Beth Camp Historical Fiction

Wednesday, June 07, 2017

June IWSG: Why write?

This month's writing prompt from the very helpful resource: Insecure Writer's Support Group (IWSG) simply asks: "Did you ever say 'I quit'? If so, what happened to make you come back to writing?"

I have always written, short pieces, poetry, flash fiction. I wrote 'between' all else. The year before I retired, I began writing seriously. After 26 years of teaching others how to write essays, research papers, and technical reports (and writing a business writing textbook), finally, I thought, I could follow my dream of becoming a writer of novels.

So much to learn. I took classes, participated in small and larger writing groups, read how-to-write books, attended writing conferences, and met other inspirational writers. And I wrote. Ten years later (I didn't say I was a 'fast' writer), I've written 4 novels (2 in much need of revision). That learning curve stretches steeply in front of me, but I joyously pursue my writing -- most days.

Twice, I've nearly quit writing. Each time, someone has critiqued my drafts so furiously, I doubted my ability to tell a good story. But each time, I've returned to writing after a break of a few weeks to several months.

Because . . . 

My world seems in balance when I write. It's what I've longed to do all my life with that deep, never-goes-away kind of longing. I write because I love to delve into history and figure out 'what life was like.' I don't really care about becoming rich or famous. When I can craft a story, a chapter, a paragraph -- sometimes even a sentence -- there's a sense of peace and joy that makes that next writing session possible. My writing (and my other passion, quilting) keeps me creative, observant, and connected. 

Somehow I got stuck in mid-19th Century, partly because of a fascination with the Industrial Revolution. Just now I'm researching gangs in Edinburgh and the lives of indentured servants in Virginia. I write most mornings between 6 and 10, sometimes until 11. Then the rest of the world enters, and 'normal' life resumes. 

I hope that my stories will move readers who are drawn to history. For that's what I'm working on now:  How do my characters come alive? How do their emotional journeys connect with readers?

Oh, and I probably write because I'm stubborn and just want to show those folks who said to me, "You can't."



Click HERE to see what other writers are doing in this monthly update for the Insecure Writer's Support Group. And why do you write?

Sunday, May 21, 2017

Distractions and Progress on that novella

I’m exploring new strategies with Randy Ingermanson’s SNOWFLAKE method of planning a novel, because I’m working on plotting and scaffolding and character descriptions instead of simply spinning out scenes.

Because my story is set in Scotland in the 1840's, I keep running into research plot holes where I need to know something. So I'm researching the food eaten by various classes, living conditions, slums in Edinburgh and Inverness, epidemics of cholera/typhus, emigration of the Irish to Scotland, various working conditions, and railroads in and around Edinburgh and Glasgow in the 1840's. And I keep finding fascinating little bits that tell me 'what life was like.'


If I keep in mind the GOAL, that is to write a prequel of about 40K to tell what happened with Dylan and Moira after the end of Standing Stones, I’m encouraged as all this information swirls around and informs the story, even as I doubt the story will hold to 40K words.

And I want to go back to Scotland. Maybe another research trip of two months in September and October this year? Another 6-floor walk-up on the Royal Mile, just about halfway between Edinburgh Castle (where, yes, the royal crown jewels are under guard) and the Holyrood Abby, a ruin . . . but so beautiful. Around the corner, a lovely library; I already have the library card! 

View from Edinburgh Castle (Camp 2009)

Bagpipers coming down the Royal Mile (Camp 2009)

Maybe a day trip up to Inverness to visit Ardkeen House once again (now a private home, but still, once it was a home for wayward women. 

Now I’m checking the internet to confirm that Ardkeen House was built in 1834-1836 by the Inverness United Charities Institution to house the Inverness Juvenile Female School, the Ladies' Female Work Society, and the Inverness Infant School. 

Moira
Moira lived here at Ardkeen House in Inverness until her daughter Rose was born (in Standing Stones). In the novella, she will return to Ardkeen House.


Oh, how the plot thickens.

Here's GERARD BUTLER
(Wikipedia)
The next step in Randy's SNOWFLAKE is to develop character sketches that reveal everything. Some people use Excel to organize all those factors that make a character unique.  

I couldn’t quite visualize what my main characters looked like, so turned once again to the internet.

Gerard Butler jumped off the page as Dylan. And a nameless model became his brother, Michael -- at least nameless, until someone pointed out he's Michael Fassbender.

This is MICHAEL FASSBENDER (Wikipedia)

Now, truly the plot thickens. I have to tell their story. Don't you want to know what happens next?



Sunday, May 14, 2017

Storytelling: Happy for now?

I started work on a novella.

I 'm trying out Randy Ingermanson's Snowflake method of step-by-step drafting, actually ten steps in total. After two weeks, I'm about half way through mapping out the story of Moira and Dylan. My goal is a novella, some 40-50,000 words. Perhaps I'll be able to tell this story a little faster than the three years it usually takes me.

Why this story of Moira and Dylan?

If you've read Standing Stones, you may remember that Dylan left their island home to go to Inverness, seeking work and leaving Moira behind. But he doesn't know that Moira is pregnant. Moira searches for him, can't find him, and winds up in a home for wayward women, baby Rose on the way. 

Readers have let me know they want to know what happens next, and they want a 'happy ever after' ending! In fact, just this week my doctor stood in the hall before her next patient to call after me, "You have to write a happy ending. You can't leave them apart like that."

So it's back to Inverness for me!


"River Ness, Inverness" by Avarim (Wikipedia)

Will I find that happy ending? 

I hope so, but I'm drawn to the stories of people who struggle to make a good life for themselves and those they love. For some reason, perhaps my own childhood, I want to write about those working class people who lived in crowded 19th Century tenements, worked in windowless factories, and fought over bread. In Inverness, the elite disdained a district filled with 'Irishers' called Cowgate. Maybe Moira will find Dylan there. 

Even as I sit in my office, surrounded by 21st Century luxuries, including more books than I can read, I'm thinking 'happy for now' might be a more realistic fit. For our lives are filled with challenges that change over time, each decade shaped by policies beyond our control, and we grow older. Somehow we face down loss; hopefully, we find love to ease the way.


Thursday, May 04, 2017

IWSG: May check-in, challenges, and a free read!




I'm just one day late to report in for that wonderful online community (rich with resources), the Insecure Writer's Support Group.

I always hesitate a little at the title of IWSG. After all, writers aren't insecure -- are they? And I'm not insecure, am I? Yesterday at my small writers' group, I did hesitate a little before handing out my stuff to read. What will they say? Will they just hate my latest effort? 

Actually, I'm thankful for my colleagues, for this group meets weekly, and we burrow down into rough drafts with critical and helpful comments. We try to remember we're commenting on the author's voice, the intent of the story, and look at the underlying structure and implications as well as surface 'corrections.' 

My biggest challenge this month has been organizing and rejuvenating my marketing strategies while waiting for comments from beta readers for my nearly-ready-novel, Rivers of Stone

  1. I experimented with both Google Ads Express and Amazon Sponsored Product online ads to learn that despite thousands of 'impressions,' my book was invisible. No sales.
  2. I discovered podcasts (Joanna Penn) that opened up entirely different strategies. Instead of 'selling books,' I'm starting to think about relationships with my readers and what would appeal to them. Nick Stephenson's free video training inspired me to create a magnet (a bonus story or novella) as an incentive to encourage readers to sign up for my newsletter. 

What I learned so far: Getting ideas/inspiration is the good part. Drillling down into the "how" takes time and tenacity. Luckily, I'm stubborn. 

MailChimp offers many templates that can be edited with photos and text. And I'll need to highlight this (and upcoming discounts) in each of my books. Did you know that authors are now putting their promos right inside their Kindle books (first page)?

Perseverance furthers! I have a 'prequel' ready to go once I learn how to use MailChimp to automatically deliver my 'magnet' to new subscribers!

Mark your calendar for a free ghost story! Indie writer Annette Drake has written an enchanting cozy mystery about two sisters. Building Celebration House is set in an antebellum South mansion with its own crop of ghosts. Free now through May 7. Check it out.


Happy Spring! May you have a good month -- and success in finding out what at least 12 other participants in the Insecure Writer's Support Group are up to this month.


Saturday, April 22, 2017

Rivers of Stone: A Literary Pilgrimage?

We writers are never quite sure what pushes us to tell a certain story. Some little-known fact. Perhaps an article on a back page of the newspaper or a snippet from a poem sets us off.

Where did Rivers of Stone begin? Maybe with mermaids off the coast of Scotland that morphed into the first book of this series, Standing Stones. Maybe with the continued saga of Mac and Deidre in Tasmania, Australia, in the second book of the series, Years of Stone

And maybe it was just time to tell the story of Dougal, Mac's brother and a fiddler, and his sweetheart, Catriona. Rivers of Stone was shaped by countless camping and hiking trips across Canada as we traveled east to visit family. I was fascinated by the fur trade era and those who crossed the Rockies. Here's a picture of a breakfast view from our last camping trip near Banff in 2015.


Then three years ago, I read a little blip about Isobel Gunn who disguised herself as a man to work for the Hudson's Bay Company in 1806. She remained undiscovered for two years until she became pregnant. 

Almost immediately, Catriona moved from supporting character to primary protagonist.

I don't know how others might define 'literary pilgrimage'. For me, it's that journey writers take as we sink into the characters, the history of their lives, inner and outer, and the story itself. Sometimes I wish the writing of a novel would take less than three years, but this process of  'coming to  know' -- at least for me -- simply takes time. 

Time to get back to those final revisions, with thankfulness for my beta readers who now have their review copy of Rivers of Stone in their inbox! 

With thanks to John Fox of Bookfox for his "50 Good Questions to Ask Authors."




Sunday, April 16, 2017

Rivers of Stone: Cover Reveal

Once a book is nearly done, writers step away from the keyboard to focus on the cover, the media kit, and the launch. 

Today, I'm celebrating the new cover for Rivers of Stone, scheduled for release this summer in late June. 

Thanks to the remarkable skills of Angie Zambrano of pro_ebookcovers fame, this new cover fits right into her previous designs for my historical fiction series (see right).

Indie writers have a lot of say in the design of their covers. We need to consider how the cover appeals to our readers, if the cover is readable at the Amazon 'click on me' size, and whether the cover captures and predicts the essence of the story.

I love how the cover dramatizes the wilderness of 19th Century Canada. So, I'm pretty excited, but I'm also wondering how readers will reactWhat do you think? Would you pick up this book, based on the cover?

Here's the description for Rivers of Stone:   

In 1842, Catriona McDonnell, unwilling to be left behind in Scotland by her husband Dougal, disguises herself as a boy to work for the Hudson’s Bay Company. Within a few days of landing at York Factory on Hudson’s Bay, Cat is assigned to work at the Company trading post. But Dougal is ordered to go west to Fort Vancouver and the Pacific Northwest -- abandoning Cat.

Rugged terrain and thousands of miles now separate them. Even a letter takes three months to reach its destination. Catriona’s courage and tenacity will be tested in unexpected ways as she struggles to find passage west to Dougal. Along the way, she meets Canadian artist Paul Kane, on his own quest for the Hudson’s Bay Company during the decline of the fur trading era and the settling of the west.

Now, back to work on final editing. May you have a good week!


Wednesday, April 05, 2017

IWSG: Into the Abyss: The Draft is Done!

What a thrill. Last Sunday, I finished my current project, Rivers of Stone, after three years of work. Research, writing, editing, revising, more research, editing, and rewriting. Done. Well, really, done for now. 

I’m ready to send this story off to my beta readers and switch my writing attention to that wrap-around stuff (the cover, the blurb, the newsletter, the media kit).

I want to let go of this story for a little bit, these characters I know so well. But, remember the principle of selective observation? That we notice in the morass of data around us those bits that are most useful?

Yesterday, PBS interviewed Colum McCann about his book, Letters to a Young Writer. McCann commented about how to dig into character: “It’s not just what they ate for breakfast, but what they wanted to eat.”

What a fantastic way to move into deep point of view. My reaction? I wanted to revise my story one more time to see if the story captures what my characters want. Even writing these kinds of notes down as part of a character sketch would inform motivation, conflict, and plot. 

And I’m still wondering if my story has enough sensory detail and if I should go back just one more time to check out just how those five senses invigorate my writing (I lean to touch, hearing, and sight more than smell and taste).

Image @bytoropov (Yusuf Toropov)

But, I’m still setting Rivers of Stone aside. Because I could spend yet another year picking away at revision.

So thank you, IWSG. You came to the rescue with Bryan Cohen’s article this month, “What the Heck is Copywriting Anyway?” 

Cohen says copywriting “is the act of writing all the words that go outside of your book. Book descriptions, emails to readers, and advertisements all fall under the copywriting umbrella.”

In my heart, I know I’ve taken Rivers of Stone as far as I can. That’s why I’m thankful for those beta readers. So, while I wait for their responses, it’s time to make a schedule, play with book covers, and draft my book blurbs. 

Let my inner copyeditor loose! I want to say, “Wish me luck,” but what I really need is persistence and courage. Let’s do this.

Today's post is part of a monthly commitment to the online writing community, Insecure Writer's Study Group. Check out their extensive and very helpful resources. If you haven't already, sign up for their newsletter -- and write on! And check out what others have written for IWSG this month HERE.