The Internet – An Illusion of Community

Allow me to be both cynical and optimistic simultaneously. Since coming back to writing I have expanded my dive into the online community of writers afforded by both Facebook and Twitter. I created a Twitter account (@ALBnovelist) and joined, well let’s just say several, Facebook groups for writers. I have a whopping total of 29 Twitter followers and am using so many hashtags that I annoy myself, #amwriting.

I joined these online communities mainly to pick the brains of people who get to call themselves authors and I have yet to really be disappointed by the viewpoint that I have been afforded. Picking brains is nice and all but don’t we all want to be KNOWN online, followed, and sought? If I’m not talking about you that’s cool, I’m not talking about myself either, not really. But the draw is there. I make a post and I want people to see it, like it, share it. After I make a post I find myself going back to it several times just to see if anyone has identified with it enough to “like” it. At first, I was a little put off by my own internal self-assumption but upon closer examination of myself, I’m ok with the fact that I want my work to be seen. Why, after all, am I writing a book? I would not just be disappointed but probably devastated if no one ever read it or identified with it in some way. I am writing for me, for joy, maybe to fund a plane ticket to Scotland one day, and to tell a story that speaks to my heart, but I am also writing to share a piece of me with other people.

This is where things get tricky, the internet is seedy, cruel, and mischievous place. Let’s think Bo Burnham lyrics here. Writers are all over the internet searching for acceptance, help, and success but are we looking in the wrong place? The short answer is yes. Of the 29 followers I have let’s be honest; maybe 2 or 3 are organic followers that might actually be interested in what I am writing, the rest, upon observation, are participating in these ridiculous “writers lifts” where a person has an illusion of community by following thousands of people in hopes of a follow in return. I am so far not seeing a ton of benefit to this cycle, though for entertainment purposes I will likely keep my Twitter going.

Now, onto Facebook groups. Here is what I have found: The bigger the better. No, actually it’s the opposite of this completely. The smaller and more niche-y the better. Writers Helping Writers and Fiction Writing have HUGE membership numbers, in consequence, they are overly moderated and posts easily get lost in the shuffle. In contrast, smaller groups such as Moms Who Write have smaller but still substantial membership numbers and in turn, posts are more likely to be seen and responded to. I also think the variety of writers in the large group can be beneficial for getting unexpected viewpoints, however, you are much more likely to encounter trolls, spammers, and overall negative people. Essentially, when it comes to Facebook, treat it like real life, find a small-ish group that is ACTUALLY helpful and that you can relate to for best success.

For a small-town girl like myself, I am unlikely to find a coffee shop group that meets once a month to discuss writing so the big bad internet will continue to be a presence in my writing process. For now, in re to the internet my thoughts are: I will not get sucked into writers lifts for false hope. I will not let a man who is writing a physics textbook criticize the name I chose for my main character’s nanny goat in my historical fiction novel. I will not go searching for real community on a global scale.

50,000 words and counting…

Yesterday I reached my first goal of 50,000 words in my work in progress. Personally, this is a huge accomplishment for me so I was really excited! I told my husband, posted an update on Twitter, and had a celebratory cup of coffee.

My husband, who seemed pleased for me, said “Is that what you have to have for it to be done?” Well no actually it’s not. Then a successful agent on Twitter posted something along the lines of:

“I hate when I get query letters from talented authors with wonderful stories that are less than 80,000 words. I don’t even open them because adult fiction has to be from 80,000 to 110,000 words.” (Excuse my extreme paraphrasing from memory.)

Ouch! Taking her words to heart if I had a guess I’d say I’m about 30,000 words away from finished which is truthfully a bit daunting seeing as how I have been working on these 50,000 words for literal years. I have gone through extremely productive spurts and then put my work down for months and even years at a time. To help relieve some of the anxiety associated with producing another 30,000 words I created a NaNoWriMo profile. Honestly, I really like that it says if I want to be finished by the time I go back to school in August I only need 153 words per day or 1,071 words per week. Shoot, I can do that! I hope that this method of goal setting will help me to stay on track. There is nothing I love more than finishing a goal ahead of time, I mean really I’m a beat the GPS kind of girl. Arriving at your destination in 7 months? Alright, BET.

Aside from actually producing 30,000 additional words, I am slightly concerned that my story doesn’t have enough valuable content to meet this goal. I mean there are definitely some loose ends outside of the main storyline that are going to require some tying up so last night I made myself a Google Sheets timeline that spans the entire story, start to finish. This helps me to visualize my story in a way that also shows where there might be some rather large gaps in time or information. I guess we will see where my writing takes me and reassess later but for now I am off to do a little research on what the life of a peddler looked like in 1793 because one is about to knock on the door of Father and Mrs. Quinn.

The Yankee Peddler by Thomas Waterman Wood

This Book is Dedicated To…

coffee | Black coffee, Coffee art, Coffee photography

It’s currently 6 a.m. and my entire household, excepting me and the dog, is out cold. The coffee pot is dripping away and there is a rarely found blanket of silence settled warmly over my living room. Silence leaves room for thoughts. This morning my thoughts are on book dedications.

When I read a dedication page of a book I am always slightly curious about what the person did to deserve such an honor. A book is filled with the hopes, dreams, sweat, and tears of the writer. The person an author chooses to dedicate to has already gained a little of my respect. So this leaves me considering, who will I dedicate my first book to? The answer is both easy and difficult at the same time. Easy because I know exactly who I want to have my dedication, difficult because she’s not here to see it.

My great-grandmother, Hazel Gaither, was a poet, writer, artist, and saint (well in my eyes anyway.) She shared so much wisdom with me as a child but mostly was THE example of kindness, creativity, and love. I want to be her for my kids, and one day their children and grandchildren, when I grow up. She created the family campfire story “Hairy Toe” that has lasted generations, wrote about her life, created poetry, and wrote journals daily that are as entertaining to read as any novel. She is the only person I’ve ever met that dismissed any inconvenience in life with the words: “poo-shaw” which was her Scarlett O’Hara equivalent to Fiddle-dee-dee.

So, in spite of her being gone, when finished, I will dedicate my work to her.

To my GeeGee, Hazel Margaret Watts-Gaither, who inspired me with her stories, and would have poo-shaw’d all my self-doubts when writing this book.

Flight to Freedom by Hazel Gaither (1918-2010)

A man once caught a mallard duck
And tied it to a stake,
With a length of reel-type fish cord
Beside a wooded lake.

Throughout the years in summertime
The duck seemed quite content
To swim the lake with feathered friends,
Within the line’s extent.

When winter came and other ducks
Winged through the sky, south-bound,
The cord would check the captive’s try
And bring him to the ground.

But then one day he tried again
And much to his surprise,
The tether broke, he joined his friends
In freedom of the skies.

And so it is with mortal man,
Content while life is sweet;
But then comes chilling winter
And he craves a warm retreat.

He views the sky with mixed desire
To go or yet to stay.
Life’s tether weakens, breaks in two;
His soul wings up, away.

Who holds the honor of book dedication for you?

I’m back.

Returning to this blog has been like opening a time capsule. 5 years have passed since I wrote here and it’s been that long since I have even viewed the page myself. Sheesh.

So I know what you may be thinking…failure, quitter, bad at time management.

Okay, okay, stop beating me up here. I won’t be making excuses for my hiatus so instead, I’m going to write and focus on the events of the past five years.

Since writing my last blog post here I made a huge career change from administrative professional to high school teacher, graduated with a bachelor’s and a master’s degree, turned 30 (which is where I stop), gained a golden retriever, taught high school through a pandemic, and so far survived raising two school-aged kids. Y’all tired? I am.

In addition to returning to my blog, I have also returned to my book. I am more in love with my characters than ever and they are in DEEP at this point in their story. I would say I’m about 3/4 of the way completed with the novel and it’s about 45,000 words. Not as lengthy as I would like but I intend to fatten up the story with some historical context after the first manuscript is completed. So, as I am at the most dramatic point in William and Mary’s lives, I feel I owe it to them, and myself, to see it through. They deserve closure and so do I.

In addition to writing the guts of the book itself, I’ll continue to post here, probably, to document this journey.

Journey… does that word give anyone else the ick like it does me? Blame it on The Bachelor. Ok to the thesaurus.

I’ll continue to post here, probably, to document my campaign to become a published author. Ah, that’s better. Here is a little preview and reminder for myself of a few topics for upcoming blog posts:
* Writing North American Historical Fiction in a woke world
* Historical Romance, but not the Fabio kind
* To pen name or not to pen name, that is the question.

Wonderful World of Words

Amazon’s Kindle Paperwhite is easily my favorite gadget, even more so then my iPhone!  One of my joys in life is to lay down in the dark and read until I literally pass out.  My Paperwhite lets me do that without shiny distractions or eye strain.  Another thing that I love about it is the addition of Vocabulary Builder!  Any word that I press, so that I can get a definition or correct pronunciation, is saved in my vocabulary list.

Today I have 57 words that I am “learning” according to my Kindle.  One of which is the, another is his.  Obviously when I’m falling over asleep I get a little press happy… But aside from that, what gives me so much joy from this little feature is that I can, not only learn new words, but also incorporate them into my writing to jazz it up a little.  Currently I am reading Les Miserables by Victor Hugo, (the English adaption, of course!), and it is literally chock full of the most beautiful and interesting words.  The book is incredibly long, yes, (1200 pages of indulgent, rambling, beautiful, and noteworthy writings) but in my honest opinion worth the read.. Even if it takes you 6 months to a year to find the time to finish it (I’m busy, ok, throw me a bone here.)

I am learning that an overuse of these words in my writing sounds A. ridiculous and B. pretentious, but hit that sweet spot (picture Diana Gabaldon, who can seamlessly intermingle words like fart and phlegmatic without the reader blinking an eye) and a dose of interesting vocabulary can spice up your writing.

What are some of the words you find mellifluous or interesting?

A preview of my Vocabulary Builder:
pedagogue – a teacher, esp. a strict or pedantic one
claustration – to be confined, such as in a cloister
ignominy – public shame or disgrace
amalgamate – combine or unite to form an organization or structure
flotilla – a fleet of ships or boats
somnambulism – sleepwalking

Jane Austen graces the £10 note.

A bit off topic, but allow me to fangirl for a moment…

The countenance of Jane Austen now graces the 10 pound note for the Bank of England.  The lady, who can be cited as “truly accomplished” though I am unsure she knew how to paint tables or embroider cushions, has replaced Charles Darwin after criticisms that too many men were featured on the paper bills.  Many people found the former bills to be very diverting, even if they were a little less varied than hoped.  To remedy this, campaigners have been working toward a female face on an English note for several years.  I hope that those same persons find the addition of Ms. Austen to be agreeable, or at least the very least “perfectly tolerable.”

As for myself, you must allow me to tell you how ardently I admire and love it.  However, in a strange turn of events the Austen quote which was chosen to be placed on the note was taken straight from the mouth of Regina George Caroline Bingley who insists, “I declare after all there is no enjoyment like reading!”  We all know that Miss Bingley was professing her faux love of reading in an ill attempt to garner the affections of one Mr. Darcy.  Fitting? I’m not sure.  Mad about it? Nope.

Tonight I celebrate by indulging in a couple of Austen inspired movies, and if anyone across the pond would like to send me £10, I might write you some very pretty verses.

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“If you want to turn your passion into a full-time career some day, practice your art just a little bit each day. And don’t give up.”

I have said before that I use this blog to hold myself accountable for progress made on my novel.  Well, guess what?! With two kids, a husband, a full time job, and a full college schedule.. Ain’t nobody got time for that!  But really, I read this article today which shows that a daily habit of practicing his art is what helped John Grisham become what he is today.  Something to ponder and motivation to succeed.  I think I can, I think I can!

Another piece of the puzzle.

There are times when inspiration hits me, in the form of a memory, a song, a photo, or a story.  Days after I began writing this book, inspiration struck me.  I had been thinking of someone who had passed away long ago and suddenly knew that my character, Mary, had a memory alike which brings her pain and joy at once.

So I wrote this excerpt with no place to put it.  Logistically it just didn’t fit in the story yet and I didn’t want to force its placement.  It was special to me and worth waiting for the right time and place.  Today as I put my son down for his nap, I sat up in bed letting a sentence or two flow from my fingers in search of inspiration.  Before I had realized it I had found the perfect place for my previously homeless entry.  Things snapped together like pieces of a puzzle.

Lesson learned: if it is meant to be, it will happen.  Even in writing!  As a matter of fact my first chapter was written in a moment of inspiration and was meant to be placed somewhere in the middle of the book, my story had other plans.

Read on for more of Chapter 4!

“Being an only child had not been exactly lonely, thanks to attentive parents and a brood of cousins, however since she was small she had longed for a sibling to share home and life with.  There had been once, when she was around 5 years old that her mother had become pregnant and Mary’s wildest imaginings of sisterdom became a hope within reach.  As her mother progressed in pregnancy she had begun the knitting of the softest green wool blanket that Mary had ever touched.  When it was close to completed mother had started to feel unwell.  She spent days in bed while the midwife, who was a local fisherwoman with a history of delivering babies, hovered around nervously.  Mary stayed constantly nearby, often rubbing the partial woolen blanket between her fingers until she dozed off.  After several days the midwife stopped her nervous tittering and began urgent preparations.  She slipped outside the bedroom door, pulling father away, whispering in low, urgent tones. Mary had been nested comfortably next to her mother and jumped as she felt the sudden weightless rush of being picked up and carried away.  She cried for her mother but the bedroom door closed as the midwife disappeared into the room.  Her father sat still; cradling Mary throughout the evening.  

“Is my baby ok Da?” she remembered asking.

“I hardly know my dear,” he whispered back.  His eyes stayed closed, head tilted to the ceiling in prayer.  

Somewhere around day break Father sat Mary to the side and followed the midwife into the room, Mary trailed behind and for the first time saw her mother utterly depleted.  She was sitting straightbacked against the headboard; a baby in her arms scarcely larger than a kitten.  It’s skin was transparent, slightly blue, and amazingly beautiful.  His light red hair was matted to his tiny head in swirls.  Mary watched his small chest rise twice before he stilled to sleep, never to move again.  Mary had been permitted to hold the baby, both children cradled in their mother’s arms.  She remembered well the delicate little mouth like a rosebud about to bloom.  He was a boy, and as her father had said, was fearfully and wonderfully made.  

Mother had cried and slept and had said little other than quiet reassurances to the babe.  Father chose his name and declared it with both pride and complete desolation; Thomas Leannan Quinn.  Upon the next day neighboring women along with fathers three sisters came to tend to the arrangements.  They had taken the baby from their arms to be properly laid out and mother sat in her rocking chair knitting away at the green blanket.  She finished it within hours and took it to stand over the tiny form arranged on the table and shrouded in scraps of an old shift.  She unwrapped Thomas, and slid the top of her dress down to her waist, pressing the child, cold, to her warm skin.  She sank to her knees and held him there for either seconds or hours, as time had ceased to exist inside the cabin.  She then stood, wrapped Thomas in his new blanket and with an air of completion laid the child down with the tenderness that only a mother may distribute. Mary quietly walked over to her mother, took her hand, and led her back to the rocking chair.  Mother sat and Mary crawled into her lap to weep and to hold onto her most prized possession, her mother.  The two spent the remaining hours of the day locked in embrace, only moving to shift position or to kiss away tears.  These two beings were chosen for each other by God, handpicked to suit one another, and made to love a little boy, who they were not allowed to keep, with the fierceness of their lives.”

For Authenticity’s Sake.

“If you seek authenticity for authenticity’s sake, you are no longer authentic.” – Jean Paul Sartre

When I am putting pen to paper I am very rarely thinking of the historical context in which my characters are living.  This can be seen in a shining example of my last blog post!  I had been pounding away on the keyboard for an hour or so when I took a break to throw together my thoughts.  I included an excerpt that I had just written about how plainly terrible the gnats and mosquito can be in hot summer.  Mary was, as my Nana would have said, “Eat up from the feet up.”

In my minds eye she had dabbed whiskey on each bite to “kill” the sting and then added a bit of aloe to sooth the itch.

Sounds like a thing that could happen, right? Wrong.  While Mary’s Scottish husband certainly had a cask of whiskey somewhere, the Aloe is just a big fat blooper.  I do not have a degree in plant sciences, nor do I have one in colonial history.  So it takes some googling to figure out that the name Aloe Vera was not assigned to the plant or well known til the late 1700’s to the early 1800’s.  Aside from that the plant was often found in Spanish territories during the colonial era but more than likely hadn’t made its way over to North Carolina for household use.  Basically, for Mary to use Aloe Vera in my book, first we would have to call it something else.  Second, I’d have to add some elaborate backstory on how Mrs. Quinn got her hands on such a plant in the first place.

Sounds a bit tedious, I know.  So I did some research and upon reading parts of a Revolution-Era Army field doctor’s journal I found that he kept peppermint oil in his case.  Which is another remedy for itching!  So perhaps Mary will apply peppermint oil to her annoying bites.

What this all boils down to is that in order to create an authentic setting for my characters there are hours of research required.  There will be bloopers, no doubt, but it is necessary to keep them to a minimum if at all possible.  Someone who IS a history major could be reading my book and stop thinking “PSSSHHHT.. there was no Aloe in North Carolina in 1792!”  My (non-existent) credibility, at that point is lost.  And believe me, there are people who know these things!  And actually, if you have trudged through this post, you are now one of those people.  Your welcome.

Quick Lesson and Chapter 4 excerpt.

After a short writing hiatus for a family camping trip and several days of homework, I am back at it and so happy to be back in the Summer of 1792 in Fishertown, North Carolina.  While I was camping we visited a “ghost town” that was abandoned sometime in the early 1900s.  I could feel my characters there, could see their grandchildren leaving North Carolina and trekking to this unfamilar place on the Buffalo River to take advantage of a short lived Zinc rush.  How odd that fictional characters can have entire lives, families, and histories that live inside a world of your very own making.

This odd little thought brings me to a lesson not always so easily learned: Not everyone.. or anyone for that matter, knows my characters like I do.

There are times that I am writing so ferociously that I forget that someday other folks might read my story.  I can so plainly see my characters lives from start to finish, I know their likes, dislikes, and dispositions so well that I know how they will react, and why, to any situation.  But guess what?  No one else does.  Which means I have to give my reader just enough information that they are intimately familiar with William Campbell and Mary Quinn, without actually boring said reader to literal and tedious death.

In doing so I also have to acquaint others with the environments that the characters live in.  And guess what?  Its late June there and the gnats are horrific.  Sound familiar locals?  I’m not quite sure that they would have access to the vodka and vanilla beans necessary to make vanilla extract (which yes works wonders at repelling gnats) so they are basically being carried away by the little beasties.

Anyway, today I am working on the background information.  Rereading the 15000 words I have so far and inserting information that I hope will paint a realistic and accurate picture of the lives I hold so dear.

Here is a quick excerpt from Chapter 4 and a testament to the fact that inspiration abounds, even from right outside your back door.

When Mary stepped out of the cabin she was unsure which would suffocate her first, the air which was so thick that she felt the weight of it on her skin, or the gnats.  The days were growing continually hotter and the insects, delayed by flood waters in May, had finally arrived and were seemingly hungry from their journey.  The backs of her legs and arms were dotted with whelps from bites and stings and she felt that she would be eternally plagued with itching.  The only thing which brought temporary relief was a dab of whiskey followed by a frugal amount of Aloe Vera, procured greedily from her mother.  She swatted at the cloud of bugs which were in her immediate vicinity and walked around the edge of the cabin to find William saddling Alpin, their newest acquisition.  Alpin was a homely looking but sturdy creature which would be immensely useful on their impending trip to Orange County.