Z is for Zilch, Otherwise Known as Writer’s Block

Even my laptop feels the pain of writer’s block.

Some days, no matter how hard you try, you sit down at the keyboard and…nothing happens. Nada. Zilch. You got nothin’. Your muse has hung the “gone fishin'” sign on your brain and your characters have all decided to take the day off. Welcome to the world of writer’s block.

Some writers claim there’s no such thing as writer’s block. They say you can get through any rough patch by simply continuing to write, even if what you write isn’t worth reading to your dog. I don’t agree. I’ve tried this approach and found it to be a waste of time and energy. All it results in is copious tears, cursing and threats to give up writing completely (often simultaneously).

To me, as frustrating as writer’s block is, it’s a signal that our minds need a break. In addition to writing, we’ve got jobs, families, hobbies and obligations, all of which compete with our creative energy for a share of our mental processes. Sometimes the well just runs dry. That’s when it’s best to be kind and give ourselves a break. Step away from your writing for a while and allow the block to pass. If you fight it, it will just get worse.

I’m sure this has all been said before, but here are a few things that have worked for me:

  1. Do something completely mindless. In the episode of The Big Bang Theory called “The Einstein Approximation,” Sheldon goes to work as a bus boy at The Cheesecake Factory in order to help him solve a physics problem he can’t crack. You can apply the same theory. All you have to do is something you don’t consciously need to think about. So clean your house, go for a drive along a familiar route or simply meditate. Rebooting your brain can be as simple as turning it off for a while.
  2. If you can’t stand to be away from your story, re-read what you’ve written (especially the stuff you wrote a while ago), go back to your outline or talk to your characters. Sometimes thinking out loud will do the trick. Or at least try to remember what made you want to write the story in the first place.
  3. Research. It’s not just for the pre-writing stage and you never know where a spark of inspiration may come from.
  4. Read other people’s books. I’ve had the experience where a single word in someone else’s novel was the key to breaking through writer’s block. Plus, every minute you spend reading you’re learning how to be a better writer.
  5. Listen to music. I’ve found movie scores to be very inspirational, especially since they’ve already got the rise and fall of emotions, tension and other elements of storytelling built in.
  6. When all else fails, exercise, then take a shower. I’m serious. You’ll get a rush of endorphins from the physical activity and then be relaxed by the shower. I get some of my best ideas in there; I think it’s the steam. Plus, you’ll have done something positive for your body and be clean and ready to write when you get out.

Well, we’ve reached the end of the alphabet, so this is the last post in the A to Z blogging challenge. I hope you’ve enjoyed it as much as I have. I have a whole new respect for the bloggers who do it all in a single month. I’ll probably do it again eventually, but for now I’m happy to return to a weekly schedule. We’ll get back on track next Thursday with…well, I’m not sure which topic will be next. You’ll just have to come back next week to find out.

What about you? Do you think writer’s block is real? How do you get past it? I’d love to hear your tips and tricks.

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Y is for Young Adult Fiction

A small portion of one of my bookshelves. This one contains the most YA.

Thanks in large part to the Harry Potter series and in smaller part to Twilight, a new generation of avid readers was born and a little known genre came to dominate the publishing world. Young adult fiction (or as it’s called in the industry, YA) is a juggernaut in the writing world right now. Massive YA sections are popping up in bookstores the world over, NPR just compiled a list of the best YA fiction and Hollywood is anxious to get its hands on the rights to just about every YA book out there.

YA is loosely defined as stories with a teenage protagonist that deals with teenage or coming of age themes. A YA protagonist cannot leave his/her teen years during the series or it ceases to be considered YA. Books with a main character younger than teen years are usually considered middle grade or children’s books.

But despite its name, young adult fiction isn’t just for teens. From Twilight Moms to readers like me, people of all ages are enjoying this resurgent breed of fiction. It’s phenomenon I’ve heard called “cross-over fiction,” when a book meant for teens is accepted by adults. (Seriously, can we add anymore obscure terms to this industry?) Witness the popularity of The Hunger Games and you know what I’m talking about.

What accounts for this occurence? Well, for one, I think many adults either don’t want to grow up, didn’t grow up, or are nostalgic for the simpler cares of youth. Maybe all three. YA books take you back to a time when life had a different set of problems and anything was possible. Magic was real and the world was a place ripe for exploration. They allow you a kind of “do-over” where you can relive your youth and maybe have a different outcome. And if you read paranormal YA, you might even get to have special powers while you do it. Plus, YA books tend to have a different tone than their adult counterparts. They still deal with important themes and there’s still violence and sex, but they’re done in a subtler way. In my experience, sometimes it seems like some adult writers get in your face with graphic detail just to prove how adult they are, so YA can be a nice change of pace.

I also think the rise in popularity is due to a much higher quality of writing and better plots. Twenty-something years ago when I was a teenager, all we had was a small corner of the bookstore that housed Sweet Valley High, The Babysitters Club, Christopher Pike horror novels, and the occasional gymnastics or figure skating-inspired series right next to kid classics like Nancy Drew and Anne of Green Gables. There’s nothing wrong with those (I still have some of mine), but they’re a far cry from the variety and imagination of the dystopian, urban fantasy, historical and other highly evocative worlds out there. (There are even Arthurian YA books, such as the Chrysalis Queen Quartet by Nancy McKenzie, who also wrote about Guinevere for adults.) Most importantly, the plots of today’s YA novels are smart and they treat their readers as intelligent, weaving complex stories that put some adult bestsellers to shame.

Here are a few of my personal favorites in the YA genre, many of whom I’ve written about on this blog:

  • Alyson Noel – Alyson has a ton of books, but I came to her writing through her amazing Immortals series. She just recently released the first book her Soul Seekers series. Both of these deal with the mystical/shamanistic side of the paranormal, which I absolutely love. I also got to meet her  last year and can attest that she’s super nice.
  • Cassandra Clare – Cassandra is the queen of urban fantasy as far as I’m concerned. I loved the first three books in her Mortal Instruments series (less so with the most recent two, but I’m finishing the series.) Her characters are people you want to get to know, her use of metaphors is brilliant and she has an easy, humorous writing style.
  • Maggie Stiefvater – The only books of Maggie’s that I’ve read are her Shiver trilogy. She also has a series on faeries, an acclaimed book called The Scorpio Races and her newest is The Raven Boys. In my opinion, her biggest talent is her ability to create mood and tension, which she does like no one else, YA or adult.
  • Laini Taylor – While Laini has written previous books, she took the YA world by storm with Daughter of Smoke and Bone, which I recently reviewed. Laini’s books can be classified as urban fantasy, but I think of them as plain old fantasy. She’s got some of the best characters and richest worlds out there. And she’s funny, to boot. The sequel to Daughter, Days of Blood and Starlight, comes out in November.
  • Veronica Roth – Veronica is a bit of a phenom, being only 23. I loved her first book, the dystopian Divergent, but wasn’t as impressed with its follow-up, Insurgent. But I plan to finish the trilogy and certainly think she’s worth a read. I’m really curious to see what she does in the future as she grows as a writer and as a person.

What about you? Do you read YA fiction? Why or why not? What are some of your favorite books? What do you hope the future holds for this genre?

X is for Xenophon, the Original “Horse Whisperer”

Xenophon was a Greek historian, philosopher and solider from Athens. He’s well-known for his historical works, but I’m interested in him for his thoughts on horses because riding/grooming/training them would have been second nature for Guinevere and Arthur. He wrote two equine-related works, The Calvary General and On Horsemanship. The later was written somewhere around the year 350 BC, making it one of the earliest works on horsemanship in the Western world that still exists today.

In On Horsemanship, Xenophon displays a philosophy far ahead of his time, advocating over and over for the kind treatment of horses in a time when beating and whipping were the most common methods. “The golden rule in dealing with a horse is never approach him angrily…When a horse is shy of some object and refuses to approach it, you must teach him that there is nothing to be alarmed at…or, failing that, touch the formidable object to yourself and then gently lead the horse up to it. The opposite plan of forcing the creature by blows only intensifies its fear, the horse mentally associating the pain he suffers at such a moment with the object of suspicion” (28).

He also emphasizes the importance of the relationship between horse and master. “It is best that the stable be placed in a quarter of the establishment where the master will see the horse as often as possible” (20). And again, “If you would have a horse learn to perform his duty, your best plan will be, whenever he does as you wish, to show him some kindness in return, and when he is disobedient, to chastise him” (39).  He emphatically states, “Far the best method of instruction is to let the horse feel that whatever he does in obedience to the rider’s wishes will be followed by some rest and relaxation” (50).

Other topics include:

  • A head to hoof analysis on how to select a young horse, many of which are still applied today.
  • How to properly break a colt, with the goal that the horse will grow to love people, rather than fear them.
  • How to avoid being cheated when buying an older horse.
  • Caring for a horse, including proper stabling, feeding and attending to the horse.
  • Grooming the horse, with special emphasis on the duties of a groom.
  • Bridling the horse correctly and safely.
  • Mounting and training the horse.
  • Advanced training for the war horse, including jumping and cross-country riding.
  • Working with an overly spirited or dull horse.
  • Working with a horse for the purpose of show.
  • Using horses in parade.
  • Equipment for battle, including how to arm a horse and rider, how to mount a horse with a javelin (very popular in the Celtic world) and how to properly wield weapons while on a horse.

I found out about this wonderful book because another author who has told Guinevere’s story, Nancy McKenzie, cited it as one of her references. I’m so glad she did. It’s a great basic instruction for the novice, though more detailed questions are probably better answered by an expert or experience. But considering I’ve yet to ride a horse, I think it’s a good place to start!

Have you ever heard of Xenophon? Are there any equine books you’d recommend, especially as historical resources? If you know horses, what do you think of his ideas?

W is for What Do You Want to Be When You Grow Up?

“Daydreaming” by Eugene de Blass. Image is public domain ({{PD-1923}}). Source: Wikimedia commons

A woman I used to work with told me a story in which her then four-year-old son asked her, “Mommy, what you do you want to be when you grow up?” The woman, nearing forty, burst into tears and sobbed, “I don’t know!”

Sound familiar? Chances are good you’ve had a similar conversation with yourself at some point in your adult life. I know I have, and recently. It’s astounding to me that our society expects us to make decisions that will affect the rest of our lives when we’re only 18 years old. I  don’t know about you, but at that age, the fog of teenage uncertainty was just beginning to clear and I didn’t have a clue what I wanted to do. I went into business because it was safe – I knew I’d always have a job. Somewhere along the way, one of my English professors recognized I had a talent for writing and encouraged me to pick up a second major (thank you, Ben Moore!). Even then I didn’t know what I was going do. I didn’t want to teach or be a journalist, and I knew that living off of creative writing (which was nothing more than an occasional hobby at that point) was going to be too risky for my scaredy-cat nature.

I ended up in public relations as a result of the last class I took in college. Since I began my career, I’ve gotten my master’s degree, won awards and gotten my professional accreditation. I love what I do, partly because it involves writing, and it’s a creative way to support myself while I pursue my dreams. (To any of my co-workers who are reading this, yes, I am happy in my job; please don’t take this post the wrong way.) While being your own publicist is about as smart as representing yourself in court, I know having a PR background will certainly come in handy once my writing career takes off. (If nothing else, maybe it will keep me from putting my foot in my mouth publicly!)

But a few years ago I came to the realization that while I love what I do, my true passion – the thing that dominates my thoughts and brings me the most joy – is fiction writing. That’s when I really got serious about my first book. In doing that, I’ve read a ton of books on Celtic history and culture and rediscovered a love for history that, for some unknown reason, I had left behind after high school. Recently, serving as our corporate historian at my day job reminded me how much I love to research.

“A Pensive Moment” by Eugene de Blass. Image is public domain {{PD=Art}}{{PD-1923}} – published before 1923 and public domain in the US. Source: Wikimedia Commons.

If someone asked me today what I want to be when I grow up, my answer would be vastly different from what I ultimately answered in college, thanks to my life experience. Sometimes I wish there was a “do-over” option once you hit your early to mid-thirties and have had a chance to experience a little bit of life. But that’s where dreaming comes in. We’re never to old for that. I used to think that once you became an adult and got out into the real world, the need to dream would end because you’d have everything you’d ever want. But if anything, the importance of dreaming increases, because as you get more successful, your ability to change your circumstances increases as well.

I’m no longer afraid to chase my dreams. Of course I want to be a best-selling historical fiction/historical fantasy novelist. And while I work toward that at night and on the weekends, I’m doing everything I can to learn from my day job how to be versatile, hone my writing skills and handle stressful situations with grace and poise. Meanwhile, I’m planning for a dream trip to England next summer and beginning to seriously consider someday getting my Ph.D. in history from Oxford (I’m not worried about money or practicalities yet – those weigh dreams down in the early stages). Meanwhile, I’m trying to change my mindset to view every part of my life as a learning experience that I will take with me no matter where my career takes me.

For anyone struggling with balancing a dream and a day job (I bet that’s most of us!), I highly recommend the book Quitter by Jon Acuff. Contrary to what the title may imply, it’s not about up and quitting your day job. It’s about what I’ve just described, finding happiness in what you do while using it to help make your dreams a reality. And that’s not only good for us, it’s good for those who employ us as well. Talk about winning!

What about you? What do you want to be when you grow up? Have you ever found yourself with changing interests and dreams? How have you handled it? How do you balance the demands of a day job and a dream job? What are your dreams for your future?

V is for Votadini, Tribe of the Gododdin

Ptolemy’s map of Scotland south of the Forth. The Votadini are called “Otadini” on this map. Map created by Notuncurious. Obtained from Wikimedia Commons under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license.

Chances are good that unless you’ve studied Celtic history, you’ve never heard of the Votadini. I hadn’t either, until I began my research. They are one of the four tribes of living in what is today southern Scotland, but was in Arthur’s time (approximately 450-550 AD) the northern part of Britain. The area is most easily defined as between Hadrian’s Wall and Antonine Wall, or from the Firth of Forth to the Solway Firth. The Votadini’s land was in the southeastern section of this area. Other tribes between the walls included Damnonii, Selgovae and Novantae.

The Votadini, or Gododdin people, are best known from a 13th century manuscript of an earlier poem called Y Gododdin, which describes a battle fought at Catterick in Yorkshire in the late sixth century. In this poem, a group of British from the Gododdin, estimated at upwards of 2,000 footmen and cavalrymen set out from Din Eidyn (Endinburgh) to attack the walled palace of Catrarth, which was held by the Angles.  They were defeated, but their heroism was remembered in song, including one of the first known references to the man who is believed to be King Arthur: “He brought down black crows to feed before the walls of the city, though he was no Arthur.”

The daily life of the Votadini is a mystery. They were Britons somewhere between Pictish and Roman, and some sources say they were allied with the Romans, but allowed to keep their independence. According to Philip Coppen, the Votadini worshiped the god Llew and held Traprian Law as their capital. (For those who know Arthurian legend, that is the home of the fearsome King Lot.)

At some point around the time of Arthur, the Votadini were granted safe haven in the kingdom of Gwynedd (modern northern Wales).The Votadini provided formidable defense against the Irish in exchange for new lands on which to settle. Phillips and Keatman suggest this happened at the insistence of Ambrosius after the withdrawal of Rome, but don’t explain why.

This is only a brief introduction to the Votadini and other tribes of the area. I will probably do a longer series on these intriguing people once I’ve had the chance to read Tim Clarkson’s insightful books on the subject. (I own two, I just haven’t gotten around to reading them yet. It’s a shame research takes so long.) The reason I’m even bringing them up at all is that the Votadini are the ancestors several of my main characters (you’ll have to read the books to find out who) and the majority of book 3 will take place in the Gododdin.

Have you heard of the Votadini or their homeland of the Gododdin? Do you have additional details or sources to share? I’d love to hear from you!

——

Sources:

Kings, Warriors, Craftsmen and Priests by Leslie Alcock
Land of the Gods by Philip Coppen
King Arthur: The True Story by Graham Phillips and Martin Keatman

Post updated August 4. 2013 to rectify errors in previous source material.

U is for Unguents and Celtic Herbalism

 

Jarrow Hall from Herb Garden, Bede’s World, near to Jarrow, South Tyneside, Great Britain. Copyright Andrew Curtis. Obtained from Wikimedia Commons under Creative Commons Attribution Share-alike license 2.0.

Long before Shakespeare’s witches muttered “double, double, toil and trouble” Celtic priestesses and wise women had bubbling cauldrons filled with herbs and other healing potions that could rival most modern medicine. Deeply connected to the earth, they knew which plants could staunch bleeding, cure illness, alleviate pain, or lessen suffering when wounds or illness could not be cured. Today, we call this “alternative medicine;” during Celtic times, it was the only medicine.

Disclaimer: I’m not a doctor or an herbalist, or even particularly skilled with herbs (outside of cooking) so don’t take anything you read here as medical advice. Don’t try this at home without the advice of a medical professional.

Herbal medicine came in many forms. Tinctures were highly concentrated doses of an herb, usually added to tea or some other drink. Poultices were crushed herbs mixed with mud or a sticky herb like slippery elm to make them stick together. They were applied to the skin. Fomentations were strong herbal teas in which a cloth was dipped (or filled with herbs) and applied to a body part (kind of like medicated gauze is now). Syrups were often made from boiling herbs, water and honey, much like our liquid medicines today (and they probably tasted about as good). Unguents were oils/lotions/salves made from lanolin (natural oils in a sheep’s wool) or beeswax and herbs. The herbs were used fresh when possible, but also dried for use in winter.

The Celts believed that the time of year and phase of the moon affected the potency and/or properties of herbs. Midsummer was traditionally when they were believed to be at their most potent, and herbs were never harvested after Samhain, as they (along with any other crops) were believed at that time to belong to the nature spirits. Some herbs were best harvested under the full moon, while others should be taken under the new moon. The most famous of these is the description from Pliny the Elder (which may or may not be accurate) of white-robed Druids harvesting mistletoe with a golden scythe on the sixth day of the new moon.

Many of the herbs common to our kitchens and gardens today (or at least mine!) would have been introduced to the Celts by the Romans. These include dill, parsley, rosemary, oregano, spearmint, rue, thyme, marjoram, garlic, fennel, basil and sage. Herbs native to Britain included wild chives, round mint, mistletoe, loveage, mallow, wild lettuce, foxglove and water dropwort.  Examples of Celtic usage of herbs include:

  • Hawthorne berries to protect the heart
  • Elder flowers to calm a fever
  • Willow and/or ivy bark to relieve pain
  • Rue to induce vomiting or as an antidote to snake bites
  • Fennel to prevent gas or to wash out the eyes
  • Borage to soothe inflammation and burns
  • Pine oil to relieve coughs
  • Henbane for nerves
  • St. John’s wort for burns and mood ailments
  • Seaweed with rose hips for coughs
  • Horehound to cure coughs, colds and diarrhea

The Celts also used poisonous plants in healing (in small doses, of course). Mistletoe was considered a “cure all” and was thought to make sterile animals fertile and act as an antidote to poison. Hemlock was used as a sedative, antispasmodic and as an antidote to the bite of a mad dog. Eryngo (sea holly) was a diuretic, stimulant and expectorant. Water dropwort was used to treat bronchitis, tuberculosis and asthma. Orpine was used externally to cool inflamed wounds and heal burns. Nightshade, henbane and thorn apple were all used as painkillers and sleeping medicines. Columbine was used for dropsy. Ferns, tansy and mugwort were used to rid a person of intestinal parasites (apparently a very unpleasant cure). Lily of the valley and foxglove were both used to regulate the heart (foxglove still is). In The Healing Power of Celtic Plants, Angela Paine cites a recipe for an anaesthetic potion from the Physicians of Myddfai that includes hemlock, mandrake, wild lettuce, ground ivy, poppy, eryngo and orpine.

Sources:
A Druid’s Herbal by Ellen Evert Hopan
The Healing Power of Celtic Plants by Angela Paine
Food in Roman Britain by Joan Alcock
Daily Life of the Pagan Celts by Joan Alcock
Celtic Daily Life by Victor Walkey

What have you heard about Celtic herbalism or healing plants? Is there anything obvious I’m forgetting? Are there any sources you would recommend?

T is for Tense: Past and Present Verbs in Fiction

I’ve been noticing more and more books being written in present tense lately. This post is really just my thoughts and questions on the subject. I’d love it to spur dialogue among my readers because I want to know what you think.

I first read a book written in present tense about two years ago. It was historical fiction and jumped back and forth between the past and the present. If that wasn’t confusing enough, the sections in present time were written in past tense and the historical parts were written in present tense. (Because that’s logical, right?) While that was very confusing, I have enjoyed several books written in present tense, such as the Hunger Games series, Divergent by Veronica Roth, and Alyson Noel’s Immortals series.

But I try as I may, I can’t get myself to like present tense writing. I’ve read that it’s supposed to convey a greater sense of immediacy and put you more fully in the center of the action. For me, it’s distracting. I find it stilted and unnatural. I actually have to make myself ignore it, as opposed to being able to read books written in past tense without thinking. Maybe it’s just my traditional schooling (I can see the nuns passing out at the very idea).

I can’t get myself to write in present tense either.  I’ve tried and it’s just not an organic thing for me. (If you don’t believe me, read my post on Samhain.) Granted, I write historical fiction, so writing in the past tense only makes sense, but you get my point.

Does anyone know where this trend came from or why it seems to be growing? I’ve read theories that blame reality TV and social media, but there’s got to be more to it than that. When did traditional past tense writing become not good enough? Do you think it’s just a fad or is this evidence of the evolution of writing? Do you have an opinion on the past vs. present verb debate? What do like better when you read? How do you write? I’d love to hear from you!

S is for Songs that Inspire

“I remember, I remember everything – all the tracks that shaped and changed me.” – Kill Hannah, “Songs that Saved My Life”

Some of you may have noticed I have a playlist section on this site, even for books I haven’t written yet. When a song truly inspires me, it goes on there. Most of the songs listed have specific scenes or sections of their respective book that go with them. I’ll reveal those once you can read the books. But for now, here are a few of my favorites and a bit about why I chose them (or rather, they chose me).

Sting – A Thousand Years – I couldn’t find an official video for this song, so this a beautiful fan video.

This song has been the theme for the Guinevere trilogy pretty much from the beginning. The lyrics remind me of the hundreds of incarnations the story has had over the last 1500 years. But despite all of the changes, the love between Guinevere/Arthur and Guinevere/Lancelot remains at its core. There’s something haunting about the circular rhythm of the music that reminds me of the enduring power of legend.

 

Hana Pestle – Need – Official video

Hana got a lot of attention for this video when she was considered for the New Moon soundtrack. She didn’t make it there but she made it to my playlist. I can’t tell you which two characters this is about, but for me, this was the perfect soundtrack to first heartbreak, when you just know you are supposed to be with someone and then your whole world is ripped apart. How do you live without the one who makes you breathe?

 

Florence and the Machine – Heavy in Your Arms – Official video (sorry for the ad at the beginning)

Can you tell I was a Twilight fan? This song made the Eclipse soundtrack, but for me it’s Elaine’s theme. She’s not a sane girl. Her mind is fragile and she craves love, but is burdened with crushing amounts of guilt, even before she does anything to feel guilty about. I will tell you that her mind slowly unravels throughout the series, until finally she makes her dying confession, which is inspired by this song.

 

Kill Hannah – Promise Me – Official video

Kill Hannah is my all time favorite band, so it was only a matter of time before one of their songs made it into my books. This a rare ballad for the band, but it grabbed my heart from the opening chords and never let go. Again, I can’t say which two characters have interplay with this song (it’s not who you would think), but I can tell you it’s a scene of intense pain, resignation and regret, tinged with the knowledge that love will live on in the heart, even if the relationship does not.

 

Katharine McPhee – Run – No video, just audio

I’d heard this song about a million times before in its original version by Snow Patrol and it never affected me. But when I saw Katharine McPhee sing it on Smash, I literally saw the scene of Arthur’s death in y mind. All I can say at this point is that it is the culmination of so much of what builds in the first two books – in more ways than you can know. It will, of course, be very emotional, but it is more than just the sadness of tragic death, it’s also the loss of a dream, the end of an era. I’m a long way from writing it, but I can promise you I see it the exact same way every time I hear this song, so I won’t forget it.


What music inspires you? Do certain songs fit with certain books for you? If you’re a writer, what do you listen to when you write? Have you ever had the experience of hearing a song and seeing a scene from your story materialize in your head?

R is for Resources and Recommendations

I don’t usually post roundups of links, but I’ve been finding a lot of really interesting and informative stuff lately on the web, so I thought I’d share. To me, that’s one of the coolest things about the blogging community – you find people of like mind and, through them, resources you’d never be able to dig up on your own. So thank you to everyone who has helped me so far. I’ll try to give credit where I can remember where I got this information from. (Those who follow me on Twitter may have seen some of these links already.)

Resources

ORBIS  The Stanford Geospatial Network Model of the Roman World (via Lora Geneva) – Ever wonder how long it would have taken to get from place to place in the Roman world? Or how much of a factor the time of year is? Well, look no further than this amazing system that lets you pick your departure location, destination, route, mode of transportation and time of year. I’ve found the results on par with the mathematical formula recommended by Leslie Alcock and this is so much more fun!

Creating Better Fantasy World Maps – This is for all my fantasy writing friends out there. I’ve hand drawn my own fantasy maps in the past (which is actually kind of fun, even when you are artistically challenged like me), but from the examples given, this software makes maps look so much more sophisticated. If a later version of this exists when I write a fantasy in the future, you can bet I’ll be using it.

Articles/Blog Posts

Random House Explains What Publishers Do – The PR pro in me says Random House’s PR department did a great job with this video because the writer in me actually thought, “wow, I hope I get picked up by Random House someday,” when I finished watching this. My professional issues aside, it’s an interesting look inside the publishing world, especially for those of us not under contract yet.

Story Lessons from Pixar (via Lora Geneva) – Some great tips. You never know where that perfect bit of advice may come from.

What if Grammarians Had Their Own Magazine? – This is just funny.

12 Ways to Research a Historical Novel (via Historical Fiction Daily) – Some of these may be obvious, but a reminder never hurts.

Books

Food in Roman Britain by Joan Alcock – You’d be surprised how much is known about what the Celts and Romans in Britain ate and where it came from. Amazing amount of detail in this book.

Daily Life of the Pagan Celts by Joan Alcock – How have I written 1.5 books without this resource? Seriously.

Celtic Daily Life by Victor Walkley –  I haven’t actually started this one yet. That’s what I’m going to do after I hit “publish” on this post. But it looks very promising.

And if you want an odd take on Arthurian legend that places Arthur, Avalon and whole kit and caboodle in Lothian, northwest England (now Scotland), try Land of the Gods by Philip Coppens. I can’t say I agree with his theories, but I did learn a lot about Traprian Law and Caledon Wood (two locations in my second book).

What articles, blogs, books, etc. have you found useful lately? Do you like these roundups? Would you like to see them more often?