Author * Speaker * Editor

Excellent storytelling, accurate historical reporting, and gritty, persevering characters

May 22, 2015

The Story behind the Story with James Callan and Over My Dead Body

Welcome, James! It’s good to have you with us this week. I’m excited to learn a little bit about your book, Over My Dead Body. Can you tell us what true event inspired this story?

James: The Keystone Pipeline, meant to carry racover-OverMyDeadBodyw petroleum products from Canada to the Gulf coast of Texas has been in the news frequently over the past three years. In fact, it is still a point of conflict between the Congress and the President.

It became a point of conflict for me several years ago when a Keystone representative informed us that the pipeline would cross our land. Their plan was to clear cut a swath of land one hundred and fifty feet wide and about a third of a mile long across our land. This meant bulldozing down thousands of hundred-foot tall pine trees and forty year-old oak and hickory trees. We argued, fought, resisted. But, the court had issued an eminent domain order giving the private company the right to do just that.

I decided I would write a book touching on the problems of eminent domain usage for private companies. I write murder mysteries for the most part. And as I thought about using the Keystone Pipeline as the backdrop for my novel, several points came to mind. First, I was unaware of any murder associated with the many protests citizens made over Keystone. Second, I did not want to bring in a real company where I might face a legal battle over what I included in the book. And third, I wanted the leeway to put in whatever I wanted to, without casting a shadow over real people and companies.

To my knowledge, Keystone had done nothing illegal. To me, the problem was in the way eminent domain had been subverted over the years. That was a failing of the courts to protect private property rights. I did not want to imply that Keystone had anything to do with that.


So, Over My Dead Body had its genesis from the problem eminent domain had visited on me. But the book would not address my particular interaction with it. The book would be a work of complete fiction.

Over My Dead Body released last week in both paper and Kindle editions. It has received many very favorable reviews, as did the first book in the Father Frank Mysteries, Cleansed by Fire. The pipeline has crossed our land. No one was murdered. Except the trees. The loss of the trees was difficult for my wife and I. But, if one looks on the bright side of things, I have gotten a very good book out of it – the silver lining, you might say.

And that’s the story behind the story.


Liz: Thanks, James! That’s very interesting. With a degree in English, James intended to write. But writing would not support a family. So, he entered a Ph.D. program in the field of mathematics. This led him on a forty-year detour which included serving as a consultant at the Aerospace Research Laboratory in Dayton, Ohio, and the Water Resources Authority for the State of Oklahoma, a fifteen year career at a research center, and twenty years as VP of Technology for a data base company.

Along the way, he received grants from the National Science Foundation, The National Aviation and Space Administration (NASA), and the Data Processing Managers Association. He has been listed in Who’s Who in Computer Science, and Two Thousand Notable Americans.

He has four published non-fiction books and five published mystery/suspense novels. All of his mystery/suspense novels have been released in both print and e-pub editions. Two of those have also been released as audio books. One of the audio books reached number seven on the Books in Motion list. Two of his novels took first place honors in contests.

James and his wife, Earlene, split their time between their home in the middle of a forest in east Texas, and their condo on the beach in Puerto Vallarta, Mexico.

You can contact James at

Callan’s website:

Callan’s blog:

Callan’s author page on Amazon:

And you can buy his books here:

Over My Dead Body – Kindle

Over My Dead Body – paperback

May 15, 2015

The Story behind When Dawn Breaks by Jennifer Slattery

I’m very excited to announce a new feature to my blog. So many of you have been interested in the stories behind my stories, I thought it would be fun to take a peek behind other books and find out what real people, places or events inspired them.

Our very first guest is Jennifer Slattery. Her book, When Dawn Breaks, released in January. She takes us behind the scenes to discover what inspired her to write this book.




  1. What true person inspired When Dawn Breaks?

My latest release was inspired by a person and an event. When we lived in Kansas City (we have since moved), there was a woman at our church who, though single and older, felt God call her to foster care. Rather than focus on her fears, insecurities, or all the reasons she shouldn’t answer God’s call, she said yes, and the results have been beautiful. I was so inspired by this woman, I wanted to pattern a character after her, only I wanted to take things a step further. I wondered, what if my heroine was not only single and older but was a new believer and had major regrets from her past? Could God use her, a woman who felt as if she’d failed her own child, to bring hope to someone else’s?

2. What intrigued you enough about this event and person to write about it?

As to the event, in When Dawn Breaks, a hurricane is the catalyst for action, and thrusts Jacqueline into a chaotic and need-filled environment. She’s forced to woman up, in a sense, and be Christ to storm refugees, an act that at times is frightening and uncomfortable. This portion of the novel stemmed from our family’s encounters with Katrina victims. We lived in Louisiana when Katrina hit, and though we were far enough from the touch down to remain unaffected personally, many who were affected flooded our community. It was a crazy, chaotic time with everyone scrambling to help. Churches were hosting people in their basements, people thronged our local library, stores sent boxes of non-perishables to churches and other places. Our church even put five families up in mobile homes.

At the time, watching the chaos, seeing the brokenness all around me, a story began to form of a family forced to reconcile while seeking shelter from a hurricane. Though I didn’t write that story until years later, When Dawn Breaks came from that initial niggling.


The author with the woman who inspired When Dawn Breaks

3. Wow, that’s so amazing. Why incorporate a true event and person into your story?

I think everything writers write have some mingling of truth, for as the cliché goes, we write what we know. And this event really impacted me—to see so many believers sacrificially serve and give, for months! To see so many churches come together to help their fellow man. Though it was a devastating time, it was also a beautiful time because it was such a clear picture of God’s love and grace, poured out through His children.

4. What was the most difficult part of writing a story based in fact?

The hardest part about writing this novel was the portions relating to foster care, because rules and procedures in the foster care industry change from state to state. And there were so many technical details I wasn’t aware of until I began writing. Luckily, my sister has worked in the foster care industry for quite a while, in numerous states, and helped me with all that.

5. Did you get any helpful advice?

Initially, I wanted to leave out a specific location, because of what I mentioned in the previous question, but my editor felt readers needed to be better grounded in setting, and that naming at least the state would help them in that regard. So, that’s what I did, centering the story on sections of Texas and Louisiana I lived in during Katrina.

6. Can you give us a little synopsis of the story?

How about if I give you the text from the back cover of the book?

As the hurricane forces Jacqueline to evacuate, her need for purpose and restitution propel her north to her estranged and embittered daughter and into the arms of a handsome new friend. However, he’s dealing with own issues, including a potential conspiracy at work, one that could cost him everything, and Jacqueline isn’t sure if he will be the one she can lean on during the difficult days ahead. Then there are the three orphans to consider, especially Gavin. Must she relinquish her chance at having love again in order to be restored?

Jennifer Slattery writes soul-stirring fiction for New Hope Publishers, a publishing house passionate about bringing God’s healing grace and truth to the hopeless. She also writes for, Internet Café Devotions, and the group blog, Faith-filled Friends. When not writing, Jennifer loves going on mall dates with her teenage daughter and coffee dates with her handsome railroader husband.

Visit with Jennifer online at JenniferSlatteryLivesOutLoud. 

Her debut novel, Beyond I Do, is currently on sale at Amazon for under $4 (print and kindle version)! You can get that here:

Read a free, 36-page excerpt of When Dawn Breaks here:

You can buy a copy here:

On Amazon:

On Barnes and Noble:


Thanks for stopping by!  Have you ever been inspired by someone in your church? Tell us about it!





April 27, 2015
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April 27, 1945 in Berlin, Germany

From my novel Daisies Are Forever:
April 27
From the cellar, Mitch and the other residents listened to the rounds of gunfire outside the window. Across the room, Frau Mueller’s lips moved in silent petition. Gisela sat next to him on the bench. He squeezed her hand.

He hadn’t been this frightened in Belgium or France. Perhaps wanting a future with this woman changed his outlook. Or being responsible for nine others, all of them helpless.

Yes, helpless. God would have to save them.     More Stalinorgels. Only God could save them.

They picked at their food, though they now had a few supplies. No one spoke much. Hour after hour, they sat in the dank semidarkness of the lower level, wondering if they would die in the next instant.

Renate had never sucked her thumb so vigorously.

The day wore on. Gisela dozed on his shoulder. He stared out of the window.

A wild screech, almost like the American Indian calls Mitch had seen in the motion pictures, pierced the air. The style of boots remained the same, though now the pants were greener. A few feet were wrapped in nothing but rags.     Gisela sat up straight at the yelling.

A tank rolled past the window, down the narrow street.

Mitch pushed to his feet and gazed out the small, dirty pane of glass. The faces of the men in the tank were not German. Their greasy hair was black and stuck straight out of their fur ushanka hats. Their dark, slanted eyes gave away their ethnic origin.

He had difficulty drawing a breath. He clenched his jaw.     Gisela stepped behind him. “Mongols,” she whispered, shuddering.

They watched the foreign troops process down the road. For the people on this street, the war had ended. They were now in Russian-occupied territory.

March 24, 2015

Trip to Georgia

I’ve been home for over two weeks now, and I’m just getting to posting my pictures from our trip to Georgia. Sorry about that. Life has been crazy. I’m sure I don’t have to tell any of you that.

Anyway, it was an amazing trip. Alyssa wasn’t feeling well before we went. I’m afraid she was kind of miserable the first couple of days. Still, it was great having her as a traveling companion. She kept me company and held my hand on take off. That’s why I can’t fly alone!

My friend picked me up in Jacksonville. It was 84! She laughed when I stopped, opened the front flap of my suitcase, and pulled out my sandals. Wow, it felt good to slip them on! Our flight from Atlanta to Jacksonville was delayed, so we were about 1 1/2 hours later than we thought. Since they don’t feed you on the plane anymore, we stopped at a restaurant along the way. It was true Southern cooking! We enjoyed fish, and I had hushpuppies again for the first time in many, many years. I know, they’re not gluten-free, but it was worth it all. They were delicious.

One thing we discovered, is that in the South, you get two sides with all of your meals. We ate well while we were down there. Probably too well. It was all delicious. Anyway, after we ate, we made our way to our hotel. The other woman who was putting the speech together met us at the hotel with a great big welcome basket. By big, I mean big. It was loaded with chips, and chocolate, and granola bars, and socks, and hand sanitizer, and I could go on and on. What a great welcome! Pure Southern hospitality!

The next day, I went to speak at their homeschool group. They had a great crew there. The kids were enthusiastic, and I really enjoyed speaking to them. There were several who were rather interested in writing, so I was able to share some tips with them. I love it when I get to meet young authors. It’s great to be able to encourage them.

That afternoon, we went out to lunch with several families from the group. There is a whole bunch of us, but we felt so welcomed and included. It was really a great time.




After a bit of rest, they took us out for dinner again. I don’t think I’ve ever eaten so much in my entire life. But it was so good, I couldn’t help myself. This time I had steak, with two sides, it was all delicious.

Saturday was the day I was really looking forward to. I wanted to let Alyssa sleep as long as she could, hoping that would help her to feel better. I sat in the breakfast room doing some research, and waiting for my cousin’s daughter. I hadn’t seen her since we were little girls. Never you mind how long ago that was. Anyway, she peeked around the corner, and I was so excited to see her. We hugged and cried and sat down and started to talk as if we had seen each other last week. We have so much in common, and it was just great to reconnect after so many years. I wish we lived closer together. We definitely won’t go another 40 years without seeing each other.

A little bit after that, my cousin and his wife arrived. I had seen him about five years ago, but his wife I never remember meeting. We all sat and talked and shared funny stories about her family. Alyssa came. I told her she could text my friends daughter and they could hang out if they wanted to, but she wanted to stay with us and hear the old family stories. Warms the mother’s heart to hear that. I love talking to my cousin because he remembers my grandparents much better than I do. He told some stories I had never heard before. He also told about Penny the dog. Everyone in my family tells that story. We’ve heard it about 1000 times. It still hilarious though.


Time flew by. We went out to lunch (yes, I had two sides), and before we knew it, it was time for my cousin to leave. I’ll tell you, I didn’t want that day to end. We were having so much fun, time got away from us, and I didn’t have too much of a chance to get ready for my speech. Fortunately I had everything just about ready. We went to the church and got set up. My friend and her friend did such a magnificent job. The social hall was beautiful, and they put together a great program. There was a praise band, and they had so many door prizes.
My speech went very well. I pray that it was uplifting and beneficial to the hearers. I was so glad that my cousin’s daughter was able to stay and hear the speech, since these are her family stories, too. We were pretty exhausted but also very happy by the time he got back to the hotel.
I was able to have breakfast with my cousin’s daughter before she had to be on her way home. What a sweet, sad parting. We enjoy church with our friends, and a pizza party afterwards. Even managed to get me a gluten-free, dairy free pizza. After my friend and her daughters packed up, we headed back to Jacksonville.

Along the way, we stopped at Jekyll Island. It’s just off the coast of Georgia. It’s so beautiful. They took us to a beach where there is lots of driftwood. Alyssa Knight even put our feet in the Atlantic Ocean. It was chilly, but still not as cold as Lake Michigan. She wants to have her senior pictures taken there. We may have to arrange a summer vacation there in a couple of years.







Leaving that place and as people is very hard. I think we may have found the place where we want to be snowbirds when we get older. Alyssa and I enjoyed their hospitality so very much. They were so kind and warm to us. We really appreciated it.


I hope this hasn’t gone on too long. It must be like sitting through somebody’s vacations pictures. Actually, it is sitting through my vacation pictures. Anyway, I wanted to share with you the very special weekend that I had. I honestly think it will go down as one of the most memorable trips I’ve ever taken.

February 19, 2015

Answers to the Trivia Questions from Tonight’s Party

Thank you to all who stopped by my Facebook party tonight. What a fun time! Hope you enjoyed it as well. To those of you who missed it, I’m sorry you did! Please join us next time!

Caitlin from Litfuse, who did such a wonderful job putting together the party and handling everything on the technical end, asked me to post the answers to the trivia questions. So, here they are. How did you do?

Is Irene’s aunt named Lisa? False

Is the Santo Tomas internment camp in Hong Kong? False

Was Rand a nightclub owner? True

Was Rand a member of the military? False

Was “Chattanooga Choo Choo” a popular song at the time? True

Is pizza my favorite food? False (that would be chocolate!)

Do I own a dog? True

Do I have five children? False

Do I like gardening? True.

Thanks so much for playing along! Congratulations to the winners!


February 10, 2015

Walking the Straight and Narrow

I love going to our cabin in the winter, because I walk my dog in the woods then. In the summer, there are too many bugs and ticks.

I like to be able to let her walk off leash. She does well. She loves to romp ahead of me and stays on the path most of the time. She wags her tail and has a grand time. When we come to a fork in the road, she stops and looks at me as if to say, “Which way, Mom?”
Sometimes she runs ahead of me a little too far, but if I tell her to stop, she waits for me,  always looking back at me. Every now and again, she decides to go her own way. There are too many other interesting things to see that aren’t on the path. Even when I call to her, she ignores me. She is too busy doing her own exploring to listen. At those times, I have to go and bring her back.

Our walks have made me think. Often, I am much like my dog. I obey my Master’s call most of the time. I frequently stop, and look back, and ask the way.

Other times, however, I am stubborn. I run too far ahead. The Master needs to tell me to stop and wait for Him. Sometimes I listen. Sometimes I don’t.

And all too frequently, I go my own way. It’s difficult to stay on the right path. Temptations lure me from the way I know I should follow – too many bright and shiny things in the world. Even when my Master calls me, I ignore His voice. He has to come and lead me back to the right path.

My prayer is that I will learn to walk alongside my Master and to heed his voice. I am so thankful that He is not willing to let me wander far from the way I should go.

How has the Lord led you?

February 3, 2015

Interview with Santo Tomas Survivor Sascha Jansen – part 3

1. Were you ever afraid you wouldn’t be liberated?

“No. Beginning in September 1944, the Americans started bombing different targets in Manila. We knew they landed in Leyete in October. We knew they were on their way. The talk always was, ‘When our boys get here.’ My mother had a little bit of lipstick left. She was saving it for ‘when our boys get here.’ When the Americans arrived, she wouldn’t go see them until she had put on her lipstick.”

2. What kinds of food did you fantasize about?

“Food was all we thought about. We talked about nothing other than food. Every night, my family would play a game where we would order food. I would order pork chops. My brother and sister would say that’s what they wanted to, but then they would ask what are pork chops? My sister never remembered good food, and my brother had nothing other than lugao in his life. People would obsess about food. That’s all they ever talked about. Women put together cookbooks. Not being able to taste the food, they would create recipes with crazy ingredients.”

3. Did your parents eat less so that you could have more?
“Yes. Though my father worked in the kitchen, we weren’t able to get extra. He made sure that people didn’t steal anything. He was very fair. We had to wait in line at the chow hall with everyone else.  My father would give you an extra spoonful. We didn’t realize that he was hungry, too. By the end, my mother weighed only 78 pounds. She used to weigh 148. My father had to carry her to see the Americans when they arrived. She was very close to dying.”

4. What was it like when the Americans arrived?
“It was very exciting. You can imagine the thrill. I was watching him an upstairs window. The ground began to shake. Then the tank with its searchlight broke through the gate. We couldn’t believe that our boys had finally come. We had to go down to see them. We had to touch the tank. They gave us candy, and we ate it until we had diarrhea. We didn’t sit down all night.”

5. How long was it until you were able to return to America?

“The Battle of Manila went on for a month after we were liberated. We couldn’t go anywhere then. It was too dangerous. In the middle of March, we were flown to Leyte. It was in the middle of a typhoon. From there, we were put on a ship to America. We stopped in Hawaii, but didn’t get off the boat. We arrived in San Francisco just around the time President Roosevelt died.”

Sascha (second from left), her father, mother, brother Walter, and sister Doris aboard the USS Admiral W. L. Capps on their way home to the US.


Ms. Jansen’s family settled in California. She is very active in civilian ex-POW causes. It is very important to her that this story be told, and that it be told accurately. She is currently in Manila, celebrating the 70th anniversary of the liberation of the Santo Thomas camp.
I want to thank Ms. Jansen for agreeing to this interview and for all the time that she spent with me helping me to get the details of Remember the Lilies just right.

February 2, 2015

Interview with Santo Tomas survivor Sascha Jansen – Part 2

Today, we continue our interview with Santo Tomas Internment Camp survivor Sascha Weinzheimer Jansen. In this post, we’re going to talk about everyday life in the camp. If you missed part 1 of the interview, you can catch up here.

What was it like going to school in the camp?

“I only went to school there for a little while. At first, classes were held out under the trees. That was fine. I contracted polio when I was 18 months, so I wasn’t able to climb the stairs to the classroom when they moved it to a higher floor of the building, so I stopped going to school. My mother had taught me at home before we came to the camp, and she continued my education inside, too. Every day, she had me write down what was happening. I had to hide my diary. It would be dangerous if the Japanese found it.  I liked to draw pictures, too. And I would take my book outside and sit under the shade of the big taro plant leaves and read.”

Sascha surrounded by some of the pictures she drew in the camp.

A drawing of the outdoor kitchens at Santo Tomas that now hangs in Sascha Jansen’s home.

You can read some of Sascha’s diary entries here.

Do you have any happy memories of the time?

“We had happy times there. We were together as a family, and that was good.”

Did you ever get sick?

“There was so much disease in the camp. We had measles. I had both bacillary and amoebic dysentery. Everyone had dysentery. I had dengue fever. They called it break-bone fever because that’s what if feels like – your bones are breaking. The pain is terrible.”

What was  a birthday celebration like?

“We entered the camp in February 1943, just a few days after my 10th birthday. We were liberated on February 3, 1945, just a few days before my 12th birthday, so I only spent one birthday in the camp. I was sick then, so it wasn’t much of a birthday celebration. And there wasn’t much to do about a celebration, because there wasn’t food, and there were no gifts.”

January 30, 2015
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Interview with Santo Tomas Survivor Sascha Jansen

I had the privilege of interviewing Ms. Sascha Weinzheimer Jansen, a Santo Tomas Internment Camp survivor, while I was writing Remember the Lilies. It was such a highlight for me. She was gracious enough to spend yet another hour on the phone with me as she was preparing to travel to Manila for the 70th anniversary celebration of the liberation of the camp on February 3rd. This is the first of a three part interview. I will post part 2 on Monday and part 3 on release day, the 70th anniversary .

Sascha and her brother inside the camp.

Thank you for joining us, Ms. Jansen. We’re so glad to have your perspective on the war and on the Santo Tomas camp. It’s important to both of us to make sure future generations hear the true story of what happened 70 years ago.

How old were you when you entered the camp?

“I was 8 years old when the war started, but I didn’t enter the camp right away. My brother was three months old, and the Japanese didn’t make nursing mothers enter the camp at first. We were able to stay at a convent. Only my father had to go. Once a month, we would go to register and we could see him and bring him food. Eventually, though, things became bad on the outside. Food was harder to get, and we were afraid of the Japanese soldiers. We thought it would be best to be with my father, so we joined him after about a year, just around my 10th birthday.”

What members of your family were with you?

“It was my mother, my father, my sister, my brother and myself. I also had an aunt and an uncle in the camp, so I did have family there.”

Why were you living in the Philippines at the time?

“My family was from Hawaii. My grandfather ran a sugar plantation there. The company also had a sugar plantation in the Philippines, so he went to work there around the turn of the 20th century. My father worked at the same place, and that’s where I lived. By the time of the war, my grandfather had returned to California. We had a very comfortable life there.”

How did you feel about going into the camp?

“Because my father was inside and we were outside for that first year, it was really a sense of relief to get into the camp. We were all able to be together as a family again, and that was good. It was scary on the outside, and we felt safer in the camp with my father. I don’t remember being afraid about being in the camp.”

Where did you live in the beginning?

“At first, we lived in a building called the Annex. That’s where mothers with small children were. We were in a room with thirty other mothers and children. There was a lot of disease because of the close quarters.

Arial view of Santo Tomas. The large building is the Main Building. Behind it, on the right, you can see the building shaped like a backwards C is the Annex. You can also see some of the shanties.

My father built a shanty, about 10 feet by 11 feet, and he was able to stay there, but we weren’t. The shanty was made of sawali mats – bamboo reeds woven together – and a thatched roof. The floor was made of bamboo strips, and the shanty was on stilts. After a while, the women and children could stay there, too. We had to have a hole in the side so that the couples didn’t do anything the Japanese didn’t like.

A closer look at the shanties.

“The hut was small. We had a little sink with a hole that went to the outside. There was a table with chairs. My parents had a mattress to sleep on, sort of on this platform. After a while, I had a mattress, too.”

Look for part 2 on life in the camp on Monday.

January 29, 2015

Pre-Party Fun: What Would You Dream of Eating?

Three weeks from today, I’ll be hosting a super-fun party on my Facebook page with a bunch of great giveaways. With five days to go until the release of Remember the Lilies, I thought we’d have a little bit of fun. Each Thursday for the next three weeks, I’ll post a tidbit from life at Santo Tomas Internment Camp. At the end, I’ll ask a question. You may either answer the question here on my blog or over at my Facebook page. The following Wednesday, I’ll pick a winner from all the commenters to win a great prize! This week’s prize is a great package from Leelin Filipino Bakery.

I posted a few weeks ago about what the food situation was like at Santo Tomas. You can read the post here. The people were starving to death, surviving on about 700 calories a day. One of the favorite things to do in the camp during those horrible times was to talk about food. Not just talk about food, but obsess about it. Conversations centered around food. It was all the people could think about.

And they didn’t just think about it – they made up their own recipes. There was no way to cook the meals or to taste if they were any good, so they would list ingredients that would never go together. All in the pursuit to calm their rumbling stomachs. And they wrote down their recipes. Many women left the camp with new recipe books. If anything in the books was palatable, we don’t know.

What food would you most fantasize about if you were starving to death? If you could eat one dish, what would it be? And let’s have some fun. Post your recipe or a link to the recipe. Perhaps we can all come away with a few new dishes to try!

This is one of my family’s favorite Filipino dishes, Adobo.

3-4 pounds chicken legs/thighs (I’ve used boneless/skinless chicken breasts. They work, they’re just drier.)

1/2 cup Datu Puti or cane vinegar (DON”T use regular. You can find this at a better grocery store or an Asian grocer)

1/2 cup soy sauce

3 bay leaves

4 cloves garlic

Brown chicken, drain fat, and set aside. In a slow cooker, combine the Datu Puti, soy sauce, bay leaves, and garlic. Add chicken, stirring to coat. Cook on low heat for six hours. Serve over hot rice. It will fall off the bone and be absolutely delicious!

I can’t wait to read all of your yummy recipes!