Posts Tagged Ann Stanley

Historical Fiction – Creating the Wood Carver

quillI never intended to write a piece of historical fiction. I swear! But somehow my second story for the Mosaic collection morphed into much more than I’d ever expected.

It started as a timed prompt. I wrote a letter from a man destined to hang for a crime he didn’t commit during our 20 minutes. I probably wouldn’t have done anything else with it, except that Margie Deeb suggested we put some short pieces into our Mosaic collection to give it some variety. So I posted the letter to the members of our Cartel Collaborative for a critique and I also took it to my local writing group. Both groups said that the letter needed context. What was his crime? How could we know the guy was innocent?  And what year was it? Why would a man in those times be able to write?

They were right, although at first I didn’t want to deal with their comments. Instead, I suggested removing the story from the collection. This was met with dismay. So I started fooling around with it, turning it into a story. The letter writer acquired a family, a background, a job. He became an apprentice wood carver. But then I had to figure out the time period. The letter had probably emerged during the timed writing because of long-ago history classes and long-ago read novels (I’d been a huge fan of children’s novels based upon historical figures while in elementary school).

The internet is a fabulous place, but it isn’t the easiest world to navigate if the first page or two of responses doesn’t tell you what you want to know. I paged through mounds of irrelevant sites, but eventually learned enough to set the story in the beginning of the eighteenth century when several wonderful events came together to make my story realistic. The first was the break between the followers of the Anglican Church and what were called the Dissenters, which led to major riots. Perfect, I thought. I’ll make my poor man a Dissenter. His father became an Anglican priest who kicked him out for his beliefs.

The second was the justice system. It was much more difficult to figure this out, since I put my man in Manchester, instead of London. I found information on London’s legal system, but not much on other towns in England. I contacted some scholars, but only heard back from one of them. He sent me a chapter of his book. It was pretty useless, as was a book I got on inter-library loan. But I slogged onward, making a few assumptions. As far as I could tell, hanging was a very popular way to deal with almost all crimes in the early eighteenth century. It amazed me how different the legal system was in those days, with victims and their supporters facing off in the courtroom against the accused and their supporters.

I downloaded maps of Manchester, and read what I could about the city, which was still a small town. Manchester had an awful prison, which sat on a bridge and flooded every time the river rose. Putting the letter writer in it added a wonderful detail to the story.

I discovered that most men could read and write in those days, but perhaps not as beautifully as my man, so I made him a renegade student for the priesthood. Each little fact like that had to be double-checked. Where would he have gone to school?  Who would have saved his letters? How would they have been delivered (the post was obscenely expensive)?

Also, there was the question of who would find the letters, and how they’d been preserved. At first, I had a man find them and present them to a scholar, but that was too boring. My editor suggested something more personal; a parallel between the past and the present stories. That took some thinking, but my real protagonist came to life, a young American woman remodeling an old vicarage outside Manchester.

Doing all of this, I gained a new appreciation for the work which goes into every historical novel. Unless they’re set so far back in the past that you can make up everything, you have to dig and dig and dig and double-check even the tiniest of facts. And then be willing to revise your story when you discover it doesn’t hold water.

You can read The Woodcarver and the rest of the pieces in Mosaic, A Compilation of Creative Writing for free by clicking here. We’d love it if you’d leave us an honest review at your favorite online retailers.

Thanks to Asafesh at Freeimages.com for the photo of a quill

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taking on too much

Are you someone who tries to do too much? I sure am. Lately I feel like one of those clowns who is trying to juggle so many objects that she can’t keep track of all of them. The balls, pins, and whatever other objects fly out into the audience, where they are forever lost.

I should know better, right? Years ago, I worked with a life coach who had me put an elephant on my desk. I forget exactly why an elephant, but it was supposed to remind me to do less. The elephant is still on my desk – 20150503_213823but to be honest I hardly ever look at it. It’s lovely and even has colorful pinwheels in it, but I ignore it! I just keep taking on as much, no more, than I can handle.

A discussion on facebook about signing up for an online writing course sparked this post and made me wonder if there’s a cure. More than likely, I won’t have time to finish this course. I’m already behind and we’re just finishing the first week. I have excuses, but I’m also realizing that I didn’t need to add anything else to my to-do list. It looked so delicious and it’s FREE! How can I resist, except that I have deadlines coming up quickly, and I’m trying to write and edit stories for an anthology of my own short stories, help market Mosaic, get in shape for the summer bicycling season, and then there’s the day job. Oh, and I’m trying to design a WEB site for my author stuff, and well, I think I’m seriously becoming embarrassed, so I’ll stop listing the huge amount of things I’ve taken on, all of which were derailed this weekend by social commitments.

The only defense I have is that every single one of these things is important to me. Very important. Life-giving and exciting and interesting and many other wonderful adjectives. I want to do it all. And I would, if only there were twice as many hours in each day. Unfortunately, something will fall through the cracks, and it’s up to me to decide what that will be. In my opinion, though, prioritize is a dirty word.

What about you? Leave me a comment, and I promise to respond.

 

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Bicycling with the Bend Bellas

KONICA MINOLTA DIGITAL CAMERAI tried something new yesterday – a local women’s cycling group. I’ve bicycled for years, from the time my father taught me how when I was six (and oh how I remember that first lesson. No training wheels in our family meant Dad had to hold up the bike while I wobbled around and figured out how to push the pedals and keep my balance). At times, I’ve been pretty serious about it. I’ve even done two centuries, although I’ve never raced. But I’ve usually ridden by myself, or with one or two other people.

Still, there’s a great group of women cyclists here in town, so I finally gave it a shot. There were ten of us of varying abilities on a short, rather level ride. We stopped frequently to let the slower ones catch up, which is a really sweet feature of this organization. No one gets left behind. If you have a flat, someone helps you out. What a concept!  We had one pretty inexperienced rider, so the rest of us spent quite a bit of time waiting for her (she made the whole ride and was smiling at the end!). While we waited, we chatted about our favorite rides and how often we go out, getting to know each other a little. Instead of being competitive, it was low-key and fun.

Putting together Mosaic was a bit like that: sharing common interests with a group of people, and making sure no one got left behind, while we all learned something. Plus we were smiling at the end (this time because it’s such a well-written book).

But that isn’t really what I want to talk about in this post. I was thinking a little bit tonight about who I write for, as in who do I have in mind when I write. I went to a talk by Ruth Ozeki this afternoon, and she said that she writes for herself. That doesn’t sound very collaborative, does it? Yet it works for her, as she’s won numerous awards for her novels, and the auditorium was packed with people who seemed to have all read her most recent book (it was the Bend Community Read this spring). And if I think about who I write for, it’s people like myself. People like the women I rode with today. How can I do otherwise?

I admire someone who can write a book for children, or for teenagers, when they’re no longer one themselves. But I’m not like that. I write what I want to read. I write to explore issues which concern me. Things such as what it means to be a woman with a career, how to find a calling in life, how to move past childhood wounds and find self-worth, or deal with a difficult relationship. Sometimes I explore larger issues such as poverty, cruelty, or environmental destruction. And occasionally, I just have some fun and play around with the world of magic and adventure while throwing in a dash of these other issues. Ruth Ozeki did say something interesting: she strives for a balance between tragedy and comedy. I like that concept. I hope I manage to do that.

How about you? When have you collaborated on something, or made sure no one got left behind? How did that work out? If you write, do you write for people like yourself, or for a different group? Please leave a comment and let me know.

And don’t forget that Mosaic, A Compilation of Creative Writing is still free. Click here to get your copy. And don’t forget to leave us an honest review!

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Molding a short story – an example

With a sigh, Josephine dropped her head on the chest, hoping to catch a little of the jasmine scent Grandmother Rose used to wear, and feel again her grandmother’s kindness and love. She imagined burying herself in the old woman’s arms. If she could only bring her back to life, she would stop being so lonely and upset. But that, of course, was impossible.

The lid lifted easily, its leather hinges still intact. Velvet skirts covered in beads and mirrors filled the top tray. Again, she was a child. Her mother walked in the front door at Grandmother Rose’s in one of these outfits, her arms loaded with presents. Josephine ran to her, and she swung her around and around. Then Josephine ripped the paper off one of the presents to reveal a baby doll in a pink dress with a matching hair bow, exactly liked she’d wanted. She squealed and hugged her mother.

Her mother hadn’t stayed long, maybe a few days. After her mother left, Grandmother Rose held her while she cried herself to sleep. How many times had that happened before she’d learned not to get excited when her mother visited? The last time, the day of Rose’s funeral, she’d seen her mother park in front of the house, and she’d gone into her room and closed the door.

 

That’s an excerpt from my short story, Heritage. The full story can be read by downloading Mosaic, a Compilation of Creative Writing, by the Cartel Collaborative. The book is free, and you can get it on Amazon by clicking the link below. Or go here to find other formats.

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If you’re curious about the story behind the story, here’s a little bit about how I wrote Heritage.

This story was born out of a writing prompt in my local writing group. I no longer remember what the prompt was, but I remember what I free-wrote in our twenty minutes; Josephine took a necklace she’d found in her mother’s home to her aunt. I opened with Josephine driving up to her aunt’s home in a downpour.

With this, I had two themes: cleaning out the home of a mother from whom she had been estranged; and a beautiful old necklace found there, which belonged to her aunt.

The rewriting started immediately. At first, I attempted a very short story, which I took to my writing group. They found it too complex for something that short. It must be a novel, they urged. I went home and tried expanding it, adding a father, two brothers, and a host of relatives. It grew into a childhood of gypsy wanderings, with all kinds of complexities, but I couldn’t make it work. I researched old necklaces, trying to build a story around the one Josephine finds. Eventually, I abandoned the enterprise, but my subconscious kept the ideas alive, and the files stayed on my computer.

Along came James Lee Schmidt, with his suggestion to compile a book of stories. With a short deadline, I scanned back through my computer and found my abandoned novella. Why not pare it back to its origins? Goodbye brothers. Goodbye wandering childhood, and so many other unnecessary bits and pieces. Josephine, though, needed expansion. She was a cardboard character in my original story; she had to come to life. With more years of writing experience since the initial version, I knew this was key. Who was she – not just what she looked like, and what she did for a living, but what was her character like? What made her that way? I don’t want to give too much away, but I made her a high school physics/math teacher. To match that, she’s introverted, a bit intimidating, a bitter loner who takes refuge in numbers, yet she’s sweet underneath the hard crust.

This may sound like an awful lot of modification, but I think of a story as a wad of wet clay. So long as you keep it wet, you can create a bunny rabbit, wad it back into an amorphous form, make a horse, add a saddle, then change it into a donkey. Until it’s dried, it can become anything, and that’s half the fun.

Once I liked my story, I sent it my co-authors for critiquing. There were a few comments which were along the lines of “what are you talking about?” If a reader says that, I know something needs fixing, even if it isn’t the spot they marked, so I made a few more significant modifications — adding cousins, for one—and sent it back to them. There were far fewer instances of “huh?” this time. After that, it went to a professional editor. By now, I was pretty tired of this wad of clay, and it was getting dry, at least in my mind. Mirel Abeles, my wonderful editor, suggested brown eyes, longer ears, and a larger saddle. I saw the wisdom of most of her words, so I dug in hard one last time. Finally, came the day when she gave me a thumbs up and it seemed I had a nice tale, free of extraneous commas and other bloopers.

Now comes the hard part, at least for me, which is asking for your feedback. Please read it and leave a review on your favorite retailer (or all of them). Reviews are the only way we, as independent authors, get found. Thank you so much!

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Monday Morning Coffee

Mosaic-HR_author_namesI hope everyone had a wonderful weekend, and you’ve gotten your free copy of Mosaic, A Compilation of Creative Writing by The Cartel Collaborative. If not, I set up a permanent page over the weekend where you can get it off my site, just by clicking the above link. For those who want paper, sorry, we couldn’t do a paper book without charging you, and we couldn’t decide how to we split our twenty cent profit between our eight wonderful authors, so we decided to be all electronic. 😉 That said, you can get it in just about any electronic format you can imagine.

I’m proud and excited about this professionally edited, professionally designed, book of short stories, short short stories, and poems. I enjoyed re-reading my collaborators’ stories when I proofed them, and we’re getting great comments from others who’ve read them. Please take the time to leave us a review (at least click some stars!).

Now for another plug. If you live in New York City, I am so jealous, because you can go see my wonderful nieces perform this Wednesday, at Gibney Dance. I don’t know if this fundraiser is open to the public, but here’s the Fb page. If I could, I’d fly out to see it. Audrey’s been dancing since she was four, and every adjective I see about her is in the category of amazing. I’ve only seen her live once, and she was still in middle school ( 😦 ). I’ve seen videos and she deserves the praise.  Theresa is doing a reading  – she’s published a series of short stories in literary journals. They’ve banded with other artists, to put together a creative evening of live music, dance, and more. I so want to go! Oh, I said that already, but it bears repeating.

In other news, I spent the weekend getting cold weather veggies (parsnips, beets, spinach, …) in the ground and beginning the task of setting up an author WEB site. It’ll be awhile before that site is ready….. Oh, and go on over to shortfictionbreak.com to read my short story, Columns.

 

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Short Story – Robotics

working girl on ballThe few months have been busy with writing projects. First of all, there’s ShortFictionBreak.com, where you can read my latest short story, Robotics, in two parts, or catch up on the four other stories I’ve posted there. And then, there’s a new project, Mosaic, which should be published in January. I can’t provide a link yet, because we’re still putting together our WEB site, but I can tell you a little bit about it.

Mosaic is a spin-off of Joe Bunting’s wonderful Story Cartel Course, which he offers every once in a while. One of the lovely things about this course is that, once you’ve taken it, you can keep taking it for free, which I’ve done since I always seem to punt once the course gets to the nitty-gritty part of using Twitter and social media to connect with people. I keep thinking that I’ll actually do the exercises in those parts, but, well, I hate Twitter. Or perhaps I should say that I haven’t yet been able to manage the onslaught of information constantly flowing at me via that mad medium. Either I tune it all out, or I chase down every interesting link, and, well, there goes the day. Or … RABBIT!

Damn, it got away.

Oh, was I writing something? So, that’s all neither here nor there. What has come out of this course has been lovely connections with other writers, and by lovely connection, I mean critique partners. Really good ones. I have learned so much from them! I continue to connect with many of them, sharing writing, and writing tips. That’s how I connected with Jeff Elkins, who started shortfictionbreak.com. It’s also how I ended up in the Facebook group, Skywriters, which has turned into a bi-weekly critique group par excellence. And now, there’s Mosaic, a book of short stories, short shorts, and poems by the most recent graduates of the story cartel course, where two of my short stories will appear. And, no, you haven’t already read them on this site or anywhere else.

Mosaic is professionally edited, professionally designed and, best of all, Mosaic will be completely free. I’m really excited about it. It’s been a lot of work getting to this point, and a big growth opportunity for me, not just working with an editor to create great stories, but also helping the other writers, and coordinating it all. I’m not done, yet, either, as I promised to take the final product, replicate it as a .doc file, and put it on Smashwords (which I understand isn’t easy!), but at least I’m not the one doing the WEB site, or the book design.

I’ll tell you more about this exciting project as we get closer to publication. In the meantime, why not jump over to shortfictionbreak.com and enjoy a short story or two?

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Computer craziness

What do you do when a computer crashes? Do you call the local computer guy, replace the machine, or start trying to fix the problem yourself?

This time around, I went with the latter. The crash was my fault, so I suppose that I felt guilty and responsible. I had done something almost embarrassingly stupid (so stupid that I’m not going to tell you what it was because, well, would you tell me if you wanted to download a free episode of a TV show and the site insisted you click on a suspicious link before it would let you and you knew it was a bad idea but you did it anyway and seconds later you knew for sure that it was a mistake but by then it was too late?)  which led to a virus or some other dastardly creature on our hard drive. Before we knew it, the windows system was corrupt and the machine wouldn’t load the operating system. I know, I know, for most of us this is already speaking a foreign language, so I apologize in advance. But this explains why I haven’t gotten much of anything else done for the past several weeks.cpu fan - good place to blow dust out

Anyway, after the machine wouldn’t do what it’s supposed to do and bring up that lovely blue screen, like an idiot – or rather a fool who has no idea what might happen – I dove in. As the laptop started up, it displayed an error message. I looked it up. Oh, I needed a certain file, did I? And I could create it on another computer, use that computer’s start-up disk (it actually came with one, unlike the messed up laptop). That file didn’t do the trick, though, so I started reading more stuff on the internet. I spent hours, trying one thing after another with no luck.

And then, hurrah! A friend said that her boyfriend, who lives halfway across the US from me, could help. I struck gold. Kind of. He sure knows his way around a computer, being an IT guy and having repaired many a sick machine like ours. He came up with a strategy. I don’t even want to tell you what he’s helped me go through, all from a distance. I made a few mistakes, he misunderstood a few things I said, I ordered a hard drive which turned out to be bad (I am returning it), and on and on.

Oh, yes, along the way I managed to disconnect the laptop’s power switch. It took two or three days just to figure out why the machine wouldn’t power up and then to come up with a fix for THAT mistake. I was so totally tempted to use the machine as a frisbee, but it’s a little too hard for my dogs to catch. So maybe it could be of some use out in the garden, perhaps holding the gate closed, or as something to kneel on while I weed?

We’re not done yet, but we’re closer. Close your eyes, because I’m going to speak geek for the rest of the paragraph. I figure that I’ve earned the right. I’ve moved all the photos and text files of note over to my Mac, and we’ve reinstalled not only an operating system which Steve put on an IOS file in dropbox for me to retrieve, but also all of the drivers for all of the little devices which the computer needs to run and they work. Every single one. Eek! Steve pretty well figured it all out from photos I took of the insides of the computer.

Okay, done with geek. You can read now. Steve deserves to receive a pile of gold, say about $10,000 worth, for all of the time he’s patiently spent leading me through the process. I wish it was finished, but I probably have to spend another day on the booger. But, as he says, we’re keeping it out of the landfill and saving money, if not time.

I’ve learned enough I could probably fix your computer, but please don’t ask.

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