I've been thinking a lot lately about theme.

What is it? Some say it's an entire sentence, and it can't be expressed without a sentence, such as:

Revenge leads to self-destruction.

Screenwriting guru Stanley Williams has a more complex formula for theme that he dubs "the moral premise" in his book by that title. To him, no narrative is complete without its moral premise, and the moral premise is like a theme with two parts:

Vice or undesirable quality leads to _____________________
 but virtue or desirable quality leads to ___________________.

Simple as it sounds, it does allow an author to construct highly unified themes.

I wish more genre novels emphasized theme. Many genre novels have strong plots, but the theme just doesn't come together. There's not a lot of symbol, resonance, or imagery to make the novel vibrate on a deeper level.

By contrast, in many contemporary literary novels, there's a ton of theme, and no plot to hang it on. This is a departure from many classic novels now considered 'literary', which were more balanced in plot and theme, especially before 1900.

 A novel's theme works like the moment of personal epiphany we experience when we look back on past events and suddenly spot a theme in our own life's narrative. But in order for theme to work in novels the way it works in our consciousness, there has to be some forward motion, some action to distract us from the theme while it's accumulating, and then BOOM! At the end, we get the big reveal.

How do you get theme into your work?


Why You Want Clean Galleys for Your Book

If you're familiar with the usual steps of the traditional publishing process, you know that novels go through several rounds of edits, and then they are typeset into galleys.

Galleys look like the actual pages that will appear in a bound novel. When you get the author copies of the galleys, you have your last chance to proofread your novel and make minor changes before it goes to print.

 My second novel, Sweeter than Birdsong, ended up needing a very quick turnaround in line edits (the stage right before galleys), an unusually grueling, fast turnaround for both me and my editor. As a result, the galleys were not as clean as I would have liked. There were some errors, and there were a number of stylistic things that needed to be cleaned up. This was only natural because of the time pressure, and I managed to get everything shipshape for publication by some judicious work with the galleys (and with the help of my excellent copy editor and proofreaders).

Still, in an ideal situation, I would like to produce much cleaner galleys, and I did that for my third novel, Lovelier than Daylight.

Why does it matter? Because galleys turn into what are called the ARCs, or Advance Reader Copies.

I was chagrined to realize that the readers for my second novel's blog tour had received ARCs, because I did not want my dear readers to read the flawed copies made from my galleys. I wanted them to read the real thing, the cleaned up version! But that's the way it often works in publishing. Reviews, both formal and informal, require advance copies.

So, when it's your turn, keep in mind that your galleys will go to Publishers Weekly. They will go to Library Journal and RT Book Reviews and every other advance reviewer.

My advice: get your manuscript as close to perfect as you can during line edits. Sometimes, circumstances will really make that close to impossible, as with our editing time frame for Sweeter than Birdsong. But when you have the time, go over your manuscript with a fine-toothed comb during line edits! Get rid of every word repetition, every slightly cloudy phrasing, every metaphor that has even a *whisper* of overwriting about it.

You'll be glad you did when you find out a hundred reviewers are reading your galleys. :-)


Book Hoarders, Unite!

Tonight, I am packing. Packing books, and more books, and more books.

Before my last interstate move, I was ruthless about weeding books from my collection. I gave away everything that I would be able to find at a public library, including most of my classic works of literature. I've never missed them. As long as I can get them at a library, all is good.

Here's my problem with this move: I still have the books I couldn't stand to give up in my last move: the landmark scholarly works I used for my dissertation that I can't get outside of a university library. In addition to these, I have a ton of books that I acquired for my historical novel research. These books also cannot be found in most libraries: the only way you get them outside of academia is to buy them. There's no way I'm letting them go.

I own a number of books about faith, and living out one's faith in various ways. These need to stay in my home as references. Then there are the gargantuan works like my beautiful, deluxe edition of the Odyssey, my Collected Works of Shakespeare, or my excellent book of New York Times Front Pages collected from over one hundred years, a phenomenally good gift from my sister-in-law Laura. Each of these books probably weighs five to ten pounds!

So here I am in the age of the e-book, about to move hundreds of pounds of paper books to my new home.

And I am not sorry. :-)

Book hoarders, unite!


Going Home

My family and I will be making an interstate move soon.

We're moving much closer to our extended family--within a day's drive of everyone. We'll be able to see our aging parents more frequently, and my daughter will be able to see her beloved cousins too. I won't say specifically where we're moving for privacy reasons, but I want to talk about the internal journey that accompanies our move.

This is a turbulent time, emotionally, but in the best way ever!

Only after this move was finalized did I realize that we've been living in limbo for over ten years, spending  a couple of years in Atlanta,  four years in Ohio, then five years here in the southwest..

Don't get me wrong: we have loved our time in the southwest, where we've made many close friendships that will not end just because we move.

But here's the huge difference about this move: in 2012, we are going somewhere to STAY.

When we moved here, we never knew if we would stay in the southwest. My husband took a job opportunity, and we were happy to come explore a sunny, warm climate. Whether we would stay was always an open question, because we love it here, but our family is very far away.

But for our upcoming move, we know that we're about to  put down roots, God willing, for a long time, Maybe decades. Maybe the rest of our lives. Having grown up in an Air Force family, I've never lived anywhere longer than five years in my whole life.

Tomorrow, we'll close on our new house. It's beautiful. We'll have land and horses. I've never owned my own horse, though I've worked with many other people's horses over the course of my life, and learned a fair amount in several equestrian disciplines--plus a lot about horse care. Getting our own horses is the fulfillment of a lifetime dream.

Our life already feels different, because we're going to a home, not another way station. We're energized, making long-term plans. We haven't made long-term plans like this for our whole marriage. It's exciting--it feels great. It's funny to think this is how many other people have lived for a long time, with roots, community ideals, networks of local friends made over decades. Now, we're going to be able to really settle into our community without wondering if we're going to make another move in five years.

I'll miss our friends here very much. For the past few weeks, I've been emotionally-stirred whenever I sit in church on Sundays. It has been the only time when I can sit still and reflect, and so I find myself processing the move, the ups and downs of our time here, the sadness of leaving. (I am paying some attention to what's going on in church. :-) It's just that everything in the worship taps into spiritual issues related to our current situation.)

I've been a stranger in a strange land all my life. This move to a permanent home feels a little bit like heaven.

Hollywood Pitches for Your Novels

I'm back! I feel as if I've been underground for a year, but really it was only three weeks while I worked on the rewrites for Lovelier than Daylight.

I'm thrilled to be almost finished with this contract! Just tweaking and line edits left.

So, I had the fun realization tonight, now that the novel is close to its final form, that I KNOW the Hollywood pitch for it.

Here are the Hollywood pitches for my previous two novels:

Fairer than Morning -

Nicholas Nickelby meets Uncle Tom's Cabin

Sweeter than Birdsong -

Amazing Grace meets The King's Speech

And...drum's the pitch for Lovelier than Daylight -

Much Ado About Nothing meets Our Town...with bombs.


The Deadline Approacheth

It's that time again: the edits for Lovelier than Daylight are due soon, and that's why I have been pretty quiet for the last couple of weeks. The suggestions from my editors are great, as usual, and will enrich the story.

I really appreciate your visits here and your comments--I always enjoy reading them and you are all in my thoughts more than you may realize. Please bear with me once more--I'll be back soon. :-)


My new cover unveiled, FB party winners announced!

What a great Facebook party we had last night for Sweeter than Birdsong! I loved talking to my readers--you are all so kind and you ask great questions.

This is the cover for my third novel, Lovelier than Daylight, which will release this November. We revealed it at the party for the first time in public. I love it...when you read the novel, you'll see this cover is just perfect for the story, in addition to being beautiful.

So without further ado, here are the winners of the party giveaways! Trivia answers posted at the end.

Congratulations to Wendy Newcomb! You've won a copy of Sweeter Than Birdsong!

Congratulations to Stephanie Ford Skinner! You've won a copy of Sweeter Than Birdsong!

Congratulations to Jessica Carlson Mocny! You've won a copy of Sweeter Than Birdsong and the gift certificate of your choice (Amazon, iTunes, Starbucks)! Email your mailing address and choice to amy {at}!

Congratulations to Libbi Hartwig! You've won a copy of Sweeter Than Birdsong!

Congratulations to Jan Bouchard-Kerr! You've won a copy of Sweeter Than Birdsong!

Congratulations to Audrey Elizabeth! You've won a copy of Sweeter Than Birdsong and the gift certificate of your choice (Amazon, iTunes, Starbucks)! Email your mailing address and choice to amy {at}!

Congratulations to Hannah Wilson! You've won a copy of Sweeter Than Birdsong!

Congratulations to Jenna Zeidler! You've won a copy of Sweeter Than Birdsong!

Congratulations to Jennifer Stevensen Tipton! You've won a copy of Sweeter Than Birdsong and the gift certificate of your choice (Amazon, iTunes, Starbucks)! Email your mailing address and choice to amy {at}!

Congratulations to Kim Moss! You've won a copy of Sweeter Than Birdsong for posting your photo on my wall! Email your mailing address to amy {at}!

Congratulations to Jennifer Campbell! You've won a copy of Sweeter Than Birdsong for posting your photo on my wall! Email your mailing address to amy {at}!
Trivia Winner:

Congrats to Kimberlee Patton! You won the book club prize pack! Email your mailing address to amy {at} and let her know when you'd like to schedule your live chat with Rosslyn!
Super Trivia Winner:

Congrats to Renn Shearin! You won the Downton Abbey Prize Pack! Email your mailing address to amy {at}!
And here is the iPod Nano Winner:

Congrats to Sabine Galvin from California! You are the winner of the iPod Nano in the color of your choice and both books in The Saddler's Legacy series! Send your mailing address to amy {at} and we'll get right out to you!

Congrats to all the winners - please email your mailing address to Amy {at} litfusegroup {dot} com.


History trivia

1 What first name was shared by both the most famous African-American woman to work on the Underground Railroad and the most famous white woman to write a novel opposing slavery?
2 What religious group was the first in America to fully condemn slavery and was later renowned for their work on the Underground Railroad?
3 Sweeter than Birdsong begins in 1855. How many years later would the Civil War break out?
Six years later, in 1861
4 Who was the most famous songwriter in America in 1855?
Stephen Foster
5 What was the most popular ladies’ magazine in 1855?

Questions about the author:

1 Name one of my two favorite animals.
Horse or dog
2 In what major city did I work after I finished undergrad work?
New York City
3 Where did I go for graduate school?
Emory University
4 In how many foreign countries did I live before graduating from high school?
5 Which book by Dickens is on my “Books I Love” list?
Oliver Twist

Trivia questions about the book

1 What is the name of Kate Winter’s horse?
2 Who is the real African-American hero who works on the Underground Railroad in Sweeter than Birdsong?
John Parker
3 To what city does Ruth Winter take her daughter near the end of the novel?