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.

Tuesday, March 28, 2017

Exploring Place in Scotland

As I finish working on revisions for Rivers of Stone, set in the 1840s across Canada, I appreciate anew that wonderful opportunity to immerse myself in a place and time far from the present. While our winter has been rather long with seemingly endless snow and cold, it doesn't quite measure to the snow my characters encounter in a winter crossing of the Rockies!

When I began research for the first book of the McDonnell family, Standing Stones, we went to Scotland. Here are some highlights of happy travels there -- just to share.  

St. Magnus Cathedral, Kirkwall, The Orkney Islands
We started our two months in Kirkwall, the capital of the Orkney Islands. This was our favorite 1,000-year-old church, St. Magnus Cathedral, just two blocks from Mrs. Muir's Bed & Breakfast.

Urquhart Castle along the River Ness

We traveled up the River Ness to Urquhart Castle, once held by Robert the Bruce (13th Century), and later blown up to prevent it falling into the hands of the Jacobites in 1692. We climbed everywhere -- from dungeons to castle kitchens to the castle keep. We didn't see the Loch Ness monster.
Below, I'm almost dressed in a kilt. A proper kilt has about 4 yards of material (I think I got it on wrong). We had a great time trying to follow the instructions though.


This next photo shows the inside of a crofter's cottage, made of stone with a roof of grass. Here the day's catch would be smoked over a central hearth. People slept in a sort of box-bed with a lovely quilt, and in the winter, the animals were brought inside.  

Interior, Crofter's cottage at Kirbister

Stirling Castle
We also stopped at Stirling Castle, where I found a mermaid sculpture, worn by centuries, tucked near a staircase. Here also, a workshop of weavers worked on tapestries, following the tradition of ages past.

Detail of Unicorn Tapestry, Stirling Castle
When I'm researching a story, the writing seems to come more easily when I have that sense of place and history, when I've studied artifacts in local museums, eaten herring and scones, and walked along foggy, crooked streets past stone buildings. 

Yes I read many books, academic papers, journals from long ago, view videos, and study photos online as part of my research for each story about the McDonnell's. When possible, though, traveling to those places where my characters once 'lived' helps me to bring my stories to life. 

I hope you enjoyed this glimpse of our trip to Scotland. Maybe later this week, I'll post a few more pics taken in Edinburgh, an unforgettable city. Our apartment there was on the 5th floor -- no elevator!




Sunday, March 19, 2017

Finding the right place in 1846 . . .

It's 1846, and my characters in Rivers of Stone are slogging through mosquito-infested river country, somewhere south of modern day Winnipeg, which is some 1,000 miles east of where I sit by my keyboard on this cold spring morning, with a cup of hot tea nearby.

I'd rather be writing the story, filling in missing scenes, but this morning, I'm looking over my maps and double checking the names and locations used for Fort Garry. 

Finally, thanks to the Official Blog of Heritage Winnipeg, I've sorted most of my questions out.

Back in the fur trading era, folks met at the Forks (currently Winnipeg, formerly the Red River Settlement), where the Assiniboine and Red Rivers met. They traded furs, partied, and exchanged stories. Voyageurs and former employees of Hudson's Bay retired here, married, and raised families. Here, Fort Gibraltar was built in 1809. 

1821: Fort Gibraltar was renamed Fort Garry after Nicholas Garry facilitated that famous merger of the Hudson's Bay Company with the North West Company. After serious flooding, by 1830, the fort was in deplorable condition.

1831: Governor George Simpson, dubbed the "little Emperor" because of his strong leadership style (and short height), decided to build a new 'Fort Garry,' about a day-long journey north of the Forks. No one was happy about this. But he lived here with his English wife, Frances, between 1830-1833, until she lost a child and returned to England. Simpson then moved to Lachine.

1835: Chief Factor Alexander Christie approved the building of a new Fort Garry -- right back at the Forks. Dubbed "Upper Fort Garry," the new fort featured a 15-foot stone wall and stone towers (or bastions) at the corners. A provincial park in the center of Winnipeg honors this location. 

The northern, older, and downriver location was now called "Lower Fort Garry."

As my characters have traveled to both Lower and Upper Fort Garry, I can now refer to them properly in my story. 

But which Fort Garry was nicknamed 'Fort Stone'? I'm guessing Upper Fort Garry, but I could be wrong. 

And I was! Stone Fort is the nickname of Lower Fort Garry. I discovered this as Treaty 1 between Queen Victoria and First Nation governments was signed at Lower Fort Garry in 1871. The treaty is named after Stone Fort. Yippee!  

But given the amount of stone used at Upper Fort Garry, the nickname could have been used here as well, yes?



Upper Fort Garry 1871 from Souvenir Postcard

Now to move on to my next two questions: Where were Richard Lane and Mary (Marie) McDermott (McDermot) married?  And, were HBC's annual council meetings held at York Factory or Moose Factory? Or did they use both locations? Aargh! Revision!  I'm going to write a scene or two instead.

Much more lovely information on the tangled history of Red River and the Hudson's Bay Company is available on Jean Hall's encyclopedic resource: Provisional Government of Assiniboia. Time to warm up my tea and write.


Wednesday, March 01, 2017

IWSG: Old Stories, New Stories


Have you ever pulled out a really old story and reworked it? What happened?

That's the question being asked this month by Insecure Writer's Support Group, an online writer's support group that encourages us to share our writing experiences with a monthly blog post. So jump right in, if you're so inclined.

Right now I'm editing Section 04 of five sections for my current work in progress, Rivers of Stone, a historical novel set in 1840s Canada. Each day right now, the words are humming right along. My heroine goes from one pickle to the next. I still have to resolve the ending: a) very sad, b) happy for now, or c) happy ever after. The reality is that not all stories end well. I've written two endings, with a third on its way! By about May, I hope to send the edited draft off to beta readers.

What's next? I'm already thinking about what's next. Should I pull out an old story? I have a few sort of cooking on the back burner. I'd love to know which one YOU might want to read. 

1) GRANNY VAMPIRE AND THE KISS OF . . . Here, Granny is dumped in a retirement home to find herself surrounded by a bevy of supernormal characters -- on staff. How does she protect herself and her new friends? (on deck: about 15 pages)

2) SPACE STATION DARK . . . Rowena's mother, hungry for drugs, sold her to a space station at age 9. Not sure how she can survive, Rowena, now 16, tries to hide her special skill: She changes color with extreme emotion and wonders what other skills she might have. At least until she meets and is attracted to Daglynd, a rough space hunter who collects people like her. (already have about a paragraph)

3) IN SEARCH OF UNICORNS . . . Dawn, a curator at a medieval museum in New York, tracks a set of unicorn tapestries to France to unravel the mystery behind their origin. Along the way, she travels to Stirling Castle in Scotland and falls in love with the man who holds the original cartoons for the unicorn tapestries now housed at the Museum of Middle Ages in Paris. (currently about 20 pages)

4) MOTHERS DON'T DIE . . . This really is an old story, left in a drawer for the last decade. A family goes camping in the wilds of eastern Washington to discover a dead body while out on a walk. Hubby leaves wife and daughter at the campground to go for the police. When he returns with the police, their tent is empty, and the body is gone. What happened? Can this family be reunited? (about 60K words)

This was fun. I was surprised to see how many choices are possible, some old, some new.

One issue that remains: As an OTA (older than average) writer, I'm not so sure how many projects I can work on and successfully complete. . . and I didn't list any of the spinoff novels for my historical fiction series involving various members of the McDonnell clan (including one set during the suffragette era in England). Does anyone else worry about running out of stamina?

Meanwhile, may all your writing goals for the coming month be met. I think spring just might be on its way!

Flowering Cherry, Manito Park, Spokane 

Wednesday, February 01, 2017

IWSG: Do writers read?

How has being a writer changed your experience as a reader?

That's the question being asked this month by Insecure Writer's Support Group, an online writer's support group that encourages us to share our writing experiences with a monthly blog post.

So, what I notice most when I'm reading is what strategies the writer uses -- and how effective they are. For me, it doesn't matter what genre I'm reading. Does the story (its characters, plot, setting, conflict, style, and, yes, even theme) pull me into an authentic experience?

Do I care about grammar and punctuation? Only if any errors distract me from the story. Who really cares about a missing comma or two? But 5-10 errors a page (even in an e-book), kills my interest in reading a particular story, for it makes me wonder what else the writer has overlooked.

To report on my own progress for this last month is a bit of a challenge. We've been on the road. That means long hours of driving, and laptop and sewing machine in the car as we head south, scooting away from winter's snow. We've had a leisurely trip down the coast of Oregon (once we were past that foot of snow dumped in Portland overnight earlier in the month), and on past the rainy redwoods along the California coast. 

I did finish the draft of Section 03 for my wip, Rivers of Stone, a top goal for this month, but once we reached Phoenix (think a beautiful sunny day and 61 F), we got news that my husband's 96-year-old mother was very ill. So we've flown north, arriving here in Philadelphia, just in time to spend a few precious days with her before her passing. Death can be transformative for those who remain, changing irrevocably relationships and our sense of the past, as we relive and cherish memories.

I hope the coming month is a good one for you -- may each day be sunny and may you find many good words to read and to write.

Manito Park, early spring