Thursday, July 23, 2009

The Never-Ending Battle: Story vs. History

Over at the Historical Novel Society discussion list, a lively debate is again raging over historical accuracy vs. the elements of story in historical fiction. The basic question is: How far can writers of historical fiction bend the truth before they've overstepped the bounds of writing responsibly? The topic was stirred up recently when someone posted a link to a Publishers Weekly article by Peter Mandel, which raises the question of whether or not we over-analyze fiction (both books and movies) in regards to their accuracy, rather than just allowing ourselves to enjoy them.

I have an opinion, but I'm interested in hearing from others, readers and writers.

Meanwhile, I'm thinking of writing fantasy.

Until later,

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Staying positive in tough times

I recently came across a post at BookEnds LLC, Literary Agency that got me thinking about how our attitudes affect our actions and the implications that may have further down the road. Those of us who write have been hearing for awhile now the dire straits the publishing world is in: how fewer new authors are being taken on or how established authors are being directed to focus on their better selling material. In my critique group and on other writers' forums, the topic often arises of whether we should write the stories that most inspire and interest us, or focus on what is commercially viable in order to increase our chances of publication (that's another sizzling topic for a blog post that Anita Davison covers in her post, Should Authors Write for the Market?).

It's so easy to get sucked into the pervasive doom and gloom atmosphere of the current economy. But as Jessica Faust says in the BookEnds post, instead of worrying about things we can't control, perhaps we should focus on those things we can? She sees the decreased numbers in book sales as a precursor to change. Rather than not taking on new clients at all or foregoing submissions, she's proceeding business-as-usual. However, she is being pickier and demanding more perfection in what she takes on or submits.

While we're all waiting for the logjam to clear, maybe we should take this as an opportunity: to write more entertaining stories, become better at the craft of writing, ask ourselves what people want to read, and explore new possibilities for reaching readers?

Movies, TV and computers still have not killed books. They continue to exist and will indefinitely. What form they will take and how publishing will operate in the coming century remains to be seen. Meanwhile, keep on writing!

Until later,

Saturday, July 18, 2009


Hi All!

Today I blogged at History and Women on Sacagawea. Stop by and visit. Her journey westward in 1805-06 across the Continental Divide and back as part of Lewis and Clark's Corps of Discovery - while carrying on infant on her back - certainly puts many of us mini-van driving soccer moms to shame. I know I couldn't do that and live to talk about it.

Until later,

Monday, July 13, 2009

Why not write about what you DON'T know?

Imagine if J.R.R. Tolkien had adhered to the advice: "Write about what you know"? There would be no Middle Earth, no hobbits, no Gandalf... Not only would an entire genre of literature fail to exist, but I'd bet my eye teeth many of the great books we know today would never have been written.

Really, who spawned this suffocating notion that we must first be experts in a given field to write about it? Perhaps the better advice would be to write about what fires your imagination and what you're so passionate about that you could bury yourself up to your elbows in reference material for days on end?

I've been asked many times why I write about medieval times or certain figures like Robert the Bruce, Owain Glyndwr, Queen Isabella and Roger Mortimer. The seed of my fascination began with a childhood spent reading Ivanhoe, The Three Musketeers and a plethora of Jean Plaidy books. But spare time for reading died with college and children.

Then, I saw the movie Braveheart. Yeah, yeah, yeah - you historical accuracy purists who so readily decry its inaccuracies may clamber down from your soapboxes for a moment. Truth is, I had never even heard of William Wallace before then. Never. And I only had an inkling who Robert the Bruce was. Yet because of that Hollywood-ized version of a historical era, I was so inspired I wanted to learn more. It re-ignited my love for history and reading and a dream I'd had since I was 12 - to write. Not about something I knew, but something which inspired me: the struggle for freedom, the weak overcoming the strong, hope, persistence, loyalty --- all of it lying in wait in history's chronicles and waiting to be told to new generations.

The fun part about being a writer is that you learn so much in the process. And when that research shows, so will your readers!

Until later,

Sunday, July 5, 2009

Do you have Writer's Block?

Recently on a writers’ forum I belong to, someone posted the question: Is there such a thing as ‘writer’s block and do you ever have it’? What writer has not stared at a blinking cursor, willing the words to appear on the screen and they just don’t come? What causes the logjam and how do you break through it? First, you have to understand why it’s happening.

One block to writing productively is not being 'in the moment'. IOW, distractions. I have this 'thing' where I have trouble writing if my husband is at home. The children are easy to chase away or threaten into silence. The spouse, not so much. His woodworking shop is right under our bedroom where my desk is. Try writing when the power saw is going on and off at random. Argh! At that point I might as well pack up and take the laptop to the library. Tough to get into 'the zone' when I'm constantly being yanked out of it.

Not being in the right emotional frame of mind to begin with is another biggie. When I can, if I'm in some intense emotional state, I skip to a scene where that applies and use the mood in my favor. If I'm feeling blue, I write the scene where all hope seems lost, a lover has been jilted, or someone has just died (with Gregorian chants playing on the CD). If I'm mad at someone or feeling vengeful, battle scenes are cathartic.

But the biggest 'block', for me at least, is often self-doubt. Another rejection letter can kick it in or a critique that knocks the wind from my sails just when I was in need of a boost. Suddenly, I ask myself why I even bother. I tell myself I'll never succeed, I can't finish this, my writing is crap. But then I realize that by not writing, by giving in, it becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy. It's easier not to write - to fail - than to chisel away and forge ahead, to hope, to dream, to invest the time and take the risk. Give into it, and the pressure's gone. But so's the possibility of achieving that dream.

So, do any of you have writer's block and why?

Until later,


Thursday, July 2, 2009

Pfaffing About

Years ago, I was reading a writers' forum on the internet and the term 'pfaffing about' came up. Here's the theory:

When writer's block strikes and staring at a blank computer screen is enough to drive you to madness, somehow you need to beckon the Muse of Creativity to sit snugly on your shoulder and whisper the words that will fly from your fingertips. How? Go do something else.

Me? I clean. Now, maybe I'm a freak in the world of writers, but my best writing happens when I push up my sleeves and scrub the bathroom tiles, organize the filing cabinets, or sweep out the garage. You might think this is avoidance behavior. True, it is. I like a clean house, but I don't like to clean any more than the next person. It takes time, my hands get all cracked and dry from the nasty chemicals, and it's mindless work. But that last one is the key. Push a vacuum across the floor, chasing dust bunnies of dog hair, and there's not much to do but think. And that gives my imagination freedom to wander. So I dash over to the keyboard, pound out half a page and when I get stuck - AGAIN - I go mop. If my desk is piled up with paperwork, if there are fallen-over stacks of books in my bedroom, or if there is a snowy layer of dust on the furniture - I probably haven't been writing.

Yesterday my bathrooms got all sparkly clean... and I plowed my way through a challenging scene. Today I have to finish the chapter (my calendar tells me I must), so maybe I'll start painting the trim in the bedroom? Weird, I know, but it works for me.

So here's wishing all my writer-friends a tidy house and many brilliant pages. Pfaff away!

(P.S. Anita Davison will say this is a myth and totally untrue.)

Until later,