Z is for Zilch!

Zilch is what I’ve accomplished toward starting over to write my first historical novel. I have successfully completed the 2017 A to Z Blog Challenge by writing a post today that has something to do with the letter “Z.” I enjoyed parts of the challenge, but I’m glad English only has 26 letters! It was interesting and I picked up some new followers, but I don’t think I’ll do it again. Beginning on Tuesday, May 2, I plan to return to my former routine of blogging on Tuesdays and Fridays.

2017 A to Z Challenge Badge
Blogging from A to Z Challenge Badge 2017

With this blog challenge finished

I look forward to having more time to delve back into the various resources available to me as I keep researching the facts surrounding the core event in The Spanish Coin manuscript. Several more books are coming from two public library systems, so you know what I’ll be doing next week.

What happened to The Spanish Coin?

I revealed in my “H is for Historical Fiction” blog post on April 10, 2017 (H is for Historical Fiction) that I had discovered some pertinent information about the core of my story that necessitated my starting over. Several years (actually a decade) and 96,000 words later, I’m back to having a blank page.

My options

Since April 10 I have done a lot of thinking and reading. I’ll need to do a little more work on the research end of things and then determine how to rewrite The Spanish Coin. It might not survive with that working title. Or I might be able to salvage that title and change the circumstances of its importance. Or I might just take the spark of the true story as my inspiration and write a totally new story.

When I figure out which option to settle on, I’ll let you know.

With the A to Z Blog Challenge Finished

I look forward to having time to read more books. My current “Books I Want to Read” list is so long I fear I won’t live long enough to read all of them. With new books being released every month, the list just keeps growing.

Until my next blog (which should be on May 2)

I hope you have a good book to read. I’m enjoying Small Great Things, by Jodi Picoult, World of Toil and Strife: Community Transformation in Backcountry South Carolina, 1750-1805, by Peter N. Moore, and The Art and Craft of Writing Historical Fiction, by James Alexander Thom. I have to take note and reread parts of Mr. Thom’s book occasionally. The bibliography in Mr. Moore’s book has already led me to more books I need to read before I figure out the verdict for The Spanish Coin.

If you’re a writer, I hope you have productive writing time. I hope you’ve gotten past the blank page stage on your first novel.

Janet

H is for Historical Fiction

This is the eighth day of the 2017 A to Z Blog Challenge, so I am writing a blog post that has something to do with the letter, “H.” I chose a topic I enjoy and one about which I try to learn more every day.

One of my dreams is to write a historical novel. The historian in me struggles with the fiction in historical fiction. The writer in me wishes I could run fast and loose with the facts.

Over the weekend, I did a lot of reading on the subject in preparation for writing today’s blog post. In the process, I found some information that shed more light on the historical event that serves as the basis for the novel manuscript I’ve been working on for the last decade or so.

The combination of the new information I found about that event when paired with some of the reading I did yesterday about the craft of writing historical fiction made my head spin. The combination of the two, in fact, has convinced me that I must start over writing my novel. Yes, you read that correctly. I must start over.

When I mapped out my topics for this A to Z Blog Challenge two or three weeks ago, I thought “H” was a no-brainer. I could write about historical fiction. Today’s post would be one of the easier ones of the 26 letters of the alphabet. That’s laughable now, except I don’t feel much like laughing.

I won’t see The Spanish Coin in print. Not in its present form. Probably not in any form or with that title. I will, however, be able to use parts of it and characters from it.

None of my research has been in vain. Nor has any of my writing. Any time spent writing is beneficial. Writing is an exercise of “muscles” in the brain. Like any other muscles in the body, if not used they weaken and eventually cease to work.

The bad news is that I have to start over. The good news is that I get to start over. Today I get a fresh start.

I’m certainly not the first writer who never got her first novel published. There are numerous stories about first manuscripts being lost. Some succumbed to fire, while others were mistakenly left on a train and were never seen again. Many first manuscripts get rejected so many times by publishers that the writer eventually puts it away and moves on to another novel. Most writers have had to start over. That is what I will do, and I believe the end product will be better than The Spanish Coin manuscript.

Historians, as a rule, look at historical fiction with disdain. I want to be a historical novelist whose work is respected even by historians. Something I learned from historical fiction author Sharyn McCrumb and from author James Alexander Thom is that historical fiction can be just as — or even more — accurate than a history textbook.

History contains many errors because each person sees the same incident differently or remembers it differently. History textbooks contain errors and are biased depending on the agenda of the writer(s), the publisher, or the state school board or local school’s decision makers selecting the curriculum. History books are usually written by someone on the winning side of a war. The viewpoint of the losing side is rarely given or, if it is, it is what the winner thinks the loser thought or believed.

James Alexander Thom quotes author Lucia Robson in his book, The Art and Craft of Writing Historical Fiction as he wrote the following:

“Lucia Robson’s facts can be trusted if, say, you’re a teacher assigning her novels as supplemental reading in a history class. ‘Researching as meticulously as a historian is not an obligation but a necessity,’ she tells me. ‘But I research differently from most historians. I’m look for details of daily life of the period that might not be important to someone tightly focused on certain events and individuals. Novelists do take conscious liberties by depicting not only what people did but trying to explain why they did it.’”

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Mr. Thom also wrote in that same book about writing historical fiction:

“To be really good historical novelists, though (and that’s what I want us to be), we have to take our obligation to historical truth just as seriously as the historians do theirs.”

He also wrote,

“But here’s the key:  Whether your historical story is ancient or recent history, what you want to do is re-create it in full – live, colorful, smelly, noisy, savory, painful, repugnant, scary, all the ways it actually was – and then set the reader down smack in the midst of it.”

Many years ago, I read Follow the River, by James Alexander Thom. His writing was so good that I felt like I was in the story. I felt like I was Mary Ingles, the main character.

If I’m going to write historical fiction, this is my challenge: Get all the facts right, as far as research makes that possible, and flavor the story with believable dialogue and enough authentic background to make my reader feel like he or she is there.

The story I want to write takes place in the Carolina backcountry in 1771. In order to take my reader there, I must go there. I must be there.

Until my next blog post

Please hang in there with me. I’ve always thought of my blog as a way to take readers along on my journey as a writer. The road is not straight. It contains many curves, hill, and potholes. Yesterday I ran up on an unexpected detour.

As a traveler, I don’t like detours. I’m the type person who drives other people crazy. I map out the entire trip in advance. I have a daily itinerary planned. I leave little time for serendipity. That’s the way I plan vacations and yet, when I look back on the best trips of my life, it is the ones that weren’t so rigidly planned that I enjoyed the most.

Fasten your seatbelts, because this writer’s journey just got a lot more exciting and uncertain!

Janet

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C is for Characterization

This is the third day of the 2017 A to Z Blog Challenge, so today’s post must have something to do with the letter “C.” Thinking in the realm of writing fiction, I settled on the word CHARACTERIZATION.

Characterization can be shown through narrative, dialogue, action, and reaction. All four should be used by a writer.

There are many things for a fiction writer to keep in mind in creating and fleshing out characters. My writing mentor from Queens University of Charlotte, Judy Simpson, said, “Don’t begin writing your story until you know all of the major characters.” I can’t remember if I followed that advice when I started writing The Spanish Coin manuscript 10 or more years ago. (There! I’ve said it! This has been a labor of love that I have worked on in spurts and fits, sometimes not touching it for more than a year at a time.) But I digress.

The famous mantra of writing instructors comes into play in characterization:  Show, don’t tell. Don’t tell the reader about a character. Reveal character details through what they say, how they say it, and what they do or don’t do.

Even though the writer might have in her notes a driver’s license description of each character (e.g., black male, brown eyes, black hair, six feet tall, 180 pounds) that is usually not the best way to introduce a character to your reader. Let those details (or just the ones that are pertinent) come out gradually and in subtle ways.

Every character has strengths and weaknesses. A “goody-two-shoes” character is boring and, let’s face it, offensive and irritating. Likewise, even the most heinous villain probably has some redeeming value.

Characters unnecessary to the story should be omitted. Related to that, a writer should not include minor characters early on in a novel because the reader might be misled and lose interest.

There is also the matter of choosing names for all the characters. Writing instructors caution beginning writers not to give two characters in the same short story or novel names that are similar. For instance, you might not want a Phil and a Phyllis in the same book.

I have struggled over the name of a free woman of color in The Spanish Coin. She was Rachel for a long time because I think Rachel is a beautiful name and it conjures up an image of a strong and elegant woman in my mind. I changed her name to Clarissa in honor of a woman of color who made a great impression on me while I was writing local history articles for a newspaper a decade ago. It will be interesting to see what the character’s name turns out to be in the final product.

Another consideration that must be taken into account, especially when writing historical fiction, is that the writer must make sure to give characters names appropriate to the time and place. For instance, you won’t find a Tammy or a Kevin in The Spanish Coin because those names were not used in 1771 in the Carolina backcountry.

Each character should have at least one distinguishing characteristic in order to help set an image in the reader’s mind. A character could have a foreign accent, a disfiguring physical feature, a hearing problem, a lisp, a limp, an annoying laugh, a mental illness, or a word or phrase that no one else says.

Who knew there were so many things to think about when giving a fictitious character a name?

Until my next blog post tomorrow

I hope you have a good book to read. (I seem to always have too many on my bedside table! One night they’re going to topple over and give me a concussion.) If you’re a writer, I hope you have quality writing time.

Janet

2017 A to Z Challenge Badge
Blogging from A to Z Challenge Badge 2017

What I read in April

I am still fairly new to blogging about my life as a writer, so please be patient as I make changes in my blog page as I learn new things. I’ve added a couple of new items this evening and will be working out the bugs in the coming days.

My first blog post each month will be about the books I read in the previous month.

Author Lee Smith’s latest book, Dimestore: A Writer’s Life, is an enjoyable book. It’s a memoir told through stories. Ms. Smith was born in the mountains of Virginia, and she has a lovely accent. As I read Dimestore, I could hear her saying the words.

In my “Some books I read in February” blog post, I reported finally starting to read Sue Grafton’s Alphabet Series of novels. I plan to read them in order, so I read B is for Burglar in April. I’m on the wait list for C is for Corpse at the public library. Apparently, I’m not the only person who is 20 years late reading her series.

Raising Ryland: Our Story of Parenting a Transgender Child with No Strings Attached, by Hillary Whittington made a lasting impression on me. It is written by the mother of a young transgender child. Labeled a girl at birth, as a toddler Ryland started letting his parents know that he really was a boy — not a tomboy, but a boy. This is a wonderful book that taught me a lot about this topic which has been making global headlines lately due to the passage of House Bill 2 (HB2) by the North Carolina state legislature. Raising Ryland should be required reading for the North Carolina governor and state legislators. It helped me have a better understanding of transgender people, and I highly recommend it. I don’t think I’ll ever forget this book.

I ended the month by reading Mrs. Roosevelt’s Confidante, by Susan Elia MacNeal. A historical novel set in Washington, DC during World War II, the book introduced me to a new historical fiction author. You can be sure I’ll read all of Susan Elia MacNeal’s books. This is Ms. MacNeal’s fifth book of fiction. She has another one scheduled for release in October 2016 titled The Queen’s Accomplice. If you like historical fiction set in the World War II era, I suggest you give Ms. MacNeal’s books a try. If you’re like me, you’ll learn some history while enjoying a suspenseful story.

To be a good writer, it is said one must be a reader. I’m not a fast reader, but I try to read a variety of genres and learn what good fiction is.

Please follow me on Twitter by clicking on the Twitter icon in the sidebar.

Janet

Some books I read in February

On February 21 I posted a blog about some of the books I read in January. I think in the future I will blog about the books I’ve read in a given month at the end of that month or first couple of days in the following month. I have good intentions, but you know what they say about those!

“Exploring North Carolina” is one of my favorite shows on UNC-TV. The host, Tom Earnhardt, never fails to educate and entertain as he explores the varied and rich geography, geology, flora, and fauna of the state. Although the vast majority of my books come from the public library, Mr. Earnhardt’s book, Crossroads of the Natural World: Exploring North Carolina with Tom Earnhardt was a book I knew I wanted to own. It’s the kind of book from which one can learn something new every time it is read. As if I needed any encouragement to visit every nook and cranny of North Carolina, this book makes me wish I could spend all my time doing just that.

Now that Sue Grafton is nearing the end of the alphabet, I decided to start reading her books. I read A is for Alibi in January and plan to continue reading my way through her popular alpha series. I couldn’t help but notice how telephone communications have changed since A is for Alibi was published in 1982. It almost places the book in the historical fiction genre.

Another case that falls into the “so many books, so little time” category is John Grisham and his books. I finally got around to reading Gray Mountain. (Yes, Sycamore Row is still on my “want to read” list — which is growing far faster than I’ll ever be able to keep up with.) I thoroughly enjoyed Gray Mountain. I love the way Mr. Grisham gets his points across regarding social justice issues without beating us over the head. In Gray Mountain, he puts a human face on how surface mining has scarred so much of our nation’s coal-producing region.

I was delighted to win a copy of The Third Reconstruction: Moral Mondays, Fusion Politics, and the Rise of a New Justice Movement, by the Rev. Dr. William J. Barber II with Johnathan Wilson Hartgrove. I participated in the Moral Mondays Movement in North Carolina in the summer of 2014, so I was eager to read Dr. Barber’s book. Even though I pride myself for staying informed about local, state, and national politics, Dr. Barber’s book opened my eyes to some historical connections that I had not made. This book shines a light on dirty politics in North Carolina but gives strong hope that this current grassroots movement will persist.

The Dark Road to Mercy, a novel by my fellow North Carolinian Wiley Cash, is primarily set in Gastonia, North Carolina and Myrtle Beach, South Carolina. It is the sad tale of two young sisters abandoned by their father and then left in a children’s home when their mother died. Long lost Dad shows up and wants his daughters. Thus begins a tale that will keep you wondering what’s going to happen next and what the final outcome will be. If you want to read what inspired Mr. Cash’s book, read his author page on Amazon.com. I’ll be on the lookout for his next book.

David Baldacci’s The Guilty was the next book I read in February. Mr. Baldacci did not fail to give the numerous twists and turns for which he is known. This whodunit is a true page turner. As a Southerner, I think the accents were at times overdone, and I was surprised he made the mistake of having a character ask another character, “What do y’all want” when obviously speaking to one lone individual. Also, I’ve never heard a Southerner use the term, “Yous.” On a positive note, he did spell “y’all” correctly, which is something some Southerners don’t do. The deeper I got into the fascinating story, the less I noticed the vernacular. Not sure how I’d feel, though, if I were from Mississippi.

Perhaps I am just sensitive about the accents because use of accents and brogues in dialogue is something I’m struggling with in my fiction writing. I’m dealing with Carolina backcountry settlers from Scotland, Ireland, and France and slaves from Africa in my historical novel manuscript titled The Spanish Coin. Since I’m a novice writer, who am I to criticize someone like David Baldacci? I’m striving to strike a balance between giving characters authentic voices and overdoing vernacular to the point that it distracts the reader from the story. It is a writing skill I must master.

Now I’m afraid this post is too long. Do I need to blog about what I’m reading more often than monthly?

What do I do with my time?

I am often asked what I do with my time, since I do not work outside the home. It puzzles me on several levels. Foremost, why does anyone care what I do with my time? Some people don’t think writing is hard work. I have friends who think a book can be written in a day, so they wonder why I haven’t finished writing my historical novel, The Spanish Coin.

Also, I have many interests. I enjoy reading; writing; rooting for my beloved Carolina Panthers (“Keep Pounding!”); genealogy; staying informed about current events and politics; sewing; quilting; playing the mountain dulcimer; crocheting; knitting; doing needlepoint; photography; cooking; baking; listening to a variety of music; and spending quality time with friends, family, and my dog. My sister and I share an online craft shop, Hickory Ridge Crafts, on Etsy.

Therefore, I hardly know where to start or how to respond when asked, “What do you do with your time?” My interests run far beyond my energy, but I am fortunate to be able to do what I’m in the mood to do most days. That, my friends, is a true blessing. I worked full time for many years, so I value my time now all the more.

I love getting back into the process!

I love getting back into the process of writing my historical novel, tentatively titled The Spanish Coin! Having a computer again and making time to get reacquainted with my 97,000-word manuscript has been fun and reassuring.

A few days ago I started with the first chapter and went to work tweaking words, phrases, sentences, and paragraphs. I have changed the layout of the house that Nancy Craighead Richardson lives in based on some things I saw in October in a house at Hart Square in Catawba County, North Carolina. That necessitates making consistent changes in the book as people move from room-to-room or can or cannot hear conversations taking place in another room. As I work my way through the manuscript for the umpteenth time, I still search for more precise words, more vivid descriptions, and tidbits to add in order to make my characters come alive.

The first hurdle I had to jump before plunging back into my manuscript was to once again come to grips with the fact that I am writing historical fiction. The historian in me was faced (once again) with a conundrum. When I write a history article or nonfiction book, I am a stickler for making sure every fact to checked and double-checked. Writing historical fiction based on a person who actually lived 250 years ago is a challenge for me. My fear is that someone will read The Spanish Coin and fall into the trap of thinking it is all based on fact.

In my manuscript I took a 1771 Carolina backcountry event and the lore that grew out of that event to weave a “what if?” story. In fact, I visited the Lancaster County SC Public Library in Lancaster on Friday just to make sure I had not overlooked something in my initial research for The Spanish Coin.

If I am fortunate enough to get my manuscript published, I must trust the readers to read it and appreciate for what it is — a work of fiction.

Postcard captions in dribs and drabs

The title for today’s blog posting came to me and triggered a question in my mind. Where or how did that saying originate? It seems that dribs dates back to the 17th century in some English, Irish, and Scottish dialects and meant “an inconsiderable quantity” or sort of like “drip.” The origin of drab in conjunction with drib isn’t as clear. It meant a “small debt or sum of money in England in the early part of the 19th century. I must admit, though, that I thought it was “drips and drabs” until I looked it up a few minutes ago. The joke is on me! It just goes to show that sometimes I think I know what I’m talking about but I actually don’t. At least I was using it correctly even though I wasn’t spelling or saying it correctly.

I had hoped to edit my historical novel manuscript, The Spanish Coin, for four hours today. (Anyone remember that Writing Plan of Action I posted about a few days ago?) Instead, a plumber was in the house working in various rooms for a couple of hours. It doesn’t take much to distract me. There was just no way I could settle down and get any uninterrupted time to edit that book between that disruption and then the aftermath of putting things back into cabinets and mopping the kitchen and bathrooms. I did not want to abandon my writing completely, so I did the research for and wrote nine vintage postcard captions in preparation for a possible piedmont North Carolina book for Arcadia Publishing. (My goal was to write two captions today.) I’ll keep you posted.

Not one single sales gene!

Making “cold calls” at bookstores and other stores that might sell my book is not my idea of fun because I was born without one single sales gene. It is difficult for me to enter a store and introduce myself and my book. Perhaps it will get easier with practice. I am much happier at the keyboard writing. That’s probably true of most writers, but promoting one’s book is part of the job.

I told my friend, Kay, that I was not cut out for life in the fast lane. She didn’t miss a beat and came back with, “Maybe you should of thought about that before you wrote a book!”

If you’ve been following my blog over the last week, I don’t want to leave you with the impression that my book was on all the bookstore shelves in the mountains. I visited several bookstores that had not heard of my book, The Blue Ridge Mountains of North Carolina. That was not a surprise.

Eastern National operates the gift/book shop at the Folk Art Center on the Blue Ridge Parkway in Asheville. There were a couple of Arcadia Publishing books available there, but mine was not one of them. The cashier said they will “probably have it eventually.” He said it has to be approved for sale by the national office, the regional office, and then the local office. I’m hopeful my book will be for sale there by spring. Winter is a slow time for tourists on the Blue Ridge Parkway, so spring will be good.

The woman at Fountainhead Books in Hendersonville was not very encouraging, but gave me the owner’s business card and told me to have Arcadia contact the owner directly. I did that when I got home, and Arcadia is following up with Fountainhead.

The Fountainhead Bookstore in Hendersonville, NC.
The Fountainhead Bookstore in Hendersonville, NC.

Joy of Books is the other bookstore in Hendersonville. The woman there was upbeat. She has never ordered books from Arcadia, but she has ordered from History Press and she knew that the two companies recently merged. I’m hopeful that she will order my book.

Joy of Books in Hendersonville, NC.
Joy of Books in Hendersonville, NC.

All the contacts I make while promoting The Blue Ridge Mountains of North Carolina will serve me well if I get to write additional vintage postcard books for Arcadia Publishing and when I get my historical novel published. The title I’ve given that 98,000-word manuscript is The Spanish Coin. Someday….

The Dry Grass of August

Today was great fun! I got to hear Anna Jean Mayhew, author of The Dry Grass of August, speak at the public library in Kannapolis, NC. The event was well attended and she answered questions until there were no more. She’s a very entertaining speaker.

Discussions of The Dry Grass of August generate interesting questions and conversations about the days before and during the Civil Rights Movement. Today’s audience was a cross-section of ages and people who grew up in various parts of the United States. Today’s program brought several perspectives to light.

The discussion about race relations combined with A.J.’s talking about her writing and life experiences made for a very enjoyable afternoon.