The River Maiden - The song

The River Maiden - The song

In The River Maiden, Sarah spends her time chasing down a particular song. That's where the book get its title. This song itself is fictional. I wrote the lyrics to match the legend of The River Maiden. The legend is also invented but is an amalgam of various motifs commonly found in Celtic folklore. 

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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.

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.




It's been about a month since my beta readers and critique group have given me their feedback on the latest draft of The River Maiden. The general consensus is that the characters and writing are good, and the story is mostly good but there are too many questions left unanswered for a first book in a series. I had come to this conclusion on my own before many of the readers even got back to me, but it was nice to have that confirmed. So there appears to be a good deal of rearranging, revising and rewriting to go into the next draft before it's ready to be shown to potential agents/publishers.  Since I have already outlined the next book in the series, I have some timeline gymnastics to work on.  There is the question of what to reveal in the first book, without completely ruining the plot of the second.  Also, the question of how far the romance in the first book can/should progress and how that might change some of the tension in the next book. There are storylines to be dropped and others to be built up. Needless to say with almost 250 pages of content, this is a daunting prospect, and one that I've been chewing on in the back of my mind like a particularly tough piece of literary beef jerky.

Fear not! I have not been idle while gnawing away on my various writing dilemmas. In fact, I have been even more active than usual though just not in the area of writing. (I know terrible to get out of the habit of working every day, but there it is.) So here are some of the things that I've been up to instead of revising The River Maiden.

- Taken on an Instructional Design consulting client.

- Added a Clearance section to my etsy store and marked down a bunch of items to go in it.

- Organized/customized our closet in the master bedroom complete with drawers and shelves.

- Planted my vegetable garden, succulent garden, herb garden, shade garden, water garden (with fish) and fairy garden

- Completely revamped our deck from it's previous jumbled state into a gorgeous oasis including container gardens, a new gazebo, social area and even a workspace for writing/editing outside while the kids play.

- And last but certainly not least, binge watched 4 seasons of Dr. Who.

I know, I know. I should have been working on The River Maiden. The good news is that I am getting back to the grind. Even though, I'm working for my client during the hours of the day that I would have previously devoted to writing, I have a plan. This morning I got up at 5AM and came downstairs to work on some reading and editing. I know this has worked for other writers with day jobs and I have high hopes. My characters and my story are usually the last thing I think about as I'm going to sleep at night, so maybe getting up and getting to work before any of my other responsibilities intrude will be a good model for getting things done. It went pretty well this morning. We'll see how well it works when I get to writing some of the new material.

Oh! I should also mention that in honor of Stoddard-palooza (Our month long family festival from our anniversary to our birthday's) I will be giving away my historical fiction shorts this month, though not at the same time. Right now The White House is free on Smashwords. I'll keep it that way for a couple of weeks. Then it will go back to its regular price and A Fond Kiss will be free. I hope that Amazon and Barnes and Noble will be adjusting their pricing accordingly, but I don't really control that the way I can on Smashwords. So, if you haven't read them or have read one and not the other, check them out this month to get a free taste.

9 Unlikely Things I Learned While Writing The River Maiden

One of the things I love best about writing is research. I'm a naturally curious person, so it's just the way I operate. It's one of the reasons that I fell into training in my corporate life. I just wanted to know how things workphone pics 232ed and I didn't mind explaining what I learned to other people. It struck me the other day when I caught myself reading up on the parking brake of a 1990 Honda Civic, that I've learned some unexpected things on my way to finishing this novel. There are the obvious things; Celtic lore, Appalachian culture and off the grid living. Naturally,  my Gaelic vocabulary has increased about ten fold.  there are also some unlikely things. These are things that I wouldn't have thought of until I got to that point in the novel, things that I probably wouldn't have Googled if I hadn't been writing this book.

1) The basic geography of Nova Scotia.

2) This looks like an awesome place to spend a summer vacation.

3) The little blue house on Ransom St. that I used to live in is no longer blue, no longer has a porch swing and has fallen even further into disrepair.

4) The basics of moonshining. I watched a lot of how to videos. Here's a relatively short one.

If you're interested in moonshine or moonshiners you should check out these videos about the late Popcorn Sutton who was part of the inspiration for the appearance and voice of Alex Budge.

5) How to malt barley and corn for making liquor.

6) Recipe for peach brandy.

7) The path of ocean currents from Nova Scotia to the Gulf of Maine.

8) The basics of disarming someone with a handgun. Just one of the many ways it pays to be married to a former Marine.

9) And, of course, this is the parking brake of a 1990 Honda Civic.

Favorite Literary Crushes - Darcy and beyond

By pure coincidence, today marks the 200th anniversary of the publication of Pride & Prejudice, and just a few days ago I got word that Dermot Sinclair is the object of his first reader crush by way of one of the lovely folks on who has read the first three acts of The River Maiden. It's incredibly gratifying to have created a character worthy of a reader crush and since I've had a crush on Dermot for ages, it's nice to know I'm not alone.  41NDXC2JR4L._SL500_AA300_Of course one of my first reader crushes is Fitzwilliam Darcy. Because really how can a girl resist a guy that by turns calls you plain and refuses to dance with you, tells you your family is and embarrassment and then goes completely out of his way to fix things when your ridiculous sister practically makes your family untouchable all the while trying VERY hard not to seem in the least bit vulnerable and failing miserably until he says something like this.

"By you, I was properly humbled. I came to you without a doubt of my reception. You shewed me how insufficient were all my pretensions to please a woman worthy of being pleased." Oh, Darcy!

Of course, Darcy isn't just the romantic hero of Pride & Prejudice, and many adaptations since. He is all of the guys that look down their noses at smart, witty girls who don't quite fit in. He's the society that tries to tell us to be one way, because that's what's expected of us when all we want is to be another. And Elizabeth Bennett manages by persistently being herself and speaking her mind to bring him around to appreciating those very things that make her different and special. And he manages by being there when she needs him to show her that sometimes what society wants for you isn't completely intolerable.

I love Jane Austen with her sharp eye and witty pen. If there is a heaven for writers, I like to imagine Jane Austen, Johnathan Swift, Mark Twain and Dorothy Parker relaxing over a few drinks and having a great laugh over some of the more overwrought and self-important writers in literary history. My husband likes to sneer at my love for Jane Austen almost as much as he sneers at my love of romance novels. But, what he doesn't realize is that Austen's novels are just as full of social commentary as the Sci-fi and post-apocalyptic speculative fiction books that he likes to read. Same scathing look at society, just wrapped up in corsets and ribbons instead of gadgets and gun straps.

There are today on HuffPost Books two articles arguing the merits of the  two most visible actors to play Darcy in the last 30 years. There is of course Colin Firth who plays Darcy so well, he's done it in the BBC mini-series and in both Bridget Jones movies. There is also an article making a credible argument in favor of Matthew MacFadyen. This article has some good points, and had me wondering if part of my own preference for Colin Firth's Darcy wasn't wrapped up in my strong preference for Jennifer Ehle's Elizabeth to Kiera Knightly's. Still, it left me wondering about other people's preferences.

This naturally led me to wonder about people's preferences for OTHER literary crushes. Such as, Edward Rochester, or Heathcliff.  Click on each one for a list of actors who have played these roles. I was going to put lists here, but they're far too long.  I'm telling my favorites.  Which ones are yours (comments please)?

Fitzwilliam DarcyColin Firth. Period. End of story.

Edward RochesterMichael Fassbender, though if you haven't see the 1943 version with Orson Welles, Joan Fontaine and a very young Elizabeth Taylor you really should.

Heathcliff: I'm not really a Wuthering Heights fan, but I know Heathcliff excites a lot of readers, and audiences. I will suggest that you watch the delicious Tom Hardy in the 2009 TV movie version and then watch him in The Dark Knight Rises. I think you'll find a lot of similarities in his portrayals of Heathcliff and Bane.

If these guys don't float your boat, who is your literary crush. My other big two haven't been lucky enough to be in film yet, though Sony Picture TV is working on an Outlander TV series. So we may see Jamie Fraser on our TV screens before too long. Alas, I don't foresee a Lymond Chronicles movie or TV series anywhere in the future, though I think Francis Crawford would give James Bond a run for his money.

Big doings on the Once and Future Page

So, I'm stuck here with a sick child today which means no writing is happening. But I'm trying to make the most of it by updating some much needed information on the contemporary fiction series that I'm working on. As you know I'm currently editing/revising/slashing/burning the manuscript for The River Maiden. But wanted to provide a little peek into where the series is going. As I said in my post a couple of weeks ago, I'm working on outlining the whole series. With that in mind. I have given The River Maiden its own page and added pitches for the next two books Old as Stone and King of Mist to the Once and Future page.  Also on the Once and Future page I have added a copy of the ballad that Sarah is researching for her dissertation. She calls it The River Maiden (hence the book title). It lays out the mythos for the entire series. Although the series is interwoven with many actual Celtic legends, The River Maiden (the ballad) is made up by me. I tried to follow common conventions and structure of traditional ballads. I also included themes like the lame king, cauldron of plenty and stone that will be very familiar to students of Celtic lore so that this would assimilate aspects of Celtic culture that readers may already be familiar with.

On the page for The River Maiden (the book) I have added a new excerpt. This is a flashback to Sarah's childhood that I recently added to the manuscript. For those of you who have read the other excerpts, I won't force you to go hunting for it. I'll reprint it right here. I hope you enjoy.


Childhood Memories

Mòrag jumped when she heard the door to Mama’s room upstairs open and close. She held her breath as her heart beat in time with her mother’s footsteps through the hall and down the stairs. She reached a shaking hand out to gather her crayons that were scattered across the worn table. Maybe if she cleaned up her mess, Mama would feel better.

She put the crayons neatly in her box and closed it. She rose to go put the box in it’s place on the little bookcase in the parlor, but Mama was blocking the doorway. She stared hard at Mòrag, like she was a problem that needed to be solved. It was the same way she looked at the puzzles they liked to work on to pass the time when they got snowed in. Mòrag stood there beside her chair, awkwardly shifting from foot to foot wondereding what to do. She never knew anymore how to behave around Mama, not since the bathtub.

Now, Mama lived like a ghost; there but not there. She didn’t talk. She rarely ate though she sometimes came to supper, like now. Her skin hung from her bones. She almost never spoke. Some days Mòrag tried to make Mama feel better, but it never seemed to work. Just today, she had painted a picture for her at school. It was the prettiest picture that she had ever done. She ran all the way home from the school bus stop with the paper streaming behind her like wings. She was so excited, sure that something so lovely would cheer Mama up.

Mòrag had found Mama and Granny in the vegetable garden. They’d been digging up weeds and their hands were covered in dirt. Mòrag went straight to Mama who was on her knees between the rows. “I made this picture for you, Mama! Look! It’s like a fairy tale.”

Mama looked up from what she was doing. Her gaunt face was smudged with dirt and some of her hair had come down to drift around her face in little wisps. For a second, just a second her mama smiled at her. Looked her right in the eye and smiled at her like nothing was wrong, and Mòrag could almost see the old Mama. The one that used to play with her and love her.

Then Mama looked down at the picture and it all changed. Her eyes darted across the picture from one thing to another taking in the castle and the princess, flowers and sunshine and her face became a mask of rage. Mòrag watched as the old smiling Mama drained away and was replaced by something terrifying. Mama slowly lifted her hand to touch the painting. Mòrag thought about pulling it away because her hand was so dirty. The fingernails were green from the weeds and there was black soil every crevace. Before she could though, Mama grabbed the painting and tore it from Mòrag’s hands crumpling it and causing the thick paint to flake off and scatter in the dirt. A raw pained sound came from Mama’s throat like a wounded animal as she slammed the painting to the ground and began to stab it with the trowel that was in her other hand.

“A’ mise, mo bheancachd.” (Come with me, my blessing.) Granny said grabbing Mòrag gently by the shoulders and pulling her toward the house. Mòrag walked toward the house still watching Mama over her shoulder as she began to throw dirt on the painting that was now in tatters. “Tha Mami glè sgìth.” (Mama’s very tired.)

That’s what Granny always said, Mòrag had heard it a thousand times in the last couple of months. She wanted to ask why Mama was so tired. Why didn’t she eat? Why didn’t she play anymore or talk above a whisper? Where was the mother that had loved her? She wanted to ask her Granny all these questions, but she couldn’t seem to get them past the big lump in her throat.

So she just cried. She hated crying. It made her feel like such a baby. Big girls in first grade didn’t cry. Babies cried. She hated Mama for making her cry. Granny tried to make her feel better with a biscuit with honey on it. Mòrag tried to take a couple of bites to show Granny that she was alright. She’d show Mama too. She’d get out her crayons and draw a picture just as pretty as that painting, but this time she would give it to Granny or Ol’Duff.

That’s why her crayons were all over the place when Mama came downstairs for supper. Mama stood there staring as Mòrag until Granny stepped between them. She put a bar of soap in Mama’s still filthy hand and gave a short nod toward the sink. “Nigh do làmhan.” (Wash your hands.)

Mama didn’t argue. She just turned to the sink and began scrubbing the dirt off her hands. Mòrag took the chance to step into the parlor and put her crayons away. She stayed in the parlor, but watched through the door as Mama stayed at the sink giving her hands a good hard scrub with hot water. She was still scrubbing when Ol’ Duff came in through the back door. He usually only stayed around the farm in the winter, but Mòrag knew he was here still in the late spring on account of Mama. Duff was the only way that Granny could get a break from watching and caring for Mama.

He came in and took off his old and patched overshirt and hung it on a peg by the kitchen door.  Mòrag liked Ol’ Duff. Most people couldn’t see past his often dirty wornout clothes and his long hair and beard. They just thought he was a drifter or a hippy, but he had kind eyes, and always a good word for a lonely little girl. Mòrag glanced over to her little shelf on the bookcase and the box of tiny wooden animals that Duff liked to carve for her.

Without a word, he stepped up to the sink where Mama was scrubbing her hands. Steam was rising from the sink. Duff whispered something to Mama that Mòrag couldn’t hear as he reached over and turned off the tap. He grabbed a towel from the rack beside the sink and used it to gently dry Mama’s hands. Mama let him dry her hands, but she never looked at him. She would shift her eyes everywhere, but Duff’s like she was afraid to look at him.

“Tha biadh deas.” (The food is ready) Granny said in her brisk manner as she set the serving dishes on the table. Mòrag went into the kitchen and straight to her chair which was next to Granny’s. Mama and Duff sat on the other side of the table. As always in spring supper was made up of whatever they could get from the garden and the forest. Tonight it was fish that Duff had caught that morning along with spinach sautèed in bacon grease and mashed potatoes and some sliced radishes. There were also biscuits that Granny made every morning.

Since Duff started coming into the house for dinner, they had fallen into a routine of eating supper and talking about their days. Duff would talk about the wildlife he’d seen and what he would go hunting for the next day. Granny would talk about the still and how it was working and what plans she had for the garden or foraging. They both made a point of asking Mòrag about her school day, and the antics of the other kids in school.

They were almost like a normal family. Granny and Duff tried very hard not to act like there was a ghost sitting at the table, but they all knew she was there. She would pick at her food. Sometimes she even took a bite, but most of the time she just pushed it around her plate and stared down at the table. The rest of them tried to ignore her, and most of the time she made that easy to do.

“Did you have your spelling test today?” Granny asked. She always spoke English at the dinner table on account of Duff not having the Gaelic.

Sarah swallowed the bite of potatoes she had just taken and mumbled. “No, ma’am. That’s tomorrow.”

“Then we’ll go over your words while we do the dishes.” Granny nodded to her. Spelling and dishes was also becoming a routine.

“Sing any good songs in music, this week?” Duff asked her. He loved to hear Mòrag sing.

“There is this one funny song about a cat named Don Gato. He falls down and breaks a bunch bones. It sounds kinda sad, but the song is really funny.”

“Well, sometimes you gotta laugh or else you’ll just cry.” Duff said with a wink. “Maybe you can sing it for me when you’re done with…”

Suddenly Sarah felt eyes on her and looked up to find Mama watching her. Silent tears streamed down her face. The others noticed too and stopped talking. They all sat there for a frozen moment staring at Mama while she stared back at Mòrag. Mama looked so sad, but Mòrag didn’t believe that look anymore. She’d seen little else but sadness from Mama in the last couple of months, and her sympathy had just about run out especially after Mama had destroyed her painting.

Feeling a little reckless, Mòrag did something she had never done before. She lifted her chin ever so slightly and looked her mama right in the eye. She waited to see if Mama was going to say anything; maybe explain why she had destroyed the painting, why she had turned herself into a living ghost, or tried to drown her baby a couple of months ago. Mama didn’t say anything. She just sat there staring at Mòrag with fat tears rolling down her sunken cheeks.

When her mother didn’t speak Mòrag just shrugged in indiference and went back to eating her dinner. She cut off a bite of fish with the side of her fork and was scooping it up when she heard Mama’s fork clatter onto her plate and Mama’s chair scrape across the wood floor. With an explosive energy that none of them had thought her capable of, Mama had sprung up from her chair and tried to reach across the table for Mòrag. Her fingers hooked like claws went straight for Mòrag’s throat. Fortunately, Duff was quicker and stronger. In a flash he was on his feet. He wrapped his arms around Mama pinning her arms to her side. At the same time Granny jerked Mòrag’s chair back from the table and put herself in front of it in case Mama got loose.

Mama and Duff struggled for a moment until the soothing rumble of his voice saying “Easy, Molly, easy now.” found its way through the rage that had once again clouded Mama’s brain. When he got her calmed down enough that he could get a better grip on her, Duff walked Mama outside into the yard. Granny went to the window to watch them. No doubt Mama would calm down a lot faster without the sight of her daughter. Little Mòrag pulled her chair back up to the table and picked up her fork again. She stared down at her plate for a few seconds, but couldn’t bring herself to eat anymore. She pushed her plate away and stalked out of the kitchen and up to her room.