Friday, June 24, 2011

It's Friday, Friday...

Have you ever thought about the word "Friday"? Oh no? Well I'm in a weird mood today and so I just realized that it's a funny looking word. Huh.

Anyhoo...since I am slowly losing my mind from all of this query nonsense, I thought I would have a little fun and talk music today. I generally don't listen to music while I write, mostly because my tastes in music trend to neo-alternative with a side of synth (because I'm an 80s music freak!) and that's not conducive to writing historical fiction. But in general, I get super excited to see a great song that has a great video (which seems almost impossible these days...), especially when it features people dressed up in historical costumes. And so I present to you my favorite historically themed music no particular order. Drum roll please...

"Walking on Broken Glass" by Annie Lennox

What more can I say? It has John Malkovich in it--when he was still hot and less creepy! Of course, as you might have guessed, this video was made about the same time as "Dangerous Liasions", which is one of my all-time favorite movies. Fun trivia fact--Annie Lennox was pregnant while this video was being shot. The director about had a nervous breakdown when they were filming the final scene. Oh, and yes, that is Hugh Laurie playing Annie Lennox's date.

"All the Right Moves" by One Republic

Yeah, so on occasion, my tastes in music go south, which results in me liking a Top 40 band. One Republic is a particular favorite because they use strings in their music and that makes me happy.

"Mr. Brightside" by The Killers

Ok, so the Killers are my favorite band EVER. One of the things that I love about their music (besides the synth) is that they tell stories. How apropo! Their music videos generally do the same, and this Moulin Rouge themed video is no exception.

"We Didn't Start the Fire" by Billy Joel

Did I mention I love the 80s? Sure I can barely remember them since I was born in '82. But for some reason, about the time I hit college, I started indulging in a major 80s obsession. I pretty much know all the lyrics to every major song, which would make me a blast to do karaoke with!

"Buddy Holly" by Weezer

I may be an 80s freak, but I am a child of the 90s. Thus, I had to put Weezer on this list. This video is a bit of a stretch but I felt like I had to have a fifth video, and I love this song.

So did I miss any? What is your favorite type of music (either for writing or listening)?

Thursday, June 23, 2011

Query Madness!

So I've been in query hell for the past few days. I've re-worked this sucker again and again. And again. The common comment is that there is not enough voice or that I'm not showing enough of my characters' personalities. It is certainly difficult to convey Julienne's voice in what is, essentially, a business letter.

Before I drive myself insane, I thought I would turn to you all my dedicated, wonderful, loyal blog readers and get your take of my latest run through. I've also posted this at Nathan Bransford's query board if you would prefer to comment over there. I would certainly appreciate the feedback, that's for sure! So here goes...

When nineteen year old Julienne Dalton decides to take down the Union after a band of renegade soldiers kill her father, she doesn’t count on falling in love with the enemy, or that his betrayal would lead her from the war torn landscape of Kentucky to the idyllic fields of Victorian England.

Loyalties are divided in 1862 Frankfort, Kentucky. Julienne Dalton’s desperate need for revenge burns bright, overshadowing her determined attempts to restore her family’s ruined horse farm. It was her father’s last wish, but carrying out her promise cannot assuage the pain of his murder. When Julienne stumbles upon crucial information regarding Union troop movements, she becomes a courier for a ring of Confederate agents.

Risking her life becomes less appealing when Julienne meets British businessman Alexander Caulfield. Handsome, worldly, and intelligent, he tenaciously pursues her; she stubbornly resists his charm, unwilling to lay her heart bare and be hurt.  But a brush with death will send her flying into his arms—and to the altar. When a fellow contact is apprehended, Julienne discovers Alex's business is tracking down Confederate spies for the Union. Fearing that she'll be betrayed and her husband's love will falter in the face of her treasonous activities, she flees Kentucky. Settling in a small English village, Julienne must forget Alex if she wants to survive, but the task may be much harder than she ever anticipated.

THE ENEMY WITHIN is a historical fiction of 100,000 words. I work for the (redacted) and author Caroline Wilson Writes, a blog about writing, researching, and all things historical. I chose to query you because (insert personalized info.) I appreciate your time and consideration.

So folks...what needs changing? I think I might have captured Julienne's personality a little better. I know poor Alex is languishing but it is so hard to capture him when I'm supposed to be writing from Julienne's POV. Any thoughts on that?

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

These Places Matter...

I'm going to take a brief break from obsessing over my query letter to talk about what I do as a day job. For those of you who haven't taken a look at my bio, I am a historic preservationist when I'm not writing. Essentially, I am a qualified architectural historian (by virtue of my educational background and work experience).

I thought it would be interesting to talk about this today because the National Trust for Historic Preservation has released its annual 11 Most Endangered Historic Places. Take a look if you are so inclined. I think you might be surprised by some of the places listed. Everything from an industrial plant to a modern masterpiece, but as you will see, historic preservation isn't just about buildings. It's also about landscapes. Even with rampant development, America still retains many key historical settings. One of the criteria for listing a building in the National Register of Historic Places is does it retain its setting? So for instance, a historic farmhouse that no longer has its original acreage and has a Wal-Mart in the backyard would most likely not get listed because the setting no longer conveys the historical importance of the house.

I have always loved historic buildings. Some of my earliest memories include trapsing through the Castillo De San Marcos fort in St. Augustine. Oh and "breaking" into abandoned victorian houses with my mom, but that's another story. I have this funky theory about buildings (at least according to my hubby.) I think they have souls. They convey stories about the lives of the people associated with them. Stories that might not otherwise be told should that building go away. It is for that reason that I cannot live in a new house--it would be a waste. But it also why I write and why I ended up in preservation. I wish I could say that my career has been fantastic, but more often than not, I have been frustrated and forever stuck in the wrong place at the wrong time. One of my best qualities is that I am a planner, but unfortunately, I failed to plan for my career. Sure, I went to a college that specialized in historic preservation. I volunteered for all the right preservation organizations. But in the end, I still could not break in, and when I finally did (after a few years of working in a related field), I've still been disappointed. At tne end of the day, I just want to restore old buildings, which means I probably should have gone on to get an architecture degree!

But the upside is that if I had not been so frustrated, I don't think I would have committed myself to writing. I've always been a writer, but it was not until recently that I really hunkered down and challenged myself to write better and to write until I finished. As I begin to explore the notion of leaving the field that has been my passion (and pain), I think I will be relying on my ability to write all the more. I suppose I will just have to see where that leads me.

So...what does writing mean to you? Do you write to escape? Or do you have other motivations?

Thursday, June 9, 2011

On Research and Fiction

Click on the book to go to Alison Weir's page
on Katherine Swynford
I have been reading Katherine by Anya Seton this week. It is a novel long beloved by historical fiction readers. I am not much for medieval era fiction in general, but the Plantagenet period has always held an interest for me. I enjoyed the novel at first, but now I am about 3/4 of the way through, and I have to admit, I'm flagging. It is one of those novels that could have stood a good editing, and now towards the end, it is limping along and throwing out the most ridiculous sentiments. Katherine went from innocent country bumpkin to innocent mistress to perceptive psychologist. I had to roll my eyes when she started psychoanalyzing her paramour.

I do find Katherine's ideas on religion pretty interesting; if you think about it, you don't read too many novels where the heroines turn down the chance to be the mistress of rich and powerful royalty. Especially when the girl is attracted to the guy. Of course, she gives in, but not after becoming a widow. I have to respect that since I am of a moral nature myself.

Even though the novel has its deficiencies, I have to respect the amount of research Anya Seton put into the novel. Can you imagine having to actually visit the places where your novel is set? Sure it is preferable, but not necessary in this day and age. I certainly would love to visit Ireland again to research for my newest work. And I was fortunate enough to visit Frankfort, Kentucky when I was writing The Enemy Within. But for the most part, a quick click of the mouse can get you what you want. I was flabbergasted by the idea that Ms. Seton probably spent many an hour in a dusty archive in England perusing medieval letters and records. Now that is dedication. And I say that as a almost professional historian (OK, really I am an architectural historian). I'm supposed to love trawling through libraries and archives! But in this fast paced world, I have to admit that I enjoy the freedom of clicking over to Google books and getting a wide variety of sources when I start my research. I am interested in delving into period works for Rebellion. Since they were all authored by Englishmen, I am certain to find out what they were really thinking. Bias always has a way of showing through.

So what about you? Do you thrive on getting out in the real world to do your research or are you an armchair historian (researcher) like me?

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Moment of Decision

Drumroll, please....

I think my manuscript is ready for submission. It's been edited and re-worked based on my beta's comments. I read "The First Five Pages" by Noah Lukeman in an attempt to catch any last minute "first" time author mistakes. And although I have two more readers looking through it right now, one has given me some mid-read comments stating that they don't see any glaring mistakes and are really enjoying it. So...

It's now or never, I believe. But I'm in a quandry. I want to submit to a fiction contest to start, and yet, I'm still mulling over the pitch. Generally we know that a pitch is a paragraph usually spoken to an agent at a conference. But this contest wants three to four paragraphs and says that it should include the main plot points, the characters, and a word count. It sounds, in effect, like a query only without pages, synopses, or bios. I have a pretty tight query, but I worry that it is not enough. I would hate to blow any opportunity like this because my "pitch" was more query than hype. I feel like I should embellish my query a little more in order to get it to the pitch level, but I just don't know.

Suggestions or comments? What should I do? I could really use some guidance!

Thursday, June 2, 2011

Is the Online Writing World Too Suspicious?

I have to make a confession.

I am probably the most naive person you will ever meet. OK, maybe I like trusting better. Yes, that is it, I am the most trusting person you will ever meet. I generally extend my trust to most anyone I know whether it be in real life or on the Internet. Naturally, the moment someone lets me down or betrays me, I drop them like they're hot.

But in general, I try to be open, approachable, and helpful. In real life as well as online. I've recently run into issues on a writing forum that caused me to pause. I've mainly stuck to the forums at Nathan Bransford because everyone is just so nice and helpful. It's really the ideal community for writers if you ask me. But I recently decided to venture into another well known writing forum that will remain anonymous. My first foray there last year resulted in a bad incident where I was raked over the coals for an innocent comment. Needless to say, the situation put a bad taste in my mouth. I recently ventured back to this forum, starting out on a genre specific board, and after lurking there for a while to evaluate the other users, I started posting.

I also began looking for more beta readers and when I had difficulty finding them, I posted on the board asking for suggestions on finding beta readers. Instead of suggestions, I got a lecture about how my post count was low and users will be suspicious of me until I prove myself (essentially). I can understand this to some extent, but then in some ways, it strikes me as wrong. Perhaps I was spoiled by the welcoming and helpful quality of the users at Nathan Bransford. And maybe I am the exception, meaning that I am willing to help people regardless if they are just stopping in or if they are a long time user. If I read a plea for a beta reader and the book is in my genre and it sounds interesting, I'm going to offer to read it no matter what. I know we have to be careful who we entrust our work to, but are we so wrapped up in our writing lives and are suspicions, that extending our help to other writers has become near impossible? It just seems the policy of "sure I'll help you, but what are you going to do for me" seems to be in effect. Maybe I'm old fashioned (ok, I am) but I consider it a compliment to be asked (either directly or indirectly) to help another writer.

So what about you? What's your policy for helping others? Are you open to helping anyone or has a bad incident caused you to be more reserved in extending an offer of help?

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

On To My Next Endeavor...

Today's post is a progress report of sorts. I am happy to announce that I have written the first two chapters of my new novel. If you are following me on Facebook, you will know this already. So please join me, if you haven't already. I still need fourteen more people before I get my own URL.

Back to the new novel. I have tentatively entitled it Rebellion since it takes place during the Irish Revolution of 1798. It is an interesting and often over looked time period because the French Revolution was going on as well. But it was the revolutions in both America and France that spurred the Irish to rise against their British overlords. The group of rebels was called The United Irishmen, but sadly their attempts failed, and it was another hundred plus years before another rebellion was attempted.

I'm looking forward to writing more this weekend. The novel centers on Sophia Granger, the youngest daughter of a minor aristocrat living in Ireland. When her family falls on hard times, she marries a wealthy lord. Sophia is unaccustomed to the glittering society of Dublin, retires to her husband's estate after she discovers that her husband has no intention of keeping his wedding vows. Rambling about her palatial new home, she soon meets a poltical revolutionary. And naturally she falls in love and is then confronted with a moral dilemma she knows not how to solve. And as rebellion erupts across Ireland, what ensues is not pretty. But do not fret--there is a happy ending, just not the one you would expect.
Some of my inspiration came from the story of Lord Edward Fitzgerald, one of the leaders of the United Irishmen. Fitzgerald was the son of the Duchess of Leinster, nee Lady Emily Lennox (one of the famous Lennox sisters chronicled in Stella Tilyard's The Aristocrats). Lord Edward did not meet a happy fate--he died in prison of wounds sustained while trying to evade his captors. It's a shame--he was quite a handsome lad, don't you think? But like all good heroes, he was memorialized all over Ireland and continued to be an example through later Irish uprisings.

So how about you all? Working on anything new? Or just trying to get through the week?