Monday, November 30, 2015

Quote: The Muse Goes Blooey

You know how it is when there are people about. Just as you are starting in to write a nifty, someone comes and sits down on the desk and begins talking about himself. Every time you get going nicely, in barges some alien influence and the Muse goes blooey.

~ P.G. Wodehouse, Leave It to Psmith

Friday, November 27, 2015

Free for the holidays: Some Christmas Camouflage

Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Kobo | Smashwords

Today—the first day on which I can sing all the Christmas carols I like with a clear conscience—I have an early stocking-stuffer for you! (Of course, it's not as if you can actually put ebooks in a stocking...but let's not spoil the metaphor.) I wrote this longish short story about three years ago, in one of those December fits of inspiration that often lead me to dabble in Christmas fiction. It was also a chance to dabble in another historical era that intrigues me, the Great Depression of the 1930s. The result was Some Christmas Camouflage, and it's free across all ebook retailers for the holiday season. So if you, too, have a weakness for old-fashioned stories set on a snowy Christmas Eve, grab your copy today!

Here's what some readers have had to say:

"This little story put me in a proper Christmas mood. Sweet and heartwarming, I loved every bit of it." ~ Mary, Goodreads reviewer

"What a delightful Christmas tale!...You'll love the nuances of the storytelling and the rich descriptions that take you right there in time." ~ Hannah G., Goodreads reviewer

"A sweet holiday story set during the Great Depression...if you like Christmas carols, or black and white movies...or stories about families, you'll like this story." ~ Hannah, Goodreads reviewer

Tuesday, November 24, 2015

November Snippets

I passed the 100,000-word mark in typing One of Ours last week. I think that's the first time I've reached this milestone on a single project, so that was exciting. It was also a bit of a relief, given that I'm approaching the climax of the story now: watching that wordcount creep up and up as I typed initially had me a little scared that I was going to end up with some multi-hundred-thousand-word monster. Now that I know I'm dealing with a more normal-size novel I can breathe easier (and cheerfully add more paragraphs while editing if I need to).

Along the way, I've split it into chapters, named and ordered them. In one respect, it's finally beginning to take shape as a book before my eyes—and yet on the other hand, all this pinching and pulling and splitting and re-reading bits out of order has destroyed any sense of its structure in my head. I hope to finish typing the manuscript before Christmas, and then I can lay it aside for a while before I try to re-read it from the beginning.

In the meantime, here's some snippets from recent weeks' work:

He walked between the silent men as if they had been blackened tree stumps, not trusting himself to look at one. Let anyone speak to him now—let them give one look, one sneer—and they would have a broken jaw to add to their list of grievances.

Oh, nothin’. Just—well, nothin’.” Sandy could exaggerate his native drawl for effect when he chose.

Phil came around to the open end gate of the wagon, and Clarice with some effort coaxed and lifted the unwieldy calf into its feet, and pushed it into Phil’s reach. Phil got his arms around the front and back of the calf and lifted it—he struggled under its weight for a second, and the calf suddenly developed an interest in its own fate and kicked frantically.

Tell ’em things have busted and to come pick up the pieces, and for pity's sake to use judgment.”

The smallest memories of her parents were such sharp pain that for years Alice had shut them out of her mind, tried to turn away from them. Perhaps that was why they had never had time to soften; the recollections were as sharp as if they too had been stored in a box to be opened at any time. The handwriting on the letters was as familiar as if she had heard the scratching of the pen and seen the words written before her eyes only yesterday.

He gave a distant, subdued laugh, tinged with bitterness. “As if anybody could still believe that men don’t die for nothing.”

Something like sudden panic clutching at her, Alice went after him. He had not looked at her—he seemed to have forgotten she was there. Was this a nightmare, or had she only dreamed everything that came before?

Thursday, November 19, 2015

The Pinterest Storyboard Party

Welcome to my first-ever blog party for writers, the Pinterest Storyboard Party! Today we're all sharing a glimpse of our Pinterest storyboards for our writing projects, whether published, in-progress or still in the brainstorming stages. Be sure to link to your entry in the linky at the bottom of this post so we can all browse each other's boards! If you're not sure how to make a blog widget for your board, visit my original announcement post for instructions. Note: The linky will be open for a week, if anybody still wants to join but didn't get to post on Thursday.

Now it's time to share a few of my own boards! While I do have them for published works Corral Nocturne, Left-Hand Kelly and the Mrs. Meade Mysteries, I decided to stick with several current or future projects for today's post.

Follow Elisabeth Grace's board Novella: Lost Lake House on Pinterest.

This is one of my favorite storyboards I've created so far. It's a very visual, descriptive sort of story, and I was able to find a lot of pictures that really matched my mental images. And, for a first, some of the pictures I pinned actually inspired new bits of description or new incidents in the story!

Follow Elisabeth Grace's board Novel: One of Ours on Pinterest.

My board for One of Ours feels like a bit of a jumble to me, because the visuals of the story and landscape are something I've struggled with somewhat while writing it. I've "cast" a number of the characters, but a few important ones are missing because I just haven't been able to find photos that match the way I imagine them. Still, most of the conglomerate of things you'll see on the board are in there somewhere.

Follow Elisabeth Grace's board Novella: The Mountain of the Wolf on Pinterest.

I suspect this may be the next project I tackle. Still ironing out the workings of the plot, but I'm quite a bit excited about it.

Follow Elisabeth Grace's board Novel: Lady's-Slipper Ranch on Pinterest.

This is a Western/historical romance that I've been planning for some time, and even have mostly outlined, but it's gotten pushed to the back burner several times by sudden new ideas. I've posted a few snippets of it now and then. I'll get to it one of these days. This was one of the first boards I made where I ended up really pleased with the way the collage of visuals matched the story.

Follow Elisabeth Grace's board Novel: The Summer Country on Pinterest.

You may recall seeing snippets of this one too—a children's historical fantasy that's partly written but was also put on hold for other things when I got stuck with it. If you're noticing that it seems to have two distinct settings, you'd be right.

Follow Elisabeth Grace's board Novel: Little Mavericks on Pinterest.

Finally, this is a project that's still quite far in the future—I've only got a basic idea of the plot and a few pages of scrawled notes, and will need to do a lot of research before I write it—but the storyboard has always been a favorite.

Bonus: share a link to some other authors' boards you love! A published novel with a great storyboard: Pendragon's Heir by Suzannah Rowntree. And a work-in-progress storyboard that has me intrigued: Talldogs by Jennifer Freitag.

Tuesday, November 17, 2015

Top Ten Tuesday: Ten Favorite Quotes From Books Read This Year

A neat topic for this week's Top Ten Tuesday—ten favorite quotes from books read this year! When I saw this, I knew it would be fun, so I prowled through my Kindle highlights and flipped through some favorite reads of this year, and came up with this  quite varied miscellany. They're in completely random order:

"That's not all. When madam come back yesterday afternoon from having tea with Miss Todd, she saw three cups going downstairs."

Stoker paused to let this sink in. Laura wondered if Miss Grey had been drunk or seen visions and dreamed dreams, but realizing that this was only Stoker's way of saying that Annie had been carrying the tea-things down to the kitchen, she waited with interest for the sequel.

- Angela Thirkell, High Rising -

She could not explain in so many words, but she felt that those who prepare for all the emergencies of life beforehand may equip themselves at the expense of joy.  It is necessary to prepare for an examination, or a dinner-party, or a possible fall in the price of stock: those who attempt human relations must adopt another method, or fail.

- E.M. Forster, Howards End -

Children superbly allow themselves to become deaf, so to speak, to undesirable circumstances; most frequently, of course, to undesirable circumstances in the way of parental direction; so that fathers, mothers, nurses, or governesses, not comprehending that this mental deafness is for the time being entirely genuine, are liable to hoarseness both of throat and temper.

- Booth Tarkington, Gentle Julia -

Ay, sir; to be honest, as this world goes, is to be one man picked out of ten thousand.

- William Shakespeare, Hamlet -

The highest function of humanity is belief, that activity of spirit that proceeds upon the pathway of reason, until it comes to some great promontory, and then spreads its wings, and upon the basis of its earlier journeying, takes eternity into its grasp.

- G. Cambell Morgan, The Gospel According to Mark -

Everything about him is interrogative—eyebrows, smile, set of his head, the way he looks at people out of his narrow greenish-gray eyes, his entire personality. If you feel a kind of question-mark atmosphere coming into the room, you can look around, and there's Sherry.

- Eloise Jarvis McGraw, Greensleeves -

I do love secondhand books that open to the page some previous owner read oftenest. The day Hazlitt came he opened to "I hate to read new books," and I hollered "Comrade!" to whoever owned it before me.

- Helene Hanff, 84, Charing Cross Road -

"No human ingenuity can successfully imitate the Providence of God. It is only an infinite intelligence that can understand the complete relation of one event to another. Only God can make a thing happen so that it is consistent with all other things. When a man, in his egotism, undertakes to do a work which can only be accomplished by the Providence of God, he always fails to his ruin."

- Melville Davisson Post, The Nameless Thing -

MISS SUSAN. What is algebra exactly; is it those three cornered things?
PHOEBE. It is x minus y equals z plus y and things like that. And all the time you are saying they are equal, you feel in your heart, why should they be.

-J.M. Barrie, Quality Street -

For not till the floor of the skies is split,
And hell-fire shines through the sea,
Or the stars look up through the rent earth's knees,
Cometh such rending of certainties,
As when one wise man truly sees
What is more wise than he.

- G.K. Chesterton, The Ballad of the White Horse -

Saturday, November 14, 2015

Weekend Odds and Ends #25

Odds and ends from the world that rushes by while I'm holed up in my writing cave typing my novel:

  • I'm featured as author of the month on mystery writer Laurel Heidtman's website, with an interview in which I reveal, among other things, what would be my superpower of choice.

  • The statistics in this article from the Daily Mail, about teenagers and letter-writing, are both incredible and sad. To start with, one-third of teens say they've never written a letter.

  • I've been participating in the #30in30FavoriteMovies hashtag on Twitter this month—you can click here to see my ongoing choices—and while finding a picture from my favorite Western Rio Grande I came across a ton of terrific stills and behind-the-scenes magazine clippings on this forum thread (starting about halfway down page 4 and continuing through page 11).

  • Here's an interesting piece on the World War I experiences of four well-known English actors who served in different battalions of the same regiment: Ronald Colman, Claude Rains, Herbert Marshall and Basil Rathbone. I knew a little about Marshall and Rains, but the rest was new to me—Rathbone's story is particularly heartbreaking.

  • I got thinking about this older post from Jennifer Freitag's blog, on the value of small quiet moments in a story, while working through a section of my novel where I put some of its influence into practice. Worth a re-read.

  • Nothing to do with books or writing, but this post on Rachel Heffington's lifestyle blog Lipstick and Gelato made me smile and agree: Five Reasons to Over-Dress For Your Day.

  • Here's your pick-me-up piece of music for the day: "Street in a Frontier Town" from Aaron Copland's ballet Billy the Kid. Always makes me smile.

Finally, don't forget about the Pinterest Storyboard Party I'm hosting here at The Second Sentence this coming Thursday!

Wednesday, November 11, 2015

Book Review: Greensleeves by Eloise Jarvis McGraw

"Have you figured out how the scholarships fit in?...Or the doctor's time-machine visit to ancient Greece?"

"The what?"

"Didn't I mention that? I guess there are several bequests you don't know about."

Whenever I try to review a book I really loved, I always end up feeling I've either over-raved or didn't do it justice enough...and I'm never sure which. I guess everybody has to experience a book for themselves, and all I can do is give it my best shot at explaining why I loved it! Anyway, it's been a long time since I read a book that just made me want to gush incoherently—and I never expected the next one would be a 1960s young-adult novel.

Shannon Lightley has spent her life being shuttled all over the world between famous and glamorous parents and step-parents, not to mention some aunts and uncles. At eighteen, after so much switching between different lifestyles, she doesn't really know who she is or what she wants to do with her life. An impulse and a twist of circumstances leads her into taking on an unusual task for her father's friend, a surrogate uncle who seems to be one of the few people she can trust for guidance. Before she knows it, Shannon finds herself living in a boarding-house near a college, working as a café waitress, with a new hairstyle, new accent, and an assumed name...trying to gather information about the legatees of an extremely eccentric will her uncle has been hired to contest. Living in the same room occupied by the late Mrs. Dunningham, slowly trying to form acquaintances with the colorful cast of fellow-boarders and neighbors to whom the wealthy, elderly lady made her exceedingly odd bequests, Shannon begins to put together the pieces about their characters and their relationships with Mrs. Dunningham...and it's not what she expected at first. Along the way she learns a rough lesson about the difference between attraction and true love, and continues to struggle with questions about her masquerade and her true self.

Where to start? I was completely sucked in and completely charmed by this book. It's warm, literate, often extremely funny. How can you not be charmed by a book that's littered with references to everything from masquerade balls in Regency novels (I smell Georgette Heyer) to Wagnerian opera to Kipling to Theodore Bikel? But beyond the sheer entertainment, what spoke to me unexpectedly was Shannon's own personal struggles. Maybe I don't have anything in common with her chaotic childhood, or her doubts about identity and purpose. But the crippling shyness, the unwillingness to share one's real self with others, the fear of being disliked or laughed at—oh, yes. Incredibly, just a week or so before reading this book, I caught myself wondering one day what it would be like to introduce myself to someone under a different name, to take on a more carefree persona than I'd dare to do as myself...because it wouldn't matter what they thought of someone who didn't exist! And Greensleeves is basically a development of that idea, as Shannon first gets a taste of the freedom from inhibitions that comes with pretending to be someone else...and then gradually comes to understand that you can't experience life fully if you're always acting a part.

And then, there's Sherry. I simply adored Sherry. Did you ever read a book with a character that seemed so alive that you kept thinking about them for days afterward? I suspected from the first time he appeared that I was going to like him, though I didn't know what kind of part he was going to play in the story, and I was thrilled when it turned out to be the one I'd hoped. He's one of the most lovable male characters I've read in a long time—smart, bookish, imaginative, with a great sense of humor, always so sweet and considerate as he tries to coax Shannon out of her shell. Easily my favorite character in the book.

There's other memorable characters—understanding Uncle Frosty, enigmatic Mr. Bruce, awkward Wynola, exasperating Helen, and even the late Mrs. Dunningham, whom Shannon feels she comes to know as well as any of them. And the use of "Greensleeves," from its literal meaning for Shannon, to the way it ties into the theme of anonymity, to that scene near the end with the sheet music...I won't spoil it for you.

Another thing I found refreshing was the feature of common sense in romantic relationships (which, by the way, doesn't prevent the romance from being heart-melting). College-age kids who look at marriage as the natural goal of a relationship, who know to exercise self-control without looking at it as a dreadful, unfair burden—it's just the way to behave. When something looking like a love triangle began to rear its ugly head, I was pretty frantic—then glad to find it didn't follow the predictable path I suspected. There were times when I wanted to give Shannon a good shaking...then when she had her occasional moments of clarity my reaction was yes! You finally figured it out.

I sort of gulped the second half of the book, because I was so anxious to find out what was going to happen. I knew from some other reviews to expect an inconclusive, questioning ending, and yes, it is rather maddening. Shannon's decision seems a little drastic, even if you can understand her reasoning. (Isn't there such a thing as writing letters?) But in one respect it was better than I thought, because it's an open enough ending that you can imagine for yourself what happens after the last page. I like to think it turned out the way I always hoped it would.

After all, you can play "Greensleeves" with a major chord at the end if you want to.

The Kindle edition of Greensleeves is currently on sale for $1.99 as part of Amazon's "Holiday Deals." I found that an excellent bargain.

Friday, November 6, 2015

Announcement: Join the Pinterest Storyboard Party!

I've been toying with this idea for quite a while, and I finally decided to run with it: a blog party in which writers share their Pinterest storyboards for their novels and novellas!

It took me a little while to get the hang of Pinterest when I first started, but I've come to love the concept of creating storyboards of visual inspiration for my books, and getting a sneak peek at some fascinating works-in-progress by other authors through their storyboards. So I thought, why not get together and do a little show-and-tell with our storyboards on our blogs?

So here's the idea: if you want to join in, on Thursday, November 19th, create a blog post sharing your storyboards, and tell a bit about the stories or the settings you've pinned inspiration for, if you so choose. You can share as few or as many boards as you like—for published books, works-in-progress, or books still in the dreaming-and-planning stages. The only basic requirement is that the images on the boards be all-ages-friendly (e.g. no nudity or profanity).

If you haven't made a blog widget for your boards before, here's how: go to the board you want to share, click the button on the top right (next to "Edit Board") and select "Make a widget" from the drop-down menu. Copy the code and paste it into the source code of your blog post, and you'll get a widget like this:

Follow Elisabeth Grace's board Novella: Lost Lake House on Pinterest.

Bonus: To make it even more fun, share a link to a favorite storyboard or two from another author if you like!

This is really the first time I've hosted a blog party like this, so I'd really appreciate it if you'd help spread the word around between now and the 19th among writer-blogger friends who Pin—share it on Twitter, or on your blog if you like, and so forth. The more boards to browse, the merrier!

Monday, November 2, 2015

More Fun With Notebooks

I guess you could say I have a weakness for notebooks. In addition to my writing notebooks proper, I have an armful of miscellaneous notebooks and journals for other purposes—poetry, quotes, lists of research material, information for the family tree I am going to put together someday, et cetera. I had this one little palm-sized notebook in pale blue suede, passed on from one of my sisters, that I couldn't decide what to do with but couldn't bear to get rid of just because it was so cute. Last week the idea finally came to me: I'm filling it with all the quotes on writing that I've shared on my blog or liked on Goodreads or slapped into a Word document for future reference. It's quite a variety, with quotes on all aspects of writing from poets, novelists, film and TV writers, even a few whose names I don't know at all; I just liked what they had to say. It's like having the writing wisdom of the ages right at my fingertips when I need a little pick-me-up of inspiration, without having to turn on the computer and open the Word document.

So anyway, here's a fun video I thought other notebook enthusiasts might enjoy, a presentation by Steal Like an Artist author Austin Kleon. In it he shows pages from the notebooks of various famous people and discusses how they used their notebooks to record and spur their creativity:

Tuesday, October 27, 2015

Things I Have Enjoyed This Month: October

- The scent of dry pine needles and fallen favorite outdoor scent of all.

- Scarves. I've finally got the knack of accessorizing outfits with scarves and I love the results.

- "The Lady of Shalott." I read the whole poem for the first time this year and just fell in love with it. I've actually been working on memorizing it; I'm more than halfway through! It's the longest poem I've committed to memory yet (sonnets by Shakespeare and Elizabeth Barrett Browning were my record before).

- Football, of course! Highly delighted by that show the Dolphins put on this week (though I didn't get to see it...local TV always shows us the pesky Jets instead).

- The Magnificent Ambersons. Re-reading it this month cemented it more firmly on my list of favorite novels. In fact, I'll go out on a limb and say it's the Great American Novel, so there.

- Going for walks in the crisp, cold weather. Autumn really is my favorite time of year.

- One of Ours. Typing incessantly away...loving it even when I'm frustrated with it.

Thursday, October 22, 2015

Quote: A Strong, Restless Faculty

...You say 'real experience is perennially interesting and to all men.'

I feel that this also is true, but, dear Sir, is not the real experience of each individual very limited? and if a writer dwells upon that solely or principally is he not in danger of repeating himself, and also of becoming an egotist?

Then too, Imagination is a strong, restless faculty which claims to be heard and exercised, are we to be quite deaf to her cry and insensate to her struggles? When she shews us bright pictures are we never to look at them and try to reproduce them?—And when she is eloquent and speaks rapidly and urgently in our ear are we not to write to her dictation?

~ Charlotte Brontë in a letter to G.H. Lewes, 1847

Monday, October 19, 2015

The Behind-the-Scenes Writing Tag

I'm thoroughly absorbed in typing One of Ours right now, interrupted only by such irksome necessities as eating and sleeping, so I'm glad that Hanne-col tagged me for the Behind-the-Scenes Writing Tag and gave me something to blog about. I've done tags about writing process before, but this one is a little different, so here goes:

Is there a certain snack you like to eat while writing? At this time of the year when we have fresh apples in the house, I'll often eat one while working. Otherwise I don't do a whole lot of snacking while I write, though I have been known to nibble dark chocolate if I feel in need of inspiration. Dark chocolate is unquestionably inspiring.

When do you normally write? Night, afternoon, or morning? Morning—I find I have the most energy and the clearest mind then. These days, I'll only pick up a notebook in the afternoon or evening if I'm really on a roll with a project or have a sudden idea.

Where do you write? At the kitchen table, or at my brother's desk (the only desk in the house) if he's not using it himself.

How often do you write a new novel? Ahem. Novel? I've only finished one genuine full-length novel manuscript so far; the rest have been short stories and novellas of various lengths. But to give a general idea, it took me roughly seven or eight months (not counting a few short breaks to work on other projects) to completely rewrite One of Ours.

Do you listen to music while you write?
No. I listen to plenty of music for inspiration "out of office hours," but I can't concentrate on both at the same time! I have put on headphones and listened to a little instrumental music to block out distractions while proofreading or formatting, but that's it.

What do you write on? Laptop or paper?
I write my first drafts in college-ruled notebooks, then type them up on my laptop.

Is there a special ritual you have before or after you write? No.

What do you do to get into the mood to write? Nothing too special. I generally spend a bit of time thinking about the story as I finish up with whatever chores need to be done beforehand, and when I sit down to write, I often flip over a few pages of yesterday's work and re-read a few of the best bits.

What is always near the place you write? The plotting notebook containing my outline (if any) and notes, and frequently a glass of water.

Do you have a reward system for your word count? No, not really. Since I handwrite and thus don't know what my word count is as I go, I think more in terms of finishing a certain scene or section of a scene during a writing session. I haven't established any formal rewards system, but my conscience is always a bit lighter for the rest of the day when I hit my intended goal.

Is there anything about your writing process that others might not know about? I have a hard time talking to anybody about my works-in-progress. It's tough, because half of me just wants to chatter away to somebody about my story and characters and how much I love them, but the other half of me wants to keep it all a deep dark secret until I hand them the manuscript to read. The resulting conflict leaves me feeling just about ready to burst.

This tag has already made the rounds pretty thoroughly among my blogging acquaintance, but let's see if I can come up with a few people: