Tag Archives: historical fiction

First Draft is Done!

I never thought I would be writing this post, but I think I’m finally done with the first draft of my book!

And even better, I think a book two might be possible to continue my character’s story!

I just wrote myself to a point that I feel is a good stopping point.  I’ve been wondering lately, as I’m over 43,000 words, when I should stop.  How do you know when the story is told?  When the book is complete? I didn’t want this to become a Stephen King, 1,000 page book that takes the reader months to finish. But I also don’t want to cut my character’s story short. I don’t want to leave readers (or myself, for that matter) hanging and wondering what comes next. I wondered if I would just know when I get to the end in a similar way to how I knew where the story was going next.  Every time I wasn’t sure where to go from where I was, I would sit down to write and my character would tell me and I would take down her dictation in my head.

Just now I wrote:

They said nothing and I turned to leave.  I turned around once as I opened the door, “This is why we lose to the white devil. One thing they do better than us is stand together to fight a common enemy. They have taught us to run and hide, they divide and conquer. And it will always be this way if we cannot find a way to come together as a people. Win together or lose together, but at least we would have tried. Good luck to you, my friends.”

I shut the door behind myself and walked out of their lives.

This seems like the perfect place to stop.  It can absolutely be an ending in and of itself, but it can also be a pause on a story that can be continued in another book.

It feels surreal to have finished. I’m sitting in a hotel room (at a work event) writing during my downtime and to come to the end of the story without any fanfare feels…strange. I’m not at home to run upstairs and jump around in front of my husband, yelling, “I’m done! I’m done!”

My brain whispered, “This is the end.” There are no fireworks celebrating my achievement. No balloons and confetti falling from the ceiling as if I had just won the Showcase Showdown on The Price is Right. No knock on the door with a huge check from Publisher’s Clearing House, no cheering from the home team as I score the winning goal.

Finishing a work you have labored over for several years is absolutely an internal celebration.  I knew this would be true…after all…my book is the center of my universe, and no one else’s. But it still takes a little of the wind out of your sails that you’ve completed this huge feat and no one really notices.  For everyone else, life just goes on.

I know the work has only just begun as I start the editing and publishing process, but it still feels a little bit like I’ve lost my best friend.

This might be why we keep writing.

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Writing Calendar Success!

So, last week, after my post, I actually….

wait for it…

…WORKED ON MY BOOK!

Can you imagine?  Actual writing getting done because I set myself up on a schedule! I didn’t write a lot, but I finished a chapter and that’s something to celebrate.  I’ve come to a crossroads in my story. Remember the character I couldn’t get to come back when he walked off the page? And then finally he came back?

Well, he’s now just died. As was his purpose.

So, we have come to the climax. The fork in the road. The s**t or get off the pot moment.

My main character has some decisions to make and I’ve gotta say, I have no earthly idea what’s going to happen next.  Well, I know what’s going to happen in the next chapter, but after that, I’m walking in the dark without a flashlight. You might recall my story is based on an actual person and I know a little of what that person did with the rest of her life from census records.

But being loosely based on a real person and writing a biography are two completely different sections of the bookstore, and I want my version of this person to decide what she wants to do and not what historical records say she has already done.

I mean, I’ve been following her lead this whole way, so why would the rest of the story be any different? I just wish she would give me a little more advance insight into her plans, because fly by the seat of my pants writing has gotten me stuck in more than one pickle jar as I’ve gone along.

It’s a good thing I like pickles.

 

Word count: 37,576

 

 

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Letting Your Story Marinate

I can’t believe two months have flown by since my last post. In my defense, I had two work events – the one where I wrote my last post and another one in November. And by then we were sailing straight into Thanksgiving. And now, we’re tumbling right into Christmas and the New Year.

On the plus side, I DID write as planned at my work event in October.  Sadly, I haven’t written a word since I’ve gotten back.

But I’ve read that just as much of the writing happens in your head when you are not writing as happens when you put pen to paper (or fingers to keyboard). Sometimes the story needs to sit in your head and marinate for a bit.

When I was figuring out how to bring my main male character back home after he walked away, it took a bit to come up with a satisfying story line to explain his absence. And then I had to find a way to bring him back because he needed to get sick and die. It’s what causes my main female character to take some chances. To get up out of the rut she has allowed society to box her into and make some changes in her life. It’s her chance to grow. His death – caused in part by the society they lived in – will give her the strength and determination to rise above. After all, she has children to raise. And she wants to be an example for them to follow. Her babies are the first generation born free and she will not allow them to accept being treated as slaves.

In any event, I had written myself into a place where I needed some time to mull it over and find a way to bring him to the illness to which he succumbs. A diphtheria epidemic rolls through Charleston and their youngest child becomes ill.  In working with the general idea that illness generally is hardest on the young, the elderly and the weak, it’s going to take him and the young child. This is going to be the most painful thing my main character has ever gone through (even having been born into slavery) and it’s going to be the fuel she needs to make changes.

Don’t ask what those changes are, because right now, I haven’t a clue. I have to wait for the story to get that far so I can see what direction she wants to take. Will she leave Charleston? Will she stay and fight for her rights? I expect she will stay, but if there’s one thing I’ve learned through this process is that you can never assume you know what your character wants to do until she’s right there, having to take action.

Word count 38,068

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I Could Do Anything…

I’m always looking for that one book that will change my life. When I started reading I Could Do Anything, I was hoping for an easy answer. What I got was over 300 pages of homework. In my heart, I know there is no such thing as an easy answer, but I can dream, can’t I?

That all being said, by the end of the book, I had an epiphany about what I wanted in a career. I’ve always wanted to write, but I’m also passionate about women’s history and genealogy. One of my favorite programs is Who Do You Think You Are. I love learning about the lives of every day people in history – the good, the bad, and the ugly. And my newest obsession is Charleston, SC history. Basically, the short story is – I’m all about writing and history.

Which explains the historical fiction book I’m writing. Now I just need to figure out a way to mix my interests into a job I can look forward to going to every day.

Honestly, I didn’t do all the exercises…I skipped ones that seemed too involved or that I just didn’t have any interest in. As it turns out, you don’t have to do every single exercise to get to the pot of gold.

You start by learning what other people in your life expect of you so you can begin to figure out where you lost your childhood love of _____. From there you will explore what you want from your job and what your interests are. All the way through, you are building an idea of what you would like your future to look like.

If you are still trying to figure out what you want to be when you grow up, give I Could Do Anything a try. Sometimes, when you least expect it, buried in the middle of six pages of free-writing, you’ll find the nugget that gets to the heart of the story.

 

 

 

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My Perfect Writing Workshop

My strength, maybe even my muse, has always been found in the classroom. If I have to write a 10 page paper on the War of 1812 and it’s due in two weeks, I’m on it.  I’ll spend 13 days doing research and making notes, but in that last day, I’ll pull together a 12 page paper complete with bibliography and bar graphs.

I have three hours to write 500 words comparing/contrasting Shakespeare and Chaucer? No problem.

But I suck at leisure writing. By leisure writing, I’m referring to writing in my free time, monitored by no one but my inner critic. I always imagine myself sitting by the beach with my laptop, churning out page after page, but without a deadline of some sort, I struggle to get it off the ground.  I’m an instant gratification girl and, let’s face it, writing a book is NOT an instant gratification activity. Not in the same way as, say, running to the store and buying a doughnut.

I need the structure that a class, workshop, or conference provides. I need deadlines.

But even more than that, I crave the energy I get from writing classes. Spending a weekend at a writing conference, surrounded by people of like mind, recharges my batteries. I can take that magical energy home with me and it keeps me focused for several months.

But as with most flames, this candle burns out and I need to replace it with a new one.

Sadly, the writing conference I attended last October with SCWW is not happening this year. It might not happen next year either. As disappointing as this is, it may have turned out to be a blessing, because it has forced me to look elsewhere for the inspiration I need.

I found it with The Writer’s Workshop in Asheville, North Carolina. It’s further away from my home, so my ability to attend workshops will be fairly limited. But this October, I’m going to what may be the perfect workshop for me. They are offering a one day workshop called “Writing Historical Fiction.” Instead of a conference full of workshops that, while inspiring, aren’t directly applicable to what I’m working on, I can zone right in on getting the specific help I need.

You know what they say about when one door closes…

I registered for the class last week and booked my hotel room yesterday.

Bring on the writing pixie dust!

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Lost Research

Before starting my novel, I conducted some research. Research on life in the South during and after the Civil War, the Jim Crow Laws, and the KKK. All of which will fill out the background of the world my character is living in. I gathered this information in a file on my old computer, written as a free-write applying the information to my character. It went on for pages.

I needed it today so my character could react to the Black Codes enacted in the South after the war and…

Many of you will remember, the old computer crashed.

It appears I didn’t copy that file to my stick drive to transfer it to the laptop.  I’ve torn the house apart looking for a printed copy of the file to no avail. All the time invested in research that I now have to do again. The thought of losing all that work makes me sick.

Today I spent most of my writing time looking for this file. I spent some time surfing the web, looking for the bit of detail I wanted to add to my narrative. And, I’m not gonna lie, I spent a little of my writing time feeling sorry for myself for losing a file just as valuable as the timeline taped to my wall. Why, oh why hadn’t I taped the free-write to the wall?!

At some point, I’ll learn my lesson about electronic copies of important documents. Or at the very least, the importance of double checking that I’ve actually made an electronic copy (or two). Hopefully, I’ll stumble upon the printed copy that I know is here. I’ve seen it. I may have emailed it to…

WAIT! I haven’t checked my email yet!

Fingers crossed.

Word Count: 8686

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Writing the book and…it fails

One of the things that keeps me from putting words on the page is fear. I’ve talked about this before. Fear of the mountain of research, fear of not doing the story justice…and fear that my writing abilities are all in my head and the book will be crap.

Case in point:

I’ve always thought my husband could be a professional photographer. He knows all about lighting, he knows all the photographer words like “aperture” and what they mean, and he’s great with composition.

It occurred to me that maybe I could be a decent photographer as well. I also thought this would be the perfect complement to my writing career because I could illustrate my work. At the very least, I could get some photos into other people’s books and that would be equally cool.

So, I signed up on Shutterstock and submitted a few pictures. Of the ten I submitted, only three met all the submission requirements. I was disappointed, but not completely deterred. I combed through the rest of my pictures and none of the ones I thought were “my best work” met the pixel size requirements.

Even this, one of my favorite photos ever, is too small.

Even this, one of my favorite photos, doesn’t have enough pixels.

So I failed. I’m not the photographer I thought I was. At that second, I was ready to give up. My internal editor said, “See? I told you so.” I spent the next several days feeling sorry for myself.

Then I thought – Oh no! What if my writing is the same? What if I THINK it’s better than it really is? What if all my college professors were just humoring me to get me graduated out of the program so they could focus their time on students with REAL talent?

It’s so easy to get on this speeding train of self-doubt. Oh no, I burned the pork chops – my writing sucks. Oh no, I spilled glue on my scrapbook page – my writing sucks. I know it’s silly, but I stop writing until I’m able to get back out of my head again. Sometimes it takes a few hours, sometimes it takes days or weeks.

My soul knows that my head is trying too hard. My soul reminds me that even if no one else ever sees the book, it still has value to me. It’s still a story I’m interested in reading. It’s a story that needs to be told because it’s a side of history most of us have never heard. It’s a story that needs to get out of my head because it won’t let me focus on anything else. My character allows me to write this blog only because it’s directly related to her story. I have a friend who wants my help writing vows for her wedding and my character is making it difficult for me to redirect my focus.

So I sit in front of the computer, unable to think about anything else but scared about writing the words.

Crazy, right?

If you need me, I’ll be at the park with my camera getting more pixels.

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