Beth Camp Historical Fiction

Saturday, July 13, 2019

Not for the Faint of Heart

Several art historians with excellent experiences of working at museums generously volunteered, over the last several weeks, to give me an intensive, behind-the-scenes look at what they did.

I discovered an entirely different culture than anything I experienced while working at an international bank (profit-centered corporate gamesmanship) or teaching college-aged students (collegiality among colleagues and intellectual freedom in my own workspace to nurture students).

Behind closed doors, museum staff offer a passionate mix of idealism, love of history and culture, and a desire to protect, preserve, and share artifacts that illustrate where we've been, what we can create, and what is possible for us all.

What did all this new research mean for my current story, The Seventh Tapestry, about a young woman who discovers thefts at a medieval museum?

At first, my characters and my story seemed as mired in mud as this warthog, spotted on a trip to Tasmania a few years back. After reviewing notes, building new administrative structures for my imaginary museum, and new plot lines, I set all aside.

One day passed without writing. Then, two and three. I fretted a bit as all writers do. And then I remembered a time when my very livelihood had been threatened.

It truly happened like this: I had been working for a large corporation for several years while attending night school. One of the administrative assistants in a different division began receiving abusive and sexually threatening notes left at her workstation. Because of the nature of the threats, an outside investigator was pulled in. 

I knew nothing of this situation until the investigator called me into the president's office and accused me of writing those notes. I was shocked at what the investigator knew of me, where I lived, and what I did outside of work. He interrogated me three times. Then he threatened to fire me, whether I confessed or not.

Despite the president warning my boss not to get involved, he asked me point blank if I were involved. I said no. He said I was not going to be ‘interviewed’ again without him present. I was encouraged to take my two-week vacation, not knowing if I would have a job when I returned. 

When I came back from vacation, the case was solved. Everyone knew that the administrative assistant had written those notes herself. She was gone. The investigator was gone. No one apologized to me for this devastating experience. 

What on earth does this experience have to do with my story? Remembering the shock of those accusations, that sense of betrayal, I began writing anew. All fell into place. I was ready to step outside job descriptions and 'torture' my characters. The joy of writing THIS story returned! 

This saying makes me smile.
We writers do play with words, but we are never 'faint of heart.'
The picture was taken near Redmond, Oregon.

Thursday, July 04, 2019

July IWSG: Finding the Pearl

This month's question from Insecure Writer's Support Group asks writers to explore "What personal traits have you written into your character(s)?"

My first blush reaction was, "Gosh. I don't know." 

But then I realized all of my protagonists fight the good fight. They're stubborn and independent, taking on impossible odds, facing challenges that come from sweeping economic and political change we have little control over. They're kind, compassionate, idealistic, and they fight for change. They struggle. They fail. They persevere. These are the good guys we all want to be.

And my antagonists, caught up with greed, set aside their concern for others to achieve their goals. Shaped by nightmares, cultural expectations of race and class, driven by their own egos, they wreak havoc in a world I don't want to be a part of. They are faceless night monsters, unethical, and quick to forgive their own weaknesses. They appeal to others because they can be charismatic, seductive, and then manipulative. I try to find their redeeming qualities. Writing the villain is the toughest challenge I face.

Famous film-maker Federico Fellini (1920-1993) once said, "All art is autobiographical; the pearl is the oyster's autobiography."

A page from Sandra Brown Jensen's amazing journal.
Used with permission.
What a shining sense of what a person's (or character's) life can mean.

Here's the rub. Neither we nor our characters can escape our pasts. What we write has the potential to influence others. That's a responsibility and a challenge we may not see when we're knee-deep in our stories. For as we construct a character trait by trait, experience by experience, we confront our villains anew.

Don't we all hope to find that pearl in our villains' autobiography? And aren't we all working for that sometimes hard to find 'happy for now' ending?

With special thanks to Erika Beebe, Natalie Aguirre, Jennifer Lane, MJ Fifield, Lisa Buie-Collard, and Ellen @ The Cynical Sailor! for hosting this July 3 posting of IWSG. Why not check out what others have written -- or join in IWSG right HERE?

Saturday, June 15, 2019

WEP June 2019 Challenge: Caged Bird

 This month's WEP/IWSG writing challenge popped up in my e-mail, distracting me away from 'regular' writing. I was intrigued by the new collaboration between these two online writing communities, so here's my entry, a flash fiction following the theme (353 words). NOTE: This is a blog hop. Please see the links below and have fun reading where this month's prompt takes a variety of writers!

"Caged Birds"

Myrtle quick-stepped to keep pace with the tour guide leading their small group along the jungle trail. Myrtle was eager to see everything despite the humidity pressing down on her and George’s slow pace a few lengths behind.

Freed from their tiny cabin in the bowels of the cruise ship on an overnight excursion, they hiked along a mountain path to a nature preserve high in the Honduran hills. Here, parrots flew free, their red and turquoise and yellow feathers flashes of light in the intense green jungle. The birds wheeled through the trees, calling to each other. A few landed in pairs to preen.

As the light faded, the small group gathered at the nature preserve's open air patio to drink tea and talk about what they’d seen. Myrtle slipped her ice cubes into a large pot that held a fern. She wasn’t sure about drinking the water or the tea.

At dusk, the bus with no seat belts took everyone back to their hotel. Myrtle chattered all the way past the patio filled with red hibiscus and up the winding stairs to their second floor room, the windows open to the garden below.

“Did you think, George, you and me, that we’d ever see anything so wonderful as those birds?”

“It’s why we came,” said George. “That and to celebrate fifty years of marriage.”

“I know, George, but the parrots, they were so beautiful. I read somewhere that they live longer in a cage than they do in the forest.” She took George’s hand. “I read they mate for life.”

“And that’s like us, dear.”

She smiled. “Maybe we can get a parrot when we get home. Think of it. One of those beautiful parrots to wake us each day.”

That night, Myrtle slept close to George, surrounded by layers of mosquito netting, dreaming of parrots and the journey home. But in the morning, George did not wake. Myrtle sat beside him in the quiet of their room, holding his hand, now cold.

“Ah, George,” she murmured. “We got to see the parrots. They belong here. Not in a cage, George. Never in a cage.”

Full critique acceptable: 350 words.

Scarlet Macaws (Matthew Romack, Wikipedia)

For more information about WEP, click: Write...Edit...Publish or for IWSG, click: Insecure Writer's Support Group. Write on! 

Tuesday, June 04, 2019

IWSG: Writing into the dark . . .

Just this last week, I read Nora Roberts' Black Hills as a model for writing romantic suspense. With the first paragraphs, she established her characters, the setting, the mood, and the story conflict with precision. I read her story because I wanted to study what made her romantic suspense so compelling for readers. Then I found out that she has written 225 books. Oofta, as my Hollywood mother would say.
We writers shimmy around our stories. Sometimes, the words pour out and sometimes they just stop. In my quest for more efficient writing productivity, I track words daily, use chapter summaries, scaffolding instead of outlines, and I imagine what my characters would say to each other. Sometimes I get caught up more in revision than writing. But, I persevere and hope to meet a very modest daily word count. Even when I revise and even when I draft.
I wonder what writing process Nora Roberts uses. 

And then a writing friend said, "Beth, you seem so organized. I never realized you are an intuitive writer. Have you heard of Dean Wesley Smith's book, Writing Into the Dark?"  Kaboom! Thank goodness for Amazon. Within 3 days, I had my own copy. My favorite advice so far? "Write one sentence," says Dean Wesley Smith. "Then, write another sentence." And, for the first time in decades, I heard someone truly say, "There is no one right way to write a novel."  Did I mention he's written over 150 books?

This merry month of June, the IWSG's question is: Of all the genres you read and write, which is your favorite to write in and why?

I'm never sure why something I see along the way sticks and somehow morphs into a story. But that germ pushes me to write speculative fiction, historical fiction, and now romantic suspense. One sentence at a time.

Why not click your way over to the Insecure Writer's Support Group and read what others have posted? With thanks to Diane Burton, Kim Lajevardi, Sylvia Ney, Sarah Foster, Jennifer Hawes, and Madeline Mora-Summonte for hosting IWSG this month!

And a very special thank you to Dean Wesley Smith -- and Nora Roberts.

Thursday, May 16, 2019

A community of writers and readers . . .

This week, I had the privilege of sitting down with a group of readers. A local book club at the Medical Lake Library invited me to talk with them about my books and how I came to write them.

They warmly welcomed me and plied me with home-made peanut butter cookies. They listened with patience as I talked about how I became a writer. Then, they asked questions about my stories, my writing routine, and when (oh, when), that next book would be ready for them to read. A few talked about their own writing projects and asked how they might get started.

"Thank you," I said, at the end of the hour-and-a-half we spent together. But thank you seems so inadequate for this committed group of readers, supporters of literacy in their community, and lovers of the written word.

Most of the time, I write alone. I ponder and dream. I revise and edit. And revise again. I wonder if my stories are good enough for that next step -- publication. For  now, it's spring. A time to be grateful that winter has passed. We can think of new beginnings -- or share our stories.

May this turn of the season be very good to you.

Spring and a favorite walk
through the Rose Garden in Manito Park

Thursday, May 02, 2019

IWSG: The first time . . .

Maybe the first time I thought that 'language had power' (this month's question for the Insecure Writer's Support Group), happened when I was a teenager. I wrote secretly. Short stories, poems. Rarely shared. But once I slipped a short story into a pile of assignments that my English home room teacher had collected. I was thrilled at her note of encouragement.

But the first time I really felt language had power happened when I was about 9. My younger sister had been sent to the grocery store by herself to buy something. I can't remember now what. Eggs. Milk. She held back a few pennies to buy candy, and my mother found out. I was standing in the kitchen, when my mother hit my sister so hard that her head bounced against the pantry door. "You will never lie to me," my mother screamed, and I remember thinking, "Someday, I will write about this."

I left home to go to college at 17 at a time when tuition was free. I only had to pay for my books (and work part-time). I was happy to escape into a world of books, art, literature, and classes with teachers. Maybe those teachers drank, I didn't know. Their words, their lectures filled me with hope.

Much of my life has been spent involved in writing in some way. First, with technical reports as I worked my way through college. Later, I taught composition, business and technical writing, some literature, and humanities at a community college, much like the one that inspired me so long ago. And, once I retired, I returned to writing, to tell the stories that generally involve people fighting against the odds, struggling for survival, regardless of circumstances around them. Sound familiar?

For me, that's the power of words that have shaped (and continue to shape) my life. An old Scottish saying tells us, "In love and life, we have no fear." I believe that is true for writing as well.

Why not join in this month's challenge? Or, visit those hosts for this May posting for IWSG:  Lee Lowery, Juneta Key, Yvonne Ventresca, and T. Powell Coltrin!

Spring at Manito Park

Thursday, April 04, 2019

IWSG: About Blushes and Beginnings

At first blush, this month's question from the Internet Writer's Support Group looks far too easy. If I could somehow magically write [not perfect, but very good], just one scene or chapter for my current wip, which one would it be?

The first chapter.

See? Easy. But my current writing project, The Seventh Tapestry (a contemporary romantic suspense about a lost 16th Century tapestry) has me jumping into a new genre (romantic suspense), and writing from a first person point of view (also new). Here are some strategies I've been using for the last year:
  • Read lots of romantic suspense. Ken Follett is always my favorite, but Amazon's LOOK INSIDE feature allows me to study that opening chapter without overspending my book budget.
  • Research and study what makes a good romantic suspense tale. To start, I've used that trusty Google search: tips for writing romantic suspense. Print out what's useful and take notes. Ditto for writing from first person pov and strategies for writing in general, including that first chapter.
  • Draft.  Apparently the suspense plotline must be carefully (and logically) drawn -- and romantic suspense has TWO plot lines, one for romance and one for suspense. Of course, they have to meld. If you already outline first and draft those character back stories, your drafting process works more smoothly (or so they say). But I'm an intuitive writer, jumping around as the story moves me. I'd like to be more efficient . . . but that shoe doesn't fit.
  • Critiques of work in progress. I'm very grateful for feedback from my F2F writing partner as we meet weekly most weeks. The online resource that consistently  helps me strengthen my story and my writing is the NOVELS-L group of The Internet Writing Workshop. For every chapter I submit to NOVELS-L, I need to critique 2 subs from other writers. Critiques of other writers helps me see my own work a little differently. The real gold, though, is in those critiques I receive -- at every level of analyzing my chapter from writers who take the whole process seriously.
Just now, I'm submitting first draft chapters to NOVELS-L while I finish the last chapters of the whole story. The coming year promises deep revision, but I love the story, and I'm ready to go to work. First chapter? I don't need any magic. In fact, all I need is the tenacity, insight, and, hopefully, the creativity that we all bring to our writing.

Can't wait to see what others have written about that first chapter!

With special thanks to readers and writing friends far and near, online or not,
who encourage each of us -- including the wonderful co-hosts for the April 3 posting of the Insecure Writer's Support Group (IWSG): J.H. Moncrieff, Natalie Aguirre, Patsy Collins, and Chemist Ken!

IWSG's April 3 Question: If you could use a wish to help you write just ONE scene/chapter of your book, which one would it be? (examples: fight scene, first kiss scene, death scene, chase scene, first chapter, middle chapter, end chapter, etc.)

Kate Weiland's blog