Ruth Ann's current book, Polka Dot Feathers, is a cozy mystery set in South Africa. Accused of murder and desperate to keep the child she found wandering in the streets near her home, Ellie Lombard hunts down the real killer.
Read the article below by Ellie to see how she came into being.
A Character in Africa
My name is Ellie Lombard and I have a confession to make. I started life as a cardboard character. Ho-hum. Shallow. Flat. Even I found myself boring. Not once did I lift off the pages Ruth Ann typed.
Who’s Ruth Ann? Oh, that’s Ruth Ann Dell, my creator. I’m the protagonist in her cozy mystery, Polka Dot Feathers. Ruth Ann lives in South Africa, so her characters and setting started out South African. That was part of the problem. Not only did she want me to come to life, but she needed Americans to identify with me because she was targeting the Christian fiction market in their country.
“I have to write what I know,” she explained. “That’s what my writing books tell me. Now Ellie, if you’d just get real and . . .”
I sank through a monotony of pixels on her computer screen to a state of blissful slumber.
“The trouble with you is that you have a stiff upper lip,” Ruth Ann said when I surfaced again several days later.
Well now, what else did she expect? My face was made of cardboard.
“You don’t care about anything! You never laugh, cry, stamp or shout. In fact, you never do anything at all. Between your lack of response and your deadpan face, you’re a dead loss,” she said.
Ruth Ann decided she had to find a way to bring me to life. One of the challenges she faced was the lack of resources for Christian writers in South Africa. There were no conferences where she could go to learn her craft. Outside the virtual world she had nowhere to meet writers, agents and editors. However, she did have access to the Internet, and while I napped, she spent many hours searching it for help. She found blogs, international critique groups and other online loops which helped her develop her craft.
As she put her new found skills to work, I sparked and tingled. A slew of emotions and sensations coursed through my body. They animated me and jerked me out of my lethargy. One day I caught sight of myself in a mirror. Yuk! I looked so scruffy in my old PJs that I wore day and night. After that I got up and dressed every day. I also discovered I had a talent for making earrings, so I made a new pair to wear every day. Ruth Ann admired my new jewelry. I experimented with materials like tiny keys, knobs of driftwood, stripy porcupine quills and white spotted guinea fowl feathers. Oh I had fun!
Her next step was to join an online group, the American Fellowship of Christian Writers. What a difference this made. She now had writer friends, fellowship and a wealth of information, help and online workshops. She spent hours at her computer, reading and learning more and more.
This went on for months until one day I burst out “Why are you reading all the time? You should be writing! You know I’m going to be stuck in jail if I don’t find the murderer soon––that detective thinks I did it.”
There was a hush for several seconds, then she exclaimed, “Ellie, you’ve come to life! You’re right, I have to finish your story. Then we’ll look for a publisher in America.”
“America? Why not here?”
Ruth Ann slumped back in her chair. “I looked in our Bible book shop last week. There were shelves and shelves of novels. Only four titles were written and published here, and they were translated from Afrikaans. All the rest came from America. We have to aim for the American market.”
A time of intense research followed. Several people in the know, including an acquisitions editor, told Ruth Ann she could set her book in South Africa, but if she was writing for the American market, she had to make me a “transplanted American. Would this be possible? Could I become an American? Could Ruth Ann pull this off? After all, she had never set foot in America.
For a while we were daunted by this new challenge. Again the Internet proved to be an invaluable source of information. Ruth Ann plunged into the necessary research with the help of cyber and real life friends.
We discovered that I grew up in Ohio and met Steve, a South African, on the Internet. Steve and I emailed each other, became friends and eventually fell in love. I immigrated to South Africa as his bride. Ruth Ann also met some of my relatives who soon made themselves at home in her novel. Like my Aunt Vicky who’s coordinating the painting a string of quilt barns in Ohio.
I chanced to hear Ruth Ann chatting to Aunt Vicky this morning. “I love your quilt barn photos, Vicky. I’m going to put them into my book, they could even provide a clue to the identity of the murderer. I wonder what Ellie will think of that.”
I grin as I listen to their conversation. Hold on for a surprise when you see what happens in your book, Ruth Ann. I’m not cardboard any more, remember? I have my own ideas.