truly a win-win situation.

How about you? Do you participate in GivingTuesday or celebrate the season of giving? What causes move you?

Taxing_Courtship_900Jaycee Jarvis is a Golden Heart® finalist who writes lush fantasy novels with plenty of heart and magic. Book one in the Hands of Destin series, Taxing Courtship, is available now through KindleUnlimited. The paperback version comes out December 6th and is available for pre-order now.

When not lost in worlds of her own creation, she resides in the Pacific Northwest with her husband, three children and a menagerie of animals.

You can learn more about her and her books at her website or by following her on Facebook, Twitter, BookBub or Goodreads.

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The Four Agreements by Don Miguel Ruiz

I’m a verbal processor, attempting to rein in repetitive statements and follow the creed below. That’s my story and I’m sticking to it. Sounds easy? Try it for one day and let me know how you do…

  1. Be impeccable with your word.
  2. Don’t take anything personally.
  3. Don’t make assumptions.
  4. Always do your best.

My biggest challenge lies in the first agreement. I have an opinion–actually, way too many opinions. Go figure, I drink Bigelow’s ‘Constant Comment’ tea. Forcing my characters to deal with the above four suggestions creates wonderful conflict and makes me think about my own actions. Win, win.

Not making assumptions plays out time and time again in real life, and on the page. Communicating avoids misunderstandings and alleviates sadness and drama. In my second book, Torn by Vengeance, my heroine’s struggled to prove her worth since childhood. She realizes her value after partnering with a loving hero, battling a vindictive villain, and together planning a path to their HEA.

May peace be with you all in the coming months.

Happy trails,


Posted in Simply Stated By Sally!, Soul Mate Publishing | 2 Comments

Marisa Makes Memories

Is it stuffing or dressing?

Are they yams or sweet potatoes?thanksgiving-turkey-dinner-4

Do you patronize Target or TJ Max?

When was the first Thanksgiving?

Who was the first to play football on Turkey Day, Detroit or Dallas? 

Any of these questions could be conversation starters at your Thanksgiving table between bites of Grandma’s cranberry and sausage stuffing and Aunt Minnie’s pecan-covered, sweet potato casserole. Some may stump the most avid Thanksgiving Day fan. But let me don my apron and assist you in the kitchen with some of the answers that can impress your guests.

Stuffing is baked inside the bird, dressing is served on the side. And in the south, ya’ll, there is no debate, it’s always called dressing.

Yams ARE sweet potatoes.

Target’s open on Thanksgiving, TJ Max is not.

And even though you were taught Indians and pilgrims celebrated a good harvest at Plymouth in 1621, it wasn’t until 1863, when President Abraham Lincoln made it official. And the reason? A public relations move to calm down the country during the Civil War.

Finally, football addicts may know this already, but every year since 1934 the Detroit Lions have taken the field for a Thanksgiving game no matter how bad their record. And it all started with a publicity stunt to sell more tickets.

So whether you’re serving a traditional meal or boycotting the bird, what you do on Thanksgiving Day is steeped in tradition: turkey, shopping, parades, football, making a wish, and giving thanks.


But before you pass out in a food coma in front of the football game on TV or join the ranks of Black Friday early-risers this Thanksgiving, think about what traditions are important to you and consider making some new memories. Here’s a few to get you started:

Create a Thanksgiving recipe book. Preserve the family favorites by scanning handwritten recipes into your computer. Then assemble them into a note book or go hi-tech with an online tool like Shutterfly.

Donate to charity or volunteer. Check with your local community center or homeless shelter and give to the less fortunate.

Assemble a gratitude chain. On strips of paper have friends and family write down one thing they are grateful for this year and string them together, then proudly display your creation on a mantle or your Christmas tree.

But of course, if shopping IS a part of your holiday fun, even on Turkey day, then embrace it with pride and drink a Venti Starbucks with double espresso to get you through the long lines and triple door buster specials.

No matter who you share your table with this holiday, start this year’s memories with a lively conversation and remember to give thanks!

Check out Marisa’s books on Amazon and stay connected:

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Reasons to be Thankful

Reasons to be Thankful:


Many of my friends on social media have started listing their reasons to be thankful.  I liked the idea and followed suit. Producing novels as a published author is one of my many blessings.  As a child, I’d dreamed of publishing my books. The writing bug hit me early—when I read Little Women, in fact.  Who couldn’t love Jo?  Louisa May Alcott wrote books based on her own experiences and family.  As a child, I didn’t know what I’d write, and I wrote everything.  Now, my historical novels are based on my family lore.  While the adventures do not always directly mirror every event in my family’s journey, these tales are based on the events defining their generation.


Love at War( is set during WWII.  This time defined my mother’s generation. Her brothers and first husband fought in the war. One of them paid the ultimate sacrifice. I wrote the novel after my mother had passed, and I found letters written home by her brothers. I then read letters one brother wrote to his wife.  The hardships the men faced impressed me, and I also saw the gap left in the lives of those left home.  My challenge was to write a complex female character, and Nuala fit that bill.  She was beautiful, feminine, and easy to underestimate because she seemed so innocent. Nuala would prove them all wrong when she infiltrated the Nazi machine and brought so many down. This novel was a tribute to my mother’s generation.


From Ice Wagon to Club Housewas my tribute to my father’s generation.  My father was many years older than my mother. He bootlegged during the Depression, as does Jude.  He trained horses and was a bookie, as is Jude in the novel; however, I have embellished many aspects of Jude’s life to make the story even more compelling. Jude does face the horrors of trench warfare. He fights for Irish Independence when he falls under the spell of a beautiful woman. Later, he forms an alliance with the mob to save his family from starving.  Jude Mooney is every bit as complex as my father and more.  His legacy lives on in my upcoming release The Progeny.  Here, Jude’s heirs will again be involved in war and survival.  I thought I’d put Jude Mooney to bed after I finished the first novel, but those characters wouldn’t let me sleep.


New Orleans also remains a character in my novels.  My hometown also served as inspiration for all of my novels, including my contemporary novel and my mystery.  The people, food, and culture have stayed with me even when I was in Texas for graduate school and when I’ve traveled the world.  My travels also have inspired me in establishing place as a character.  My travels to England and Ireland definitely inform my writing, and extensive research adds to my attempts to establish place as a character. As a published author with Soul Mate, I have many reasons to give thanks.


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“Dying’s Easy, Comedy’s Hard”


The above quote is credited as having been said by either the celebrated British Shakespearean actor of the early 19th century Edmund Kean, or the English actor Edmund Gwenn, known for his portrayal of Kris Kringle in the 1947 film Miracle on 34th Street. And though it’s not exactly clear who said this or when, I of late have found the second half of this statement to be quite true—especially while writing my latest series of romantic comedies, the Millicent Winthrop Novels.

One of my other careers is that of a theatre professional. I am a card carrying union actress, and have directed dozens of stage performances ranging from musicals to tragedies, and from comedies to operas. I have been taught by the best that comedy is nothing more than making light of the dark. But, what exactly does that mean? So much of prime time TV sitcom fare is made up of one like zingers accompanied by canned laughing audience. And comedy is indeed the witty line or the snappy dialogue. Yet it is so much more.

First of all, it’s a kind of music. Timing in comedy actually is everything. A great comic can make us laugh just by his or her delivery. Unfortunately, timing is the one element in writing that sometimes gets lost. Here’s an example from Just My Luck, the introductory novella of my Millicent Winthrop series.

Kate then put on her best fake smile as she pointed at her reflection. “It’s show time!” she pronounced to no one other than herself. She then shoved her things back into her oversized the Jimmy Choo knock off tote she’d bought at Wal-Mart for one sixteenth of the going price. And made a bee-line for the cashier, where she not only paid for her gas, but a few necessary snacks to tide her over, including a box of Junior Mints, a can of Diet Coke, and a two-pill packet of Aleve.

Now, to build the comic timing into this selection I needed to structure my writing and punctuate my sentences in such a way so that the reader would musically hear what I heard as delivery in my mind.


Kate then put on her best fake smile as she pointed at her reflection.

“It’s show time!” she pronounced to no one other than herself.

She then shoved her things back into her oversized tote—the Jimmy Choo knock off she bought at Wal-Mart for one sixteenth of the going price. And made a bee-line for the cashier, where she not only paid for her gas, but a few necessary snacks to tide her over.

A box of Junior Mints.

A can of Diet Coke.

And a two-pill packet of Aleve.

Another way to add comedy to writing is to choose situations that seemed all too familiar to us, even though we would never admit it. This form of transparent vulnerability made public is what makes the character human and our own foibles funny rather than tragic. For example, my mother was an extremely self-conscious woman, especially if she thought others were judging her by her behavior. I remember once she pulled into the local station to fill the family car up with gas. Just before she sidled up to the pump, she noticed a woman from our church getting gas at the same place. Instead of pulling up to her usual pump-your-own pump, my mother swung the car instead next to the full service unit. A smile crossed her face as the church lady spotted her and waved. My mother waved in return, paid the attendant, and before he could return the nozzle and hose back to its pump, my mother took off, allowing it to bounce several times on the ground, spraying gasoline every-which-way—including on the beautiful new car owned by the woman from church. The look on my mother’s face was priceless. I’d never seen her more embarrassed or miffed at herself for being so vain. And at church that following Sunday, I nearly wet my pants watching as my mother avoided making eye contact with the woman in question so as not to feel doubly embarrassed once again.

Finally, I think comedy of character is one of the most delightful ways of bringing humor to one’s writing. Let’s admit it—some people by virtue of who they are, are just plain funny. And when we can find those kinds of characters for our storytelling, then cleverness, wit, and humor often win the day. My Millicent Winthrop is that kind of gal—psychologically fractured, yet sweet and charming in her own way. And for some reason unbeknownst to her and nearly everyone around her, her naiveté and simplistic way of looking at life lead her into some fun and silly adventures, retorts, and mannerisms.

I think the best advice I can give is to write what you, the writer, think is funny, then speak it out loud to make sure the timing is exactly how you hear it, and then amplify the craziness of the situation and the oddness of your character’s behavior. These tips may not work for everyone, but at least you’ll have a few laughs trying.


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