Hope Hides in the Pages of a New Book

Something special happens when I begin to birth a book. I’m not sure if I am unique in this. Perhaps other writers will comment and let me know if I’m weird or somewhat normal.writing pencil

Because one of my core values is life-long learning, I love to initiate research. So with the new idea, I start to look for credits that may prove my point if it’s a nonfiction book.

For novels, I start to pay attention to settings, cultures, recipes, clothing – anything that will make my characters believable.

Then I go nuts with ideas and start free writing. For nonfiction, I play with an outline.

For novels, I write letters to the characters and let them write me back (I know – weird!).

This is the most exciting part for me – similar to when the doctor said, “Guess what? You’re pregnant!”

I begin to imagine all kinds of scenarios. What will the cover of this book look like? What if this book becomes a best-seller? What if the words I write impact somebody’s life?

The beginning germ of my idea mushrooms and ripples into a story line. Even in nonfiction, it’s important to tell the story.


So I feel excited, fulfilled, working away at this idea and waiting to see how it will manifest itself in chapter headings, quotes, character quirks and the resolution of conflict.

As I work on the idea, I imagine my readers – feet propped up in front of a cozy fire, turning the pages inscribed with my words, wiping a tear or tilting back their heads in laughter.

Then I take the idea and play with it from the marketing standpoint. After I find my focus, how many articles can I write from this one idea? Will it be only a novel or can I also write a nonfiction book, using my research as a starting point?

That’s what I’m doing now with all my research about Alzheimer’s and dementia. The Reverend G trilogy is finished, so now I’m putting together a nonfiction book of essays and meditations to help caregivers.

For me, the best part of writing is letting my creativity loose without any roadblocks or fears stopping me. I envision the massive impact this idea will have and the huge numbers of people who will either learn from my topic or change their lives because of it.

Ultimately, I thank God for the idea because he is the one who creates life – in the womb and in my writing soul.

Then I ask him to bless the project and hope again – that it will be very good.

©2016 RJ Thesman – Author of the Reverend G books http://amzn.to/1rXlCyh

Researching Food

In order to write with credibility, the author needs to complete all the research necessary for a novel. This includes researching about the foods included in the story without sounding like you’re repeating a menu.

One writer who does this well is Jan Karon. Her Mitford series is filled with all types of recipes and mouth-watering descriptions of the various foods that Cynthia, Father Tim and the other characters eat.

So when I write about Reverend G and her family, I research all the various foods they enjoy and even some of the foods they dislike.Blueberry muffin tops

I already know, because she told me, that Reverend G detests red gelatin and those vanilla crackers with banana pudding. So I don’t need to spend time with those particular food groups. Lucky for me, gelatin and banana pudding are not my favorites either.

Reverend G drinks green tea. For years, I have been a tea drinker – green or otherwise and lately, I have ventured into the white teas. They have a particularly smooth flavor that is not as much of an acid as the black teas. Of course, Reverend G drinks green tea, because it is supposed to help with brain function. Unfortunately, it does not cure Alzheimer’s or dementia.

Cheesecake with blueberries is her favorite dessert and it appears in all three books of the series. I have tried various renditions, including my own gluten free recipe. Usually, whipped cream on top is not necessary and since Reverend G rarely mentions whipped cream – there’s no need to research that particular taste. Although I might like to try that new-fangled version of chocolate Cool Whip.

Blueberries on Reverend G’s oatmeal turn up in the second book of the series. Did you know that if you microwave blueberries, they turn the oatmeal purple? Reverend G knew that and now – so do I. The readers of the second book will know that, too, because I included it in one of the scenes.

Chunky Monkey ice cream went on sale one week, so I “talked myself” into trying a pint. It was good, but a little too much banana for my taste. However, I needed to know that so I could describe it in one of the scenes.

In the third book of the series, which I am currently editing, Jessie makes her famous calzones. As you may remember, Jessie is Reverend G’s daughter-in-love and she invites the family over for an Italian dinner. I wrote the scene, not realizing that Jessie was going to make calzones, so now I need to try some – but I have a problem.

As the author of this series, I need to write with credibility. I need to know how the calzones taste, but they are usually made with white flour which contains wheat.

Anybody have a good recipe for gluten free calzones?

©2013 RJ Thesman – “The Unraveling of Reverend G” – http://amzn.to/11QATC1

Researching Blueberries

Ever since I moved to this area of Kansas City, I’ve wanted to experience The Berry Patch.

Nestled just outside the honking city and barely over the state line into Missouri, The Berry Patch offers fresh bounty from God’s earth as well as a respite for this particular farm girl.

It began in 1975, as a farm for peaches and then blackberries. Both crops died. Then by accident – one of those accidents in life that remind us God loves to plant surprises – the owners began planting and harvesting blueberries.

Now over 10,000 customers come each year to pick their own berries, buy the specialty treats in the country store and enjoy the picnic areas. www.theberrypatchonline.com

But for this particular author, The Berry Patch was more than just an opportunity to pick  fresh blueberries and enjoy the country  – it represented another research trip centered around my main character.Berry Patch

If you haven’t yet read the book, one of the themes you will find in “The Unraveling of Reverend G” is how much she loves blueberries. She globs them all over cheesecake at her retirement party, heaps them onto her oatmeal and (here’s a clue in the third book of the series) … Reverend G wakes up one morning with a terrible craving for those tiny blue dots.

So to replenish my own stock of berries and to do a bit of research, I drove out to The Berry Patch. The drive itself was enough to convince me this needed to be an annual adventure. Large acreages with winding roadways that ended in beautiful scenic homes, a man-made lake with happy ducks and colorful boats sharing its tranquility, a herd of black angus – slowly digesting the summer grass.

I joined other berry pickers by checking in and getting my buckets. A large wooden sign gave directions to the best patches for picking on that particular day as well as instructions on how to pick – palms up and carefully, so as not to squish the berries and end up with purply-stained fingers.

I learned that the reddish berries are more tart – great for cooking but not so much for eating fresh from the bowl. The darker berries are best, so I looked for dark ones about the same diameter as a dime.

What I also learned about was the over-30 varieties of blueberries. The Berry Patch includes several: Blue Crop, Duke and Liberty, to mention a few.

Birds chirped around me as I picked, my straw hat protecting me from the morning sun. Families with little children used the day as an outing and a teaching opportunity. I heard one teenager in the patch behind me say, “I’m from the inner city of St. Louis, for Pete’s sake. I don’t know how to pick something off a bush and eat it.”

But this farm girl from Oklahoma sure knows how to eat from the land, and now I have several pounds of fresh blueberries in my freezer – just waiting to plump up my gluten free pancakes or decorate my steel cut oats.

After I paid for my berries and transported them to the car, I took off my hat, fluffed up my hair and sought out the manager for a chit-chat about a certain fictional character and how her book might sell in the country store.

Sure enough, we struck a deal and “The Unraveling of Reverend G” is now for sale at The Berry Patch.

So you never know what might happen on a Saturday morning when you’re looking for an adventure outside of the city. You might have a fun time picking blueberries, meet some nice folks from all over the place, enjoy the sights and smells of a country store and at the same time – market your book.

©2013 RJ Thesman – “The Unraveling of Reverend G” http://amzn.to/11QATC1

How Do Writers Research?

One year ago, my friend and I drove to Santa Fe, NM. We planned it as a research / vacation trip in the wonderful Southwest, with side trips to Taos and Red River.santa fe

Why Santa Fe? Because I knew that my main character, Reverend G, loved the Southwest and particularly Santa Fe. I also knew that I wanted to include something about that region in the third Reverend G book – which is still in its first draft stage.

So we drove to Santa Fe, enjoying the mountain scenery and the warmer weather. After a hard Kansas winter, we needed to soak up the sun as well as to soak in the culture.

Writers can, of course, do research on the internet. In fact, that’s where I started – looking up the main sites of Santa Fe. But the internet can only provide facts and stats for a region.

If you want to write credibly and make your stories real – you have to actually experience a region.

The writer needs to know how people communicate in a particular area, how characters dress and talk, what it feels like to stand in line at the Georgia O’Keefe museum and then spend several hours drinking in the colors and textures of her paintings.

The writer needs to discover new artists who craft incredible sculptures out of metal, pictures of women on horses that seem to fly through the studio, textiles that flap their colors in the wind.

The writer keeps a journal of the trip and gathers brochures, maps, postcards, photos wherever she goes. But the writer also records the emotions she feels, touring a particular city.

I wrote about our tour of the Plaza: “Native Americans spread out their creativity: jewelry on black mats, shining silver and bountiful turquoise, coral, copper bracelets, earrings, necklaces – nothing that Reverend G would buy but all of it – she would enjoy. The pottery – some with colors of the earth, some with the brightness of primary colors.”

We talked with tourists, but also with the locals – interesting blends of Hispanic, Caucasian, Native American and some Asians. Reverend G and I both loved the diversity of the Southwest.

These friendly people, women in broomstick skirts of various colors. Men with tanned and wrinkled faces. They seem to live an idyllic life where they have the freedom to leave workplaces and spend time with a writer from Kansas, to tell her how long they’ve lived in Santa Fe and why they moved out of corporate America to operate a coffee shop in New Mexico.

We ate at a little café with different colors painted on each wall – purple blended into orange, yellow beside red. Small salads with walnuts, salmon and bleu cheese with a vinaigrette dressing. Iced chai tea in tall glasses – spicy yet sweet and so refreshing.

So many variations of wildflowers, splayed in gardens along with buckets of pansies and Indian blanket daisies. A momentary wrong turn and we were lost, but then found in a rose garden at the church of Our Lady of Guadalupe. Bathing our hot faces in the fountain that promised health. Snapping my promo picture while surrounded by lavender roses.

Statues of Mary everywhere and the creativity of God surrounding us. Worship all around us and in us as my friend played a Native American flute, and I wrote in my journal and savored the day.

The Loretto Chapel, famous for its spiral staircase. You can’t imagine what happens to Reverend G in the chapel, but you’ll have to wait for the third book to find out.

Although we smelled smoke from mountain wildfires, the resulting atmospheric change brought us colorful sunsets – a sacred end to a busy day.

We left a few sites for the next trip – whenever that will be. But I found enough material and soaked in enough of the Southwest to add to my book and make it credible.

How do writers research? They live in the area for a while. They let every one of their senses open fully to the people and the places where they exist. They look for the inner soul and the textures and colors around them. They listen for dialects and observe relationships. They take time to literally smell roses and meld new friendships. Then they come home, organize their notes and write about it.

And a year later – they wish they could return.

©2013 RJ Thesman – Author of “The Unraveling of Reverend G”

Long Distance Caregiving – Research Builds Hope

Since I am an author, I’m constantly looking into how research builds hope. Plus, “The Unraveling of Reverend G” and the rest of the books in my series deal with Alzheimers and dementia. So research is a must.3D Rev G cover

 I find it easy and enjoyable to do research. I study everything I can find about caregiving, the latest meds and the possible causes for Alzheimers. Sometimes I come up with a new coping strategy.

Sometimes, my siblings already know more than I do and we chat back and forth about how the research might help Mom.

Recently, I discovered information about urinary tract infections. Apparently, older women can easily contract UTIs, yet don’t always feel the pain.

They can’t tell us how or where it hurts. Yet one of the symptoms of UTIs is frightening and realistic nightmares.

My mother has nightmares that seem so real to her, she reports them to the staff at the assisted living facility. She is certain that various family members are stealing her car, stealing her money, stealing her house, etc.

She concocts the most amazing stories, based on her dreams. My mother could have been an incredible novelist. Her stories are fascinating and believable.

More than once, the staff has called my sister to check up on one of Mom’s stories. When I told my sister about the research on UTIs, she scheduled a doctor appointment to have Mom checked.

So far, no UTIs. So Mom’s stories are probably one of the side effects of Alzheimers or maybe even some of the meds she has to take. But now we are on the alert for a possible cause for Mom’s dreams and stories.

hands heartEven though I can’t always find the answers to the questions we have, doing the research helps me feel as if I share an active part in Mom’s care. As the LDC and the researcher, I’m doing something beneficial and helping the family take care of Mom.

I’m also learning more about this disease and trying to prevent it from happening to me. I eat a Mediterranean diet, try to avoid anything cooked or stored in aluminum and I’ve completely eliminated high fructose corn syrup from my diet.

Beyond that, I plead with God every day to help my siblings as they care for Mom and keep us all from getting this horrid disease.

Then every time I forget something, I pray all over again and do more research.

Chunky Monkey Research

An effective writer always completes his or her research. It makes the words more credible and lends a sense of accuracy to the entire work. Some of my research this year took place in Santa Fe, but another piece of it came from my local grocery – the ice cream section.

I couldn’t help it. My main character, Reverend G, loves Chunky Monkey ice cream, a particularly delicious version of the Ben & Jerry’s line. With a mellow cream base that tastes like ripe bananas, the walnut bits and chunks of frozen fudge blend together for a spoonful of yumminess.

Usually, I try to avoid sugar – especially any type of artificial sweeteners or gummed up chemicals. But Ben & Jerry’s is known for its natural ingredients that merge together into a luscious delight for the palate and the tummy. Nothing fake here and no waste of calories.

So I completed my research on a summer afternoon. The Kansas heat formed waves of humidity that rose off my deck, but my body felt cool all the way from the spoonful of Chunky Monkey on my tongue, to the icy nuts crunched onto my teeth, to the plop of banana cream in my stomach. The slabs of chocolate added a final polish.

A fine afternoon of research and a worthy bit of delight. Next project – Reverend G’s favorite dessert: cheesecake with blueberries.

I really do love research.