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.

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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."

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. 

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.

Pro-cras-tin-ate!

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.

First quarter of 2013 - Overcoming Inertia

Now that the bombers have been caught and America (especially those of us who live and/or work near target cities like D.C.) can let out that breath we were collectively holding through most of last week, I can get to that blog post that I had been planning before last week's tragedy. I didn't so much make a New Year's resolution for 2013 as a sort of pledge to myself at the beginning of the year to step out of my comfort zone. If left to my own devices, I would be a hermit and by hermit, I mean never picking up the phone, only communicating through email and only going to the store to buy food and craft supplies. I am by nature and introvert with a capital I. This is one of the reasons that being a writer is a good fit for me. It's also one of the reasons why my writing and other creative efforts tend to fly under the radar.

Through an unfortunate series of events toward the end of 2012, I was rather forcibly made to look at the state of my life, career, accomplishments…and realize that I was pretty much being that hermit that my little hater (for a definition of "little hater" see this video) would like me to be. I did a little research and realized that two of the professions in America that are most prone to depression are Writer and Stay-at-Home-Mom and for much the same reason. The work is solitary, and the recognition of success is almost non-existent. Oh, and the pay sucks.

Of course as a Write-at-Home-Mom I'm like a Double Strength Depression Magnet. This is not to say that I was depressed or am now nor was I in January, but I did suffer from Post-partum depression after my daughter was born, so I know enough to recognize the turn off for that bumpy road to Misery Town.

It became strikingly apparent to me that if anyone was ever going to read the novel that I had just finished much less publish it, and if I was going to emotionally survive the process of submission and rejection that will eventually get me there, I would have to start interacting with more people and putting myself out there.

So instead of a resolution, I personally declared this the year of stepping out, putting myself out there for people to see and basically changing what normal is for me. With that in mind. I did a number of things.

  • I cut off the long hair that I'd been hiding behind for years.
  • I joined a gym, and started going to classes. For an introvert who's been overweight since puberty, I can't overstate how big a step it is to work out in front of other people. It's huge.
  • I joined a local critique group where writers come and read their work to be critiqued in person. I'm no stranger to public speaking, I actually enjoy it, but it's a first for me to be reading/speaking in front of people about anything other than tax software or instructional design.
  • I joined a very thorough online critique group that tackles one member's novel every 2 weeks. I like this because it forces me to stick to their schedule instead of pushing things off as I am prone to do. And right now, they're all reading The River Maiden. I can't wait to hear their feedback.
  • I eventually started working with a personal trainer.
  • I sent The River Maiden out to beta readers. This is very big, because it's been in my head for over 10 years. These characters are very personal to me, and I feel protective of them.

My results have been a little mixed. I haven't lost as much weight as I think I should have in 3+ months, but I am much more physically fit than I was in January (and probably have been in years), and I push myself further every week. I also feel 100 times better than I did last year. I'm actually starting to enjoy the feeling of sore muscles and dripping sweat. I learned that even when stepping out of my comfort zone, I'm not interesting in getting my hair cut every 3 weeks which is the approximate time that it takes from my short curls to grow from cute and sassy to old lady hair helmet. So, I'll be letting it grow out a bit.

In the second quarter of this landmark year, I'm planning to…

  • Start querying agents for The River Maiden. I'm happy to take recommendations from anyone who knows a good agent
  • Keep showing my work to more people
  • Keep building my online social media presence
  • Overhauling my etsy store, something I've been putting off for too long.

…among other things. I'll update you on my progress.

 

"Choose a suitable design and hold to it."

I am a plotter. I think I've mentioned this before. I'm always amazed when I hear people say they just write by the seat of their pants. I can't even conceive of the idea of writing without knowing how something is going to end. Maybe it's my non-fiction background, or my academic bent, but for anything larger than flash fiction I have to have an outline. I think it was probably said best by those wise writing gurus Strunk & White. "Writing, to be effective, must follow closely the thoughts of the writer, but not necessarily in the order in which those thoughts occur."

This is not to say that I'm never carried away by a scene or character into something that I hadn't foreseen or planned. Much of the Alex Budge parts of The River Maiden were expanded based on the strength of the character as he appeared in my head while I was writing. Still, I start a project knowing where I will end and what things need to be covered along the way.

Now, I started writing The River Maiden years ago, and when I did I had a very useful mind mapping program that helped us turn abstract ideas into outlines. Unfortunately, since I no longer work for that company, I don't have access to that program anymore. So, now that I'm in the process of plotting the next book, and was looking for a way to get all of the various themes of this book that have been swimming around in my head into some sort of outline. I found a few methods for plotting a novel, including mind mapping as I had done before. But I also found the information about how to use a snowflake diagram.

That's a lot of very specific steps (so specific that they've now made software for it) that get down to more specifics than I'm ready for right now. Instead I'm using it help me layer the various themes of the plot. I have 6 main themes and each section is for outlining that theme and how it all fits together.  I built my own tool for using the snowflake diagram using a folding foam board.

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This helped me brainstorm the different movements of the plot and how each of the main characters get to where they need to be at the end. Instead of going through all of those steps however useful they may be, I used the snowflake structure to organize my brainstorming. Since I've had some scenes running through my brain for a while now, this gives me a chance to get them out and organize the. Not all of these points of the snowflake have specific events lined up with them, but it does give me a look at what is needed to move Sarah and Dermot and company to where they will be at the end of this book. While brainstorming the plot, I used the side panels to note locations and characters who need to be fleshed out further. I did this with post-its on the board so that I can move things around as needed. This also enables me to use the board again for the next project (did I mention I'm cheap?).

Snowflaking as we've started to call it around here is becoming quite the thing. My six year old is even using it to plot her work-in-progress "The Day it Rained Kittens". I helped with the writing, but the plot points are hers. I can't tell you how important organization is when your story is being dictated by a six year old.

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