Guest Post – On Making Paperweights: Jacqueline Friedland Talks Strong Women and Memorable Books

Happy Beltane, everyone! I’m so excited to have Jacqueline Friedland as my guest here today. As her post below makes clear, she’s a soul-sister of mine in her love for strong women. Her post really got me thinking about how our early experiences with reading shape who we are later on as writers. I think I may do a follow up post on that with my own thoughts. But this post is about her, not about me. Take it away, Jacqueline!

Photo: Rebecca Weiss Photography

Did you ever try to figure out why certain novels make you fall in love and others make you fall asleep?  Perhaps you’ve wondered if there is a common thread, a specific literary ingredient that draws you so deeply into certain stories?  Maybe if you could identify a trend in the books that invariably keep you reading late into the night, that knowledge might allow you to better hone in on other books that would provide you with equal delight.

As a voracious reader and an author, it has been important to me to pinpoint the devices and themes embedded in the books I most adore.  Not only can such knowledge save me from muddling through books that don’t speak to me, but it can also help me to create written work of my own that feels appropriate and substantive in all the right ways.  Over the past several years, I have identified several characteristics that lead me to gravitate towards a novel.  I like a fast-pace, a strong plot, accessible prose, maybe some romance, perhaps some humor.  Nothing scary, gory, or overly experimental.  But there is something more elusive that has made certain books stay with me for years.

When my mother read aloud to me during my early childhood, we loved The Little Engine that Could, The Secret Garden and Little House on the Prairie.  As I grew older, I was drawn to books like Nancy Drew, The Babysitters Club and Anne of Green Gables.  Then there were the books that shot to the top of my list as I reached adulthood: Gone with the Wind, Jane Eyre and The Bronze Horseman.  What these books all have in common are strong female characters (and if you weren’t aware, Watty Piper’s plucky little engine is indeed female).  These works of fiction portray girls and women who have grit, the will and determination to continue striving until they reach their goals.

There is an additional commonality between these characters though, which is that these females are not only strong, but kind.  In today’s world, there is so much discussion of women needing to be strong, but not enough emphasis on the fact that in appropriate circumstances, kindness should be perceived as a type of strength.  The ability to think about others and see past one’s own experience in interacting with people requires a special kind of fortitude.

In creating my debut novel, Trouble the Water, I felt it was imperative to include positive messages about feminine power and decision making.  The manner in which my characters approach the circumstances fate deals them is what I believe defines their spirits and ethos.  I wanted to portray characters who could make the best of difficult circumstances while also being brave enough to reject conformity.  I created women who took the lemons life handed them and decided to use those lemons as paperweights.  After all, not everyone likes lemonade.

The central female characters in Trouble the Water are each willing to think outside the Victorian or antebellum box, despite the constraints of the 1840s.  The women are courageous enough to make their own choices and to shout until they are heard.  Abigail Milton, the story’s protagonist, has worked in a cotton mill in Lancashire England, receiving a pittance in recompense since she was eleven years old.  When her parents ask her to travel to America so that she may live off the charity of their old friend in Charleston, and thereby lighten the financial burden on her family, she agrees to set off on her own, traveling across the Atlantic Ocean with little more than a stale bread crust and unwavering determination to make a better life for herself.

As the story unfolds and Abby discovers that her new home is rife with clandestine efforts to free local slaves, she is excited, energized, and eager to participate in the abolitionist effort.  Rather than judging the high-risk and profoundly illegal activity of her patron, Douglas Elling, Abby wants to jump directly into the trenches of abolition with him.  It’s a whole different kind of #metoo.

Throughout the story, Abby repeatedly resists being corralled into any of the stereotypical gender molds of the day.  From her penchant for physical exercise to her continued rejection of assistance from men, even those who simply offer to carry her bundles, Abby is her own person.  She is desperate to create meaning in her life, which she believes can be achieved through teaching and helping others.  When she develops romantic feelings for another character, she struggles greatly over how to reconcile those feelings with her burning desire for independence.

In addition to Abby, the other women featured in the novel are full of conviction and tenacity.  Cora Rae Cunningham, a beautiful, spicy, nineteen-year-old who has rejected one marriage proposal after another will not be seduced by wealth nor forced into an arrangement that is not to her romantic satisfaction, much to the dismay of her plantation-owning, socially conforming parents.  Clover, a house slave impregnated by her master, refuses to birth her baby into a life of bondage, and in the ultimate act of bravery and sacrifice, takes her chances on running North.

Creating a realistic historical novel that depicts female characters who are ahead of their time, models for women in any time period, is a challenge that I was glad to undertake.  I felt it was incumbent on me to portray women who were progressive for their time, active players in their life stories, rather than passive guests, living out the scripts that had been handed to them by other forces.  My characters have strong backbones, as well as moments of unexpected kindness and generosity.  They are just the type of women who would keep me reading deep into the night.

Sounds like your characters and mine would get along great! Thank you so much, Jacqueline! I know I can’t wait to read her book! If you have any questions for Jacqueline, please leave them in the comments below and I’ll make sure she sees them.

Neal Katz – Victoria Woodhull and #MeToo

Neal Katz

Two years ago when I was in Chicago for BEA and the Next Generation Indie Book Awards, I met Neal Katz, a fellow author who is also telling Victoria Woodhull’s story. I knew about him (or rather his name) because I had researched others who have or are writing about her. But I had no idea he’d be so charming and gracious. He’s truly a wonderful man.

Neal is approaching Victoria’s story as a trilogy, so he’s able to go much more in-depth into Victoria and Tennie’s lives than Madame Presidentess does. The first book in the series, Outrageous, won 10 awards. Now he’s now preparing to publish part 2: Scandalous. So if you’re hankering for more on Victoria, go buy his books!

As part of Neal’s pre-publication publicity (say that five times fast), he wrote a great article on how Victoria used her newspaper, Woodhull & Claflin’s Weekly to launch the #MeToo of her time: http://thevictoriawoodhullsaga.com/rise-up/. Go, read, now!

(I also took up the subject of Victoria and #MeToo, but from a different angle.)

Some people might question why I would promote Neal’s books since they are direct competition with mine. My answer is that we aren’t really competitors; we are allies.  As much as I want book sales, that’s not really what this is about. It’s about getting Victoria back into the historical record where she belongs. And the more voices we have out there promoting her, the better. No two writers approach a subject the same way, so even if you’ve read mine, you’re likely to learn something new from his, and vice versa. Plus, the more indie authors (and all authors, for that matter) work together, the better off we all are.

Librarians: Join Me for a Free Webinar with Library Journal

If you are a librarian or know someone who is, this post is for you!

I’m thrilled to be one of two authors on a webinar panel with Library Journal on December 12, 1-2 p.m. (CST) called Amplifying Community Engagement: How Libraries Can Use Smart Technology to Empower Local Authors and Expand Library Reach

Register here – it’s free! Sign up even if you can’t attend because they will send you a recording of the event.

About the Webinar
The advent and distribution of ebooks has reinvented the modern library. With SELF-e and other self-managed self-publishing programs, libraries have become a channel for ebook distribution and discovery while creating a positive and supportive environment for local writers and readers.

With geolocation technology, libraries can now get ebooks by local authors (and more) into the hands of their community – inside and outside of the library’s walls – with just one click. Authors can use the same link to locally promote their book – available for unlimited, simultaneous reading – seamlessly driving traffic back to the library, creating a true win-win.

With self-published ebook programs living alongside emerging options for short story, poetry, YA writing and journalism contests, libraries have never been in a better position to engage their local community.

Panelists

  • Mitchell Davis, CEO BiblioLabs
  • Denise Raleigh, Division Chief, Public Relations & Development at Gail Borden
  • Michael Allen Peck, Award-Winning Author
  • Elizabeth McArthur, Bexar BiblioTech
  • Stacey Lewis, St. Louis County Library
  • Nicole Evelina, Award-Winning Author

Moderator

  • Rebecca Jozwiak, Library Journal

Hope you can join us!

I’m Giving Away a Box of Royalty-Themed Romance Novels!

Daughter of Destiny is part of this month’s Ever After Box, and I’m celebrating by giving one away!

July is all about kings and queens, princes and princesses. Give yourself the ROYAL treatment with great romantic reads featuring royalty past and present along with themed gifts that will make you feel like queen (or king) for a day. This month features books and goodies from Vanessa Kelly, Jennifer Faye, Gwen Hayes, me, and more.

You can enter just by commenting to let me know you are interested. I’m taking entries through end of day Tuesday, July 18. Then I will use a randomizer to pick a winner and will announce it here. If you win, I’ll send you the promo code, which is good through July 31.

Good luck and thanks for your support!

PS – You can also buy this month’s Ever After Box here. And if you still haven’t purchased Daughter of Destiny, it will be on sale for $0.99 July 21-25 to celebrate the book having an international BookBub ad on July 24!

Quick Book Updates

In the summer, this is what editing looks like. This is me trying to figure out what needs to change in Mistress of Legend.

I’m thankful to finally be back to writing on a regular basis. I seem to have fits and starts this year, which I guess is normal, given that I write in between conferences and day job.

Speaking of conferences, don’t forget that I’ll be at Gateway Con June 16-17 in St. Louis and the Historical Novel Society Conference in Portland, Oregon, June 23-24. I’m speaking and signing/selling books at both, so please come and say hello! I’ve just been added to a third panel at the HNS conference, “Putting the Her in History,” with two of my favorites, Patricia Bracewell and Mary Sharratt! Here’s the full information: https://nicoleevelina.com/events/. (Make sure you look at both the reader and writer sections of the page.)

I’ve had some new projects pop up, so I wanted to give you a rundown of where everything stands:

The Once and Future Queen: Guinevere in Arthurian Legend (non-fiction)
I spent the early part of this year researching for my first non-fiction book, which traces the evolution of the character of Guinevere from her Celtic roots to today. I started writing on it in April, but then other things came up. But I’m back at it at a steady clip now. I was hoping for a summer release, but now it’s looking more like end of the year.

Mistress of Legend (Guinevere’s Tale Book 3) (historical fantasy)
I know all of you are eagerly awaiting this book, and frankly, so am I. Guinevere and Morgan have been talking to me a bit, but not as much as I want them to, so things are going slower than I would like. I have re-read my first draft and while it’s not as bad as I thought it was, it still needs work. I have a revision outline and am doing some additional research, which should be finished in the next few weeks. I’m hoping to start writing in earnest on it over the long Fourth of July weekend. I was hoping to have this out by the end of the year, but now I think it will likely be early 2018.

But the book does have a cover! Members of the Guardians of Endangered Stories (my street team) have seen it, so if you can’t wait, please join! Everyone else will get to see it when we get closer to the book’s release.

Untitled Non-Fiction 
Ever since I started researching Victoria Woodhull, I have come to realize how much feminism means to me. There are so many great stories of women who have gone against the grain of their society and fought for our rights. I am considering writing a biographical historical fiction of another of them, but I also want to examine what feminism has meant in the United States since the birth of our nation and where the movement might be going, especially in our current political climate.

We know for sure there have been three waves in the movement, each with their own inciting event, primary cause, public figures and cultural shifts. The first was in the 19th and early 20th centuries when women fought for the right to vote. The second was from the 1960s – 1980s, when women fought for equal rights, equal pay, an end to sexual harassment and other causes. The third began in the 1990s and encompasses a variety of topics from slut shaming to contraception and more. Just in a little bit of reading, I’ve learned that the waves are more similar than one might think at first glance. I would also argue that we are currently in the beginning of a fourth wave, spurred on by the 2016 presidential election and its fallout.

This is a passion project that I am just beginning to outline and research. I know it is going to take several years and it won’t take the place of my fiction writing. I need something to work on when the characters aren’t talking, so this is my ongoing project.

My Top 5 Biggest Pet Peeves in Books

*Rubs hands together in a maniacal manner* This week’s blog challenge is going to be fun. Anyone who knows me knows I have pet peeves about a lot of things, and given that I read 70-100 books a year, I have several that relate to books. Here are my top 5:

  1. “If I only knew…” – I don’t see this one as much as I used to, but it’s when the writer takes the easy lazy way out instead of actually working to put foreshadowing into their story. “If I’d only known then how wrong I was.” Really? Why don’t you try showing us both scenes and letting us, as readers who have brains, draw that conclusion? It’s just a sign that the writer either doesn’t know any other way to build suspense/a sense of dread or that he/she is too lazy to bother to put in the work. It immediately knocks at least one star off the final rating for me and raises my blood pressure. If it happens multiple times in a book, I’ll stop reading.
  2. Characters that are too stupid to live (TSTL) – Most common in romance and YA books, this is a thing that really should be allowed to die out. Please, please, please give your characters common sense. Even if they are vapid – some people just are – give them a sense of self-preservation. I mean, hasn’t everyone seen enough movies/TV by now to know not to reveal to the killer that you’re going to go to the police, especially before you do it? Sadly, the majority of TSTL characters I’ve encountered have been women. Really, we face enough discrimination without the help of this type of character. Usually the TSTL reveal happens because the author needs the character to do something, rather than it being something they would naturally do, so it hits a false note with readers. I think this is lazy character development. It’s fine in a first draft, but before the book is published, the author should take the time to go in and make the action make sense in the context of the world he/she has built.
  3. Second book syndrome – You know this one. It’s when a series, usually a trilogy, has a pretty much pointless second book that serves only as a bridge to the third book. I read one recently that could have been summed up in at most a chapter or two at the beginning of the next book. I won’t name it because I love the author and was shocked to see she’d produced such a waste of time book. “Lady of Avalon” is the classic example for me, which I will cite only because they author is dead. Both “The Forrest House” and “The Mists of Avalon” were fantastic. “Lady of Avalon” felt like an excuse to get the Forest House characters (or their descendants) to where she wanted them to be in Mists.
  4. Weak third books in trilogies – I say this as I’m working on the third book of my Guinevere trilogy, praying I don’t fall victim to this myself. It’s when the first two books in a trilogy are great and you can’t wait to read the last one, only to find yourself thinking “WTF? Did you just not know what to do with the book?” I think some of it can be blamed on the deadline pressures traditionally published authors are under, but some of it likely comes from a lack of clear vision/planning for the whole series. There are some cases in which traditionally published authors have contracts extended and are surprised by having to come up with material for another book, but that doesn’t explain most instances. Either way, there’s no call for a weak final book.
  5. Books that don’t seem to have a point –  There are whole books that I’ve read where I’ve finished it said, “And the point of this was…?” I feel like every story should at least impart to you an idea, an inkling of why the story was told or at least what story was being told. I have read several (sadly, most are literary fiction – it and I do not get along) where I couldn’t tell you what the story was about. It was just a bunch of talking. Or a series of visits between two people. What were they talking about? I have no idea. Nothing of consequence. Think of Waiting for Godot. I’d love someone to tell me what that play was about. Same idea.

*Steps down off of soapbox with a muttered prayer she is never guilty of any of these offenses*

What are your biggest pet peeves in books?

5 Favorite Movies Inspired by Books

So I’m a few days late with the weekly blog challenge post. Whoops.

Last week’s topic was Favorite Movies Inspired by Books. I had to think about this one for a while because the book really is usually better than the movie. But there are the rare occasions where the movie is better, or is at least good. These are five I like:

  1. The Adjustment Bureau – This is hands down one of my favorite movies of all time! I liked it so much, I wanted more, which is how I found it is loosely based on a Phillip K. Dick story called “The Adjustment Team.” If I ever did the Kindle Worlds thing were I wrote in someone else’s copyrighted world, this would be on the top of my list (the movie world, not the short story)! I loved the intersection of reality and spirituality in this movie, the tug between free will and fate/God’s plan. I’ve had plenty of experiences in life that feel like “someone” has intervened, so I can totally relate to this storyline. Plus, Emily Blunt. She’s one of my favorite actresses.
  2. Queen of the Damned – Maybe it’s because Lestat is my ideal fantasy man in this movie – a rockstar vampire – or maybe it’s because he ends up with a pretty redhead, but damn do I like the movie better than the book! The two are really so different that they may as well be unrelated stories. The heroine of the movie, Jessie, is actually only in the book for like two seconds and then she dies. So that makes the movie seem like fan fiction if you compare the storylines. But I can never see that movie enough.
  3. The Haunting (1999) – I feel like such a bad fangirl admitting I’ve never read the source material by Shirley Jackson (whose writing I love) for this movie. But I have seen the original movie, which is actually much, much better. But I have a soft spot in my heart for the overly CGI’ed 1999 version because I stayed in the castle it was filmed in (Harlaxton Manor, in Grantham, England – which is also where Alex in Been Searching for You gets his last name) about a month after they filmed. They still had set pieces and the security guard told us all about the filming. I was obsessed with Catherine Zeta Jones at the time, so I was in heaven. We even got to take home a set souvenir. I have a wardrobe tag that says “photo double – Nell” with the woman’s name (I’ve checked the credits; it’s legit) and my friend got the padlock they used to chain the gates shut, which features very prominently in a few shots of the film. I really think the movie could have been great had they not felt the need to show you the ghost at the end. Up until then, the movie scared the crap out of me. Oh – and Harlaxton really IS haunted. We didn’t know it until after we were there, but several of us had experiences. BTW – if you like The Haunting, be sure to check out Scary Movie 2, which is a spoof of it (and oddly enough, Kathleen Robertson, my ideal Mia from Been Searching for You, plays the Catherine Zeta Jones role in this movie – this is where I got the inspiration for how Mia physically looks). Another one of my favorite movies!
  4. PS I Love You – I admit, I’ve never read the book, and I’ve been told not to, since I am in love with the movie. It’s got all the essential elements of an amazing love story to me. I mean, how can you not love a guy who cared enough to help his widow grieve his own death and eventually move on with her life? Subconsciously, I think this was a bit of inspiration for Annabeth’s letters in Been Searching for You. And he’s played by Gerard Butler. Yummy!
  5. The Princess Bride – I HATED the book, but the movie is one of my favorites. I can pretty much recite it from beginning to end. What did I not like about the book? Well, without giving anything away, it’s much more gritty and realistic than the fairy tale nature of the movie. It also has a “Lady or the Tiger” type ending which leaves the Happily Ever After (HEA) open to interpretation. No, no, no, and no! Wesley and Buttercup live HEA and that is all there is to it! No ruining my childhood romantic fantasies with your intellectualism, William Goldman!

What are some of your favorite movies that are based on books? Have you seen any of the ones I listed? What do you think of them?


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Huffington Post Article on the Women of Camelot

I’ve known for months that when Guy Ritchie’s King Arthur movie came out (as it does tomorrow in the US) I wanted to share some of the many books that have been written about Arthurian women. What I didn’t expect is to go on about the lack of movies about female Arthurian characters. Well, I’ve done both in this article in the Huffington Post! Happy reading! (And I hope you find another book you’d like to add to your list!)

 

In Celebration of Indie Authors

I am giving this short speech today at the St. Louis County and St. Louis City libraries as part of Indie Author Day. I wanted all of you who couldn’t join us to be able to read it as well. I hope you enjoy it. Learn more about my speaking engagements

self-e_indieauthorday_logo_tshirt-01-e1462823856596When I was invited to be part of Indie Author Day, I was honored and humbled. I’m very proud to be an independent author and to be part of the first ever national day celebrating our work and our achievements. Our community has grown tremendously in the last five years, and now the books we produce rival – and in some cases outsell – those released through traditional means.

I want to be clear that I have nothing against the traditional publishing industry. I may even still join it in the future, but it isn’t what is right for me as an artist at this moment in my career. And that’s what being an indie is all about: taking control of your writing, your career, and the myriad decisions that go into it. We are no longer the ugly step-children who couldn’t make it traditionally; we are the entrepreneurs who chose to go our own way.

In her novel The Light of Paris, Eleanor Brown writes that the surrealist artists of post-WWI Paris were “making space for themselves without waiting for someone to give them permission.” That is exactly what we are doing as indie authors. We may cross traditional genre boundaries, write about subjects or in time periods that aren’t considered marketable, or simply want to do things on our own schedule. Whatever our reasons, we are producing our art without so much as a by your leave. We have something to say and aren’t waiting for anyone to give us a stage; we are building our own.

Now, being an indie author isn’t without its challenges. In declaring ourselves free of traditional constraints, we also take on the burden of being our own patrons, financing our cover art, editing, production and marketing. We take the financial risk that our work may not find an audience – or at least not enough of one to recover what we’ve invested. But such is the curse of every small business owner, from freelancers and flower shops to barbers and bakeries. We take a leap of faith that with enough hard work and a bit of luck, we will somehow make it.

We also face the seemingly impossible task of making ourselves known in a world where a new book is published every five minutes on Amazon, which is already home to 3.4 million books. But somehow, we still manage to find our audience – no matter how large or small. Whether we use Facebook ads, make book trailers or go the route of hand-selling and attending conferences or speaking engagements – we get out there and let people know we are here and why they should be interested in what we have to say.

Really, that is a challenge for every author, whether indie or traditional. But as indies, we have to do it ourselves, or if we’re lucky, with the help of a publicist. Without the endorsement of a big publishing house, we rely on the help of our tribe, other authors and readers whose loyalty we’ve gained, to provide endorsements of our work. They are our support system, our lifeline in times of crisis and uncertainty, and they can be a connection to new readers.

As indies, we may be perceived as being in this alone, but that is far from the truth. We have a vibrant, supportive community that is more generous than I’ve ever seen anywhere else. I’ve found genuine well-wishes even from people who have written about the exact same subject as I have. In the corporate world, we’d be considered competitors, but I’m coming to realize that here we are really allies. Whether we share resources, write guest posts together or just silently cheer one another on, it is that support that buoys us and keeps us going in and ever-changing industry that doesn’t really know what to do with us.

We’ve broken the traditional paradigm and that scares a lot of people. I say let them be scared; we aren’t. You know who else wasn’t afraid to try something new? Steve Jobs. Bill Gates. Ben Franklin. Madame Curie. Thomas Edison. Henry Ford. The Wright Brothers. And we can’t forget the Founding Fathers of our country. Without them we wouldn’t have iPhones, PCs, eyeglasses, X-rays, light bulbs, cars, airplanes or an independent nation – things we now take for granted. While few of us are on that grand of a scale, without us, the publishing world would be lacking in richness, diversity and, our readers would be still be searching for our stories.

It is the independent spirit of the publishing entrepreneur we gather to celebrate today. In the last five years, we’ve gone from being tentative explorers of the brave new world of ebooks to producing top quality work that makes the bestseller lists. Some of members of our community have even become breakout stars – such as Courtney Milan, Colleen Hoover, Bella Andre, Hugh Howey, and many others – authors who regularly outsell those who are traditionally published. We’ve done this through discipline and professionalism, by writing outstanding books, and applying business acumen to our work – for this is no mere hobby; this is our job, regardless of whether we have another that pays the bills.

With the rapid advancement of technology and gradual acceptance of our legitimacy as real authors, in another five years – even in one year – who knows where we can be. We may well be the new norm. How we get there is up to you and me, the indie authors of America. I, for one, am proud to celebrate us and our accomplishments – past, present and future – today.