Posts Tagged Writing
I 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
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.
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!
Since it’s Sunday, I thought I’d reveal our cover. Also, because I’ll say a few words below about Angie, who designed the cover.
Isn’t it beautiful! And you can get our book for free, starting Wednesday, March 25th.
Yesterday, I mentioned the first drafts, then the critiques. After getting their first critiques, each author rewrote their pieces, using the critiques to improve the plot lines and flow. Some added more tension, some made their characters more interesting, all kinds of things. My one story expanded from a short thousand or so words to about two thousand, as I recall. We critiqued all the pieces again (round 2, but it was a good idea). After that, everyone went their own way for a while, as we edited and then each hired our own professional editor.
I was surprised and delighted that I liked working with my editor. I’d never really done this, but she nailed the issues with my stories (and two thousand words became 4600 in the original short-short). Without her, they wouldn’t have been so delightful (at least I sure hope you’ll like them). I’ll write more about what came next, but today I want to introduce our cover artist, Angelique Mroczka, and our fourth writer, Brian Rella.
Angie is a visual artist, as well as a writer, and the owner of a small publishing company. She creates amazing covers for books, as you can see, runs workshops for writers, does one-on-one coaching, blogs, runs a podcast, and seems to do a million other things. If you go to her WEB site, you can snag her short story book. We’d hoped she would contribute a story for Mosaic, but all of those zillion other things kept her too busy. I have to say that her Web site is stunningly beautiful, but what else would you expect from this amazing woman?
I don’t know if I’m making the book seem easy, but there was lots going on behind the scenes. Brian would step in and offer wisdom, encouragement (and oh, do writers need that!), and help any time it was needed. He contributed one of the longer stories in Mosiac, an intriguing tale of coming of age, human conflict and wise beings. When we started the book, Brian had never published anything, but he had a wonderful short story, Scarlach, appear at strangerviews.com. It’s available for free, along with another entertaining story, The Bathroom Incident at Dunmaster Academy, at his WEB site, www.brianrella.com.
Again, I’ve got to say, this project couldn’t have happened without every single author jumping in and doing their part. We all learned so much from each other.
Putting together a book like Mosaic: a collection of creative writing (to be released on March 25th!) is a lengthy process. I certainly had no idea how much work would be involved when I raised my virtual hand and said, ‘yes! I’ll do it.’
To start with, we had to do two things: write a draft of our stories, and come up with a plan.
The first part was pure fun for me. I love inventing stories. The second part was a little more tedious, but, between our more experienced writers, and the congeniality of the group, we decided that each story would go through two rounds of critiques, and then everyone would hire their own editors. We also decided not to charge for the book (which means that you’ll be able to get it for free!) Angelique Mroczka offered us a cover design – wait until you see the gorgeous job she did. Oh, and we came up with deadlines and the other details of getting something truly professional into print.
Our first deadline arrived. Ten people submitted works. So far so good. It was time to critique. Critiquing is an art, similar, but different from editing. One of the things which I find difficult is noting what’s good about a piece, especially when they’re a little raw, as some these were. What’s good might be the concept, the plot, the characters, or all of it. Then there’s what’s not working and some suggestions for how to fix it. Some critiques were almost as good as any professional edit, while others were pretty casual. Anyway, we (mostly) all read every piece and posted our critiques.
Then we had to read all of those critiques. Some of mine were pretty tough to take. It was clear that one of my two stories didn’t work at all. What a bummer. I’d written a short short (less than a thousand words), and it had to be completely rethought, re-plotted, etc. I remember tearing my hair out. I wanted to remove it, and I wasn’t the only author who had that reaction.
More about the process tomorrow! But now, I want to introduce two more of our amazing contributors, Stef Gonzaga and S. J. Henderson.
Stef has five poems in Mosaic. Initially, we’d planned on a book of short stories, but she wanted to write poems, and I’m so glad she did. They’re lively short pieces, which completely change the flavor of the book. There’s one about a snake (my personal favorite?), and one about love, and – well you’ll just have to read them, won’t you?
Besides being our only poet, she’s the only contributor who doesn’t live in the United States. Lots of onlies! She’s a writer and editorial manager for DesignGood, and has several books available on her WEB site (another collaborative project, a workbook on creativity, and more). Her techie skills were invaluable in allowing us to finish this project, and she set up our WEB site (yes, we have one!!!). Head over to learn more: stefgonzaga.com
S. J. Henderson:
The most important thing you need to know about S. J. is that she loves to ride horses (can you tell from the photo?). I’m kidding, but they do seem to play a very important role in her life. Actually, the most important thing you should know is that she has published two wonderful, funny, children’s books for the 6-12 age group, Daniel the Draw-er, and Daniel the Camp-er, and is working on a YA fantasy/horror novel (it’s fantastic, guys, really. I was a beta reader for her. I just wish she had published it already, so I could give you the link and you could buy it). Another important fact is her love of coffee. She has one not-at-all funny piece about autism and one hilarious piece about Daniel in Mosaic.
S. J., as the only one of us who’d self-published novels, provided lots of wisdom and advice as we stumbled along towards publication. She’s been a fount of information, and a steady head throughout, as well as a damn good critique-er who can see plot holes everyone else misses. I deliberately didn’t link to her novels up above, because you simply have to go to her WEB site, where you can get autographed copies. sjhenderson.net
Are you starting to get the idea that collaboration can be amazing?
Thanks to Naurich at freeimages.com for the photo of balloons.
Sometimes it seems like I have nothing to talk about. But now I have big news. Mosaic, a Compilation of Creative Writing by the Cartel Collaborative will be released next Wednesday, March 25th. Less than a week to go! I’m excited, because this book of short stories and poems is the result of many months of hard work by the eight authors featured here.
A little history: we ‘met’ on the internet via Joe Bunting’s The Story Cartel Course, which emphasizes the importance of writers helping other writers. James Lee Schmidt came up with the idea of putting a book together – we’d shared and critiqued stories, so he figured we had the talent. Soon, Mosaic was birthed!
Each day for the next five days, I’ll tell you a little more about our process, and feature a couple of the authors.
Today (drum roll please) – Margie Deeb.
I don’t know what we would have done without Margie, who designed the book. We were incredibly lucky to have this talented visual artist, who has published five books about bead work and won an award for The Beader’s Color Pallet. Because of her, we ended up with a visually beautiful product. Even more, she wrote two short shorts, Leonardo, and Connecting Flight, which are humorous and sweet. It’s fantastic the way they add variety and contrast with some of the longer, heavier, stories.
This is a piece by Margie. See what I mean about talented visual artist?
To learn more about Margie, and see more of her incredible artwork, go to MargieDeeb.com. I think you’ll be amazed.
And, no, this is not our cover. Ours is amazing and I’m not revealing it yet. This is a photo by Ayla87 at freeimages.com.
The 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?
When I was a kid, I read a fair amount of fantasy, including every book from the original Oz series that I could get at our library, The Hobbit, and The Lord of the Rings trilogy. But then I stopped, and switched over to more serious stuff, partly because I’m such a book worm that I can’t put down anything that’s full of adventure, with plot twists and turns. I have to know what’s happening next. I would never have graduated from college or gotten any work done if I’d continued reading fantasy. Every once in a while, when I know I have a clear schedule the next day, I indulge. Take Terry Pratchett’s Diskworld series. I remember almost peeing my pants I laughed so hard when I read the first four or five of those. I loved their creativity. How about a suitcase which takes your dirty clothes and delivers clean ones, unless you’re in trouble, in which case it helps defeat your enemy (perhaps by eating him or her), or a world which rides on the back of a giant turtle?
Lately I’ve indulged in fantasy more than normal. First there was Deborah Harkness’ A Discovery of Witches and its sequel, Shadow of Night. Then I was hooked on historical time travel and read the Outlander series. These novels piqued my interest in time travel and witches. I started writing Golden Threads. In the interest of doing some research on this sort of writing, I had to read the Harry Potter series and, most recently, the Wicked series (more Oz, yeah! although I remember the originals as being more fun, maybe because I was in elementary school?). And, once again, I have to make sure that I don’t have anything on my schedule until noon or so the next day. I simply can’t put these books down until they’re finished. Which means that I have to turn to more serious novels for a while…. 😦 (no, I’m not sad. I love those as much or more).
This is all the prelude to telling you that I finally wrote another chapter of Golden Threads. It’s called Asking for Advice. Let me know what you think. If you want to read the whole novel, which I’m writing as I go, click the Golden Threads link.