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Monthly Archives: January 2017

17th Century Quebec was never this fascinating. My review of Promised to the Crown.

This is the first of my monthly book reviews I will do on my website. I will go back and forth between reviewing writing craft books I find helpful and works of fiction and history I enjoyed. It will be a potpourri of books.

Promised to the Crown, By Aimie K. Runyan.

This month’s book is the debut novel for local Colorado Author Aimie K. Runyan, entitled Promised to the Crown, published by Kensington Press. Here’s the premise write off the back cover:

 

They are known as the filles du roi, or “King’s Daughters” – young women who leave prosperous France for an uncertain future across the Atlantic. Their dutyis to marry and bring forth a new generation of loyal citizens. Each prospective bride has her reason for leaving – poverty, family rejection, a broken engagement. Despite their different backgrounds, Rose, Nicole, and Elisabeth all believe that marriage to a stranger is their best, perhaps only, chance at happiness.

 

There were several things I enjoyed about this book. Chiefly, it deals with a part of history I am not really familiar with – Colonial France. Yes, everyone knows about the sugar plantations in the Caribbean, the slavery and the piracy. But, the frontier of Quebec is different. I did not know that Louis XIV instituted a plan to encourage young women to immigrate on their own to Quebec and find husbands. So this was a treat for me, I learned a lot.

What I really liked were the strong female characters. They leapt off the page for me. Even minor characters, like Elizabeth’s domineering mother, who continued to create problems for her daughter almost a year after she left France, to Mother Mathilde who ran the town convent and tried to make good matches for these women, were vivid, to me.

But what I really liked was how the author shows us societies expectations on these women’s bodies. The norms of their society, the Roman Catholic Church, their frontier community, not to mention their husbands, all made demands on their persons – and sex was the least of it. Mothering, working, as status symbols of prosperity and wealth, Aimie does a subtle job of exploring the expectations placed on these women’s bodies. The demands, at times, are so subtle, they don’t even realize they are being used. But the whole reason their trip is paid for by the King of France is so they marry and have lots of babies. The pressure to marry and give birth is high. And, while the coming of babies is a time of joy for most women, when you add the lack of our modern pre-natal care in 17th century frontier Quebec, the announcement of a pregnancy is fraught with danger.

One particular plot line fascinated me.

One of the characters has a hard childbirth which ended with the baby dying a few hours later. The way Aimie Runyan describes the ruinous state the characters body is in after childbirth, I just knew she was never going to get pregnant again. So you can imagine my joy when the character conceives a few chapters later. However, I was worried, too. Will the baby survive? There are several miscarriages for our characters. And, the frontier is dangerous. Will the mother survive?  Hell, will the father survive?

There is also provincial politics in Aimie’s Debut novel. Men of high standing lord their power over others. Being prosperous is a political statement. The women new to Quebec are constantly reminded not to make enemies – of anyone.

When you combine the mortality rate, with the dangers of frontier living and the politics of the Ancient Regime, the best way I can describe Aimie’s book is to call it a small scale Little House on the Prairie meets Game of Thrones.

If you love historical romance, women’s fiction, or historical narratives in general, I Strongly suggest you get Promised to the Crown.

I don’t really have a rating system in place yet, but if I did, Promised to the Crown would receive the highest marks.

 

 *****ATTENTION! *****

Amazon is having a Sale! If you purchase Promised to the Crown before Wednesday, Feb. 1st the paperback will be $10.20 on Amazon. Its normally $15. If you buy it on Kindle, its $2.99!

Find Your River of Truth

This Fabulous woman is the incomparable Jamie Raintree. She is a member of Rocky Mountain Fiction Writers, A multiple participant and winner of Nanowrimo, and a published author. She taught a class this past Saturday entitled Your Most Productive Writing Year, on behalf of RMFW at the Blair-Caldwell African-American Research Library in Denver. It was quite the treat. (Her website is here.)

Without going into too much detail Jamie spoke at length about setting reasonable goals for your writing life. Now, I had

Ms. Raintree teaching her class. Check out her blog! jamieraintree.com

already set some goals for 2017 and I’ve written about them here. But it was still a treat to listen to the pro’s talk about the things that are near and dear to my heart.

Like making your actions reflect your values.

Too many times in my life I have told myself “This is what I want to do.” And then I don’t do it. I procrastinate, I put it off, and then I get mad when it’s not done.

When I was teaching in public schools, people would ask me “Why do you teach history?” My answer was always “History is about people. Their values, their motivations & their stories.” Yet I was miserable as a teacher! Why? Because I was supposed to be a story teller, a writer. The funny thing about my whole teaching career is in the answer I gave; I liked people’s stories. I was supposed to be a writer and I didn’t even know it.

This photo was taken by me this past Sunday evening. I turned 46. As I reflected upon this past year I realized I was really happy. Why? Because I am working towards my purpose. I’m not working some job because I have to make credit card and mortgage payments. I’m not wondering into a school angry and depressed trying to figure out what the Hell happened to my life? Even the most boring writing drudgery is uplifting to me because I have found my calling.

Now, am I able to provide for my family yet? No. But I’m working towards that. Will it be hard? Of course it will, but I am confident because I’m willing to do the work – and Right there is the key.

I love everything around writing. So the dirty work of writing queries, editing, finding magazines and agencies to submit to, I don’t mind. It’s all fascinating to me.

I don’t mind beta- reading other people’s work. I don’t mind helping a friend out at critique group. I want to hang out with other writers. You couldn’t pay me to hang out with other teachers when I taught.

So what does any of this have to do with goal setting and the amazing Jamie Raintree?

Writing New Year Resolutions, creating yearly, monthly, and daily goals can pinpoint what you really want to do with your life. If you spout off the same old platitudes about getting in shape, or getting out of debt, or finishing your bachelor’s degree, and six months later your still where you are, then clearly these aren’t priorities for you. And THAT, is OK!

Be honest with yourself. What do you want to do with the time you have on this rock hurdling through space? Be honest with yourself and figure it out.

If you want that degree, then get it.

If you want to write, then write.

But don’t waste your precious time living a lie. Find your truth.

I’m a BIG Captain America fan. Recently on Facebook I posted a line from the Civil War story in the Marvel comic books. Spiderman asks Cap why he does what he does. (The story is Amazing Spiderman #537) Cap then tells this story about how he was reading Mark Twain and paraphrases him. Here’s what cap says.

Doesn’t matter what the press says. Doesn’t matter what the politicians or

the mobs say. Doesn’t matter if the whole country decides that something

wrong is something right. This nation was founded on one principle above

all else: the requirement that we stand up for what we believe, no matter the

odds or the consequences. When the mob and the press and the whole world

tell you to move, your job is to plant yourself like a tree beside the river of truth,

and tell the whole world — “No, you move.”

 

Now I’m not Captain America, but the principle is the same. Your obligation in your life is to find your river of truth, and plant yourself there. Don’t worry what anybody else thinks. Don’t worry about how old you are or how many times you’ve failed.

Will it take longer if you have commitments and responsibilities? Of course. Am I saying run off and abandon your life and the people you love? NO. What I am saying is that you need to find your truth and live it. That river will nourish you, help you to grow. When you find yourself in the deserts of your life, that river will quench the parchedness and refresh you.

Soon you will find likeminded people living their truth and you will refresh each other. When that happens all the distractions, frustrations and obstacles won’t seem so daunting. You’ll find courage and grit. And then one day, you’ll look back on your life and find you’ve created a legacy.

Find your river of truth and plant yourself.

The Process of writing a historical Novel

If you’ve moseyed on over from the Pikespeakwriters.blogspot.com, welcome to my website. If you’ve stumbled upon my site, welcome too! Today we’re going to talk about those crazy ideas you have for your historical fiction. We’ll also touch upon the logline again, to be clear why it’s so important.

So, where do your ideas come from? Are you inspired by a book you read? Or, maybe a comic book/graphic novel? How about a film you saw, or a television show you watched? All of these are legitimate inspiration for your book. But before you crank up your word processor and begin writing, let me say this first.

Inspiration is not enough.

You have to do the hard work of forming and shaping this idea into a story.

Stories have several components. There is character, plot, setting, conflict and theme. Usually, when I get excited about an idea, it’s because one of these story elements have danced in my head over and over again. Which is it for you?

Do you have a major or minor character that you keep fantasizing about? A plucky immigrant with guts? Or maybe a girl blossoming into womanhood who must now act as a spy when she should be playing with make-up?

Or, do you have a plot in mind? A twist that sticks out in your head? (It wasn’t the butler, it was the masseuse!)

Or, do you have an idealized setting taking up all your time? Maybe it’s the Peninsular Campaign of the Napoleonic Wars? Perhaps you are fascinated by the culture of 4th century Persia?

Perhaps you see a conflict? Maybe a political movement that splits families, like abolition did in the U.S., or Suffrage did in Britain? Maybe you envision a particular war as the conflict in your story? Keep it. Use it.

Finally, there is theme. The argument you are trying to make in your story. The actions of your characters can all represent this theme. In Uncle Tom’s Cabin, the theme revolves around the myth of the protective slave owner. That slavery is bad because the owner will always put his or her self-interest above that of the slave, regardless how kind they are.

In The Jungle by Upton Sinclair, the theme is that you can’t trust capitalists with the best interests of the people. They will poison your food, fire you, and take advantage of you.

Whatever your starting point, you need to tease the story out. You need to develop this idea you have and make sure it connects with the others.

If your starting point is with a character, ask that character some questions. Find out what makes that character unique. What are his or her strengths? What makes them likable? What are their weaknesses? (Weaknesses are particularly important because the best stories are sometimes about characters discovering their weaknesses and overcoming them.)

Let me tell you about my first manuscript, The Gallowglass.

First of all, Gallowglass are a hereditary mercenary class of soldiers that existed in Ireland up through the middle of the 17th century. My story takes place in Ireland, towards the end of Queen Elizabeth’s reign in 1597. It just so happened that a MAJOR rebellion against English rule was occurring at the same time. That is the setting of my story. So how did I get here?

I was watching The Last of the Mohicans starring Daniel Day Lewis. There was that one battle, towards the middle of the film? The Massacre at Ft. William Henry? Yeah. That battle scene was EPIC! I was 21 when that film came out and it haunted me.

A couple of years later I read a book called The Twilight Lords, by Richard Berleth. It described the rebellion against English rule in the 1590s. The stories in that book captivated me. The story of Anglo-Irish lords trying to carve out some independence from England. The futile attempts at converting the Irish to Protestantism. The fear of Spain getting seriously involved in Ireland. Why hadn’t anybody turned this into a film?

In the book Berleth writes about the greatest defeat of the English under a Tudor monarch. It happened in the county of Ulster and is called The Battle of the Yellow Ford. I read Berleth’s account and it reminded me a lot of The Massacre at Ft. William Henry. So much so I started writing a screenplay in 1995. Then a book, in 1998. None of it came to any fruition. I finally got serious about it in 2015. I wrote a first draft – which was awful. It had all the mistakes you shouldn’t make in a book; head hopping, bad grammar, no central character and no action.

So in January of 2016 I decided I would settle in on one POV character. I would focus in on action and tension. I then added a love interest.

For me, a setting or conflict wasn’t enough. I had to figure out whose story I was telling and why I was telling it. I had to do the work of crafting a story.

This is why a logline is so important to your book. It will focus your attention on what your story is about. It will bring you back to the heart of your story. So let’s review the logline formula again.

 

An adjective to describe the protagonist

An adjective to describe the antagonist

A compelling goal we identify with as human beings

It should offer the most conflict in the situation

Show the protagonist has the longest way to go emotionally.

 

 

I hope this has been helpful. Next week I’ll have a book review for you. Next month at PikesPeakWriters.blogspot.com, I’ll talk about organizing your story before you write.

 

Have a great day!

Reflection on 2016 and Goals for 2017

Wow. 2016 is OVER.

I know for a lot of my friends in the Denver writing community 2016 was awful, just awful. Professional setbacks, personal loss and a lot of fear for the future. I too, had my setbacks, professionally and personally. Some of my relationships frayed.

Zombie panel, Denver Comic Con

I even stopped talking to a dear friend and mentor in January of 2016 and haven’t heard from that person since. This doesn’t even begin to talk about all the talented people we lost last year, either.

3 generations of Star Wars women

Remember though, darkness is not the negation of light, but its absence. If you look for them, you’ll find little points of

light illuminating the way.

 

For me, 2016 was a very good year for my writing career. I made some wonderful acquaintances and had some great experiences. But enough vagaries. Let’s review.

 

Cutest Wonder Woman Evah!

At the end of 2015 I wrote on this blog that my goal for 2016 was to write four 85,000+ word novels for the year. I also said I would write four short stories and get one of those books published. I did not complete any of those goals.

This is what I did do:

Did a complete re-write of my first novel, The Gallowglass (pronounced gallowglauw). It was 109,100 words long.

I wrote a second novel. This one a thriller set during the Crusades. I call it Jerusalem’s Menace. It was 99,000 long.

I wrote three short stories. Of those three, two got published in anthologies.

 

So that’s pretty good, right? I completed about half my goals. Not bad, but not great.

As I was going through all of my writing this year, I started adding up words. Here is what I realized.

RMFW Christmas Party 2016
WRITING PROJECTS WORD TOTAL
The Gallowglass 109,1000
Jerusalem’s Menace 99,343
The Setting Sun of Empire Short Story (pre-edits) 12,147
Answering the Bell Short Story (pre-edits) 10,462
Hero Maker Short Story (pre-edits) 6,822
All blogging 7,785
Failed Nanowrimo Novel 3012

 

Grand Total of words written in 2016                                                                                   248,671 words

 

I know I’m under about 1,500 words but I’ll take it. I wrote around a quarter of a million words in 2016. That is HUGE! When I added the numbers up I kept double checking and still came up with this. I was simply blown away.

 

But this was just the beginning of my successes in 2016. Here are a list of the others:

 

  • I joined Belmar Critique Group.
  • I taught a class called How to Write Authentic African-American Characters for both the Pike Peak Writers summer Write Brain program and the RMFW Gold Conference.
  • Lead or sat on seven panels at Denver ComicCon this year.
  • I had two agents request two full manuscripts and a third agent ask for three chapters of each novel.
  • Had a class on Renaissance costuming accepted for the 2017 Historical Novel Society Convention in Portland.
  • I became a regular blogger for Pikespeakwriters.blogspot.com.
  • Had The Setting Sun of Empire accepted into Penny Dread V Anthology by RuneWright Press.
  • Had my first literary story, Answering the Bell, accepted into a charity anthology entitled Shatter Your Image,
  • Finally, the thing I am most proud of, Nikki Ebright asked me to join her non-profit, Shiny Gardens. Shiny Gardens will now support Nikki in running Myth & Legends Con, as well as several other events planned for the future.
Apparently someone took the neighborhood kids to see Mad Max

Looking back, I can honestly say some amazing things happened to me. I made relationships with writers and editors. I reached out and took advantage of opportunities. Most importantly, I tried to give back.

I have found that the more positive I am, the more I am willing to work, and the more I am willing to help, the more successful I will be. I can’t believe I’ve figured this out at 46, instead of 26, but better late than never.

I could be sad or angry or bitter about the things I failed at, or I can learn from them. I can look forwards and see the road to professional writer open in front of me. I can be upset about the things I didn’t do and didn’t get, or I can make a plan and work. I choose the latter.

 

 

 

So what’s going on in 2017? OK, here are my goals for this year:

 

  • Write two novel length projects, 85K+ each.
  • Write two 20k-50k novella/short novel length projects.
  • Blog once a week on my site.
  • Write six short stories, from 3-6K.

 

Hail Hydra!
Susan Spann autographed my Book!!!

There is a saying that you have to write a million words before you get any good at it. Whether it was David Eddings, Jerry Pournelle, or Ray Bradbury who said it, is inconsequential. If it’s true, then I will be half way to a million words by the end of 2017.

I have some other writing-related goals as well. I want to attend the following conferences:

  • Historical Novel Society Convention
  • Pikes Peak Writers Convention
  • Colorado Gold Conference
  • Romance Writers of America Conference
The Fetching Mrs. Evans, side profile!

Yes. I want to attend RWA Conference this summer. I literally don’t know how this is going to happen, but I am putting it out there. I wanna run with the big dogs and the big dogs run at RWA.

I hope you continue to follow me on my blog. If you can’t come back regularly, then sign up for my email list. If you choose to join, I’ll reach out about once a month with updates on where I’ll be and what I’ll be doing.

 

2017 looks to be amazing!