Beth Camp Historical Fiction

Thursday, October 05, 2017

October 5: Letting Go

Perhaps I do understand what I didn’t know yesterday
as the suitcase fills up, the airline tickets
print, the alarm set for 4:00 am.
Everything that I know and love
will remain here for now;
for the next weeks,
we sleep aboard
a ship,

Today’s OctPoWriMo prompt is to brainstorm a list of the things you now understand that maybe you didn’t quite comprehend before. Distracted by preparations for our coming trip that leaves this Saturday at 4 am, I couldn’t see a way to respond to the prompt . . . until I found Robert Lee Brewer’s list of poetic forms online on The Writer’s Digest website

The Nonet, a nine line poem that starts with a 9-word line, with each following line one word less, intrigued me because Brewer says this poetic form is a sort of ‘count down’ poem. We are certainly counting the hours down just now before this trip begins.

Tomorrow’s poem will be my last posted poem until August 26th, for we will be traveling down the coast of Mexico without any access to internet. 

Meanwhile, here's the link to OctPoWriMo poets. May you find poetry every day and everywhere!

Pigeons of San Miguel de Allende (Camp)

Wednesday, October 04, 2017

October IWSG: Have I Slipped?

I typically spend about three years in writing my historical fiction stories, all set mid-19th Century in times of great upheaval. My characters struggle, and I love to write about them as they fight their way out of despair to a new life they’ve crafted.

In Standing Stones, Mac McDonnell protests evictions by the new landowner of a tiny island in northern Scotland. As Book 1 ends, Mac is jailed, sent to a prison ship in London, and then shipped to a penal colony in Australia. 

Years of Stone, Book 2, follows Mac as he struggles to survive a seven-year sentence in Van Diemen’s Land. Mac doesn’t know that Deidre, his sweetheart, has followed him. Do they get that ‘happy-ever-after’ ending?

That leads me to Rivers of Stone, Book 3 of the McDonnell clan. 

I loved researching and planning the story of what second brother Dougal McDonnell did as he left his island home. But Rivers of Stone is really about Catriona’s journey. She disguises herself as a boy and, with Dougal, is hired by the Hudson’s Bay Company (based on a true story). Once they land at York Factory in Upper Manitoba, Cat and Dougal are separated. 

Catriona’s inventiveness, and chance meeting with Canadian artist Paul Kane, take her all the way to Fort Vancouver in the Oregon Territory, a wonderful story that essentially asks: Will Cat and Dougal get that ‘happily-ever-after’ ending.

In the earliest drafts of Rivers of Stone, I struggled for months over how to stage that ‘happily-ever-after’ ending, for essentially Dougal abandoned Catriona at the first opportunity. How could she forgive him? After the first draft was complete, I realized (with the help of beta readers) that I had profiled an abused wife. This was not the story I wanted to tell.

I do write intuitively and then work as logically as I can. With Rivers of Stone, for some reason, my characters played out the drama of my childhood. I didn’t realize how toxic and how long lasting these underlying issues were. Despite many years of a solid marriage, I still painted the picture of a woman who was mistreated, undervalued, and abandoned. 

Deep revision followed, and I am happy to report that Catriona displays the strength and personal growth of a true heroine.

This month’s IWSG question is: Have you ever slipped any of your personal information into your characters, either by accident or on purpose? 

My answer is yes, but, thank goodness for editing and perseverance! Working on the emotional bedrock of a story, its subliminal message, is not easy. But maybe that’s just what readers take away after they finish reading that last page.

Thank you to IWSG October co-hosts Olga Godim, Chemist Ken, Jennifer Hawes, and Tamara Narayan! Read what others have posted for the Insecure Writers' Study Group HERE.

Have a great month reading and writing. Remember that NaNoWriMo is just a few weeks away.

October 4: Where Does Poetry Hide?

I’d like to think that poetry
hides under my bed,
inspiring dreams. Early in the morning,
just before I wake, words dance 
along my eyelids, 
bringing me to that half-life
of awareness.

I can’t quite remember anything
after I’m awake,
other than the shape of the words
laid out on a page,
staggering toward some meaning,
rather like a paint by number,
the colors not filled in,
and my brush strays outside the line.

Street Art in Sao Paulo, Brazil (Camp 2009)

Today’s OctPoWriMo prompt invites us to explore where poetry hides in our life. Thank you, Amy McGrath, for your lovely photos and invitation to write. 

Most of the year, I do wake with words and images for the morning writing session, but, for me, poetry hides throughout the year, except for October and maybe April. The rest of the year, I'm writing and editing stories!

Click HERE to read what others have written -- and enjoy!

Tuesday, October 03, 2017

October 3: Untitled Cherita

after packing my suitcase one more time

Tucking your postcard
into my daybook

A packet of letters on thin paper
comes unbundled,
little cherished histories

Cherita is the Malay word for story. This stylized poem is presented without a title. Its three stanzas are centered and have one 1 line, 2 lines, and end with 3 lines. I hope my little poem gives the sense of a story in this tradition. 

Today’s OctPoWriMo challenge was to write a cherita, perhaps around the theme of metal. Click HERE to read what others have written -- and enjoy!

The photo is by Liz West on Flickr of a packet of letters she bought at an auction. They were written in the 1860's.

Monday, October 02, 2017

October 2: Maybe the First Time

Maybe the first time,
some rhythm of song
resonated to your bones,
and you noticed you were different.
Or was it the shock
of a blow
that led to stars,
white stars that circled as spirals
into words only you could hear.
You became an observer,
watching, not dispassionate,
but once removed,
recording for some unseen audience
you knew would listen
to these words
that finally spilled out on the page,
well before laptops or i-pads or texts,
words that the heart knows. Sometimes
we write because we must.

I'm posting a little late with today's poem (and picture taken earlier this summer in Manito Park), for it's after 11 pm here on the west coast. A busy day, but OctPoWriMo's prompt for today was to free write for ten minutes stating, "We write because we must."  Click HERE to read what others have written -- and enjoy!

Sunday, October 01, 2017

Oct 1: How Did I Get to This Place?

Manito Park, Spokane (Early Fall 2017)

How did I get to this place?
Every day edges closer to the end of my days,
from west coast to east, across oceans,
north and south, other languages tumble
in the wind of this journey. I remain
always grateful for each year with you.
Seasons wind round again and again,
while I, fueled by the blood of Vikings,
fight down night terrors to make
our home, a respite.

Today’s prompt from OctPoWriMo included these jumping-off words: family tree, DNA, roots and branches, origin story, ancestry, heritage, and the question: “How did I get here?” Click HERE to read what others have written. 

This year, we'll be traveling once again -- far from internet! So while I can only post these poems written for OctPoWriMo through Friday, October 6, I'm taking a journal with me and will post on our return -- after October 25.

I took this picture of the Japanese Garden in Manito Park in early fall. Why do I love participating in OctPoWriMo? Because it's a nice break from writing historical fiction. Because I enjoy that nonlinear connection with images and ideas that seem very different every day. I hope you join the challenge!

Thursday, September 28, 2017

September 28: The Role of Poetry?

When words emerge
in a certain shape on the page
or rhythm within, close to the sounds
of each vowel of my heart,
I think poetry is a little anchor
to this moment, something small,
so personal that
what remains on the page
is hard to share with others
and nearly impossible to read aloud.

But these words help me recognize
my own white hair in the beginning of winter
in that line of snow birds heading north,
and to see again the ending of summer,
as we walk along this tree-lined path,
leaves above us curling red and yellow to brown.

I do not count words in a poem
or rage as much as I should
against all those worldly wrongs.
Some stories, some poems resonate
larger than life, then slip away,
one line at a time. Like a crane,
Its steady walk profound,
I move without regret . . .
as yet, unfinished.

Today’s poem tries to answer Tamara Woods’ question, “What is the role of poetry?”, in her post for OctPoWriMo HERE. The picture of that beautiful white crane comes from Jeffrey Stemshorn, a Tucson photographer with the vision of a poet who is dear to my sister.

Wednesday, September 27, 2017

September 27: Follow the Flower that Bends

Even in early spring,
one flower always seems
to bend in its own direction,
as if to say, “Follow me. I know
where I am going.” 

Over the years, I have followed you
here and there, everywhere,
at home in a world of other-ness,
affirming we are one community, at peace.
And then nature blows the flowers away,
the houses, the wires that connect us so well,
bringing death and destruction.
“We know death is
inevitable,” one forlorn wife says,
“But that does not mean
we are ready.”

I am wishing for
that one flower that points the way,
bending slightly to a path
that few follow.
In the spring, we will shake loose routine.
A lot older now, we cannot quite travel
as we once did. But our hearts
are together,
here and there,

Today's poem came early this morning as we prepare for a trip that means we'll be far from internet from October 7 through October 25. Despite my commitment to OctPoWriMo, I won't be able to post that daily poem. But I will write in my journal and post on our return, hopefully with pictures and new adventures to share.

Saturday, September 23, 2017

September 23: Lost in Translation

She stood center stage
and began to sing in Spanish,
that song she wrote over the summer.

I caught a word here and there,
mi amor perdida, a tale
of love lost unfolding,
and I recognized in that lilting beat
set by her hands in tandem,
guitar and voice,
a stylized dance, answer and response,
her voice quavering with passion. 

The audience remained largely unaware
of nuance or pain,
or how much we lost by not knowing the words,
those words that spun away.
She had no CD, and I had no way to remember
this moment of performance,
the young guitarist who sang from the heart,
of her lost love and all
that lay before her.

Today's poem honors the singing and songwriting Brigid Walsh who sang at September’s POETRY RISING gathering here in Spokane, hosted by Stephen Pitters. The next POETRY RISING is set for November 15th, 6:30 pm, Barnes & Noble, Northtown.

Friday, September 22, 2017

September 22: Between

Something of beauty:
Isn’t that what we aspire
to make concrete
the indefinable?
Somehow between and
out of the bits and scraps of our lives,
whether hours in an office or at home,
we do create harmony out of chaos.
Yes, sometimes ‘tidy’ will win.
But, who paints
with abandon at 3am?
Who makes the moment come alive
by tracing a line of pine trees
against a star-filled sky?
Or dreams with the tenacity of a writer,
who word-by-word
builds a poem?

Fall at Finch Arboretum

Today's poem came along because I had no time. Meetings ahead. A long list of to-do, longer than I can do today. So I thought of all the times when we work to make space for others and ourselves, those moments that do nurture us.  And somehow this picture I took at Finch Arboretum talks to me of the change of seasons and what we do 'between.'

Please consider joining the month-long poetry challenge that begins October 1 by writing a poem a day. Find out more HERE for OctPoWriMo

Wednesday, September 20, 2017

Sept 20: On Rocks and Spines

Who can see the turn of seasons
in the blossoms that turn to brown
here in the desert?
We pick our way past cactus
in every form.
Even guardian Saguaro promise
months of heat ahead
while palm fronds wither.
The rocks remain,
sedimentary in layers,
sturdy, persevering.
We return each year,
snow birds who warm our bones
in this land of rocks and spines. 

"Secret Garden" by Jeffrey Stemshorn

Tuesday, September 19, 2017

Today's Poem: "Cosmos"


Sometimes we forget
the stars spin above us.
As we wheel through the sky,
an unending cycle of stars circles us.
We turn again and again,
day to night and night to day.
We burrow into each precious day,
encumbered by schedules and routine.
We take this round of days for granted
until we count the hours to that moment
when time stands still
and we see the stars anew.

Eagle Rock Sunset & Milky Way Time-Lapse

Yesterday's poem "Rockpile" is still at draft stage, but the images in this one-minute video led me to write "Cosmos" as I explored Flickr and found Kevin's video of "Eagle Rock Sunset & Milky Way Time-Lapse."  See more of Kevin's work HERE, including some stunning shots of the eclipse. 

Expect to read more about rocks . . . a little later.

Sunday, September 17, 2017

POETRY on the road . . .

That poetry writing challenge, OctPoWriMo, starts October 1. Am I ready to write a poem a day for the entire month of October? 

Don't know, but here's a warm-up poem inspired by Daily Write:

On the Road

Slam shut that lock on the suitcase:
We’re ready for another trip.
I don’t care.
Just shake the dust
off those tired beds
that slant to one side,
those early mornings
that roil with routine.
Am I too old to travel without a destination?
Don’t think so.
We’re all headed to our own unique ending,
with or without grace,
as fast as we can go.

from Daily Write

Sign up to participate in OctPoWriMo by October 2  
(or learn more about this poetry challenge)  CLICK HERE

Friday, September 15, 2017

Taking a risk: Radio Interview!

Stephen Pitters, congenial host of Spokane Open Poetry (and sometimes prose), kindly interviewed me today for his radio show on KYRS! This half-hour show features poets, writers, and musicians and is broadcast locally and world-wide through Radio Free America.

I showed up with notes and printouts ready, uncertain as to what would happen, for this was my very first radio interview.

Stephen invited me to sit in front of a massive microphone as he tested my sound levels.

"Louder!" he said.

"Like I don't want the back row to fall asleep?" I replied.

We laughed.

Stephen's friendly welcome put me right at ease. His interview format, a balance of chitchat alternating with my reading made that 25 minute recording session fly by.  I read a short story, "The Last Mermaid," and three poems from a soon-to-be published poetry chapbook. He was a wonderfully appreciative audience. This reinforced my sense that Stephen Pitters works hard to create a nurturing environment that promotes art and culture right here in Spokane. What a wonderful resource.

Stephen's interview with me will air Saturday, November 18 on KYRS from 11:00-11:30 am.

You can also listen to his interviews (including mine at some point), right on his Open Poetry Spokane webpage at:

Some tips Stephen shared with our local authors' group, Spokane Authors & Self-Publishers last month:

  • Listen to the show ahead of time to get a sense of tone, substance, and style.
  • Avoid date stamps when I talk (since the interview would be broadcast at a later date).
  • Use those filmy paper protectors for your script to avoid paper rustling.
  • Lay out your script (printed in a BIG font; I used 16) in the order you wish to follow.
  • Use family-friendly vocabulary or risk getting bleeped!
  • Consider what listeners would be interested in and select readings that let the listener know why and how you write, what you write about, and hint at my storytelling style.
  • Bring a little more than you will use for the time (approximately 25 minutes) and include a short piece for the very end of the program.
So, how did I really do? I loved sharing my poetry and short story. The interaction with Stephen was so very comfortable. His focus made it easy for me to talk about what inspires my writing. I forgot a few things . . . like including my website or that my books are available on Amazon and Smashwords. Bottom line? I feel welcomed into a new community of people who love poetry.

Just in time for next month's poetry writing challenge hosted by Morgan Dragonwillow, October Poetry Writing Month OctPoWrMo, in which we try to write a poem a day . . . Why not join in?

If you are in the Spokane area, why not join Stephen Pitters as he hosts Poetry Rising at Barnes & Noble, Northtown Mall, on this coming Wednesday, September 20th, 6:30-7:30pm. This reading features Laura Read, Spokane's poet laureate.

Friday, September 08, 2017

IWSG: Have you ever . . . ?

September's question from the Insecure Writer's Support Group (IWSG) is: Have you ever surprised yourself with your writing? For example, by trying a new genre you didn't think you'd be comfortable in?

'Tis true. I've always written something, and I've often been surprised by what I write. Poetry. Short stories. Flash fiction. Not until I retired did I begin writing those longer stories that turned into books. But I still like to play with genre fiction, science fiction, thrillers, even as I commit to writing historical fiction, a process that typically takes me 3 years to finish one novel.

So now, when I'm very close to finishing the last (and third novel) of a family saga, I'm feeling a bit itchy. So many directions are possible . . . and yet, how will I know which is the 'right' one for me?

Don't you admire those writers who find their niche and simply tell wonderful stories that lead from one to the next, seemingly so seamlessly?

That's not me. Just as much as I love traveling and living in other countries whenever possible, I enjoy playing with words and contexts that don't really seem to have much to do with each other. Well, except for the previously mentioned three-novel family saga set in Scotland, Australia, and Canada.

For example, when we traveled in Turkey for a month, we discovered two pillars from the Roman era hidden in an out-of-the-way waterworks in Istanbul. The head of Medusa instead of being at the top of the pillar, was now reversed. Her eyes blank and unseeing, her hair of twisting stone snakes. And her story not known.

This next month, I will finish Rivers of Stone. Perhaps I'll be writing a poem a day (or a flash fiction a day) for the month of October. Maybe it's just OK to work a little on this or that, knowing that one morning, the story that began as a thread of an idea will take me on an unexpected turn. 

For I believe that IF Medusa was once a girl with dark eyes and beautiful long hair who bewitched all who saw her, that she never expected to find herself so feared and, finally, upside down and hidden deep in a cistern in Istanbul.

I'm not feeling so insecure about where those next writing ideas will come from or what I'll be writing next, for each morning begins with promise. For now, I appreciate those writers and readers from the Insecure Writer's Study Group who blog about what we all care about: the process of story telling. 

May you all have a good month. And a special thank you to this month's IWSG's co-hosts: Tyrean Martinson, Tara Tyler, Raimey Gallant, and Beverly Stowe McClure!

You may read more about Medusa from the Smithsonian or from my own Travel Blog

Tuesday, August 29, 2017

Author Interview: Chris Loehmer Kincaid

Today, I’m happy to introduce Chris Loehmer Kincaid, author of the newly released Where the Sky Meets the Sand, a terrific read.

Her moving novel about a young woman’s transformative visit to Africa (now available on Amazon and Barnes & Noble) will release in paperback format on Friday, September 1.

Chris has kindly answered a few questions about how her experiences in Africa shaped her writing, her commitment to the people of Kenya, and her next novel.

Thank you, Chris, for sharing your thoughts with us. I'm already looking forward to reading your next book!

How did traveling in Africa affect how your story developed? On my various trips to Africa, I've met so many people who are happy despite the deplorable conditions they live in. They all have a story to tell. I hope that by incorporating at least a few of their stories into my characters' lives, that others will see their lives as well.

My first trip to Africa was with my daughter and a mission team from Wisconsin in 2006. I had such high hopes that this trip would change the lives of all the people we worked with in Kenya, but I came home disappointed, asking myself, "Did I really make a difference?"

I wrote about that experience in my first book, the memoir, A Time for Every Purpose Under Heaven. My daughter had returned home after that trip with much the same feelings. A few years later, trying to find her place in life, she journeyed back to Kenya to volunteer for six months. As I began writing my memoir in 2013, both she and I were called to return to Kenya again, this time to begin forming our own nonprofit organization, Tumaini Volunteers. I guess, though, the simplest way to answer your question, is to tell you that Kenya is a beautiful country with beautiful people who appreciate everything we do for them. I will continue to return to Kenya just to see their smiles.

What do you want readers to know about Tumaini Volunteers Foundation? Tumaini means hope in Swahili, the language spoken in Kenya and much of eastern Africa. When founding our nonprofit organization, Tumaini Volunteers, our main goal was to bring hope to those living in dire conditions. Currently we are working in a community of approximately 2,500 people, very few of whom are employed. The need in this community is so great it seems overwhelming, but our hope is that if we can introduce a few sustainable projects, the community can begin to develop on its own.

If you could give your younger self any writing advice, what would it be? Be patient and keep submitting. When I was in college, I submitted a half dozen or so pieces to various places, and none were accepted. I gave up on writing for a long time, thinking I would never get published and that no one would ever want to read what I wrote. At the time, I think mostly that I didn't have anything to say. Now, with so much more life experience, I don't think I'll ever stop having stories to share.

What's your current project? I am currently working on a novel set in northern Wisconsin in the mid-1970s. It is similar to Where the Sky Meets the Sand in that one of the main characters is also struggling with a difficult past. He is a Vietnam War vet fighting PTSD, which was not even a diagnosis until 1980. Few of the other characters in the book understand what he is going through. I haven't had nearly as much time to write this story as I would like, and the whole time, I picture this young man in my mind, imploring me to tell his story.

For more information about Chris Loehmer Kincaid, visit her page on Amazon or at Barnes & Noble. For more information on the Foundation, visit Tumaini Volunteers.

Here's her video trailer for Where the Sky Meets the Sand:

Friday, August 25, 2017

Visiting the Wall . . .

Today we drove about 20 miles to visit the traveling version of the Vietnam War Memorial from Washington, D.C. On this sunny afternoon, we walked along the roughly 300 foot replica to find a soldier's name who served in Vietnam with Allen. On Panel 43E, 53 lines down, we found his name and stood quietly for a few moments.

We were then told to go to the KSPS booth for Allen had something to talk with them about and perhaps give them.

KSPS, our local public radio station, sponsored this traveling exhibit as a community service event tied to Ken Burns' upcoming series on the Vietnam War.

While on patrol in Vietnam, Allen's unit came under fire from a bunker. Three men were sent to clear the bunker, one on each side and one from the front. Allen was one of the three men who charged the bunker, killing the man inside. The translator told Allen he wanted him to keep the man's helmet as a memory of this young man, wounded and far from home, with photos of his family and his sweetheart in his pocket.

It was this helmet that Allen gave to the people at the KSPS table. They promised they would do their best to return the helmet to the man's family in Vietnam, or make sure it found its way to the Vietnam Memorial Museum. He also gave them a copy of his novel, Reaching, which includes a chapter about the helmet in more detail.

I'm not saying today's visit to that open, grassy field where the replica monument had been set up was easy, but as we watched others look for names of loved ones, we were moved and at peace.

Peonies at Manito Park (Spokane 2017)
For more information about the Vietnam Traveling Wall:
Or, for information about Ken Burns' program on the Vietnam War:  Or, read the KSPS article about the Traveling Wall here in Spokane: 

Wednesday, August 02, 2017

August IWSG: I hate tailgaters

So I'm tooling along at my usual 5 miles above the speed limit, when someone, typically in a RAM truck, starts pushing my back bumper and gesticulating wildly. I have 3 options: Stay at my current speed, go faster, or pull over. Sometimes I use the flasher lights to say, "Back off." If the person doesn't slow down, I pull over. And I wonder what happened to the world of courtesy to other drivers? When did drivers simply stop following posted speed limits (especially in school zones)? Or ignore stop signs? Or 'forget' to use their turn signals? 

Sometimes I daydream that we could all use paintball guns when someone's driving is reckless. But that RAM truck driver probably has a real gun ready to use. Sigh.

So what has my pet peeve about other drivers have to do with writing? This month's question from the Insecure Writer's Support Group is: "What are your pet peeves when reading/writing/editing?"

When I'm reading what someone else has written, what turns me off faster than someone who tailgates:

--Errors in basic punctuation in any published work. 
--Stories that blatantly exploit sex or violence in any genre.
--Stories that end without resolution or leave characters hanging but tag to the next book.
--POSITIVE: I love good writing that immerses me in the story world, even with lapses as noted above.

Horses at Eagle Crest, Oregon (2016)
When I'm writing (or working with a writing group), what pushes me away:

--If I don't have the right research to write the scene. Solution: Jump sideways slightly to find what I need.
--When my characters are like ghosts. Solution: Write dialogue and/or character back story to find out more about them.
--If the writing group is too positive and my only benefit is from reading aloud. Solution: Ask questions for more critical feedback.
--If the writing group is so negative so I go home nearly in tears, not believing in my story or myself. Solution: Find a new writing group.

When I'm editing

--I wish I could work on more than one project at a time, for example, start the next story while editing the current one. For me, the editing of a novel takes discipline, months of time, and a different way of looking at story. 

So far, I haven't been able to work on more than one major project at a time, not even writing poetry while editing a novel. Solution: Work consistently on the editing. Yes, I write nearly every day, early in the morning. No interruptions. Quiet. Sounds like heaven.

Now writing this post was fun. At first I was a little worried it would be too negative, but two surprises: For every peeve, there's a solution (except for tailgaters). And I'm thankful once again for online writing communities like the Insecure Writer's Study Group and A Round of Words in 80 Days that connect me with other writers. 

Why not go visit a few, join in, and celebrate YOUR writing.

Summer at Manito Park (2017)


Wednesday, July 05, 2017

July IWSG: Revising the Past . . . Again

This week, I met with my small writers' group and told them about the post due today -- and my ambivalence in writing it. At the name, The Insecure Writer's Support Group, everyone said, "Oh, I need that," and "Send me the link, Beth."

I was reminded again how difficult it is to write a story. We may quibble over plot and conflict, character arcs, degree of backstory, authenticity of setting, or even correct grammar. But when we share our stories, we may not control the theme.

I'm in deep revision just now of Book 3, Rivers of Stone. That doesn't really describe what I'm revising or why. For somewhere along the way in generating this story, all the way through the first and second and third drafts, I fell back into a theme I thought I had long left behind. Instead of writing a serious historical romance, I wrote about an abusive marriage in the 1840s. Ugh. This subtheme did not fit my story. It made my characters unlikeable, and a happy-ever-after ending unthinkable.

So I'm working through all 70 chapters, reshaping, recasting, and re-imagining. I hear the echos of my childhood in all I've written. I'd like to forget (and have done my best to do so) that morning when I was 9 and my sister 8. We were awakened by the sounds of my mother being badly beaten. We huddled in bed, too frightened to do anything. At dawn, my stepfather brought my mother into our bedroom and said, "Take care of her." I'd like to say she left him, but she didn't, not for another decade.

My dear hubby says that very good writers write intuitively, drawing on their subconscious. Oh, that didn't work this time. But I still believe in my story. Maybe the revisions will be done in roughly five months. That's not so long a time to get it right.

Your turn: Have you considered what themes run deep through all your stories? Have you ever been surprised by a turn one of your stories took? And what did you do?

May the coming month be a good one for us all. Don't forget to go exploring on the list of some 230 followers of The Insecure Writer's Support Group. Find out what we've been up to this last month. Be inspired -- and write!

Wednesday, June 07, 2017

June IWSG: Why write?

This month's writing prompt from the very helpful resource: Insecure Writer's Support Group (IWSG) simply asks: "Did you ever say 'I quit'? If so, what happened to make you come back to writing?"

I have always written, short pieces, poetry, flash fiction. I wrote 'between' all else. The year before I retired, I began writing seriously. After 26 years of teaching others how to write essays, research papers, and technical reports (and writing a business writing textbook), finally, I thought, I could follow my dream of becoming a writer of novels.

So much to learn. I took classes, participated in small and larger writing groups, read how-to-write books, attended writing conferences, and met other inspirational writers. And I wrote. Ten years later (I didn't say I was a 'fast' writer), I've written 4 novels (2 in much need of revision). That learning curve stretches steeply in front of me, but I joyously pursue my writing -- most days.

Twice, I've nearly quit writing. Each time, someone has critiqued my drafts so furiously, I doubted my ability to tell a good story. But each time, I've returned to writing after a break of a few weeks to several months.

Because . . . 

My world seems in balance when I write. It's what I've longed to do all my life with that deep, never-goes-away kind of longing. I write because I love to delve into history and figure out 'what life was like.' I don't really care about becoming rich or famous. When I can craft a story, a chapter, a paragraph -- sometimes even a sentence -- there's a sense of peace and joy that makes that next writing session possible. My writing (and my other passion, quilting) keeps me creative, observant, and connected. 

Somehow I got stuck in mid-19th Century, partly because of a fascination with the Industrial Revolution. Just now I'm researching gangs in Edinburgh and the lives of indentured servants in Virginia. I write most mornings between 6 and 10, sometimes until 11. Then the rest of the world enters, and 'normal' life resumes. 

I hope that my stories will move readers who are drawn to history. For that's what I'm working on now:  How do my characters come alive? How do their emotional journeys connect with readers?

Oh, and I probably write because I'm stubborn and just want to show those folks who said to me, "You can't."

Click HERE to see what other writers are doing in this monthly update for the Insecure Writer's Support Group. And why do you write?

Sunday, May 21, 2017

Distractions and Progress on that novella

I’m exploring new strategies with Randy Ingermanson’s SNOWFLAKE method of planning a novel, because I’m working on plotting and scaffolding and character descriptions instead of simply spinning out scenes.

Because my story is set in Scotland in the 1840's, I keep running into research plot holes where I need to know something. So I'm researching the food eaten by various classes, living conditions, slums in Edinburgh and Inverness, epidemics of cholera/typhus, emigration of the Irish to Scotland, various working conditions, and railroads in and around Edinburgh and Glasgow in the 1840's. And I keep finding fascinating little bits that tell me 'what life was like.'

If I keep in mind the GOAL, that is to write a prequel of about 40K to tell what happened with Dylan and Moira after the end of Standing Stones, I’m encouraged as all this information swirls around and informs the story, even as I doubt the story will hold to 40K words.

And I want to go back to Scotland. Maybe another research trip of two months in September and October this year? Another 6-floor walk-up on the Royal Mile, just about halfway between Edinburgh Castle (where, yes, the royal crown jewels are under guard) and the Holyrood Abby, a ruin . . . but so beautiful. Around the corner, a lovely library; I already have the library card! 

View from Edinburgh Castle (Camp 2009)

Bagpipers coming down the Royal Mile (Camp 2009)

Maybe a day trip up to Inverness to visit Ardkeen House once again (now a private home, but still, once it was a home for wayward women. 

Now I’m checking the internet to confirm that Ardkeen House was built in 1834-1836 by the Inverness United Charities Institution to house the Inverness Juvenile Female School, the Ladies' Female Work Society, and the Inverness Infant School. 

Moira lived here at Ardkeen House in Inverness until her daughter Rose was born (in Standing Stones). In the novella, she will return to Ardkeen House.

Oh, how the plot thickens.

The next step in Randy's SNOWFLAKE is to develop character sketches that reveal everything. Some people use Excel to organize all those factors that make a character unique.  

I couldn’t quite visualize what my main characters looked like, so turned once again to the internet.

Gerard Butler jumped off the page as Dylan. And a nameless model became his brother, Michael -- at least nameless, until someone pointed out he's Michael Fassbender.

This is MICHAEL FASSBENDER (Wikipedia)

Now, truly the plot thickens. I have to tell their story. Don't you want to know what happens next?

Sunday, May 14, 2017

Storytelling: Happy for now?

I started work on a novella.

I 'm trying out Randy Ingermanson's Snowflake method of step-by-step drafting, actually ten steps in total. After two weeks, I'm about half way through mapping out the story of Moira and Dylan. My goal is a novella, some 40-50,000 words. Perhaps I'll be able to tell this story a little faster than the three years it usually takes me.

Why this story of Moira and Dylan?

If you've read Standing Stones, you may remember that Dylan left their island home to go to Inverness, seeking work and leaving Moira behind. But he doesn't know that Moira is pregnant. Moira searches for him, can't find him, and winds up in a home for wayward women, baby Rose on the way. 

Readers have let me know they want to know what happens next, and they want a 'happy ever after' ending! In fact, just this week my doctor stood in the hall before her next patient to call after me, "You have to write a happy ending. You can't leave them apart like that."

So it's back to Inverness for me!

"River Ness, Inverness" by Avarim (Wikipedia)

Will I find that happy ending? 

I hope so, but I'm drawn to the stories of people who struggle to make a good life for themselves and those they love. For some reason, perhaps my own childhood, I want to write about those working class people who lived in crowded 19th Century tenements, worked in windowless factories, and fought over bread. In Inverness, the elite disdained a district filled with 'Irishers' called Cowgate. Maybe Moira will find Dylan there. 

Even as I sit in my office, surrounded by 21st Century luxuries, including more books than I can read, I'm thinking 'happy for now' might be a more realistic fit. For our lives are filled with challenges that change over time, each decade shaped by policies beyond our control, and we grow older. Somehow we face down loss; hopefully, we find love to ease the way.

Thursday, May 04, 2017

IWSG: May check-in, challenges, and a free read!

I'm just one day late to report in for that wonderful online community (rich with resources), the Insecure Writer's Support Group.

I always hesitate a little at the title of IWSG. After all, writers aren't insecure -- are they? And I'm not insecure, am I? Yesterday at my small writers' group, I did hesitate a little before handing out my stuff to read. What will they say? Will they just hate my latest effort? 

Actually, I'm thankful for my colleagues, for this group meets weekly, and we burrow down into rough drafts with critical and helpful comments. We try to remember we're commenting on the author's voice, the intent of the story, and look at the underlying structure and implications as well as surface 'corrections.' 

My biggest challenge this month has been organizing and rejuvenating my marketing strategies while waiting for comments from beta readers for my nearly-ready-novel, Rivers of Stone

  1. I experimented with both Google Ads Express and Amazon Sponsored Product online ads to learn that despite thousands of 'impressions,' my book was invisible. No sales.
  2. I discovered podcasts (Joanna Penn) that opened up entirely different strategies. Instead of 'selling books,' I'm starting to think about relationships with my readers and what would appeal to them. Nick Stephenson's free video training inspired me to create a magnet (a bonus story or novella) as an incentive to encourage readers to sign up for my newsletter. 

What I learned so far: Getting ideas/inspiration is the good part. Drillling down into the "how" takes time and tenacity. Luckily, I'm stubborn. 

MailChimp offers many templates that can be edited with photos and text. And I'll need to highlight this (and upcoming discounts) in each of my books. Did you know that authors are now putting their promos right inside their Kindle books (first page)?

Perseverance furthers! I have a 'prequel' ready to go once I learn how to use MailChimp to automatically deliver my 'magnet' to new subscribers!

Mark your calendar for a free ghost story! Indie writer Annette Drake has written an enchanting cozy mystery about two sisters. Building Celebration House is set in an antebellum South mansion with its own crop of ghosts. Free now through May 7. Check it out.

Happy Spring! May you have a good month -- and success in finding out what at least 12 other participants in the Insecure Writer's Support Group are up to this month.

Saturday, April 22, 2017

Rivers of Stone: A Literary Pilgrimage?

We writers are never quite sure what pushes us to tell a certain story. Some little-known fact. Perhaps an article on a back page of the newspaper or a snippet from a poem sets us off.

Where did Rivers of Stone begin? Maybe with mermaids off the coast of Scotland that morphed into the first book of this series, Standing Stones. Maybe with the continued saga of Mac and Deidre in Tasmania, Australia, in the second book of the series, Years of Stone

And maybe it was just time to tell the story of Dougal, Mac's brother and a fiddler, and his sweetheart, Catriona. Rivers of Stone was shaped by countless camping and hiking trips across Canada as we traveled east to visit family. I was fascinated by the fur trade era and those who crossed the Rockies. Here's a picture of a breakfast view from our last camping trip near Banff in 2015.

Then three years ago, I read a little blip about Isobel Gunn who disguised herself as a man to work for the Hudson's Bay Company in 1806. She remained undiscovered for two years until she became pregnant. 

Almost immediately, Catriona moved from supporting character to primary protagonist.

I don't know how others might define 'literary pilgrimage'. For me, it's that journey writers take as we sink into the characters, the history of their lives, inner and outer, and the story itself. Sometimes I wish the writing of a novel would take less than three years, but this process of  'coming to  know' -- at least for me -- simply takes time. 

Time to get back to those final revisions, with thankfulness for my beta readers who now have their review copy of Rivers of Stone in their inbox! 

With thanks to John Fox of Bookfox for his "50 Good Questions to Ask Authors."

Sunday, April 16, 2017

Rivers of Stone: Cover Reveal

Once a book is nearly done, writers step away from the keyboard to focus on the cover, the media kit, and the launch. 

Today, I'm celebrating the new cover for Rivers of Stone, scheduled for release this summer in late June. 

Thanks to the remarkable skills of Angie Zambrano of pro_ebookcovers fame, this new cover fits right into her previous designs for my historical fiction series (see right).

Indie writers have a lot of say in the design of their covers. We need to consider how the cover appeals to our readers, if the cover is readable at the Amazon 'click on me' size, and whether the cover captures and predicts the essence of the story.

I love how the cover dramatizes the wilderness of 19th Century Canada. So, I'm pretty excited, but I'm also wondering how readers will reactWhat do you think? Would you pick up this book, based on the cover?

Here's the description for Rivers of Stone:   

In 1842, Catriona McDonnell, unwilling to be left behind in Scotland by her husband Dougal, disguises herself as a boy to work for the Hudson’s Bay Company. Within a few days of landing at York Factory on Hudson’s Bay, Cat is assigned to work at the Company trading post. But Dougal is ordered to go west to Fort Vancouver and the Pacific Northwest -- abandoning Cat.

Rugged terrain and thousands of miles now separate them. Even a letter takes three months to reach its destination. Catriona’s courage and tenacity will be tested in unexpected ways as she struggles to find passage west to Dougal. Along the way, she meets Canadian artist Paul Kane, on his own quest for the Hudson’s Bay Company during the decline of the fur trading era and the settling of the west.

Now, back to work on final editing. May you have a good week!

Wednesday, April 05, 2017

IWSG: Into the Abyss: The Draft is Done!

What a thrill. Last Sunday, I finished my current project, Rivers of Stone, after three years of work. Research, writing, editing, revising, more research, editing, and rewriting. Done. Well, really, done for now. 

I’m ready to send this story off to my beta readers and switch my writing attention to that wrap-around stuff (the cover, the blurb, the newsletter, the media kit).

I want to let go of this story for a little bit, these characters I know so well. But, remember the principle of selective observation? That we notice in the morass of data around us those bits that are most useful?

Yesterday, PBS interviewed Colum McCann about his book, Letters to a Young Writer. McCann commented about how to dig into character: “It’s not just what they ate for breakfast, but what they wanted to eat.”

What a fantastic way to move into deep point of view. My reaction? I wanted to revise my story one more time to see if the story captures what my characters want. Even writing these kinds of notes down as part of a character sketch would inform motivation, conflict, and plot. 

And I’m still wondering if my story has enough sensory detail and if I should go back just one more time to check out just how those five senses invigorate my writing (I lean to touch, hearing, and sight more than smell and taste).

Image @bytoropov (Yusuf Toropov)

But, I’m still setting Rivers of Stone aside. Because I could spend yet another year picking away at revision.

So thank you, IWSG. You came to the rescue with Bryan Cohen’s article this month, “What the Heck is Copywriting Anyway?” 

Cohen says copywriting “is the act of writing all the words that go outside of your book. Book descriptions, emails to readers, and advertisements all fall under the copywriting umbrella.”

In my heart, I know I’ve taken Rivers of Stone as far as I can. That’s why I’m thankful for those beta readers. So, while I wait for their responses, it’s time to make a schedule, play with book covers, and draft my book blurbs. 

Let my inner copyeditor loose! I want to say, “Wish me luck,” but what I really need is persistence and courage. Let’s do this.

Today's post is part of a monthly commitment to the online writing community, Insecure Writer's Study Group. Check out their extensive and very helpful resources. If you haven't already, sign up for their newsletter -- and write on! And check out what others have written for IWSG this month HERE.

Tuesday, March 28, 2017

Exploring Place in Scotland

As I finish working on revisions for Rivers of Stone, set in the 1840s across Canada, I appreciate anew that wonderful opportunity to immerse myself in a place and time far from the present. While our winter has been rather long with seemingly endless snow and cold, it doesn't quite measure to the snow my characters encounter in a winter crossing of the Rockies!

When I began research for the first book of the McDonnell family, Standing Stones, we went to Scotland. Here are some highlights of happy travels there -- just to share.  

St. Magnus Cathedral, Kirkwall, The Orkney Islands
We started our two months in Kirkwall, the capital of the Orkney Islands. This was our favorite 1,000-year-old church, St. Magnus Cathedral, just two blocks from Mrs. Muir's Bed & Breakfast.

Urquhart Castle along the River Ness

We traveled up the River Ness to Urquhart Castle, once held by Robert the Bruce (13th Century), and later blown up to prevent it falling into the hands of the Jacobites in 1692. We climbed everywhere -- from dungeons to castle kitchens to the castle keep. We didn't see the Loch Ness monster.
Below, I'm almost dressed in a kilt. A proper kilt has about 4 yards of material (I think I got it on wrong). We had a great time trying to follow the instructions though.

This next photo shows the inside of a crofter's cottage, made of stone with a roof of grass. Here the day's catch would be smoked over a central hearth. People slept in a sort of box-bed with a lovely quilt, and in the winter, the animals were brought inside.  

Interior, Crofter's cottage at Kirbister

Stirling Castle
We also stopped at Stirling Castle, where I found a mermaid sculpture, worn by centuries, tucked near a staircase. Here also, a workshop of weavers worked on tapestries, following the tradition of ages past.

Detail of Unicorn Tapestry, Stirling Castle
When I'm researching a story, the writing seems to come more easily when I have that sense of place and history, when I've studied artifacts in local museums, eaten herring and scones, and walked along foggy, crooked streets past stone buildings. 

Yes I read many books, academic papers, journals from long ago, view videos, and study photos online as part of my research for each story about the McDonnell's. When possible, though, traveling to those places where my characters once 'lived' helps me to bring my stories to life. 

I hope you enjoyed this glimpse of our trip to Scotland. Maybe later this week, I'll post a few more pics taken in Edinburgh, an unforgettable city. Our apartment there was on the 5th floor -- no elevator!