On Being Adaptable

Nicole Evelina:

My monthly post over at Spellbound Scribes.

Originally posted on Spellbound Scribes:

ADAPTABILITY_TO_CHANGEIf I’m learning one thing as a pre-published author, it’s that you have to learn to be flexible in this industry. And I don’t just mean in being able to take edits, although that’s a very important skill as well.

In the last year, I’ve seen writer friends get agents, leave agents, get new ones, take contracts, cancel contracts, get dropped by their publishers, succeed beyond their wildest dreams and have to adapt to all manner of situations in between.

In that same year, I’ve written several books, been on submission, experienced the acquisitions board and been both baffled and inspired by publishing houses and editors. I’ve started projects that I thought were pure genius, only to put them on hold to focus on those that have a better likelihood of selling in the current market, and I’ve rearranged my whole TBW (to be written) list more times than I…

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Another Top 10 Fun Facts About the Celts

This is Soay ewe. (Source: Wikimedia Commons)

This is Soay ewe. (Source: Wikimedia Commons)

One of my most popular posts of all time is A Celtic Primer (Top 10 Fun Facts). Since that one was such a hit, I thought I’d give an encore. This post, like it’s predecessor, focuses on the British Celts before the coming of Rome. (I’ve listed the source at the end of each one, just in case you want to learn more.)

  1. The term Celts, as commonly used, is a misnomer – The Celts were not a single race, but a people defined by their language, which dates back to the eighth – sixth century BC. Q Celtic is a version where the “qu” sound is pronounced as “k” but written as “c.” P Celtic replaced the “qu” sound with a “p.” This may have been brought to Britain during the Neolithic period. and is the basis of the native language of the Britons. (Alcock, Daily)
  2. The Celts spoke multiple languages. Most British Celts were bilingual within a generation of the 43 AD Roman conquest, speaking their native dialect at home and Latin for business. It’s also believed that the Druids knew Greek. (Southern)
  3. Female slaves were an actual unit of measure. A female slave was called a cumal in Medieval Irish law. A cumal is a unit of measure equivalent to 3 oz of silver or 8-10 cows. (Wyatt)
  4. Sheep are more interesting than you think. The early Celts kept a type of sheep called Soay (see right, they still exist) that shed their wool naturally (who knew?), though shearing, which took place in May, produced a softer wool. They were plucked by hand until the Iron Age invention of the shears. (Alcock, Daily and Life, Lawrence)
  5. Names held great importance. The Celts believed that to name a thing was to give it power. A Celt had two names: a personal name and that of his/her father, which is like having a first and last name. (Lawrence) For example, I would be Nicole, daughter of Richard. (Many times the father’s name included a characteristic like “the bold” or “the brave.”)
  6. Beware their women drivers… The early Celts fought in chariots with a pair of small horses (which had their tails and manes plaited to avoid tangling in the reins). Each chariot had three people: a driver, archer and spearman. Boudicca is famous for this method of fighting. (Moffat)
  7. I can see how this Wolfhound could do a man in... (By Louis Agassiz Fuertes (1874-1927) (Druck ca. 1920) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons)

    I can see how this Wolfhound could do a man in… (By Louis Agassiz Fuertes (1874-1927) (Druck ca. 1920) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons)

    Dogs were more than pets. The Celts used wolfhounds, which some say were the world’s tallest dogs, in war and hunting. In war, they could not only brutally attack the enemy, but once the enemy threw their spears at them, they (the enemy) were rendered defenseless. (Duffy)
  8. Barter wasn’t their only method of payment. The use of coins may have come about in Britain as a result of trade with Greece. We know coins of the Belgae came to Britain before they started making their own. The first British minted coins were in 100-70 BC. (Alcock, Daily and Cunliffe)
  9. The Celts could float your boat. Traditional Celtic boats were hollowed out logs or coracles, leather or skin stretched over a light wood frame. There is reason to believe that the British Celts may have modeled larger vessels after  the Veneiti of Gaul, who had a large fleet of ships they used to trade with Britain. These had flatter bottoms to sail in shallow water, high bows and sterns to sail in rough seas and gales, and sails made of raw hides or leather.  (Lawrence and Alcock, Daily)
  10. Cooking happened even before the cauldron. One early method is the potboil, in which stones were heated and  placed in a trough of water, which has been proven to cook food just as well as heating over a central cauldron (which came later). Fish could be wrapped in river clay, left to dry, put in a shallow pit filled with hot firewood and left to bake. (J Alcock, Daily) 

Sources:

Alcock, Joan. Daily life of the Pagan Celts
—–  Life in Roman Britain.
Cunliffe, Barry. Iron Age Communities in Britain.
Duffy, Kevin. Who Were the Celts?
Lawrence, Richard Russel. Roman Britain.
Moffat, Alistair. The Borders.
Southern, Patricia. Roman Britain: New History 55 BC – 450 AD
Wyatt, David. Slaves and Warriors in Medieval Britain

Do you have questions about the Celts? If so, leave them in the comments or hit me up by email and I’ll see if I can answer them.

Quick Update

Hi everyone,

I’m finally emerging from research craziness and just wanted to let you know that I’m hoping to get back to a regular posting schedule again. Thanks for your patience. The project I was working on is nearly done (or as done as it can be right now), even though it’s likely going to sit on the back burner for a while. The good news is, I have plenty of Celtic history to share.

One thing I’m learning about this industry is that things change quickly and you have to be willing to change with them, so you may be seeing a lot of shifting of research/books going on around here.

My next book is something I never thought ‘d write – American historical fiction set in the mid-late 1800s. This isn’t really “my thing,” but I found a story that hasn’t been told in fictional format before (at least that I can tell), so I pounced on it. I won’t be able to tell you who the book is about until it’s on submission (hopefully early next year), but I will share time period research as I do it. There are lots of issues involved in this one: slavery, the suffrage movement, spiritualism,  you name it, it’s here. Seriously, if I didn’t know this person’s life really happened, I wouldn’t believe it. It’s that crazy.

Meeting Elizabeth Gilbert: a Joy and an Inspiration

Elizabeth Gilbert (left) and a very excited me

Elizabeth Gilbert (left) and a very excited me

I’m popping my head out of the research cave to share with you an amazing opportunity I got this past week. Last Tuesday, I had the good fortune to meet author Elizabeth Gilbert as part of her book tour for The Signature of All Things. (If you haven’t read it yet, go, go, go! It’s historical fiction that is so lush, you really feel like you’re there with the characters. Plus, it’s unique to all the other nineteenth century novels out there – I promise you’ve never seen these characters or settings before.)

I first encountered Elizabeth like so many of us, with Eat Pray Love, which had a profound effect on my life, albeit one I can’t really put into words. But how I really came to love her was through her TED talks on creativity. (Here’s are the first on creative genius and the second on success, failure and the drive to keep writing). Both of them made me cry, in a good way, out of pure joy at encountering someone who spoke directly to my artistic soul. Then I read The Signature of All Things (I’m about ¾ of the way through – had to give it back to the library, but now I own it!) and knew she was an author I’d stick with long into the future.

Elizabeth is no less wonderful in person than she is on the Internet. She has the rare gift of being both a fantastic writer and an inspiring, engaging and entertaining speaker. And she’s so human.  I found myself in tears (it had been a very trying day anyway) several times while she spoke, nodding my head, thinking, “Yes, yes. This confirms that I’m meant to be a writer.” I’ve included below a recording of her opening remarks and reading from The Signature of All Things. (Not sure why it didn’t give me a proper thumbnail. The video really is there, I promise. Sorry if the sound is low. This is the best I could do.)

 

Even if you don’t watch that, you may want to see her answer to a fan’s question about where she gets her inspiration. I missed the beginning of her answer, but she started with “Are you ready to get freaky?” and proceeded to explain how she believes ideas are always floating around looking for a home (which is my theory as well. I believe our stories choose us, not the other way around):

Other highlights of her talk/Q&A:

  • Even though Eat Pray Love was such a huge success, she was not an overnight phenomenon. She was three books into her career before she quit her day job.
  • She recommends writing every day and using a kitchen timer for whatever time you can allot yourself, even if it’s only 15 or 30 minutes. She doesn’t work based on word count because “you might right one word one day that’s a really important word, but a thousand the next and end up having to delete them all.”
  • She will be continuing in historical fiction (yay!). Her next book is set in the theatre world of 1940s New York. (Love that already!)
  • She is still in touch with everyone mentioned in Eat Pray Love, except for Richard from Texas, who passed away three years ago. But they were close friends to the end and she spoke at his funeral.
  • She talked about the word focus and that it comes from the Latin word for “fire.” The idea is that when people sit around a fire, they inevitably end up all staring into the fire. She emphasized the importance of making sure you have a fire at the center of your narrative to keep your reader’s attention.
  • Her biggest tip for anyone is to follow a path of curiosity, because that spark of questioning will lead you to your passion in life.
  • She also talked about how you can tell more truth in fiction than in memoir and many times you end up doing it without even realizing it. She said that while memoirs are true, they are a matter of “making a piece of art out of what happened,” rather than showing you a raw diary. They are by necessity, very polished versions of the truth. In fiction, you can let the more raw versions of yourself out.
  • Her sister is MG/YA author Catherine Gilbert Murdock.

IMG_0712When she was finished speaking, Elizabeth was kind enough to personalize the already autographed books and sign copies of other books people brought along. I had her sign my copy of Eat Pray Love as well. While she was doing that, I got to talk to her a bit about being a writer and she noticed my tattoos and wanted to see what they said. When it was my turn to get a picture taken, she put her arm around me and said, “oh, you!” in a favorite aunt sort of way. It was a wonderful, uplifting experience that went a long way toward refreshing my well of creativity and hope, which was running a bit dry.

I’m really amazed by the kindness and graciousness of the three authors I’ve been fortunate to meet so far (Alyson Noel, Deb Harkness and Elizabeth). They strong women in their own right and wonderful examples of how to interact with your fans. I hope that I’ve internalized what I’ve learned from them and will be just as pleasant to my fans someday as they are.

If nothing else, they’ve all taught me some important lessons: 1) success is possible, 2) don’t ever give up, 3) it may take time, but it will happen.

Have you ever gotten to meet a famous author? If so, who? What was it like? If not, who do you want to meet?

Hungry Like the Wolf

I wrote this post about two weeks ago, but didn’t publish it because I thought it may come off as…I don’t know…self serving, obnoxious, something bad. But then last night I saw this blog on why it’s okay to want as long as you do something about it (she gets to the point about halfway through the post) and I figured I may as well put my honest feelings out there. Here goes nothin’…

hunger-for-success1I had one of those ah-ha moments this morning: I realized that I’m hungry to be a professional author. I always thought that phrase, “hungry,” was silly, especially when applied to the business world. It conjured up images of corporate executives on the rise who stabbed each other in the back on their way to the top. But now that I’ve experienced true artistic hunger, I get it. It’s not about stepping on others; it’s about being your best and constantly striving to raise the bar.

For me, this hunger is a type of driving ambition, a compelling force that makes me take on more in order to establish a career doing the thing I love. I’ve always known that I want to write for a living and how much I love it, but this is something more. My word for 2014 was “bloom,” and I’m ready to burst forth.

I know the only way to guarantee success (as much as one can) is to write great books. I hope I’m doing that. I’m devoting every spare moment to research for this new project that I’m really passionate about. In the process, I discovered another historical figure that it doesn’t look like much has been written about (she’s from a slightly later period than the Celts). Now I’m planning to write her story next year, along with another contemporary story and possibly a Celtic historical fiction.

I’m also planning my conference schedule for 2015. (In case you were wondering:  BEA in New York in May, the Historical Novel Society conference in Denver in June and possibly Sirens in Portland in October.) But I don’t just want to attend; I want to speak at these events, to share what I’ve learned with others. I want to get to know other authors and avid readers in person. I’m also considering applying for a two-week residency (the longest amount of vacation time I can get) at Hedgebrook (where I took classes with Deb Harkness earlier this year) for their 2015 or 2016. (Oh yeah, and I’m trying to save money to move to another city, but that’s a story for another day.)

In the midst of all this, I saw an announcement for a historical fiction book award. Obviously, I don’t qualify for that yet, but it’s on my dream list (with many others) for the future. I’ve always been award-happy (I blame it on the dance trophies when I was little), but it’s about more than pretty bauble or a fancy title; it’s about recognition by your peers. I want that. I want everything and I’m willing to work as hard as I have to in order to get it.

Yet, I know this hunger has a down side and I’m beginning to feel it. The danger in this is trying to do too much, especially too soon. So much of publishing is out of our hands as authors (as opposed to most of the writing part, save editing). All I can do right now is keep producing good work and believing things will break for me whenever they are supposed to. But in the meantime, I have to be careful to guard my health and not burn out. Thankfully, I have family and friends who are willing to tell me to take time off when I can’t see that I need it.

I’m not exactly sure why I felt that I should write about this. Maybe it was to share my experience, my joy in all the exhausting work I am doing. Maybe it’s to try to find others of like mind, to know I’m not alone in this obsessive need to write, to do more, to be more and better myself, even though very few people know who I am right now.

PS – You’re welcome for the Duran Duran earworm from the title of this post. :)

What are you hungry for? Have you ever had this experience? How did you handle it? How do you deal with your hunger?

Blog Tour: The Masked Songbird by Emmie Mears

The Masked Songbird_FC (2)Today I’m thrilled to introduce you to my friend Emmie Mears, whose debut novel, The Masked Songbird (published by Harlequin) comes out this Tuesday, July 1. She’s in the middle of a whirlwind blog tour, but was kind enough to sit down with me to answer a few questions. She’s also provided an excerpt from her book (at the end of this post). You can preorder THE MASKED SONGBIRD at http://www.amazon.com/dp/B00JD7TWZK. Released in a box set, you get four great paranormal and urban fantasy books for less than $4!  
 1. Your book has been billed as “Bridget Jones meets Spider-Man.” How does that work? What can readers expect?

A lot of the superheroes we see are born with their powers and responsibilities. I wanted to write a character from the other side of that. Peter Parker is one of the latter; he goes from a picked-on kid to a superhero, which is one of the reasons I think he’s been so relatable for so many people. I wanted to write a messy woman who doesn’t have her life together learning how to build her own strength when those around her would rather she be weak.

2. You’ve referred to Gwenllian, your main character, as Scotland’s first superhero.  Tell us a little about her.

I got beaten to the punch a bit with Saltire, a big blue superhero who debuted not long ago. :) Gwen Maule isn’t big OR blue, but she definitely packs a punch. Scotland is in a time of transition right now, and whether the Scots choose to forge their own nation apart from the UK or stay within the UK, and I wanted to write a character that reflected that transitional period. However Scotland votes, people across the country are in the process of making up their minds and learning about themselves and what they want for their country in the process.

3. Why as it important to you to create a female superhero, and in this particular location at this time in history?

To go with the #WeNeedDiverseBooks theme, I think having female superheroes (and superheroes of color with different ability levels and other qualities outside of a variation in 5 o’clock shadow) is important to show that you don’t have to share a gender with a superhero to find her relatable. Growing up female, I desperately wanted to see people like me doing awesome things and saving the world, but I also deeply identified with Peter Parker, Wolverine, and other male superheroes who were trying to find their way in the world. The more diverse stories that are out there, the more we can break down the walls for those who are accustomed to seeing their own demographic’s dominance and show them that they can find themselves in other stories as well.

4.  If you were a superhero, what would your superpower be?

Teleportation. Hands down. Think Davy in Jumper more than Nightcrawler, though.

5.  I know you have a degree in history. If you could live in any other time period, what would it be and why?

The future. One of the reasons I write is to be able to imagine better worlds than the one we’ve inherited. I couldn’t imagine myself going back in time to be someone’s property, but I like to pretend I have hope for a better future.

6.   What’s next for you?

Next in the pipeline is the sequel to THE MASKED SONGBIRD as well as a little non-fiction debut, A GEEK GIRL’S GUIDE TO FANDOM, also from Harlequin. I’m thrilled to get the chance to work more with my editor, and I can’t wait to continue Gwen’s story. After that, I’ve got a few other secret projects in development.

The Masked Songbird blurb:

Mildly hapless Edinburgh accountant Gwenllian Maule is surviving. She’s got a boyfriend, a rescued pet bird and a flatmate to share rent. Gwen’s biggest challenges: stretching her last twenty quid until payday and not antagonizing her terrifying boss.

Then Gwen mistakenly drinks a mysterious beverage that gives her heightened senses, accelerated healing powers and astonishing strength. All of which come in handy the night she rescues her activist neighbour from a beat-down by political thugs.

Now Gwen must figure out what else the serum has done to her body, who else is interested and how her boss is involved. Finally—and most mysteriously—she must uncover how this whole debacle is connected to the looming referendum on Scottish independence.

Gwen’s hunt for answers will test her superpowers and endanger her family, her friends—even her country.

Excerpt from The Masked Songbird:

CHAPTER 1

Days Until Referendum: 24

POOF.

That’s the sound I imagine my boss’s head making when it explodes.

Or maybe BLAM. A comic book noise, written in all-caps in a jagged bubble at the top of the panel while I dance a jig and pick bits of her out of my hair. As Annamaria de Fournay speaks into her mobile, not facing me, the back of her head displays no outward indication of an imminent explosion.

She toys with a white card, eyes fixed on a bouquet of purple-blue flowers in a fluted white vase. “I appreciate the flowers,” she says without a hint of irony. “Interesting choice.”

I wait for her to notice me, but her gaze remains locked on the angular petals. After a beat, she goes on.

“The research has been completed? You’re certain, then.” She pauses, a hint of a smile hovering at the corner of her mouth. “You’ll have to work out what to put it in. Something sweet would work.” She turns her head away from the bouquet and starts, seeing me. The almost-smile vanishes. “I’ll ring you back.” She drops her mobile on the table and looks at me as if I’ve walked into the loo to find her on the toilet with her knickers around her ankles.

She says nothing for forty-seven seconds. I cough. “Ms de Fournay, you wanted to see me?”

“Took you long enough to get here.”

I’m not going to remind her that she was on the phone when I arrived. What research was she talking about? A momentary picture of de Fournay at a chemistry set blowing up beakers of bright green liquid intrudes, and I shake it away before I crack a smile. She’s probably just researching the top ten habits of highly effective arseholes.

The Queen swivels in her chair and turns her green eyes on me. I instantly pity the bouquet for having to endure forty-seven seconds of that stare.

Her hair falls in exquisite curls to her breasts, and her nose rises toward the ceiling when I fail to apologise at once, and I look at my hands where they sit clasped in my lap, focusing my gaze on the small ruby ring Mum gave me when I turned eighteen.

De Fournay laces her fingers on the table. Not one of her nails is smudged or chipped. Even if I made her salary, I don’t reckon I’d get a manicure every day. I refuse to accept that she keeps them so perfect without daily upkeep.

“The financial you ran on Francis Duck’s merger lacked any glaring errors. He was very pleased, and he requested that I tell you personally of his…esteem.” Annamaria de Fournay’s lip quirks as if someone has tugged at a marionette string.

I stare at her, waiting for her to continue. I don’t trust myself not to squeak or belch or scream if I open my mouth, so I nod with as much grace as I can muster.

“Additionally, he asked that you be responsible for his summaries for the foreseeable future. I trust you understand the value of his continued loyalty to our company and conduct yourself accordingly.”

I nod again, not sure if de Fournay just praised me or if I fell through my mirror this morning into Wonderland. Or Bizarroworld.

For one shining moment, I think she’s going to let me go without a thrashing.

Instead her lips, top and bottom, as even and calculated as the rest of her, flatten into a line. She gestures to the chair across from her, dropping a folder on the table.

I sit, cupping the arms of my chair with both hands and trying to absorb the coolness of the plastic as a buffer against the verbal flamethrower she secrets away behind those lips. Her eyes are stony jade, her chin high, her skin smooth as a morning loch.

One immaculate French-manicured fingernail lands on the file folder that bridges the mahogany conference table between us. The white crescent of the nail’s tip reflects the fluorescent light from the ceiling, and as she leans forward, I smell the rosewater she dabs at her temples every day at two-thirty.

It might be a friendly gesture if I hadn’t seen it every day for three years. In spite of the compliment she just paid me, something in that file is my fault, and those even lips are about to part in a searing tirade against my character, my work ethic, my mum’s Welshness, my parochial highland crofter upbringing and the ethical conundrum of Mum allowing me to live past birth. Most days, Annamaria de Fournay believes my mother ought to have shrouded me in white linen and fed me to the selkies.

She opens the folder. A rush of rose scent crests over the table like a breaking wave. Pushing one sheet of paper toward me, her lips manage to stay in formation even as she speaks.

Miraculous.

“Do read this date for me.”

I blink, following the line of her finger down to its gleaming, polished end and read aloud. “Nineteenth of August.”

“Do you not find that curious?”

I find her accent obnoxious, but the date looks mundane enough to me.

Annamaria de Fournay came to Edinburgh from Cambridge, but if you ask her about it, you’d think she came straight from Buckingham Palace. While I don’t doubt that she’s English, the way she pushes every vowel out through the bridge of her nose makes it sound as though she’s thanking her subjects in St James’s Court rather than pointing out a discrepancy in an accounting report.

I shift my shoulders in response to her question.

 “This report was due the ninth of August, Ms Maule. Not the nineteenth, though I see how someone who squints as much as you do could imagine a one in front of the nine.”

Och, aye. That. Truth is, the report was turned in on the eighth of the month, but telling her would just make her set me aflame.

My eyesight is fine. I squint because her rosewater makes my eyes burn.

I used to try to argue my case with her. At least until it resulted in her dragging me into her office every day to flay me with words. Bringing up Francis Duck’s account will only make her angrier. Now I shut up, try to tune her out, and hope she’ll let me return to my blissfully unscented office.

I settle in, painting my face with an expression I hope radiates contrition and humility. I likely just look constipated, but she prattles on, and I wait for her mobile to beep for her next meeting. Two-thirty, rosewater scratch and sniff. Three o’clock, humiliate Gwenllian Maule. Three-thirty, fawn over clients and water them with expensive single malt.

I’m a part of her schedule now, as surely as the rosewater.

 “We are Edinburgh’s finest accountancy firm, and the go-to resource for businesses in the northern United Kingdom. Our clients expect more than a crofter’s level of professionalism, Ms Maule. Sheep and accountancy are not bedfellows. You will submit a revised report by Friday. And,” she continues with no change in tone, “I will not tolerate any more careless mistakes of this nature. Do it again and I won’t wait for your annual review to fire you—and no number of compliments from Francis Duck will keep you in this office.”

Fired. I can almost see bills popping up above my head in bubbles. Rent. Mobile. The university loans I make just enough to pay monthly. Credit cards. Car repayment for a car that doesn’t even run. My shoulders curl in, and the air I draw into my lungs feels thick, heavy. I’m glad I’m already sitting down, because I feel wobbly and lightheaded. My annual review is coming up in a couple short weeks. The review is just the excuse she needs to get rid of me, contract or no contract.

De Fournay waits for my response, her eyes trained on my face.

My tongue sticks to the roof of my mouth. I force the words out so she’ll stop looking at me. “It won’t happen again, Ms de Fournay.”

I almost sound sure of it.

Just my luck. One of our best clients picks me to do his reports, and she still finds a way to remind me that nothing I ever do here is good enough.

Her eyes drop back to the desk, and I uncurl my shoulders, waiting for the air in the room to thin without her unblinking gaze to thicken it. Her fingernail scans across the report like a heat-seeking missile, searching for more mistakes she can throw in my face. Finding none, she returns to the subject of my idiocy.

I stop listening and watch Annamaria de Fournay’s head, looking for signs of it going POOF. If only I could press a red button and make it so.

About Emmie Mears:

Emmie Mears was born in Austin, Texas, where the Lone Star state promptly spat her out at the tender age of three months. After a childhood spent mostly in Alaska, Oregon, and Montana, she became a proper vagabond and spent most of her time at university devising ways to leave the country.

Except for an ill-fated space opera she attempted at age nine, most of Emmie’s childhood was spent reading books instead of writing them. Growing up she yearned to see girls in books doing awesome things, and struggled to find stories in her beloved fantasy genre that showed female heroes saving people and hunting things. Mid-way through high school, she decided the best way to see those stories was to write them herself. She now scribbles her way through the fantasy genre, most loving to pen stories about flawed characters and gritty situations lightened with the occasional quirky humor.

Emmie now lives in her eighth US state, still yearning for a return to Scotland. She inhabits a cozy domicile outside DC with two felines who think they’re lions and tigers.

Follow Emmie on Twitter @EmmieMears and join her on Facebook!

Please leave your comments for Emmie below. She’ll be around to answer them.