Tuesday, March 31 2015
While I won’t deny that I really would enjoy having a significant other around who stands on two feet and doesn’t leave clouds of hair everywhere, I am fortunate to have Mr. Sociable sharing my life. He wears a fur coat year round, gives sloppy kisses and has put himself in charge of my at-home social life.
We live on a corner, and because the beach is just a few yards away, lots of folk pass by our deck
on their way to the water. And MacDuff, who loves people and thoroughly enjoys saying hello to everyone is in his element. He barks to tell me when another dog is passing by and if there wasn’t a fence around the yard, he’d be right out there to greet them all with a thorough sniff and a wag or two. But when human friends happen by he immediately hunts for one of his toys, which he must have in his mouth before he can greet anyone of importance who stops to say hi.
At first this was just his thing. If he was inside, he'd sit looking out making urgent wuffing sounds to be let out. And if he was already out, he'd stand under the window in front of my desk muttering the same urgent summons to tell me he must come in to get a toy. So, I get up to let him in, he dashes to his toy basket, chooses the first one he sees and hustles back out to greet whatever friend is waiting for him. But somewhere along the line, just getting his toy wasn’t enough. He decided that I needed to be included in the social encounter so I wouldn’t miss all the fun. If I ever had an inclination to be a hermit, I’d have to rehome the mutt because he’s quite insistent that I talk to every friend we have, every time they show up. Which in a couple cases is more than once a day.
I have to admit, the interruptions are a good thing. At first, when he came in to repeatedly nudge my hand making it impossible to continue typing, I was reluctant to leave my story lest I lose my train of thought. But I’ve come to enjoy my several times daily visits over the fence, chatting about everything from the weather to grandkids to great books we are reading and any other topic of the day. Once MacDuff has ensured that I am out and engaged and he’s gotten his ears scratched, Mr. Sociable goes to lay down, satisfied that he’s done his job.
I live alone, but thanks to MacDuff, I am never really alone. Writing is a lonely pursuit, but MacDuff sees to it that I don’t take that too far. As I finished typing this blog post, I looked up and there he was, sitting under my window looking at me. There was no one outside to visit at the moment. He just wanted me to come out to toss his toy and play keep-away for a bit. He wouldn’t mind a few pats while I’m there either, and I get off my duff to enjoy a few moments in the fresh air and sunshine. What more could one want?
Saturday, March 21 2015
Research is a must for writers, even those writing fiction. Some of us don’t care for the necessity, but others enjoy the hunt for facts and new ideas. I’m in the latter camp, but I have to confess, sometimes I get totally distracted from the work in progress when what started out to be tracking down a small detail or fact turns into a fascinating discovery of whole new worlds, thoughts, bits of history I didn’t know and more.
I am a writer of fiction so my research isn’t the sort of exhaustive hunt for every fact connected with whatever subject the non-fiction work is on. But all my protagonists have backstories, careers, hobbies and lifestyles and if I stuck only with write-what-you-know, my characters would very quickly bore my readers to death even considering that I’ve been told by many that I’ve led an interesting life.
As a writer in the twenty-first century, I appreciate the internet tremendously. You can find out the most arcane details in a matter of seconds that would once have taken hours and days if not months to track down before Google became not just a search engine, but a verb. In one book I was writing, my heroine’s favorite baseball player was Carl Yastrzemski who played for the Boston Red Sox. As I was writing one scene, I suddenly needed to know if he’d been playing that fall and if it had been a home game on that particular day. In less than a minute, I not only knew it was a home game, but that he’d been benched on that day. How long might that detail have taken before the internet? I could, of course, have skipped that line or paragraph, but other times one cannot. If, for instance your coroner is doing an autopsy and you need to know about a specific detail that is crucial to the mystery. Or a Police procedure. Or are helmets required on motorcycles in a given state? How long does it take to get a marriage license in another state, or country, or century?
Wikipedia is a fountain of information and a great place to start. It's also a total distraction considering how many clickable links you find in an entry. You could get sidetracked for an entire day clicking from one fascinating connection to another. Once upon a time I used to do the same thing in an encyclopedia, but it’s even easier now. Depending on just how much depth and accuracy you need, be sure to follow up with other sources after reading what Wikipedia has to offer. Google can take you to many official sites, too. I recently visited the official site of the Marine Corps at Camp Lejeune NC to find out how far the hospital was from the commissary and found maps, bus routes, and a dozen more related sites. It was like touring the base. Want to find out the main sport and mascot for a college or university or the names of the dorms? Visit the college or university site. Every entity has them now and they are wonderful sources of information. Medical sites with lists of symptoms and treatments, state sites with info on law enforcement and government, federal sites with everything about everything at the Federal level that's not security related. You can find out just about anything on the internet.
And then there are books. I love researching in books. I have whole shelves of books I’ve found or purchased on my own library shelves, but there are libraries everywhere and they all have wonderful selections to get lost in. Some of the libraries I’ve studied in include the New York Public Library, the Boston Public Library and the Bowdoin College library in Brunswick Maine. Just standing among thousands of books holding gazillions of wonderful facts and stories is exhilarating. And did you know many libraries have research materials available online. Like the library in Edinburg Scotland. While it would be great fun to actually go to Edinburg or other far away places, that isn’t always possible.
And don’t forget personal interviews and tours. Take a tour of the Budweiser plant or a chocolate factory. Do a ride-along with the local police department, visit the fire station or join the behind the scenes tours at museums. If you’re writing a historical and it’s feasible to travel to the location, visit all the historic sites attached to your era and pick the brains of the docents you meet. They know tons of stuff that isn’t always shown and they love to share their passion. Actually being IN the place you are writing about is more than just raw information, it's also ambiance. Standing by the bank of a massive swift flowing river would give the writer of a historical novel a gut level feeling of what it would have been like to cross that river before the bridges we see today were built. Looking up into the shadowed and echoing high vaulted ceilings of a hundreds-of-years-old cathedral imbues feelings you won't find in the church on the corner of Main and Elm streets in anywhere USA, just as visiting a farmers market is very different from your local grocery store. Sitting in a police cruiser, listening to the dispatcher and watching the police in action on their every day rounds will give you a better idea of what that life is like. Spending a few hours in the harried surroundings of an emergency room, or attending a baseball game at the home field, or a rodeo, or listening to children playing on the beach all have such powerful settings from the sounds to the smells, from the excitement or contemplative to downright frightening. And all those are things you simply cannot read about - you just have to be there and feel them, see them and experience them.
I've also found that most folk are happy to share their personal vocations, so don’t be shy about asking individuals for either in-person interviews or via email. Whatever your characters are doing, real people are doing in every day life so check it out and experience or see it first hand. Research can be an adventure well worth taking even if 99% of the information you glean never makes it into your book. Just knowing the facts will make your fiction come across more real and draw the readers into your world.
Occasionally, I read a book where it’s obvious the author did not do their homework before writing. If the details that are off are just a few, I can easily skip over them and forgive the inaccuracy. Goodness knows, even when you’ve done thorough research for your book, there are times when you just plain miss something or, because of the plot, you have to fudge the facts a bit. But if a book is glaringly unresearched I lose interest quickly. Either I am irritated by the constant mistakes, or I find the characters shallow and can’t relate to them. I don’t think I’m alone here either so my advice to any author would be: take your research seriously. And enjoy the ride while you’re there.
Here are a few other writers who have shared their thoughts on the subject of research. Check them out:
Tuesday, March 17 2015
Usually we equate procrastination to negative habits. We have a big project or even just a long list of little ones that we keep putting off. I like many others respond well to having a deadline because suddenly there is no time left for all the lures that draw our attention away from these jobs that must be done. We have to knuckle down and get to work. And when the last chore on the honey-do list is checked off we feel a lovely sense of satisfaction. Or when that big project is complete and we can show it off, there’s a great deal of pride in the accomplishment. So what was all the delay about in getting busy in the first place when we knew how pleased we’d be once we had gotten the job done?
I’m retired from the nine to five life, but since the day I left that world I’ve become a published author and now a whole new world of tasks sits on my desk waiting for me to get down to business. I have a series going, two books out, one coming out soon and three more in the works. I’ve also been invited to submit short stories to anthologies, visit blogs and I need to keep my own blog going. So there is always a writing project or several waiting for me to sit my butt in the chair and get busy. And just because I’m retired from a life governed by a clock and someone else’s agenda, doesn’t exempt me from housework, yard work and maintenance. If I kept my nose to the proverbial grindstone, my house would be immaculate, the paint would be fresh, the car would be washed and vacuumed and there would never be a dirty dish in the sink. I’d be cranking out books and stories and always seeking new and better ways to promote them. Yet, I procrastinate.
I got a Fitbit to start this new year off and so far, I’ve met my daily step goal every day but one. I’ve even increased that step goal on the first day of each month, so there is always that “Gotta get the steps in” lurking in my thoughts. I keep important appointments and places I need to be on my phone, which provides me with musical reminders, but I also own a slim calendar notebook where I can jot down things I want to get done for the year, the month and the day. And I use a highlighter to indicate when they have been accomplished. Being a listmaker, this is a satisfying way of keeping myself motivated and having a visual sense of progress. And still, I procrastinate.
But perhaps there is another side to procrastination, that just maybe offers rewards we would otherwise miss. Some of the most rewarding moments in my life can’t be added to a Honey-do list, logged on my phone or jotted down on that column of tasks on my calendar.
Consider this day: I’d met my step goal, there were no dishes in my sink, the dog had been walked, the laundry folded, my bills paid, my email checked and Facebook visited, yet each time I brought up my current manuscript and glanced at the notes I’d left for myself where I’d left off last time I worked on it, I started looking around for another task, procrastinating yet again on the work in progress. I reread the notes, stared at the screen . . . and then decided to go to the grocery store to get all three things on my current list of stuff that needed to be picked up next time I was out. I was on the way home when a flash of color caught my eye. It was late in the day and the sun was setting. I pulled off into a small park that overlooks the inland waterway and got out of the car to see the most fantastic display of color, perfectly mirrored in the stillness of the river. The magnificence of it took my breath away. Had I not been procrastinating, I’d have missed it entirely.
Sometimes the distraction is a passerby. I live on a corner and my dog doesn’t have the nickname “Mr. Sociable” for nothing. He not only wants to say hello to anyone going by, especially people we know, but he wants me to leave my desk and come out to say hi as well. He dashes into the house and nudges my typing hand until I get up and go out with him. And those moments that I spend talking with neighbors and strangers have been moments well worth the distraction from the business at hand. It’s not just about taking the time to smell the roses – it’s reaching out to touch other people, to connect, sometimes to listen and be a shoulder to lean on, sometimes to share a moment of laughter or appreciation. Sometimes it’s solace or a hug when I need it most.
So, I guess I have to say, Thank You God for procrastination. Thank you for distracting me long enough to appreciate the beautiful world you have created, and thank you for letting me ignore the “must do” list long enough to appreciate moments of laughter, tears and joy with the people you have sent into my life.
Tuesday, March 10 2015
I'm always hoping the answer to this question is an argument in favor of the state of my desk most of the time.
Like many writers, I think I want to write in a nice tidy environment, and I make sporadic efforts to clean my desk off and put stuff away. It always looks so nice I feel like taking a photo to remind myself what it looks like. But it doesn’t take long for the bits and pieces to add up. A fellow writer recently posted a photo of her desk immediately post writing “The End” in her current novel and I had to chuckle because that’s exactly what my desk looks like at the moment.
Unlike many writers, I don’t have a desk that consists of a long counter like space with shelves overhead and plenty of room to stretch out. I have a wonderful desk my brother built for me and when I keep it tidy, it’s more than large enough to handle all the things that need to be close at hand. I am also surrounded by bookshelves on three sides - the closest shelves within arm’s reach where I keep all the books frequently used while writing. So theoretically, there should be no reason why I can’t write in tidy surroundings.
Unfortunately there is my Must-take-care-of pile. On Jaunary 1st, when I wrote out my New Year’s resolutions, I cleaned my desk. But some of the resolutions included dealing with a few non-writing projects. Nothing needed to be done immediately, but they did need to be done. So I found folders to keep the various bits of paper organized and set them on the corner of my desk.You know - that pile of things you are afraid to put out of sight where you’ll forget them, yet don’t want to do right now? The pile that eventually threatens to take over your desk and your life?
As the first two months of the year passed, I took care of a couple items in those tidy little files. Then other things got added, but didn't get so neatly organized. All the various charge slips that I keep long enough to compare to my bills got sandwiched into the pile in numerous places. My dad and I still exchange snail mail letters and his latest one was on the pile waiting to be answered. A tea bag sample pulled off a catalog, a stack of old photos I’d found and thought might be fun on Throw Back Thursdays for FB, reminders, appointment cards, business cards I needed to file, the questionnaire for the lawyer to redo my will and trust paperwork, TurboTax waiting for the last tax documents to arrive (If I put it away, I might forget I’ve purchased it and go out for a second copy.) a new CD that I haven’t loaded onto my computer yet, a charity I meant to write a check for and half a dozen recipes that FB friends posted that I simply have to try. Now the pile is so untidy and large it spills into my workspace.
And I haven’t even written the end. In fact I’m a long way from the end. I can’t put it off any longer. Like all the rest of my housekeeping, my desk finally gets cleaned off when I can no longer ignore it.
And that’s why this blog post is up later than usual today. (I even took a detour long enough to deal with one of my must-do items.) So, back to what my desk is a sign of. I'm hoping this tidier and better organized desktop is the sign of a productive writer with a story worth the telling in my mind.
Tuesday, March 03 2015
Today I am delighted to feature Slightly Noble, a historical romance set near the end of the Civil War, but in England rather than in America. Don't you just love stories with a twist? He might be a viscount, but he'd far rather just be Captain Jack, privateer and outlaw. That is, until he meets Abby Halsey.
"What’s a girl to do when all her plans to marry well go awry and the charmer she thought cared for her only cared about taking his pleasure, then leaves her pregnant and without any prospects? Abby Halsey’s father’s solution was the send her to a convent until the baby is delivered and adopted, but a young nun suggests that she knows how Abby could claim widowhood and keep her baby. Eager to take this chance, Abby flees from the convent, but again fate seems certain to interfere when Abby goes into labor early. She might still have made it work, except that her coach broke down and her rescuer, for reasons of his own decides the best course of action is for him to marry her.
Captain Jack, ashore to hear the reading of his estranged father’s will finds himself disinherited completely unless he marries and produces an heir before his 35th birthday. But his birthday is only a few months away, so all seems lost. Then he stumbles across the unlucky Abby.
Slightly Noble is full of twists and turns, scheming relatives and trouble in places least expected. Captain Jack, now a viscount, can’t go back to America where he’d been a privateer on the side of the south and is now considered an outlaw and traitor. But how is he going to convince the world that his marriage is for keeps and the child is his? How is he going to convince his new wife that he’s not like the cad who had his way with her and abandoned her?" Skye-writer
Here's a teaser:
She raised her chin. “I am a commoner, but as you have guessed, my father was accepted in certain social circles. Accepted, but not always welcomed.
“Well, you will be welcomed now, Abby. You are a viscountess.” His voice softened, but his eyes shone with disappointment. Was it because he had hoped she would confide in him? Or because she had confessed her humble origins?
Pride stiffened her spine. “I am more than just a viscountess. I am a wife and mother, and if I am to be a good wife, at some point, I must act like a wife.” This meant running a household, not living on a ship. She did not want to argue or have him ask more questions about her past, but she could not bear living aboard a ship indefinitely.
He started, his expression surprised. Then a slow smile spread over his face, and his eyes burned as if he had a fever. He leaned over the table, his face mere inches from hers. “A real wife sleeps in her husband’s bed.”
Abby’s breath hitched. Her pulse jumped. Oh dear! He had taken her meaning all wrong. Heat rushed to her cheeks, and her flesh tingles. “What I meant…That is, I should be running your household.”
“We live on a ship,” He leaned back in his chair. He still smiled, but it was now more humorous than…armorous?
She shivered, unable to suppress a brief surge of longing. What would it be like to kiss that hard mouth? To feel his lips pressed against hers?
Dear Lord! What is wrong with me?
Check it out at your favorite place to purchase books.
American privateer, Captain Jack isn't really an American, but heir to a viscountcy. When his father dies, he leaves everything not entailed with the estate to his worthless cousin. Jack's only hope of inheriting his mother's ancestral home and honoring her dying wish is to marry and produce an heir before his thirty-fifth birthday—in five months. And he doesn't have a single prospect.
Pregnant and unwed, Abigail Halsey is sent by her father to an Anglican convent until he can find a family to adopt his grandchild or a husband for his daughter. Abby has other plans, but they go awry when she goes into labor early and her rescuer, a pirate captain turned lord, insists on marrying her.
Is Jack too much like his jealous, unforgiving father? Can Abby overcome her fear of men and have a real marriage? Or will she never be anything more than the unwanted wife of a Slightly Noble Viscount?
Available at: Amazon, Barnes & Noble and Wild Rose Press
About the author:
Lilly Gayle is a wife, mother of two grown daughters, a new grandmother, and a breast cancer survivor. She lives in North Carolina with her husband. When not working as an x-ray technologist and mammographer, Ms Gayle writes paranormal and historical romances. You can visit her at: http://lillygayle.com, or find her on Facebook at: http://facebook.com/lillygaylebooks and on Twitter at: http://twitter.com/lillygromwriter