Friday, October 28, 2011

Never Put A Date On YOur Dreams

Never Put A Date On your Dreams

“With competition growing exponentially, authors are told to be aware of and not be hesitant to adopt or use new and different components of style.” Advice given but not easily taken.  By no means do I go on record opposed to technical advances. I simply  mourn the disappearing art of Letter Writing, especially in literature.
Epistolary writing is fiction told through the medium of letters, but I like to think of letters as voices, their stories told in beautiful prose. If you have ever researched collections of old letters and viewed their graceful, rhythmic lines, you understand what I mean. Past generations knew how to “turn a phrase”.
A glorious history of letters exists in literature. The genre became popular in the 18th century, but gradually became subject to ridicule and fell out of favor. It revived in the nineteenth century. Consider Frankenstein and Dracula were written in epistolary style! Along came Alexander Graham Bell and in 1875   letters were once again put in shadow by the invention of the telephone.
Not totally put on the shelf however, letters as a literary form made notable appearances in contemporary novels. Some of them even included diary entries, newspaper clippings, book excerpts and the like. Stephen king’s Carrie used epistolary structure and Ronald Munson used epistolary style in Fan Mail. Others followed suit; a favorite of mine was Barbara Hambly’s Homeland.

Cell phones, BlackBerrries, iPhones, etc. arrived in our 21st century, entering  the fast communication scene with Texting as  a popular mode  of communication. It is doubtful I will personally use texting, but the characters that people my stories, perhaps will. Letter writing was partly the inspiration for my first novel, Four Summers Waiting, Five Star, 2006 (now available on Kindle). The discovery of authentic family letters and diaries of my children’s ancestors helped me to create the setting and social milieu for that Civil War story. I used some of the actual diary excerpts and letters in dialogic epistolary style (giving the letters of the characters) throughout the book. A line from a letter, contained  in Four Summers Waiting written by  Civil War surgeon, Henry Simms to his beloved Maria, is an example:

Washington City is a frightening place to be as the month of May approaches. It should be filled with birdsong and blossoms and I long to be showing you the cherry trees in bloom . . .
I hope and dream that things will some day come full circle for I remain an old fashioned devotee of letter writing. I’m sure you can tell by now that I live up to my by-line,

                           Never Put a date on your dreams.

Friday, October 21, 2011

Book Promotion and Libraries

Promoting to Libraries: Part 2

by Jacqueline Seewald

The first part of this discussion appeared on Jeffrey Marks’ blog site Murder Must Advertise, September 23, 2011. At that time, I suggested that authors consider promoting their books, whether fiction or nonfiction, at libraries. Some libraries will pay writers to come and speak, others will at least provide writers with exposure to the reading public. Not all libraries welcome authors but there are many that do. As a former librarian and teacher, I can testify to the fact that authors are welcome to provide an event at many libraries. Books are an important component of what the library has to offer. Authors are respected by most librarians.

If you are a relatively unknown writer, try to get a local newspaper to do a story on you before your library appearance. Also, if you’re not Nora Roberts or Mary Higgins Clark, don’t expect people to come in droves just because you announce a book signing. Think in terms of what kind of event you can provide that library patrons will enjoy and appreciate.

On October 6th I presented an event at the Fort Lee, NJ Library entitled “We Can All Be Writers.” It was not just be a talk but a happening—an interactive experience for both attendees and myself. I provided writing exercises that we could do together and discuss.
I’ll also discussed sources of inspiration for aspiring writers as well as library resources for writers. In short, I was offering information of value to patrons.

I believe that not only can everyone be a writer but should be a writer. By this I do not necessarily mean that they should strive for publication. There is such a thing as writing simply for our own self-expression and self-satisfaction. There is also writing to leave a written and historical record for our families.

My program lasted two hours. Fifteen people showed up who were eager to participate. When I previously did this program in Central New Jersey, twenty-five people were present and actively participated. However, fifteen was a comfortable group to work with and they were very enthusiastic. I also had help earlier in the week from the library coordinator who turned my overhead transparencies into a Power Point presentation.

What’s in it for you, the author? Well, the library may or may not be able to pay you to speak but at least you won’t be paying a fee. Doing an event will provide you with publicity. You can ask the local newspaper to cover it and/or get it placed on their events calendar in advance. Hopefully, library patrons may want to either borrow some of your novels from the library or purchase them from you. At the very least, the library will buy your book. In my case, I offered some of my novels at a heavily discounted price and had the librarian take the money because I donated any money earned from the sale of my books the Friends of the Library so they can continue to sponsor more events. It was my way of giving back to the community.

What is your opinion of authors doing events, talks or panel discussions at libraries? Have you participated in any library events? If so, how has it worked out? Will you consider doing it in the future?

Monday, October 17, 2011

Writer’s workshops are the bomb!

The bomb, according to my grandson is EXCELLENT. I have to agree and it fits so well. I had the pleasure of attending Lisa Tucker’s Writer Workshop at Watermark Books Saturday afternoon. I learned a lot along and met some interesting people.

There were new writers, experienced writers, and everything in between. And that’s the way is should be. We writers know what the others are going through and have the opportunity to learn and share our experiences with one another. Lisa Tucker is one of my new favorite people! She’s smart, genuine, funny, and very open about what to try and how to make our writing better. I think I can safely say we were all very impressed. (As soon as I finish my current read I’m diving into “The Song Reader” then “The Winters in Bloom.”)

We talked about publishing, agents, marketing, character, plot, readers, queries, but most of all we discussed how to make our stories work. We even did a little writing exercise, which resulted in so many wonderful ideas that were all completely different. Lisa suggested some great reading material, “On Becoming a Novelist” by John Gardner (one of my personal favorites) and “The Lie That Tells the Truth” by John Defresne. (I’ll be ordering this one!)

Something Lisa said that I’m posting on my tack board: “Don’t let characters circle the drain.” Wow. Is she a writer, or what? You know how sometimes a character will do or say the same thing over and over again, well, that’s a good way for them to become very boring. I’ve read it and done it myself.

Another thing we discussed was the fact that we writers must support one another any way we can. We must continue to read, buy books and support our local indie bookstores, because if we don’t –there won’t be any books or indie bookstores. From the look of the library of books I’m accumulating I’m doing my part, and loving every word!

Monday, October 10, 2011

Medieval Undergarments

While writing The Tapestry Shop, I researched medieval clothing. Paintings show us the outwear, but  little was written about underwear worn in the Middle Ages. What we know about clothing comes from the few extant pieces that have survived the years, carefully preserved in museums with controlled climate and lighting, but with underwear—being what it was—we have little to go by. The Chartres statues, for instance, represent outer garments, so we can only guess, from representations on pottery and drawings, at what was worn beneath. There are representations of women participating in games that show them wearing something that looks much like a bikini, a small lower piece and a binding wrap at the top.

When full skirts came into use, it's doubtful women would lift layers of cloth and then have to untie something to answer nature's call, although something like men's loincloths may have been worn during certain times of the month.
Women wore undergowns, or chemises, beneath their outer gowns. In the picture, this woman has her outer gown tucked into her belt, perhaps to allow a bit of air to pass through her chemise, but this was the furthest she'd go.
Men, in early Middle Ages, wore loincloths like what is shown. Laborers in the field thought nothing of stripping down to their loincloths in hot weather. At other times, the clothes were colorful and part of everyday outer garb, as the picture suggests, and men at sea had no compunction about stripping naked during daytime chores on the ship, unless there were women aboard.
We know more about the hose they wore, as that garment is visible in statues and paintings. Hose were made of two woven pieces of fabric sewn together, usually of wool. Their wool was a soft weave because of the manner in which it was made, nothing like our wool today which would be a bit itchy, at least to this writer. Later, hose (hosen) worn by armored knights were made of sturdier material and called chausses, an item worn beneath the armor.
In the late Middle Ages and Early Modern period, hose became a significant part of everyday outer garb and were frequently colorful and made of fine fabrics.
There are several good reference books on the subject, but be careful to steer away from costume books used for Hollywood productions. Some are not true to the period, but look better on screen. For anyone who's interested, a good little overall guide, one I have on my reference shelf and which gives a good idea of the construction of medieval clothing, is Medieval Costume in England and France: the 13th, 14th, and 15th Centuries, by Mary G. Houston.

Friday, October 7, 2011

Tricks and Techniques

I recently wrote a short blog about how I compose my crime novels--I start writing and just keep going until I come to the end. I write without an outline and without any sense of where I am going. I know who the victim is, and even though I begin writing with an idea of who the murderer is, that can change at any time during the first three hundred pages. Of course, I have to do a lot of revising when I finally get to the end of the first draft, but all writing is revising anyway.

The real challenge for me, once I get started, is to keep going and not get lost--not wander off into turning a chapter into a short story, and then following that up with an article on the setting of the short story. If I do that, then by the time I came back to the novel, I would've forgotten what it's about. Another danger for me is getting tired. If I decide I'm tired and take a vacation for three weeks, I may never get the feeling of the story back. And then there's work and all the crises that seem to manifest whenever something else is happening in my life. To prevent all these digressions and distractions, I've developed a number of tricks to keep me focused and moving forward.

First, I take notes. This is usually a section in a binder for various projects I'm thinking about or working on, and there I keep a list of characters and a list of clues and points to include, adding to the list as I go along. I make a note every day of what discoveries or important incidents I've written in. This is a short one or two line summary of the day's scenes, to help me keep in mind what I've covered as I move through the story. The list of clues also includes sentence fragments, brief character descriptions or details--anything that could find a place in the story. I don't feel I have to use everything, but it's convenient to have one place to store ideas.

Second, I keep track every day of the number of words I've written. I don't have to write thousands of words (wouldn't that be nice?) but I do have to write something. If I'm working on a novel, I keep a running total of words written day by day. At first I set myself a total of approximately 1500 words a day, and this seems to be a norm for many writers. But by keeping track this way I have discovered to my surprise that there's usually a period in the book when that I write twice that amount. I don't think I would have noticed it so consistently if not for the ongoing record. During certain parts of the book I seem to pick up speed and I have to make an effort to slow down, to avoid getting sloppy and getting carried away with just the numbers achieved. But when I feel like I'm getting nowhere, like the story is stuck in place, a glance at the list of dates and the number of words written gives me a boost and I don't worry about whether or not I'm getting anywhere.

If I'm not working on a novel, or I am not working on it on this particular day, I note what I did work on. Did I write a blog post (like this one), or a query letter for an article or book review? Did I write a talk to be given later in the year, or plan questions for a mystery panel?

Third, I have to do something for my writing every day. The obvious task is writing, but if not that, then researching material for the novel, researching journals for a short story or an article, learning about marketing, setting up events. And there's lots to be done, more than I can list here, to maintain any kind of writing life. But this doesn't include reading because I'm doing that all the time anyway. That's the official reason. The real reason is that if I include reading in my list of work topics and tasks, I will write and I will read and I will never do anything else.

For a closer look at my writing process, go to