Tag Archives: writing

Janus: the Two-Faced God

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Head of Janus, Vatican Museum, Rome

The month of January is said to be named after the Roman god Janus, who was the god of beginnings, transitions, and endings among other things. He had two faces, which enabled him to look to the future and to the past.

I find this fitting because that’s what my husband and I always do on New Year’s Eve; we talk about the milestones of the past year and we set our hopeful goals for the future.

One of the biggest milestones of 2017 for me was the publication of my second novel, Blood Moon: A Captive’s Tale. In some ways, getting that second novel out into the world was even more satisfying than the first because it proved that getting published wasn’t a fluke and that I wasn’t going to be plagued by the “sophomore slump.”

However, 2017 had its writing difficulties too. One of the big adjustments I had to make was to completely abandon the idea for my next novel after having spent six to eight months researching it. The more I read, the more I realized that the person I thought was I was going to write about just wasn’t a good fit for me right now.

So I am starting over from scratch, and the reboot coincides almost exactly with the beginning of the new year. The good news is that I am very excited about the new story idea, and I can already feel the creative juices stirring in a way they didn’t last year.

Watch this space. Over the next few months, I plan to share some of the intriguing tidbits that I uncover during my research process.

And I wish each and every one of you a wonderful 2018 in which you achieve some of your own deeply cherished goals and received some pleasant surprises!

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Building a Back Story

Yesterday, I figured out a plausible back story for the protagonist of my next novel. Like The Ambitious Madame Bonaparte, this one will be based on the life of a real women—but this story is more difficult because she left her New England home to go west and then refused to talk about her childhood because of some unspecified break with her family of origin. Historians have not even been able to identify her birth family with complete accuracy because there are three different recorded birth dates for her and two different maiden names!

Needless to say, this situation has both pros and cons. On the one hand, I get to make up her back story to suit myself, while on the other hand, the field is almost too wide open. It’s difficult to make choices that hang together properly. I’ve been struggling with it for several weeks and finally decided to read a history of the state where she grew up, which unfortunately, is one of the few states I’ve never even set foot in. Reading that book made a huge difference. I learned that the industry I thought dominated the state had all but died out by the time she was born, and something else entirely had begun to take its place. Then, about a week ago, I had an intuitive flash in which I “saw” this woman as a child in a distinctive setting. After that, everything fell into place. I now know how I’ll portray the events that brought about the unlikely occurrence of a single woman from New England leaving behind her well-established family and traveling alone to the frontier.

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Getting Back to Normal

I’m really embarrassed at how infrequently I’ve been blogging. I’m well, but my attention has been focused on other things—mainly trying to develop a regular routine again. I’m working about 2/3 time, exercising regularly, marketing The Ambitious Madame Bonaparte, trying to get my garden in, and researching the new book. Blogging always seems to be the last thing on the list.

The good news is that, judging from how much exercise I am able to do, I seem to have built my stamina up to my pre-cancer levels. However, that’s still not all it could be because, during the six months before the diagnosis, I was working too much and not taking care of myself. Hopefully, my energy levels will continue to improve if I stick to my program of healthy eating, regular exercise, and slow, very gradual weight loss. But I don’t want to minimize this milestone. Even though I still have a long way to go to meet my end goals, I’ve achieved something important in getting back to where I was before the cancer.

I’m not going to make any promises about when I’ll be back to regular blogging, but I’ll try not to go a month between posts. Hope you are all well!

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Wanted: Blocks of Time

As a follow-up to yesterday’s post, it occurs to me that part of my problem is how much time I’m actually spending working on the new novel right now. As most of you know, I’m trying to get back to a semi-normal schedule after my bout with cancer. I’m working only about 60% time right now, so you’d think I would have lots of time for the novel. But three things are working against me:

1. I have a lot of new health-related things added to my daily routine, and those aren’t ever going to go away.
2. I’m really behind on household and garden chores, and I’m trying to gradually, oh so slowly, catch up.
3. It’s important that I don’t overdo my work hours for a while.

The upshot of all of this is that I’m working on the new book only about five hours a week. I plan to increase that over the course of the next few months because it’s really a pitiful amount. How can I get inside my characters’ heads when I spend so little time with them?

But it can’t be helped. I’m still in the situation that my health has to come first. It will get better when I can work at the writing at least 10-12 hours a week. I’m just not there yet.

Have you ever gone through a period in which you have so little time for your writing? What do you do to keep your excitement about the project alive?

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Getting to Know Our Characters

I’ve been reading a lot of books to research the new novel, but I’ve also been feeling frustrated. I don’t really have a handle on the woman who’s my main character yet, and how can I start writing until I have a strong sense of who she is? I keep measuring my lack of certainty about this character against my understanding of Betsy Bonaparte, and really there’s no comparison.

Yesterday, however, I began to think that perhaps it is my memory that is failing me, not my creativity. I’m comparing how well I know Sarah, the new character, at the beginning of the writing process to how well I knew Betsy at the end of the writing process. I wish I could remember how strongly Betsy felt present to me when I was first reading her biographies, but I can’t. It seems to be a bit like what mothers say about labor; once you fall in love with that baby as a real physical person, you start to forget the pain of labor. I can’t really remember much about the early uncertainties and doubts I had about telling Betsy’s story.

As a result of that insight, I’m trying to ratchet down my expectations for this stage a bit. Once I finish reading and start developing the chapter outline and character biographies, I think things will improve. I’m sure I will get to a point where Sarah feels present to me. Plus, the real knowledge often comes in the actual writing. That’s where the characters usually start to come alive for me. That’s certainly how it worked with Betsy’s son and even with Jerome.

In some ways, I think I’m worried because I fear I won’t be able to pull off the feat of writing a novel again. But that fear is probably normal too.

If you’re a writer, what is this stage of the writing process like for you?

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Musing About Conflict

I was going to sit down and write a book review this afternoon, but instead, my thoughts about the YA book in question are prompting a semi-philosophical post about conflict in fiction.

Let me give you a brief scenario. In the novel in question, the heroine doesn’t want the life that is proscribed for girls in her time period. She runs away and basically achieves her goal of an alternate life by masquerading as a boy in the very first chapter. The rest of the story is filled with interesting characters (some of whom have conflicts with the protagonist), exotic locations, and once-in-a lifetime adventures. In spite of all that, the first half of the book felt flat to me because there was no overarching tension, no big goal or conflict driving the story from episode to episode. The protagonist got what she wanted in the first chapter and she keeps telling herself how lucky she is.

Am I being too critical? Do you think it’s necessary to have a big conflict driving the story if there are a plenty of little conflicts and adventures along the way?

I should mention that eventually the overarching narrative does develop a big-picture conflict because the heroine begins to fear that her secret will be discovered—an event that would be doubly disastrous because she has fallen in love with one of her companions and knows he will feel betrayed when he learns that she has deceived him for so long. Once I got to the second half of the book, I was much more invested.

I just wonder if my expectations for the beginning were reasonable. I promised the author I’d write a review on Amazon (and I’ve told her of my concerns), but then I began to wonder if I were being too harsh. I’d love to hear what you all think either as readers or writers or both.

 

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The “Writing Process” Blog Tour

I was asked to take part in the Writing Process Blog Tour by C.P Lesley, a fellow writer of historical fiction I met in a Goodreads group. You can visit her blog here.

C. P. Lesley, a historian, is the author of The Not Exactly Scarlet Pimpernel—her 21st-century take on the classic Baroness Orczy novel, The Scarlet Pimpernel (1905)—and Legends of the Five Directions, a series set during the childhood of Ivan the Terrible.The Golden Lynx (Legends 1) is in print; The Winged Horse (Legends 2) will appear in June 2014. She is currently working on The Swan Princess (Legends 3).

Here are the questions I was asked to answer for the blog tour:

1) What am I working on?

My first novel, a historical novel called The Ambitious Madame Bonaparte, was published in December. It’s based on the life of Elizabeth Patterson Bonaparte, the American beauty who married Napoleon’s youngest brother Jerome. A few short weeks later, I was diagnosed with breast cancer. Fortunately, we caught it at Stage 1, so I didn’t need chemo. However, going through radiation was debilitating enough, and it prevented me from jumping writing into working on my next novel. Now that I’ve finished my course of treatment, I’m back to researching that project, a historical novel based on the true story of a woman who was taken captive during one of the most brutal Indian wars in U.S. history.

2) How does my work differ from others of its genre?

This is a very difficult question, but I’ll make a stab at answering. For one thing, there don’t seem to be a lot of historical novelists writing about the United States in the early 19th century, which is when my first book is set. Second, I try very hard to make the background history both interesting and clear to the readers so they can understand the broader context of the specific events of the book. Finally, I’m not afraid to write about characters that some readers might dislike if they met each other in real life. I feel that one of my jobs as a novelist is to help the reader understand why people make the choices they do from their own internal perspective, whether I approve of those choices or not.

3) Why do I write what I do?

I’m drawn to characters more than any particular time period or subject matter. I wrote about Betsy Bonaparte because she was a feisty woman who defied society’s expectations for her and, in the process, overcame enormous adversity. I’ve always been fascinated with characters who have a complex personality. I often fining myself writing about people who have been deeply hurt and about the ways they try to cope with that or recover from it.

4) How does your writing process work?

For me, it’s crucial to be able to listen to the story and let it tell me where it wants to go. I’m not the kind of writer who could ever churn out 50,000 words in a single month the way NaNoWriMo participants do. I can’t force the process because I need time to hear my characters; if I can’t hear their dialogue in my head and if I can’t hear the narrator describing the setting or the action, I’m not ready to write. Usually, I hear approximately half a chapter further along than the scene I’m currently writing. Whenever I do try to write beyond that point, then I find myself driving down a dark road without headlights. Invariably, I get lost.

Next week the blog tour will continue with posts by the following writers, whose blogs I all follow:

 

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Michelle is a native New Yorker who blogs at The Sunflower’s Scribbles on her projects, writing, reading, and whatever else strikes her fancy. She is currently working on a historical fiction novel.

 

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Krystal Jane writes paranormal and fantasy. She also blogs about writing and sometimes random things at the Narcissistic Rose.

 

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Author, Actor, and Artist, Marc Royston holds degrees in English, Theater, and Information Technology and the equivalent to a B.S. in Biology. In consequence to the Great Recession, Marc lost his home, his job, his retirement, all savings, and most of his belongings. Destitute, he has since lived with family and friends. Marc Royston is currently editing the first four volumes of Part One of his serialized novel, A Wizard’s Life. He has a blog of the same name.

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