Tuesday, December 21, 2010

New Year....New Look!

So it's not quite the new year yet, but I made some changes to the look of the blog. Now I didn't plan this initially; I was monkeying around with the background (which I loved!) and then realized that I no longer had the saved image. Excellent. So now I have a new background, and I've also added an "About Me" section and a "Works in Progress" section, which can be accessed on the left hand side bar. Check them out!

Anyhoo... Today I have been researching the very complex world of the English peerage. Since the last half of The Enemy Within occurs in England, and Alex is a viscount, I thought I should make sure that I was addressing everyone correctly.

I thought I knew the basic rules being that I am an Anglophile, but I actually learned a great deal. For example, an earl is always addressed by his title. In the case of my book, Alex's father is Charles Caulfield, Earl of Winthrop. He would be addressed simply as "Winthrop" by his good friends or children, while in more formal situations he would be addressed " Lord Winthrop" or simply "My lord."

Now when the book opens, Alex is actually a viscount. It's a courtesy title from his father who is not only the Earl of Withrop but also the Viscount of Gresham. Being that Alex is the eldest surviving son, he takes the title of Viscount until his father dies and he can inherit the earldon. As you will learn, Alex is very uneasy about this. He was raised as the younger son of the Earl, so he actually would have been a simple "Mr." although he would have had the courtesy of being announced "The Honorable Mr. Alexander Caulfield." Of course, Alex has to make his own way in the world, and that is when he decides to join the Metropolitan Police (Scotland Yard). His father is furious of course, since being a policeman would be considered quite degrading to an aristrocratic family. Alex makes a reputation for himself quickly, and is promoted to Inspector. He easy evades his father's criticisms until...his older brother dies. Henry Caulfield was the Viscount Gresham, and drinks himself to death (like all good wastrels). Alex assumes the title as the new heir, but refuses to take up his responsibilities (namely his seat in the House of Lords). Ooowww...bad peer!

As punishment for facing down his father, Alex is "cut off" and his father gets him fired from the Metropolitan Police. And that, ladies and gentlemen, is how Alex gets to America. Of course, there a little more backstory there, but as the popular saying goes, "Buy the book!"

Friday, December 17, 2010

The Dreaded Synopsis

I've been working on a synopsis for The Enemy Within lately, and geez...it's hard! It's about as hard as writing a query letter. Although I find that there is slightly less pressure since all of my hopes and aspirations are pinned to the query letter. If a potential agent gets to the synopsis, then I feel like I've passed the first test--I've interested them.

Most recently, I've been working on paring down my three page synopsis to only one page, since that seems to be the standard that most agencies ask for. It's extremely difficult to totally gloss over the various sub plots in my beloved novel...and in some cases, I've had to cut out all references because to leave them in would mean additional words and explanations.

A positive thing is while mercilously cutting sections out of the synopsis, I've decided that some of my sub plots can be mercilously cut from the novel itself. Since I am sitting at 110,000 words over all, cutting out these random "rabbit chasers" means less editing for an editor, and potentially more marketability. So while this process has basically reduced my brain to a pool of a mush, I'm killing two birds with one stone.

So...have you tackled the synopsis? Did you learn anything in the process?

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Procrastination Rears its Ugly Head...

So according to my stats, my last post was on October 27th.


Can I claim the melodrama of the holidays?

Well in any case, I have been dabbling with The Enemy Within of late. I did some editing and writing last week. But with the end of the year looming before me, I am reminded that I am in violation of one of my most dearly held principles.

Make resolutions that you can keep.

A quote by Samuel Clemons reminds me that this tenant is very important:

"New Year's Day: Now is the accepted time to make your regular annual good resolutions. Next week you can begin to paving Hell with them as usual."

After many years of making (and breaking) my New Years' Resolutions, I decided about two years ago to make ones that I intended to keep. I thought I was doing good until a few seconds ago when I realized that I have not done a very good job of this.

Last year my resolutions were as follows:

1. Lose weight.

STATUS: So far, I've lost 20 lbs. So I can say that I have stuck to this resolution. I've got 10 more lbs to go but I'll take my current progress and be happy.

2. Run a 5k.

STATUS: I totally blew this one... And given the fact that it was a resolution for 2009 as well...maybe I should hang this one up. Or maybe the third year will be the charm?

3. Finish novel and start querying agents.

STATUS: Well the novel is technically finished, and yet it's still a work in progress. I suppose I did take a step back on this resolution in the last few months in that I decided that I really do need to polish my work until it is near blinding in its perfection. You only get one chance to query an agent, and given that I'm in the historic fiction genre, it's not like every agent out there handles it.

This scale back has included a lot of mulling on my part. Going over the plot and picking out the parts that didn't make much sense and then re-writing them. And finally handing over my first 50 pages to someone who could chew it up and spit it out with the knowledge that it will be better in the end even if I have to spend a lot of time fixing it.

So I have made progress, and maybe even changed my mindset to the point that I don't feel too bad about not accomplishing this resolution. Besides, I feel like I've done the best that I could given that I don't have a computer at home.

So in the end... I'd say that I was 1 1/2 for 3 this year. And, of course, there's always next year....

So have you accomplished your writing resolutions for this year? Are you making more for the next?

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Let's discuss popular genres...

OK, what is up the world's fascination with fantasy, science fiction, and paranormal novels? I'm not going to knock the genres because I'm sure there is a strong subset of people out there who say to themselves, "Who cares about stories set in a historical time period?" Plus people have a right to read what they want, so I could never knock that freedom.

I think what bothers me about these genres is that they're the going thing right now. And seemingly everyone is cashing in on it. But really? How many novels can you have about vampires and werewolves? Or mythical beings rising from the mists of Arthim-I-Can't-Really-Pronounce-This-Land (although I would really like to know...how do authors come up with the whackadoo names in fantasy novels)? When has something just been done to death? I'll hazard a guess and say that when Jane Austen becomes populated with zombies and vampires...it may be time to put a trend to rest.

Of course, there are problems in the historical fiction realm as well. It seems to me that the recent trend has been writing novels in the Tudor and Elizabethan times. Sure, I had a fascination with Henry VIII and his six wives when I was younger, but how many times can you re-tell Anne Boleyn's story? I can't help but think about all the other lovely time periods that are going largely ignored because of this trend. What about the Victorian period (although I have seen an increase in this) or Restoration England? Now that was a fascinating time and it should sell, I mean everyone was getting it on, right?

I guess I'm a bit unlucky in my choice of time period. Some readers probably feel about the Civil War, the same way that I feel about the Tudors. But you know what? My characters would not fit in anywhere else.

I started thinking about this after agent extraordinaire and blogger, Nathan Bransford, recently posted that you have to write about what you love, not what is popular. I guess I'm lucky that historical fiction never really goes out of fashion, so I've never had to make a choice between writing what is popular versus what is my interest. I'll be the first to admit that if I had written Julienne to be a vampire or a Tudor era lady-in-waiting, I'd probably get representation right away. But I refuse.

What about you? Have you ever been tempted to cash in on a pop culture phenomenon or are you content to write what you want in the genre that suits you best?

Monday, October 25, 2010

Progress...I guess

So I am happy to report that my post on procrastination spurred me to some small amount of progress at the end of last week. I am positive that Julienne and her amour were quite happy to get off the sidewalk and to the charity ball.

Interestingly enough, I am still discovering facets of Julienne's personality. I think by re-writing this section of the novel, I am making her easier to relate to in that even though she's a bad ass super spy (OK, that is a slight exaggeration), she's still completely vulnerable. Of course she tries so desperately to hide this facet of her personality (behind smirks and acting generally disaffected). The internal war that ensues as she falls in love is at times heartbreaking and yet very funny. One minute she is determined to ignore the guy, and the next she's inexplicably attracted to him, which annoys her to no end. At the end of the day, she is just a very sad individual who is adrift. She was not raised to be a simpering miss, but the two anchors in her life (her father and twin brother) are both gone. She has suffered so much loss that she is a bit gun shy when it comes to investing herself in other people. And being that she is considered a eccentric in her society, Julienne is very suspicious of any man who would pursue her--alas, for our poor hero! Fortunately, he likes a challenge.

So, character progression... Did you know every facet of your character's personality before you began writing the story, or did they leap off the page as you went along?

Friday, October 15, 2010

Procrastination: I haz it

Yes, I know it has been a while. But as the title of today's blog suggests, I am not someone who is always on the ball. I think I earned this trait honestly... My dad has a tendancy to procrastinate. Actually, that whole side of my family does. I suppose that is why we're always late and generally present birthday gifts wrapped in Wal-Mart bags, but I digress.

I think procrastination is my worst enemy when it comes to writing. I think it's pretty clear given that it's taken me nearly 10 years to finish a novel (and heck, it's not totally finished, either). Sadly, I'm not one of those writers who can set writing goals for herself. I can't tell myself, "Caroline, you're going to write ten chapters this week." If I did, my writing would stink. I just can't write well when I'm not "into" it. But when I'm on, I'm on, baby! I barely stop to eat or sleep, I just write like there's no tomorrow.

I haven't been writing much lately. I blame the fact that I've been living out of a suitcase. And looking for another job. First it was commuting 100 miles one way to be with my hubby on the weekends, and then I took a trip to Texas (which was awesome). And finally, given the distance between the hubby and me, I've attempted to find a job in the same city as he. That's not going so well (damn economy). So to say that I have been distracted is an understatement. Plus it doesn't help that any writing I do is confined to my sad little cube at work due to my lack of a laptop at the moment. Oh please Santa Claus bring me one for Christmas! I've been good this year...for the most part!

So, does procrastination bring you down? Or can you put the blinders on and crank out a novel in a few months? If you can, will you pass some of that motivation on to me?

Thursday, September 16, 2010

What Makes a Historical Fiction Writer?

Yesterday, one of my colleagues sent me an article that appeared recently in The Independent, one of London's esteemed newspapers.

The article, written by historian Saul David, discussed why historians are better suited to writing historical fiction. Being a historical fiction writer, this caused me to pause.

David cites Alison Weir's runaway success as a historian-turned-novelist, explaining that the public wants to be entertained and educated and that because of this, historians are best at writing historical fiction because they can be trusted.

So I can't be trusted because I don't have an advanced degree in history?


I guess I am lucky because my professional training and education in historic preservation has afforded me my fair share of history classes. As a history minor, I had to write a Bachelor's Essay on a topic involving Elizabethan history. Being someone infinitely interested in social history, my topic was "The Implications of Marriage and Childbirth in Elizabethan England."

According to Mr. David, I might be more qualified than some authors, but no one has the right to assign "qualifications" if you ask me. That's like saying that you must have a MFA in Writing to be qualified to write a novel. But some people just have raw talent, while others have the passion to mold themselves into great writers. To suggest that our lack of an advanced degree disqualifies us is at best, wrong; at worst, just plain stuck-up.

I have read my fair share of poorly researched historical fiction, and because of that, I have set out to write historical fiction that can be trusted. There are many other authors out there who research every nuance of the period they are writing about in order to stay true to history. I know that the last thing I want is to be questioned by my readers about whether or not I've taken liberties with history.

So in response to this article, I ask: "Are historians unfit to write fiction?"

Maybe. maybe not. I've read Alison Weir, and yes, I could trust that what I was reading was the truth because she is a respected historian. But to be honest, the book was long, and in many parts boring. Some scenes were so painfully written that I had to skim through them. Eventually, I laid the book aside, and never finished it. Does this mean that I will never read a novel written by a historian again? No. In fact, the only good thing this article did was put me on to a young historian who is putting out her first fiction next year. I am eagerly awaiting its release.

So in the end, what makes a historical fiction writer? Is it education? Research? Talent? Skill?

I think it's passion. I have a desire to bring a specific period of history to life through fictional characters. It would an injustice to me and my characters if I were to misrepresent them. So how about historians respect our ability to craft great stories and we'll respect all those years they spent trapped in a moldy library researching 17th century merchant guilds?

I think that's a pretty straight deal.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Are You Like Your Characters?

I am sad to report that I've been so stressed out lately, I can't even think about writing. Ok, well apparently I can think about writing a blog post about being too stressed out to write. How weird is that?

But coming back to my blog dashboard for the first time in over a week, I was quite elated to see that I now have four followers! Welcome everyone! I know it is terribly gauche of me to acknowledge this fact, but it makes me happy.

Now back to the regularly scheduled blog post.

Author agent Nathan Bransford recently asked in his daily blog post whether personal angst was helpful when it came to writing. After a few minutes thought, I decided that it was absolutely necessary. At least for me. Back when I first started 'The Enemy Within,' I could only work on it when I was depressed. Which happened to be my whole freshman year of college...very convenient. I think at first Julienne was such a dark character that I felt like I had to get into character to write about her. Fortunately, I have since lightened Julienne up a little, and she's taken on some of my more eccentric qualities (sarcasm, independence, etc.)

Perhaps my characters are a little too like me. I recently made the discovery that all of my female characters lose their fathers. I am a child of divorce so I have to wonder if that plays into the relationships that my characters have with their fathers. I'm sure that I would be a brilliant case study from some Freudian enthusiast!

So, do your characters reflect your personal experiences and traits, or do you prefer to create totally independent beings?

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

How People Write

Over the weekend I determined that I don't write like other people. This discovery threw me for a loop actually because I was very afraid that I might have wasted the last ten years of my life on a novel that won't get published because I chose to write differently than the established norm.

Yes, I know what you are thinking... Does it really matter?

Well, after a little research (i.e. a poll posted at my local writing hole), I have decided that I am not doomed to failure (whew!)

The crux of the matter was that I do not do multiple drafts of my novels. I write several chapters and then go back to revise until I feel like I have achieved the effect that I wanted. Apparently, many writers write a full draft, and then go through and revise multiple times, each time resulting in a new draft. That concept makes me want to curl up in a ball and cry.

One writer pointed out that some people try to write a near perfect first draft while others like to write a "garbage" first draft just so they can get everything out of their heads. I belong to the former category (while my husband belongs to the latter, interestingly enough). And now that I think about it, I HATED writing multiple drafts in high school and college. I found the exercise pointless since I had poured myself into getting it right the first time. Ah, the pitfalls of striving for perfection!

In the end, I did find two other writers who operate in the same manner that I do. I was quite excited to find out that I'm not an anomaly. Of course, I stressed so much about being different that I totally blew a good weekend to get some major writing done.

I think I need to work on that.

Tuesday, August 31, 2010

My Vision of Julienne

So as I mentioned in my last post (or maybe hinted at), one of the main themes of "The Enemy Within" is Julienne's determination to restore her family's horse farm. The farm is called Brookfield, by the way. Most of it was built by Julienne's father, James Dalton, who meets a tragic end in the novel. Julienne had a strange relationship with her father. She spent most of her time with her twin brother, Jack, and the family's slaves. In southern tradition, Julienne and her brother were raised by their black nanny or "mammy." Their mother died of Typhoid fever when they were small, and their father was so in love with her, that he could not bear to be at Brookfield following her death. He eventually moves to Frankfort and serves in the House of Representatives.

He may have neglected his children's emotional needs, but he does not neglect their education. Being slightly eccentric and very forward thinking, James Dalton ensures that Julienne and Jack both receive a first rate education. Additionally, they both receive training on how to manage the family's horse farm. It is this experience and education that makes Julienne able to carry on the farm after her brother disappears and her father is murdered. Typical southern belle she is not!

A few weeks ago, I was inspired by one of favorite authors when she posted a cover art contest for her latest novel. While looking at artwork to submit, I came across a painting of a girl on a horse. I instantly thought of Julienne. And so...here she is:

Try to ignore the guy in the background. He is nothing like Julienne's romantic interest! The girl however...she just looks like she would be a firecracker. And Julienne is pretty clever. Heck, the girl masquerades as a male spy for the better part of a year. Now that takes moxie!

If I had one other inspiration for Julienne it would be a portrait that I once saw in a private home in Charleston, SC. It was a huge portrait of an extraordinarily beautiful woman in a riding habit, carrying a crop, with a horse in the background. I don't remember the details about the sitter...only that it was a portrait of real woman that had been painted sometime in the 1850s. It still resonates in my brain, and I think I remember it so well because several of the people with me mentioned that I looked a lot like the woman. Personally, I thought the woman was way too pretty to look like me. It was kind of creepy...and cool, all at the same time.

I would give anything to see that portrait again, but I suppose that won't happen now that my Charleston insider days are long over! Maybe the house will be on one of the home tours that frequently occur in Charleston, and I can fork out the cash to see the portrait again. If I do, I'll steal a photo and post here. It really was an amazing portrait!

Sunday, August 29, 2010

My brain is about to implode...

So I've been working on the elusive query letter the last two days. For those of you not familiar with the writing world, a query letter is like the cover letter to a resume--an introduction to your work to an author agent. As you might imagine, the query letter is crucially important. If an agent is not hooked by your letter, then you might as well get accustomed to the slush pile.

I've been struggling with infusing voice into my query letter. My first 100 or so versions were more geared towards a synopsis, which is a huge no-no. Finally after making friends with some fellow authors on a writers' forum, I have a better idea of what to shoot for.

Another one of my problems is that my story is very complex. Many events contribute to later events, and so to mention one and not the other in my query has severely short changed my novel.

But hopefully I will persevere. And I will post my query here when I am prepared to start sending it out.

In other news, after hashing out various plot points, I think that there some changes that I can make to my current manuscript to make it more compelling. I have, once again, to thank the few intrepid souls who posed a few good questions to me regarding my motives (and thus my characters' motives.) I have a feeling that the next few days will see me busily making changes.

Hopefully for the better.

Saturday, August 28, 2010

And so it begins...

As I enter the final mile of this marathon otherwise known as my journey to become a published author, I've decided that it is time for me to introduce myself and my work to the world at large.

By way of a introduction... I am Caroline Wilson--historic preservationist by day, author by night. I've been writing since I was a child. First in my head as a means to put myself to sleep at night; then by hand as a means to help me sleep at night because all the story lines were beginning to get crossed in my brain; and finally, as the computer age dawned, by word processor, desktop computer, and most recently, lap top computer.

I'm a lover of all things historical, which is evidenced by my occupation. I work in the State Historic Preservation Office in a vain attempt to save historic buildings. Ok, maybe not vain as we do manage to save the really important buildings from being completely screwed up by vinyl siding, windows, and other eggregiously awful materials.

I have two main novels in the hopper at this time. One is set in Charleston, SC during the Revolutionary War. I'm having a hard time with this one...I just can't connect with the main protagonist, and so the novel is now on hold.

The one that I am about to send out to the realm of author agents is called "The Enemy Within." This novel will be one of the main subjects of this blog. It's set in Kentucky during the Civil War, as well as England during Queen Victoria's reign (sans Prince Albert).

I've been working on it for ten years. And yes, that is a very long time. The idea came to me in the midst of a Socratic-style seminar during my senior year of high school. My english class had studied an excerpt from "Time and Again" by Jack Finney, and the teacher asked us who we thought (amongst our classmates) could survive in a past time. One of my classmates pointed at me and said, "Caroline could, definitely. She would be a Civil War bounty hunter or something cool like that."

And so Julienne, the protagonist of "The Enemy Within" was born.

Actually she did not make her way onto the page until the latter half of my freshman year in college. It had been a time of upheaval for me. I was away from home for the first time, struggling with depression (if truth be told), and so Julienne's story began to form in my mind.

She's a tragic figure who refuses to allow herself to be a victim after her twin brother goes missing during a battle, her father is shot by Union soldiers, and her ancestral home burned to the ground. Technically these events make her a victim three times over, so she decides that she would rather die than be on the receiving end of another tragedy.

How does she do this in a time when a woman's main purpose was to raise the children, keep the house, and be a credit to her husband?

She becomes a spy.

Being a good Southern girl, she joins a ring of Confederate informants, gladly risking her life to bring down the Union. But deep inside, she has a dream of restoring her family's horse farm to its former prominence.

There's lots more to the story, and I will review a little more with each post. I will also detail the research that I did (along with photos and websites, of course) and even throw in a post or two about my preparations to search for representation.

I hope you decide to follow my journey.