Sunday, March 22, 2020

Staying Busy

Are you bored yet?

Since writing is a solitary endeavor, I'm used to being alone with my thoughts. So you might conclude I'm having an easier time with this forced isolation than others. You'd be wrong.

I cancelled my physical therapy sessions and put my health club membership on hold Wednesday, after a trip to the grocery store and the hardware store where I bought a carload of mulch. I figured I'd work on the mulching in the afternoons, after I spent the morning writing and I could stretch that out for at least a week. Sounded like a perfect way to fill up my days, right?

Again, you'd be wrong.

The mulching was done by Friday, along with the preparation of a batch of oatmeal cookies. I had not made cookies in years. Not even at Christmas.

Now I have to go through all the stock photo houses looking for images for cover art for my first Revolutionary War romance. Normally, I'd get irritated after the first hour, since it was taking way too much of my time. Now I'm looking forward to the challenge. It's either that, or go running from the house naked  like a crazy person. For the sake of the neighbors, I am grateful for the distraction.

Period Images, here I come.

Sunday, March 15, 2020

Hunkering Down

Now that we've all been made crazy scared by the reports relating to the CoronaVirus, more and more of us are opting out of everything and staying close to home. Which, as it turns out, is not a bad thing to do. Think of all the books you can take off your TBR pile!

But, if lounging on the sofa or in bed, and diving into a book doesn't appeal, you can participate in other activities, like taking over the dining room table to put together that jigsaw puzzle you got as a Christmas gift. Or using up your yarn and knitting a pair of mittens or a scarf that will come in handy next winter. How about getting your flower beds ready for your spring planting? Or baking that new dish you discovered on the internet?

As for me, I'm going to spend my time writing, both for pleasure, which is what I call my novel writing, or for business, which is my side hustle job that helps pay the bills. And finding another side hustle job. Maybe working on the little bit of land that is in front of my condo, making it pretty for spring. Especially if it's sunny, since Mary loves to lay on hot concrete while I work.

Regardless of what you're into, this forced break in all of our routines should be viewed as a blessing in disguise. You can finally do all those things you've put off doing when work got in the way. Enjoy your time, hunker down, and stay safe, everyone.

Sunday, March 8, 2020

Practice, Practice

I had lunch with an old friend this past week. Many years ago, when we both were much younger and had better eyesight, I taught her the basics of quilting. If you've ever tried this art form, you know the benchmark of your quality workmanship is how many stitches you can get to an inch of fabric when hand-quilting your pattern to hold the three layers together. My friend reminded me that I had managed to get to twelve per inch, something she strived for but never could achieve.

Which, of course, made me think of writing. In many ways, it's like quilting. You begin with this pile of disorganized ideas, some big images in your head, some just niggling little details. Some are quite colorful and well-defined, some ideas are vague and monochromatic, but all are essential to holding the story or the quilt pattern together. Quilters and writers both take courses and workshops to hone our craft, and continuously work to improve on our art. 

And, if we're really lucky, we can progress from five or six stitches per inch to the lauded twelve. 

Continuing my own comparison of quilting to writing, I consider having your first book published to be the equivalent of a seven-stitch-per-inch achievement. Making the NY Times best-seller list is a twelve-stitch event. Right now, with book #20 coming out in June, I'm somewhere around a nine. I'll keep working at it. 

Meanwhile, here's a picture of the last quilt I made, before my eyesight started to go. The pattern is called the Wild Goose Chase, appropriately enough, since I pieced it together during my travels from one side of the country to the other, finally finishing it when I returned to the east coast. I used at least eight different blue fabrics and six or seven red ones, but with one common theme. They all had to contain stars. The center pinwheel in each block is composed of red and blue striped fabric. Maybe this is what led me to my obsession to write American historicals? 

Sunday, March 1, 2020

Finally, March!

Maybe it's because of the extra day in February, which only happens every four years, but it seems like February was longer than normal this year. While I shouldn't complain about the weather in NC, since I keep seeing weather reports of white out conditions and massive blizzards in other parts of the country, still I wish the weather would level out.

And I guess because I had an extra day in the month to think about things, I couldn't help but think about an old boyfriend of mine, who happened to be born on February 29. Even though he was really 24 when we were dating, more often than not he acted his true age of six.

Need I state the obvious? We broke up very quickly.

But since he acted like a child most of the time, and I'm writing a book that includes five children, I'm trying to remember some of the most foolish things he did so I can incorporate them into my book. Since my experience with small children is limited, I'm drawing on whatever I can.

Maybe the experience with the old boyfriend will finally be of some use.

So, where to you get your ideas?

Sunday, February 23, 2020

Hoping For Ideas

To my faithful readers and friends–I need some brainstorming ideas.

Here's my dilemma: I have a hero who is a widower with 5 children. His wife died while giving birth to child #5. His uncle has sent him a governess from England to help him take care of the kiddos while he fights the Revolutionary War.

Obviously, hero doesn't want the governess–he wants his wife to still be alive.

Obviously, heroine doesn't want to be in America when she's never been more than five miles from home before.

So, other than making sure his children are well cared for and fed, what little things can my heroine do to worm her way into hero's heart? So far, I've had her keep a meal warm for him and kept a candle in the window so he won't come home to a dark house.

What else can I have her do? To be clear, she's not trying to entice him, but she is a caring woman. I want some little things that aren't calculated, but will sooner or later have hero realize he can't live without her.

What little acts of kindness do you do for your significant other that make them feel loved?

As a caveat to this, if you give me an idea and I use it in my story, I'll put your name in the acknowledgments!

So bring it on! There are no bad ideas if they make your partner feel loved and cared for.

Sunday, February 16, 2020

Where Does My Inspiration Come From?

Right now, I'm working on a Revolutionary War trilogy. All three books are interconnected as the war began in earnest. Most folks don't realize the first protest against the British was the Boston Tea Party in 1773. The Declaration of Independence was written and authorized in 1776, but the war waged from 1773 to 1783, when the Peace of Paris Treaty finally signaled the end of the war. So there were a lot of battles and confrontations to choose from to highlight.

Fortunately, there are great characters in each book, and even though each book can be read as a stand-alone, some of the characters appear in all three books. Which makes things easier or more difficult, depending on your point of view. On the one hand, the setting (Rev. War in the northeastern US) and the major opponents (Sons of Liberty and George Washington, the British) are consistent from book to book, so I don't need to drown myself in research. But then, the downside is how to dovetail the characters together from book to book.

Hey, if writing were easy, we'd all be doing it, right?

One thing I've noticed about these books is even though they are grounded in the Rev. War era, I use modern day music as my inspiration for the first two–the boat in Book One is named Gladys Maria, honoring Gladys Knight, since the boat is bringing a woman named Pip to the colonies. Get it?

Book Two has a heroine who changes her name each time her circumstances change, but she began her life as Fancy. Her mother dressed her in a red gown and told her to be nice to the gentlemen and they'd be nice to her. Thank you, Reba McIntire, for that inspiration.

And Book Three was inspired by one of my favorite movies–Seven Brides for Seven Brothers. My hero is a widower with five children--Adam, Ben, Caleb, Daniel and Elizabeth. Except for the girl, all the names are compliments of the brothers in the movie.

Only a handful of readers will get the connection to any of these, but they are my inspirations and make me smile.

So what inspires you?

Sunday, February 9, 2020

Beginning Lines

I started a new manuscript this week, and hurt my shoulder patting myself on the back. So, in lieu of putting in a workout at the gym, I'm writing a blog about new beginnings. The start of every manuscript can be exhilarating and scary at the same time. There is so much riding on an opening line, an opening paragraph.

The new manuscript had been bouncing around in my head for a few months now. It was with me every time I floated my cares away in the pool, and would not leave me alone until I put the words on the computer screen. But what comes next? To answer my question, I decided to do some research of what many consider the most compelling opening lines of all times. Here's a sampling:

Edward George Bulwer-Lyon, (not Snoopy)  Paul Clifford 

Call me Ishmael.--Herman Melville, Moby Dick

It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune, must be in want of a wife.--Jane Austen, Pride and Prejudice

It was a bright cold day in April, and the clocks were striking thirteen.--George Orwell, 1984

It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair.--Charles Dickens, A Tale of Two Cities

They shoot the white girl first.--Toni Morrison, Paradise

After reading these openings, I wonder--Is my opening strong enough to make you want to read more?

I keep telling myself it's just a first draft and doesn't need to be perfect at this stage, but there has to be something that draws you in, otherwise it needs to be shoved under the bed. Here's my first paragraph. Tell me what you think. Do you want to continue reading?

Eleanor Chastain nibbled on her thumbnail as she awaited the appearance of her employer. The earl had returned to Sussex late the previous day from depositing his child at Eton, where young Michael would finish his education before joining the military. She didn’t have to be told what came next. Her days at Patterson House were at an end. 

Sunday, February 2, 2020

Dipping a Toe In

Most folks who know me or who read my blog know some of my favorite time is spent water walking in the awesome pool at my health club. I dip my toes in the water and dip my head into the story line I'm working on at the same time.  I just completed the second book in my Revolutionary War trilogy, and while it's out with my beta readers, my mind wanders to the final book in this series. The first two books have featured a prominent secondary character named Patterson Lovejoy, an active member of the Sons of Liberty. It's now time for his story.

In the first two books, Patterson was happily married to Margaret and they had four children. At the end of book two, Margaret was expecting their fifth child. But, as was the case so often in colonial days, she died in childbirth, and he is left with five children and a Revolutionary War to take care of.

I had his name and backstory but was puzzling over who to pair him up with. So, I went to the pool yesterday and pondered about who would be perfect for a man like Patterson. By the time I toweled off, I had her name, at least. Enter Eleanor Chastain, a British governess who doesn't know her own strength.

To get the rest of the story, I'll have to make multiple trips to the pool in the next few months. Should be fun, and I'll get a workout while I'm working out their story.

Sunday, January 26, 2020

The End

Or is it The Beginning?

Being able to type The End on a manuscript you've been working on for months is a great feeling for any author. You've run it through your initial editing steps, and it's ready. Your baby is now able to face the world. So, what comes next?

Perhaps you have a trusted reader or two who you can rely on to beta read the manuscript and give you solid advice on what it's lacking. Because, trust me, there will be something lacking. You go through it one more time, hoping you can keep your hands off the keyboard and just read it. (Never happens.)

Then, taking a big gulp, you either send it out to publishers or you place it in the hands of an editor and start to think about covers and blurbs. It's the end of one phase of your story, but the beginning of another. No longer is the story just between you and the pages. You're now ready to have it face the world.

And hope they approve.

Fingers crossed.

Sunday, January 19, 2020

Ah, Winter

All in all, it's been a very mild winter so far. The weather folks here in NC said there has only been one day in January so far that the temperature has been below normal. Well, that's about to change. Starting this weekend, Old Man Winter has decided to show up.
It's going to rain and the temperature not getting out of the 40s. But it could be worse. I just checked the weather in Ohio, where I used to live. They will not have rain this weekend. Their precipitation is in the form of snow!

What does this have to do with writing, you ask? I had been planning to take a short road trip to a historic site in NC. But it's raining. Instead of doing research, I'll spend time editing my next manuscript. And my health club is having an open house and giving free chair massages. And I can always curl up with my dog, Mary, and stay warm and toasty as I finish the book I'm reading.

Things will still get done, just differently from what I expected. But my manuscript is coming along nicely, so it's all good. Here's the scene I worked on today. Hope you enjoy.
She began her morning with what she thought of as an easy sale. Entering a clothing store for women, she stopped to touch the fine silk gown in the window. Yellow had never been a flattering color on her, but this gown was more gold than yellow, so quite possibly…
No. She had no place to wear such finery anymore, nor did she wish to spend her money on such foolishness. 
“May I help you, madam?” The seamstress of the fine gown glanced up from her work. 
“You do lovely work.” Libby wandered further into the shop. 
“And you have a fine eye.” The woman smiled as she rose from her worktable. “Are you in need of a gown?” 
“I’m Libby Wexford, from the Gazette, and I am here to drop off some information regarding advertising in the paper.” Libby’s sales pitch faltered when she spied the red shoes. She picked up one of them, caressing it as if it were alive. “Oh, how lovely!” 

“As I said, you have a fine eye, madam. These just arrived from England.” The woman drew alongside Libby. “I have a few more pairs if you’d like to see them.” 
“No, if these fit, I’ll take them. No need to tempt myself with more. I’m sure these are the finest ones of the lot, since you put them on display first.” Libby hadn’t let go of the shoe. Instead, she unbuckled the shoe she wore and slipped the right red one onto her foot. “Perfect. May I pick them up later in the day?” 
“Yes, of course.” The proprietor of the shop only gave a cursory glance at the advertising information Libby handed her, but eagerly took her money. “I am Diana Radcliffe, by the way. I hope to see more of you, Mrs. Wexford.” 
“I’ll return this afternoon to retrieve my new shoes. Thank you for holding them for me.” Libby left the store and wandered down the wooden sidewalk. 

Saturday, January 11, 2020

So It Begins

Over the years since my publishing journey began, I have approached editing in an ever-evolving way. Editing will never be my favorite part of the process, but it's so essential to get it right. I begin my manuscripts writing in Scrivener, a software program that allows you to keep research, language, description, and in the case of my latest work, pictures of fashionable footwear from the late 1700s all in one place so you can quickly and easily reference it as you write. When I finish the rough first draft, I go back and use Margie Lawson's techniques making sure there's enough blue, green, pink, yellow and orange in each scene. (If you're a Margie grad, you know what I mean.)  

Libby manufactured a tear, which she made a show of brushing away. “I’m afraid Mr. Wexford recently passed.” 
He mumbled an apology, handed her a key and took her money for the first week’s rent. Libby placed her fingers on her fluttering stomach. She’d told the truth, sort of. Mr. Wexford had recently passed. 
She thought she’d have a bigger battle on her hands, but evidently, widows were aplenty in Boston. The scuffle with Britain had been simmering for some years and was about to turn into a full-blown war.

Then I run through it again with my 'words not to use' checklist. I end up with an entire sheet of paper with heavy checkmarks all over it.
Finally, when I'm done with all that, I download the work into a word document and go through it again, adding to the scenes, fleshing them out.

So yesterday, I finally was able to dump my work into a word document. This manuscript has been very difficult to write, since family obligations forced me to ignore it for a couple months. By the time I got back to it, I had to read it again from the beginning to get my mind back in the game. There's still a long way to go with it, but I thought I'd share the opening scene with you. The book is the second in my Revolutionary War series, tentatively titled "A British Courtesan in America." Hope you enjoy.

Off the coast of England, 1777

Anjanette Shelby nibbled on her lower lip as her homeland faded into oblivion. She had successfully put England behind her, literally and figuratively. She breathed a sigh of relief, inhaling the salty air as she pondered what name she should give herself now. She was about to take on a third identity, but a girl does what she must to survive. The waves, and the wind, were propelling her toward a new future and she had an entire voyage across the huge Atlantic Ocean in which to come up with a new name. The slogan of her new homeland—Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness– resonated. She was entering a new life in the pursuit of happiness, so maybe she should call herself …Liberty? The name bounced around in her head as the waves bounced the ship around in the vast ocean. Liberty. Libby. Bertie? She’d give it some thought. 
“Excuse me, miss, but you dropped your handkerchief.” A man joined her at the railing, holding a scrap of cloth between his fingers. She glanced at him, and the hankie in his hand, briefly, before searching the waves slapping against the side of the ship. His opening salvo had been a pretty uninspired way of engaging her in a discussion, he was a pretty uninspiring man, and the hankie was pretty uninspired and basic. Not at all her style. 
“You must be mistaken, sir. I did not carry a hankie on deck.” She took a step away from the railing. “I must get back to my room, if you’ll excuse me.” 
He quickly placed a hand on her arm. She peeled his fingers from her arm, one at a time. “I said, excuse me.” 
He lowered his hand but stared at her. “There’s no need to be so angry. I merely wish to become acquainted with you. After all, we’ll be aboard this vessel for six weeks or so, and may as well find some way to liven things up, don’t you agree? You’re alone, it appears, as am I.” He cocked an eyebrow. 
“I’m looking forward to being alone, sir.” Anjanette stared back at him. She’d dealt with worse in her lifetime. He was no match for her, although her stomach quivered.
“So you are headed to a new life as a single lady, eh?” He shrugged. “I’m afraid you won’t be able to shed your past as easily as you’ve shed me.” 
“You have no knowledge of my past, sir.” 
He shrugged again. “You are correct. Except we all have one. And my guess is if you’re traveling alone to America, you must be running from yours.” 
She pivoted on her heel and left the deck, striding quickly to her room in the second-class accommodations. Why wouldn’t men just leave her alone? Even if what he said was true, she didn’t need to be told it. She was taking a risk, traveling without an escort, but she no longer had anyone. She no longer needed anyone. She’d have to confine herself to her room during the day and prowl the deck at night. That man, and others of his ilk, would be in first-class, so, with any luck, she could avoid running into him again. Her blood ran cold at the thought there might be someone on board who was aware of her background and reputation. Yes, it was best to stick close to her room by day, venture forth only at night and pray for a swift passage. 
Anjanette’s body finally unclenched after six weeks aboard ship. She took a long, cleansing breath as the last of the first class passengers departed the ship. It would soon be her turn to leave. She’d kept a low profile during the entire voyage, and successfully traversed the Atlantic without being uncovered. Her dresses, though well made, were modest and serviceable. She kept her hair in a chignon with no adornments. If anything, she’d become a chameleon, imitating the other second-class passengers to better blend in. 
She gathered her possessions and placed them back into her satchel. She fingered her favorite necklace, the last piece of jewelry her final benefactor, Atticus, had given her. 
“Thank you, darling, for giving me this gift.” She wiped the tears from her cheeks and took a deep breath. Atticus had given her more than a necklace. He had given her the means to declare her freedom. She packed away the necklace and packed away her old identity. Liberty Wexford was about to disembark and live out the rest of her days in colonial America. Suddenly, the cabin was too small, the ship was too small. She needed to breathe in the free air of America. 
The ship steward stood next to the ramp, ticking the names of the passengers off the manifest. He glanced at her and smiled. “Miss Shelby, I didn’t see much of you during the voyage. Did you fare well, or were you suffering from seasickness?” 
She returned his smile, schooling her expression to one of disinterest. She had no wish to flirt with this, or any, man. “Some, at the beginning of the voyage, but I had a lot of reading to do.” 
“Well, you’re free to go. Enjoy your stay in Boston, Miss Shelby.” 
Free to go. 
She glanced at the steward. “Can you recommend some accommodations?”
“Yes, there’s a really nice hotel, The Hartford, just up the street.” He motioned to the cobblestoned street leading away from the dock. “I can arrange to have your trunks delivered there.” 
“That would be wonderful. Thank you, sir.” 
He called after her. “Goodbye, Miss Shelby.” 
She glanced back at him and waved as she whispered, “It’s no longer Miss Shelby. I’m Liberty Wexford now.” 
Liberty’s steps were light as she touched the cobblestones. Were it not for the spectacle she would create, she’d fall to her knees and kiss the stones. She straightened her hat, shifted her bag from one hand to the other, and set off for the hotel the steward had suggested. After she found lodging, she’d find a job. Boston should look out. Libby Wexford just landed. 

Sunday, January 5, 2020

Moving On?

It's been a bad week for romance authors. Even if you're not involved in the national organization, the scandal that took place around the holiday made the national news. I won't go into it here, but many of us are questioning if we want to continue our affiliation with the group.

I came to adulthood during the height of the Vietnam war and attended many a political protest in my youth. And more recently, I participated in one last year. I've always fought for what I believed in but now I'm questioning whether to stay with the organization and fight to make it better or to leave.

On the one hand, you can't change anything if you aren't a member. Your voice becomes mute if you leave the fold. On the other hand, maybe the organization isn't worth saving, so you're beating a dead horse.

What to do?

My membership is up for renewal the end of February. Hopefully by then, I'll have an answer.