Mouth Music

In The River Maiden, much we are first introduced to Sarah's chosen profession when she and her partner Amy are invited to give an example of mouth music or puirt a beul to a Gaelic singing workshop.  I have gotten a number of questions about this style of music, so I thought I would do a post on the topic.

Here is how Dermot describes this kind of music.  

...Well, believe it or not, in Scotland, there isna always a fiddler or piper handy. So we ingenious Scots developed a style of singing that allows us to mimic the rhythms of those instruments. This style tends to be fast like a reel or a strathspey. It’s meant to give people somethin’ to dance to.”
— The River Maiden

To which Sarah adds. 

The lyrics in puirt à beul are really servants to the music and are meant to be more percussive than poetic,” Sarah said. “Unlike what you’ve been studying this week, these songs are strictly for fun, not usually for storytelling or lamenting. So some of the words might not make a lot of sense. They are loads of fun, though.
— The River Maiden

She's absolutely right. They are loads of fun to sing. If you enjoy singing, I highly recommend giving it a try.  Although, you might want to start with some other Gaelic songs first. The speed of these songs would be challenging in English, in Gaelic they take a lot of practice. 

Of course, you don't have to take my fictional grad student's word for it. Wikipedia has a pretty accurate article on the matter. 

Usually, the genre involves a single performer singing lighthearted, often bawdy lyrics, although these are sometimes replaced with meaningless vocables.

In puirt a beul, the rhythm and sound of the song often have more importance than the depth or even sense of the lyrics. Puirt a beul in this way resembles other song forms like scat singing. Normally, puirt are sung to a 4/4 or 6/8 beat.
— Wikipedia

I won't subject you to my own puirt a beul efforts here. Although if you happen to meet me and feed me enough whisky I might be convinced to provide a live example. For now, you can click play on one of my favorite songs below to hear this kind of music in action. This one is from Mary Jane Lamond, a Gaelic singer/musician from Cape Breton, Nova Scotia. 

Here is a snippet of the lyrics in Gaelic. 

Ciamar a nì mi ‘n dannsa dìreach
Ciamar a nì mi ‘n ruidhle bòidheach
Ciamar a nì mi ‘n dannsa dìreach
Dh’fhalbh a’ phrìn’ ás bonn mo chòta
Ciamar a nì mi ‘n dannsa dìreach
Ciamar a nì mi ‘n ruidhle bòidheach
Ciamar a nì mi ‘n dannsa dìreach
Dh’fhalbh a’ phrìn’ ás bonn mo chòta

Dh’fhalbh a’ phrìn’ a chuir air chlì mi
Dh’fhalbh a’ phrìn’ ás bonn mo chòta
Dh’fhalbh a’ phrìne a chuir air chlì m
Dh’fhalbh a’ phrìn’ ás bonn mo chòta
Dh’fhalbh a’ phrìn’ a chuir air chlì mi
Dh’fhalbh a’ phrìn’ ás bonn mo chòta
Dh’fhalbh a’ phrìne a chuir air chlì mi
Dh’fhalbh a’ phrìn’ ás bonn mo chòta

And here's the translation. You can find the whole song and translation here.

How can I make a tidy dance
How can I dance a bonny reel
How can I make a tidy dance
The pin went from the hem of my coat
How can I make a tidy dance
How can I dance a bonny reel
How can I make a tidy dance
The pin went from the hem of my coat

The pin went and that put me astray
The pin went from the hem of my coat
The pin went and that put me astray
The pin went from the hem of my coat
The pin went and that put me astray
The pin went from the hem of my coat
The pin went and that put me astray
The pin went from the hem of my coat

This is a perfect example of what the Wikipedia article was talking about. The lyrics seem inconsequential (unless you write fiction in which case they're a smashing writing prompt, but that's for another time). The key is the rhythm, and that comes with the repetitive and percussive 'ch' and 't' sounds at the end of each line. Juxtaposed with the rise and fall of the 'i' and softening 'a' sounds it makes a nice dance-able tune. 

I'll leave you with another fine example of three songs from Uist sung by the very talented Julie Fowlis.

Fall for the Indie Book Challenge

For an independent author there are 2 steps to selling books. 

1) Letting people know that you have a book out. This frequently involves tweeting, posting on facebook, shouting from roof tops, getting your family and friends to tweet post and/or shout from rooftops, Courting media such as your local paper, book bloggers, and/or pretty much anybody with a megaphone. If you're as lucky as me you also have an adorable 10 year old "publicist" who tells every adult he sees including wait staff, nurses at the doctor's office, car rental agents...that his mom wrote a book and they should really check it out. 

2) Convincing people that it's worth buying and reading. The best way to do that is with REVIEWS. 

It's a simple fact that reviews sell books. Whether they are on Amazon, BN, Goodreads, or book blogs. There is no substitute for readers telling other readers that your book is good. The difficulty is getting people to review your books. 

Sure there are plenty of book "blogs" out there who will allow you to pay them for what they call reviews. These reviews tend to paraphrase the back copy of your book and then gush for about a paragraph. This might serve to get the word out, but discerning readers can tell the difference. As a rule, I don't pay for reviews, nor do I accept payment for reviews. 

I also don't have the marketing and advertising budget to blast ads for my books all over the place. I would contend that most other indie authors don't either. I do however believe in Independent publishing, and indie authors. 

That's why I signed up for the Fall for the Indie Book Challenge. Author, S. Usher Evans proposed this challenge as a way for authors and readers to help each other find quality independent books and celebrate independent publishing and the freedom that writers have when gates are left open. 

Here is how it works:

  • Starting September 1st read 1 independent or small press published book each week for 15 weeks. 
  • Write reviews on the books you read. You can post them on blogs, Goodreads, your preferred ebook retailer, whatever platform works best for you.

"But, Meredith, I can't read a book every week," you say. That's why it's called a challenge. Personally, I usually read at least a book a week, but there are times when other obligations might slow down that rate. I am trying to write another book after all.  No worries, if you miss a week or two or ten, you are still supporting indie authors even with just one review. 

To communicate with other participants and get or share ideas on what to read, you can join the Fall for the Indie Book Challenge Group on Goodreads. There are threads for discussing and recommending books by genre (They're not all romance.) and even a thread for genre benders like mine. 

If you are a reader: Please join and recommend some of your favorite indie books for others to read. 

If you are an author: Please join and remember to promote others before you promote your own. I would suggest recommending 2 indie books in addition to yours. 

I look forward to seeing everyone's recommendations as well as your reviews and of course I look forward to some great reading ahead. 

Sneak peek

I am happy to announce that you can now get The River Maiden in paperback from Amazon. Other retailers should be able to order it in the next few weeks. 

The number one question that I get asked on when folks finish The River Maiden is, "When does the next book come out?"

This is a difficult question to answer. I confess work is moving slowly, because with summer vacation and travel, there isn't a lot of writing going on. I do however, have the book outlined and have started writing and researching.

To prove it, and because I love teasers. Here is an excerpt from the new book which currently has the working title of Cauldron. Enjoy!

 

Sarah tapped her fingers on the handle of her suitcase as she watched each floor tick slowly by in bright red numbers. She was only going to the sixth floor, but this was possibly the longest elevator ride of her life. She had hoped that leaving Raleigh before dawn would have helped her sleep on the flight over, but no such luck. Nerves, her seat, and the loud talker in the row in front of her had kept her up the most of the way. 

Now, she was practically swaying on her feet while the elevator crept at a pace that made her wonder if it wasn’t being pulled up manually. Finally the six appeared with a soft ding and the door slid open to reveal a long gray hallway dotted with mostly closed doors. She couldn’t help but be a little disappointed. She was expecting the University of Edinburgh to look more old world, but this building was 1960’s modern. With a sigh she stepped out of the elevator dragging her suitcase behind her. As she made her way down the hall she noticed small signs next to some doors stating what the offices housed. Most of them seemed to be university administration offices.

She could see one door nearly at the end of the hall that was flung wide open. On the floor outside was a stack of cardboard boxes. She made her way to it to find a sheet of white paper with ‘Scots Preservation Field Team’ scrawled in black marker taped over the little plaque beside the door. ‘Looks like this is the place,’ she thought taking a bracing breath and stepping inside.

The large room appeared to be in disarray. Several desks were pushed into one corner while a few chairs were shoved into another. There was one long table up against the wall next to the window. Boxes were stacked on almost every available surface and a petite dark haired woman with her back to the door was rummaging in one of them.

“Pardon me,” Sarah cleared her throat and said, “I’m looking for Dermot Sinclair.”

The woman turned around and arched an eyebrow at Sarah. She looked to be in her mid-twenties, pretty, and obviously annoyed at having been interrupted. She rolled her eyes before walking toward a narrow hall that Sarah hadn’t noticed. The young woman leaned into the hallway and said loudly. “A’Dhiarmad. Tha an bean an seo.” (Dermot, there is a woman here.)

Sarah heard a muffled voice from the office say something but she couldn’t make out the words. 

The woman made a clearly unhappy face. “Ma thogair! Tha ise Aimeireaganach.” (Who cares! She’s American.)

The last bit was said with a decided sneer, and Sarah wondered how jarring her accent must be to folks around here. The words had the desired effect. After a sound that must have been a wheeled chair smacking into a wall, Dermot came barreling out of the office and into the larger room his eyes aflame.

He made straight for Sarah. She thought for a second that he would grab her, but he caught himself abruptly a few feet away. His eyes scanned her from head to toe. His face looked thunderous. “I don’t know whether to kiss ye or throttle ye.”

Sarah gave him her most beguiling smile. “I know which I’d prefer.”

“D’ye have any idea how worried we’ve been?” She could tell he was upset when his ‘worried’ sounded like ‘wuhrrit’. Sarah felt just the tiniest bit of satisfaction that her stunt had gotten under his skin.

She cut her eyes over to the young woman who was avidly watching their exchange. “And here I thought you’d be glad to see me.”

Dermot pulled his shoulders back and she could tell he was making an effort to calm down. “I am glad. I just wish ye would have told me ye were coming today.”

“That’s better,” Smiling, she turned to the dark haired woman and extended her hand. “I’m Sarah MacAlpin. I’m going to be helping with the fieldwork.”

The woman looked at Sarah’s outstretched hand then at Dermot. “Aimeireaganach? Bheil gu dearbh?” (An American? Really?)

Dermot looked sharply at the young woman. “Kirstie, don’t be rude. This American…”

Sarah stopped him before he could say more. “It’s no problem, Dermot,” She smiled sweetly before addressing the young woman in flawless Gaelic. “I may be American, but I’ve spoken Gaelic all my life. I learned it from my Grandmother who emigrated before The War. It’s nice to meet you, Kirstie.”

The other woman’s face turned red and she grunted before turning back to the box that she had been digging in before.

Dermot eyed her and Sarah had a feeling Kirstie would be getting a little talk about teamwork and professionalism in the near future. He looked back at Sarah and held out an arm indicating the direction of the interior hallway.

Sarah walked ahead of him and found her way to the first door on the right. She glanced over her shoulder in question and he nodded. She stepped into a tiny office that could barely fit a desk and two chairs. Dermot stepped in behind her.

As soon as the door was closed he turned her around and pulled her into a rib cracking bear hug. Sarah buried her face in his sweater and inhaled filling her lungs with the scent of wool and soap and him. She felt a small easing of the tension she’d been carrying around for weeks.

“I thought ye’d run away.” He whispered into her hair without loosening his grip.

She’d thought about it many times, wondered if she’d have made it, if she’d have been successful where her mother had failed. “And leave you here to have to explain why,” She pressed her cheek to his chest not caring that the wool of his sweater was scratchy. “Would I do that to you?”

 

***

 

She tore his heart out almost daily without even trying. Who knew what she would do when she set out to hurt him? He’d been holding his breath since getting the call from Fleming that Sarah hadn’t been in her apartment this morning. Now, with the solid shape of her in his arms and her curls tickling his nose, he could breathe again. His Sarah was safe.

Safe. Not his. Reluctantly he released her and stepped around his desk. He didn’t look at her again until the desk was between them. She stood in the same spot as if she was waiting for him to come back and hold her again. When he didn’t she sat in the chair on the other side of the desk. When her eyes met his they burned with that quiet determination that he’d seen before. She may be here, but she had her own agenda and Dermot was sure it probably ran contrary to his.

“Ye’re a week early,” He said.

“Well, there wasn’t much to stay for. I packed everything up and Amy was gone for the holiday. I thought I would get out of the way before she got back.” He didn’t miss the note of sadness at the mention of Sarah’s friend and roommate.

“How is Amy?”

Sarah took several seconds to answer, her eyes drifting down to examine a scuff on the toe of her brown clog. “It’s hard to tell. You saw her when she got the news. There are a lot of different emotions going on there. I think she understands intellectually that Ryan was playing her, but she still doesn’t want to talk to me. I called her on Christmas Eve, but she wouldn’t talk, so I just left a message with her mom.”

“That’s ballocks!” He hated that there was a rift between the two girls. They’d been like sisters when he met them.

“Like I said, a lot of emotions. Besides she doesn’t have all the background information that we do. She just thinks a psycho pretended to be her boyfriend to get close to me so he could kill me,” A ghost of a smile floated across her face. “I can cut her some slack, but that doesn’t mean that I’m going to hang around there feeling guilty and awkward while she works it all out. I’d rather get a head start here.”

“Aye, and here ye are.” He watched her carefully as he asked the next question. “What exactly does that mean?”

She lifted her eyes to his. They burned with the same fire that lit them when she’d told him how she would get over being held hostage by her roommate’s boyfriend just 3 weeks ago. “It means that I have a dissertation to finish and that’s just what I’m going to do.”

“And James?”

She again seemed fascinated with the scuff on her shoe. “James is a big boy. And no matter how much his family has spoiled him, at some point he’s going to have to learn that he doesn’t get everything he wants.”

He made one of those equivocal noises that Sarah called his mumbly grunts. If anyone could challenge James Stuart, it would be Sarah. Dermot just hoped that there would be something left of her after she tried.

King o' Men (Spoilers)

(Warning: If you haven't read Diana Gabaldon's Outlander Series up to The Fiery Cross you might not want to read further.)

By now, those of us awaiting the Outlander TV show, have heard that producer Ron D. Moore and show's crew have taken to calling Jamie Fraser the "King of Men". However, I don't think many fans of the books or show get the reference. Admittedly, I don't know anyone working on the show, so this could just be a guess. However, I do know a bit of Robert Burns, and am fairly certain that the "King of Men" title is a reference to a line from his song. "A Man's a Man For A' That"
 

 If not, it at least reminds me of the song and with very good reason. It's a favorite of mine, and what with working on the sequel to The River Maiden, I've been thinking a lot lately about kingship and what it really means.

The song itself is an indictment of the aristocracy and its pretensions toward grandeur and an endorsement of a meritocracy. Here's the text at robertburns.org including lovely links explaining the less obvious of the Scots words) But it's much more fun to watch this lovely video of some Scottish luminaries reciting it (slightly abridged). 

One of the things that I love about the Outlander books is it's humanization of both the invented characters and those characters from history. Diana Gabaldon is a genious at creating characters that resonate with us because of their unavoidable humanity even for those characters who history may have built up to be larger than life.

In these books, dukes lust after stable lads, princes get bitten by monkeys and climb on roof tops, and kings feel free to risk poisoning people to settle arguments. At best, I'd say the highest levels of aristocracy as they are portrayed in the books come off just as human as the rest of us. In some cases, Charles Stewart comes to mind, their surety of their own exalted position becomes their biggest weakness. This brings us back to our song and it's lines:

Ye see yon birkie, ca'd a lord, 
Wha struts, an' stares, an' a' that; 
Tho' hundreds worship at his word, 
He's but a coof for a' that: 
For a' that, an' a' that, 
His ribband, star, an' a' that: 
The man o' independent mind 
He looks an' laughs at a' that. 

Luckily, we readers get to see those characters like Louis, Charles and Sandringham through the "independent minds" of Jamie and Claire. Being of independent mind they are able to show us the flaws in these characters. Claire especially reminds us that history books only provide two dimensions to these figures at best, It's up to the fiction writers to make these characters more than mere facts on a timeline, and I think the way that Gabaldon does this follows along the same sentiment as Burns's song. By that I mean that those who trumpet their own greatness or seek it out are less likely to actually BE great. 

A prince can mak a belted knight, 
A marquis, duke, an' a' that; 
But an honest man's abon his might, 
Gude faith, he maunna fa' that! 
For a' that, an' a' that, 
Their dignities an' a' that; 
The pith o' sense, an' pride o' worth, 
Are higher rank than a' that. 

Which brings us back to Himself. Jamie doesn't seek those the trappings of power or wealth or even leadership. They are thrust upon him by circumstance when his older brother dies, and then when he's in Ardsmuir. He doesn't lead people because he wants power or position. He finds himself leading because he's a person that people trust. It's his honesty and his forthrightness that make people trust Jamie and want to follow him. It also helps that he's very observant and makes some pretty wise decisions. Even when he lies and he does, it's always to the benefit of those people he feels are relying on him whether that is his family, the people of Lallybroch, or the Ridge. 

Eventually, Jamie does seek a leadership role when building the community at Fraser's Ridge, but even then he's not looking to build his own fiefdom. He wants to prove himself a "man of worth", by which he means a man of value to his community. He wants to reunite those men who he feels are/were his responsibility at Ardsmuir. He's also worried that he won't be up to the task. Hence the dream about his frantic efforts to crown a new King of Ireland at the beginning of The Fiery Cross

"I was in charge o' the horse," Jamie informed me. "And everything went wrong. The man was too short, and I had to find something for him tho stand on. I found a rock, but I couldna lift it. Then a stool, but the leg came off in my hand. Then I tried to pile up bricks to make a platform, but they crumbled to sand..."

The dream is a prime example of Jamie's worthiness. He doesn't even put himself as the king subconsciously. Instead he puts himself in the role of the person responsible for making sure everything works smoothly and reveals his fear of failure. His earnest insecurity coupled with his desire to be valuable to his community shows that he has precisely the "pith o' sense and pride o' worth" that Burns was writing about. 

Jamie displays these traits not just when he's Laird of Lallybroch or the landlord of the Ridge. He shows that kind of leadership even when he's penniless and in prison. It doesn't matter if he's dressed for the French court or in rags. He's a worthy leader wherever he goes. 

What though on hamely fare we dine, 
Wear hoddin grey, an' a that; 
Gie fools their silks, and knaves their wine; 
A Man's a Man for a' that: 
For a' that, and a' that, 
Their tinsel show, an' a' that; 
The honest man, tho' e'er sae poor, 
Is king o' men for a' that. 

 

A Word About Spoilers

...and why I don't hate them.

 Tomorrow I will be lucky enough to go to a book signing at the National Press Club with Diana Gabaldon (super excited). It occurred to me when I opened her latest, Written In My Own Heart's Blood on my Kindle this morning that there will be A LOT of spoilers for me tomorrow. The book has been out for a week and I have barely cracked it open. I know from many tweets and Facebook posts that many of the people I'm meeting up with tomorrow have already finished it and will very likely be unable to contain their excitement. I thought about this for approximately one second and then shrugged and read on.

Unlike some folks out in the reader/viewer world I do not hyperventilate at the thought of knowing what's going to happen, nor do I stick my fingers in my ears and shout LALALALALA...when my friends/family/coworkers start talking about something I have yet to watch or read. Much is made around the water cooler and online about spoilers and avoiding spoilers. People get up in arms or downright cranky if they think they've encountered even a hint of a spoiler and seem to place the responsibility of keeping their worlds spoiler free on everyone around them. 

The trouble with that is, that it implies that the book or film or TV show is nothing more than its plot and that knowing any points of that plot (no matter how obscure) ahead of time ruins the whole experience. Quality of the writing? Not important. Strength of the characters? Inconsequential. Performance of actors in a part? Could be done in clay-mation or with mannequins. Direction, set-design, costumes? Who cares? This slavish and sometimes neurotic avoidance of spoilers suggests that HOW a story is told doesn't matter, only the story matters. 

If that's true why ever bother rereading anything? Why go to movies if you've read the book? Why watch a show if you already know what's going to happen? Or why watch a remake of an original movie? Who cares that Jane Austen's writing is elegant and beautiful? What does it matter than Aaron Sorkin's writes snappy dialogue makes us all feel smarter, or that Elmore Leonard creates characters that you just want to follow around to be near them?

Not so. There is so much more to a story than it's plot points. There is context and voice. There are characters and how they react to events. There is frequently a sea of emotion and any number of resulting actions or events that come from a single plot point. Knowing one plot point, or even a few shouldn't ruin the effect of the whole story. Stories and the work of the story tellers in whatever medium are worth so much more than that. 

I've probably read Pride and Prejudice a dozen times, and I still get chills when I Darcy proposes to Elizabeth again, whether it's delivered by the Darcy in my imagination or Colin Firth (to Elizabeth Bennet or Bridget Jones) or Matthew Macfadyen or anyone else. I still cheer at Elizabeth's spunk when she refuses him the first time, but I've watched every adaptation I came across. And they've ALL shown me something new. I read all the Hunger Games books, but I'll still go see the movies, because I want to see how they translate. And you'd better believe that I'll be glued to my TV come August to watch Outlander even though I know exactly what's going to happen. I've reread the whole series several times over, not because I forgot what happened, but because the author does such an incredible job of telling the story. 

I get it. I like to be surprised sometimes too. The Red Wedding blew me away. I had no idea what the secret to The Crying Game was. Those were great moments of surprise. But, once the shock wears off, I'm left with to marvel at the quality of the performances, or the direction or the editing. I don't NEED the element of surprise to appreciate the beauty of the work. 

With that said, I'm not going to tell you what's next for Dermot and Sarah. But I might post a few lines now and then, and they MIGHT give away some very minor plot points. You've been warned.

The River Maiden is now available!

 

I've finally done it! Well actually, I did it about two weeks ago. I've been remiss in updating things here because I was also wrapping up another project, which I'll talk about in another post.  However, I am happy to say that The River Maiden is now available as an ebook on Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Smashwords, Scribd and iTunes. You can download samples to your device or you can read the first seven chapters on Wattpad.

I am working now on making it available in paperback. I have some proofs from one printer that are being reviewed and am awaiting proofs from another printer. 

The feedback I've been getting so far is great. Check the reviews on Amazon and ratings on Goodreads.  Many of my twitter followers have had glowing things to say, and are already asking about the next book, which IS coming. I've got an outline and some passages written. I might even have a little preview for folks this summer just to whet appetites. 

I am SO gratified that it has been received as well as it has. I can only hope that with some more marketing attention that I wasn't able to do while wrapping up the other project, the momentum will only keep building. 

I have more to say about the process of getting this book to market, but I will save those things for other posts over the next few weeks. 

This girl keeps popping up in my head

I shared this on facebook and twitter earlier today, so I thought I would elaborate a little.  I get asked by a lot of people who read The White House what happens to Lizzie Poole after that story ends. 

For a long time the truth of it has been that I don't know and I kind of liked it that way. I like leaving readers hanging. I like getting asked what happens next because it means that people care about Lizzie. I certainly do. 

The funny thing about Lizzie is that she was introduced to me, the same way she was introduced to you. I needed another female character in The White House, if for no other reason then to provide a foil for Annie. So I thought I would add a servant girl, and just to show what a louse Silas Poole is I thought we would meet her when he reached out to cuff the back of her head. 

That was when something magical happened. Lizzie ducked. I didn't expect it anymore than the rest of you did. With that one action, the story was no longer just about Annie, or Israel or even Blackbeard. It suddenly became a story about this girl. She just took over. For a writer to have a character surprise us or do something that even we as their creators don't expect is an incredible experience. 

I fell in love with Lizzie Poole, and even though I've moved on to other worlds and other characters that I also love she just keeps popping up in my head. Every once in a while I'll start to wonder what happens next for Lizzie. Where did she go? What kind of opportunities would there be for a girl on her own in the colonies in 1718 and what would Lizzie make of them?

With that said, a few ideas have popped up. Bear in mind that I've done very little research, have no outline, and I have a whole host of other characters to be exorcised before I can get back to our Lizzie. Still, she's there in the back of my brain standing on the porch of the white house looking left and right trying to choose where to go next. 

Which is where this morning's passage came from. It's short, but I think it's a promising start. 

WARNING: Spoilers ahead. If you haven't read The White House, you might want to stop now.

r-BLACKBEARD-SHIP-CANNONS-large570.jpg


You wouldn't think it would take a man's head so long to rot when mounted on a stake in a marsh, but even now Lizzie could see tufts of his famed black whiskers that clung to the slack jaw hanging in mute mockery. He'd been jolly once, a right jovial character for all he'd just as soon kill a person and laugh with them. She reckoned it was the cold that had kept it preserved these weeks hanging at the mouth of the river. Still, she hadn't expected it to look like the man she'd known. She hadn't imagined that it would bring back so many memories of the man himself. For unlike many of the others gawking at the rail as they sailed by, Lizzie Poole had known Blackbeard.   

It was less than a year since she'd seen him last. He'd been loud and boisterous as he'd pulled her into his lap, his ale sour breath wafting over her face as she looked up across the table into the eyes Israel Hands.  For the first time in her life, she'd seen a man that cared enough about her to be bothered by the old pirate's rough handling. It had given her hope. Of course, that was before Teach had ordered the murder of the only friend Lizzie had ever known, before Mr. Hands had beaten her father near to death and Lizzie had learned that hope only got a girl so far. 

The broad woman in filthy homespun beside Lizzie snorted noisily and spat into the water below. "I reckon he got what he deserved." 

"Mmmm," Lizzie muttered, not taking her eyes off the pirate's head. "I reckon he did."

A verra pressing question about dialect

Last fall at the James River Writer's Conference, a literary agent whose name I can't remember (probably a good thing) told a room full of aspiring writers that she would NEVER consider representing a writer who wrote in dialect. If I could remember her name I would certainly be crossing it off of my list of potential agents, as I'm sure she would quickly disregard my dialect laden prose.

She's not the first person I've heard express such a sentiment. I think every writer's forum must have at least one who chimes in whenever anyone mentions dialect and informs everyone that it (much like Prologues) is to be avoided at all costs. If you've read any of my fiction, I'm sure you realize that I don't subscribe to this philosophy.

I love dialect both as a reader and as writer. I firmly believe that a character should sound right off the page as they would sound in reality. So if a character is Scottish, or from the South or of a particular ethnic group or economic stratum, then he or she should sound like it. There is so much efficient characterization and rich atmosphere to be had using dialect. 

The next time you meet someone new think about all the judgments that you make when you hear them talk. You can usually tell where a person is from, and what their education level is by the way they talk, sometimes after just a few sentences. 

If you write historical fiction or fantasy, dialect can go a long way in creating the atmosphere of the world in which you write. People in the eighteenth century didn't talk the same way that they do in the 20th century. Likewise people in the 1950's didn't talk the way that people did in the 1970's. Dialect can create that sense of time and place. 

Would we be as enchanted by William Faulkner or Zora Neale Hurston if their characters all spoke perfect classroom English? Would Huckleberry Finn be nearly as engaging if it didn't sound like it was being told by an adolescent boy from the banks of the Mississippi? 

And would Jamie Fraser be anything close to the heartthrob that he is if, "Dinna fash, Sassenach."  was instead, "Do not worry, English lady."? I think not. 

Even the great (no sarcasm here) William Strunk and E. B. White cautioned against dialect.  It's actually #15 on their "List of Reminders" in The Elements of Style.  

"Do not use dialect unless your ear is good."

I've added the emphasis on the last part. I actually think that is the most important thing. Bad dialect can be jarring and take the reader right out of the story. Good dialect sounds like the voice of the character. Bad dialect sounds like a writer trying too hard to be clever and failing. 

I once read the first 70 pages or so of a best selling novel by a famous writer who I will not name. This writer however seemed to believe that all she needed to do to write Scots dialect was throw in three or four extra R's whenever her Scottish character was talking. Thank heavens there was only one Scottish character or the book would have been considerably longer than it was. I say I only read the first 70 pages that was how long I managed to put up with it. Had her Scot been one of the main characters I don't think I would have lasted that long. 

The key in working with dialect is making sure "your ear is good". Read it out loud. Does the way it sounds in your head match how it looks on the page? Have other people read it. Can they understand it? Did any of it make the reading difficult? All of the authors I named previously have good ears. Their dialect fits for the characters and times and places in which they are writing.  

And they know when to use it and when not to use it. Again, Strunk and White.

"The best dialect writers, by and large, are economical of their talents; they use the minimum, not the maximum, of deviation from the norm, thus sparing their readers as well as convincing them."

Think of it as seasoning. When you're cooking Italian, you use oregano and basil. When you're cooking Indian you use curry powder or cardamom. Hungarian? Paprika. No matter what seasoning you use, too much of it makes the dish unpalatable. 

A few years ago, I got it into my head that I wanted to learn a bit of Scots. So, I picked up Lewis Grassic Gibbon's A Scots Quair.  Now it can debated whether Scots is a dialect of English or a language all its own. However, what cannot be debated is that Gibbon set out to write that series entirely in Scots. I made it through, but it was a laborious read. Slowing my pace to mentally translate every sentence meant that I wasn't as emotionally engaged as I would like to have been.  So, the book did it's job as an academic and cultural exercise, but wouldn't be likely to appeal to a wider audience. 

Too much seasoning for the average non-Scots reader. 

To sum up, don't be afraid of dialect. It's remarkably efficient at creating atmosphere or building character. However, make sure it sounds to the reader the same way it sounds in your head. And use it sparingly. 

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S-Twist Update

Just wanted to mention, since it's not on the front page, but it's a project that I'm really enjoying. I posted a new episode of my serial love story S-Twist. Please check it out.

This is the story of two lives that have become frayed by loss, and how they bond over music and wool. A Scottish sheep farmer and an American tourist's lives twist together to become stronger than they were before.

If you haven't read S-Twist from the beginning, you can catch up here.

 

WWCFD?

We were broke, ramen noodles, mac 'n cheese buh-roke. Okay, we were keeping up with the bills for the time being, but my job wasn’t paying yet. Eric was still looking for a job, and our measly savings was dwindling.

It was March of 2001 and the dot com bubble had burst dropping both my husband and I on the unemployment line. We thought for about a month that he had lined something up that would let me stay at home so I could write, but that contract had fallen through. So, I found myself going back to the company that I had worked for 2 years before doing roughly the same job, and sitting through a training class that previously I might have been teaching. Our trainer, who I had worked with for years announced a quiz, with the added incentive of a $10 gift certificate to the local mall for the person with the highest score. I admit that I had no qualms about using all my prior knowledge to win that gift certificate.

That’s how I ended up in the book store with my $10.  It had been a while since I’d had the money to spend on a book, and I’d run through just about every one we had in the house. I wandered the aisles biting my lip feeling a bit like a kid trying to get the most for my dollar in the penny candy aisle. Maybe it’s my Scottish roots, or my Granny’s example of thrift, but I wanted to make the most of my sudden if tiny entertainment budget, which is how Outlander caught my eye.

It was the thickest book on the shelf promising the most pages per dollar and therefore the most entertainment for my ten bucks. Even better it was only $6.95. Throw in the plaid on the cover and I was sold. I also noticed that Dragonfly in Amber was around the same length and price. It would put me over my $10 budget, but I figured I could go without protein in my mac ‘n cheese for a couple of nights. After a few minutes shifting numbers in my head to see if I could afford the few extra dollars on a book, I bought them both.

I was in need of escape and boy did I get it (for nearly 2000 pages), but I also got so much more. I got Claire Fraser, a woman of such strength and tenacity that you just can’t help but admire her. She’s smart, sassy, and brave. She is thrown into situations far harder than the one I was in on multiple occasions and handles them all like a pro. And when the worst happens, she doesn’t mope around of over-analyze how she got to a certain point. She pushes through and finds a way to focus on what’s most important. I have on many occasions since when things got tough for one reason or another found myself asking, “What would Claire Fraser do?”

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Then I started learning about Diana Gabaldon, and found even more inspiration. Like me, she wanted to write books when she was a child. She had more than one career before writing Outlander. She managed to create these incredible characters and tell their stories and be a mother. She made me think it was possible for me to be a writer. She inspired me to pull out the fifty or so pages of The River Maiden that I had already written and get back to it.

It’s been a few years since that fateful day in the book store. My copy of Outlander has since fallen to pieces and naturally been replaced. The book store closed down. I built a career as a corporate trainer, had two kids and realized that I was in fact married to my very own Jamie. Now, I’m in a similar situation. Going back to work after being a stay at home mom for a few years, and wondering how I’m going to carve out time to build a writing career while managing two kids and a day job. But I still find myself saying, “What would Claire do?”. And when the writing gets tough or I feel like I’ll never reach my goal, I pull out my copy of The Fiery Cross and look at the inscription that Diana wrote there at a book signing years ago. It says “Keep writing!”, and I do. 

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What can I say to someone on a day when the entire world is gushing about her and wishing her a happy birthday?

All I can say is, thank you and thank you and thank you. You’ve given us all so much, taught us so much and proven that strong women attract the best men. I know I’m just one of millions, but if you’re at all like me every time a reader tells me my stories mean something is precious. Your stories mean so much. I wish you all the best in the coming year, and can’t wait to read what you have for us next. 

2 sides of the same coin (Outlander Spoiler Alert!)

WARNING! If you have not read Diana Gabaldon's Outlander Series THROUGH Dragonfly In Amber, you should stop reading NOW. There be spoilers ahead.

When two book nerd live together for seventeen years and occasionally manage to read the same books, it tends to lead to some interesting conversations. Thus Eric and I found ourselves this morning arguing over the nature of one Dougal MacKenzie. Eric seems to think that Dougal is little more than Colum's muscle and the unwitting pawn of the Geillis Duncan's Jacobite plotting. I would contend otherwise.

My fellow Heughligans and twitter followers probably already know of my love for Dougal, but I dont' think I've ever laid it out in more than 140 characters. I get mixed reactions on my Dougal appreciation. They range from, "I love Dougal, Jamie does nothing for me." to "What about Jamie? He's so dreamy." 

Don't mistake me, I love Jamie too. I love all the characters, because they're real, even (gasp) Laoghaire. Come on, we've ALL known girls like Laoghaire. I don't see this as a one or the other proposition. I think that's because I really see Dougal and Jamie as two sides of the same coin. 

For visual learners out there, I created this side by side comparison to show you what I mean. 

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There is a tendency to think of these two as adversaries, but I just don't see them that way. They exhibit a lot the same traits. We just talk about them differently. Where people think of Dougal as devious and sly, we see the same behavior in Jamie and call it canny and resourceful.

For example, all of Jamie's spying in DIA is an attempt to prevent or at least prepare for a war and protect his people, that canny lad. On the other hand, when Dougal proposes to Claire in the cave in Outlander, she's appalled because he's willing to give up on Jamie and attempt to secure Lallybroch for the MacKenzies. Sure it seems wrong because Dougal's wife is barely in her grave and Jamie isn't dead yet not to mention Geillis is carrying his child, but he's trying to secure the border of his clan's lands and protect his people. Isn't that the same thing as Jamie's spying?

We hear several times throughout Outlander that the clan wants Colum as their leader because Dougal is too "hot-headed". However, I don't see a lot of hot-headed behavior from Dougal. In fact, with a couple of exceptions Dougal seems pretty calculating to me. Those exceptions of course are his affair with Geillis, which occurs out of our view and the kiss he steals from Claire in the hallway which could possibly be blamed on the drink. 

Jamie on the other hand does plenty of hot-headed things from his explosion in the pub when Dougal exposes his scars to his ill-advised argument with Jenny on returning to Lallybroch to his dogged pursuit of a duel with Jack Randall in Paris over the objections of Claire and just about everybody else. I'm not mentioning other things that occur later in the series, because I want to limit the spoilers to the first two books but I could definitely go on. 

There's a very good reason why despite Dougal's reputation for hot-headedness, the impulsive behavior that we see comes from Jamie and not Dougal. It's because Jamie is a younger version of Dougal. Diana Gabaldon can correct me if I'm wrong, but it's no accident that they both "cackhanded" or that they are both known as great fighters. Dougal is what Jamie might become without the future knowledge and softening influence of Claire. Yes I know that Dougal's illicit squeeze has future knowledge of her own, but let's face it she's a bit mad and definitely a manipulator in her own right. 

However, Jamie proves to us over and over again that apple doesn't fall far from Machiavellian MacKenzie tree. Dougal even fostered Jamie in his teens. He is after all the closest thing Jamie has now to a father, which is why on that fateful moment in DIA where Jamie kills Dougal it's all the more horrifying. It's like Luke Skywalker walking into that cave in The Empire Strikes Back and "killing" Darth Vader only to find his own face behind the mask. The message to Luke being that he could fall to The Dark Side too.

Likewise, Jamie has to chose not to be that sly, devious guy even though the MacKenzies, Frasers and all of his society expect him to. In Outlander, Jamie takes Claire back to Craigh na Dun, and she is forced to make the choice between her twentieth century life and love or Jamie. That moment when Dougal discovers them discussing poisoning Charles Stuart, Jamie is forced to make the choice between his old life and his family and Claire. Of course, Claire didn't have to kill anyone to make her choice, but such is life in the eighteenth century. DG even reminds us of the close kinship between Dougal and Jamie in that very scene. "Dougal's head lay on Jamie's shoulder, Jamie's arms locked around his foster father."

I don't mean to reduce Dougal MacKenzie to the role of a mere foil for Jamie. Dougal is has his own journey through these books and his machinations are essential to the plot. Without Dougal, Claire wouldn't have been treated as nicely as she was when she was found by the MacKenzie men half-dressed by eighteenth century standards. Without Dougal there would have been no wedding, and Claire wouldn't have learned that Jamie was in Wentworth in time to save him. And without Dougal, there be no Roger Wakefield (MacKenzie) or wee Hamish. He even gets the thing he wants most by the time we get to that fateful scene, but he also pays the price for it and we're left wondering if all Dougal's maneuvering was really worth it.

So, yeah. I've got mad love for Dougal and Jamie too. And I'm really excited to see them both on screen. From what I've watched of them, Graham McTavish and Sam Heughan can do wonderful things with subtext, and these two characters have LOADS of subtext. I can't wait. 

Updates & an Experiment

I did not do a Q3 update on my year of living outside my comfort zone, partly because I spent most of Q3 living inside a corporate training room doing client work.

Q4

On the other hand the 4th quarter has been super busy already and way outside my comfort zone. My friends and followers will know that I went to the James River Writer's Conference last month in Richmond, VA. Talking to that many people about my writing and even pitching to a literary agent was a bit daunting, but also exhilarating. I met some terrific people and talented writers. All-in-all a great experience and I would definitely go back, though I hope next year it doesn't conflict with the Celtic Fest. I really missed not seeing some of my pals there.

NaNoWriMo or no?

I did sign up for Nanowrimo in the hopes that it would help me jump start working on the sequel to The River Maiden. I was hoping that the built in "measurable daily goal" would get me moving the way that deadlines real or artificial frequently do. I promptly wrote the first chapter, which showed me that I had more plotting work to do. So instead of getting word on the page, I've been arranging index cards and tweaking character profiles.

That's all great and needs to be done. But I'm afraid that now I have plotting paralysis which is very similar to Analysis Paralysis in corporate speak. I keep sitting down to try to put more words together, but my brain is still working on the high level, so I'm frequently not satisfied with the quality of the result. I have a plan to fix this. I'll get to that in a sec.

The rest of this quarter involves 2 big leaps 

1) I have sent The River Maiden to my editor. I am crazy excited about this. I checked around and got several editing samples and found someone who I think is a good fit for me and my style. It's nerve wracking, but also thrilling. I can't wait to see his feedback,

2) I'm trying something new. I am a plotter. Even my short works start with an outline. I also don't show work to anyone until it's been edited and revised quite a bit. So I'm going to push myself a little by making myself write and publish something with only a vague outline and minimal editing. This feels very dangerous and daring for a super plotter like me. It's sort of like setting out down a country road with no map or GPS.

Also, there is this character that keeps popping into my head. He's not from The River Maiden nor anywhere else in that story-line. He's all new and interesting and he won't go away. Furthermore, I don't seem to have any trouble putting his words together. So I'm hoping this will be a way to flex those word muscles, like a weekly workout. This should help me drill down on that manuscript for the next book too. I'll be posting the episodes here on my site. So please check back each week to find out what happens next. You can read the first installment here

I just couldn't do it

As a busy mom working mom-ing and writing, I tend to gravitate toward the most time efficient way of doing just about everything. If I can run errands, or go grocery shopping, or pick up dry cleaning without two kids in tow, then I will. So, since they are now in daycare in the afternoons, I tend to do those things on my way home from work. It's just faster that way. I thought yesterday when I was making my game plan for today that I would vote before picking them up from daycare.  It would be faster. I wouldn't have to worry about referee-ing, herding and voting all at once. It would just be easier. Then I realized it would be the first time in nine years that I would have voted without one of them with me. It gave me a kind of hollow gut-twisty feeling.

voting2

If you want change, you have to vote. And I want to make sure my children, even if their views may be different from mine, know how important it is. So, I just couldn't vote without them. I love voting with my kids.

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I love explaining the issues to them. I love going through the process with them, and I love how excited they are when they get their "I voted." sticker. When I was a kid I voted with mom, and it has stayed with me. I'm sure my parents wonder some days where they went wrong as our political views lie on opposite ends of the spectrum. Still, I learned at a young age about the importance of participating. We live in an amazing country with a system however flawed is still a system that relies on our participation. If you don't like a policy, it's not going to change if you just throw you hands up and go home.

I picked them up and fetched my husband. We continued a tradition that we started while I was at home with the kids. We voted, each of us taking one of the kids. Then we went to dinner together to celebrate.

 

 

In which I lose my writer's conference virginity

Get your mind out of the gutter, that not what I meant. Got your attention, didn't I?webbadge4 It's been a while since my last post and that's because I've been head-down-hands-on-keys revising The River Maiden. I was right, giving myself an external deadline was a very effective prod to getting the thing done. The good news is that I finished and the alpha reader says it's a much better book and the new ending makes him hungry for more. That external deadline was provided for me by the James River Writer's Conference which I was lucky enough to go to this past weekend.

Having never been to a proper writer's conference, I wasn't sure what to expect. But I can definitely say that I was not disappointed.  I won't give you a whole summary of the conference. Rebekah Pierce already did a fine job of that on her blog. I will however try to give a summary of my experience as a conference noob.

I've been to tons of trade shows and conferences in other industries and I have to say this one was very well organized. They even designated Mary Chris Escobar to welcome first timers, which was very helpful.

I attended two of the Pre-conference Master Classes.

Growing Your Online Presence with Erica Orloff and Jon VanZile - If you're new to social media and the idea of online branding, this was a great class. For me, it pointed out some interesting things that I'll be trying going forward and confirmed that a lot of what I've been doing is on the right track.

The Secret: Award-Winning Author Brad Parks Finally Shares It with You with Brad Parks - This was a very engaging class. Parks is living the dream and does a good just of telling others how we can too with lots of humor and straight talk. I left feeling very energized.

The conference kicked off with some terrific speeches on Saturday morning. Brad Parks once again brought his brand of wit to a hilarious "opening prayer" and Carey Albertine of In This Together Media talked about the history and future of publishing. Finally Chip Kidd discussed the importance of cover design and the power of a well-designed book cover. If you haven't seen his TED Talk, I highly recommend it.

The panel discussions I attended were very well put together and fascinating. Since I have a finished manuscript, I stuck mostly to the Getting Published Track, and learned a lot about getting funding, marketing and publicity, and self-publishing. One of the most useful talks for me was given by April Eberhardt who went over the whole spectrum of publishing options and shared her perspective on the merits and ills of each.

I also attended a lunch discussion, "Why I Self-Published & Lessons Learned" led by Mary Chris Escobar. There was a good group for this discussion and we probably could have kept on talking about our experience much longer if the schedule had allowed.

Another useful event was the First Pages Critique in which a panel of agents gave feedback on first pages that some writer's had sent in. I did not send in mine because I was still revising when the deadline hit, but I found their feedback very interesting and left feeling pretty good about my first page.

Overall, it was a fantastic experience and I learned quite a lot about the industry. It also help crystallize what my plans are for The River Maiden. I will likely be going back next year. I just hope it doesn't conflict with my much loved Celtic Festival next time. I missed my kilted caber tossers this year:( Still it was worth going without pipes, haggis (I don't actually eat haggis)and whisky tastings to meet all of the wonderful writers and publishers that I met last weekend. Here are some links for just a few of those folks. They're a great bunch and deserve support. claudiaharbaugh

marychris Neverending Beginnings

Mary Chris Escobar

I just started reading this one.

Her Grace in Disgrace

Claudia Harbaugh

Next on my list

stevensmithSummer of the Woods Steven K. Smith

 My 9 year old will be reading this soon.

Nothing like a Deadline

There is nothiwebbadge4ng like a deadline to get my butt in gear. I've been attempting all summer to balance the consulting gig with revising The River Maiden. Meanwhile my husband/alpha reader has been harassing me about how I need to be sending queries out already and who cares if I think it's ready. Well, I care.  Still, I'll probably always find words that need to be rearranged and things that I could have written better. So, I see his point...somewhat.

In any case I'm trying to finish my revisions and adding to the end to answer some of the questions my beta readers wanted answered. Unfortunately, the list of things jumping in the way over the last few weeks have included no less than, consulting gig, back to school, home renovation and some stuff that was just plain invented to get in the way. (When I finish reading it, I'll review Stephen Pressfield's The War of Art and all of the things he has to say about resistance).

In the spirit of stepping out of my comfort zone, I decided to step out and take myself to a writer's conference. So, I'll be attending the James River Writer's Conference in Richmond next month. Hopefully I'll be connecting with some other writers in the area and maybe even some agents. There is even an opportunity to pitch books on Sunday. I may even step up there and try. In any case, should be a good way to make some connections.

I'm also hoping that the date of next month will put a little pressure on me to step up my revision efforts. Hopefully I can finish this draft before the conference. At the very least it gives me a date to work toward rather than a vague hope that I can finish quickly. They've very nicely added a countdown clock to their page that displays the days/hours/minutes/seconds until the conference. Let's hope that its a good fire starter.

Daydream Believer

I'm just not creative... This is something that I hear all too frequently. It's usually accompanied by a slow puzzled head shake and a glazed look at whatever creative thing I'm doing. It's like they're staring at that thing and wondering why they can't think of things like that. In my consulting work a similar reaction comes when the client hears a course design and asks, "How do you come up with this stuff?"

The simple answer is daydreaming.

I am and always have been an unapologetic daydreamer. For evidence of this see my writer's confession. At my client's office it may seem like I'm just playing or socializing or surfing the internet, but there is always a purpose to what I'm doing. I'm letting my mind go and eventually it will go to the solution that I'm looking for.

Unfortunately, we are conditioned not to daydream. In school we're told that it's bad, unless we're lucky enough to have a teacher who recognizes it for what it is. In adulthood we have responsibilities like jobs and kids that require our focus. On top of that we now have media content (social or otherwise) at our fingertips with which to occupy ourselves. Our natural inclination to daydream gets shut down or pre-empted by life and noise. But we should never underestimate the power of daydreaming.

Now that my training work has increased, I have less time to devote to daydreaming than I did when I was at home with the kids. So I have been seeking ways to promote daydreaming at the appropriate times. Triggers to shut the world off and set my mind flying.

Music is a method that has worked wonders for me when it comes to fiction. I associate certain songs or styles of music with certain characters or situations and use them to put myself in the right mindset. For general purpose daydreaming I try to find classical music to fit the mood of what I'm writing, such as Beethoven for soaring emotions, Grieg for action or Chopin for working through plot questions. These are good for certain characters and mood, but sometimes even with headphones and repetition these triggers have a hard time shutting off the internal noise of to do lists, chores and general worries.

I have also found that "meditative doodling" or Zentangling as some folks call it is a great way to quiet the noise and spark daydreaming. Zentangling is a method of pen and ink drawing that is focused on weaving together shapes and repeated patterns within a defined drawing space usually just a few inches square. It starts with a simple "string" that gives the shapes the patterns will follow. Choosing which pattern fills each shape and how they fit together forces you to make quick creative choices. It's like a jumpstart for the creative process. While the repetition of the patterns leaves room for your thoughts to wander. It's a very relaxing experience and can get your creative juices flowing, like yoga for your brain.

In addition to sparking those creative juices, you end with a pretty drawing. So, you still have that sense of accomplishment even if what you were thinking about while you were drawing is an ongoing project. I have been using this method over the past few weeks to try to wrap my brain around some of the revisions in The River Maiden with great success. zentangle

Here are a couple drawings that I've done while thinking about what will happen next to Dermot and Sarah.

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If you would like to learn more about Zentangling you can check out Zentangle.com for more info.

You can also see some more examples from people better at it than I am on my Pinterest board.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

If you're interested in reading more about daydreaming and how it can be a powerful thing, check out this article from Psychology Today.

"A Man of Worth"

If you know me at all, you probably know that I am a huge fan of Diana Gabaldon's Outlander series. I won't spend this post gushing about how great these books are. (But you should really read them if you haven't yet.) There has been big news of late about this series though. Starz and former Battlestar Galactica producer Ron Moore are working on a TV series based on these books. I'm super excited about that prospect. I can't wait to see these delicious characters on my TV screen. However like any good fan girl, I have my concerns. This is mostly because I've not been too impressed with the Starz shows that I have watched. (Camelot comes to mind.) But with the addition of John Dahl who has directed episodes of shows I love like Justified and Breaking Bad to direct the first couple of episodes, I have hope. I'm also fascinated by watching the process unfold. It's interesting to see how a book series with such a loyal fan base makes that journey from on the page and in our heads to the screen and the role that Gabaldon is playing in that journey.

When the character of the series hero Jamie Fraser was given to an actor who is relatively unknown in theheughan US, Sam Heughan, the reactions ranged from joy that we had a face to put on the character to outright revolt that he wasn't Chris Hemsworth or Gerard Butler or some other hot and/or Scottish actor that certain fans had been picturing in their heads.

Initially, I was satisfied that Gabaldon saw his screen tests and said, "He is Jamie." If the woman who created the character is satisfied, then so am I. He is after all her creation. She ought to know. Then as I watched some of this unfold, I'm getting more and more excited about this choice.

There is a lot of pressure that goes along with getting a part like this. There is the rabid fan-base, that is only going to get larger when the show hits people's screens. And there is the 20 years that people have had to fall in love with this character and build him up in there own minds. And then there is the character himself.

Jamie Fraser is a complicated guy. He's politically savvy and charismatic but also fiercely protective of his family by blood or by choice. He's industrious (spoiler alert) from helping to manage the family farm, printing business and smuggling business in Scotland to leading a colonial outpost in Western NC, to being a colonel in the Revolutionary army. Jamie is a natural leader, a man who helps build and hold together communities just about wherever he goes.  As he says in the books he longs to be a "man of worth". He doesn't mean monetary worth, he means a man of value to his community and extended family. That leads Jamie to get into some interesting situations, but he is steadfast in maintaining that attitude.

Now, I'm not saying that Sam Heughan is Jamie Fraser in real life, but I will say that he seems to be approaching his impending stardom with a similar attitude. An actor in his position could easily celebrate getting the role and then put his head down and do the work without getting involved in public conversations with fans. I for one wouldn't complain about that. I want this show to be successful and I want him to be successful in the role and whichever path he needs to take to be successful he should do that.

However, Heughan has gone above and beyond in embracing the existing Outlander fan base. He engages with them and with Gabaldon almost daily on twitter. He updates people on his preparations and the aspects of the show that he is able to talk about (without giving spoilers of course).  He shares pics on Instagram probably knowing full well that he's providing fantasy fodder for any number of ladies and probably some gents too.

That alone would be great stuff for fans hungry for news about the series, but like his character Heughan seems to be taking it a step further. Prior to this role he raised money for Leukeamia & Lymphoma Research, but doing things like running the NYC Marathon. Now some of the aforementioned Outlander fans calling themselves Heughan's Heughligans, have been inspired by Heughan to raise awareness and money for his chosen charity, and he has embraced their efforts.

In a world that seems to eat stories of misbehaving celebrities like candy. It's nice to see a rising star who is making an effort in the other direction. While it's too early make judgements about Heughan's performance, I think impulse he seems to share with Jamie Fraser to be a "man of worth" shows more about his ability to get inside this character than good looks, red hair or a Scottish accent.

If you would like to help the Heughligans raise money you can go to the Just Giving site.

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If you're a Sam Heughan/Outlander fan, you can also order some Heughan's Heughligans gear on their Zazzle store.

 

Q2 Review - Giving it all away

I have been sorely lacking in blog posts lately. This is mainly because my training/instructional design client has been taking up a lot of my time. It's also summer and my kids are well underfoot. Still, I wanted to give a little review of the 2nd quarter of my year of living outside my comfort zone. Unlike the last quarter I don't have quite so many things to report. However, this quarter did see me: Return to the corporate training room for the first time in 4+ years Since I haven't lead anyone other than my two children for he past few years, returning to the classroom was more nerve-wracking than I thought. Fortunately, my first batch of trainees was gentle with me and were mostly successful leaving the training room. Client was pleased. I'm feeling pretty good about it. So good in fact that I'm hoping to make this gig a more permanent thing.

Participating & posting online I am a chronic lurker online. I'll find a forum related to something that I'm interested in and watch it for activity without really adding anything. These days I am trying to be more active in forums like the Writing subreddit, and others. More on that stuff in Q3

Made my short stories FREE What started as a Stoddard-palooza promo has turned into something longer. It was a tough decision, because I worked hard on those stories. Still, the royalties I was getting were minimal and I decided exposure was the real priority.

I made them free on Smashwords first and the response was "meh".  That's mostly because Smashwords is a bit of a niche market. However, once Amazon started matching that free price the downloads there took off. Now both A Fond Kiss and The White House have reached the top 100 Free Kindle books in Literary Fiction and Historical Fiction. Now, I went from measuring downloads in single digits to triple digits and I could not be more chuffed. I'm hoping that all these downloads will result in more reviews and more exposure.

I did however, have an acquaintance who downloaded them for free, hand me cash the other day. She said the stories were worth paying for, and she wants more. Makes me a little misty.

Overall, the increased interaction with folks has generated some interesting trains of thought. I've been pondering the concept of Creativity lately and how people can unlock theirs. I expect to have more blog posts to come on that front. I'm currently working my way through Steven Pressfield's The War of Art. and hope to have a review/musings on that for the blog soon.

Q3 Looks like it may include:

  • My entry into fangirl-dom (Can anyone say Outlander!) Because you're apparently never too old for that kind of thing.
  • Spearheading an online Gaelic learning group (if the logistics can be worked out)
  • Home renovations! Finally getting a space for all my work; writing, spinning, knitting, felting, and consulting from home.
  • Putting my kids in a proper daycare. You have no idea what a nail-biter that is.

Of course, I am always working on finishing the revisions to The River Maiden. That includes completely rewriting the end and the death of my much loved Prologue (Read it while you can. I might not leave it online much longer). Looking forward to it all:)

News Roundup

Today I was bombarded with news stories related some of my own stories.  Thank goodness for facebook, reddit and news alerts. I've been working hard in instructional design mode that I might have missed them. But they're pretty exciting. First, archaeologists with the North Carolina Department of Cultural Resources will be attempting to recover 8 cannons from the wreckage of Blackbeard's ship, the Queen Anne's Revenge. The ship ran agrounBlackbeard Ship Cannonsd near Beaufort Inlet in June of 1718. If you've read my story The White House (currently FREE on Smashwords) you know that it speculates on the events leading up to the demise of the Queen Anne's Revenge and is loosely based on some other legends surrounding Blackbeard and his relationship to the town of Beaufort, NC.  If you haven't read it then you really should. Did I mention it's FREE right now?

Then I saw a series of stories that relate to The River Maiden. (Yes, I am still working on it, I promise.) Actually, they relate more to the books following The River Maiden than they do to the first installment of Dermot and Sarah's story. So, I'll list these articles without comment to avoid possible spoilers. My husband will say I giving away too much, but he knows how my brain works better than you do. I'm hoping for you these are thought provoking teasers rather than spoilers.

1) A very interesting commentary on the role of Gaelic in the Scottish Independence movement.

2) A mysterious network of Stone Age tunnels stretching from Scotland to Turkey (or vice versa).

3) A European style Bronze Age monument found submerged in the Sea of Galilee.

Yes, I am just nerdy enough to be thrilled by these articles. I get super excited about languages, politics and history of any era, and if I can get them all in one day it's a very good day.