My Current Obsession


                                                                                       POST CARDS FROM THE MUSE
                                                                                                   My Current Obsession

                                                                                                             By Nandy Ekle

 After weeks and weeks, months actually, of deep research and culture immersion, here is the first paragraph of my newest obsession.

 The trumpet sounded, signaling the beginning of the paseillo. Iliana sat next to Ricardo in the presidential box and watched the horses trot into the arena followed buy the three toreros and their cuadrillas, their supporting crews. The roses in her lap smelled beautiful as they cooked in the midday sun.

 And so, Nandy fans, get ready for an adventure!

Congratulations. You have just received a post card from the muse.

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Check It Out


Outtakes 230

Check It Out

by Cait Collins

I was rather upset by a comment made the other day regarding writers who do not check their facts. I was purchasing a number of books and magazines on gems, minerals, and jewelry making for more information on the career of one of my characters. The clerk commented I must be really into rocks and jewelry. I explained I was doing some research for my new book. Her response was “Thank you. I do some editing and I can’t believe how many writers expect the editor to do the fact-checking.”

Really? I can’t believe writers would put something on paper and not check the facts. I prefer to think that we take the time to learn what we don’t know. For example, would anyone start a story about a doctor and not know the basics of education, office set up and regulations regarding the practice of medicine? Would we be willing to tarnish our reputation just to get the book finished?

We are responsible for what we put on paper. I have a situation in a novel regarding the purchase of several tracts of land with the stipulation the former owners could buy the land back in five years. Only the buy-back did not include the water and mineral rights. Was this possible? Absolutely. How did I learn about this? Book and on-line research combined with discussions with experts in the field. And with on-line resources, it’s easy to do the research.

While we have more up-to-date information at hand, I still prefer books. I purchased a detailed book on gems, cuts, faceting, settings, and designs. While I have done some rock collecting and panning, I need details so that my character is real.

I also believe in experience. Writing a western? Go west. Sign on as a ranch hand, and if you don’t ride a horse, learn. Pick up the cowboy lingo.

Find a fee site and learn to pan for gold. (You get to keep what you find.)

Is your hero a rock climber? Find a beginner’s location and scale the cliff. Become familiar with the rigging and terminology.

Proper research builds better settings, richer dialog, and more exciting characters. By paying attention to details, we portray ourselves as true professionals who take responsibility for the words we put on the page. We make the editor’s job easier and we reduce the amount of editing needed to make a project press-ready. Good research permits the author to put one project to be and start a new work.

 

PILES OF RESEARCH


PILES OF RESEARCH

By Natalie Bright

Tracking and Controlling Research Notes

Research notes and piles of reference books have totally taken over my life. At the recent Western Writers of American conference this past June, I had the opportunity to visit with two historical novelists. My question to them—what system do you use to track and control your research?

Three-Ring Binder

As seat mates on the bus during a field trip, Nancy Plain explained her notebook system. She fills a three-ring binder for every book she writes. The information includes hard copies of information she might need to refer to again such as pictures, online materials, interview notes, or library materials. Sections are identified by subject. Main take-away idea for me was a section in the binder just for quotes. These will be an important component for the final book, whether its fiction or nonfiction. Good quotes relating to time period or history of your story can be used for promotion in the way of tweets or other social media posts. I

ndex Card System by Subject

I’m a huge fan of Lucia St. Claire Robson. I approached her at the WWA Conference between sessions and posed the same question to her. As a former librarian, she uses a fascinating index card system. Believing that, “75% of the work is organization” when writing historical fiction, she has developed a system to keep track of those thousands of details any researcher might need for their novel. She scribbles notes on 4×6 index cards, using a different color for each work in progress. Every source is assigned a letter and a number, starting with #1. Cards are then filed by subject. As she writes, she prints each chapter and might add note cards to the pile, if she comes across anything that’s relevant. After the first draft is done, she goes back and picks up that information needed for each chapter based on any additional research and the notations in that pile. Here’s the thing about her system: any issues that might come up from an editor or fan, can be readily answered and verified. Mr. Robson has established a reputation for being a meticulaous researcher. Her books certainly reflect that. You’ll find detailed imagery that transports you back in time.

For more about Ms. Robson’s system, read her blog here: http://www.luciastclairrobson.com/featured/just-call-me-lucia-minutia/

Time to Get Busy

As I type this, on the floor behind me are separate piles of spiral notebooks along with manuscript drafts and copies of stuff related to my novels. On the shelves are open baskets for each book title, where I’ve tossed related material. How do I find something? You might have guessed already. I have to sift through the entire pile. What a mess. I’m hoping to combine both of these author’s systems and get a handle on my stacks and stacks of research.

To minimize the mess on the floor, I’ll use the binder or notebooks to file away the information I’ve amassed to date. Because I’m a junky of used books and dusty old book stores, I’m starting a card file system right away to identify these reference materials. As time permits, I hope to go back through some of my earlier spirals and make index cards for those factual tidbits as well.

For more information about these novelists and their work, visit their websites listed below.

Nancy Plain is an award winning author of biographies and histories for children and adults. Her most recent work is THIS STRANGER WILDERSNESS, about the life and art of James Audubon. www.nancyplain.com

Lucia St. Clair Robson is most famously known for her book about Cynthia Ann Parker, RIDE THE WIND. As her first book, it won the Spur Award, made the New York Times Best Seller List and was included in the 100 Best Westerns of the 20th century. www.luciastclairrobson.com

Keep researching and keep writing WordsmithSix peeps!

Gotta Love Electronics


Outtakes 78

Gotta Love Electronics

By Cait Collins

Have you ever had one of those days when it seemed as if every piece of electronic equipment you touched hated you? The computer was slow. The fax machine chewed your master. Only half of your documents printed. The copy machine jammed. And last but definitely not least, one of your primary computer programs crashed. Okay only half of that happened today, but this war has been ongoing for the last week and a half.

I love the convenience of computers. The ability to type a document, save it, and edit later is wonderful. I remember the good old-days when I’d spend hours typing a research paper on my trusty manual typewriter. I tried to check every page for errors before ripping the sheet out of the typewriter. I always missed something, and I never mastered the art of inserting the page and realigning the paper to make corrections. I lost count of the number of times I had to retype every page from the point of the error forward because the correction forced the text onto the next page. I recall author/screenwriter Larry McMurtry bragging about writing all of his manuscripts and screenplays on a typewriter. I cannot imagine doing that. A 20-page research paper was intimidating enough.

While computers provide convenience, they do have a drawback. Programs crash. I had such an experience today at work. I had my proof file built for a letter I was preparing for a client. When I tried to save it, the program flashed an error message and my file disappeared into cyberspace. None of my quick fixes restored the program. And so I sat waiting for IT to come fix the problem. My hands were tied. I could not prepare correspondence, I could not research. I did not have very nice things to say about my computer at this point. Most of my muttering involved rather sexist remarks about the origin and nature of computers. Sorry, gentlemen, but you are to blame for the problem.

While electronics frustrate me at times, I admit I could not function without them. I still prefer grabbing a book to research a subject, but when in a bind, the internet is a life saver. I no longer rush to the library to look up missing information. Locating a book title, author, or event is a simple matter of typing key words. Working on multiple projects is easy. I have folders and files set up for each project on my systems. Paper files are no longer required. My external hard drive automatically backs up my files. Flash drives allow me to copy pages of a work in progress from my main system to my Netbook. The Netbook is light weight and easy to carry; therefore, I can spend my lunch hour working on my novel or short story. When I need multiple copies, I print them. No messy carbon paper or time wasted standing at the copy machine is necessary.

I will never be as computer savvy as my younger associates. They had the advantage of growing up with word processing, spreadsheets, and electronic media. I continue to learn more about the capabilities of my laptop and Netbook as I truly appreciate their advantages. That doesn’t mean I will refrain from referring to my misbehaving electronics in sexist terms.

Gotta Love Electronics


Outtakes 78

Gotta Love Electronics

By Cait Collins

 

Have you ever had one of those days when it seemed as if every piece of electronic equipment you touched hated you? The computer was slow. The fax machine chewed your master. Only half of your documents printed. The copy machine jammed. And last but definitely not least, one of your primary computer programs crashed. Okay only half of that happened today, but this war has been ongoing for the last week and a half.

I love the convenience of computers. The ability to type a document, save it, and edit later is wonderful. I remember the good old-days when I’d spend hours typing a research paper on my trusty manual typewriter. I tried to check every page for errors before ripping the sheet out of the typewriter. I always missed something, and I never mastered the art of inserting the page and realigning the paper to make corrections. I lost count of the number of times I had to retype every page from the point of the error forward because the correction forced the text onto the next page. I recall author/screenwriter Larry McMurtry bragging about writing all of his manuscripts and screenplays on a typewriter. I cannot imagine doing that. A 20-page research paper was intimidating enough.

While computers provide convenience, they do have a drawback. Programs crash. I had such an experience today at work. I had my proof file built for a letter I was preparing for a client. When I tried to save it, the program flashed an error message and my file disappeared into cyberspace. None of my quick fixes restored the program. And so I sat waiting for IT to come fix the problem. My hands were tied. I could not prepare correspondence, I could not research. I did not have very nice things to say about my computer at this point. Most of my muttering involved rather sexist remarks about the origin and nature of computers. Sorry, gentlemen, but you are to blame for the problem.

While electronics frustrate me at times, I admit I could not function without them. I still prefer grabbing a book to research a subject, but when in a bind, the internet is a life saver. I no longer rush to the library to look up missing information. Locating a book title, author, or event is a simple matter of typing key words. Working on multiple projects is easy. I have folders and files set up for each project on my systems. Paper files are no longer required. My external hard drive automatically backs up my files. Flash drives allow me to copy pages of a work in progress from my main system to my Netbook. The Netbook is light weight and easy to carry; therefore, I can spend my lunch hour working on my novel or short story. When I need multiple copies, I print them. No messy carbon paper or time wasted standing at the copy machine is necessary.

I will never be as computer savvy as my younger associates. They had the advantage of growing up with word processing, spreadsheets, and electronic media. I continue to learn more about the capabilities of my laptop and Netbook as I truly appreciate their advantages. That doesn’t mean I will refrain from referring to my misbehaving electronics in sexist terms.

For the Love of History


Middle Grade Mondays

 For the Love of History

by Natalie Bright

If you love history, a fictional story in an historical setting might be something you’d like to tackle. Historical fiction is a time-consuming, massive undertaking. Not only do you need the common elements of story craft, you also need a basic knowledge of the time period. Your details must be accurate or you will get snippy feedback from passionate readers (ask any historical author about the letters and emails they’ve received).

Research-Write Process

Authors confront the research portion of their stories in several different ways. Based on questions to some of my favorite historical writers, here are a few of the processes I’ve learned about.

1) Research the heck out of it first, then power through and write the first draft. Do. Not. Stop. Verification of facts, sensory building, characterization, etc., is done during the editing process.

2) Start with minimal research, character profiles, and develop a basic plot outline. Write, stopping to inquire about specific details as you write. This would be akin to one step forward, three steps back form of world building. By the time you get to the end, you have a fairly polished novel.

3) Total and complete emersion into the time period. You consciously and subconsciously step back into that era.. While you write, you’re developing character profiles, plot elements, intricate details about life, and researching the time period. In your spare time, if not writing, you can rent movies on that time period and read nonfiction books.

Its In the Details

It’s the subtle details about everyday life that brings historical fiction alive for me.  Everything must be true to that time period. For example, in my middle grade western, the heroine’s mother told the town’s sheriff to “give me a call.” When I heard those words as I read them out loud to my critique group, I felt like such an idiot. The only way the Sheriff could have “called” in 1885 is through a mega phone.  Oh wait, were mega phones even invented by 1885? (See what I mean. As if writers aren’t already crazy enough.)

Beware of those every day, subtle details. They’ll sneak up on you. I believe people who lived in other centuries had the same desires, dreams, aggravations that people do today, but their day-to-day realities are not the same as ours.

Timeline

One element that is critical when writing historical fiction regardless of the process you use, is a timeline.  This can be developed on your computer in a spreadsheet fashion, they can be found online on numerous history sites, or you can make your own with dry eraser board or butcher paper to be taped to your wall for easy reference.

1) Time of day and days of the week specific to your characters as your plot progresses.

2) Print a timeline from a credible website with major events. You might want to thread these events through your plot line. Is your character directly a part of that event?

3) A timeline specific to your setting and a plat or map. What’s going on in the fictional town where your character lives and how is it affected by actual events of the time?

Have you discovered a process that I haven’t mentioned?

What process works best for you?

www.nataliebright.com

 

Caution


Outtakes 59

Caution

Does the indemnity clause, “The characters in this book are fictitous. Any resemblance to persons living or dead is purely coincidental.” really protect a writer from libel suits. The short answer is maybe. It really depends on the circumstances and how the author handles the writing.

I am not an attorney and I cannot offer any legal advice, but there are some scenarios that suggest an author proceed with caution.

1.  You answer the phone. “Hi. I’m Joe Smith. My friend Kathy Jones told me you are a writer and I have a story that should be told. Thing is, I have no idea how to write the book. Can you help me?”

“Tell me about the story.”

“Well, it goes back about three generations. Seems my great-grandmother met this farmer. They wanted to get married. He was a good man, but her daddy didn’t approve of his children marrying beneath their stations. He told her if she married the man, he’d cut her out of his will. The farmer wanted to give Granny time to think about the consequences of marrying, so he suggested they wait until after the harvest for the wedding. Granny’s cousin wrote saying Gramps changed his mind and the marriage was a go. They got married, Granny was disinherited and the cousin got all the money. It broke up the family. We haven’t spoken to the cousin’s family in years.”

“Okay, do you have any papers, letters, or journals to prove the story?”

“No. This is my Granny’s story. She told my grandmother, who passed the story to my mother.”

2.  A big scandal is reported in the local newspaper. Councilman A embezzled a couple of million from the city’s economic development budget. Great plot for a fictionalized account of the events.

3.  A historical event catches the author’s interest. However, it is recent news and key figures and their families are still living.

I wouldn’t touch the ghost writing request for a million bucks. Unsubstantiated stories are an invitation to a law suit. Without documentation to prove the events, an author would be unwise to write this book.

I listened to a writer speak about the scandal story. Of course the names would be changed, the location disguised, and some changes would be made to the actual events. But anyone who was around at the time would recognize the story. There was a gleeful gleam in the author’s eyes as the details were revealed. The conference speaker was not amused. “Be careful,” he warned, “you could be sued. You might win, but your reputation will be damaged, and you might have problems getting an agent or publisher. Let’s face it,” he continued, “your agent and publisher will not appreciate being drawn into a legal battle.”

The third situation is a non-fiction publication that hits the book shelves every week with great success. The caution here is verifying the facts. Research. Research. Research. Adhere to the oath a witness takes to tell the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth. In other words, present the facts; all of the fact; and leave out the spin.

While a writer should feel free to write his story, he should also exercise common sense in selecting assignments. The writing community is not that large. News travels and people will remember. Don’t risk your reputation and financial security for a burst of fame.

Cait Collins

When the Muse Strikes


Outtakes 53

When the Muse Strikes

Don’t you just love those days when you power up the computer, open your current document, and start typing? They are few and far between, but when they come along, the pages fill as if by magic. There have been days I started work at eight in the morning and looked up ten hours later with more than one completed chapter. There are rules for such days. At least these are my rules.

  1. Send an email to family and friends to let them you are in the zone, and please do not call unless it’s an emergency. Those that love you will respect your need to work.
  2. Do not answer the door or the phone. It does no good to ask for writing time and then give in to a ringing phone. Turn down the ringer volume, and work.
  3. Do not read email, Facebook, Twitter, blogs (unless it’s mine), or play games. Once you start one of these activities, it’s hard to get back to your writing.
  4. Do not research. If you come to a point where you need additional facts, mark the spot with a brief note as to what is needed, highlight it and go on. Research may kill the Muse, so hold off on the mundane.
  5. Stop only when you need a quick break to run to the bathroom, grab a cup of coffee, and get a snack. Keep the break short so that you don’t get distracted by the laundry that needs to be done, or the living room that needs dusting. This is one time when you are allowed to procrastinate.
  6. Turn off your internal editor. Forget about the red and green squiggly lines on the page. You can edit tomorrow. Keep the writing flow going until the inspiration runs out. Believe me, the Muse will depart, but what a day you’ve had.
  7. When you have exhausted the Muse, be sure you save and back up your work. I often neglect the last step, but one computer crash will convince you the necessity of the back-up. Save the pages on a flash drive, on Carbonite, or on an external hard drive. I also print a copy of the new pages. If the house floods and all the electronics are in the water’s path, a print out stored in a water-tight box on high closet shelf will preserve your efforts.

Enjoy those rare days when everything just seems to work. The visits from the Muse or infusions of inspiration make up for the days you struggle.

Cait Collins