Friday, February 19, 2016

Drafting Chapter Two

So, I'm drafting my new story right now, but instead of using the NaNoWriMo put anything down and don't look back method, I'm trying to write quickly but I am taking time to edit things a little.


Such as:

Last night, I was writing some of Chapter Two. I'm wrapping that chapter up. And as I typed, I realized that I was doing something that was a) bad writing and b) giving away the whole story. I recognized it as something I've definitely done in the past in other projects.

Here it is. It was dialogue. Ursula's mother, Mrs. Houghton, is talking to Ursula.

"Ursula, you can make a real difference here. The Maldens have pedigree, this land, this house. They have the culture and of course, the title. But one thing they don't have? They haven't unlimited funds. They can't even keep up this house in good repair!"

I could've left that ranty block of dialogue in and fixed it in the revision, right? But I thought I should fix it immediately when I knew that that wasn't good. I have a tendency to write characters who just blurt things very directly sometimes. I think it's because my inner, mental, constant-writer's-monologue in my head is pretty blunt and pretty direct. But let's be real: dialogue like that is not, in any remote way, realistic--for life or for fiction.

I wrote it, re-read it, and reshaped the scene:


"Well, we ended up going to the very back of the house to see a gallery with very large windows and good views," Ursula said. "And it was quite derelict! The light fixtures were askew. The carpets snagged, the walls in need of plaster and paint. I'm sure there were leaks."  
            "Hmm."
            The maid finished her task and Ursula bade her to go downstairs. Once she left, Mother said, "Well, that's an opportunity."
            "What do you mean?"
            "Ursula dear, you know what we heard in London—what we've heard in New York even, that many of these scions of great families are a bit short on tin."
            "Yes."
            "Well, I think you saw evidence of that this afternoon," Mother said. "Are you ready to go down? You know my dear, I think you have a chance to make a real difference in a house like this." Ursula rose from the chair and slowly walked, tugging on her gloves.
            She smiled at Mother. "Oh, Mother, what is so wrong with marrying an American lad?"

            "Nothing," Mother replied. "Of course not. But Europe has class and culture and it would be lovely to see you be a countess. Or for Simon to marry into a family of great consequence—far greater consequence than the Rockefellers."

There are far better ways to get that same point across and far better to weave it in. It's the basis of Ursula's storyline, actually, that she's an American Dollar Princess buccaneer who marries into a British family of long lineage, big house, and not enough cash.

But we don't need to hit someone over the head with it.

And thus, I think I have grown able to edit a little bit while still drafting and moving forward with the story--and recognizing things like giving away the entire plot line in one weird go.

Monday, February 15, 2016

How I Come Across Books: Reaching Readers

I started thinking about this---how do I come across books? How do I hear about books? What makes me decide to read one book over another one? I was thinking about this because I'm reading two quite different things right now and I wanted to read each of them for different reasons.

Plus, it's useful to think about this kind of stuff as an indie author. How do I learn about books? How can I parley that into future promotions, if I self-publish again?

Is it genre? Well, yeah--I tend to read mainly historical-based things, whether it's historical fiction, historical romance or history, so if there's a kernel of the historic in there, then I'm more likely to be interested. It's more likely to come up in my Goodreads recommendations.

But then, there are certain areas of history that I'm more drawn to than others and certain periods of time or personalities that I want to learn more about right at that moment in time. And I do read other genres.

Is it the author? Julia Quinn is a historical romance author who makes me laugh, so naturally, her next release is on my to-be-read list. I've enjoyed Elizabeth Chadwick's books, so I have one of her books on the list as well. If I know an author through the Interwebs and I like the sound of the book, I'll also give the work a read as well.

Is it a recommendation from a friend? Big Magic is on the list because several writing friends have been talking about it recently. When my real life friends talk about things they've read recently that they like, I'll at least take a peek at it. More often, I'm the one pushing books on to my best friends. There's a reason why my friend Jess is reading the Outlander books.

Is it the result of reviews or author promotion? To be honest, I don't read reviews, either on Amazon or Goodreads. If I want to read a book because I like the author or I heard about the premise and it interested me or I read a summary somewhere or because I'm really into that subject at the moment, then I'm going to read it and form my own opinion of it regardless of what people on Goodreads say.

If I'm on the fence for whatever reason, then it'll stay on the to-be-read list for ages. I may read the book eventually, I may not. Do you guys read reviews and does it affect whether or not you'll read it?

But author promotion? Yeah, sometimes. I heard about Naked: A Novel of Lady Godiva on Word Wenches, a blog that I've followed for nearly ten years, when the author was interviewed about the book. She had interesting things to say on women and how they're remembered in history, so it went on the list. Plus, it had genre on its side.

I like reading author interviews and blogs.

Recommendations from Amazon, Twitter, or Goodreads? I've added and read books that Goodreads has suggested, so I suppose I can say that I've discovered new things that way. Code Name Verity is on my to-be-read list because around the time I queried a manuscript, I noticed a lot of literary agents talking about wanting a historical novel like that one. And sometimes Goodreads gets things right in putting something in front of me that happens to interest me just then. I only look at Amazon to buy books, not to browse through them.

So--how do you find books? Do you read reviews? Does any of the above affect the way you decide to read something? What do you think this says about the way we can reach readers?


Friday, February 12, 2016

Happy 7th Birthday, Sunflower's Scribbles!

Happy Birthday to You!

Happy Birthday To You!

Happy Birthday, dear blooo-oogg...

Happy Birthday To You!


So, seven feels like a pretty momentous number of years to be blathering on about nothing on the Internet.

Of course, in that time I've gone from posting Book the First to making all the lurches and adjustments as a writer as you write one project, then the next, then next...joining groups and forums, making writing friends, researching, learning, having critique partners, querying, self-publishing, writing a short story for an anthology...

Last year, I had a bit of a slow-down in terms of blogging ideas. I think of blogging as an extension of writing fiction in some ways and as completely separate in other ways; it's a great way to explore different aspects of writing fiction and also the perfect vehicle to write about whatever the heck I want.

So who knows what I'll feel compelled to blog about in 2016?

I was looking through some papers this past week and I came across something I wrote in college ten years ago.


Yes, that's my awful handwriting. Let me translate:

January 29, '06

Rei's sitting on the end of the bed, wearing a T-shirt that says I Heart NY and pink, polka-dotted pajama bottoms. She sits upright at the foot of her bed, hands gripping the rail. Her intense, nearsighted stare is on the TV, barely eighteen inches away. Her mouth opens and a loud gasp escapes. Then a litany of words: "Holy shit! What are you doing, you idiot?" The one-sided conversation continues for the next hour. Most people would say she's completely lost her mind. Perhaps she has. But in fact, the girl does this sort of thing ever week--Wednesday, 9 PM--in the exact same position. It's almost religious in the way she does it, with the zeal of a religious convert. Sitting so close to the TV, she couldn't possibly miss anything. And no one in the TV can hear her yell. But she doesn't care. When "Lost" is on, she forgets everything else in the world. 

Reading it, I'd say, yeah, that's my voice all right. Or at least, my "blogging voice," whatever that is, and yes, I really did watch "Lost" like that. This particular thing was for creative non-fiction class.

Which, if you think about it, is the perfect training ground for a future blogger who doesn't entirely want to write only about "professional things."

It was also the class, if I recall correctly, where I met Jess, who copyedited "Pearl."

So--in ten years, in seven years--look what comes around!

Also, you may have noticed that the web address redirected! After 7 years, I thought I'd retire www.sunflowerrei.blogspot.com and put in for www.michelleathy.com, my own domain.


Tuesday, February 9, 2016

Victoria, Ursula, and Beatrice

I recently began rewriting the Victorian novel that I started forming ideas for in 2014, according to the notebook I use to jot down notes for that story. As usual, in the intervening time, there have been changes to the idea.

In 2014, I wanted to write it as half Victorian and half contemporary. I drafted it like that during NaNo 2014 and kept trying to improve the little bit of the book I had.

As of 2016, the contemporary half is out. Ceases to exist. 'Bye 'bye.

Instead, I've decided to go with my strong suit: historical. The story will take place entirely in the 1890s--from about 1893 to about 1897 or 1898. But instead of the focus being entirely on my protagonist, Victoria Ponsonby-Courtney, I decided to bring in the point of views of her cousin, Lady Beatrice, and her sister-in-law, Ursula.

No, Ursula isn't purple. Or an octopus. But she might as well be to Victoria.

via GIPHY

Saturday, February 6, 2016

Vera Brittain, Testament of Youth, and Letters From a Lost Generation

Letters From A Lost Generation: First World War Letters Of Vera Brittain And Four Friends: Roland Leighton, Edward Brittain, Victor Richardson, Geoffrey ThurlowLetters From A Lost Generation: First World War Letters Of Vera Brittain And Four Friends: Roland Leighton, Edward Brittain, Victor Richardson, Geoffrey Thurlow by Mark Bostridge
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This book gave me a terrible feeling in the belly in some places, because these letters, albeit edited, are the real words and thoughts of four young men who died so terribly young in World War One. Their letters range from whimsical to describing the boredom of trench warfare and their very young ideas on fighting for glory--and poetry, particularly from Roland Leighton, whose "Villanelle" is incredibly powerful. Of course, without Vera Brittain, these letters and these men would simply be four more young lives lost in that terrible war a hundred years ago. There is something so moving about the written word--it can survive us and become our legacy.


View all my reviews


Testament Of Youth: An Autobiographical Study Of The Years 1900-1925Testament Of Youth: An Autobiographical Study Of The Years 1900-1925 by Vera Brittain
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I first head of Vera Brittain and Testament of Youth a few years ago and I knew the basics of Vera's story, but it wasn't until a few months ago, when I saw the movie version starring Alicia Vikander and Kit Harrington, that I wanted to read the book. I'm so glad I did. I've read other WWI books--and the losses, sacrifices, and stories are tragic, moving, and on a scale that is unimaginable.

Although Testament of Youth is largely about Vera's experiences as a VAD nurse during WWI, she also writes sensitively about her brother Edward, her fiancé Roland, and friends Victor and Geoffrey and their time in the war--all four of the young men died. If you want to know more about them and their time in the trenches, read Letters From a Lost Generation. Yet this is Vera's book--her fight to get to attend university, against her provincial, middle-class family's desires; her time at Oxford in 1914, when she felt that she could no longer go on studying when the young men she knew were going to war, and the many experiences she faced as a VAD, then going, utterly changed, back to Oxford after the war and feeling as if nobody understood her or the trauma she went through. But even so, Vera managed to carry on and memorialize the men she cared about in this memoir and become a successful writer, feminist, and pacifist.

Vera strikes me as a prickly kind of person, with her arch observations and point of view, which brings some amusement to the memoir. Still, she's also an empathetic writer--and one who, by the time she wrote Testament of Youth--was able to do and be the kind of independent woman she wanted to be, while also gaining perspective on the war. Her writing is luscious: long, flowing sentences, precise word choices, and descriptive, evoking a time that has past, but an experience and memoir that lives on through her work.



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Wednesday, February 3, 2016

IWSG: How Novel





This is February's IWSG post. The IWSG is a super group of writers floating around in the blogosphere, led by the ninja Alex J. Cavanagh. Come check us out! Our co-hosts for February are
Allison Gammons,Tamara Narayan, Eva E. Solar, Rachel Pattison, and Ann V. Friend!

Well, the old, busted computer has gone and a new one has taken its place. All of my files were transferred over in a matter of minutes, thanks to the external hard drive and time machine that was activated in ye old computer's last days.

While anticipating the new computer's arrival, the last week of January was largely spent reading--and thinking about how I'm going to attack the novel idea I've had percolating in my head for nearly a year and a half. Some of it's written, but I have new ideas for it and I can't wait.

At first, I decided to write that novel as a half contemporary, half historical thing but it never seemed to work well. I knew the present day part was the weak link.

When I decided to try the contemporary half as a short story, it didn't work either.

Considering that I stole the basic premise of Modern Day Woman Inherits Money From Mysterious Relatives Which Leads Us Back to Historical Times from a novel that I would have thrown on the floor, had I been reading it in hardcover or paperback form...maybe I shouldn't be too surprised that it didn't work.

I think I got a bit cocky there--"Oh, I can do this idea so much better."

So. What kind of ideas or premises have you guys taken or been inspired by other books, movies, plays, TV shows, real life friends, etc. that maybe didn't work? And don't lie--artists steal from each other all the time.