Friday, October 11, 2019

Good Fairies

Peter Pan is my favorite book, as you probably know if you have read any of my interviews. The first version of Peter Pan that I remember was a Disney picture book that I had memorized as a child. I did not learn to read until I was six, but I remember pretending to read this book for guests at a younger age.

In the third grade, I read the real book. I had no idea, at the time, of what a challenging read it is for an eight-year-old. I just loved the story. I loved that there were elements of the story I had never heard of before. I loved the Wendy house and the scene where Wendy falls after accidentally being shot by the lost boys, and I loved the scene where Peter stands on the rock after letting Wendy fly away on the kite and prepares to face his own death.

Great stuff!

Many years later, my sister and I traveled to Scotland. I had wanted to go to Scotland ever since reading another book, Sally Watson’s Witch of the Glens; but when planning my itinerary, I learned that James Barrie had been born in Kirriemuir, Scotland. I had to go there.

My sister thought I was crazy. It was off the tourist track a whole—I don’t know—two hours? I insisted.

We went. And we had the best time. We saw the real Wendy house, a laundry shed behind the family’s home. We had our pictures taken there. We saw James Barrie’s writing desk, where I believe he actually wrote Peter Pan. (In an absolutely unreal number of limited drafts). I found a copy of the The White Bird, the first book to feature Peter Pan, in a local bookstore. And we bought lemon pound cake and strawberries at the local grocery, which was by far the most affordable and most memorable meal I ate in Scotland.

There was a light flitting around the upstairs of the museum/house where James Barrie was born. Tinker Bell, of course.

Promptly after my last blog post, my friend, Dawn, magically repaired all of the snarled stitches in my website links.

This week she is Tinker Bell.

Thank you so much, Dawn!

Sunday, September 15, 2019

Ripping Stitches: A Writing Metaphor

“Go get the seam ripper!” is the most common quote I remember from my sewing years growing up. A seam ripper, FYI, is a small device used to rip out one’s work. For me, sewing was frequently a process of one step forward and two steps back. The machine would jam; the material would pucker; the edge of the seams would catch.

Today I decline to sew.

I do, however, upon occasion find myself living a sewing metaphor, and that is what I am living this week. You see, I have a brand new manuscript ready to go out to publishers and agents; therefore, I logged onto my website this week, just to see what details I need to update and polish. The homepage looks the same as it has the last several times I have logged onto it; but this time I attempted to check other pages.

Nothing is working. All the links from the homepage are giving me scary, unhappy messages about how my website may either 1. not be configured correctly or 2. not really be my website. Yikes! Obviously something is not up to date. Here I was thinking the website was one aspect of marketing that is cumulative and continues to develop the more effort I put into it.

Time to get out the seam ripper AKA e-mail my web tech specialist and prepare myself mentally to rework whatever web pages will need reworking.

I do the same every day that I write. I now know a great deal more about what it takes to create a polished manuscript than I did when I wrote the first draft of my first book. But the process is the same. The polished pages never emerge in the first draft. That draft is just as messy as it always has been. If anything, the number of revisions has gone up.

But unlike with sewing, I love the process. I love peeling back the mess and plunging deeper and deeper into the story. Figuring out each of the characters and what about them is required in order to make every line sound right. Sometimes, I write whole scenes that prove unnecessary. Other times, those scenes turn out to be exactly what the novel needs. It is fun. It is also work.

The ripping is still hard.

But at least once a chapter, I have the amazing sense that comes when everything feels right.

Monday, August 5, 2019

New Inspiration: The Willamette Writers' Conference

I had the amazing opportunity to attend the 2019 Willamette Writers Conference this past Friday! I love to recommend this conference to the following: new writers hoping to learn how to write and submit to publishers, experienced writers looking to challenge themselves with new ideas and/or tackle new dilemmas, and even writers interested in film.

My favorite takeaways from this year’s conference:

-The chance to talk about my newest manuscript with a plethora of industry experts. They may all disagree! But it’s great to meet agents one-on-one, have them read what I write, and gain a taste for their editing style. It’s up to me to sort through the advice and find the golden nuggets that can help make my manuscript shine at its best.

-Willamette Writers now offers full-day Master Classes on Thursday. I am already plotting to take one next year & pass it off as one of my mandatory 3 credit Create Your Own Courses via The Heritage Institute. (As a freelance teacher with certificates in two different states, I need three credits a year and love to combine inspirational writing coursework with that requirement).

-Classes on writing from amazing authors. I could only attend one day out of four this year so had to prioritize. Kate Elliot’s course comparing breaking stereotypes to pealing an onion absolutely delivered and got the wheels in my brain turning.

-Amazing and inspirational keynote speeches. Reema Zaman and Kim Johnson were both fantastic.

-And, as always, I loved meeting people who are passionate about sharing their ideas via the written word.

If you love to write, I highly recommend checking out this conference. And if you live in the area, check out the Willamette Writers organization as well. Who knows? One day I might see you there!

Wednesday, July 24, 2019

Historical Fiction: Easy Answers--Tough Process

I never do the research first.

That probably sounds irresponsible, but the story has to come first. The characters—they have to be alive. They must have a story to tell. And that story always exists first, at least in my mind.

Alex—I’ll introduce her to you eventually—has existed for no fewer than seventeen years. That seems like forever, but she actually introduced herself after both Aurelia and Aerin so she’s been kindly waiting her turn until now.

Since Alex’s story is historical fiction, I’ve always believed that I would have to confirm certain facts about the premise of her book before I committed serious time to writing it for publication. These facts involved claim inheritance law in Eastern Oregon at the turn of the century.

I didn’t think they would be impossible to find. But . . .

I sure wasn’t having any luck. I started by ordering a couple books about women and the law—hoping, I guess, for a timeline involving women and property rights.

Didn’t get one.

From there I tried online searches, which were—hmm—not very helpful. Specific dates and the law are not so easy to research on Google.

Which brought me into the realm of serious research: contacting the experts. I promptly e-mailed a librarian at the Oregon Historical Society. Now I really thought this would work. I didn’t think the librarian would necessarily be able to answer my questions. But I truly believed he or she would be able to direct me to a person or a resource that might.

However, here’s the thing about Oregon pioneer history. Most of what you read about it revolves around the settlement of the western side of the state, which occurred a full fifty years prior to the settlement of the eastern side. In fact, if you research the Oregon Trail, you will find printed resources claiming the trail ceased to be used prior to 1900. Which is incorrect. Families where I live migrated across the trail during the first two decades of the early 1900’s. Most people came by railroad but not if they couldn’t afford it.

So . . . I received three responses from the OHS librarian. The first was inaccurate because the law referenced was defunct by 1904. The second was inaccurate because the law was passed after 1904. And the third was that I might try asking a law professor at a university.

I don’t know about you, but I’ve had trouble obtaining a timely response from my own advisor at a university.

The real problem I was having was this. There are people who know a lot about the law and people who know a lot about history. But finding someone who knows a lot about the law and history—this is not so easy. Much less claim inheritance law in Eastern Oregon.

My real breakthrough came when I finally went to the Homestead National Monument website, where—low and behold—the original text of the National Homestead Act is printed for all to read. And—believe it or not—includes an entire paragraph or two on the legal inheritance of claims.

So easy! Almost.

You see, my plotline isn’t exactly simple. I still had a few knots I needed to untie.

But Alex had about had enough of waiting around, and it was pretty clear to me by now that plenty of folks weren’t following the letter of the law when it came to settling claims anyway so I figured I had enough data to validate writing the first draft.

Good thing too because I had finished it while going through all of this rigmarole. So much for confirming the premise first.

There was a little box for “contact info” on the Homestead National Monument site, and I had sent out my specific plot questions in the box; but I wasn’t counting on getting an answer. It was one of those I’m-sending-this-off-into-the-electronic-netherworld experiences in which one suspects one may only reach a teenage receptionist, if that.

But—miracle of miracles—just as I was wrapping up the final reading of the local 1904-1905 newspaper, I received an e-mail.

From a man who helps advise the Homestead National Monument site. He has—ding, ding, ding!—a background in historical law. And no, of course my current plotline didn’t work.

Maybe I could try this, he suggested in his e-mail.

Yikes! I thought. That’s going to wreak all kinds of havoc on my plot. But, as I’ve mentioned before, the beauty of a living and breathing resource is that that person can help you navigate through the difficulties. And find your way around them.

So I set up a phone call.

Sure enough, in less than a twenty-minute discussion, I had a legally and historically valid plot. And, again, the answer was so easy!

But—geez—the process of finding those easy answers. Sometimes it’s not.

Tuesday, July 16, 2019

Historical Fiction: The Second Wave

So . . . as I was saying. My major achievement after the first wave of research for my new writing project was selecting the specific dates for my novel.

Followed by the completion of a first draft.

After which, I had a whole NEW set of questions to research.

Such as . . .
What songs might be sung at a school concert in1904?
What serious diseases might last a full month and spread in the dead of winter?
Did students receive a diploma upon graduation from the eighth grade?

The list goes on.

And on.

And on.

The answers came, as always, from a variety of sources. Some of the best primary sources I found were online. (The original text of the Homestead Act, the Bureau of Land Management database, a first-hand account of a frontier school teacher in exactly 1904). Real people, as I have mentioned in an earlier blog post, are always outstanding. They are the only sources that can speak up and say, “No! Your idea doesn’t work and here is why.” And then help you fix the issue without your having to rewrite your entire novel.

But in this case, I found a new resource. The entire time period of my novel is covered in weekly issues of the Condon Globe newspaper, stored at the Gilliam County History Museum. So guess who got to spend the final weeks of one summer and most of her weekends in September at the museum.

Yep, that would be me.

There is an art to learning to read a newspaper from 1904.

First, one has to recognize the ads. The advertising tricksters on youtube have nothing on the advertisers from 1904. Their ads were immersed right into the text. Same font. Same spacing. Everything.

One moment you’re reading about so and so’s wedding last Saturday, and the next, you’re smack dab in the middle of a Laxative commercial. It takes a serious level of reading—which I was doing—to reach the point where you can bypass these terrifying trips into the promises of cures for everything from the Grippe to household mouse control.

Then there’s the sad lack of one’s own historical knowledge. Famous generals of the Japanese-Russian War, the Russian Revolution of 1905, the Oregon Land Fraud Scandal. I really needed to spend several evenings rifling through Wikipedia just to gain enough background to understand the stories I was reading. And I have to say I’m impressed with the coverage by this small local paper. The local papers today cover very little beyond their own tri-county region. But in 1904, the local newspaper was the major source of international news. And throughout that year, its major headlines on the front page were all world news.

Unfortunately, this meant I had to dig a lot deeper for the local stuff.

And some of it was hilarious. Not in the differences between then and now. But in the similarities. Those things that annoy you about your community. Sometimes small. Sometimes big. They just might have existed for a hundred years!

Sadly, I didn’t get the answers to ALL my questions in the local paper. But I got most of them!

And that just left the monster:

Claim law. 1904.

Which—you guessed it—is a whole other blog entry.

Wednesday, July 10, 2019

Historical Fiction: The First Wave

My next book—the one after REDEMPTION—is true historical fiction. Not historical fantasy, like Aurelia and Robert’s series. But real HF.

Which means the research has to be more real. (In other words, I can’t cheat).

Don’t get me wrong. I do a lot of research for Aurelia and Robert’s novels. And it’s a blast. Scimitars. Loading rifles. Battle plans. Eighteenth century furniture, torture devices, high-heeled shoes. I get to use all kinds of crazy historical details within Aurelia and Robert’s books.

But for my upcoming novel, I knew I needed to kick that into a whole other gear.

This meant a LOT of reading. Starting off with some general topics: the Oregon Trail, pioneer life, school teaching in the Pacific Northwest, Native American tribes in Eastern Oregon, homesteading. I got to read some fiction and some great non-fiction. I also got to read some really lousy non-fiction. And some stuff written by people who definitely don’t or didn't write at a professional level.

But some of that stuff . . . was the best. Because it was the most specific to the county I was researching. And it’s great to know that’s all you can get because it means there’s definitely room for a novel about the topic. I mean, that’s one of the reasons I want to write about it. Because no one else has.

So, as I was saying, that was a lot of reading. Most of which, won’t get into my book.

Because I had to pick a specific date, or series of dates: September 1904-1905. Ding, ding, ding!

My major achievement after a month of reading.

Once I had done that, I could actually write the whole first draft of the book.

And then launch into the second wave of research.

Wednesday, October 26, 2016

Redemption Tour Stop 6: Aurelia's Top Ten Challenges for Headstrong Characters

1.    Assassins. When you have a mind of your own, people seem to want to kill you.

2.    Vultures. AKA unwanted suitors with lots of power and very little hair.

3.    Sisters. Always a challenge, whether one is headstrong or not. But Aurelia’s sister definitely belongs on this list.

4.    Stepmothers. Like we haven’t all read enough fairy tales to know this. And I admit that Aurelia’s stepmother bears an unfortunate resemblance to the fairy tale stereotype. Aurelia would really prefer that her stepmother did not. But that’s just not the way life turned out.

5.    Cowardice.

Check out the rest of Aurelia’s top 10 at Emily’s blog, Falling For YA!