Beth Camp Historical Fiction

Wednesday, January 10, 2018

Merida #1: Settling In . . .

We've been in Merida now since late Monday night. It was a very long flight. We started our day at 4am and arrived happily in Merida about 1am. Tuesday was pretty much a lost day of catching up, warmly welcomed by Pepe and Leann of Merida Rentals and an amazing array of information. We already feel at home.

Our new house for the next two months is a curious combination of comfort and a sense of Mayan culture with sculptures, paintings, and those richly embroidered, bright pillows that delight the eye. Everywhere, this historic and restored house has surprising features. For example, the shower is set up as if I were standing beneath a waterfall. 

Our house is located on a busy side street in the central historic district. We close large, wooden shutters for privacy.  In the evening, when cool breezes move in from the sea, we sit on a rooftop patio, swinging in hammocks. In the morning, I'll take my coffee outside in a little patio, overlooking a tiny 'dipping' pool with its own fountain. 

Patio next to dipping pool and stairs to rooftop patio
La Casa Barenda, Merida
The traffic becomes a background noise, like the sound of the sea, broken by moments of traditional Mexican music from a passing taxi. Inside, fans keep us cool. It's very tranquil. No schedule. No expectations. No deadlines.

This quiet Wednesday morning, I feel free to make my own routine, to take the time to listen, to reflect, and to simply be still. In this very new place, I move more slowly through the morning, trying to decide where to write. 

Yes, it's comforting to check in with FaceBook and with family and friends now far away. Normally, all else is background until my writing is done. But this morning hints at new stories. Maybe this is a part of being retired, outside that daily commute and far from meetings (thank goodness!). But I just may find a new writing project here in this land of sun. Sometimes it's good to step away from the known.

A final thought: How the internet has changed our sense of connectedness, of community. The last time we were in Merida, some 20 years ago, we would have waited in line and then crammed into a telephone booth to talk to our daughter, her voice echoing. Now, she is a text away. As is all else. So I'm relishing this morning quiet even as I look forward to exploring this vibrant city a little later today.

If you have traveled in the Yucatan, any suggestions? Travel tips? So far, I'm in love with Google Maps as all I have to do is enter in the name of the restaurant or museum and follow the dotted lines to easily find the location. 

May all be well where you are!  

Wednesday, January 03, 2018

IWSG January 2018: Writing Goals with Coffee?

To start 2018, the Insecure Writers Study Group offers this question: What steps have you taken to put a schedule in place for your writing and publishing?

Every single time I started to plan out my writing goals for 2018, I hit a wall. It wasn't that romantic wall that I could leap over with my Superwoman cape. I was dithering, and I knew it. I didn't feel like setting out any goals at all, since I just finished a three-year project in early December. Am I really ready to start a new novel? Simply put: No!

Since I didn't want to work on any one of six possible story ideas, I did that quick 'save me' Google search to find "50 Creative Writing Prompts to Enrich Your Craft." by Bridget at NowNovel

Oh, this was fun. Guess what happened?

After writing three of these writing prompts over the last three days, I discovered I really had returned to one of my story ideas (working title, IN THE SHADOW OF A TAPESTRY). Each prompt takes me in a totally different direction. Characters, contexts, and conflicts are leaping out of the woodwork, and the story seems fresh and new. I know where I'm going now, and I'm excited about writing this story. Yes, I'll start blocking scenes, writing character studies, and building that story outline, but for now, the joy is in the writing.

What next solidified my writing goals for 2018, though, was a morning meeting last week with my small writing group at Chaps, a funky, junky, upscale cafe here in Spokane with the most delicious almond croissants and real coffee. We gathered at a round table, devoured our breakfast omelets, and talked about our writing goals. 

This is the second year we've met like this. We three -- Sue, Sandy, and me --simply sit down and talk it through. We write our goals down for writing and publishing, share them by e-mail, and then check in with each other about every 3-4 months (we meet 2x a month, but our focus then is on reading and critting). Maybe we were inspired by those almond croissants. 

Never underestimate the power of coffee and bakery goods!

Now, start 2018 off right by visiting the Insecure Writer's Support Group to see what other IWSG writers are talking about. And a special thank you to Alex Cavanaugh, our fearless leader, and his January assistants: Tyrean Martinson, Ellen @ The Cynical Sailor, Megan Morgan, Jennifer Lane, and Rachna Chhabria!

Wednesday, December 06, 2017

Dec IWSG: Celebrating 2017

December 6. Today's my birthday. I celebrated by pressing that 'publish' button on CreateSpace to finally go live with Rivers of Stone, historical fiction set in 1840's Canada.

Better than a birthday cake.

Now that I'm older than dirt, I'm celebrating 10 years of retirement with this third book, the next installment (roughly speaking) in a family saga that began with the McDonnell family's struggles during the Clearances in Scotland (Standing Stones). The second book, Years of Stone, follows Mac McDonnell (and his sweetheart), as he's transported to a penal colony in Australia. Rivers of Stone tells the story of Catriona who marries Dougal McDonnell -- and winds up in Canada. Each book has taken me roughly 3 years to write, revise, and then publish.

So I'm doing the happy dance today . . . and not just about the writing. My friends and readers are celebrating with me.

THANK YOU to everyone who says an encouraging word to a writer, who shares expertise, and who gives critical (and useful) feedback on rough drafts. Regardless of the hour, whether we're wearing bunny slippers or  not, we all benefit.

And we all learn from each other. So here's the latest gift (perhaps unintended) from author Octavia Randolph who recently posted this gorgeous ad on Facebook for her remarkable story, The Circle of Ceridwen.

I kept staring at the design, the sharp contrast between black and white, the way the eye is drawn to the cover. Hmm. Could I do this? So, I did, futzing my way through PowerPoint, photos taken in Canada, and the cover from Rivers of Stone. For we learn from each other.

What do we most care about as writers, once we're past writing the best story we can? I think it's about connecting with other writers, learning from each other, and sharing our stories. We all doubt. The list is endless. Sometimes we're blocked. But we know that passes. Most of the time. We have stories to tell, words to get down on the page, and those moments to share, to celebrate.

If I were to do anything differently about my writing this last year or in the coming year, it is to cherish these connections with other writers and my readers. Let us persevere, enjoy each day of the coming (mild?) winter, and write, well aware of the ripples we create.

Why not hop right over to the Insecure Writer's Support Group to see what other IWSG writers are talking about. And a special thank you to Alex Cavanaugh, our fearless leader, and his minions, Julie Flanders, Shannon Lawrence, Fundy Blue, and Heather Gardner!

Tuesday, November 14, 2017

Part 2: Exercise Yourself! Digging into Deep Revision

In my last post, I talked about how I came to teach a workshop on deep revision, defined some common editing terms, and introduced a working definition of deep revision.

Today's post presents an exercise that brings you closer to understanding how 'unconscious' writing may help your own writing -- even deep revision.

FREE WRITE: IT'S ALL ABOUT YOU! Thinking on paper about what you write, how you write, and why, can help you see new patterns in your writing practice. The goal here is to move us to think outside of an outline, perhaps in a nonlinear way.

So, take a piece of blank paper and fold it into 4. Starting with the first square (doesn't matter which one), label it and then jot down your answers to the questions that follow. When you finish with one category, move on to the next square.

1. WHAT: In this square, jot down your answers to these questions: What are you working on now? Note whether you tend to write plot-driven or character-driven stories. What stage is your current project? Idea + content map? Outline? Drafting? First/second/third draft? Revising? First/second/third round of revision? Beta read? Edit stage? Copyedit? Proofreading?

2. HOW: In the next square, jot down a few comments about how you write. Where do you best write? What time do you write? For how long? How many times a day? a week? And how do you write? pen/paper? Computer? Dictation?

3. WHY: In the next square, draft a statement about why you write. Now answer, 'What pushes you to write THIS story? That is your current work. And, can you identify a theme in your current story? Does this theme reappear in any of your other writing?

4. WHAT IF? (Set this aside until AFTER you've reviewed the following:

DEEP REVISION may require you to let go of the 'normal' way you analyze your writing. Our GOAL here is to identify how different levels in your writing connect with each other and reflect each other. All writers, whether we acknowledge it or not, tend to write on several levels. The deeper we go, the less we may 'know' exactly what we're doing. So, how do we encourage that 'unconscious' part of our mind when we write?

And why should we?

In PRE-WRITING, writing faster than we think possible can lead us to get unexpectedly new ideas down on paper. Some writing challenges -- like National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo) which asks us to write 1,667 new words a day, every day for the month of November -- can spur some writers to amazing productivity -- and break through writer's block.

At the DRAFTING stage, consider how some writers sprint. These writers write as fast as they can, without an outline, without revision, with little more than a germ of a concept or storyline. Some writers write from outlines, and some are so reflective, they meditate for a time before getting each sentence down on paper.

If we compare DRAFTING with REVISION, drafting fast can draw from your unconscious mind, while revision, a more analytical process, involves more of your conscious mind. Please note, I'm not talking about the right-brain/left-brain dichotomy here. I believe we all have fully functional (most of the time) right (rational) and left (intuitive) brains at work, depending on the situation and what we ask of ourselves.

What activities could help me tap into my 'unconscious' mind for writing?

  • Slow, calm, repetitive activities like walking, driving, showering, or even folding laundry can lead to unexpected insights or ideas that feed right back into your writing.
  • Meditating with a goal for short periods can leave you refreshed and with new ideas. Start such a session with a few moments of reflection. Ask "What do I want to achieve?" and then simply let go with slow breathing for about 10 minutes.
  • Thought-dumping allows you to write fast without editing. Be inspired by Julia Cameron's Morning Pages (write 3 pages each morning without stopping), or Natalie Goldberg's timed writing exercises at any time of the day. Key to both: Simply write without going back and without making any changes.
  • Right before going to sleep, ask yourself a question about your story or think about a specific aspect of the story you've been working on. Or, as Thomas Edison put it, "Never go to sleep without a request to your subconscious." Since I typically write first thing in the morning, practically leaping out of bed to take advantage of that quiet hour, I've happily used this particular tip many times, without realizing others also try this.

After the workshop, one writer came up to me to say, "Here's a tip to tap your unconscious that I bet you've never heard of. Read tarot cards for your character or ask a story-related question." I celebrated the moment with her, for I've done this one too, with quite interesting results, again without realizing other writers would find this a useful or interesting exercise. 

Now, pick up that piece of paper that's been divided into four squares. Go to #4 WHAT IF? Which of the above suggested activities, from morning pages to thinking-while-sleeping to reading Tarot cards would you be willing to try? Write them down in #4.

Please come back in a few more days to read about one more activity to help you map out your own 'deep revision' with Part 3: Mind Mapping.

Or go back to Part 1: Working out with Deep Revision to see how we got started on this topic.

Let me know in the comments or by e-mail what YOU think and if you've tried any of these tips. Meanwhile, may your writing go well -- on all levels!

Fall afternoon at Manito Park (October 2017)

Saturday, November 11, 2017

Part 1: Working out with deep revision . . .

I miss teaching. Earlier this week, I got to teach a workshop on deep revision, and had so much fun prepping, researching, planning activities, and then running the workshop itself with 20 eager writers.  So here's a bit of what I learned with a little backstory.

The back story: I've spilled the beans here in my blog that for my current wip, Rivers of Stone, I had hit a revision wall with the story not jelling at that crucial ending and some very useful but challenging feedback from beta readers. I wanted to be finished, but the story was not done with me.

What my story needed was a major restructuring of one main character and a rethinking of how she interacted with the other characters (and how they interacted with her). That was nearly enough for me to want to put the whole story into a file and forget it. After a few months of waffling and struggling with the 'how' to move forward, my DH came to the rescue.

You should hear us talk. Allen thinks in logical structures and works through ideas the same way. When he writes, he spends a lot of time just thinking and then very slowly writes his story one sentence at a time. I tend to think, debate, and write intuitively, leaping in a nonlinear fashion through my projects.

Allen explained that with literary fiction, the writer works on different levels, sometimes consciously and sometimes unconsciously. As we work deeper into any story, those levels become more difficult to change.

What does Snow White have to do with deep revision?  So let's use Snow White to think about four levels of fiction commonly found in literary fiction.

STORY involves the surface elements of plot and character that are relatively easy to change. In Snow White, a beautiful and innocent daughter is feared and hated by her father's new wife. Dispatched to the forest to be killed, she wanders alone, is taken in by a band of dwarfs only to fall into a coma after eating a poisoned apple. Snow White is saved for her happy-ever-after by the kiss of a handsome prince.

STYLE is that unique voice (or persona) of the storyteller that infuses the story, its point of view, word choice, and mood. Imagine how many times you've heard the story of Snow White and in how many different 'voices.'

THEME is a universal idea that affects everything in the story. It may be expressed in a few words, and the theme shapes the story and is difficult to change. In Snow White, the theme might be 'true love rescues innocence.'

SYMBOLISM are those compelling images/objects that appear in the story. For some, that compelling image might be the poisoned apple or the handsome prince's kiss.

To begin deep revision, we need to look at these four categories in our stories.

What in the heck is deep revision? The Freelance Editorial Association identifies FOUR categories of revision: Developmental (working at the concept, outline or draft to develop the story); Substantive (improving the overall manuscript by restructuring, reorganizing, and rewriting); Copy editing (reviewing style, format, and grammar -- among other elements -- for consistency); and final Proofreading.

I also found this fascinating checklist by Waverly Fitzgerald on deep revision that listed the kinds of questions a writer could ask.

But, none of these categories of revision seemed to fit what I experienced in revising my draft.

For me, deep revision involves the rethinking of a story and its basic elements -- character, plot, point of view, setting, style, theme, and symbolism. This kind of revision can happen at any point in the writing process (planning, drafting, or revision), and, if you're truly unlucky, during final revision.

So, what does deep revision mean to you? If you write more methodically, these questions about revision may not trouble you. Or, have they? If you write intuitively, what has been your experience with revision?

Tune in later this week for Part 2 -- You'll find exercises we used in the writing workshop to analyze what kinds of revision we might need, how the elements of our story fit together, and how we might tap our unconscious for drafting and revision.

As you pursue your own writing, take a few moments to enjoy the transition from fall to winter:

Manito Park, October 2017

Wednesday, November 01, 2017

IWSG: Roads Taken . . . And Not Taken

Robert Frost, in his famous poem, "The Road Not Taken," wrote:

Two roads diverged in a yellow wood,
And sorry I could not travel both . . .

That's November for me, for I faced two major challenges and could not decide which road to take, while remaining not quite ready to give up either path.

Goal #1: To finish those final edits and formatting so that Rivers of Stone, Book 3 of my McDonnell Clan series could be published before December.

Goal #2: To get a running start on a new story with NaNoWriMo, starting actually today. I've done a bit of work researching, mapping, drafting character sketches, and am (as a diehard pantser), ready to write -- maybe even write those 50K words in one month.

I began to feel inadequate. Not productive. Caught in that negative downward spiral when the muse sulks and won't soar. A long walk later, and coffee with my dearest daughter, I stopped focusing on who I would disappoint, including myself, if I didn't reach either goal. 

Instead, I asked: What is it that I really want to achieve?

The answer came almost immediately. Finish those edits/formatting first. Commit to just 250 words a day on NaNo until I can write more. I'm ready now to work on both, filled with a sense of optimism and joy. So much for the 'road not taken,' at least for November.

This month, the Insecure Writer's Support Group (IWSG) asks us to share whether we've ever finished writing projects we started in NaNoWriMo, and, if so, have any of our NaNo projects gotten published. For me, the answer is yes to both, for that month of pushing for 1,667 words a day, every day, has given me delicious drafts. And as an older-than-average indie writer, I publish when that revise-revise-revise process is complete.

May November be filled with joy and thankfulness -- and many words. As the month unfolds for you, why not check out what others have written as they check in for the IWSG HERE.

November Afternoon at Manito Park, 2017

Friday, October 27, 2017

October 27: A Long Journey Ends

A long journey ends:
African violets bloom
a purple welcome.

Outside fall leaves shift
red and gold to barren trees.
And now, winter comes.

But I remember
the way the sea and the sky
hold the world as one. 

Today’s poetry prompt from Tamara Woods, OctPoWriMo, suggests remembering flowers and then writing a poem following that classic form of a Haiku – that is a poem with 3 lines, with the first line having 3 syllables, the second line, 7 syllables; and the last line again having 5 syllables.

When I think of flowers, I most remember the African violets that grow in my office. They give me comfort and help me balance a sense of beauty with a constant use of technology. This last trip, 14 days down the coast of Mexico, reintroduced me to the limitless sea. Now home, I'm still adjusting to that time change!

Why not read what others have written at OctPoWriMo in this month-long poetry challenge.