Stories, please

Like everyone else, I am staying home. Or trying to. There was a doctor appointment, and a trip to the car dealership to check on an engine warning light.  And I had to pick up a prescription.

But mostly, staying home. Connecting with others via telephone, Facebook, texting, and Zoom.

Doing a lot of cross stitch, basket weaving, and Solitaire. Watching TV. Reading.

Today I went outside and raked up sweet gum balls,and dragged limbs into a pile to be taken to the curb. Me against nature. I’m not sure who is winning.

A few days ago I wondered what I could do to help others. I know parents have their children at home, and possibly both parents are trying to work from home as well as make sure their children keep up with their lessons. But what about when said children are bored and whining that they have nothing to do?

The Swineherd and his magic kettle

 

I remembered that I used to read stories to my children and grandchildren. There doesn’t seem to be any substitute for curling up on Mom’s or Granny’s lap and listening to a story.

I remembered the stories I loved to listen to or read when I was a child. And so I dug out the faded and tattered copy of Andersen’s Fairy Tales. No copyright issues here, Andersen’s most loved fairy tale, The Mermaid, was first published in 1837.

So I set up my iPad on a table on the deck and began to read.

So far I have read six of his stories, some short, some long. Most have a somewhat happy ending. Andersen was not known for happy endings. Remember The Little Match girl or The Steadfast Tin Soldier?

Some are Christian allegories and filled with bloodshed. I even wondered about the soldier in The Tinderbox who murdered his benefactress with nary a glimmer of guilt. Or The Red Shoes, where poor Karen cuts off her own legs in order to stop dancing?

Then I realized something. What these children are living through today has nothing on Andersen’s most frightening tales.

I will continue to read, and leave it to the parents’ discretion as to whether their children can take a 200-year-old story of witches and goblins and kidnapping and whatever else the storyteller had in mind.

I read them all when I was a child, and it didn’t harm me. The world is a dangerous and often wicked place.

Our children know that.

You can find me on YouTube by typing in “Meemaw Sandy reading.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

Are you a Wakian yet?

It’s a beautiful day in the neighborhood … cooler, bright blue sky, birds singing. Not the wren family, however. The little ones flew off on the one day I was gone, so I missed seeing the parents coax them from their nest. I sorta miss the constant chirping, but on the other hand, the quiet is nice, too. Except for that mockingbird who simply won’t shut up.

Thursday I drove to Durham to meet one of my favorite authors, Robert Macomber, who was a frequent guest presenter at our writers’ club’s annual writing conference.  Bob writes naval histories whose fictional protagonist is Peter Wake. We see the rise of the United States Navy from the Civil War to the  Spanish-American War through his eyes. His travels and adventures take him from Cuba to Central and South America, the West Indies, French Indochina and Samoa.

Bob has meticulously researched every fact presented in his books. If you haven’t read them and are interested in the “behind the scenes” story of the United States’ involvement in maritime history peppered with little-known events and well-known people such as Theodore Roosevelt, you will enjoy this series.  I just got the latest book (autographed!), “Honoring the Enemy.”

Robert Macomber, third from left, hoists a toast to friends and fans

Bob not only pens a great story, he lectures, sails, and hosts dinners for his friends using  the exotic recipes he has discovered on his research trips, accompanied by the appropriate wines, music, and scents. He is also a delightful conversationalist.

So I was more than excited to have the chance to meet Bob and Nancy, his wife, along with a few other “Wakians” as his fans are called, while he was between stops on his book-signing tour. We met for lunch, commandeered a large table and proceeded to eat, talk, drink, and laugh and cry, for five and a half hours.

It was a great afternoon in the neighborhood.

Distractions and how to use them

I “wasted” too much time on ancestry.com this morning. I meant to finish up one line and ended up tracking another … it’s so easy to get ensnared in following the elusive clues, combing through records and family histories. The further back you go, the more things get disoriented — dates don’t match, wives seem interchangeable with mothers, children have the same names, especially if one died young and a subsequent child was given the deceased sibling’s name.

I haven’t found out anything terribly interesting. There are a lot of Ladies and Sir Knights and Barons, but I don’t put too much stock in it. I believe other ancestor-hunters love titles and appropriate them whenever expedient. I have one ancestor who is

said to have been godfather to William Shakespeare. I’m going to visit Stratford-upon-Avon in a few weeks and  maybe I will have the opportunity to check that out. And I had a boatload (pun intended) of dissenters who came to America in the Great Migration. A few even came over on the Mayflower. (My Mom would have loved that!) One pastor who left the Church of England was told to immigrate or face prison. He made the wise choice.

So I guess it’s no wonder that my characters in my latest story are searching for their own families. Orphaned at a young  age, Bethann runs off to seek her mother’s family when the one she was adopted into morphs through death and marriage. Sounds easy, but this is in the early 1800’s and there is no ancestry.com to help her. The best she can do is hop on a stagecoach and visit the town mentioned in her mother’s Bible, and begin asking questions.

Henry thinks he has found his family, after discovering that he, too, was adopted. But he is tragically misled and the consequences will be deadly if others learn who he really is before he does.

The theme running through the story is what family is and why it matters. I know people who were adopted and don’t give a fig about finding their birth parents, content with the family they were given. Others sought desperately for answers, trying to fill a need that ate at them until it was satisfied.

I’m not desperate, just curious. I started looking because we don’t know a lot bout my father’s family. The paternal line ends in a few generations, but I researched my grandmother’s side and found a rich history that I might have been unaware of if I’d stayed with the paternal side and gave up after finding the dead end … or “EOL”.

I think I know now why my father tended to preach at us kids. He had it in his DNA on his mother’s side.

 

 

How I get sucked into things

So I was at my monthly book club meeting and some of the members began talking about how there had been no local celebrations of Black History month.  One member had decided to plan an event and asked if me and another member if we wanted to be on the planning committee because she wanted it be be all-inclusive. We said yes because, hey, she’d said the magic word.

So she told us that one of the features of the program would be a “wax museum” where people will dress up as historical figures and pose. When someone touches their hand they will explain who they were and their role in history. Frederick Douglas, Harriet Tubman, Rosa Parks, and Abraham Lincoln came quickly to mind.

“You need someone to represent the Underground Railroad,” I ventured.

“Oh, yes, can you find us a character?”

One of the two book clubs I belong to. This was our Christmas meeting: good food, good discussion, good friends! That is me in the back row (standing) second from left.

I allowed that I could and set about researching. I discovered Elizabeth Buffum Chace who, with her husband, operated a station in Fall River, Massachusetts. What caught my fancy was that she gave each slave heading for Canada an envelope addressed to her. When she received it back, post marked Toronto, she knew the person had made it safely to freedom.

I brought this information to the meeting and discovered that I was supposed to impersonate Mrs. Chace!

“No, no,” I protested. “I was just to do the research.”

Silence. Then a disappointed scratch of the pen over my name on the roster.

“So who can we find to play her?”

More silence.

“I’ll do it,” I heard myself say in a meek voice. I am no actress, although I love theater. I”m more likely to be painting scenery or helping with makeup, or doing publicity. But I figured I could write my few lines on the back of an envelope (which would do as a prop) if I got stage fright.

So for the past week I have been trying to put together a costume. Not the easiest thing to do in a small town. I’m hoping the local theater group can help us out. Some years ago I sewed many a costume for an outdoor drama our writer’s club produced, but where they are now, I haven’t a clue.

So, from agreeing to be on a planning committee to actively participating is a slippery slope paved with good intentions.

Wish me luck!

 

 

 

 

 

 

What are you reading?

What are you reading? This question was posed in a  comment on an earlier blog, and I promised to respond. As I told her, I’m an eclectic reader — which only means I will read anything, even the back of a cereal box if nothing else is handy.

It’s a tough question, so I went to my bag o’ books that I toted home from my last library visit. Here’s what I found:

The Female Persuasion by Meg Wolitzer (almost finished)

The Revised Fundamentals of Caregiving by Jonathan Evison (recommended!)

To Die But Once by Jacqeuline Winspear (yes, I’m a fan of Maisie Dobbs)

That Month in Tuscany by Inglath Cooper

Circe by Madeline Miller

I haven’t read the last two yet, so no comments.

Then there are the two books on my schedule for my book clubs. One club is reading The Book Club by Mary Alice Monroe. I have it on order. The other club is reading See Me by Nicholas Sparks. I may take this one to the beach with me next week.

Speaking of the beach, my favorite beach read authors are Nancy Thayer, Mary Kay Andrews, Dorothea Benton Frank, Mary

Photo by rawpixel on Unsplash

Alice Monroe, Elin Hilderbrand, Barbara Delinsky, Susan Mallery, and Debbie Macomber. I have probably left out a few.

I also love big, sweeping historical novels by Ken Follett, Edward Rutherford, Philippa Gregory, Colleen McCullough, and Diana Gabaldon. Gabaldon is my all-time favorite. History, romance and paranormal all in one. My kind of book. The TV series is the only one I ever felt compelled to buy. I could watch them over and over, and no, it’s not all Jamie.

As for mysteries, give me Anne Perry or Elizabeth George any time. If I see their name on the spine of a book on the library shelf, it’s in my hands immediately.

Of course there are many others. And, I like to try new authors by browsing Book Bub and Ereader News Today. (I like the solid feel of print books, but also the convenience and portability of my Kindle.)

I also read biographies and other non-fiction. My son let me borrow SPQR by Mary Beard. It isn’t a book you read all in once sitting. But I am slowly getting through it.

And where do I put Anne Rice, Anne Lamott, and Pat Conroy? Also favorites.

After The Prince of Tides, I wrote Conroy a gushing letter telling him how much I loved it. I had never written a fan letter before and didn’t expect an answer. But he sent me a postcard from Rome where he and his family were staying while he worked on his second book. It was a picture of the hotel where they were staying and he even marked the window of the room they were staying in. I still have it somewhere.

So that’s what I read. Anything, even the history of ancient Rome, which is interesting enough to keep me reading, but not so interesting that I won’t put it down in favor of something a little (ahem!) sexier.

And, in parting, if you are looking for something to read this summer, hop on over to my place and browse the shelves. You may find something you like.

 

 

 

 

 

 

A sneak peek

I thought you might enjoy a little preview of my  novel, Riverbend. It is scheduled for release May 1 from Amazon.  I hope you enjoy it, and–hopefully–are intrigued.

Chapter One

In spite of her shaking legs, Damaris Tilghman stood her ground as the High Sheriff approached. She longed to wipe her sweaty palms on her skirt, but dared not make any movement that he could interpret as fear—or guilt.

The sly smirk on his lips belied the coldness of his gaze as he tipped his hat. “Sale’s nearly over, Miss Tighlman. Sorry the auctioneer couldn’t manage to get a better price for Twin Oaks. It was a grand plantation in its time.” He didn’t sound at all sorry.

“Enough to cover my father’s debts, I hope.”

“Well, Miss, as to that I have to say it didn’t. He owed a great deal of money to a great many people.” The man shook his head in mock sympathy. “Gambling’s a terrible vice—”

“And suicide is a sin. Yet neither of my father’s faults seems to have kept people from coming here and gawking, poking through our possessions….” Her voice began to tremble and she stopped, her heart beating so loudly she was afraid he would hear it in the sudden silence.

“Possessions.” The amiable leer disappeared. “Seems some of your family’s possessions didn’t turn up as part of the sale. Would you know anything about that, Miss Tilghman?”

“I have no idea what you mean.” She jutted out her chin.

“I think you do.” He looked down at the small wooden trunk sitting at her feet. “Maybe I ought to take a look at what you packed to take with you.”

“How dare you suggest such a thing! I won’t have you pawing through my shifts and stockings!”

“I can get a woman to look. If you claim all you have are shifts and stockings, you won’t mind me making certain.” He turned as a boy ran up, calling in urgency. “Sheriff! They’s a fight behind the barn. You need to come quick—one of ’ems got a knife!”

Cursing under his breath, the sheriff lumbered after the boy.

Damaris’s shoulders sagged in relief. She had been given time to think of something—but what? She willed back tears of frustration. If anything, the past few years had taught her the futility of weeping.

She watched the buyers as they lugged their purchases to the line of wagons parked along the winding drive, horses and mules stomping in impatience to begin the journey home. Home! She no longer had a home. Because of her father’s weakness, her dream of marriage and children had shattered like a fine crystal goblet dropped on a tile floor. Her past was irrevocably gone and her future a mystery.

She jerked her thoughts back to her present dilemma. The fight would soon be over. She needed to get away before the sheriff returned.

One of the buyers, better dressed than most in a black suit and embroidered waistcoat, saw her and nodded politely. “Miss Tilghman.”

She recognized him as the man who had successfully bid on the last of her father’s wine cellar. A friend of her father’s—when he still had friends. What was his name? Price? Polk? No, Pope. “Mr. Pope.” She smiled and held out a hand. “Well met, sir. I wonder if you could do me a favor?”

“Of course. If I can be of any assistance…”

“The sheriff promised he will take me to the inn in Wadesborough where I can purchase a seat on the coach in the morning. I fear he will not leave here until the last nail is sold, and I really cannot abide watching this auction any longer.” It wasn’t hard to add a quaver to her voice. “To see my life dismantled, piece by piece….”

“I understand. I would be happy to take you, if you are not embarrassed at traveling without a chaperone.”

Chaperone! I need to get away from here now. She brushed away an imaginary tear and offered a tremulous smile. “I don’t think there would be any gossip. After all, you are a dear friend of Papa’s.”

An eyebrow raised at this, but he lifted her trunk without commenting on her claim. “My wagon is this way.”

He stowed the trunk in the back of his light wagon, assisted her to the seat, and then climbed aboard and sat beside her. He had just picked up the reins when a meaty hand grasped the edge of the wooden plank that served as a seat. “Miss Tilghman. I believe we have some unfinished business.”

Pope stared down, his hands tense on the reins. “Miss Tilghman is my care. What do you want with her?”

“I need to look at her trunk.” The sheriff winked as if they were conspirators. “Just in case.”

“In case of what?” Pope’s tone was as cold as his dark eyes.

The sheriff dropped his hand and stepped back. His voice was curt as he said, “I believe she may be holding on to some jewelry that should go in the sale.”

Damaris stiffened at the accusation. “All Mama’s jewels went to pay Papa’s gambling debts years ago.”

“So you say. I still—”

“Are you doubting the lady’s word?” There was something dangerous in Pope’s voice. He raised the whip. “How dare you, sir!”

“Now, Mr. Pope, no need to get all riled up. I believe her, yes, I do. Good day, Miss Tilghman and good fortune to you.” He tipped his hat fawningly.

Pope jerked the reins and the horse started down the dirt path that led to the road.

“Thank you,” Damaris managed to mumble through a dry throat.

“My pleasure.” Pope glanced sideways at her. “If you did get away with something out of the forced sale, I congratulate you.”

She answered quickly. “He made certain I didn’t. He even sold my personal slave, Pearlie, who’s been with me since I was a child. Everything I held dear is lost.”

If she expected sympathy, Pope failed to offer it. “What will you do now?” he asked briskly.

“I have been offered a position as a companion to a distant relative of my mother’s. She lives in New Bern.” The letter she had received from the lady had been neither courteous nor welcoming, but hinted strongly of duty and God’s will.

“Being at some old lady’s beck and call doesn’t sound like much of a life for a young girl.”

“I am not young, and I have no other choice. I wasn’t raised to earn my living. My parents fully expected me to marry well.” She took a deep breath.  “The problem is, no one has proposed marriage since I celebrated my seventeenth birthday. I should have accepted the offer then. Instead, I have spent the past six years nursing Mama until her death, and then trying to keep house for Papa while he.…”

“Gambled it from under your feet and then shot himself.”

“You put it quite succinctly.”

He shrugged and chirped to the horse, which pricked its ears and began to trot.

As they jolted along the rutted path, Damaris struggled to remember what she knew of Matthew Pope. He owned Riverbend, one of the biggest cotton plantations in North Carolina. He was reputed to be wealthy. No wonder the sheriff toadied to him. He wouldn’t want to offend one of the most powerful men in Anson County. But none of that answered the question of why he had played along with her pretense of acquaintance or took her part against the sheriff.

As she studied him under her lashes, she decided he was not bad looking if you liked dark hair and eyes. She noted a ridged scar over one eyebrow and a bump on the bridge of his nose where it had been broken, spoiling an otherwise perfect profile. His teeth were good for a man of middle years, very white and straight. Not a common asset among her acquaintances.

The horse stopped at a crossroad and she looked at him in question.

“Everyone has choices, Miss Tilghman,” he said as if minutes and miles hadn’t passed since her declaration. He pointed with his whip. “This road leads to Wadesborough and this one to Cheraw.”

“I am aware of that.”

“I am offering you a choice.” He shifted in his seat until he could meet her eyes. “I have a proposition.”

She blinked under the intensity of his gaze. “What is it?”

“Two propositions, actually. One, I need a housekeeper. From what you told me, I gather you have some experience.” He waited for her response.

“Yes,” she said guardedly. “And the other?”

“What? Oh. The other is, I need a wife.”

A touch of amusement lightened her countenance. “And am I to choose which of these delightful occupations I might wish to pursue?”

“I had thought them to be one and the same.”

Damaris intended to reply with the disdain he deserved, but then she thought again of spending the rest of her days caring for elderly invalids.

“I need an answer, Miss Tilghman.”

“Is it to be a marriage in name only? I mean, you mentioned housekeeper first, but I could not accept that, a spinster residing in an unmarried man’s home. But if we were married, gossip would be put at rest.”

“I suppose I should have mentioned the third thing. I am also in need of an heir.”

Her pale cheeks blazed scarlet. She blinked once, slowly.

He waited.

She shut her eyes and drew a breath. “I accept, Mr. Pope.”

He nodded and guided the horse on the road that led to South Carolina, where a marriage license could be obtained in one day. “I see you are very like your father, Miss Tilghman.”

“Why do you say that, Mr. Pope?”

“You are a gambler, too.”

 

Juggling the genres

Last week I was at the beach, enjoying sunny warm afternoons, splashing through the waves in my bare feet.

This week, I dug out my sweatshirts and warm coat, going outside only when necessary.

Yes, this is North Carolina weather. Rather than complaining, however, I used the time to hunker down at my computer. The stories were written, but  it was time for the next step.

The novel I polished at the beach during the writers retreat needed one last-minute check. Then I had to write the synopsis, which I just finished.

I wrote a synopsis before I started, as I may have noted before. This was my guide, my lifeline that made certain I didn’t stray too far afield. But it isn’t the same synopsis that one submits to a publisher. This time, I had to be more careful of my grammar and punctuation while still, hopefully, retaining my original enthusiasm for the project. This I will send off, fingers crossed.

My other novel? I decided to self-publish, so I spent some hours working on the cover design, then formatting the Word document. Luckily, by this time around I know the pitfalls and most of it went smoothly, with only a few corrections to be made. I’m fine-tuning it now, having looked at the first proof copy and deciding the margins were too wide and the indents too deep. Saved about 50 pages there, which allows me to lower the price.

They are wildly different books. One is a contemporary romance and the other is historical fiction with a bit of mystery and of course, a love interest because what is any story without some romance?

It’s kind of an experiment. Which will fare better? Should I stick with light stories, meant for a few hours’ entertainment, or should I continue to tackle the research a historical requires?

If you’ve been following my path, I’ve done women’s fiction, romance, paranormal, and now historical. That may not be the best way to build a firm platform, but I’m not trying to make a name or career for myself. I write what I love to write, and if the genre’s differ from one book to the next, it’s because it expresses my interests at the time.

If I were younger, it’d be different. I’d choose a genre and stay with it, book after (yawn) book. Most authors do well this way. We know what to expect from them and aren’t disappointed.

But I’m not young and so I give myself permission to write what I please. If the book sells, I’m delighted. If not, I write another. So far, the reviews have been positive, so I must be doing something right.

My contention is, if someone picks up one of my books they have only to turn it over and read the blurb to decide if they want to buy it (or borrow it from the library). Who knows, they may decide to try a new story, even if it wasn’t what they expected, and like it.

I love to read and at any one time I may have a stack of books consisting of a biography, a historical romance, an action drama, and a mystery.

So if I like reading different genres, it follows that I like writing them.

I’m not sure what comes next. I have a few ideas …

We’ll see where they lead me.

 

 

 

 

How deep is enough?

For the second day in a row I woke before 5 a.m.

I try to fall back asleep, but it’s useless and I know it. This phenomenon happens every time I am halfway though a story. After dutifully plodding through the opening chapters, setting up the plot and characters, the book suddenly comes alive.  My mind goes into overdrive. Ideas flow like lava, igniting my imagination.

My main character, Greg, is an actor on a popular nighttime drama. As such, he has to dig deep into himself in order to bring the character he portrays to life, to make him believable. When his lover on the series “dies” he draws on  his grief he felt after his father’s suicide, and the subsman-cryingequent scene catapults him from mediocrity to fame. And that fame makes him a target…but no more about the plot. That’s not the point.

What I’m saying is that we, as writers, also have to dig deep within ourselves to find the emotions we want to portray. I’ve been in love and I think, old as I am, I can still remember what first love felt like.

I’ve been betrayed, and I can draw on that anger and denial.

I’ve felt deep and devastating loss. And I can draw on that.

It’s hard to bring these emotions to the surface and relive the grief, anger, loss. It’s hard to remember that first love, because now I know how  it ends. But in order to write about these emotions honestly, I have to remember and relive those experiences. It isn’t easy. And sometimes it doesn’t work because I am afraid to go too deeply.

So it isn’t just the overflow of ideas that keeps me awake. It’s the surge of empathy I feel toward these cardboard people, an empathy that will breath life into them. Is Greg afraid his career,  now that he’s achieved success, will end? How does that feel? How does he feel? How did I feel?

I lost a job I loved because I had to make the choice to walk away or be sucked into a pit I didn’t think I could climb out of. So I know a little about his fear and anger.

My job now is to translate that into his actions and words.

And that is what writers do.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Flash versus drizzle

I was talking to a woman who is beginning her first book. She’s thought about writing for years, but never had a good enough springboard to set her on her way. She recently had an inspiration and is ready to sit down and write.

“Do you get your ideas in a flash?” she asked.

I knew what she meant. Sometimes a story comes, like hers, in a sudden burst, as if her muse waved a magic wand and handed her, ready-made, the plot, conflict, motive, character arc, and every other building block she needs to construct a story.

I admitted while an  idea might come to me in that way, it was usually a little muddied and out of focus. It is up to me to define it, refine, and shape it.

I do have a good idea of my characters, who they are, their strengths and weaknesses, their backstory. I don’t write it all down in a chart or look for pictures that match my imagination and post them on Pinterest. They are alive in my mind and that’s enough.

So I have a plot and my characters. I start writing. I’m writing while at my computer, and also writing while I’m washing dishes, vacuuming, raking leaves or brushing the cats.  Hmm, I think, what if I had him do this? What if she does that? Suppose I have this happen, how would they react?

When I work it out in my head, I sit down and write the scene.

Lately, my main character is acting up a little. I had him figured out, but now he is saying things I never meant him to say. He’s showing me he isn’t who I thought he was, and I’m a little put out.  But I’ll work with it, see where he’s leading me.

So I told her no, I don’t get the story in a flash. I know how it starts and how it ends, but the in-between comes in drizzles, dibs and dabs.

But that’s what makes it fun. If I knew how everything was supposed to happen when I started, it would be work.

I’m happy she has her story fully fleshed in her mind. But some sneaky part of me wonders if, when she starts writing, she’ll find her characters have opinions of their own.

 

 

Enter the dog (or cat)

I had a book rejected by a publisher once because the main character wasn’t “likable.” Well, to be honest, she wasn’t. My goal was to have her become more likable over the course of the story, when her inner “niceness” came out.

I learned a lesson then that was reinforced during a workshop when the speaker talked about the need to have your reader connect with (like) the main character. One way to do this, he said, was to give your hero a pet, preferably a dog. People who have dogs, apparently, are instantly likable.

I never thought to add animals to a book. No pets show up in my previously published works. The book I am writing now does have a dog, but it is a minor character’s pet and not mentioned very often. I do have the heroine trust the hero early on because she notes he is gentle with his horse. My editor says she is not “strong,” i.e., someone the reader will cheer for during her struggles and be happy for when she finally achieves her goal.

I am wondering if I shouldn’t give her a pet. Maybe a little dog that annoys everyone else but she loves it dearly. Hmmm.

I can’t think why I haven’t had animals in any of my stories before. I’ve always had both cats and dogs, and usually more than

Bubbie, the shelter cat

Bubbie, the shelter cat

one of each. Right now I have two rescue cats. One just showed up, so I guess she adopted me. The other I got at the shelter where I volunteer one morning a week. It’s dirty work, dumping out litter boxes and washing them, cleaning the cages, and seeing that the cats and kittens have fresh food and water. But I feel that I am doing a little something to make their lives better while they wait to find new homes (the preferred outlook). This week I took home a cat that had been in the shelter too long and was slated to be euthanized. I’m fostering her until I can get her to her forever home (and yes, I found an adoptive family). My two aren’t happy with the newcomer, but I tell them it’s only temporary.

So, since animals are such a big part of my life, I think I might be wise to make them a part of my heroine’s life, too. Maybe being a pet owner hasn’t made me more likable, but I have been assured it will work for my fictional characters.

(The photo  is of my foster cat. She is so sweet. I hate to give her up except I know she will have a wonderful new family to love her.)

 

 

 

When the end is the beginning

Yesterday, I left my romance writers’ meeting and hoped I’d get back home in time for the drop-in celebrating my dear friends’ 50th wedding anniversary.

As I drove, I thought about the many romances that end with the couple still dewy-eyed and flush with first love. Maybe it’s a chaste kiss, or maybe it takes the reader into a more intimate setting, but they all follow that age-old plot: Boy meets girl, boy loses girl, boy gets girl. And once she’s got, the story is over, we close the covers (or power off the e-reader) with a satisfied sigh.

Not that I don’t enjoy such stories, but at my age, I know they don’t stop there. The story continues after the glass slipper is rightfully restored, the kiss awakens the sleeper, and the beauty realizes the beast isn’t so ugly after all.

There is something to be said for the romance that continues, regardless of bumps in the road, for fifty years. Cinderella might be wearing orthopedic shoes and her Prince might need a hearing aid. Snow White may have needed all fifty years to come to terms with her Prince’s yearning for an apple pie. And the Beast may wonder if his Beauty is ever going get her nose out of a book and cook a pot roast the way he likes it.

What of our sassy heroines and brawny heroes? Are their stories any less interesting as they get older, the wrinkles and gray hair appear, and their steps begin to falter?

It’s the pursuit and capture that grabs our imaginations. To young readers, everything after that goes downhill.

Older readers know better. The same pursuit and capture replay themselves over and over. The story never ends with the first, heated kiss.

It only begins.

Getting my money’s worth: Part Two

Today I am posting some more tidbits of wisdom garnered at the Carolinas Writers Conference. Chris Roerden is an editor and this was her second appearance at the annual conference. Chris knows more about editing than most people I know (including editors) and is happy to share her expertise. Some of what she told us was what we all learn when we start writing, but here are a few things I didn’t know.

  • Attitude: The main character should have an attitude–that is, her world view, how she approaches her environment.
  • We’ve all heard “show, don’t tell.” The character’s emotions are critically important. Don’t say, “She cried.” Show the reader how she cried. (If I showed the reader how I cried, I’d have to say “and snot came out of her nose.” Because I don’t cry pretty.) Showing is judgmental on the part of the author.
  • Read the book you love twice, first for enjoyment and second to figure out how the author did it.

Author Michelle Buckman also made her second appearance at the conference. When we find someone who is good, we tend to ask them back. Here’s what I took away from her workshop:

  • Show the protagonist’s characteristics in the opening page. The opening pages create a sympathetic character or situation.
  • There has to be a reason for everything the character does. Things in the past affect the now and project into the future. (Here is where we can sow little clues in the beginning of the book that bear fruition when we come to the climax.)
  • History is backstory and is necessary for depth but it doesn’t go up front. Your characters must have a history, but scatter it throughout the story. Avoid the dreaded “information dump.”
  • Tie your characters together as closely as possible, but not in the way readers expect. Make the unlikely one step up. Surprise the reader to keep her interest.
  • Create sympathetic characters and intriguing situations or a situation that  relates to the reader’s life.
  • Add enough layers to the character and plot  so both are intriguing.
  • What is her greatest fear? Why? What caused it? Have her face this fear.
  • Who does he love most? Who does he hate? Reverse roles for a new dimension.
  • Who is blocking the main character from achieving her goal? Who is her mentor?
  • Have the lead character do something he would never do. Do the same thing with a secondary character.
  • Find something about your secondary character that ties him to the main character.

You’ve probably heard all this before, but it doesn’t hurt to be reminded. I’ve been taking a long, hard look at my WIP to see if I’ve created as many layers in my characters as I could.

Because there is nothing worse than a shallow, cardboard cut-out hero or heroine.

 

 

Making the pitch

Having missed several RWA chapter meetings, I decided to attend in February. First, I missed being around my writer friends. Just being in proximity with other writers gets me fired up to work on my novel (which has been sadly ignored of late). Second, the program was to be given by an agent, and she was taking pitches.

I have a book I have been querying for longer than I want to admit. I like the story, and I think readers will, too. I just need to bring it to someone’s attention. So I practiced my pitch all the way to Charlotte, which is roughly one and a half hours driving time.

The morning program was interesting as she talked about what agents look for and what turns them off. Then she said something that really caught my attention.

She described a book she loved, but had trouble getting to editors because the main male character is a preacher and the female is a piano player for the choir. And yet, it wasn’t an inspirational novel. It took her two years to find it a home.

My heart sank. My lead characters are a minister and organist, and the book is not an inspirational. It is about two people who want a second chance at love, but are torn apart by family obligations and expectations. They do get a HEA, but religion and/or redemption have nothing to do with it.

After the business meeting and lunch, I bravely took my turn at the table to pitch my book. The moment I said “minister” she shook her head.

“I know,” I said. I didn’t even try to explain that my book was different–mainly because I hadn’t read the other one yet. (I did read it later and it was funny and sassy and nothing at all like my book).

My five minutes up, I was about to thank her and leave when she asked if I was working on something else. I quickly mentioned the historical I am sooo close to finishing and she said she loved historicals, especially that time period, and to send a query when I finished it.

So–I drove home with mixed feelings.

The lesson here is this: Don’t ever be discouraged by a rejection. You may not get a face-to-face explanation of why it didn’t pass the test, but chances are that the agent or editor has already published a book very similar to yours. It has nothing to do with your writing style or the book’s qualities. I once got a rejection from an editor who didn’t like first-person stories. No other reason. So don’t give up. Acceptance depends on so many variables. It does get discouraging, but there is always another chance.

You just have to be ready to grab it when it comes.

And since I did love the book-that-got-there-first, it is “The Happy Hour Choir” by Sally Kilpatrick (Kensington).

 

 

 

What we do when not writing

Writers never stop writing. I really believe that. When not at a keyboard, or holding a notepad and pen, we are still writing in our heads.

I have been going over my plot, my characters, my settings, while emptying the dishwasher or making the bed. Pretty soon I will sit down and transfer all these thoughts to physical words.

Soon.

I have a friend who took a new job and mourns the fact that she hasn’t time to write because of the long training hours and because she gets home too tired to think, let alone plot.

I told her to use this time for gathering.

Yes, gathering. It’s what you do when you sit on a bench at an amusement park while the kids are on a ride. It’s what you do in a restaurant when the couple next to you can’t be ignored; during the long wait at the doctor’s office; standing in line at the post office.

I suggested she take the opportunity to watch her customers. To take note of physical characteristics she might use later, gestures, postures, attitudes, that might fit one of her characters. To remember physical attributes that she can use describing her hero or heroine.

Listen to conversations and make a quick note of a turn of phrase, a colloquialism she might borrow; how what is said doesn’t match the person’s expression. To observe how people react to stress, such as the harried mother or the bored teenager or the young lovers who can’t keep their hands off each other and don’t care who knows it. The couple arguing with tight lips and narrowed eyes who are equally oblivious.

It takes only a minute to jot these observations in a small notebook. It can be done on break, or during lunch.

Then later, when time is more easily accessed, she will have a treasury from which she can gather gems to make her stories sparkle.

I believe the very act of writing her observations down will propel her into finding time to work them into a story. There is always time, we just need to find it, set it aside, make certain we honor it.

Intellectually, I know this. In reality, I haven’t done it as much as I should.

I need to follow my own advice.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Getting back in the game

Needless to say, I haven’t written anything since mid-October except minutes of meetings I’ve attended and this blog. But I know it is time to move on, at least with my writing. I once said I write to get the stories out of my head. Now I must write to keep my characters from nagging.

Of course they feel neglected. And lately they’ve been clamoring for my attention.

Poor Damaris. She hasn’t decided yet whether she will forgive Matthew for the years of pain he caused her by setting her aside in favor of his mistress. But everything is not as it seems. Did Zoe cast a magic spell on the man both she and Damaris love, or is there something else at work here? What has Matthew been hiding?

Matthew, who professes to be a self-made man, has a secret that could destroy him and all he worked for if he reveals it. Yet if he does, he might win back Damaris’s love. Can he take the chance?

I have them teetering over an abyss and only I can set everything right.

It’s a heady feeling and I am impatient to give them the nudge they need to find each other again. It just takes sitting down and letting my fingers get to work.

I am nearly there. I can’t let them down this close to writing “The End.”

Jim loved to tell people I am an author. I can’t let him down, either.

So it is back to the keyboard and setting my imagination free.

 

 

 

Rule number one

Okay, I goofed. I didn’t write a post last week, and I apologize to those who looked for it and missed it (hangs head in shame).

The truth is, the events of the preceding week made me just want to crawl into the bed and pull the covers over me. Not a good attitude for a writer, especially a blogger. Because, you see, on of the prime rules of blogging is that you have to post regularly. Come heck or high water. And a husband’s broken hip and rush to emergency surgery doesn’t count as an excuse.

I should have found time while sitting in the waiting room. Except the lady across from me  was painting her nails and watching her took all my attention. I have yet to figure out how to paint my nails without getting polish all over my fingers.

It wasn’t that long ago when someone suggested I write a blog. “What’s a blog?” I asked. I really didn’t know. It was something new and I was slow to jump on the bandwagon. I’m cautious that way.

Then I was invited to join Mimosa Mornings. It looked like fun, and two years later I am more aware of the rules. I try to be relevant, entertaining, and worth your time as I take you along on my writing journey.

What I would like to be is as entertaining, educational, funny, encouraging, and inspirational as Kristen Lamb. If you haven’t read her blog, Warrior Writers, I urge you to do so.  I look forward to reading it, and always learn something, or am inspired to get back to my WIP before I forget the hero’s name.

To back up a little, Jim broke his ribs mid-October and had to take therapy at the rehab center. Days before they were going to turn him loose, he fell again and broke his hip. We are looking at another long spell of therapy.

I haven’t written anything during the past seven weeks, having stuck to his side tighter than a tick on a coon hound. But now I know the therapists and aides and nurses can take better care of him than I can, so I plan during this next session to take a deep breath, walk out of the place once he is settled in for the afternoon, and come home for a few hours to sit down and catch up with my protagonists and their ongoing adventures.

Like blogging, writing takes commitment. Sometimes life comes at you hard, but if you really, really want to write you will, whether it be a blog post or a novel or a short story.

It all comes down to how much you want it. And if you can get back up after being knocked down.

I ‘m back. And I plan to keep on blogging every week and to finish my novel before…let’s say Valentine’s Day.

And you will finish yours, too. I have faith in us.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Role reversal

There’s difference between beta readers, critique partners, and editors.  As I understand it, a beta reader reads the finished manuscript to comment on the overall story. The main thing you want to know is if she liked it or not.

If she says yes, you can do your happy dance. If she says no,  she may not  be able to say exactly what she didn’t like.  She may say only, “It felt wrong.”

The fact that she senses something out of kilter is enough for you to go back to your story and re-read with a dispassionate eye. You may have to put it aside for a few weeks in order to be able to do this.

A critique partner works along with you, chapter by chapter or scene by scene. She is an essential part of your journey, helping you  spot flaws before they magnify into major problems.

An editor — or editors, as you may have more than one — doesn’t care as much about the story as he does grammar, spelling, and typos. Your editor may hate your story, but he will point out that you changed tenses in a sentence, or were head-hopping, or had your heroine yell “You’re a xenophilic!” at the hero without your looking it up first to make sure she knows what she is yelling about.

I’ve asked friends to be beta readers. I’ve had critique partners (and need to find some new ones since my last group disbanded). And I’ve asked professional friends to edit. I value their opinion.

This past week the shoe has been on the other foot. I’ve been reading a manuscript both as a beta reader and as a critique partner. Oh, and editing/proofing along the way. It’s not easy because I have to put my own writer’s hat aside. I use an Oxford comma; my friend doesn’t. I have to stifle the urge to add a comma in every string of phrases or words. It’s an internal battle of wills, believe me.

When I send it back all marked up I will repeat what I told him at the beginning when I accepted the assignment: these are suggestions and you can delete them or accept them, whichever you want. Because what I see as an error may be exactly how he wants it written. And, I could be wrong.

Does editing someone else’s manuscript make me a better writer? I think it has to. If I see an error in his work, I am more likely to spot it in my own. It sharpens my skills, and that has to be a good thing.

Oh, and while editing/proofing my friend’s work, I’m also proofing the galleys on mine. It’s my fourth time to go over the pages — three previous editors have marked them and sent them to me for approval. I dare not disapprove. These people work for the publisher. Their job is to make my writing better, not be my Facebook friends.

I have a week to get this done, so I may have to slack off on my friend’s book until then. Release date for “A Question of Time” is October 13.

Just letting you know:)

 

 

 

 

 

 

Even pantsers need to plot sometimes

I am a pantser, not a plotter, so sometimes I get to a point when, like a driver without a road map, I have to admit I am lost.

Luckily, I have OnStar for road trips. But to plot out my course in a work in progress…not so much help.

I had a feeling yesterday while I was writing that something was wrong. I had a plot, I had a good idea of where I was going, but I wasn’t sure the destination was valid. That same feeling sent me to Google and I did some research.

Yep, you should listen to that inner voice. I based the ending of the story on a premise that wasn’t true. If I’d gone on and eventually published the book, my email would have been filled with angry letters from historians.

In the story, my protagonist is being blackmailed, but what I discovered was that what he did was not exactly against the law in the early 1800s. Well, it was, but he wouldn’t have been punished except for a fine that he could easily have paid. In real life he’d have laughed and told his adversary to go ahead and report him.

So the threat wasn’t a threat after all.

I felt both crushed that I had to come up with another sin in his past and happy that I’d taken time to fact check before I had gone any further, because I hate looking like an idiot.

I left my work station and went outside and whacked some upstart weeds, raked and bagged pine needles, and piled up some dead branches that had fallen in the last wind storm. And thought.

I do some of my best thinking while engaging in physical labor. Also at 3 a.m., but that’s another story.

I did come up with a alternate idea. Now my protagonist has a choice of giving in one more time or telling his blackmailer to go ahead and betray him — but this time the stakes are much bigger. He could lose everything. Conversely, he could gain his heart’s desire.

Will he accept the gamble?

I know the answer to that question, but I’m not telling.

Yet.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Enter the pianoforte

One thing a writer must guard against is introducing something or someone late in the story with the assumption that the reader is already familiar with the thing or person.  This can happen when the story is revised and the introductory section is cut. The direct result is a reader scratching her head and muttering, “Where did this come from?”

I am in the midst of revising a historical novel I wrote a few years back. About a third of the way through, the heroine is asked if she plays the pianoforte in the library.

Wait! What library? When I describe the house as first seen through her eyes, there is no mention of a library or a pianoforte.

I am not even sure I mentioned it in the first draft. I needed a library, so I put it in. The problem is, I needed to have done this earlier, not thrown it in, ta da! Surprise!

Then I wondered if a planter on the North Carolina frontier in the early nineteenth century would have a pianoforte in the first place. A little research showed me it was possible, although not probable. These expensive instruments had been introduced to the colonies, but were mostly owned by the wealthy aristocrats.

My hero is not an aristocrat, but he is wealthy. And, he is striving overcome his background and be accepted by his neighbors. In his case, owning a pianoforte would put him a step above. Call him a show-off, a social climber, a braggart, and you will be correct. He has a past to overcome. Alas, the pianoforte doesn’t help him because his neighbors never see it.

So, does the heroine play? Well, no. Unlike her granddaughters, she will never have had a lesson. Playing the piano has not yet become the social asset along with embroidery and fine penmanship that will aid later generations of women in finding a suitable marriage.

The pianoforte, which appears like a deus ex machina in this draft has a part to play in illustrating the motivation and goals of the hero. But as far as the heroine is concerned, it’s just a big piece of furniture taking up room that she must keep dusted and polished.

Now I have to go back to the beginning and make sure the pianoforte is mentioned. Maybe it’s not as important as popping in a character who has so far been unheard and unseen, but hey, if someone is going to shoot a gun, shouldn’t you first mention that he has a gun in his hand?

Details can trip a writer up, and readers can be unforgiving when that happens.

I’m glad I caught this one.

 

 

 

Young Adult, New Adult…Old Adult?

Young Adult as a genre isn’t really all that new. In fact, it isn’t even a genre, because books aimed at readers from age 12-18 are composed of every genre from Dystopian (“Hunger Games”) to Sci-Fi (“Maximum Ride”).

Way back when I was a teen, we had Nancy Drew, the Hardy Boys, Cherry Ames, and more. The books weren’t shelved as “YA” but we knew they were written for us because the protagonists were teenagers and their problems mirrored ours. Except Nancy Drew, because neither I nor any of my friends had her freedom or fancy little car.

Then along came New Adult, literature aimed at the 18-25 age group. Sort of like “Friends” only in a book form.

I’m proposing a new area of interest: Old Adult aimed at readers age 55 and up. Okay, the gentleman pictured here is only 54, but …a1622ff0109351a99914cd91b245e3a5

Why not? The baby boomers are retiring in hordes and what are they going to do with all their free time? Like my husband, some of them who never picked up a book during their working lives will suddenly discover the pleasure of reading. Especially since to their dismay and chagrin, they will also discover that their bodies have begun to rebel against bouncing around the tennis court. And how many cruises can a person take? All right, as many as they can afford, but it’s nice to be able to relax on the lido deck with a good book when all there is to look at is miles of ocean.

I think there is a market for Old Adult. I’m one, and I prefer reading about people my own age who have problems similar to mine rather than some 30-something, gorgeous blonde finding romance with a 17th century Scotsman. Because it just makes me jealous, and that’s not a good feeling.

An Old Adult novel could be a mystery, a romance (yes, even old people fall in love, sometimes to their utter amazement), or even science fiction. We did see the first man walk on the moon.

Only I guess we shouldn’t call it Old Adult. Young folks like the idea of being called adults, so YA and NA work for them. Maybe we need a different title for this demographic such as Mature Adult. No, that sounds like it is X-rated.

Granny Lit?

I need a little help here. Who has a suggestion?

I’d love to hear it.

 

 

H.G. Wells was right

Time travel novels have been around for a while, even before H.G. Wells wrote “The Time Machine” in 1895. I didn’t plan on writing a time travel novel because, well, because there are such a lot of them lately, mostly involving Scotsmen wearing kilts. And not wearing much else.

Don’t misunderstand, I am an ardent fan of Diana Gabaldon’s Outlander series. Love it.

I also enjoyed Susan Sloate and Kevin Finn’s “Forward to Camelot” which involves a young woman going back to 1963, thinking she is to retrieve the bible used for Johnson’s swearing in on Air Force One. She quickly discovers her real purpose is to prevent Kennedy’s assassination and it’s an interesting story that kept me up until the wee hours.

Then there’s the short story about the man who travels back to Cretaceous Era on a safari to kill a Tyrannosaurus Rex. All has been carefully orchestrated to minimize any impact, but when the man returns, he finds everything has changed. The reason: he accidentally stepped on a butterfly. (The story is called “A Sound of Thunder” if you want to look it up.) The “butterfly effect” is now a recurring theme in time-travel literature.

Sloate and Finn follow the rules of time travel by avoiding paradox — the heroine cannot travel back to any time in which she exists, but she is the right age to go back to 1963 since she wasn’t — won’t be– born until 1964. However, the authors use the butterfly effect to deliberately alter the future.

My hero (A Question of Boundaries, A Question of Loyalty) has the ability to travel in time, but has no concept of how to use it. As a child he used his gift to witness events, much like we would read a book. Later, it is an escape mechanism. In the third book (which is in the second-draft stage right now) he realizes the “gift” is actually a curse and although he has perfected his talent, he rightly refuses to use it because he fears that the least thing he might do in the future will affect the past–where his wife and child reside.

Yes, it’s a little backwards. I’ve always been that way.

Still, what with reading and writing time travel, it was to my mind purely a fun thing and nothing to do with reality. Until I read about physicist Ron Mallett, who is really and truly building a time machine.

Yes, that’s right. And when you read his theory, it begins to look not only possible, but that it might happen in this century.

A case of life imitating art, you might say.

I don’t know what will happen to paradoxes and butterfly effects, but it appears that we will find out soon.

Maybe very soon.

 

 

 

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