Monday, September 26, 2011

Writing in Voice

Last month, I won second place in the short story category for the Pacific Northwest Writer's Association literary contest. It was and is a proud moment for me, but I know you didn't stop by to read some BSP, so please excuse me for starting out like that. But I have a point about writing that I'd like to share--an insight that surprised me and might give inspiration to you.
The voice in my award-winning story was not the voice you're reading now.
The setting for my story is in western Kansas, a place where I spent most of my childhood summers and a place where my parents were born and raised. All my life I grew up hearing the distinctive western twang, the curt, bottom-line judgments, the simple distillation of events that are indicative to the region. Those voices settled deep in my subconscious and even though I am more southern/midwestern than western, (my family moved to Missouri after I was born) those voices are a part of my life.
When I started writing the story, those voices came alive. What came out was a story I didn't expect; one of those pieces of writing where you remember the actual writing, where you remember the music that was playing during the composition, but a piece where upon re-reading, you ask yourself, "Did I write that?"
I can do a pretty good British voice on the page, too, I think. Although I've never published a piece that included that voice, I enjoy writing it. I've only been to Great Britain once, but I love a number of British writers. I'm wondering now if their voices, too, have meandered their way into my brain.
What voices do you have lurking inside? Your parents or grandparents? The voices of a place or a time that intrigues you? Or a voice in your imagination: your muse whispering in your ear?

Friday, September 23, 2011

"A Place to Nurture Genius"

On a recent trip to Grand Manan Island, NB  I was surprised to learn that Grand Manan won third place in Readers Digest’s “World’s 7 Best small islands.

“Connected to mainland New Brunswick by ferry, the island is home to charming fishing villages, the vertiginous Southeast Head sea cliffs and the idyllic Swallowtail Lighthouse, the second-most photographed lighthouse in all of Atlantic Canada.”

This quote is part of Tim Johnson’s island description for the Reader’s Digest Contest announcement.  What the announcement doesn’t tell you becomes the caveat of my blog.

I was surprised to learn of the contest win, but delighted too, because the island is home to my eldest son, Michael E. Simms. Michael makes his living as a commercial fisherman on the Bay of Fundy.

A few years ago Michael showed us a rustic cottage nestled in the trees near the cliffs at Whale Cove, North Head, one of the six villages on Grand Manan.  Michael had a reason for showing this isolated, charming cottage. I had been pestering him with questions about the island; his answers to be part of the research for an article I was writing.

“This cottage,” Michael said, “is part of the estate of a renowned American author, Willa Cather. Like you, Mom, she was a writer and teacher. She lived here and wrote books in this cottage.” I was flattered by the comparison but assured Michael that my writing was not likely to ever achieve Cather’s fame.

Willa Cather (1873-1947), novelist and short story writer, one time editor of McClure’s magazine, wrote during the first half of the 20th century. My Antonia is often thought to be her most enduring novel, but it was One of Ours, written in 1922 which won a Pulitzer Prize. L.K. Ingersol writes about Willa Cather in Shadows On the Rock.

“Not too much has been written about her connection to this Bay of Fundy island. There is ample reason. During her lifetime she said little about it, probably nothing to the public and hardly more to her close friends. . .The very fact that it was rather out of the way and visited by none of her friends made it all the more desirable. Had it been otherwise, she would have probably dismissed it from her mind. It was then, actually a workshop, a place to nurture genius.”

Her companion and confidant, Edith Lewis, was with her on Grand Manan Island. Ingersol writes that “the two companions found solitude without loneliness at Whale Cove. It was ideal for their work and after three years they built a cottage of their own.

In 1926 they bought several acres of land and the cottage was built for them by local carpenters.

Much later Lewis mentioned the cottage in her book Willa Cather Living, “the cottage was a rather rough little place, with many inconveniences, but it came to have great charm. Above the rooms was a large attic from which one could look out over the cliff and the sea, and this Willa chose for her study.”

I first saw the Willa Cather cottage while visiting our son in 2007. I remember peeking in the windows, marveling at the care obviously given to its upkeep, imagining her sitting at her old Oliver typewriter listening to birdsongs or the sound of the sea. I snapped photos of the cottage and the view, vowing to re-read one of my favorites of hers, Death Comes For the Archbishop.

During an August visit this year we toured down Whistle Road once again. Drawing near the Willa Cather cottage, it was time to enjoy a sumptuous dinner at cliff-side’s  Inn at Whale Cove Cottages –a very special treat from our son!  Browsing through brochure descriptions of the rental cottages on the premises, I experienced a second island surprise!


Built by the American author in the 1920’s this cottage is secluded and has a Cliffside water view.  There are two bedrooms, one and a half bathrooms, two fireplaces, activity room and kitchen.  $1000.00 per week Sunday to Sunday

A rental cottage!  Perhaps not a use that will perpetuate Willa’s memory, but if the $’s were available I can think of no better retreat to inspire a writer than this beauty spot at Whale Cove, North Head on Grand Manan Island.

          Enjoy the photos of the cottage, Willa’s sea view and Swallowtail Light. whether you are a reader or a writer, you may want to be inspired as Willa Cather was on that remote island.

Back to this author 's musings, my conscience niggles over a promise I made to my  readers: An excerpt from my new book,  PROMISE KEEPER.  A synopsis and excerpt appears on my Author Page at Red Room's literary web site. If you open the the following URL mypromise will be kept.

Monday, September 19, 2011

Self-Publishing versus Traditional Publishing? Good Question.

Each has it’s pro’s and con’s. With self-publishing: you pay for it all, the set up, the printing, the distribution, the marketing & promotion, you buy all your copies to sell or give away. If you have a non-fiction platform, then self-publishing is probably a good way to go. You can control the content, it’s printed faster than traditional publishing (which can take 18-24 months), and you already have a built in audience.

For fiction, I’m torn. Personally, I prefer traditional publishing. They pay you, you don’t pay them. But to get national or world-wide distribution you need an agent to get into the big publishing houses. That’s easier said than done. Another option, is to use smaller publishers that don’t require agents. The advance is smaller, but they do the printing and distribution. You still have to market and promote regardless if it is fiction or non-fiction, small publisher or large, self published or traditional.

Here is what I experienced when my first novel was ready to sell. I couldn’t find an agent for FEISTY FAMILY VALUES after exhaustive attempts. So, I went with a smaller publisher. My advance was small but they put together a wonderful product and distributed it to all the big booksellers (Barnes and Noble, Borders, Amazon). They also shared the book with big reviewers like Publishers Weekly and Kirkus, etc. Unfortunately, my novel wasn’t reviewed by the biggies, but I did get several good reviews from the smaller reviewers they notified. If you self-publish you have to do the digging for reviewers yourself and pay for the books you send them. My publisher gave me a dozen books free just for that purpose.

Another option would be e-publishing, like Kindle and Nook, etc. If you have a contract with a publisher and they have the electronic rights, they’ll get your e-pub book done for you. My contract was for print only, so I did my own e-publishing, through Kindle and Nook. It’s not hard and I don’t have to share as much of the profits as I would with a traditional publisher. That’s another thing. Self-publishing is on your dime, but all the profits are yours. With a traditional publisher you share with everyone and their dog, getting as little as 8-10% of the retail list.

If you self publish, the editing is also on you (you can always pay a freelance editor), whereas a traditional publisher will have editors who will review it multiple times to make it the cleanest, best product it can be for no additional cost to the author.

MY ADVICE: Do your homework before you make a decision on whether to self-publish or traditionally publish. Your skill level, available time and budget are key.
To read more about B.D. Tharp, her novel and other writing, visit

Friday, September 16, 2011

Setting: Writing What We Know Vs. Doing Research

Setting: Writing What We Know Vs. Doing Research

by Jacqueline Seewald

This topic has been discussed previously on Author Expressions. But I believe it’s
important enough to consider again. So I’m offering my own take on the subject.

You’ll notice that a lot of mystery and romance writers set their novels in places they either live in or have lived in. This may seem provincial, but in fact, it makes for good writing. If we know a place well, we can create a realistic setting, an intriguing background for our novels. Setting is one of the important components of any piece of fiction—plays short stories or novels.

Not all of my novels are set in New Jersey. However, most of them are.
This is because I was born in New Jersey and have lived in the state
my entire life. I like to write novels that have authenticity of setting.
All my YA novels like STACY’S SONG are set in New Jersey.
My children’s picture book A DEVIL IN THE PINES was published
in New Jersey by Afton Publishing; a faction book, that can be found in
both school and public libraries. The book explores the Jersey Devil

and the Pine Barrens using fictional characters. The setting is crucial.

My adult mystery series, featuring amateur sleuth Kim Reynolds, librarian,
is--you guessed it--set in New Jersey. These three novels:
and my new novel THE TRUTH SLEUTH are set in Central New Jersey
where I lived for forty years. I also taught English
at the high school and middle school as well as the university.
So again this led to authenticity in the novels’ settings.

THE TRUTH SLEUTH, for instance, is largely set in a NJ high school.

Do I consider research unimportant? Absolutely not! Every novel requires
a certain amount of research, some more than others. My paranormal historical romance TEA LEAVES AND TAROT CARDS required extensive research. And I enjoyed
every minute of it. I’ve been a fan of Regency romance for many years and wanted
to do my own version of such a novel. But to do it right, I had to research the
details so I made no mistakes—or as few as possible.

I believe the best novels combine elements of what we actually know with research into what we need to find out. I’m no fan of info dumping in fiction, but writers need to read and discover a lot more information than they will actually use in their novels.

What is your opinion? Do you prefer authentic contemporary fiction, well-researched
historic fiction--or perhaps you have a preference for fantasy, science fiction or
horror novels which create imaginary worlds? What suits your fancy?

Monday, September 12, 2011

Fashions, oh my!

The fourteenth century was a period of change and experimentation in the fashion world, as evidenced by extant paintings. Men began to wear tightly fitted clothing, sometimes so short as to be immodest, while other more conservative men kept to the long gowns and robes.

Wool was the most common fabric, because it could take dye, and served as a good insulator in a time when the only window covering was often a wooden shutter.

14th century dressmakers
Fabrics could be printed now, most commonly by woodblocks. Other decorative fabrics were embroidered wool, and gold and silk threads, only obtainable by the rich.

Edward III established an embroidery workshop in the Tower of London, to provide suitable garments for the royal couple.

Linen was commonly worn next to the skin, and cotton was used for padding and quilting. Silk was most desired, and most expensive.

During the middle part of the 14th c. people began to wear parti-colored clothes, even two different colored hose, especially at the English court.

Belts crept lower and lower, and by the end of the century, were worn low on the hips, as they are now. So you see it’s true; if you wear a style long enough, it will come back into fashion!

Friday, September 2, 2011

Keeping the Door Open

Anyone who has published anything anywhere has probably had the experience of receiving unexpected and usually unsolicited feedback from a reader or another writer (not that they're mutually exclusive), and recently I started thinking about this. I'm not the most adept with (no longer new) technology, and a reader pointed out a slip I had made and how to correct it. I was pleased with the advice because I might otherwise not have caught on, and thanked her. She emailed me back with a note that she was relieved that I wasn't offended.

Instant publishing through blogs, websites, ebooks, emagazines also means instant feedback. We put our views on the Internet, with direct access to us, and this surely invites a reaction, and the reactions come in. Most of us are used to the benign comments that are complimentary, encouraging, supportive, and we occasionally get the argumentative ones that tell us, usually politely, that we're all wrong. But sometimes we get the snarky ones from readers who are just looking for an opportunity to score a hit. The trolls.

These people are not limited to the Internet. One reader of a Joe Silva mystery novel wrote to me that she wouldn't commit murder under the same circumstances that drove the character in my book, and I must say I was very glad to hear that. I commend her for her self-discipline and virtuous character.

Some people clearly don't mind being trolls or snarks, but most of us can hear that voice in the back of our heads saying, "No nice person would say anything like that," when we are tempted to give as good as we get. We restrain ourselves, proffer something polite, and move on.

The real problem with this instant publishing and instant critique isn't the hurt feelings or wasted time. The real problem is the same one that infects every other aspect of life. Bad money drives out good, nastiness pushes aside more thoughtful, useful comments, and we begin to delete without reading emails from any name we don't recognize.

I've been fortunate to have received only a few snarky emails (probably because I have a modest readership), and the unsolicited comments I do receive have been interesting, useful, and intelligent. I would hate to lose this connection with readers, so I keep my email open, remain optimistic, and thank everyone who takes the time to offer something that might benefit me. They are generous and helpful, and I'm glad to count them among people I reach. I can't promise this will last forever, but so far it seems to work.