If you look closely, you'll see tables and chairs on the second floor, encouraging visitors to linger and enjoy the tropical atmosphere.
If you look closely, you'll see tables and chairs on the second floor, encouraging visitors to linger and enjoy the tropical atmosphere.
Who wouldn't want to stroll along these walks, admiring the beauty of flowers and plants? And there's more to see, including the well-named Peace Garden, the Rose Garden, and the labyrinth.
The Gardens were one of the things that attracted my husband and me to the city more than twenty years ago. Since then, they've become even more beautiful with the addition of the Children's Village and most recently, the Shane Smith Grand Conservatory.
If you're ever in Cheyenne, this is one place you shouldn't miss. If you visit it, you'll see why the conservatory is a favorite spot for weddings and other special events as well as "ordinary" meetings.
The amount of the snow and the road's elevation (peaking at over 10,000 feet) result in the only road through the Snowies being closed for more than six months each winter.
No cars are allowed, but that doesn't stop winter sports enthusiasts from coming. During the snowed-in months, the Snowy Range is a mecca for skiers and snowmobilers.
You'll find me at home, drinking cocoa and waiting for the snow to melt and the road to reopen.
Did you ever wonder how a book cover is created? Today I'm going to share the process talented author and designer L.A. Sartor followed when she designed the cover for Brides of the Old West.
It all started with this photograph.
Even though the novellas are set in Cheyenne, I thought this picture from a trip my husband and I took to South Pass City exemplified the old West and wanted it for the cover.
L.A. had some concerns, but she agreed to see if she could make it work. When she showed me her first design, she was afraid I'd hate it. I didn't. In fact, I LOVED it. Oh, there were things we both knew had to be changed, but the overall look was perfect.
We worked together to choose type fonts and colors, but because the original design was so good, that didn't take long. This was the cover that would appear on ebooks.
The next step was to create a cover for the print version. That involved designing the spine and the back cover.
As you can see, there were some problems, the biggest of which is that I had written too much back cover copy. It was time for me to do some cutting.
Besides cutting the number of words in the copy, we made a few changes along the way, including adding the sunflower spray. At this point, we both thought the cover was finished. But ... There's always a "but," isn't there?
When I received a proof copy of the book and saw the back cover by itself, I realized there was a minor problem.
It may not have bothered anyone else, but it looked too plain to me. Furthermore, there was nothing tying the sunflower spray to the rest of the cover. The solution was easy.
By making the novella titles the same blue as the flowers in the spray, the back cover was more appealing. And so we had the final version of the print cover.
Both L.A. and I are thrilled by the way it turned out. I hope you agree with us that it's a beautiful cover and one that will intrigue readers.
Have I convinced you to detour off I-80 to visit the Snowy Range the next time you're crossing Wyoming? I hope so, because it's a special place.
Dotted with small lakes, evergreens, and the white mountains that give the area its name, it's a wonderful place to camp, hike, or picnic. Best of all, at least for me, it's an easy drive from Cheyenne.
"I wish I didn't have to wait so long for your next book." If I had a dollar for every time I've heard that, I'd be wealthy. I know that a year between books seems like a long time, so I'm happy to tell you that I'm releasing my first-ever novella collection next month to give you something to read while we wait for March 2022 and The Spark of Love's debut.
It's true that I've participated in other collections, but this is the first time that there's one with only my stories. All four of my novellas set in nineteenth-century Cheyenne will be available in a single book.
You may have read one or more of the
stories, since they were previously published, but for the first time they're
together and at an affordable price. To say that I'm excited about Brides of the
Old West is an understatement.
What's it about? Here's a hint:
Four unlikely couples.
Four unexpected chances at happiness.
Four unforgettable stories of love and faith in the Old West.
Brides of the Old West will be available in both ebook and print format exclusively on Amazon. The ebook is available for preorder now; print will be available on the official release date of September 14. Here's the link.
I hope you'll share my excitement about the book and what I consider to be a truly fabulous cover.
You'll find marching bands, old motorized vehicles, and a miniature Union Pacific train (because, after all, Cheyenne owes its existence to the UP railroad) as part of the parade, but my favorite entries are the horse-drawn vehicles and floats.
Doesn't this covered wagon shout "Old West" to you?
There are so many contestants that preliminary rounds are done during what's called "Slack." That's why many days starting at 7 AM you'll find cowboys in the arena, waiting for their chance to score well enough to make it to the finals.
The arena may not be filled with crowds, but it's still an exciting time for both cowboys and spectators.
As you can imagine, the aromas are mouth-watering!
There are a gazillion - okay, that might be an exaggeration, but there are a lot of things to do at CFD, starting with the cattle drive.
Other rodeos might bring their cattle in by truck, but it's a CFD tradition to drive them in the old-fashioned way ... at least for the last few miles. You can see them here on the city street next to Interstate 25.
I found it amusing that there were far more cattle on the street than there were cars on the highway.
It's cover reveal time! For me, this is one of the most exciting parts of the book publishing process, second only to the actual release date. I love being able to share the cover with you because, even though we're told we shouldn't judge a book by its cover, we do.
What do you think? I'm delighted with
it and am thrilled with the picture of the spring at the
bottom, because it looks almost identical to the photo of a Hill Country spring
that helped inspire the whole town of Mesquite Springs.
Now that you know the title and the cover, perhaps you're wondering what the story's about. Here's the official description.
When a spurned suitor threatens her, heiress Alexandra Tarkington flees New York for Mesquite Springs in the Texas Hill Country, where her father is building a hotel. But the happy reunion she envisions is not to be as her father insists she return to New York. Instead, Alexandra attempts to carve out a niche for herself in town, teaching schoolchildren to paint and enjoying the company of Gabe Seymour, a delightful man she met on the stagecoach.
But all is not as it seems. Two men, each with his own agenda, have followed her to Mesquite Springs. And Gabe is an investigator, searching for proof that her father is a swindler. When a series of apparent accidents threaten her life, Alexandra and Gabe will have to work together to discover the truth. And perhaps along the way they will discover that the sparks of attraction they’ve felt from the beginning are more than sparks—they’re love.
Bestselling author Amanda Cabot invites you back to 1850s Texas for this exciting and heartwarming tale of treachery, love, and learning to trust.Are you intrigued? I hope so.
“How do we measure the impact of our stories? How do we know if we’re successful?” Those were the questions a member of my Colorado writers group asked me. I don’t claim to be an expert, but I wanted to share some of my thoughts.
Let’s consider a few measures of success.
Copies Sold – For as long as I’ve been published (a long, long time), this has been the gold standard of success. From both the publisher’s and the author’s view, that’s understandable. After all, both the publisher’s profits and the author’s royalties are based on the number of copies sold. And the greater the number of books sold, the greater the probability that your story has touched readers’ hearts.
All of that is good, but the sad reality is that just because someone bought a book doesn’t mean she’ll read it or that if he begins to read it, he’ll finish the book. I tried unsuccessfully to find the article I once read about the depressingly small percentage of bestselling books that were read in their entirety, but my own experience has been that I finish no more than three-quarters of the books that I purchase. Yes, the authors of those unread books registered sales, but I doubt they expected or wanted me to abandon a story they’d labored over after I read only ten percent.
Amazon Ranking – Raise your hand if you’ve never checked your book’s rank on Amazon. Hmmm … I’m looking out over cyberspace, and I’m not seeing any hands. Maybe I need new glasses. All joking aside, Amazon rankings are valuable because they measure the velocity of sales at the world’s largest bookstore, but they have the same shortcoming as copies sold: they’re not a measure of impact, simply of potential impact.
Journal Reviews – Who wouldn’t relish a starred review in Publishers Weekly or Booklist, a review in a major newspaper, or having his book on a “best ten of the year” list? Those are all significant accomplishments, and if the author is fortunate, they lead to higher sales. They’re also a boost to the ego, since the reviewers are professionals who are presumably experienced in evaluating fiction. But are the reviews a true measure of the impact of the book? I say “no,” and that brings me to the next two categories.
Reader Reviews – If you’re like me, you cherish those five-star reviews on Amazon and cringe when you see a one-star. What makes these reviews special? Quite simply, it’s because they come from readers. This is our target audience.
Unlike professional reviewers, the people who post reviews are not paid to express their opinions. They’re taking time that could be spent doing a hundred other things to tell others what they liked, which portions of the book resonated with them, what they didn’t like. We may not always agree with them, but these reviews, which some librarians use when they’re deciding which books to add to their library’s collection, represent real-world opinions. They also help us measure how our stories affect readers.
Letters from Readers – Whether they come via email or snail mail, readers’ letters are my favorite way of determining the impact of my stories. Some of these readers will post reviews, but in most cases, their stories are too personal for them to reveal to the world at large. The fact that they’re willing to share their experiences with me tells me how much my stories have touched their hearts and how much of an impact fiction can have.
Patricia Bradley shares my view. Here’s Patricia’s story:
I’ve had several readers tell me the way a character solved their problems helped them work out their own problems. One wrote to me about A Promise to Protect and said, “I never felt my mother wanted me (which was the problem my heroine faced), and it affected my marriage, my children, my life. Reading your book and the way your heroine forgave her mother has changed my life. I thank you and my children thank you.”
Here’s what one reader wrote to me about Scattered Petals:
“What makes your book special is that you’ve touched my heart so deeply that I’m finally beginning to really believe God loves me. I’ve had that head knowledge for years, but now with the help of Scattered Petals, it is becoming real to me. Thank you for working in partnership with God to touch and change me as never before!”
Paper Roses had this effect on a reader:
“I had really started to think that God wasn’t listening to me, and that I was indeed all alone, and that perhaps even God really didn’t exist. After that book, I just have such peace. Thank you for writing this. Just a little hug from Jesus knowing that He does use other people to touch lives. He really is there, and He really does love me! Thank you so much.”
I won’t claim that I’ve received hundreds of letters like these, but I will tell you that they’re worth more than a royalty check to me. They affirm my belief that I’m doing what God intended for me and that my stories are having a positive impact on readers.
How do you measure your impact?
You’re probably asking, why on earth is this woman quoting Shakespeare? What does Hamlet have to do with being a writer? The truth is, I was going to call this post “In Defense of the Semi-Colon,” but I knew no one – and I mean no one – would read that, so I chose a title that I thought would get you to skim at least the first paragraph. As for those semi-colons … well, you’ll just have to keep reading to see where they fit into the plot.
Call me eccentric, if you will, but I believe Shakespeare’s advice has relevance to us as writers. Why? Because I believe most of us will be tempted to ignore it at least once in our careers, and we may regret that.
In some cases, disregarding the bard’s counsel is the result of not having fully defined “thine own self.” So, let’s start with that. I propose a few minutes of introspection to answer three questions:
1. Who am I?
2. Why do I write?
3. What is important to me? (or, to paraphrase that, What do I value?)
We all have different answers, and they’re all valid. I’ll give you my answers because – no surprise – they have a bearing on the issue of semi-colons.
Who am I? I’m a Christian writer. Though there are other facets to my life, my faith and the need to write are central. That’s how I define myself.
Why do I write? To entertain readers and to introduce them to my world view. (My world view, by the way, is one in which love heals and justice prevails.)
What do I value? Besides justice and integrity, perfect grammar. I doubt any one of you will add grammar to your list of values, but it’s important to me. And that’s where the semi-colons come into play.
In Defense of the Semi-Colon
More than ten years ago when I was still writing for the secular market I started working with a fledgling publisher. They were interested in one of my early romances to which I’d received reversion of rights, and – since that book was the first in a series that is still in print – I thought that having it reissued would be a good marketing move. It was, I believed, the classic win-win situation. The publisher would get a book that required no editing, and I’d be able to introduce some of my newer readers to that particular story.
Unfortunately, the publisher had what they called a ‘house style’ for text, and that style dictated the abolishment of both colons and semi-colons. I could live with the substitution of em-dashes for colons, since that didn’t change the meaning of the sentence, but turning all semi-colons into commas just didn’t work for me. As you can tell from reading this, I write sentences with multiple clauses, and there are times when a semi-colon is mandatory to maintain the meaning.
After a week or so of discussions with the editor, I pulled the book. Why? Because grammar is important to me, and the changes she wanted made would have turned my manuscript into one that would make me cringe. In other words, I would not have been true to myself if I’d agreed to eliminate semi-colons.
This may sound trivial; it may sound extreme. (Notice the semi-colon in the previous sentence.) I doubt anyone else on the planet would refuse a contract for that reason.
But what if the editor asked you to change the basic premise of the book, turning your heroine into a character you didn’t like?
What if an editor wanted you to change the setting and timeframe to one that was more popular but which didn’t appeal to you?
Or what if being published meant signing a contract with a company that had a reputation for being less than honest?
Would you do it?
The point I’m trying to make is that we all want to be published, and once we’re published, we want to continue to see our books in print. That’s part of being a writer. But, in my opinion, we should never compromise our principles simply to be published.
Think about that and your answers to the three questions each time you consider signing a publishing contract. The bottom line is, it’s your book; it’s your name that will be on the cover; it’s your decision. I urge you, though, whatever decision you make, to remember Shakespeare.
* “If you want to be successful, you need to get up early every morning and write for at least an hour without interruptions.”
* “The best time to write is late at night when the kids are in bed and there’s nothing exciting to watch on TV.”
* “The only way to write a book is to have a detailed outline before you begin. You need to know what scenes will be in every chapter, whose POV each scene will have, and make sure that every plot point is outlined.”
* “Outlining a book before you write destroys creativity. The best way to write is to simply sit at the computer and let the ideas flow.”
If you’re like me, you’ve heard this kind of conflicting advice, whether presented in a workshop at a writer’s conference, posted in a blog or simply expressed as part of a casual conversation among writers. Again, if you’re like me, you’ve gone home shaking your head, trying to figure out which one of the statements is correct. You may even have despaired of ever being a successful writer, since you don’t do any of the things you were told were essential.
What’s a writer to do? I propose a three-step program. Ready? Let’s go.
Step One: Take a deep breath. If you’re a chocoholic, have a piece of chocolate. If you’re a jogger, this is the time for a nice long run. If movies are your favorite way to forget about the world, watch one. In other words, relax.
Step Two: Repeat after me, “I am a writer. I am unique. What works for someone else may not work for me.” Relinquish the guilt and sense of failure that no matter how many times you tried, getting up at 4 AM to write only makes you tired and cranky, not creative, and that even though you would like to let ideas flow as Mega-Selling Author advised, that doesn’t work for you.
I know I’m making this sound simple, when the reality is that it isn’t, but it’s an essential step. Even though you want to have Mega-Selling Author’s success, it’s important to remember that you’re not twins. What works for Mega-Selling may or may not work for you. And that leads us to the final step.
Step Three: Find your writing rhythm. There are several aspects to this. The first is determining the time of day and days of the week when you’re most productive. You don’t need to be a scientist to do this. Simply observe yourself over the period of a couple weeks, noting when you feel most energized and writing down both the day and time. It may be that Tuesday through Thursday early evenings are your best time. If you know that, your goal should be to devote that time to writing. There’s no reason to waste your creative time doing laundry or watching TV, is there?
Secondly, think about yourself. Are you a left-brained person who needs everything organized? When you take a trip, do you have a detailed itinerary and avoid detours? If so, it’s probable that you’re a plotter and will be more productive creating an outline before you begin writing.
If you’re an explorer who finds more pleasure in the journey than the destination, you may be a seat-of-the-pants writer (sometimes called a pantser). It’s also possible that you’re a combination of the two, that you may start with an outline but find that your story takes you in unexpected directions when you write. That’s good, but so too is being a pure plotter or pantser, if that’s where you’re most comfortable and most productive.
The essential thing is to discover what works best for you. I’m not telling you to ignore the advice you’ve received, but I am saying that you need to consider whether the techniques that are being touted as the only way to succeed are ones that fit you.
One size does not fit all. The truth is, there is one right way to write. What is it? The one that works for you.
This photo and all of them I'll be sharing this month were taken at Pole Mountain in the Medicine Bow National Forest.
What does it take to be an author?
If you answered, “talent, desire, a good command of the English language, an understanding of readers’ expectations,” you’d be right. All of those are important, but it’s been my observation that many who want to become published authors and who possess all those characteristics may begin to write a book but will never achieve their goal, because they’re missing the critical element.
What is that element? Grit. Are you laughing? It’s all right; go ahead and laugh, but then keep reading.
Of Oysters and Authors
My dictionary has a number of definitions for “grit,” the most important of which for writers is “sand or gravel.” At this point, you’re probably either wondering if I’m crazy or asking yourself what sand could possibly have to do with authors. The answer lies with oysters. Like oysters, writers create pearls, but just as not all oysters produce pearls, not all would-be authors produce a book. Grit makes the difference.
To understand why, let’s talk about pearls. They’re formed when a grain of sand enters the oyster’s shell and irritates it so much that the oyster coats the sand with layer upon layer of nacreous material, all to stop the irritation. Eventually that coated piece of grit becomes a pearl. Quite simply, without irritation, there would be no pearl.
The Importance of Irritation
I propose that without irritation, most books won’t be written. Inspiration is important, but it’s irritation that keeps authors writing until they reach “The End.” Just as an oyster forms a pearl not because it wants to but because it has to, irritated authors have to write.
So, what constitutes irritation for a writer? It varies by the individual, but in each case, what’s important is that that irritation is strong enough that the author feels compelled to write, because that’s the only way to ease the irritation.
For me, irritation has included:
* Characters whose story must be told. A minor character from a book I’d just finished woke me in the middle of the night, announcing that he needed a bride. I agreed, but oh, did I make him struggle to win his bride. That was the price he paid for disturbing my sleep.
* An unforgettable location. This is a corollary to the first form of irritation. Several months after moving to Wyoming, my husband and I visited Fort Laramie, and I was so fascinated with it and the fact that it bore very little resemblance to my idea of a western fort that I couldn’t forget it. That trip became the impetus for my Westward Winds trilogy. I simply had to tell the stories that started whirling through my brain that day.
* Personal goals. For almost as long as I can remember, I wanted to be a writer. At first my goals were nebulous, but as a teenager I set a goal of selling a novel before my thirtieth birthday. That seemed so far in the future that I only wrote sporadically, but a month before I turned twenty-nine, I realized that if I was going to meet that goal, I’d better get serious about writing. That was the irritation I needed. And, yes, I did sell my first novel a week before my thirtieth birthday.
I urge you to look deep inside yourself and see what irritates you. If it’s strong enough, it’ll sustain you through the inevitable difficult times between the first line of your book and “The End.” That’s the power of grit.
In addition to permanent exhibits, the State Museum has periodic special exhibits, including this one from several years ago which featured Shakespeare's First Folio.
With something for just about everyone, the State Museum should be on your "must see" list when you come to Cheyenne.
“It was a dark and stormy night.” “Once upon a time …” Those are two classic ways to begin a book. While they’ve become clichés, they are effective beginnings. Why? Because they set the scene.
The first one tells us we’re not reading a romantic comedy. Instead, there’s likely to be at least something sinister about this story. The second one makes it clear that the tale will take place at some time in the past. It also has a leisurely feel to it, signaling readers who are seeking fast-paced contemporary stories that this isn’t the one for them. All this in just one line. That’s part of the art of a great beginning.
But there’s more. Not only should the first page tell readers what to expect from the rest of the book in terms of tone and timeframe, it should also intrigue readers enough that they simply cannot put the book down.
How do authors do that? By asking more questions than we answer. I don’t mean that we necessarily begin with a literal question, although a line like, “Why couldn’t you at least have tried to hide Wayne’s body?” would probably intrigue readers enough that they’d continue.
Rather than use actual questions, I try to begin my books with sentences that will pique readers’ interest and cause them to ask themselves questions like, “Why did she say that? What does that mean? What’s going to happen next?” That’s why I began A Tender Hope this way:
She was free.
Thea Michener smiled as she checked the harness, then climbed into the buggy. Within minutes, she would be leaving the only home she could remember. As much as she loved Ladreville, whose half-timbered buildings and Old-World charm made visitors declare it to be one of the prettiest towns in the Hill Country, it was time for a change.
While others might have trembled with fear over the thought of leaving family, friends, and all things familiar, the prospect filled Thea with relief. A new town, new possibilities, a new life beckoned her. A year ago she would not have dreamt of leaving, but that was a year ago. So much had changed in the past year, most of all Thea.
Here’s what I hoped to accomplish in each of the three paragraphs. The first paragraph, which is only three words long, is designed to make readers ask, “Free from what?”
The second names the heroine and sets the time and place. The references to the harness and buggy signal that this is an historical, while “the Hill Country” tells readers that the book is set in one of the most beautiful parts of Texas.
The third paragraph gives us a few clues to our heroine and the story itself. She’s clearly leaving home, and her reaction to that isn’t necessarily commonplace. Instead of being apprehensive, she’s excited. Why? I don’t tell readers that yet, because I want them to keep turning the pages, asking why Thea wants to leave and what changed her so much that she wanted to leave.
Did I succeed in creating an opening that raised more questions than it answered and that intrigued readers? You tell me.
And, if you're in the area, you won't want to miss the J.C. Penney homestead and mother store as well as Fossil Butte National Monument.
As the weather improves and travel is less challenging, it seems as if conferences are springing up as quickly as the dandelions in my yard. Should you attend one? Probably, but before you invest your time and money, why not spend a few minutes with my simple five-part quiz? The questions – and their answers – may give you a different perspective.
Let’s get started. The statements are designed for a “true” or “false” response.
1. The primary reason to attend a conference is to meet agents and editors. False. While an agent or editor appointment can be extremely valuable, in part because it might shorten the query process, your primary reason for attending a conference ought to be to learn more about the craft, marketing, or simply the state of the publishing industry. This is a learning opportunity.
2. To get your money’s worth from a conference, you should attend every possible workshop. Since I told you that the reason for attending a conference is to learn, you might think that the answer to this is “true.” Not so. While I urge you to attend many workshops at each conference, you also need to consider the very real possibility of brain overload.
Take time to relax and absorb what you’ve learned. Sometimes this means retreating to your room. Other times, a few minutes chatting with other attendees might be enough. Be careful not to overdo. The last thing you want is to return home exhausted, with all the workshops starting to blur in your mind.
3. The larger the conference, the better. If you were expecting me to say either “true” or “false,” I’m going to disappoint you. This is a “maybe.” While it’s true that larger conferences typically offer more tracks and, therefore, more workshops from which to choose the perfect ones for you, if the thought of plenary sessions with thousands of other attendees makes you cringe, you’d be better served by attending a smaller conference. Consider your comfort levels before you make any decisions.
4. It’s not easy being a newbie at a conference. Definitely true. Many conference organizers make a special effort to identify first time attendees and ask their members to include them in conversations, at meals, etc. But the reality is that most writers are introverts, which means that facing hundreds – perhaps thousands – of strangers is daunting.
The best way to avoid this problem is to ask one of your writing friends to attend with you. Sometimes, though, that’s not possible. What to do then? Look around. You’re likely to see others who are sitting or standing alone. Why not approach them? One time when I did that, it became the start of a friendship that’s spanned decades.
5. Every workshop you attend will be valuable. Oh, if only that were true! I’ve attended a number of workshops where the blurb sounded fabulous, the speaker had outstanding credentials, and I found myself nodding off from boredom. My first reaction was anger, as in “What a waste of time and money,” but then I realized that the problem was mine. I’d set unrealistic expectations. Not every workshop will be perfect for you, just as not every conference is the right one for you.
What should you expect from a conference? My new criterion for judging whether or not a conference was worthwhile is this: if I learn one thing or make one good contact, it was a success. I can’t remember a single workshop I attended at the conference where I met the woman who became my friend and critique partner. In fact, I remember returning home and telling my husband that it was at best a mediocre conference. And yet, meeting Diane made it one of the best conferences I’ve attended.
So, my friends, consider what you hope to gain from a conference, calibrate your expectations, choose carefully, and then have fun. Because, when it’s all over, what you’ll remember is whether or not you enjoyed your time at the conference.
This is one of my favorite places in Wyoming and one I highly recommend for anyone who's interested in history.
As a side note, it was a picture in this museum that inspired my Westward Winds trilogy. You never can tell where or when inspiration will strike!
When aspiring authors tell me they’re writing contemporaries because it’s easier, I do my best not to laugh. The reality is, a contemporary is just as difficult as an historical, although the challenges are different. Let’s talk about a few.
Challenge #1: Location – Are you planning to use a real or a fictional location? There are advantages and disadvantages to both. Real locations engage readers immediately, but if you choose one, be certain you’ve got all the details right. The last thing you need is a reader telling you there’s no bakery at the corner of Fifth and Main. (While real locations in historicals face this same challenge, there are fewer people who can say with certainty whether or not that bakery existed at the time you set your book.)
Fictional locations give you more flexibility. You decide what building is on which corner. The downside is that you have to do more work to create a fictional location. If you a choose a fictional location, I strongly recommend creating a map of it.
Challenge #2: Date – Will your story be set in a specific year or in what is sometimes called the ‘timeless present’? The advantage to using a specific timeframe is similar to that or choosing a real location – reader identification. The disadvantage is that, depending on how many details you include that are date-specific, your book may feel outdated within a couple years.
Challenge #3: Technology – How much technology will you include? This is a corollary to the second challenge. If you’ve chosen a specific date for your story, there is no reason not to include references to all the current technology. Readers who pick up the book twenty years from now may be amused by what seems antiquated to them but was state-of-the-art in 2015, but they’ll know that they’re reading a period piece. On the other hand, if your goal is to create an evergreen story, you’d be better served by minimizing references to things that will likely be dated. The same advice applies to pop culture references.
Challenge #4: Research – Do you think contemporaries require less research than historicals? Repeat after me: all writing requires research. It’s true that research for contemporaries is different from historicals, but it’s still essential that your details are correct. If anything, readers are more critical of contemporary authors who get their facts wrong because it’s so easy to get them right.
Do you have a scene involving a fire investigation? Interview a fire chief to make sure you’ve used the correct terminology and have properly described the procedures the investigators use.
Is your story set in a real location you’ve never visited? Besides studying the related web sites, you might call the Chamber of Commerce to learn little known facts that will give your story added authenticity.
Research, research, research. Yes, it takes time, but your readers will thank you.
The bottom line is simple. Writing is hard work, whether the story is set in contemporary or historical times. The key is to ensure that you’re writing the book of your heart, the one that wakes you in the middle of the night. That’s the book you’re meant to write.
Continuing our discussion of Wyoming's museums ...If you're ever in western Wyoming, I highly recommend a stop at Fort Bridger. The collection of historic buildings which includes some bright orange and black garage camp cabins, is well worth the stop. And the museum itself is filled with fascinating displays.
In case you were wondering what garage camp cabins are, they're motel units with attached garages, making the early years of travel by automobile more pleasant ... at least for the cars. While the cabins had electricity, there was no running water.
Welcome back! I’m delighted that you’re here for the second (and last) part of the historical fiction pitfall discussion. There’s no quiz today, because I’m certain that when you read the next selection, you’ll know immediately what’s wrong. This is the more than slightly modified opening scene of Paper Roses, the first of my Texas Dreams books.
“It’ll be all right.” Sarah Dobbs wrapped her arms around the child, wishing with all her heart that she could believe the words she’d uttered so often. The truth was, it didn’t matter what she believed. All that mattered was keeping Thea safe. And so Sarah knelt on the hard-packed dirt of San Antonio’s main street to wipe the tears from her sister’s cheeks. The child was hot, tired and excited by the unusual sights, a combination that turned normally sweet-tempered Thea querulous.
Thea was too young to appreciate San Antonio’s rich history. The original Spanish settlement of San Antonio de Valero, named for the Viceroy, was founded in the same year as the French began New Orleans. Located just below the Balcones Escarpment, it had the advantage of a mild, dry, healthful climate; plentiful water and an abundance of limestone for building. In 1721 Valero himself sent a force of 54 soldiers to build a strong fort, what many would call a presidio, nearby. They named the fort San Antonio de Bejar, in memory of Valero’s brother, and by 1726 more than 200 men, women and children inhabited the area. Indians, of course, were not included in that count, although by the middle of the century, each of the five missions in the San Antonio region had more than 200 Indians.
The dominant tribes in Texas were the Apaches and the Comanches. The Spaniards were never able to conquer the first, and the second gave them the greatest defeat they ever suffered at the hands of natives in the New World. But all that had occurred over a hundred years ago. Now the city was part of the great state of Texas, the state that would soon be her home and Thea’s.
Are you yawning? Or did you decide that this was what a friend calls a wallbanger, a book that’s so bad that you hurl it against the wall rather than read it? I’ll admit that I’ve exaggerated the problem, but I’ve judged enough contests to know that including too much history is a common problem.
It’s easy to understand why it happens. We do extensive research and we find so many fascinating details that we want to share them with readers. Unfortunately, heavy-handed infusion of history has the effect of boring readers, including those critical first readers: agents and editors.
So, how do you know what details to include and when? There are undoubtedly other ways to make that decision, but I suggest following three rules.
1. Remember that less is more. When you include historical facts, select the ones that are most critical. In many cases, these will be little-known facts that you’ve chosen to weave into your plot. If one of Sarah’s ancestors was one of the 54 soldiers who’d built the original fort, that would be the fact that I would have included, but rather than simply inserting the fact, I would have followed rule #2.
2. Ensure that each piece of history affects the character in some way. One of the problems with the passage above is that the paragraphs of historical facts have no tie to either Sarah or Thea. Consider the difference if I’d said, “Thea was too young to appreciate San Antonio’s rich history, but Sarah couldn’t dismiss the thrill that ran up her spine at the realization that she was only yards away from the fort her great-grandfather had helped build. Mother had raised her with tales of how Great Grandpa was one of the 54 soldiers the Viceroy had sent to build the presidio.” In this case, there was a reason to have included that particular detail, and so the reader doesn’t feel as if she’s being force-fed history.
3. And, most importantly, remember that you’re writing a novel. Your primary goal is to entertain. Readers do not expect a history lesson. As you edit your manuscript, look at each piece of research you’ve included and ask yourself, “Will the story make sense without this?” If the answer is “yes,” delete it.
There’s no doubt that there are challenges involved in writing historical fiction and pitfalls to be avoided, but from my perspective there’s nothing quite so enjoyable as being transported to a different time and place.
If you’ve always dreamt of telling stories about times gone by, I encourage you to make that dream come true. I’m looking forward to seeing your books on the shelves!
Pitfalls. We all want to avoid them, don't we? Since I write historical fiction, I decided to talk about some potential pitfalls, but rather than give you a dissertation that will make your eyes glaze over, I thought we’d have some fun. My version of fun, anyway. It’s a little quiz. The object is to see what’s wrong with each of the following selections.
The first one is from a book set in 1170. Yes, the Middle Ages.
“Can you not settle this peacefully?” Marguerite asked Alain. Surely he must see how conflicted she was by the situation.
“Perhaps I was mistaken,” Alain said, not bothering to hide his scorn, “but I thought it was a knight’s duty to protect his lady.”
Marguerite sighed. She wouldn’t go there. Instead, she nodded stiffly, then took her seat next to Louise. The teenager’s enthusiasm for the fight stood in marked contrast to her own reluctance to see blood shed. But the fight was over almost before it began. With one deft stroke, Alain sent Henri’s sword ricocheting against the wall.
If you guessed that there were anachronisms in it, you’re right. There are at least four. “Conflicted” came into general use in 1967. “Wouldn’t go there” is a phrase from the 1990s. “Teenager’s” first usage was 1921, and – this one surprised me – “ricocheting” wasn’t commonly used until 1828.
Why worry about anachronisms?
The first reason is that they brand you as a sloppy writer. You spend weeks, months, possibly years researching a book. The details of daily life are accurate; the speech patterns are authentic; you’ve even ensured that your characters eat common foods from the era. Why spoil the effect with an inappropriate term? Consider this: checking a word’s first usage is simply another form of research.
The second reason is that at least some of your readers will notice the anachronistic terms. For some it may be a mild annoyance. Others may find the errors so jarring that they stop reading. In either case, the suspension of disbelief that we strive so hard to create is broken, if only for a second. Don’t do it. Don’t risk losing readers.
Okay, are you ready for quiz number two?
At least it wasn’t raining. Normally he wouldn’t mind it. In fact, he preferred rain when going into battle. Unfortunately, today he wasn’t waging war, nor was he facing an opponent at the other end of a lance. It would have been easier if he were. Even a few hours at the quintain would have been preferable to the fate which was now mere minutes away.
The knight on the silver gray destrier let the reins slacken as he looked around him. Though the wheat field could not compare to the raw magnificence of Outremer, there was no denying its beauty. It spoke of fertile ground, of centuries of tradition, of home. This morn it also reminded Alain de Jarnac of the obligation awaiting him.
This is another selection from the same medieval. While there are no anachronisms in this passage, I would venture that some of the vocabulary made you pause. Admittedly, devotees of medievals are familiar with quintains (a post with a revolving crosspiece that knights used for training) and know that a destrier is a war horse. They’d also know that Outremer meant overseas and was a term used during the Crusades.
But – and this is an important “but” – many readers won’t recognize those terms. If a potential reader picked up the book and glanced at this passage, the chances are she wouldn’t buy the book, simply because of the unfamiliar words. You don’t want that to happen, and so I urge you not to fall into this potential pit.
Either use common words or include an explanation. For example, if the author had replaced the simple reference to a quintain with “a few hours of jousting against the revolving arms of the quintain post,” the reader would have understood what a quintain was and might have smiled over the fact that he’d learned something new. The key is never to make a reader feel stupid.
That’s all for today, but I’ll be back next week with part two of the pitfall discussion. I hope to see you then.
What's it all about?
The sculpture represents the first puff of smoke from a newly lit pipe and is designed to highlight the importance of Devils Tower to the twenty affiliated tribes for whom this is a sacred spot.
Research. As a writer, you either love it or hate it. In either case, one of the facts of life, or at least of writing historical fiction, is that it’s an essential part of the process. One of the reasons readers choose historical fiction is that they enjoy learning something new. They want to be swept away to a distant time, and they want that time to come alive for them. The only way that will happen is with the judicious use of historical details.
Note the word ‘judicious.’ A common mistake of beginning writers is to include what one author calls the dump truck. You’ve all seen that, where an author gives so much background information in the first chapter that your eyes glaze over with boredom. The trick is to use only snippets of information, enough to set the scene but not so much that your book reads like an encyclopedia. That’ll be the subject of another discussion.
First you need to discover all those fascinating details, and that’s where research comes into play. The problem with research is that it can become endless. One book leads to another, or if you’re on the Internet, one site leads to another. Before you know it, you’ve spent days – maybe weeks – reading, but your book still isn’t started.
How can you avoid getting caught in the sinkhole of research? I can’t guarantee that this technique will work for you, but I’ve found it useful. I call it layered research. The idea is to do only as much research as you need for the particular stage of the book. Planning requires one level (normally a cursory understanding), while the final draft will demand specific details.
The resources I’ve found most valuable are:
The children’s section of the library.
One of my publishers asked me to write a trilogy set during World War One. At the time, what I knew about that time period could be described in two words: not much. The adult section of the library had huge tomes, detailing each day of the war. I could have spent weeks reading them, but instead I went to the children’s section. The books I found there were considerably shorter. Even more importantly, they gave me the basic information that I needed to plan the trilogy, namely the causes of the war and the major battles.
Later, when I knew exactly when each book would take place, I consulted the ten-pound tomes to see what was happening on specific key dates. My advice is to always begin with children’s books.
Historic diaries and letters.
What I like about diaries is that they tell you how real people lived, and as such, they’re a valuable source of details. For example, when I was researching my 2012 release set at Wyoming’s Fort Laramie, I read excerpts from an officer’s wife’s letters. In them I learned that the dried potatoes the post store sold were considered virtually inedible. An interesting fact, and one you can be sure made its way to the manuscript.
Costume books. Readers want to know what people wore. Oh, they don’t need to have a gown described down to the last furbelow, but knowing that women wore bustles in the 1880s and that skirts often had panels draped over the hips and continuing into trains in back helps you add authentic details to your story. I find costume books, particularly those with extensive illustrations, valuable. There is also a growing number of web sites with pictures of clothing from various eras.
Like diaries, these help you understand what people ate during your chosen time period. Just as importantly, they provide clues to what people did not eat. If you don’t find a recipe for ragout, it’s probably because the term wasn’t used then. To be true to the period, simply call it stew. And that leads me to what I consider one of the most important research tools.
Dictionary with date of first usage.
I hate anachronisms. For me there’s nothing so jarring as to be reading a book set in the Middle Ages and read, “The sword slid off his shield as if it were covered with teflon.” Admittedly, that was an extreme example, but I found myself wanting to use the word ‘camouflaged’ when writing about the 1850s. My trusty dictionary saved me from that by pointing out that camouflage came into usage during World War One.
Why worry about anachronisms? They brand you as a sloppy writer. You spend weeks, months, possibly years researching a book. The details of daily life are accurate; the speech patterns are authentic; you’ve even ensured that your characters eat common foods from the era. Why spoil the effect with an inappropriate term. Consider this: checking a word’s first usage is simply another form of research.
If one of your dreams is to write historical fiction, read on. If it isn’t … well, you’re welcome to continue reading.
I don’t claim to have all the answers – far from it – but I do know that if you want to write historical fiction, there are three basic questions you need to answer.
1. What kind of historical fiction do I want to write?
Brilliant, bestselling, award-winning are not the answers I’m looking for, although there’s no doubt that’s what we all hope we’re writing. Instead, I challenge you to identify the category of historical fiction that most appeals to you. There are undoubtedly other ways to divide historical fiction, but I’ve split them into two groups: fictionalized history and period fiction.
In fictionalized history, the events of the period play a critical role in the story. Just to further complicate things, I’ve divided fictionalized history into two sub-categories.
* In the first, the main characters are well-known historical figures. Jill Eileen Smith’s Wives of King David series is a good example of this.
* You’ve probably guessed that the other sub-category features protagonists who are fictional or less-known figures. Consider Diana Wallis Taylor’s Journey to the Well. Though the heroine is a Biblical character, without Diana’s book we wouldn’t even know her name. I’d call her a less-known figure.
Regardless of the sub-category, real historical events form the framework of the plot in fictionalized history.
So, you might ask, what differentiates this from non-fiction? The emotions. Are you familiar with the journalistic Five Ws? Using those terms, readers of fictionalized history know what happened, where and when. The book provides the answer to why and makes the who come to life.
In contrast to fictionalized history with its focus on real people, the main characters of what I call period fiction are fictional. Historical personages, if any, play minor roles in the story. Similarly, historical events form the backdrop, not the framework, for the story. Most of the historical fiction books currently published by either the CBA or the secular market fall into this category.
The difference between fictionalized history and period fiction is critical, particularly where reader expectations are concerned. While readers of fictionalized history want to delve more deeply into the story of real people, readers of period fiction want to be transported to a different time. They want to learn about that time but from the view of ordinary people rather than historical personages whose biographies they might be able to find in the library or on Wikipedia.
Which category is the right one for you?
Only you can answer that question. The key is to write the kind of book you love to read. While it’s true that the market for period fiction is larger than for fictionalized history, if the story that’s burning in your heart is fictionalized history, write it!
That leads us to the second question.
2. How much history should I include?
I wish it were otherwise, but the answer is that oh, so frustrating “it depends.” Readers of fictionalized history expect more references to actual events than do readers of period fiction. In either case, it’s important to remember that you are writing fiction and that the primary focus of fiction is entertainment, not information. If all a reader wants are the simple facts about a particular event, she can find them in the non-fiction section of the library or bookstore. If on the other hand, she wants to live those events through a character’s eyes, she’ll choose fiction.
When deciding which historical facts to include, my theory is that less is more. Include the events that shape your protagonists’ lives and omit the others – no matter how fascinating they might be – unless they have a direct impact on your characters.
3. How do I make my book feel historical?
Although there are numerous techniques, I’d like to suggest three.
* Judicious use of historical-sounding dialogue. Notice the word “judicious.” Depending on the period you’ve chosen, authentic dialogue might overwhelm the reader or – even worse – slow the book as the reader tries to translate it into modern English. Overuse of “thee,” “thou” and “ye” can become tedious. On the other hand, the occasional “whilst” instead of “while” and “four-and-twenty” rather than “twenty-four” gives the dialogue an historical feel without becoming burdensome to the reader.
* Era-appropriate analogies. If you’re writing a story set in the nineteenth century, you’d hardly describe something as being at “warp speed.” However, consider the following selection from Vickie McDonough’s The Anonymous Bride.
“They crossed the street, shoulder to shoulder, like a trio of gunslingers looking for trouble.”
With the reference to gunslingers, is there any question that we’re in the nineteenth century?
* Telling Details. Sometimes it’s the smallest of details that adds historical authenticity to a story. I like the way Stephanie Grace Whitson needs only one sentence in Sixteen Brides to bring the nineteenth century to life.
“Button hook in hand, she sat down and lifted Caroline’s foot into her lap, quickly unhooking each of the ten buttons running up the side of the stylish black leather boot.”
Another author might simply have mentioned the button hook, but the inclusion of “ten buttons” and the notation that they’re “running up the side” gives the passage a feeling of authenticity that can’t help but intrigue readers.
Have I confused you or – even worse – discouraged you? I hope not. The bottom line is that while writing historical fiction is not easy, it can be very rewarding. Not only does it give you a chance to bring earlier times to life for your readers, but it’s also a chance for you to learn new things as you do your research. If you’re at all interested in writing historical fiction, I urge you to do so. After all, who can resist the lure of “once upon a time”?
As you can see from the picture above, Devils Tower dominates the skyline, making it one of the prominent features of northeastern Wyoming.
It's even more impressive close up.
Rejection. As much as we’d like to deny it, rejection is a part of most writers’ lives. Rejection can come from agents, from editors, from reviewers and even from potential readers. A booksigning where customers walk by, possibly chat with us but don’t buy a book is a form of rejection, isn’t it? While there are many forms of rejection, they all have one thing in common: they hurt. There’s no way to sugarcoat it. Having someone say our story, which is after all a part of us, isn’t ready for publication or – in the case of bad reviews – should never have been published is painful.
So, how do we cope with it? Besides eating a pound of chocolate, that is. That’s where SARAH comes in. Who’s SARAH, or more precisely, what is SARAH? You’re probably familiar with Elisabeth Kübler-Ross’s On Death and Dying, the book that first introduced the idea of the five stages of grieving. Further research indicated that it’s not only people who are facing either their own mortality or that of a loved one who experience the five stages. Any traumatic experience can trigger them. I would argue that being rejected is traumatic, because it’s the death of a dream.
If we want to survive rejection, it’s important to understand the stages, then identify coping devices that will help us through each stage. Let’s begin.
Understanding Those Oh, So Critical Stages
We’re all writers, so I’m sure you realized that the fact that I capitalized SARAH means it’s an acronym. It is indeed. The five stages of dealing with rejection are:
No matter how often we remind ourselves that rejection is a fact of life, we’re never truly prepared for it. That’s why we find ourselves in Shock. The important thing to remember about Shock is that a person who’s experiencing it may exhibit unpredictable and irrational behavior. This is probably the most dangerous stage, since we’re not in full control of ourselves.
Next comes Anger. It’s only normal to be angry. How could that agent/ editor/ reviewer – you fill in the blanks – say something like that? Don’t they know that my story is the most beautiful piece of prose in the English language?
Eventually Anger fades and is replaced by Resistance. Some refer to this stage as Denial. In it, our energy is still diverted, because even though we don’t want to think about it, the rejection is hanging over us, sapping our creativity.
Acceptance is the first positive stage. In it we admit that yes, we were rejected, but the world didn’t end.
And then comes Hope. This is where we tell ourselves it will be different the next time. The next editor will love this manuscript. And if that doesn’t happen, there’s always another story. At this point, the pain has faded and we’re ready to resume our normal lives.
Things You May Not Know About SARAH
There are two important things to know about the five stages of SARAH. First, the speed with which people progress through them varies. Some will race through the first three quickly, spending little time in Acceptance as they make their way to Hope. Others will remain mired in one of the early stages and never reach Hope.
The second thing to know is that progress isn’t necessarily linear. Although you may have reached Resistance or one of the later stages, it’s possible that a new event will trigger backsliding and you find yourself back a stage or two. Don’t let this upset you. It happens. The key is to know how to cope with each stage so that you’ll be able to reach Hope.
So, let’s talk about coping techniques. As I said before, chocolate is always helpful, but it has some downsides, including weight gain, so I advise using it in moderation. There are, however, other things you can do during each stage.
When You're in Shock
Fortunately Shock does not normally last too long. The key here is to stay away from your computer and your phone. The last thing you need is to send the agent or editor a nasty note when you’re in shock. Remember that irrational behavior is a hallmark of this stage. Be careful. Be very careful.
When you reach Anger, primal scream therapy and journaling are excellent tools. Call a friend and vent. You might even want to write a letter to the person who rejected you, explaining how totally misguided and incorrect the rejection was. As soon as you’ve written the letter, delete it, burn it or shred it. Under no circumstances should you send it to the rejecter. That’s career suicide.
Dealing with Resistance
I’m a firm believer in exercise. A brisk walk, even house cleaning (shudder!) releases endorphins, those wonderful feel-good substances. That’s why exercise is an excellent way to deal with Resistance. So, too, is reading. Escape into a book by one of your favorite authors. You can always claim you’re doing research, but the truth is, you’re helping yourself get through Resistance.
Do you keep a file of positive affirmations? You should. Whether it’s a favorable review of a published story, your critique partner’s praise or simply a compliment someone paid you, you should store it somewhere easily accessible. Reading those affirmations while you’re in Acceptance will help you on the path to Hope. So too will what I call “a trip to the post office.”
Edging Toward Hope
Even before you send the manuscript out the first time, you should have a backup plan just in case your submission is met with rejection. That backup plan is a prioritized list of other agents or editors who might be interested in that particular manuscript. As soon as you’ve passed through Shock, send the manuscript to the next person on the list. (I know I’m dating myself, but when I started writing, that involved a trip to the post office. Now a submission is usually as simple as email.) Getting the manuscript out to another agent or editor is the second most important step you can take to reach Hope.
So, what’s the most important step? Always be working on your next project. (Did the bold italics tell you I think this is critical? It is!) If you’re in the middle of your next project, your attention is focused on it rather than the manuscript that was rejected. That doesn’t stop rejection from hurting, but it does mitigate the pain and shorten the time to reach Hope.
The Bottom Line
The bottom line of all this is simple. If you let rejection by others defeat you, you’re admitting that they’re right. They aren’t. Don’t ever, ever, ever stop believing in yourself. You are unique. You see the world differently from everyone else. You have a story to tell. You are a writer!
As you can see, the museum also includes old buildings that give you a view of life in an earlier time.
Encampment isn't the easiest place to find, but if you're visiting the Snowy Range or Saratoga, be sure to take a short side trip to GEM.
For more information, here's the link.
I was fascinated by Dee the mammoth's skeleton and the whole story of how it was found and excavated. (And, yes, you can see me there reading one of the signs.)
For more information, here's Tate Geological Museum's web site.
If you'd like to learn more about this well-worth-the-trip museum, here's the link.
I'd love to be able to create mittens like these, and the pieces in the quilt make me suspect it was made from pieces of worn-out or outgrown clothes.
Where did I find this exhibit? At Fort Fetterman State Historic Site, near Casper. If you'd like more information, here's the fort's website..