Thursday, September 7, 2017

Always there - research

I love the research for books so much that I sometimes forget to stop researching and start writing the story.

The goal, of course, is to write my stories to be as authentic as possible. For historical books, I visit locations, try recipes, check out period details (like fashion, transportation, food, technology) on the Internet, and interview people who may have lived during the time period.

For contemporary stories, I often write about issues, technology, or places in which I have experience. Sometimes, though, my experiences aren't enough to write a complete, interesting, satisfying story. In those cases, I research and research and research...

If you're a writer, here are a few tips for researching books, whether historical or contemporary.

  • Interview your family and friends: Everyone you know is an expert on something--and often their interests and skills will surprise you. So ask--and prepare to be amazed. Make mental notes about their love of horseback-riding or their fascination with astronomy. You will use it one day!
  • Visit museums, historical sites, etc.: Many docents know everything about a topic, and they want to answer your questions. So visit museums or historical sites and engage in conversation with the docents, staff, park rangers, etc. They love eager and interested visitors.
  • Watch YouTube: Let's face it. YouTube has a video for everything. If you don't know how something works, you'll find a how-to video on YouTube.
  • Browse Wikipedia: Yeah, I know. You can't always rely on wikipedia to give you purely factual, accurate information. But, it can supply a good, general overview--and the references linked at the end of each article are priceless.
  • Go!: if you have access to locations or venues that will be featured in your book, go and experience it firsthand. Use local parks as book settings. Take in a ballgame. Sign up for lessons in cooking, dancing, sports, etc. 

Let me show how I applied some of these suggestions to my books.

The Whisper Falls series: It's entirely possible that I have visited every colonial museum or historical site in North Carolina and Virginia. The docents/guides at Mount Vernon, Tryon Palace, Yates Mill, and Williamsburg are amazing. I learned incredible nuggets of information that enriched my stories.

As a time-travel, the Whisper Falls series also required contemporary research. I've watched YouTube videos about mountain bike racing, chatted with my Physical Therapist about how to break noses, and asked my cousin-in-law (who, coincidentally, is the registrar of deeds in a nearby county) to explain how to fake a birth certificate.

The I WISH series: In the first book, the issues were mainly depression and poverty--which I have first-hand experience with. But I also had a biracial character, which required interviews with a biracial friend. The second and third books deal with grief, terminal illness, and disability. Again, I interviewed people with knowledge of brain injuries and caregivers of cancer patients. Their candor was invaluable. For small details--like ballroom dancing or building stacked stone walls--I used YouTube. Lastly, I needed one of the main characters to have an interesting hobby, and the young man ended up with my husband's passion--astronomy.

The Possibility of Somewhere: The heroine, Eden, is dealing with poverty and the difficulties of getting college scholarships when you can't afford the extra-curricular activities that make your resume shiny. Since those issues are somewhat autobiographical, I knew how she felt. But the details had changed since I was in high school. So I read blogs, content on social media, and Quora questions. The hero, Ash, is the son of Asian-Indian immigrants. Because I work at a global company, I had several Indian colleagues who were willing to answer my questions about what life would be like for Ash.

Fade To Us: This book (which releases in February 2018) may have been the most interesting to research because of the variety of disparate threads that are woven through.

  • Biracial stage manager: The hero is half-Chinese and half-white. I interviewed a Chinese friend and her biracial sons to understand the character of Micah. He's the stage manager for theater productions. Happily, my daughter has a friend who is a professional stage manager. (And, yes, Daniel, you will see some of your quotes in the book :)
  • Baseball umpires: The heroine's mom is a lady umpire; that was fun to research! I attended a baseball game with a professional umpire, who called them for me and gave me insider details. In addition to introducing me to a lady umpire, he beta-read the baseball sections of the book.
  • Summer musical theater program: A local high school allowed me to sit in on their musical theater rehearsals, both during the school year and during the summer. Since the musical featured in the book is Oklahoma!, I was able to observe the rehearsals of a local community theater's production of Oklahoma!.
  • Autism: The third main character, Natalie, is on the autism spectrum. I have a child with Asperger's Syndrome, so I've "lived" the research for over 20 years. But I still read books and blogs, chatted with autism parents, and leaned on the many observations I've made with my daughter and her friends on the spectrum. Natalie is--of course--her own unique person; she is not a re-creation of anyone I know.

I hope that some of these suggestions spark ideas for how you can make your research process fun and effective!


Friday, September 1, 2017

And the winner of the Name the Town contest is...

A quick update to my Name the Town Contest. There were many great entries, but the winner of Brooke's fictional hometown is...

Azalea Springs!

The judges felt like this name captured Fade To Us, with its cheerful, Southern small town feeling. Thanks (and prizes) go to Marcia A. for suggesting it!

I'd also like to include the official jacket copy (aka "blurb") for the book. It's been an interesting process trying to get the description of this book just right. We want to make the book sound intriguing without giving too much away.  So here it is:



Fade To Us is a story about found families, the bond of sisterhood, and the agony and awe of first love.

Brooke’s summer is going to be EPIC--having fun with her friends and a job that lets her buy a car. Then her new stepfather announces his daughter is moving in. Brooke has always longed for a sibling, so she’s excited about spending more time with her stepsister. But she worries, too. Natalie has Asperger’s--and Brooke’s not sure how to be the big sister that Natalie needs.

After Natalie joins a musical theater program, Brooke sacrifices her job to volunteer for the backstage crew. She’s mostly there for Natalie, but Brooke soon discovers how much she enjoys being part of the show. Especially sweet is the chance to work closely with charming and fascinating Micah--the production’s stage manager. If only he wasn’t Natalie’s mentor…

When summer comes to an end, will Brooke finally have the family she so desperately wants–and the love she’s only dreamed about?


So...that's it for now. We should have Advance Reader Copies (ARCs) in the next month or two. As opportunities become available for ARC giveaways, I'll post here.

Saturday, August 26, 2017

Contest to name the fictional NC town in Fade To Us

I'm having a contest to name the heroine's hometown in my next book, Fade To Us.


The terms:
  • The name must be fictional (so please do a search for the town's name in North Carolina before suggesting.)
  • Suggestions must be submitted by Thursday, 31 Aug 2017, at 11:59 pm EST.
  • A distinguished panel of judges (aka my family) will help me to select the winning town name. Their decision is completely subjective, impervious to outside influence, and utterly final.
  • If more than one entrant suggests the same name, the entrant who suggests first (based on date/timestamp of entry) will be awarded the prize.
  • You may submit your suggested town name via email (julia@juliaDay.com), twitter, or as a comment on this blog.
  • You may enter more than once.

The prize:
  • Only one prize will be awarded.
  • The winning suggestion will be used as the name of the fictional hometown for my heroine, Brooke, in the book Fade To Us.
  • The prize winner will be thanked on the Acknowledgements page of the book.
  • The prize winner will receive the first signed copy of an ARC of Fade To Us (which should be available in October or November.) USA and Canada addresses only.
no mods made; license link is https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/legalcode
Raven Rock State Park, photo by Selena NBH

A little more about the setting, to inspire you:
  • This fictional town is located in the middle of the state, also known as The Heart of Carolina. Names with beach or mountain are not likely to be chosen.
  • My heroine's hometown is small and located in a mostly rural area. However, people are beginning to move there from cities like Raleigh and Fayetteville--because the commute is doable.
  • This fictional town is located near a gorgeous state park, Raven Rock State Park (see image to the upper left.) This is a beautiful part of North Carolina!
  • Themes in the book include musical theater, autism/Asperger's, blended families, and baseball.
  • For what it's worth, towns in North Carolina often end with -ville, -ton, or -boro.

I look forward to your ideas, and thank you!

Wednesday, August 23, 2017

And now she leaves the nest



"...there really are places in the heart
that you don't even know exist
until you love a child."
- Anne Lamott

After 25 years of being a mom, I'm finally, really-and-truly going to have an empty nest.

I can hardly believe it. My girls have been with me or near me for so many years that I can barely remember my life before. OlderDaughter went to college nearby, lives only 20 miles away, and works at the same company that I do. BabyGirl attended a college that was a mere 8 miles away--and her apartment was a whopping one mile further than that.


But this weekend, she moves to New England--a distance of almost 700 miles--to attend graduate school. Now don't get me wrong, I am proud of her. Delighted for her! Contrary to what she might believe, the world will be a better place because of the energy, determination, and heart that she is putting into her chosen vocation.

Yet it's hard to see her go. To watch her spread her wings. To know that my job is mostly done.

I began my career as a YA author, in part, to hold conversations with my daughters. When lectures failed to communicate my hopes and fears for them, I found a way to show them how I felt by telling stories.

Today's technology has made communication so much easier than when I was spreading my wings. After I left the nest, it was a challenge for my mother to stay in touch. That won't be true for me. I can call, text, Skype, and chat any time of day or night. I can fly to BabyGirl's side in a matter of hours--if she asks. But from this week forward, life will forever be different. Exactly the way it's supposed to be.

I'll miss her. Fortunately, I'm confident that distance is no match for a mother's love.


"But kids don't stay with you if you do it right.
It's the one job where, the better you are,
the more surely you won't be needed in the long run."
- Barbara Kingsolver 


Thursday, August 17, 2017

Always there - diversity

When authors write YA novels, there are many aspects that we're all trying to achieve: a well-written story with a good plot and interesting settings.

For me, the most important aspect is to have realistic characters who struggle with relatable problems. Including diverse characters simply reflects the people I meet in my daily life or the lives of my family.

I have a day job at a software company. We're located in the middle of a region with many universities and technical companies. People come here from all over the globe to get college degrees--and they stay to work. When my daughters were in their teens, they attended urban magnet schools with diverse student bodies. They're now in their 20s, with diverse colleagues or university classmates.

Ethnic, cultural, economic, religious, gender, and physical diversity has always been around me. The characters in my books grow out of the world I live in. Sometimes, I make it clear that a character is biracial or Hindu or experiences life differently. And sometimes, the diversity is just there without being explicitly called out.

With contemporary characters, I start by researching them through books, films, websites, and blog posts. I ask questions either online or through interviews. I've also begun to seek sensitivity readers--people who are intimately familiar with the differences I'm writing about.

Whisper Falls series: For people in the 18th century (and throughout history), physical disabilities were devastating, especially for women. In A Whisper in Time, Susanna's sister Phoebe sustains a serious hand injury that will threaten her livelihood. In Whispers from the Past, Susanna's dearest friend Dorcas may never be able to attract a husband because she is "crippled".

I Wish series: I interviewed a biracial friend who helped me to create the backstory for Eli--who has a black mother and white father. In book 2, Kimberley's memory disability is a major conflict. We did extensive research of people with memory disabilities--and received a sensitivity read of Wishing for You from a nurse who cared for patients with brain injuries.

The Possibility of Somewhere - Ash Gupta is the son of wealthy Asian Indian immigrants. I was fortunate that Indian colleagues and friends were generous with their patience and time to answer my questions about what Ash's life might have been like.

 Fade to Us - My next book, Fade to Us, releases in February 2018 (writing as Julia Day). This story is set during a summer musical theater program for teens, with a Chinese director and her biracial son (Chinese and white). A Chinese friend and her two biracial teen sons helped me with these two characters. Another Chinese friend gave a sensitivity read. However, the biggest role that diversity plays in this book comes from the heroine's new stepsister. Natalie is a 15-year-old on the autism spectrum. My daughter, who also has Asperger's Syndrome, helped with Natalie's character development and speech. My daughter is the sensitivity reader for this book.

It's my hope to portray a character's diversity as authentically and respectfully as possible. But truly, a character's personality comes from their background, faith, family, education, life experiences--and their differences. All must work together to form a complete, interesting, sympathetic character.

Thursday, July 27, 2017

Always there - technology

A loose definition of technology might be "the ways in which a society uses its collective knowledge and skills to produce goods and services." Or more simply, the "tools" we use to get stuff done.

Historical authors have to research the technologies in place in the time and setting of the book. Fortunately, though, those technologies are not a moving target. A millenium or two ago, people had hammers and wheels and fire--and not much else. Once the author learned what was available in the historical period, she could remain confident about writing their books based on her research.

In the 21st century, technology is exploding at such a rapid pace that a book can be outdated before it reaches bookstores. I am constantly having to decide how to refer to things, like what should I call a phone? Smartphone, mobile, cell, landline? How quickly will a term go out of use? I often use a general term, like "phone", that will likely work for many years to come.

Really, though, it's only natural for books to include technology. Since it's the way we get things done, then it's also the way our (realistic) characters do too. The trick for the author is to get real technology correct--or to get made-up technology believable.

Here are some ways that technology appears in my stories.

Whisper Falls - In Susanna's half of the story, the most cutting edge technology is the grist mill. In the US, the third patent ever issued by the US Patent Office was for a milling system. Susanna's master installs one of those systems--and it nearly ruins him financially.

I Wish - Lacey's story points out how the lack of technology can affect a family. Because they need the money, Lacey sells off their phones and computers. She has a difficult time getting homework done--because she doesn't have a laptop at home to help.

Wishing for You - Kimberley has a memory disability. This book describes all of the technology that she has to use in order to remain safe, to remember details, and to track what she's done in the past and will be doing in the future. Kimberley has become dependent on her technology, and that concerns her.

The Possibility of Somewhere - Like Lacey, Eden's family is too poor to have computers and smartphones. When Eden needs access to computers, she depends on her high schools computer lab or media center.

Fade to Us (releasing in Feb 2018) - The heroine, Brooke, is from a middle class family. Her family members have computers and phones. Her stepfather is a geospatial engineer; his business is immersed in new and expensive technologies for mapping terrain. Brooke earns income by managing websites and doing data analysis on spreadsheets of data. In this book, technology really does match its definition: it's how Brooke and her stepfather use their knowledge and skills to produce services.

Thursday, July 20, 2017

Whisper Falls is included in a giveaway of Historical Romance eBooks. Two grand-prize winners will receive all 23 ebooks.  There will be 23 other winners who will receive one randomly-selected ebook from the list.

So what's the catch?  People who enter must be willing to have their email address shared with all 23 authors. Authors will invite each entrant to subscribe to their newsletter mailing list. The entrant can simply ignore (or refuse) the invitation.

So if you know any readers who love historical romance and enjoy discovering new authors, here is a great opportunity.


Win up to 22+ Historical Romance eBooks!

(2) Grand Prize "Gift Baskets" of ALL eBooks!
(22+) Winners of Individual eBooks (randomly selected titles)