There’s More to it Than Just Writing

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Recently I was asked to read a few chapters from a book someone wrote. They wanted to know what I thought and where they could get it published. I’m fine with reading other’s work and offering suggestions, so I agreed.

The topic was interesting and the blurb well-written. Then I started in on the actually book. After I finished the first chapter, I sat back in my chair. I pretended I was on the other side of the industry—an agent. My first thought was, “Wow, I wonder how many of these they see in a day?”

I would call the chapter I read a first draft. The book needed a lot of editing. Even if it had potential, I could see why an agent would turn it down. As the agent, I would ask myself, “Does the writer have the ability to make changes?” and “Is this all he’s capable of or is there more untapped inside him?” Taking on the client would be a long shot, and I have a strange feeling agents aren’t gamblers … anymore.

I want to believe at one time, agents did take chances and worked with new authors. It’s a different world now and the rules have changed. I feel if it can’t be made into a movie, forget about it.

Can this book be published? We all know the answer to that. Yes. Self-publishing is there for the taking. But don’t just write something and think it’s done. Don’t publish it and put it out there. In the “old days” when a writer was rejected by an agent or publishing company they added constructive criticism. Now it’s a form letter. No help there.So where do you get help before you publish?

If you wrote a book (congratulations by the way, it’s not an easy task), don’t assume it is done. You are your first line of defense. Call it your first draft. Now comes the hard part—editing. Read it over at least three times before any other human eyes see it. (Dogs and cats are fine.) Find beta readers. Parents, siblings, cousins, friends come in handy, and they’re free. You can also find many sites that offer (for a price) readers. Listen to them. Be able to handle their critiques of your novel. Take it to heart and work on the book again.

Study up on the English language. Spell check doesn’t catch everything. Know commas, quotation marks, italics and when to use them. Try not to use the same words over and over again. Do not keep using a person’s name in a sentence. Is your head spinning yet?

Yes, you wrote a book. You are excited. I know the feeling. I have been down that road and learned so much. Hopefully, I’m passing along that knowledge.

If you have it in you, you love every aspect of the process and can handle the rejection—then go for it, write that book and don’t look back. But remember, there’s more to it than just writing.

To Love a Scotsman

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If you read my blog, you’re aware I’m reading the Outlander series. Time traveler Claire meets Jamie the Scottish Highlander in the 1700s.  I’ve also read other historical novels with a Scotsman as a lead character for comparison.

Here are the things I’ve learned about these men.

They always wear their plaid. It involves much draping around the body with a brooch as a finishing touch. Taking it off is much easier. Just loosen the pin and the entire outfit falls to the floor. Very convenient.

Speaking of convenience, the plaid can be used as a sleeping bag and even wrap up two people for warmth and comfort. Also, since the kilt is made a certain way, when nature calls just lift the skirt. (P.S. No underwear.)

The men love to say “verra” a lot. I think you can figure out it means very. The word pops up a lot as I read. I sometimes find myself slipping and using the word when I speak.

The Scots are either dark-haired, handsome and strong or red-haired, handsome and strong. What’s not to like?

They speak Gaelic. I’ve tried to phonetically sound it out as I read but finally stumble over the words until I, hopefully, get to the translation. The women in the book are usually English so they have no idea what their man is saying. They usually think it’s something quite romantic or complimentary. He could be telling her, “I’m going out to shoot a deer and I’ll be back in time for supper. After that you can help me skin and prepare the animal.”She nods, smiles and fawns all over him because it sounds so wonderful. He leaves thinking he has a pretty awesome wife.

The men end up using their dirk in some way. Now, it’s not what you’re thinking. A dirk is a knife they carry at all times. It may be used when fighting to defend oneself or kill food for dinner. It comes in verra handy.

So how could you not love a Scotsman? He is a perfect heroic figure for a romance novel or a historical book. And as you can see, I’ve learned a lot. Reading can take you so many places. I’ve enjoyed meeting-and loving-these Scotsmen.

Nancy Pennick: Waiting for Dusk Series

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Cinnamon bread. Coffee. MiMi biscuits. All part of my childhood. My grandparents were immigrants from Sweden and although I never met my grandfather, my grandmother filled her home with Swedish traditions.

When I began to write this young adult series, my Swedish roots took hold and called out to be written into Waiting for Dusk. I grew up hearing stories about my grandmother and grandfather coming to America, separately, and meeting here. My grandmother found a job working as a maid in a mansion where the lady of the house helped her learn English. My grandfather eventually opened a grocery store.

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The character of Carl Johansson is based on this brave man who came to the U.S. at the age of sixteen. Carl travels farther than my grandfather ever did, ending up at the Grand Canyon back in 1927. He meets his wife in an unusual way—through time travel…

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Finding Yourself in Finland

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I was contacted by an author after he saw my series about traveling to the places you write about. He said he had recently been to Finland, and since I am of Swedish descent, it piqued my interest. The Finns and Swedes are neighbors. Below I am sharing his very interesting piece, not just about the country, but the people.

This past May of the year 2015, I took a week long trip to Finland. In the process, I saw the capital, Helsinki, and a few other small locales. It was my first time ever in a Nordic country, and indeed my first time ever with boots on the ground in Europe proper. But I–an American of questionable heritage who can scarcely speak a word of Finnish, and can barely get by in Swedish–never felt out of place or overwhelmed.

Two jokes may explain the reasons for this:

  • An introverted Finn looks at his shoes when he’s talking to you. An extroverted Finn looks at yours.
  • Timo and Jaako agree to go fishing on a lake. They begin at dawn, and at dusk, over twelve hours later, they remain entirely unsuccessful. Timo says, “They aren’t biting very much today, are they?” Jaako glares at him and says, “Did we come here to fish or to talk?”
Clearly, Finns are often thought of as shy or socially awkward. I believe that this is a mistake. Finns are reserved, certainly, and shy to open up to strangers, or indeed friends and family. But I never perceived anyone to be uncertain of themselves or hesitant to speak when the time was right.
Or perhaps it’s my own bias. Several years ago, I went on a car trip that lasted some six hours, and when it finished, I was asked by my companions why I was so angry, as I had said nothing for the duration of the trip. The truth was that I wasn’t angry, nor was I sad or upset in any fashion. I simply didn’t see a particular reason or opportunity to talk.
These are certainly rare traits for Americans, and they are among the reasons why I have always taken a longer time than most to fit in among new social groups and settings. But in Finland, I felt that I understood everything and everyone the moment I saw them. The clean quiet streets, the restaurants that opened in the late afternoon for dinner and then closed before it was too late at night, the endless forests and lakes, the people who waited in lines with several yards of space between them, the endless bike trails and the preference for public transport over private vehicles.
Until November of 2014, I never seriously thought that I would make it to Finland. But then an opportunity to visit with a friend who had lived there for some years showed itself, and I jumped on it. I ended up traveling solo, but I wouldn’t trade the experience for almost anything in the world.

My first ever published piece, Maaselkä, takes place in once Finnish, now Russian territory, and I wrote it long before I ever took the possibility of traveling to Finland seriously. But looking back on the way I wrote that piece, I think I got the Finnish experience right. The Finns are quiet people, reserved even, and their landscape is one of harsh winters and endless sprawling lakes and hills. But there is real beauty in Finland, and real brutality too, lurking just beneath the surface, and it doesn’t take much effort to be immersed in it.

I don’t know when or indeed if I will return to Finland again. But the truth seems to be that the Finnish feeling has been part of me for as long as I can remember. To continue to write horrors like Maaselkä, I don’t need to go anywhere, or do anything. All I need to do is to draw from that which is apparently an inextricable part of who I am.

           Signed:

           Alex Ross
         Find it here:  Maaselka

Firsthand Experience

Today I am hosting fellow Fire and Ice author,Martha Deeringer. Nothing warms my heart more than to see other teachers find their inner writer! Martha  tells us about the setting that inspired her to write, Speak of the Tiger.

Here is what she has to say:

Nothing makes a book come alive for me like the feeling that I’m there with the characters in a real place that I can see, touch, hear and smell. So when I’m planning a book, I choose a location that speaks to me.  I want to make it come to life for my readers like it did for me.

When I wrote Speak of the Tiger, this was simplicity itself. During my teaching career, I accompanied busloads of sixth graders to the famous YO Ranch near Mountain Home, Texas every year for a three day leadership course where we hiked, camped out under the stars, rode the ranch’s famous horses, swayed in the tops of trees on a ropes course and got close-up experience with exotic wildlife.

The setting of Speak of the Tiger is nearly as important to the story as the characters. Without an intimate knowledge of the YO Ranch it wouldn’t have been the same book; the dust, the Texas heat, the shallow river and the spines of the prickly pear are an integral part of the story.

My next book, Orphans’ Inn,  (out in October) is historical fiction, and while I can’t go back to see the setting in the 1840s, visiting the modern location (Austin, Texas) and studying historic photos of the area have made it easier to get inside the head of the main character, Charity Bullock, an orphan who travels across the Texas plains to Austin to live with a great-uncle whom she has never met.

I’ve also written many history articles for magazines, and have found the same truths in these shorter stories. Writing about the US Camel Corps at Ft. Lancaster wouldn’t be the same without visiting the Caprock canyons of west Texas.  To make settings come alive—go there!

Martha Deeringer Find it here at Amazon – Speak of the Tiger

and at Fire and Ice Young Adult books – Speak of the Tiger

It’s Hot Out There

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Settings. They need to be included in a story. Without them it’s hard to picture what’s going on. For me, it’s one of the hardest things to do, describe a place. Does it help if you’ve been there? I have been to some of the places I’ve written about and it does help. You get a different perspective. You smell the smells. Walk the land. It  becomes up close and personal.

Not to say you have to go to every place you want to use in your book. The internet is a great place for an overwhelming amount of pictures and information.

I reached out to other authors and asked their views. I wanted to feature people who have been to the place where their book takes place. Last week I had Mysti Parker tell us about her journey. Today I want to introduce you to another author friend, Jody Vitek. She will tell us about her book and how she got the idea for her setting. Read on:

Thanks for inviting me, Nancy. I love to travel, but that doesn’t mean I get to do it often. My family and I usually stay in Minnesota. I’ve been fortunate enough to travel within the fifty United States, and venture to Cancun, Mexico when I was a nanny. It was when my friend took me on a vacation to Siesta Key, Florida that I was inspired to write the novel that would become my debut release, Florida Heat.

The white sandy beach, warm sunshine, and the aqua blue waters of the Gulf of Mexico were the setting. Witnessing offshore powerboat racing for the first time, gave me the action and danger element for the hero, Trent Randall. A beachside, yellow house was the perfect home for my heroine, Maggie Carlisle. My friend and I visited the local shops and restaurants, which I used a few in my book, as well as share their website links on my website for the book.

I don’t always write in a location I’ve visited, but am more comfortable sticking with where I am familiar. When my readers asked what happened with the secondary characters in Florida Heat, I decided to write their story, Texas Two Step. The book is set in Dallas, Texas—I’ve never been to Dallas or Texas. Making up places is fun, but I’d rather travel and visit the location I’m going to write about. Unfortunately, that doesn’t mean I’m going to be able to visit.

Jody VitekFind Jody’s book here – Amazon – Florida Heat

Satin Romance: Florida Heat

Sometimes You Just Gotta Go There

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As a writer, I think it helps to have been to the places you write about. I wrote about the Grand Canyon and New York City in my series. I’d been to both places. Research is a big part of any book. The more you do, the more it helps the book come alive.

Add in history and you’ve got your work cut out for you. As you know, if you follow my blog, I’m reading the Outlander series. The author had to do a massive amount of research. She started with Scotland and the Highlander uprising and ended in North America pre-Revolutionary War. And that’s only in the four books I’ve read. I’m sure there’s more to come.

Since I like to read historical fiction and am considering writing one myself, I just had to invite my author friend, Mysti Parker, to guest blog today. She has recently released a historical romance novel. She has visited the places she wrote about and it’s an interesting journey. Love the cover, Mysti!

Travelling for Research

By Mysti Parker

I’ve never been what you’d call a history buff, but I had to become one when I wrote A Time for Everything. The idea came to me in 2010, and I began a very rough draft. I decided that I really should see these places where the story was to take place. That’s what researchers do, right? We took a trip to middle Tennessee, just the husband and I (always nice to be alone) and spent a weekend touring Franklin, Nashville, Brentwood, and Lebanon. These four towns all played parts in the story. But what I found in them truly fueled the fire of the book’s plot.

Middle Tennessee, like much of Kentucky where I live, is a beautiful symphony of rolling hills, green meadows, small farms and cozy communities nestled in quiet valleys. But during the Civil War, this area was anything but idyllic. Take Franklin, for instance. One of the bloodiest battles of the war swept through the town on November 30, 1864, leaving behind a trail of bullet-riddled soldiers, houses, and even civilian casualties.

Today, this horrific period in history is commemorated with historical sites that offer tours. We visited many of these, including the Lotz House, where German immigrant and master woodworker Johann Lotz and family had to evacuate before the battle reached their home. They sought shelter along with a couple dozen neighbors in basement of the Carter house across the street. In this beautiful historic home turned museum, you can still see the bullet holes in the original woodwork.

Just a short drive out of town is Carnton Plantation, where the McGavock family’s home became a field hospital. If you ever get a chance to visit, make sure to take the tour. It’s a fascinating and enlightening story of just how bad things could be when a battle is literally raging at your doorstep. In the home, you can still see the blood stains on the wooden floors upstairs. Here, you’ll see the window where a field surgeon tossed out amputated limbs. Arms, legs, hands, and feet of these unfortunate men supposedly formed a pile as high as the smokehouse.

The story of Carrie McGavock, however, was the most compelling. Once the war was over, and bodies buried hastily in shallow graves across the countryside, she decided to dedicate a parcel of their land as a Confederate cemetery. She began the arduous task of identifying these men when possible, and relocating their bodies to a proper, marked resting place. Her story inspired Robert Hicks to write Widow of the South, which I bought in the Carnton Plantation gift shop.

That book, along with several others like the real-life diary of a Confederate widow, A Woman’s Civil War by Cornelia Peake McDonald, helped me fill in the gaps of Portia’s story. Accounts of the Tennessee men who fought for both sides, and walking the ground they lived and died upon, helped bring Beau to life.

I think I could have written A Time for Everything without ever having stepped foot into Tennessee, but it wouldn’t have been the same book. Without touring the places firsthand and hearing such memorable and personal accounts, I don’t believe the story would have felt real enough. But I’ll let you readers decide that for yourself.

Profile Pic 2015 150x226  Buy her book here.           A Time for Everything