Friday, December 8, 2017

The Downton Abbey Exhibition

Everyone who has read this blog for any length of time knows that I am a hardcore Downton Abbey fan. So when I heard that there was a Downton Abbey limited time exhibition going on at 218 W. 57th Street in Midtown Manhattan, I bought tickets and dragged my mother and a friend to the city. 

I'm not sure what that building was originally, because it's not a museum, but it was more than adequate to house this exhbition, which is only in New York City until the end of January, I think. It features original set pieces, costumes, and props from the show with some historical context to guide you along the way.

We walked into a very busy lobby area, our e-tickets were scanned, and we were ushered into a small introduction room with a video introduction by a beloved Downton character. The first floor was about the servant characters.

The kitchen set!!

The servants' hall set with the bell board!


More servant's hall


There were objects and props from the show which the servant characters would have handled. Each room had an explanation of what would have gone in that room--the kitchen being the busiest place in the house, the butler's pantry and what tasks Carson was doing in there.

Wednesday, December 6, 2017

IWSG December


It's December, the last IWSG post of 2017! Check out the group here.

For the past few weeks, I've been working on a writing project only a few people know about. I haven't blogged about it. I don't mean to be cryptic or secretive, but I'm also kind of afraid that if I talk about the project--which I'm outlining--and then it falls apart, then I have to explain that it's fallen apart or is on hold, as a few of my projects in the last few years are. On hold, that is.

And I don't want to do that because I want to see this idea through and I want it to work and come together. I want to finish it and see it published in whatever way it'll be published.

I'm outlining because when I pants a story, it always falls apart in the middle--I get stuck and I freeze. Part of that is lack of plotting skill and a great deal of it is anxiety, I think.

I'm also outlining because this idea is a series idea--it's romance, so the main characters are different for each story, but they share a general world and they interact and intersect every so often, so I want all of that to be coordinated before I actually write any of these stories.

And so far, it seems to be working out--this outlining thing. It's a fairly detailed outline, maybe more of a sketch because I have dialogue and some emotions and things, but the scenes aren't completely written. The greatest thing is that if I want to add to a scene or move a scene, I can simply cut and paste a hundred or so words into a new spot instead of cutting into pages and pages of writing.


Monday, November 27, 2017

Story Beats

It's no secret that I have problems plotting a novel out. I attributed this to being the kind of writer who usually thinks in characters rather than story events.

Well, frankly, I'm tired of stalling on my projects/being a slow writer/not getting how to plot/or how to pace out a plot.

I mean, it's weird. I recognize a plot when I'm reading. I can see the steps the story takes as the tension builds toward the climax. I've just always had a hard time replicating your basic plotting pyramid thing in a longer piece of writing (over 30, 000 words). I'm horrible at mathematics and I'm not strategically-brained; to some extent, plotting a novel and pacing it well is organization, applying a formula, a pattern, strategizing how and where things will happen.

For some reason, I feel like I flail around a lot while trying to plot.

Plot: definiton: the events that happen in your story.

First of all, I don't think the plotting pyramid is accurate. You know the one. You've seen it in high school English class:
Freytag's Dramatic Structure
If the climax happens in the middle of the novel, what am I reading the back half of the book for?

Monday, November 20, 2017

Winter's Siren: Author Krystal Jane Ruin on her new book

The last novel I finished reading was my writing friend Krystal Jane Ruin's second novel Winter's Siren.

Upholding blog tradition, I bugged Krystal this weekend with some questions about her book and she was gracious enough to answer them!

Winter's Siren was released on November 1, 2017, and is currently enrolled in the Kindle Unlimited program.


In Fairy Tales, The Monsters Are Always Slain...


For the last five years, Fawn has been the star soprano of a secluded opera house, forced to sing for her kidnapper.

His daughter, Devi, waits patiently in the shadows, hiding a face so horrible that no one who’s seen it will look at it again.

As Fawn plots her escape, whispers spread through the shaded corridors of dark sorcery, warning her that she must flee by the next opening night.

But when Fawn draws close to the exit, it’s Devi who’s standing in her way, leading Fawn to suspect that Devi has something to gain if she fails.

(a dark reimagining of Swan Lake)

Now available at Amazon!

Sunflower: Winter's Siren is a retelling of Swan Lake. What made you want to retell Swan Lake in this dark fairytale style?

Krystal: I'd been dying to do something in a fairytale stye and had been trying for a couple of years. But I didn't think about retelling Swan Lake specifically until I saw the ballet for the second time after seeing the movie Black Swan. I just thought, "I HAVE to do something with this." The story is so mystical and fascinating, and the movie helped me see that I wasn't giving myself enough freedom in my other retelling ideas. Those had all fallen apart because I kept being too literal, and that just wasn't working for my brain.

Winter's Siren is really different compared to your first book--not only in subject matter and tone, but with two first person POVs! I thought it was really effective in showing the reader what was going on as the story flowed, but also in tugging at the reader as to who they were rooting for. Did that POV come about from the beginning?


Thank you! It did actually! I'm not sure I ever thought about telling it from a single POV. I hadn't done dual first person in a very long time, but I couldn't see this story any other way. They were both talking and poking at me, so I had to go with it.

Poor, poor, poor Devi, born with that cursed face. And poor Fawn, too, kidnapped and taken to this remote and creepy but magical opera house. Did both of the girls come to you fully formed or develop as the process went on? Is one an antagonist in your view or are they both (I think) equally protagonists and antagonists?


Excellent! ^_^ Neither one of them showed me too many layers until I got in their heads. I wrote the first chapter and part of the second chapter several months before I actually sat down to write the story. By then, I knew them pretty well. I'm definitely on the side of them being equals. Even from early on. :) 

There were elements in this book that totally reminded of Phantom of the Opera (I know you're a fan) and even of Wicked. This isn't really a question lol 

I know right! That was totally accidental, but also totally unsurprising. I'm crazy obsessed with The Phantom, and I love the music to Wicked so much I rewrote a large portion of the plot in my head. Haha. I didn't notice the Wicked aspects until you said something. But I did notice the Phantom elements pretty early on. 

The cover is amazing! You said on your blog that you went through a few concepts, right? How did you settle on this one?

Yep! The other cover ideas matched my personal style more, and would also match my other book more, but as soon as I saw this one, I had to have it. The first concept was darker overall and had these gorgeous teals. It was also really good, because my designer is the best, but I just felt like I couldn't live without this one. I literally thought, "I must have that or I'll die!" LOL! And like you pointed out, the tone is so different, so I figured the cover could also be vastly different than what I would normally go for. 

Thank you to Krystal for answering my questions! 

Krystal Jane Ruin is the author supernatural & paranormal fiction and a rabid fan of hourglasses, daggers, and all things Titanic. You can find her on her YouTube channel or on her blog, The Narcissistic Rose. 





Thursday, November 9, 2017

30 Books Read!

Whoops. I got all caught up in the novel I'm currently reading--Winter's Siren by Krystal Jane Ruin-- that I finished book 30 and forgot to document it on ze blog.

Also, one other book-related thing: the first time my name is printed in a paperback, y'all. I bought the Full Dark paperback on Amazon and it arrived on Wednesday.



And now, on with the reading challenge: 30 down, 5 to go.



21. Asians in Britain: 400 Years of History by Rozina Visram. Nonfiction/History/Indian history/British history. 3 stars.






24. Pursue the Unknown End (The Antiquities Series #2) by Emily Steers. Fiction/Mystery/Adventure/Action/Contemporary/American/Boston. 5 stars.






27. Love and Other Consolation Prizes by Jamie Ford. Fiction/Historical Fiction/Twentieth Century/Seattle. 3 stars.







Monday, November 6, 2017

5 Things About "Haunted Lake"

"Haunted Lake" is the title of my paranormal short story in the anthology FULL DARK, now available on Amazon and B&N.

Haunted Lake is also a real place--and the region around it is real as well. I don't think it's haunted in real life, though. At least it wasn't the one time I've been there.

1. Haunted Lake is a lake in Francestown, New Hampshire. Real name: Scobie Pond. This is what Haunted Lake looks like. Apparently, there's another Haunted Lake in Londonderry, New Hampshire, which is nearby.



It's a beautiful place and it is not creepy at all. It's natural beauty. But being a city kid, I generally associate rural countryside with creepiness.

2. There has to be a reason why a lake is known as "Haunted Lake," no? I quizzed my college roommmate and her sister (who grew up along the shores of said lake) about how and why it might've gotten its name. There were a few stories; some of them ended up in a mish-mash in my story. 

3. Matthew Patten was a real person. A secondary character in my story, the real Matthew Patten was a resident of Bedford, NH, and was hired in 1753 to survey the boundaries of the town of New London.  His diary of this period provides a lot of information about early New Hampshire. I stole him and his surveying for this story. His two surveying associates are fictional.

4. The "misshapen mountain" that the surveyors talk about in the story is Crotched Mountain, now partially a ski resort.

5. The unusual tomb/memorial rock Kimiko runs across in the graveyard is not in New Hampshire. When I was a kid and forced to take violin lessons, the lessons were held in the church basement of the Zion Episcopal Church in Douglaston, Queens. The church is on a hill and has a substantial graveyard, which my dad and I were exploring one afternoon because we like cemeteries. We came across a huge stone. 

Source: Peter Greenberg, Wikimedia Commons
Here lies the last of the Matinecoc, is the inscription. The Matinecock were a Native American tribe who lived on Long Island--they were part of the Lenape tribe. 



Friday, November 3, 2017

Winter's Siren by Krystal Jane Ruin! Book Blitz!


Winter’s Siren
Krystal Jane Ruin
Publication date: November 1st 2017
Genres: Paranormal, Young Adult
For the last five years, Fawn has been the star soprano of a secluded opera house, forced to sing for her kidnapper.
His daughter, Devi, waits patiently in the shadows, hiding a face so horrible that no one who’s seen it will look at it again.
As Fawn plots her escape, whispers spread through the shaded corridors of dark sorcery, warning her that she must flee by the next opening night.
But when Fawn draws close to the exit, it’s Devi who’s standing in her way, leading Fawn to suspect that Devi has something to gain if she fails.
(a dark reimagining of Swan Lake)



EXCERPT:
Frosty air nips at my nose. I stand almost knee deep in fresh fallen snow, letting the diffused sunlight hit my face. There is no sound. Peace settles over me. In this moment, I truly feel like I’m in the middle of nowhere.

Something cold and wet explodes on the back of my neck. For a moment, I fear the worst. A boil. Pus. My father’s description of my mother’s face plays out in my mind.

But then I hear Andrew laughing behind me. I touch the rough skin on my neck and bring a shaky and damp glove to my face. Snow. It’s just snow.

It’s the middle of the day, and my face is uncovered. To make everything worse, it’s bright outside. Freezing and overcast, but bright.

My hands fly to my face automatically.

“Are you going to let me get away with that?” Andrew laughs again.

I twist around and peek at him through my fingers.

He stands before me, his arms spread wide. A thick coat covers his arms, and in his gloved hands, he holds another snowball. “You have two seconds to stop me!”

I flip my hood over my head and drop down to gather snow in my hands.

Another snowball bursts against my head. The wetness plasters my hair to my face. I hurl my deformed ball in his direction. It misses him completely.

Another wad of snow lands on my neck while I gather a larger, rounder ball of snow. “Cheating!” I throw my handful at him. It lands weakly by his knees.

“Here, let me help you.” He climbs towards me and gathers a nice, solid ball in his fist. He hands this to me, and then stands back and spreads his arms wide again. “Try again.”

I throw it square at his nose.

“Ow!” He covers his face and cries out dramatically. “It’s in my eyes!”

“Stop it! Are you serious?” I navigate closer to him, and he falls back into the snow. I run to his side and hear laughter bubbling out from behind his hands. “Jerk!” I shovel snow over his body, and he laughs all the while.

Then he goes still. I stop.

“Andrew?” I lean in close. “Andrew?”

He lunges out of his shallow grave and tackles me to the ground.

A panicked scream leaves my body as he lands on top of me, heavy and warm. Then a strange sound comes out of my mouth. Something that’s never come out of it before. Laughter.

His braid hangs down, inches from my sunken cheek. Suddenly aware of how close his head is to mine, the laughter dies in my throat, and I slap my gloves to my cheeks.

“You have such beautiful eyes,” he says.

My breath is trapped in my chest. It hurts. I don’t know how much he can see of my face—my hood is pulled low and my hair and hands cover everything else—but I fear it’s too much.

“Andrew . . .”



Author Bio:
Krystal is the author of supernatural and paranormal fiction, living in the Tennessee Valley with a collection of swords and daggers. When she's not hoarding stuffed pandas, hourglasses, and Hello Kitty replicas, she can be found in YouTube hole or blogging about books, writing, and random things at KrystalSquared.net.

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Wednesday, November 1, 2017

IWSG November



It's Wednesday, November 1st and it's time for IWSG! The IWSG is a large network and we post our writerly insecurities on the first Wednesday of every month.


I've had a busy last week or so.



One: I am a contributor to FULL DARK: An Anthology, available now on Amazon and B&N. It's an anthology of dark short stories, benefitting the Gary Sinise Foundation, which has a bevy of programs and initiatives supporting first responders and active and former military.

With everything going in the world--including the truck incident in Manhattan yesterday afternoon, which killed 8 people--I'm fine, everyone I know is fine, New York City is fine (we're a hardy bunch)--it's important to remember all the people who do so much to keep the rest of us safe.

My short story is "Haunted Lake." There will be a blog post with some background on the story up in a few days.


Two: My friend Krystal Jane Ruin is releasing her second novel, Winter's Siren, today! Can't wait to go on another thrill ride by Krystal.

Three: I've been noodling around with a new creepy short story. A friend had floated the idea on Twitter of an anthology of stories about maligned women, some of them real, some of them myth. I don't know if this idea of hers will come together, but I had an idea, so I've started writing the thing slowly.

Four: I've begun outlining my next longer writing project. I'm basically a pantser, but this new idea is a four-book series. Some of the stories overlap, time-wise. Also, I'm tired of having my typical mid-project meltdown where my characters don't listen, I don't know what I'm doing or where I'm going, it's frustrating, and I start asking that vital question: "Why am I putting myself through all this torture to write fictional characters?"

And so, I am outlining. I'm going to make sure these outlines are fairly detailed, that there's a decent amount of conflict, that the plot moves before I actually start writing the stories.

I'm tired of this defective part of my writing process. It's time for a change.

Also, best of luck to anyone doing NaNoWriMo this month!




Sunday, October 29, 2017

FULL DARK: An Anthology is now out!


Add FULL DARK to your Goodreads shelf here

Available on Amazon and B&N.

It's October 30th, which means that FULL DARK: An Anthology is now officially OUT!


What happens in the dark will come to light.

Full Dark is a collection of eleven short works with impressive depth and range. Twisted tales of ghosts, villains, and the paranormal await you—mystery, heinous fantasy, and pure suspense. Acclaimed and award-winning authors as well as a few talented newcomers have joined forces to be your guide. Venture into the dark if you dare.

Just A Matter Of Time by Loni Townsend
Forerunner by David Powers King
Taking Care Of You by Carrie Butler
The Apartment by Lisa Buie-Collard
The Caricature by Nick Wilford
Shifting Sands by Elizabeth Seckman
Shadows Falling On Rainbows by Celeste Holloway
Meringue, Murder or Marzipan by Tonja Drecker
Haunted Lake by Michelle Athy
Soul Coin by Laura Rich
Retribution by Melissa Maygrove

FULL DARK is a benefit anthology. 100% of the proceeds will be donated to the Gary Sinise Foundation, an organization that does many wonderful things for our country's active military, its veterans, and the countless first responders who sacrifice so much to keep us safe.

Published by Obisidian Books. 



Tuesday, October 17, 2017

Why I Love Roger MacKenzie

Outlander season three has begun--I'm patiently awaiting the airing of episode 6 in another week. I read all eight Outlander novels in 2014-2015, not long after TV version began.

And yes, Jamie Fraser and Claire Randall Fraser loom large in the Outlander world--the time-crossing lovers who have very odd adventures and associate with an ever-increasing growing cast of characters.

But I realized about halfway into the series that my favorite character in Outlander world is Roger Wakefield MacKenzie, who [spoiler] is Jamie and Claire's daughter Brianna's love interest and eventual husband.



Over the last year, I've been doing a very slow re-read of the Outlander books, but I've only been re-reading the Roger and Brianna parts. It's a very different series when you only read their parts, much less improbable adventure and more two twentieth century people living in the eighteenth century and all the complications that would ensue from that. Jamie--and Claire, in a lot of ways--are both bigger than life and they're great characters, I like reading about them, but my Outlander book boyfriend is totally Roger.

Roger is, in 1968, a young Oxford professor of history. When he re-meets Claire and meets Brianna--who he's immediately interested in--Roger becomes involved in Claire's time-travel-and-Jamie-related dilemma and he helps Claire find records proving that Jamie lived past Culloden--and to trace him as much as they can through history.

Roger and Brianna have a slow-burn romance through at least three of the books before they both go through the stones to the eighteenth century and in the eighteenth century, they have a fairly atypical relationship for that time because they're actually from the twentieth century. There are characters here and there who seem surprised or concerned that Roger doesn't "rein in" Brianna more, but Roger loves Bree, even if he is mystified by her quite a lot.

Because Roger is a historian, he's adaptable to the eighteenth century, but also fascinated by the history happening around him. As he integrates into eighteenth century frontier life, Roger grapples with the fact that he has few transferable skills to eighteenth century farm life. He didn't grow up on a farm, so all the farm chores are new to him. There aren't many positions for a history professor in the backcountry, so Roger needs to find his way to where the farmwork doesn't seem so hard--and he finds his calling as more and more people settle on Jamie Fraser's land grant.

Roger is also a really empathetic person. And he's musical. which is really endearing.

Tuesday, October 10, 2017

Pursue the Unknown End by Emily Steers: An Author Interview

Last year, a college classmate released her debut novel Collecting The Constellations, a contemporary  mystery-adventure story. The sequel to that book, PURSUE THE UNKNOWN END, was released on September 1, 2017.


Fresh off their life-altering trip to Kathmandu, Charlotte and Rory left New York City for the relatively quiet confines of Tilly's Texas ranch. On the day of their wedding, a mysterious gift arrives on the doorway, soliciting the pair to uncover the secrets of its confines A.S.A.P.


The contents of the box send the pair to Boston, the former Hub of the Solar System, to dig through America's complex history of business, representation, and human rights. 


But as Charlotte and Rory get closer to uncovering one of Boston's best-held secrets, new revelations about their relationship come to light.

Add Pursue the Unknown End to your Goodreads shelf. You can get both books in Emily's Antiquities series on Amazon for $1.98.

On with the interview!

1. Pursue the Unknown End is the second book in the Antiquities series and the sequel to Collecting the Constellations. How soon after writing the first book did you start writing the second? 

Truthfully, it took months. The actual effort and turmoil of self-publishing COLLECTING THE CONSTELLATIONS really took it out of me! But I always knew that the adventures that Charlotte and Rory went on couldn't stop at one book, so I spent a lot of time figuring out how I could create a new structure around which they could continue. COLLECTING THE CONSTELLATIONS ends, and PURSUE THE UNKNOWN END starts, with them both in such an unmoored, limbo state with their careers and lives. I love books about transitional periods that don't really revolve around the typical moments of change– marriage, birth, death, etc. Life transitions happen so much more frequently than we'd like to admit. 

And transitional times are rife for conflict--and as you say, they happen much more than we'd like to admit. 

Collecting the Constellations took place in Nepal and India--places you haven't been, right? Pursue the Unknown End takes place in and around Boston, which I know you know very well 'cause we went to college there. What made you want to bring the setting closer to home this time around?

As much as I've always wanted to go to Nepal, I haven't been. So it was a really fun project to research everything that happens in Kathmandu– and let me tell you, EVERYTHING is researched, even down to the color of polo shirts they wear at the Indian version of Target that I reference toward the end of COLLECTING THE CONSTELLATIONS. Believe it or not, that's all real, even though a lot of readers thought I was making it up. 

Boston was actually a bit of a mental backlash to the criticism I got about putting Charlotte in such an "exotic" location in the first book. Even though I'd researched every last detail about Nepal and India in CONSTELLATIONS, a bunch of people were like, "That's not real! That can't be real!" So, I thought: what's better known than one of the oldest cities in America? And what's more mundane than the place where you went to college? Of course, the age of Boston lends itself to mystery– I still learn weirdo tidbits about the city that make me realize how old it is. That bit about the grave sites and pathways? Totally true. 

I like cemeteries. I have very clear memories of walking past and into the graveyards in Boston. Oddly enough, they were one of my favorite parts of living in Boston for the three years I was in college. What was your favorite part of writing Boston?

I lived, for a brief time as a child, north of Boston, near Gloucester. Then, obviously, I spent many years in the Back Bay while attending Emerson. I know enough about the southern Cape and the whaling industry due to my parents' current hometown near Mystic, CT, where there's a living museum dedicated to old ships and the fishing and whaling industries of New England in the 1800s. I think when you're a kid and growing up there, you forget how small New England is, and you certainly can't grasp just how much of America is still based on colonial norms and means. 

While at Emerson, I lived in the smallest apartment ever in the Back Bay and worked in a few different parts of Boston– in Faneuil Hall/North End and closer to the Fenway as well. I walked everywhere– past the burial grounds, past the plaques of information, past the statues, past the museums. Walking the same paths every day for three years (I graduated early), you do come to memorize the details that you see. Also, I think it's funny that while most of New England is deeply rooted in "townie" culture, Boston is incredibly diverse (well, compared to non-city New England). I didn't want Charlotte to come in contact with too many Boston natives. "Scholarly Boston" is a fascinating culture. 

As someone who is a bit of a conservationist and certainly an animal rights activist, the history of the whaling industry in America is mind-boggling to me. It was like Silicon Valley is today, but a million times as disgusting and dangerous. But, as it's touched upon in the book, the whaling industry was at its height during a huge upheaval in American cultural norms, too– black freed men were allowed to work, for pay, on ships; and certainly the abolitionist/anti-south sentiment of Northerners was coming to a head, too. I'm not saying the North is a paragon of virtuous racial relations– OH, SO FAR FROM IT– but it was always an interesting time to me. Of course, this was a time of gender relations upheaval, too. Basically, Boston was a freaking cultural mess at that time. Feels familiar. 
Example of scrimshaw
From Wikipedia


The scrimshaw--and whole mystery around it--felt more intricate this time around. Do you remember what inspired that part of the book?

I wanted something that was about the complete, artistic opposite as the archaeological piece of the first book. COLLECTING THE CONSTELLATIONS revolved around a sapphire blade. And to me, a piece of folk art made from a tooth really fit the bill. The mystery of CONSTELLATIONS revolved around gods and wealth and the cosmos while the scrimshaw of PURSUE THE UNKNOWN END exalts the mundane, and very, very ordinary people. Even though most of the sailors at that time were of some sort of Protestant sect, there's not a whole lot of God depicted in scrimshaw. You think to yourself, "What kind of secret could this possibly bear?" and you know it has to do with personal, intimate secrets, and not secrets of the universe.

I was giving Rory a lot of side eye toward the end of the book (as if he didn't know who he was marrying! Honestly!). There's another one coming in this series, right?

Oh, definitely! It's funny– I got a bit of flak after the first book for making Rory a true female stand-in in an adventure series. Without a doubt, he's just kind of there to be hot and make Charlotte be the hero. So I thought to myself, "You want a male character that's more real? You're not going to like what you read!"

What else are you working on?

I just finished the rough draft of the first book in a new book series. VIVIAN VALENTINE GETS HER MAN is about a Girl Friday whose P.I. goes missing, and she has to finish his case– all while trying to figure out what happened to her boss. It's so fun to write, as it takes place in perfect world for a noir-ish mystery– New York City in 1950. I just love writing smart-aleky women. But I'm going to be querying agents on this soon, and hoping I can go a more traditional publishing route with it.

Thank you so much Emily for answering my questions and stopping by!


Emily (Steers) Edwards is one of the few writers based in Los Angeles who doesn’t write screenplays. With an extensive background in corporate copywriting and editorial, she has written for several national publications and keeps her own lifestyle blog. Emily is a graduate of Emerson College’s Writing, Literature, and Publishing program. She resides in Pasadena with her husband and their two dogs. To keep in contact, follow her on Twitter @MsEmilyEdwardsInstagramFacebook, or on her blog, Yankee Smartass.

Wednesday, October 4, 2017

IWSG October




It is the first Wednesday in October, which means it's time for IWSG DayThe awesome co-hosts for the October 4 posting of the IWSG are Olga Godim, Chemist Ken, Jennifer Hawes, and Tamara Narayan!

What insecurities do I have this month? Well, I have one project I'm losing interest in, but trying to persevere and finish. I have another project idea bearing ideas for a series and characters and plot.

Which brings me around to this month's IWSG question:

Have you ever slipped any of your personal information into your characters, either by accident or on purpose?

I remember my theater major friends in college talking about how they had to "find their way in" to a character. The longer I write, the more characters I come up with, the more I realize that I, too, need to find my way in to a character, even if our circumstances are utterly different. 

For my historical characters, the personal information we share isn't very personal at all, if we indeed share anything in common. 

For the few contemporary characters I've written to completion, the problem is usually that we have too much in common. I'm generally more comfortable in historicals because the time period and such dictates that my characters and I are very different people. In contemporaries, I've had a harder time not making the characters into fictionalized versions of myself or friends, which is really annoying. I don't even do it on purpose. It's just mostly turned out that way. 

But I guess there's always a little something in my characters of myself: a particular point of view, a dry sense of humor, an emotional reaction, cultural similarities. They're more intangible and only people who know me really well would be able to read one of those and realize that that's from me and not the character; or they may not know that that little bit of information is from me at all.

So, of course, the new project series idea is a contemporary and I am determined to make sure that a) these stories are outlined because I'm tired of this mid-manuscript confusion and b) I want to develop my characters as people on their own.

The upside of contemporary? Not having to dive into tons of research. I can watch YouTube videos as research. Oh, my God, I'm so excited!

Sunday, September 24, 2017

My Collection of Research Books

I was looking around the blogosphere this morning and saw a blog post by one of my favorite historical fiction authors Elizabeth Chadwick, with a huge list of her mountain of research books.

Go check it out here.

So I decided to take a few pictures of my molehill of research books, which I've acquired for a variety of past projects and/or just out of curiosity and exploration of an era.

(Which is to say, I'll get back to the Victorian era when I damn well feel like it).



I used to have Tudors boooks (I'm down to two, which are biographies of Henry VIII and Elizabeth I), but when I finally acknowledged that a) Tudor-land is oversaturated and b) I wasn't actually going to write that story of the monastery being tore apart during the English Reformation, not knowing anything about Catholicism, Anglicanism, or monasteries beyond what Ken Follet's books taught me, those books were sold on Amazon. 

I expect some of these will get rotated out as well, at some point. 


If you haven't read Bury the Chains, by the way, it's wonderfully written and not at all dry. It's about the British abolition movement.

And Asians in Britain was fascinating, super detailed, and I can't wait to weave in what I learned in it into a few of my nineteenth-century set stories at some point. 



The blue book is called Jane Austen: The World of Her Stories. Really great things in there about Jane Austen's era, from the late eighteenth to early nineteenth centuries, and it covers the Regency period and what was going on in the world and how they reflect and come up in Jane Austen's novels. 

Staying Power is about the history of black people in Britain. 


The top two here are when I realized I knew nothing about sailors and specfically, the shipping trade in Bristol in the eighteenth century. Turns out I didn't need to know all that much to write Pearl, but they came in relatively useful. 

Bluestockings is about the first British women to get a university education in the late nineteenth into the twentieth century. I got a few funny anecdotes from it, but it was very focused on Cambridge and Oxford, even though other universities were admitting women as full students much earlier.

The little books are Daily Life in a Victorian House and Colonial Wiliamsburg, which I bought at age eleven in Williamsburg, and tried to use to write an American Girl-style Revolution story. It didn't work out.

And yes, the bottom three are American Girl Collection books. Children's books are awesome for research because they often have maps and pictures. 

These are the print books I have; there were others I read on Kindle for research, but print books are the best for research books, guys. It's harder to highlight, underline, flag, or flip back and forth in an electronic book.

One of my plot bunny ideas is a contemporary idea, where the research will be more like "research." I'm so looking forward to that.

Sunday, September 17, 2017

So long, Bandstand!




In January, when my friends Nali, Jess, and I went to BroadwayCon, there was a new Broadway preview thing, which was dangerous because you sing me a showtune and I get hooked and then there's money pouring out of my wallet because I want to see the shows. 

Hearing Laura Osnes and Corey Cott sing "This is Life" was my "ooh, ooh, ooh" moment. Then I watched their performance on the Tonys.



I finally saw it on September 7th, with my usual Broadway partners in crime and it was everything I expected. Amazing dancing. Like, seriously. Great acting. Fantastic singing (See, Corey Cott's singing at the top of his range. He's doing the male equivalent of belting, said my brain as I leaned forward in my seat. Oh, wait, he just went up a notch on that belt...wtf? How did that happen?)

Bandstand was also an original musical, not based on a book or a movie, with new songs. That's rare these days on Broadway.

Sadly, Bandstand, too, closes today, which is why there are two blog posts today.


It starred Corey Cott and Laura Osnes (here's a link to her Broadway.com Bandstand vlog). Corey plays Donny Novitski, a recently-returned WWII army vet and musical prodigy, who is having trouble adjusting back to life in Cleveland. He hears about a MGM music contest and decides to form a band of fellow vets so they can enter the competition--the Donny Nova Band.

The cool thing was all of the band members played their own instruments. Here's a video from a pop-up performance the Donny Nova Band did of "Ain't We Proud."

Laura Osnes played Julia Trojan, a war widow, who happens to sing and write some poetry. She's the widow of a war buddy of Donny's and he checks in on her and learns that she can sing really well. She joins the band as their singer.

I cried at this show--that's never happened to me during a musical. It's not a sad show, but it deals with some heavy subject matter--post-war traumatic stress, namely. Bandstand was so heartfelt; I felt like I'd been emotionally devastated but I was happy that I'd been emotionally devastated, you know?

God, us creatives are such sick puppies.

In essence, I cried a little. I laughed. I had chills. I was cheering. But most of all, I was totally sucked into the show and felt really present.

The music is very 1940s swing and big band, which was a kick to hear. Makes you want to move around. The director is also a choreographer, so the dancing was so amazing to watch--it was super athletic and sinuous and era-appropriate.

My friend Jess is a dancer; she'd seen Bandstand a few months ago and loved all the swing dance, so she took a couple of classes and through Audience Rewards (@audiencerewards #GetRewarded), got to take a dance class with the dance captain of Bandstand doing the show choreography, which is sooo cool.



Jess is the one in the front in the white tanktop. There's video as well, but I couldn't get it to upload.


Goodbye to Groundhog Day

This year, I've seen four new musicals, which is quite a lot to see within a year for me. Alas, of those four, one closed right after my friends and I went to see it and today, two more are closing.

Groundhog Day and Bandstand are playing their final performances today, which is a real shame. They were my favorites this year and they really deserved to go on longer runs. So I'm writing goodbye posts for them, but they're separate because I have a lot of feels, mmkay?



Groundhog Day is based on the Bill Murray dramedy about a cynical weatherman who gets stuck covering Groundhog Day in Punxsutawney, PA and living the same day over and over again.

The main reason I was really excited to see this was the composer, Tim Minchin. He composed Matilda the Musical, which I loved, as well as a bunch of rude and comic songs, which I also love.

Andy Karl--who tore his ACL onstage just before the musical officially opened--played Phil Connors, the cynical weatherman, and Barrett Doss played Rita Hanson, Phil's associate producer and romantic interest. I've seen the show once; on the night I was there, not only was Andy Karl still wearing a knee brace for his injury, but they had to stop the show for a few minutes when a set piece on one of the stage's revolvers didn't move on cue.

What I loved and connected to the most in this show is the message of hope, that we should strive to be our best selves, that we should try not to waste our time on earth with petty shit--but it isn't sappy or like a typical musical, I guess. All of that wrapped in a musical with great melodies, fantastic staging, and lots of movement and really clever lyrics.

My friend Jess, who has seen the show several times, when asked what resonated with her the most from Groundhog Day, said, "I think superficially I love the humor and cleverness of it from the lyrics to the staging. But then the message I got from it was a reminder to not be self-absorbed but show kindness to others. And redemption is possible, just have to work at it."

My friend Nali has seen Groundhog Day four times. At the August 31st performance, Tim Minchin came out for the curtain call. She said the audience was really into the show that night as well, which is so great to hear. Because the show was fresh for her, she had a lot to say about what resonated to her: "For me it was definitely the snark and wit in the lyrics -- a seemingly inspirational song (Hope) about not giving up hope which is actually about him giving up hope that he can kill himself. Overall the message does move the audience to be less self involved but it's not preachy -- it's the theater version of "showy not Telly.'"


Nali also noted, "The set design was crazy amazing! They weren't elaborate set pieces but even when they moved it was like a dance and fluid. They managed to create a sense of perspective. Looking into the room from outside, then you're inside. But then it's sparse -- there are moments when he wakes up and it's just his bed. You don't need the rest of it anymore because his room is already well defined. And the room's size changes with his mental state. When he's dismissive or frustrated, the three pieces are locked in. When he realized he can do whatever he wants - the set piece was just his bed. The town only had a few characters and I felt like I really got to know all of them. It wasn't just a Phil story."

Jess is seeing the show again tonight, so I'm sure it'll be an emotional last show. Groundhog Day is going on a national tour, though, so keep your eyes peeled!