Tag Archives: Lydia’s Story

When an Author Has an Urge for Something Different

30 Jun

“I love your books! When is the next one coming out?” Music to a writer’s ears, to be sure.

But what happens when a writer has the urge to write something different than her previous novels? Maybe a different genre, a stand-alone that is not part of an established series, or a young adult novel when the previous ones have been aimed at adults. Will her audience stick with her and her new adventure? Will she find new readers?

I am about to find out. The novel I am currently working on is a departure from my first three which were all mysteries involving Nara Blake, an adventurous young woman from the fictional Caribbean island of Saint Clare.

I am now on about the third revision of a completely different type of novel. Different audience — young adult. Different genre — historical fantasy. The two consistent characteristics are the connection to authentic facts in British history (as I did in Lydia’s Story), and a strong female protagonist.

Without giving too much away, I will tell you that I have taken some historical events of thirteenth century England and created a parallel magic world that explains some of the mysteries surrounding these events. I just can’t get away from the mysteries! Creating a world for a fantasy novel has been great fun as well as challenging. On the one hand, I have the freedom to let my imagination run wild. What if I could slip through a secret doorway and emerge in a castle and in another century? At the same time, a new world needs rules. If magical people can slip from one century to the next, how much do they know about each time and place?

These are complicated questions, but fun to exercise the freedom of working it out. As I have told my students, writing is exercise for the brain, and brains need workouts just like bodies do.

Many well known writers have been criticized for writing novels outside of their established mold. J.K. Rowling will forever be known as the creator of Harry Potter and his magical world, no matter what else she attempts as a writer. John Steinbeck endured criticism for not writing a follow-up to The Grapes of Wrath. And while I don’t place myself in either of their categories, I understand the fine line between pleasing an audience and exercising my creativity, which is what led me to write in the first place.

And if you love Nara and her adventures in my first three books, I am planning another one, which will probably take her to Spain to solve another mystery involving art.

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Starting the Whole Dang Process over Again

3 Jan

Llieda dungeon3

A dungeon in Lleida, Catalonia, Spain. Might work it into a new novel.

Beginning a new novel is both exhilarating and scary. I enjoy the new ideas for plot details, setting, and characters that pop willy-nilly into my brain. Old characters poke their heads in to say, “Can I be in this one? You said it was a series.” Another says, “I’ll do one more. So you can kill me off in this one.” Then a new character comes in with “Hi there! I’m a little crazy, but I would fit right in with your story. Some of your characters are way too serious!” And I can’t forget the ones who speak to me in a foreign language, begging me to set the story in their home country. “ịHola! Soy de españa y mi pais es muy bueno. Venga aquí!”

Out of these bits of inspiration, if I can call it that, I begin to see the barest outline of a plot. And I say yes to that little voice from Spain. I will set the story at least partially in Spain, Aragon, to be precise. And just in case you are wondering, Nara Blake, Alex Collier, and Lily Carrington, all of whom appeared in The Gate House and Lydia’s Story, will be back. But I have a lot of writing to do before my readers will be able to see what these three are up to in Spain. And is Nara ever going to marry Alex?

The last few days I have been brainstorming and writing down ideas for plot as they pop into my head. My next step was to do some preliminary research. The Gate House and Lydia’s Story both had to do with art theft. My new novel also makes use of that theme. I am looking for a connection between Britain and Spain through art, and I think I have found a link.

I have made a preliminary outline, even though I am not generally a maker of outlines, but I thought this time I would give it a try and see if it would make the process any easier.

As I create the story, I will spend as much time staring into space as putting words down at the computer. But as a dear friend of mine knows, “staring time” is essential for writers, teachers and anyone who is trying to get through the day with their sanity intact.

Try taking a “staring break” today. You will feel better for it.

The “Nature” of Setting

17 Jan

Image

I have always wondered how a person’s surrounding affect they way they live. How is it different to grow up on the flat land of Illinois in the midst of corn fields and soy beans, compared to a city overlooked by an ancient castle (Edinburgh, Scotland), or the lushness of tropical trees and flowers. Different people react in different ways to their childhood environment, and I am not sure it has anything to do with whether or not a childhood was happy. I had a very happy childhood in Illinois in the midst of the corn fields, but I have no desire to go back there, and neither do my brothers. We were always taught to think big, dream big and explore the world, and we have done just that. Illinois is where I am from, not where I am.

In my latest Nara book, tentatively titled Hotel St. Clare, which is actually the beginning of her story, we go back to the island country of St. Clare, where she grew up, and will see how her island upbringing helped to shape her personality and character. At that time, and at the beginning of The Gate House, Nara had very strong ties to St. Clare and life on the islands. But circumstances and people change, and perhaps if she returned, it would not be the same. By the end of Lydia’s Story, how would she feel?

What do you think? I would love to hear how other people have been shaped, or not, by the place where they grew up.

 

History Is Real

28 May

One of the challenges of studying or writing about historical figures, real or fiction, is imagining them to be as real as we are. Somehow people of the past lose their reality as flesh and blood, and seem to reside only on the printed page or in the flatness of a photograph.

It takes a leap of imagination to understand that the past is just as real as the present. Only the surface of life has changed. People felt joy, fear, anticipation, sadness just as we do. They worried about the future. The worries may have been different; they were not concerned about global warming, whether someone would hack their email account or if genetically modified foods were safe. But concerns about family never change, and the joy of a celebration and sadness at misfortune are the same century to century.

My book Lydia’s Storyphoto(43) is set partially doing World War II, an era that fascinates me. I think part of the fascination is that my parents were young during that time. They met and married in 1942 and were apart for three years before my dad returned at the end of the war.

I look at their photographs and imagine their feelings. I once asked my mom how they did it, not knowing day to day when they would be together again, when the war would end, who would come home and who would not. She said that all they could do was live day to day, as if everyday was closer to the end, although they didn’t know when the end of the war and separation would come.

The photo of my parents that I am posting today was taken in 1945, after my dad returned home. The joy and hope for the future is clear in their faces — as clear as if it were taken today.

Seeing a Project Through to the End

19 May

I am currently working on finishing a writing project that I began at least nine years ago. Yes, nine years. It was the project I was working on before my trip to England and the inspiration for The Gate House, my first published novel. After that I wrote Lydia’s Story, a follow-up to The Gate House. But I have always felt that I needed to go back to the first story, tentatively titled Nara of the Islands. This is the Nara who appears in both of my later books. In The Gate House, Nara has recently arrived in England from a fictional Caribbean island called St. Clare, and her boy friend back on St. Clare has stopped calling her.

I thought it was important to finish telling the first part of Nara’s story because it shows who she is and where she came from. Her background is half British and half islander. She never knew her mother. Her father kept secrets from her. Telling the beginning of her story is important to the development of Nara as a character. When I wrote The Gate House, I took the characters from this earlier piece and simply placed them in a new situation. Now is it time to finish the beginning of the story.

And there is something satisfying about finishing a project. I have a knitting project I began in January and hope to finish in another month. And I will finish both of these projects. Completion is difficult — everyone has unfinished projects of one kind or another lying around — but the satisfaction of completion is worth the work.

Believe in Your Work

2 May

I was delighted to find out that my latest book, Lydia’s Story, is one of the top two sellers at my publisher, Sage Words Publishing. This is a small publisher and hardly puts me on the New York Times bestseller lists, but it still tells me that people out there are reading my book, and I hope are enjoying it.

As well as a boost to my ego and a confirmation of my storytelling and writing ability, I also feel an increase in confidence and belief in my work.

Throughout the writing process, from rough draft and idea stage all the way to post-publication promotion, I have to believe in my work. I have to believe that my story of Lydia, the British mother who became a spy, is worth reading, and was worth my time in writing it.

A big reason for giving up, whether as a writer or any other endeavor, is lack of belief in oneself and what one is trying to do. Would-be writers have unfinished stories lying around. Would-be photographers have boxes (or computer files) ofDSCN3216 photos that never see the light of day. People take foreign language courses and then give up when it becomes difficult.

Do you see yourself in France, conversing in French? Do you see your book, poem, or article published? Are your photographs framed and hanging for sale in a local coffee shop? You don’t have to be a star, or make a lot of money, to believe in and appreciate your own talent. You just need to stand tall and have confidence.

 

Forward to the Past

27 Apr

Writers never throw anything away, or at least they shouldn’t. This week I pulled out an old “almost novel” that I wrote before my first one, The Gate House, was published.

This one, tentatively titled Nara of the Islands, is really the original story of my protagonist who appears in both The Gate House and Lydia’s Story. This book tells of the years just before she and her father moved to England, and her life in the fictional Caribbean island nation of St. Clare.

It is interesting to read something that I wrote almost ten years ago, and to see how my style has changed, and the images of my characters. It is a very different book from the last two in some ways. Although it is somewhat a mystery, there are elements of magic that I let go of in the later books.

I think it is a story that needs to see the light of day, for better or worse. I plan to polish it and at least self-publish on Kindle later this year.

If you are a writer, do you sometimes “resurrect” old pieces to rework them? And readers, what about other types of old projects? Is it fun or frustrating to go back something you worked on in the past?

Fiction Meets Real Life

8 Feb

 

In my latest novel “Lydia’s Story,” the main character helps a group of Jewish children escape France during World War II. I just came across this website, “Ariege Pyrenees,” that shows the real life route across the Pyrenees that many people — Jews, downed RAF and American airmen, and others in danger from the Nazis — followed to reach the safety of Spain.
I found it humbling to read about the dangers faced along the way. The Pyrenees are no easy mountains to cross even today.
My fictional characters exist to honor those people who risked their lives to escape, and especially those who helped others escape.

NaNoWriMo (What the Heck Is That?)

3 Nov

This year, for the first time, I participating in National Novel Writing Month, or NaNoWriMo for short. The goal is to write 50,000 words during the month of November. This is a pretty short novel, but a darned good start.

I have been so caught up in the release and promotion of Lydia’s Story that I haven’t been doing much “real” writing lately. I have not been working on anything new. True — I have some unfinished pieces hiding away on my computer that I could resurrect and turn into something readable, but I had the urge to work on something new, something challenging.

So I am devoting the month of November to writing 50,000 words of my new project, which has the working title Magic Words. The title may have more to do with me typing the words than the actual words themselves!

I did a little basic arithmetic and figured out that to write 50,000 words in a month, I need to write 1,666 words per day. This is not out of reach. When I write a first draft, I write fast. I get the words down. And I do have a plan for this story. I know where I’m going. But since like most people, I have a lot going on in my life, I think this is what will happen: I will try to write 1,666 words each day, but most of the time, I won’t make it. Then every three or four days, I will have a marathon writing day when I will catch up with my goal. As of November 3, I have over 5,000 words.

Anyone else out there doing NaNoWriMo? What are your tricks for reaching your goal? And does the goal matter if it gets you writing?

Reading Outside the Box

26 Oct

I read mostly mysteries and suspense novels, because that is what I write and because I review books for Suspense Magazine. But occasionally I read something outside of those genres. I find that a different type of book and writing style can spark my own writing and stretch my creativity.

Last night I downloaded The Book Thief to my Kindle, as a borrowed book from my library. I have only read a few chapters, but I was struck by the originality of the writing. The first person narrator is Death. He (or she?) tells the story of a young girl, the book thief, who manages to cheat Death more than once.

The story is set in Nazi Germany, so it is clear in what direction this book is headed. But I know that although the story may have been told before, it has not been told in this way.

As a reader or a writer, it is good to move out of the familiar and try something new. I would never have thought of writing from the point of view of Death, but it would be a good writing exercise to write from the point of view of an inanimate object — the cave where the body was found, or the diaries that held the words of Lydia, the main character in my book Lydia’s Story.

As a reader or a writer, what do you do to climb out of the box of familiarity and try something new?