Those of us who hang out here at ICFW get to do a lot of armchair traveling, right? While many of us have done some international excursions, it's safe to guess none of us have been to all the countries represented by our authors and books.
I live in Canada and have been to many parts of the USA. I've also been to Bolivia, albeit many many years ago! I've traveled to a lot of other countries virtually, though.
I've been to Australia with Paula Vince and Narelle Atkins. I've been to Zambia and Finland with Marion Ueckermann. To England, France, and Scotland with Autumn Macarthur. Other places with others of you, and I love those connections!
My own fiction takes place in the USA and Canada, and to some of my readers stories set in Canada are as exotic as Africa. To me, they are "normal." Even my American-set tales are normal to me, as I live twenty minutes from my Farm Fresh Romance series' setting in northern Idaho. While I have to remember that some governmental and medical things will be handled differently there than at home, a farm is a farm and a romance is a romance.
Plum Upside Down, the fifth Farm Fresh Romance, I discovered that I not only had a character with itchy feet, but that he actually planned to go on a missions trip… during the story. Not only that, but he thought the heroine should go, too.
Wait! That wasn't in the script! Who gave these people—and I use that term lightly because, after all, they are fictitious!—permission to have minds of their own and direct the plot?
Uh, yeah. That's the agreement God and I made a while back about this whole controlling-the-plotline thing. I was never very good at it, frankly, so when God offered to take over, He easily convinced me He could do a better job. And besides, who doesn't like to ditch a job he or she is abysmal at?
I'm getting used to stories veering off into left field while I run behind them, trying to pretend I'm in control. But Plum Upside Down presented two major issues that had me trying to pull back those reins.
1. It turns out that Chelsea Riehl had a lot in common with my younger self. Although raised in a Christian home, a graduate of a Christian school, and a believer since a young age, she struggled to FEEL God's personal and passionate love to her. Oh, man. I did not want to go here with this story, but by the time I realized what part of left field God was sending Chelsea and me to, it was too late. So, this novel took me into deep parts of myself that I hadn't planned to expose for all the world to read.
2. That aforementioned thing where Keanan Welsh decided to head off to Africa on a missions trip. This became a wedge between him and Chelsea… and between the characters and the author.
This series takes place on Green Acres Farm in northern Idaho! The characters sign on to work this piece of land in community. I did not give Keanan permission to jaunt halfway around the world, but he went anyway.
I panicked. For a bunch of reasons, Bolivia—the only country outside of North America I'd ever been to—wasn't going to work for this story.
The story needed Africa.
…and I needed help!
And God provided what was needed. When I asked Marion Ueckermann for some information and direction, she responded with an enthusiastic affirmative. She read my early draft and corrected my (many) misconceptions about South Africa. She gave me other ideas where my originals simply couldn't be morphed to fit. Plus she provided another contact, her niece, who just so happened to have trained in the very hospital in Pretoria I needed, and to have worked in the ICU there.
Isn't it awesome when God does that? Sometimes He provides far and away more than I dreamed. As the story crosses over the Christmas season, I'd added a scene in the first draft where a group of carolers came to the hospital and sang for the patients and visitors. This could easily happen in any Canadian hospital.
Marion and Melanie said it was completely foreign to South Africa, but Melanie gave me a different idea. Apparently the nurses themselves often sing at shift change. Old hymns and Negro spirituals are common. Melanie agreed that the nurses might sing Christmas songs in those styles, so I was able to shift the scene in that direction instead.
Here's a video of nurses singing that I used as my inspiration. I had them sing Rise Up Shepherd and Follow in the story.
If you're interested in a novel that travels from stuck-in-a-rut Christianity to sold-out while traveling from Idaho to South Africa, pick up a copy of Plum Upside Down!
Interested in reading Plum Upside Down? I am offering one reader a copy (e-book only, worldwide). If you'd like to put your name in the hat, please add your email address with your comment before Saturday, August 22, replacing @ with (at) and .com with (dot) com.
"Void where prohibited; the odds of winning depend on the number of entrants. Entering the giveaway is considered a confirmation of eligibility on behalf of the enterer in accord with these rules and any pertaining local/federal/international laws."
Valerie Comer's life on a small farm in western Canada provides the seed for stories of contemporary inspirational romance. Like many of her characters, Valerie and her family grow much of their own food and are active in the local food movement as well as their church. She only hopes her creations enjoy their happily ever afters as much as she does hers, shared with her husband, adult kids, and adorable granddaughters.