Beth Camp Historical Fiction

Thursday, September 13, 2018

Part 2: Tana Lovett Talks About Writing

Today, Tana Lovett continues talking with us about what she’s learned as an indie writer and from writing As Long as There Is Chocolate. She concludes her visit with us by giving advice for writers. Again, welcome, Tana!

When you develop characters, do you already know who they are before you begin writing? I would love to be the writer who has the whole story mapped out ahead of time. I've tried so many methods of plotting, but it all comes down to not knowing what will happen until the characters start talking. My style is very dialogue-heavy. When the characters speak, they surprise even me, and I begin to know who they are, why they are who they are, and what would motivate them to do the next thing.

Why do you write and what do you write? I write because putting my thoughts on paper keeps me sane, or some facsimile thereof. I write funny mainstream fiction with strong romantic elements and, apparently, a few friendly ghosts. I thought As Long as There Is Chocolate was a romance novel. It was a publisher I queried who told me it was "Women's Fiction." As I learned what that meant, I realized why my story felt like a square peg in the romance world's round hole. I write the kind of story I enjoy reading. My kind of story doesn't usually have sexy couples on the cover. It's longer than most romances. It has more segues to the story, a larger cast of characters, more backstory. The focus is on the growth of the main character(s) rather than the relationship itself, although Kate & Gio's romance is fun to watch develop.

How did you come up with the idea for As Long as There is Chocolate? I entered an assigned-title short story contest. What a great title! I wish I could take credit for it. For me, the title meant a funny, romantic story. I won first place in the contest and decided to expand it into a novel. I love Kate's snarky sense of humor and kind soul. I love that Gio can be pretty near perfect and still be relatable. I love what Kate loves about Castle Springs and the Castaldi clan. Strong bonds. Permanence. Stability.

Did you come across any specific challenges in writing As Long as There is Chocolate?
  • Feeling like I didn't know what I was doing. I'm not sure I'll ever get over the imposter syndrome, but I did learn to trust my gut more throughout the process.
  • Perfectionism. It's the enemy of being done. So many writer friends kept nudging me to let my little bird fly, but I couldn't stand the thought of someone judging my lack of skill. It had to be better. As perfect as I knew how to make it. I'm trying to change that with my current projects. Keep moving forward, warts and all, and let an editor help figure it out later. That's so hard.
  • Believing that there's a RIGHT way to write a book. Everyone's creative process is different. I thought that if I bought all the books, went to all the classes and conferences, got all the software and equipment, I'd become a writer. I learned that you become a writer by writing, and your way is likely to be different than the writing book writers and conference presenters. They're only sharing what works for them. Each one of those books says something different, because every writer is different.
What strategies do you use to interact with your fans? Attract new readers? I'm active on Facebook. I do have a newsletter, but I am anything but regular about sending it out. I was an avid blogger before I began writing books. I deactivated that blog because I felt it was unfair to talk so much about my family if I was going to try to become a public figure. My blog is severely neglected. Don't be Tana, writers. Don't be Tana.

How did you become an indie author? I made a goal of getting a minimum of 50 rejections before allowing myself to be discouraged. I think I sent out 27 queries, and got a lot of kind and encouraging rejections, before I got a contract offer. That company changed my title, created a cover, put the book up for preorder, pushed my publication date back twice, then dropped me before publishing the book. 

At that point, I was done with traditional publishing – for now. I hired a professional editor, redid the cover (I was a graphic designer in a former life), took back my awesome title, and RAN to the finish line on January 15, 2018.

What marketing strategies do you find most helpful? How do you reach your readers? What advice do you have for other writers? I have found some marketing success for limited periods by doing a free day on Amazon and setting up promotions to go along with it on sites like Freebooksy, RobinReads, and EReaderNewsToday. I've been told that doing 3 of the smaller sites at once is easier and about as effective as getting that coveted BookBub ad--and less expensive. (I certainly had results the first time I tried it.) I also do AMS ads, targeting the most popular books that are similar to mine in the keywords. I know the ads are effective because, when I decided to turn them all off, my sales disappeared like evil magic. All marketing gives a better return on investment if you have multiple books out. I'm working on that.

And, what’s next? I’m working on a romance novel, first in a series, called Bambi & The Billionaire. Three romance writers from Idaho--who have no love and adventure of their own--go on a European holiday of a lifetime.

What advice do you have for others who dream of writing? My advice to someone who has a book in them waiting to be written? Believe in yourself.

My grown daughter, mother-of-many, once congratulated me on getting my first book contract, saying, “Mom, I can’t remember a time in my life when I didn’t know you wanted to be a writer.” And it hit me. That’s a lot of years to want to be something. I hadn’t realized I wanted it so much, for so long, that my children were aware of it. I know I hadn’t been doing what I should to make it happen.

It made me think about others who might face the same situation. If I had one thing to tell them, it would be this:  Do not wait until you are the mother-of-a-mother-of-many to go after your dream. Trust your gut. Believe in yourself. Put your seat in the chair and write.

About Tana Lovett. Tana spent a nomadic childhood, routinely relocating with her mother and two brothers. When she was eleven, they spent the school year in a rural Colorado town, homesteaded, in part, by Italian immigrants. This was potent fuel for her vivid, pre-teen imagination, and the memory grew over time into her first novel. 

Tana now lives in the inland Pacific Northwest with her husband, Captain Awesome Man, surrounded by their great big family.

NOTE: If you missed Part 1 of Tana Lovett’s guest post, here’s the link

If you are in the Spokane area, Tana will be a featured reader  at Stephen Pitter’s Poetry Rising on September 19 at Barnes & Noble, Northtown.


Wednesday, September 12, 2018

Part 1: As Long as There is Chocolate by Tana Lovett

I first met Tana Lovett at a local meeting of the Idaho Writers' League. I was charmed by her humor, her love of chocolate, her storytelling, and her hard work for writers at all levels. 

Her first novel, As Long as There Is Chocolate, tells the story of a young woman who starts her own business (a gourmet chocolate shop). Despite herself, Kate falls in love with the ‘deli man’ across the street. Along the way, we readers sympathize with Kate’s hard work to start her business, and hope, with the help of a few family ghosts, that all will end ‘happily ever after.’  Today, Tana tells us how she became a writer. Welcome, Tana.

What inspires you to write? People and their personal stories. One of the oft-repeated responses I remember receiving from my parents was, "nunya." (Short for "none of your business.") I learned to not ask too many personal questions, but I always kept my ears wide open. I remember interesting bits and pieces about people, and I'm sure I embellish them liberally in my brain. (Those parents, by the way, had some pretty fascinating details in their own lives.) I think I was born to tell stories. Another word I often heard from my parents was, "hush." Rather than speaking my stories continually, I learned to write them down.

Do you remember the first story you wrote? I do remember being told in early grade school that I had a gift for it. I didn't believe becoming a writer was something I could achieve. Only special people became writers.

One thing that stands out is an experience in my high school freshman English class. We were assigned To Kill A Mockingbird, and I fell in love with Atticus Finch as a father. We were assigned to write our own two-page test, and the teacher would compile a test from the best questions turned in. My test went something like this (mind you, the test was supposed to be two pages).

Page 1: Write a page about Atticus Finch and his relationship with Scout. What do you think about his parenting style? How is it different from that of your own parents?

Page 2: Write a page from the viewpoint of Mayella Ewell [the white accuser in a rape trial against Tom Robinson, an African American male in the Depression-era South]. What was her life like? Why might she falsely accuse Tom Robinson?

My reasons for my version of the test? I knew everyone else would be working on multiple choice questions or something, and I, as always, had to be different. I was done with the assignment in about 5 minutes. I thought I'd pulled off the most brilliant underachiever sleight of hand EVER. I knew that in the unlikely event my test was chosen, I'd slay it!

As it turned out, my test was chosen, and my anonymity preserved. The teacher only required that students respond to one of the writing assignments. The moans and groans from the other students were deafening when they realized they'd have to write a whole page. I chose the Mayella question for my response because I knew everyone else was more likely to choose the other.

Before the graded tests were returned, the teacher read my response (again anonymous) to the class. Several students commented that it sounded like it came from a professional writer.

Unfortunately, it took many, many . . . many years before I began to believe that praise was sincere and that constructive criticism did not mean my writing was bad. When I enrolled in a community college in my mid-thirties, a bulb lit in my head! Not everyone found writing enjoyable -- or easy. There is something special about that. I began to believe I could be a writer.

Thank you, Tana! Come back tomorrow, September 13, for Part 2: Tana Lovett Talks About Writing. 

A Little About Tana Lovett. Tana spent a nomadic childhood, routinely relocating with her mother and two brothers. When she was eleven, they spent the school year in a rural Colorado town, homesteaded, in part, by Italian immigrants. This was potent fuel for her vivid, pre-teen imagination, and the memory grew over time into her first novel. Tana lives in the inland Pacific Northwest with her husband, Captain Awesome Man, surrounded by their great big family.

Learn more about Tana at
Audible link:
Amazon Author Page

If you are in the Spokane area, Tana will be a featured reader September 19 at Stephen Pitter’s Poetry Rising on September 19 at Northtown's Barnes & Noble.

Thursday, September 06, 2018

IWSG: What does cheesecake have to do with writing?

Tuesday night, I had a lovely visit with a local book club. Just 16 women and me, nattering away about writing and Standing Stones. Plus, we enjoyed a very good cheesecake.

These lovers of historical fiction wanted to know how I wrote and why I wrote this particular story. I tried to explain that we writers mine our experiences. A glimmer of an idea from what we experience from a trip, or a book we've read, and we're writing scenes.

For example, while doing research for Standing Stones, I read that during the Industrial Revolution, many suffered from starvation. At times, some thrown out of their homes were reduced to eating grass. An awful realization that historically and today, sweeping economic times can bring shifts in population and great privation. I wasn't sure how this could be used in my story, but the next morning, I awoke with a scene playing out like a movie: Moira discovers two women, dead on a path, grass stains on their lips.

Which brings me to IWSG's question for September: What publishing path did you take, and why?

Two incidents shaped why I'm a frugal and happy indie writer.

As an older than average writer (OTA), I began truly writing just after retiring. I went the traditional route with my first book. One top agent I still respect replied immediately with very specific reasons as to why my book was not marketable. I groaned but persevered. Responses from the next 50 or so potential agents ranged from form letters to no response at all.

Then an independent publishing company (forever nameless) asked me to submit a 10-page, single-spaced proposal and marketing plan. I dutifully completed all their questions and submitted the document. The response? A form e-mail that said I should hear within 2-3 months IF they were interested. Otherwise, I would hear nothing at all.

I popped that novel in the drawer and decided I could learn what I needed and do it myself. In the last decade, I've written 3 historical novels set in the 1840's in Scotland, Australia, and Canada, following the adventures of the McDonnell family. My writing since retirement has shaped travel and research, and I've had a blast writing for my readers.

Along the way, I've connected with (and learned much from) online writing challenges (NaNoWriMo and OctPoWriMo) and writing groups -- The Internet Writing Workshop, A Round of Words in 80 Days, and the weekly challenge to post a snippet from a work in progress, WIPpet Wednesday.

What's next? I'm playing around with a new genre: Contemporary romantic suspense. The story begins in Paris and is inspired by a lost medieval tapestry. I'm learning about art crime, museums, James V of Scotland, and story arcs for this new genre.

Calgary Zoo, Canada (Camp, August 2018)
For the coming month, cherish each day, and may your own writing go well! 

Thank you, Alex Cavannagh and co-hosts Toi Thomas, T. Powell Coltrin, M.J. Fifield, and Tara Tyler for IWSG's September 5 post. Click on over to the Insecure Writer's Support Group to read what others have written.

Wednesday, August 01, 2018

IWSG: Oh, the Suspense!

Write what you know, the pundits suggest. This will add a sense of reality to your stories.

Even as an older than average writer, I love a challenge, and there's so much that I don't know. I rather dislike conflict, and for most of my writing, those torrid love scenes stay behind a closed door.

When I finished my three-novel series set in the 1840's in Scotland, Australia, and Canada, each book taking roughly three years to write, I wanted to try something new.

How about romantic suspense?

I began work this February, researching, planning, plotting, and drafting. The Seventh Tapestry is set in the 21st Century with roots in the 1500's. My heroine, an art curator with an interest in database management and criminal justice, accepts a job at the (fictitious) Museum of Medieval Art in Edinburgh. At first, she's charged with updating the Museum's inventory system. She's sent to visit a potential donor at roughly the same time she discovers artifacts are missing from the museum. And the plot thickens, as the Art Crimes Unit is brought in.

I still have to figure out who the 'bad guys' are in my story, though art theft from museums and collectors runs several billion dollars each year. My 'bad guys' might be greedy, but they won't be the 'smash and grab' kind of criminal.

My writing challenge remains how to add suspense AND romance. Luckily, I enjoy reading romantic suspense, and other writers generously offer their tips and encouragement. And the story keeps unfolding with new twists -- already at over 20K.

IWSG's question for August is: What pitfalls would you warn other writers to avoid on their publication journey?

I've probably muddled through enough pitfalls to warn other writers about, but I'd rather give advice: Stay current with changes in the publishing industry! And that means both traditional publishing and self-publishing platforms.

Do your diligence. If you've finished your wonderful story, celebrate. Then, work hard to identify the best 'next step' for you, considering what really fits what kind of a writer you are, where you are in your writing career, and your long-term goals. You know what you really want, don't you?

We probably don't expect shortcuts anymore. Use those research and writing skills to connect with other writers, share your experiences, and avoid those looming pitfalls. And, for heaven's sake, don't spend thousands of dollars on any writing-related 'services' without double-checking the details. I have too many writing friends who have gotten stung, recognizing their vulnerability to a smooth sales talk AFTER they signed that check.

So that's my advice: Read those professional writing magazines like Writer's Digest or The Writer. Sign up to follow newsletters or podcasts from credible writers, like Joanna Penn at The Creative Penn.

And keep writing with joy!

Thank you, Alex Cavannagh and co-hosts Erika Beebe, Sandra Hoover, Susan Gourley, and Lee Lowery for IWSG's August 1 post. Click on over to the Insecure Writer's Support Group to read what others have written.

Friday, July 13, 2018

World-building: More important than story?

My current work-in-progress, The Seventh Tapestry, has historical roots that reach back to France and Scotland in the 16th Century. But the main story is set in contemporary times. I thought maybe I could write this story a little faster than my usual three-year turnaround. Ha!

Did I pick easy settings, located just around the block? Nope. My story is set in Scotland and Paris. So, I'm re-exploring neighborhoods near the Royal Mile in Edinburgh, with a side trip to Stirling Castle about an hour's drive away. Although we stayed in Edinburgh for a month several years ago, I'm wishing we could go back for at least another month.

Luckily the internet is the mother of all resources. This afternoon's jaunt led me to Deacon Brodie's Tavern in Lawnmarket. They have a scrumptious menu, and a quiet dining area upstairs, a little removed from the bustle of the bar below, and a fascinating back story. Apparently Deacon Brodie was an upstanding merchant who made cabinets and repaired locks during the day, but at night, he became a thief and broke into the wealthiest houses. He was hanged for his crimes in 1788.

Here's a view of the bar at Deacon Brodie's. Now, notice that slogan on the front of the bar that begins "A pledge to Scots . . ." It took a little bit to search out the rest of what is etched just below the bar. I finally found the rest of the quote on Twitter, of all places! Here's the full quote:

"A pledge to Scots: In love and life I hath no fear as I was born of Scottish blood."

Here's where the link to storytelling comes in. My heroine and hero will have a delicious lunch at Deacon Brodie's, most likely upstairs in that quiet dining room. And they'll talk about the original Deacon Brodie as they hunt down the thieves plaguing their museum, who might well be hiding in plain sight, just as Deacon did so long ago.

If you've read my previous historical fiction, you'll remember how Mac McDonnell used to say, "Bend, don't break," a rather useful Scottish proverb when all seems lost, when the only way to get through is to simply be stubborn and persevere.

In this new story, my characters will face down danger, various villains, and  their own doubts as they fall in love. So that statement carved into the front of the bar resonates. Suddenly, I knew what my character would say:

“In love and life, I have no fear,” Sandra whispered.

Meanwhile, more research is needed. For now, I'll remember our apartment overlooking the Writers' Museum at Lady Stair's Close just off the Royal Mile in Edinburgh. And, there's always Paris.
View of Writers' Museum, Lady Stair's Close, Edinburgh (Camp 2009)

Wednesday, July 04, 2018

IWSG: Waffling and Decluttering

This month's post for the Insecure Writer's Support Group asks us to consider how we're doing with our ultimate writing goals and to ask if they have they changed?

As I'm in the midst of waffling my way through a first draft and decluttering my office (3 boxes of books are simply gone, not an easy challenge), I'm not sure where to start. Perhaps the purpose of decluttering is clear -- I want more space to focus on my writing and fewer distractions. But the process of organizing and 'deleting' extraneous or nonessential projects, books-to-read, and evaluating whether some unfinished projects are worthy, can be a distraction in itself.

My books, finally decluttered!
I'll return to beginnings. I knew I wanted to write when I was 8 or 9 years old and struck by the injustice of birth. Why were some children in some families (mine, blue collar gritty), and others lived in that mythical cottage on the hill? I sporadically wrote and worked my way through college, but writing always came second to paying the rent, buying food, then building a career. I lamented the reality that writing came between those other commitments, until finally, at retirement, I dove into writing as if I had unlimited time and stamina and heart to do what I'd always dreamed.

What a blast this last decade has been. Three books complete and published. My historical fiction draws on the dark side of history (underlying themes of displacement, abandonment, and that age-old struggle for survival), as my characters work toward that happy-for-now ending. Along the way, I've learned much, but my writing goals are unchanged: To write stories that celebrate our dreams and our struggle to achieve them, despite historical realities. Perhaps that's not such a bad goal in today's climate.

Thank you to Alex Cavannagh for inspiring IWSG. This month's co-hosts for the July 3 posting of the IWSG are Nicki Elson, Juneta Key, Tamara Narayan, and Patricia Lynne! Why not visit other IWSG writers to see what's up? 

And my question to you: Has the underlying theme that resonates through your writing changed? How would you describe that theme?

Thursday, June 14, 2018

Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Tenacity

Weds is senior movie night at the Magic Lantern here in Spokane, so we motored down the hill, found parking, and settled in at the theater to enjoy a bio-pic (Magnolia Pictures documentary), about U.S. Supreme Court Justice, Ruth Bader Ginsberg.

The film rolled, a beautiful blend of photos, videos and interviews, mixed between the present and the past. I did not expect to be taken back to the 1970's.

For Ruth Bader Ginsberg's legal advocacy for rights for women was shaped by the values of the times, post World War II, the civil rights and women's liberation movements, and an environment of deeply embedded prejudice against women.

At my high school in 1961, all graduates were required to have an exit interview with a counselor to discuss our future path. My greatest and most impossible ambition was to attend college. The counselor greeted me: "So, when are you getting married."

I simply got a job and began working my way through college, sometimes full time and sometimes part time. At Chico State, in California, one class intrigued me: "The Economic History of Great Britain." In a class of 70 students, I was the only woman.  As the professor glanced around the class on the first day, he went on a rant -- directed at me. "How dare you take the space of a man who will need to support his family. Why are you here?"

I kept my head down. I knew how to survive bullies. At the end of the class, the professor announced an oral final -- in his office. After a grueling 2-hour final, face-to-face with my nemesis, he grudgingly commented, "I guess you know the material." I earned an A.

But then I ran into two buddies from that class. "How did the final go?" I asked.

"Easy," replied one. "In and out in 5 minutes."

Generally speaking, when someone said I couldn't do something, I quietly got to work. And that's why this powerful movie, RBG, is well worth seeing.

For RBG reminds us of a time when perseverance made a real difference in our culture, our expectations, and our dreams. Ruth Bader Ginsburg's role in redefining "equal protection under the law" to all citizens changed the lives of women and many, many others.

When I retired from teaching about ten years ago and seriously began writing, my first book, Standing Stones, was set in the time of the Industrial Revolution and its impact on one struggling family of fishermen in northern Scotland.

Where did I learn about the Industrial Revolution? That long ago history class I took at Chico State.