This Writer’s Life

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I don’t have a source for this image. If anyone knows it, please contact me or put it in the comments so I can attribute it.

I received an interview request from Webucator: Expert Instructors Blogging last week to help celebrate National Novel Writing Month. They are going to share my answers with their students and I hope you can benefit from them as well.

What were your goals when you started writing?

Writing is an innate thing for me. I started writing when I was a little girl, simply because I wanted to tell stories. I can still remember typing out my very first story (one whole page!) on a typewriter, years before computers became the norm. Throughout my school years, I wrote several stinkers and one that was actually pretty good, never having a clue that I was honing skills for a future career. That was the last thing on my mind. Even up until a few years ago, my goal was just to tell the stories that were in my head.

What are your goals now?

My current goal is to get my first book published. (I’ve completed several, both in historical fiction and women’s fiction/smart, sweet romance.) After that it will be to continue to be able to share my novels with the world. But that’s just the distribution, behind it all the goal remains the same: tell the stories that are desperate to get out of my brain. If I didn’t have writing, I’m sure I’d go insane (although the current state of sanity is questionable at best).

What pays the bills now?

I work in the marketing department of a health care system, handling internal communications. I’m a certified business communicator, and one of two writers in our department. That means when I’m not novel writing at night, on weekends and vacation days, I’m doing business writing. It’s not a bad thing to have your entire life be writing, but it can be exhausting!

Assuming writing doesn’t pay the bills, what motivates you to keep writing?

The voices in my head! Seriously. I’m one of those crazy writers who hears her characters and when their story is ready, darn it, they want out and they let me know it! Beyond that, it’s a passion for writing and a certainty that this is what I was born to do. The world may not know it yet, but I do, and I’m going to keep telling stories until one finally catches on. I have no doubt that it will happen. It may just take time.

What advice would you give young authors hoping to make a career out of writing?

Write every single story that comes into your head. The more you write, the better you get. And write the stories that appeal to you, not what seems to be popular at the time. If you’re going to see a book to publication, you will read it dozens of times, so it needs to be something you really care about, otherwise you’ll get sick of it and that will show to the readers. Plus, it takes so long to write and traditionally publish a book, that if you chase a trend, chances are good that it will be over by the time you try to sell your story.

Read as much as you can, both within you genre(s) and outside of them. Note what works and what doesn’t. Over time, you’ll find yourself “reading like a writer,” which means you can’t just enjoy a book like you used to; whether you realize it or not, you’ll be mentally dissecting both the good and the bad to try to figure out why you did or didn’t like something. And that’s how you learn. Don’t discount the bad books; oftentimes, they teach you just as much as the amazing ones.

Once you’ve finished a draft of your novel, celebrate – this is something few people accomplish – but also realize you are far from finished. You’ll go through several rounds of edits before your book is ready for an agent or editor to see it. Take advantage of beta readers and consider hiring a professional editor. Their critiques may hurt your ego (some have made me cry), but after some time, you’ll realize your writing (and your skill) benefits from honest feedback.

Finally, don’t give up. Writing professionally is a tough business, full of rejection from agents, editors, critics and readers. There are days where it seems like everyone but you is announcing successes. But the only way your turn will never come is if you quit. Just keep writing. If one book doesn’t make it, write another, and another if you have to. On the tough days, it can help to remember why you started writing in the first place. Chances are good it wasn’t for money (the blockbusters really are rare). Remember your story and your characters. You have a duty to them to tell their story, to keep going. And once that story is done, there will be another to which you are bound. Writing isn’t so much a choice, as it is a responsibility – to your stories and to yourself. Treat it with the same respect you would any other job or commitment. That’s what separates the pros from the hobbyists.

Do you have any other questions for me? Thoughts about what I’ve written? Please share them in the comments below.

Book Review: Mortal Heart by Robin LaFevers

Mortal HeartThere aren’t enough stars in the sky to show much I loved this book (no way is five enough)! I haven’t had a book touch me so personally since reading The Mists of Avalon back in 1998.

But before I get into why this book affected me the way it did, a little explanation of the story. Mortal Heart is the third and final book in the His Fair Assassin trilogy by Robin Lafevers. The trilogy centers on a convent of nuns in medieval France who are devoted to one of the nine old gods of Brittany, Mortain, the god of death. As Death’s handmaidens they are trained to be assassins to carry out His will. This fictional setup is blended seamlessly with actual historical events of the time, namely a 13-year-old duchess’ fight to keep Brittany independent from the French.

Each book is told from a different character’s point of view, but is part of a continuing story. The first book, Grave Mercy, is told from Ismae’s point of view and is very much about politics and court intrigue. The second, Dark Triumph, is Sybella’s story, one of adventure and heart-pounding action. In Mortal Heart, Annith finally gets to tell her story, one of romance, love and faith. (If you haven’t read the rest of the series, start with Grave Mercy. You’ll be lost if you pick up with Mortal Heart.)

Throughout all of the other books, Annith has patiently waited in the convent where she was raised for her turn to be sent out to do Mortain’s work, which is her life-long dream. She’s watched Ismae and Sybella be sent out before her, even though she is the most skilled. When she finds out that the abbess has other plans for her, ones that involve her never leaving the convent, she must make a decision whether to obey the rules as she has always done, or seek Mortain’s will on her own. Her choice leads her on a journey not even the convent seeresss could have predicted, revealing long-held secrets that threaten to unravel everything she’s ever believed about herself and the convent and send her straight into the arms of Death himself.

Being a fan of love stories and fantasy, as well as someone who is fascinated by religion, it probably shouldn’t be surprising that this my favorite book of the series. It delves much more deeply into the religion and mythology of the series, placing a truly devoted nun, Annith, at the fore. As someone who used to want to be a nun (although, not the assassin kind), I deeply related to Annith. I understand what it’s like to “be in love with” your God, to want to do his will more than anything else in the world, as well as the frustration of not understanding how you’re supposed to bring this cherished dream to fruition. Add to this that the old gods are based on the Celtic pantheon (which is near and dear to my heart), and that this book deals with the intersection of the old religion and Christianity, and how the gods and mortals interact, and you have what is personally for me, a life-changing book.

But I also realize that most people won’t have this personal connection to the book. Even if you don’t relate to it on the level I do, I believe you will be moved by the themes of love, trust, faith and hope – things we all struggle with, no matter what our personal beliefs are. Mortal Heart is also very much about the lengths to which we are willing to go for those we love, and the impact of the secrets that each and every one of us carry around with us. There is something for everyone in this richly layered tale of devotion, love and adventure.

Maybe it’s because this is the final book in the trilogy, but I felt like I was much more a part of the world of this book than in the previous books. It was a joy to see Ismae, Sybella and Annith together again and learn the final resolution of the political situation I’ve been invested in since the first book. I also loved getting to see the inner workings of some of the other orders devoted to the old gods.

There is so much more I want to say about this book, but I can’t because it involves spoilers for key plot points. Please trust me on how wonderful this book is and give it, and the series, a chance. Even though it’s marketed as YA, it certainly doesn’t read like a YA book. To me it’s a wonderful historical fantasy perfect for those who love their fantasy with strong female characters, unlikely love, a bit of mystery, and a dash of danger.

Have you read any of the books in this series? Did you like them? Why or why not? Are you planning to read Mortal Heart? Does anything I’ve said about this series intrigue you? Why?

Language in 19th Century America

Merrymaking Wayside Inn by Pavel Petrovich Svinin [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Merrymaking Wayside Inn by Pavel Petrovich Svinin [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

One of the interesting things I’m discovering as I write my next book (which takes place from 1868 to 1873) is that by the mid-late 19th century, American speech was both oddly similar to our modern language and yet completely different. Allow me to explain.

The need to be accurate about language choice is one of the things that makes historical fiction different from other genres. Sometimes a word or phrase seems like it would fit perfectly, but upon deeper consideration, you realize it hadn’t come into common use yet. For example, I wanted one character to use the phrase “right off the bat” in 1868, but I found out it wasn’t commonly used until 1888 (and may have derived from either baseball or cricket. No one knows for certain.) When that happens, you have no choice but to find something similar that was in use at the time.

Here are some examples of words and phrases you may think are more modern (warning: some are curse words), but aren’t, plus some that are so foreign to our understanding as to be from another language.

Seem Modern, But Aren’t

  1. Bad egg – a bad person; a good-for-nothing person. (opposite of a “good egg.”)
  2. Buddy – as in a friend or pal. Came into use in 1840-1850. Is an Amercianism that’s thought to be a reduced form of the word brother.
  3. Conniption – a fit of hysteria.
  4. Fixings – trimmings, accessories, etc.
  5. Greased lightning - anything very fast. Appears to date from around 1833. (Heck, I thought it came from the play/movie, Grease.)
  6. Horny - sexually aroused. Used throughout the century.
  7. Knocked up: Pregnant. Used as early as 1813.
  8. Let her rip: let it go. Dates from around 1853.
  9. Person of color – someone of African ancestry. Dates to 1801. (I really thought this was a modern, politically correct phrase.)
  10. Curse words such as bastard, bull, cocksucker, cunt, damn, dang, fuck, piss, pussy, screw, shit, and son of a bitch.

Not in Use Anymore

  1. Absquatulate - to take leave, to disappear.
  2. Adventuress – euphemism for a prostitute or wild woman.
  3. Big bugs – bigwigs; important people,
  4. Catch a weasel asleep - something impossible or unlikely.
  5. Cutting a shine – pulling a prank or fast one; joking,
  6. Didoes – to cut up didoes was to get into mischief.
  7. Huckleberry above a persimmon -  a cut above.
  8. Humbug – to swindle or con; an impostor.
  9. Shut pan – shut up; shut your mouth.
  10. Smile – a drink; to take a drink.

Interestingly, many 19th century phrases survive in both southern dialect and in movies/TV.  (I don’t know about you, but I always associate the word tarnation with Yosemite Sam!) Some, such as bloody and balls, began as British English slang and have since come back into fashion in American English. Others have changed meaning completely, such as dude (used to refer to a dandy, now just refers to men or people in general), hoe-down (used to mean a Negro dance, now tends to be associated with a square dance or country party), hooter (used to mean a tiny amount, now refers to breasts, and usually large ones) and shucks (use to mean worthless people or things, now used as an expression of embarrassment or humility).

Which words surprise you the most? What 19th century words or phases do you know? Which do you still use?


A Nineteenth Century Slang Dictionary

Etymology Online
Everyday Life in the 1800s by Mark McCutcheon 

A Few Quick Updates

A few quick updates for all of you this morning:

  1. My Historical Novel Society article about the roles available to women in Tudor England is up: City of Ladies by Sarah Kennedy Prompts Look at Women’s Roles in Tudor England. The story behind this article is that I was asked to read Sarah Kennedy’s City of Ladies (which I loved; waiting for Historical Honey to post my review and then will link to it) and then I was to write an article based on a theme in the book.
  2. I’ll be attending the Historical Novel Society conference in Denver June 26-28, 2015. Be sure to say hi if you’re there.
  3. I’m 15,000 words into the new book.

That’s all for now. Real blog post tomorrow.

Treatment of Female Characters by Male Writers of Historical Fiction

Mary Magdalene by Georges de La Tour (Source: Wikimedia Commons, Public Domain)

Mary Magdalene by Georges de La Tour (Source: Wikimedia Commons, Public Domain)

I’ve been thinking about the subject of this post for quite some time now, and I’m hoping that all of you can offer some recommendations. You see, I’ve really been trying to diversify my historical fiction reading by including books written by men. After all, if I preach about female equality, I should exhibit equality in my own reading, right?

Here’s the problem: I can’t find any male historical fiction authors I like. (Tyler, I haven’t read your book yet, so I’m not including you in that statement.) I’ve tried a variety of male authors (whom I won’t name out of respect for them and those who like their books), and my dislike of their work boils down to one of two things:

  1. I don’t really go for military history, so that rules out a lot of male authors who concentrate on that part of history.
  2. Out of the stories I’ve read, nearly all portray women in a negative light.

I’d like to focus on that second point for a moment. The stories that I’m referring to at best treat their female characters as afterthoughts, cardboard props to fawn over their male heroes (my what a big sword you have), and at worst (and more commonly) portray them as prostitutes and/or victims of the male characters. I’ve read the female-character-as-prostitute trope so many times in male authored books that I wonder if I need to write a book called,”Healers, Mothers, Craftswomen and Estate Managers: Other Roles to Give Your Female Characters.” A prostitute can serve a very important role as one who has access to all sorts of information from a variety of types of men, and who can slip in and out of both the respectable areas and the underworld, so I can see why giving that profession to a character could be useful. But that’s not generally how I’ve seen her used in books written by men. Many times, the prostitutes serve no real purpose to the story other than to give the male characters someone to physically and sexually abuse, often graphically. It’s as if the scenes are some sick fantasy of the author (which I hope they are not),  they think this is how readers expect women to be portrayed in history, or maybe it’s just lazy writing. (See my friend Shauna Granger’s post on sexual violence as lazy writing.)

There is no faster way to sour a book than to abuse a woman or an animal for no reason (and rarely is there a good reason). There is one male author in particular who is wildly successful, and whose book I enjoyed immensely until there were multiple gratuitous scenes of abuse of women and animals. I think he was trying to show how sick and twisted one of the male villains was, but I can think of at least a dozen ways that could be done that wouldn’t have involved such needless violence. (Not that I’m saying that I’m a better writer, just that there are other options.)

I realize that throughout most of history, women had little power. But that is no excuse for continuing to reinforce the woman as victim trope. Yes, women were (and still are) brutalized, raped and murdered as part of war or even just for being in the wrong place at the wrong time. If this is important to the plot and accurate to the time period, by all means it should be included. (One of my books has a fairly lengthy section where the main female character is raped and tortured, but it is traditional to the mythology and serves a larger purpose in the overall plot.) What I have trouble accepting is when such things are used without apparent purpose or just because the author can.

Sometimes I wonder if this portrayal of women is due in part to the gender roles people were raised with. Boys are supposed to like war and fighting and girls are supposed to care about relationships and love, therefore that’s what we focus on when we write. (Although there are a few female military history novelists whom I’ve heard are very good.) It’s also possible that men may feel the need to show how macho or heroic their male leads are by making the females look or be subservient by comparison. Another possibility is our schooling and popular history has enforced the “male as hero, woman as servant role” and these authors are just repeating what they know. However, we live in an age where contrary information (biographies of female leaders, studies of historical gender roles, especially women’s) is easily accessible if one looks, so the latter should no longer be an excuse. Actually, none of these should be valid excuses.

In a world where both boys and girls, adults and children can enjoy the exploits of a boy wizard called Harry Potter (written by woman), shouldn’t it be realistic to expect that as a woman, I can enjoy historical fiction written by a man without feeling the need to defend my entire gender afterwords?

I’m sure this does not represent all male historical fiction authors and that’s why I even brought it up. Please tell me in the comments if you’ve read and/or can recommend non-military historical fiction written by men that has some well-rounded female characters. I would love to be able to write a follow-up post declaring that I’ve found a few I like.

PS – I also realize some female authors are guilty of doing the same things with their characters. But I’ve been able to find plenty who aren’t, which has not been my experience with male authors.

A Peek Behind the Creative Curtain or Why You No Blog?

I’m currently making my way through Justin Kleon’s books Steal Like an Artist and Show Your Work. Both are so inspirational and I highly recommend them for anyone in any sort of creative discipline. Anyway, in the later he talks about sharing your process with others, letting your fans peek behind the creative curtain, so to speak. That’s always been one of my aims for this blog, so I thought I’d give you a little insight into what I’ve been doing to get my next book into motion:

  • In the last 2.5 months, I’ve read 15 research books cover to cover and written countless pages of notes.
  • Those notes have become my very detailed 25-page, 15,000 word outline.
  • Which I will turn into a 90-100K book over the next 2-3 months. I’m aiming to write about 1,000 words a day.
  • Then I will let it rest for a few weeks, edit it several times and then let my lovely crew of beta readers beat it up.
  • If all goes well, it will be on submission by late spring.

No pressure, right?

I should also have a new book review up on Historical Honey soon as well as an article on the Historical Novel Society’s site. Will send links when they are up. In November, I’ll be reviewing Robin LaFevers’ Mortal Heart for Sirens (by the way, my next book is a perfect fit for the 2015 conference theme of rebels and rebellion, so you’ll probably see me speaking there), and in December I’ll have two reviews for, my latest book reviewing venture.

So if you’ve been wondering why I’ve been a little scattered and not quite as consistent with my blogging lately, this is why. (Remember, I don’t write full-time, yet!) Plenty more news to come and I’ll try to give you a real blog post next Monday. Love to all!

PS – I kind of want to create a new blog category for Do All The Things, since I seem to always be doing all the things.

Blog Tour – Isla’s Inheritance by Cassandra Page

IslasInheritanceBlitzBannerThis week I’m thrilled to be a part of the blog tour for my friend and fellow author, Cassandra Page. Her debut novel, a young adult urban fantasy called Isla’s Inheritance, was released on October 9. I met Cassandra on Twitter a few years ago when we were both participating in the same pitch contest and it’s been a joy to watch her grow in confidence and mature as a writer. So please, take a moment to check out her first novel and if it sounds like something you’d like, give it a read. Plus, if you read to the end, there’s a giveaway for a $50 Amazon or Barnes and Noble card!

About Isla’s Inheritance

IslaIsla was content to let her father keep his secrets, but now she can’t stand the touch of iron and her dreams are developing a life of their own. She must discover the truth — before it’s too late.

Seventeen-year-old Isla Blackman only agrees to participate in a Halloween party séance because Dominic, an old crush, wants to. She is sure nothing will happen when they try to contact the spirit of her mother. But the séance receives a chilling reply.


Isla doesn’t want to upset her father by prying into the family history he never discusses. When the mysterious and unearthly Jack offers to help her discover the truth, Isla must master her new abilities to protect her loved ones from enemies she never knew existed.

 Goodreads | Amazon | Smashwords

Interview with Cassandra Page, author of ‘Isla’s Inheritance’

Can you tell us a little about ISLA’S INHERITANCE?

It’s a young adult urban fantasy set in Australia, and is about a girl named Isla (surprise!). Isla’s seventeen and a bit of a sceptic, in that she always looks for the sensible, mundane explanation for things—something her single-parent father has always encouraged. At a Halloween party, she agrees to take part in a séance because a hot guy she used to have a crush on wants to go; it’s a shock to her when the “spirit” they contact claims her mother isn’t actually dead, as she’s always been told. Of course, she doesn’t believe it at first, and is quickly distracted by said hot guy, whose name is Dominic.

Of course, that’s when things start to get interesting. ;)

Isla’s Inheritance is the first book in a trilogy. The other two books are coming out in the first third of 2015, which is both exciting and utterly terrifying! Getting everything ready is going to be a bit of a mad rush, but the flipside is that readers won’t have to wait years between instalments. GRRM, I’m looking at you!

I notice you write using Australian English spellings. Is the book written that way too?

Yes, it is. Even though Turquoise Morning Press is based out of the USA, the team decided that since the story is set in Australia, it would be more authentic to use Australian spelling and terms where possible. However, I did try and choose words that had common meanings, to minimise the chaos and confusion for readers. As an example, a thong in Australia is a type of shoe that I’m told is called a flip flop in the US. We’d never say flip flop here but, on the other hand, given what a thong is in other parts of the world, I didn’t really want people to get mixed up! There have been a few different decisions like that.

What is your favourite part of the writing process?

Writing the last few chapters of a book, definitely. I’ve drafted four now, and that’s always been the best part of the experience. It’s such a heady rush, seeing all the plot threads come together and the plot accelerate. Also, usually by that point I’m doing mean things to my characters, which is always fun!

The other thing is that it takes me a long time to write a first draft—somewhere between six and nine months—so it’s always satisfying to reach the end of that process. I’m a single mother and work full time, so I have to squeeze in my writing where I can: after my son’s in bed, on lunch breaks, that sort of thing. I also do a lot of plotting (and scheming) in the car.

Given the reference to iron in the blurb, it’s not a surprise to learn the “fantasy” part of your urban fantasy relates to the fae, which are part of European mythology. How did your fae come to be in Australia?

I decided very early on in the drafting process that I didn’t want cute Disney elves. Not that I have a problem with Disney—I’m a mum and therefore know the Frozen soundtrack verbatim—but I felt something darker than Tinker Bell suited young adult readers better. My ruling class of fae are renowned for their vanity, and their cruelty to those in their service. As a result, the fae in Australia are almost all refugees of one kind or another: “lesser” fae who want to live free of oppression.

Where in Australia are the books set?

They set in Canberra, Australia’s capital, which is, in some ways, an overgrown country town. What that means is we have a lot more green spaces than either Sydney or Melbourne do: reserves running through suburbs; low mountains covered in walking trails and with lookouts perched on top; parks for the kids to play.

It’s a great place to set a story when your supernatural population likes green spaces. Werewolves and fairies in particular would love it here—there are places with hardly any iron or steel, and green corridors a wolf could sneak through. I wondered at first whether setting a supernatural tale here would somehow lack credibility. But then I thought, if Sookie Stackhouse can run into vampires in a tiny town like Bon Temps, why can’t Canberra have its own supernatural stories, that element of magic?

When I see the sunlight sparkling off the surface of Lake Burley Griffin on a crisp autumn afternoon, or the glittering lights of the city from Mount Ainslie at dusk, I think that magic is already there. All I’m doing is telling people about it.

Author bio

CassandraCassandra Page is a mother, author, editor and geek. She lives in Canberra, Australia’s bush capital, with her son and two Cairn Terriers. She has a serious coffee addiction and a tattoo of a cat — which is ironic, as she’s allergic to cats. When she’s not reading or writing, she engages in geekery, from Doctor Who to AD&D. Because who said you need to grow up?

Author links

Blog | Twitter | Facebook | Google+ | Pinterest | Goodreads


Enter HERE to win a $50 gift card at Amazon or Barnes & Noble – winner’s choice (open internationally, through October 27).

Do you have questions for Cassandra? What do you think about her book? Are you going to read it? Feel free to leave your thoughts below and she’ll pop in to say hi and answer questions.