Re-Editing, Re-editing, and Re-editing

For roughly almost all of last year, I did not work on my first novel at all. One, it was hard because COVID had all of us hunkering down and stressed out that trying to do anything that required a lot of concentration was just pointless. This doesn’t’ mean I wasn’t working on any writing projects. I did many blog posts that were dear to my heart (and a few of those that I started researching last year will finally be completed this year because, yes, I DO take my time with researching and writing these posts). Plus I did more research (general) into the 19th C for the other 5 novels (6 Austen variations because there are 6 completed Austen novels). Then I decided to do some research into Faerie Tales (because I had once scribbled an idea back when I was 15 that I do think may be fun projects). I also adopted another cat (Parker) as companion to Henry. Met a wonderful guy (and still going strong over a year later), watched a lot of films, read a lot of books. Gained a bit of weight (as did we all I imagine). But now, I am back on board with re-editing my novel. Egads!

Northanger Abbey: Our Hero Henry Tilney | Austenprose – A Jane Austen Blog
JJ Fields as Henry Tilney (Northanger Abbey). Courtesy of Pinterest. Also the namesake of my cat, Henry.

So, what’s it like to come back to a novel that once was all consuming, read it, and discover that there are parts you no longer like? A bit weird, to be completely honest. In a way, I feel closer to Jane Austen (who famously re-wrote her novels over and over again, over a period of years) and other writers, both departed and contemporary. We must, after all, be our own worst critic and our most fervent admirer. Re-reading my own novel is surreal. There is no other way to describe it (unless we want to say it’s a bit like schadenfreude, except we are taking our pleasure from our own misfortune). There are parts that I immediately know must be cut because they do nothing to advance the tale. There are parts that can easily be condensed and explained in a sentence or two instead of paragraph after paragraph. In some ways, I was much more into describing than showing, which is a fault most (academically trained) writers probably have. This is why we edit.

Jane Austen Manuscript Chapter 10
Jane Austen’ editing process. Courtesy of the British Library.

Both Cassandra and Henry Austen made statements in their later lives regarding Jane’s writing process. It should come to no surprise that she had outlines and knew how she wanted each of her noels to end (I do that as well). But like most writers, even she probably acknowledged that after writing and editing the first time, sometime things have to be changed because what you thought may have been a good choice (like a name or even an ending), just doesn’t work as well. It seems Jane was forever rewriting her novels into newer drafts, editing them, changing them, chipping way at the excess until she deemed them to be ready to be published. And that is all I am doing as well. Since the age of 19, I had outlined and had these thoughts of re-working Jane’s novels in such a way as to include a bit more history (because we are so removed from her time, we forget some of the most basic knowledge her audience had, we no longer have), but in a way that is fun and gives us the endings we want, but in a different way. Now, in my naivete, I did write a fan letter to Jane Odiwe when I was 19, wanting some advice from an author I admired about whether or not my idea would work. Now, not to besmirch Odiwe (for I do admire her for her storytelling and her love of Austen), imagine how shocked I was when her “Searching For” series started coming out and I realized my fan letter from all those years ago, when I had stupidly written her an outline of my idea, became her reality.

Searching for Captain Wentworth by Jane Odiwe
Courtesy of Amazon

Then, I read it. Well, not all of them, just the one regarding Captain Wentworth because it was the one I had foolishly outlined for her in that letter years ago. Dear Reader, hers is enjoyable, but nothing like mine. Other than taking the name (because I did give her the title of my novel as Searching for Captain Wentworth), and the premise of time travel (which, thankfully, I abandoned when I was 21 and opted for another route), I know my novel will not suffer nor (hopefully) be compared to hers. Now, I do not blame Jane Odiwe. After all, a fan letter from over 20 years ago (to which I never received any reply and please recall this was early in the age of emails and twitter did not exist), to which she may have read (or had been read for her and to her), probably installed a nugget of an idea that inspired her. For that, I am humbled because what she ended up writing is nothing to what my plans have become. While hers has involved time travel, and not much accuracy in terms of history, they are sweet pieces of fiction and, dare I state, love letters to Austen herself. While my concept is more about fleshing out some of the characters and giving a bit of background, with some fantasy and witticisms thrown in for good measure. The hard part, of course, is the whole getting of an agent. Because my original title was stolen, I had to change mine. And because it sounds similar to Odiwe’s, some agents refuse to read even the first chapter.

Inside Out in the Office: A Closer Look at Anger
Anger from Pixar’s Inside Out. Courtesy of Pixar/Disney

Does this anger me? Of course! I’ve also gotten comments such as I seem to write English fairly well for someone with my name (because people with Arabic names can clearly not understand the complexities of the English tongue), or I had no right to be writing Austen (because it’s only the domain of….whites?). I’ve even had agents state my novel is too ambitious (and too much like Austen), I should consider throwing in sex scenes instead of wanting to keep it sex free. The audacity of it all (because while Austen did not show sex and her novels are really sex-free, she did include romance and sensuality, which I have striven to retain). Having not touched it for a year, I am more determined than ever to edit it (again, for it seems to be the 6th or 7th time now), really make it as good as I can, then query agents again later this year. Yes, I expect I will have more rejection letters than acceptance. Yes, I still struggle with HOW to query successfully because no matter how many blog posts and tips (and hints) agents have given, none of them have worked for me.

3 Ways to Get a Literary Agent - Keller Media, Inc.
Courtesy of Keller Media

There is, of course, the more modern route which is to self publish. My boyfriend has self published 2 novels and 1 collection of short stories (and no, I have not read them). I will most likely self publish my poetry (literary agents for poetry is almost non existent and I’m sure the competition is even harder). I do plan on sending poems out to online journals and other publications to get some in print, because I do think having some of it out there would be a good thing. I have, over the past 2-3 years, have sent them to online magazines and journals with no response, but hopefully that will change. Of course, I have also, technically, self published a few poems here on this blog (and a few on Poetry.com-remember that old site? Those poems are long gone, in terms of online presence as I do have them written down). And I did get one or two published in my college days (and one in my high school days as well). So, I have no issues with going this route for poetry. But for the novels? Perhaps I am a bit old fashioned but I really do want to try and find an agent. I know so many books on Amazon are self published (it seems so many go this route and the offerings can be incredible to god awful all in one book that has to be split into 3 or more). And while that is an option, I want the agent for the simple reason that I want to see my books in stores. I want to see them in libraries. I want this little bit of myself to outlive me in print form (my immortality, as it were). Would it be nice to know that 200 years from now, my works could inspire others? Of course! I’d be pleased if my works inspired someone even 10 years down the road!

So, back to editing. That dreaded business for which others have worked with professionals. And yes, a professional editor would probably be very helpful. Yet I want to work the story to the best of my ability FIRST, then sending it off to an agent (hopefully). And then, if an editor is brought in, I would not mind. I see professional editors as that final step in polishing a work. My novel is still a bit rough, so to speak, and I want to be able to smooth it out and have that knowledge that I did so before even thinking of handing it off. Because what I know I can chip away, an editor may also chip away, or they may chip away more than what I think should be done. While I always am astounded with the stories coming out with people who wrote and then found an agent, and saw their book published all during the lockdowns, that is not normal when it comes to the literary world. For one thing, having these tales out and about make it seem as if writing a novel and getting signed to an agency is extremely easy ad those of us who struggle MUST be lacking in some way. This is simply not true. For a novel to have been written, queried, signed, then published in the span of 10 months tells me (as it should others) that the novel is probably very rough or very short and most likely (and I hate to write this), but not well written. Most novels take 2 years MINIMUM from when they are accepted to when they are published. Sometimes more IF one does not have an agent is is looking for one. In other words, this is not a fast sprint to the finish line. This is carving Michelangelo’s DAVID.

Why Tom Holland's Spider-Man/Peter Parker Is The Worst One Yet |  Moviedash.com
Tom Holland as Spider-Man/Peter Parker in Spider-Man: Homecoming (and yes, the inspiration for my cat, Parker/Peter Parker). Courtesy of MCU/SONY

Like any long term anything, patience, fortitude, and stamina is key. Now, with the whole COVID thing, I know my Depression & Anxiety have gotten worse, which means my attention span is not the best.

Red squirrel - Wikipedia
Red Squirrel. Courtesy of Wikipedia. And yes, my attention span has sometimes been THAT short.

HOWEVER, with things improving, and hopefully some medication tweaks, my attention span will be much improved and I can edit for longer periods of time rather than doing half a chapter a week. Naturally, editing on a computer screen is also not ideal, but I am determined to do this more choppy edit on the computer first. Then I may consider getting it all printed out and doing a more traditional edit like Austen did (and that I did my second time around too). So, I am basically trying to tell you, Dear Reader, that if you are also in a similar boat as I am, and struggling with writing or editing, take a break. Walk away for a bit. It seems a bit daft, but it helps. It truly does. I do believe not looking at it for abut a year has made it easier for me to make those bigger edits that the novel needs to be a better, more cohesive, story. We do, after all, tend to get very attached to our writings and it’s hard to look at it objectively when the struggle, the effort it took to bring it all about is still so fresh. IF you are doing a dissertation (as I have friends who are currently doing this), walking away for a long period of time is NOT doable. Sadly. BUT (and this is vitally important), walking away for a day or two does help.

Pin on Writing Superboards
Found on Pinterest

Witting is a process and when you first get everything down, like any parent, you think it’s a masterpiece and utter perfection. Dear Reader, it is not. And that can be very hard to understand as well as being very hard to accept. Now, I did do 2 edits back to back after I first finished the novel over 2 years ago, walked way, then came back after a mere 3 weeks and did, I believe, 2 or 3 more edits. It was not enough time for I was still too much attached to certain passages and characters to be objective. But now, having given it nary a glance for 10 months, I can be more harsh, more critical of my own failings and work. It’s much easier to remove one or two entire paragraphs, condensing it to 2 or 3 sentences when I am not so adamantly attached to them. What I am trying to stress, of course, is editing is hard. It’s a lot or work, and it’s not going to be easy. DO edit after you first finish. I found so many typing errors it was not humorous. But then walk away for a least 3-4 months. Then, come back, do another edit. Walk away for a few more months, then come back to edit it again. If I had known this, I do think this novel of mine would be at that stage here I can query an agent. But this is entirely my failing and one I know I will never repeat. Learn from this, Dear Reader, for it’s advice I know I would have liked to have been given and one I have yet to come across elsewhere.

As for Jane Odiwe, I wish her no ill will nor any regrets. My fan letter was so long ago that she probably had no memory what I wrote when she started writing the “Searching For” series. And I am completely at peace with that You have to realize that there are so many people writing Regency type novels out there that anyone who is able to stand out, even a bit, is a credit to those of us who are dabbling in this genre. While mine are more fantasy variations with historical underpinnings, there are variations out there doing “what ifs”, mysteries, sequels, etc. If you ever Google it, there are more variations, sequels, and themes on Pride & Prejudice than any other Austen Novel. And while I could have gone the route of doing P&P first, I wanted to focus on Persuasion because it is the novel (besides Northanger Abbey) that I love the most. Both of those novels are also the least adapted (film & TV wise) and have the least variations, which is a great pity, is it not? For we have Wentworth writing the best love letter in all of Austen and Tilney, who knows his muslin (and smirks quite often). So take heart. Keep typing or writing away (I wrote mine out first on paper, roughly a third, then switched to typing). Keep researching (if that’s your thing). And keep dreaming.

Character Cheatsheets

Someone sent a comment that I had all ready done a posting about character tearsheets and cheatsheets earlier. One, yes thank you for pointing that out. I am fully aware that I did a brief blog post on these subject earlier. Two, that post was very brief and not very informative,  but was me giving insight as to how I created characters and I didn’t devote as much time to explaining myself as I was currently writing and editing my novel at the same time. And for anyone wondering, no I did not allow the comment to be posted as there was some foul language and for everyone’s sake, I have the right to refuse to publish such things.

As the last blog post went in depth to discuss how to do character tearsheets and why a writer may find them helpful, I thought it would be as useful to discuss the concept of a cheatsheet. Now, this name is a misnomer because it’s not really a cheatsheet per se. On my computer, I call them Character Charts and they also exist in the novel notebook I have (for each novel) as the same thing. I refer to them as cheatsheets because having the information available to me on the laptop makes it easy for me when editing or writing instead of having to stop and rifle through the notebook to the appropriate page.  Also, I tended to add information when typing it out that is not available in the notebook of information that I decided was more relevant to the telling of the character in terms of dialogue or characterization (physical tells, etc).

From Pinterest; yes it’s for a different genre,  but look at some of the questions each section is asking here. Some of these may end up on your character cheatsheet.

character creation sheet - Google Search

From Pinterest (daddilifeforce.com); this is the basic form I used when developing my own character chart. I didn’t use all of these questions, but many of these were useful in developing my own questions I wanted to answer.

Both of the above charts were very useful to me when coming up with my own version of a character chart. I primarily used the bottom one, but I do think the top one has good references to Religion and Psychology that I did use. I changed Race to Race/Ethnicity for my own purposes and I included a View on Self for each character because a someone who’s evil doesn’t see themselves as evil and someone who’s strong may think they are weak in a certain way. Almost like an insight into their own personal view of a flaw (for me). I don’t think there’s a wrong or right way or doing these and it should be personalized to a writer’s style. I did 24 of these for my novel, each one being a word document. There is a 25th one of miscellaneous characters of just people like servants, people mentioned but never seen in the novel and I have listed stripped down, basic information: Name (and any meaning if there is any), Age, Occupation, Looks, Personality, Family. Looks would include Race/Ethnicity. There are 5 people listed on that one document (technically, 4 people and 1 Lawyer firm, but you get the general idea).

Image result for The Hero's Journey blank

From Pinterest; this chart actually reminded me of something one might do for a Character role on Stage or for a Costume Design. Yet it’s a chart and it may be a form that works for you.

My mother said this above form looks like a government issued Tax form, which I have to giggle and state it kind of does. The purpose of these is for you to understand your character. It sounds simple, but it’s deceptive and difficult. You have to know your character inside and out. You have to know them intimately, from their most sacred thoughts, to passing fancies, to even smells or foods they can’t stand. You have to know them so well that if a fan asks you a question, you can answer-or not and allow them to figure it out themselves. After all, sometimes too much information can kill one’s love of the world that was created (Rowling, I am talking about you). The best advice I ever read was to think about this as an interview. You are conducting an interview of your character and are trying to get as much information as possible. You may start off with the basics and over time, as the story develops, you will find out more. Hopefully, you will remember to update the chart when that happens so you don’t forget.

This set includes a Character Feelings/Character Traits anchor chart and 2 different graphic organizers. The Character Feelings graphic organizer allows students to track a character's changing feelings through the beginning, middle, and end of a story. The Character Traits graphic organizer gives students a tool to identify and record a character's personality traits and evidence for those traits.

From tearchersherpa.com; while this is geared towards school children, this wouldn’t be a bad way of brainstorming for a writer. I used this same form for one of my characters and it helped.

As you can see from the above example, not all charts are word heavy. And if you are just trying to get a feel for a character, I really think the above chart would be a good place to start. Most writers that I have spoken to and have read about have all agreed that you do need some way of keeping track of your characters. Charts are one way of doing this. Now, if you decide to just print out pages and fill them in, then getting a binder or having a folder is going to be your way of keeping track of the information. OIf you want a way of somehow putting it on the computer (so you have adigital copy), I think scanning them as individual PDFs would be the way to go to ensure you have a digital set with you, and a physical set as backup. Yes, I may be a little crazy of having 2 versions (hand written then type written), but I like having two copies. I can take the handwritten notebook with me when I print out my novel at FedEx and begin to edit and revise it without having to turn on the laptop. I also make sure to have my research notebooks on hand as well so I can fact check and verify any and all dates that I put in it because we all make typing errors. It’s maddening, but a fact of our profession. And I’ve learned, through trial and error, that even reading it doesn’t always catch the errors. I’ve gone really old school and read it aloud. Sometimes what looks fine on paper sounds really odd out loud. Sounds crazy but it works. Also really a good idea for working dialogue.

It is the opposite for me, this is where the love of my life found me

Pinterest

Basically, find a method that works for you. Use Pinterest, use Google. Look at all the options that are out there. Pick and chose from them to create your own chart. Because what works for one novel or even more than one isn’t always going to work for all of them. That’s the beauty of creating your own version. Because you have tailored it to fit your needs, you can easily continue to tailor fit it for your projects! Never let an author or even an agent tell you that you are doing it wrong. There is no wrong way to do this. There is YOUR way and THEIR way. YOUR way is always the best.

Presenting “Austen Spoilers” Cartoon by John Atkinson

Character Tearsheets: An Introduction

Character tearsheets are something that is common in the Theatre (possibly Film and television) world for Designers. Particularly Costume Designers, though I am certain Hair & Makeup Designers use them as well (in Theatre, Hair & Makeup tend to fall under the domain of the Costume Designer while in Film and Television, that’s an entirely different department). The easiest way of explaining it is a typical tearsheet is a word document (or similar program) of one page where you have pictures/images of a character for design purposes. It’s a way of visually assisting you in coming up with a design for a show. Sort of like a quick visual scan. Most costume students end up doing this in programs as we generally don’t have time to render (fancy term meaning draw and paint/maker/etc) in the short amount of time we are given for the assignment. Sometimes we are given mere days, so doing tearsheets is a quick way of designing a show for an assignment.

An example of a grad student’s tearsheet for Midsummer Night’s Dream on their online portfolio (courtesy of Kristalduke.com)

What you can see from the above example, is the “actor” she has chosen for the role. The jacket style she is considering and possible colors. I also see pants, vests, shoes with spats, a top hat, a cane (in one image, but that just me coincidence), and a fob watch. So, one gets the general idea of where she is going with that design. And you may be wondering, how does this relate to writing?

A writer’s board (courtesy of screencraft.org)

Places like Screencraft and other writer’s resources always recommend a corkbaord or whiteboard to jot down ideas and help build your novel or screen play, etc. And if that works for you, fantastic! My mind doesn’t work that way. Maybe because I come from an English & Theatre background that’s more academic or because I’ve never found those tools helpful other than posting notices, who knows. All I know is I grew frustrated trying those routes in trying to organize my novel and my thoughts because it didn’t work for me. So I turned to ways that I knew worked and they helped me a lot, so I hope that somewhere, they may help someone else. Instead of designing a character for a show, I used a word document (some ran to two pages instead of one) to help me visualize each of the main characters and a few of the secondary ones as well. I pulled images such as celebrities that I thought had the color hair that I liked. Period portraits that showed the outfits or poses I thought fit that character. To putting images of books they read, furniture they used. Even they’re favorite kind of tea or flowers. Anything and everything that would help me “see” that character and create them (especially their moods, and dialogue) in the novel. And I did make notes on the sheets, especially if I couldn’t recall why I picked an image. For instance, I used an image of Cary Grant and specifically chose it because I loved the smile in it. That smile, to me, was the smile I saw my character having. So I made a note of it on the tearsheet that said “Cary Grant Smile.”

This is the picture of Cary Grant smiling that I liked. (Getty Images)

It doesn’t have to be that complicated and it doesn’t have to have a lot of images. If there’s a landscape of a picture of a tree that to you, screams a certain character, put it on your sheet. Something about it is speaking to you, so use it. And if it’s a certain color (like a paint swatch or just the color of a jacket), then yes, make a note that it’s that color you are associating with that character. It could inspire a scene in the novel, you never know. This doesn’t have to be a hard process or a long one. I only have tearsheets for 8 characters for my first novel and I have more than 8 characters. I really only focused on the main ones and the ones I was struggling with in terms of trying to write dialogue for (they were secondary ones). Most don’t get this kind of attention so don’t feel you have to do one for each and every single character. If you have 4 main characters, do one for each of them. Then if you find you are struggling later one for one or two others, then go back and do a tearsheet for each of those characters. I found it really helped me focus on those problem characters and scenes that I struggled with because it helped me focus.

Lyme Cobb (antonyspencer.com)

Another use for them that I did that I had never done before was use them for images of places that the characters travel to. Of course, if it’s a fantasy world, that may be difficult, but if you know the world contains mountains, why not have a tearsheet of different mountain ranges for inspiration? How about different sunsets or forests? Or carriages or carts if that’s how they are traveling? It does help you focus on your novel because it’s a great little visual aide in narrowing down all those images you may have been collecting on Pinterest. And I even have a tearsheet for a cat because it’s a character in the novel. Grey cats are not all the same I will state in my defense and grey kittens in particular vary. Will nay of this information make it’s way into the novel? No. But it’s good to have it available in case anyone who ends up reading the book asks. think of it as your own personal background information that you can share or not with your fans in the future. And hopefully, you will share.

1995’s Persuasion at Lyme (janeausten.co.uk)

I hope this has been insightful, helpful, but most of all, inspirational. I want people to learn from my mistakes (as in listening to experts who say to only do things a certain way) and realize that there are many ways to go about the writing process. I’ve found a method that works for me. And it works well because it’s familiar, it’s easy, and it’s simple to do. Will it work for everyone? No and I don’t expect it to. But is it something I hope people will try? Yes, I do hope those of you who are writing will try this method and see if it’s helpful for you. And I hope it is. There is no right or wrong way here. We are all learning together.

How to Research (Part 2)

Let’s talk about the least favorite subject of mine: organization. First, I must admit that I am not the most organized person int the world. My bedroom routinely mimic the after effects of WWIII meets a tornado mixed in with an Earthquake on a good day. Yet I like to keep my books, records (yes, VINYL people), CDs, comic books, and art supplies organized (apparently because that it important to me). I try and keep the sewing and crochet/knitting stuff organized too. But I am trying to be better in all things organized. No one is perfect.

One thing I am notorious for, and very skilled at, is organizing my computer files. I have a mega file on my portable HD called Costume History with I believe a hundred files inside of it with names like 1600-1700, 1800-1900, etc. Then each file, when you open it, is broken down into subsections like Court Dress, Shoes, portraits, etc. It’s why I was always told I excelled at Costume research at both graduate schools I attended. I started this mega database during my undergrad days and was just saving images from places like JSTOR. Now, that’s all and good, but I have no idea where I got the images from because all I have are the images and no way of verifying that they are authentic. So, it’s a reason why I abandoned the project some time during my second graduate school and turned to Pinterest (I believe if you search for Sabaah Jauhar-Rizvi in Pinterest, you will find me).

An example of Pinterest Boards

So, basically I’ve sort of replicated my portable HD in Pinterest, but in a different way. I cannot have a massive board called Costume History with sub folders upon subfolders. Instead, I have boards like Costume History: 2000s, with a subheading that is for the years 2000-2009, and folders inside have labels such as Trends, Gucci, Miu Miu, etc. Now, I don’t have everything under the sun, but enough to have a basic selection in case I ever design a show based in that time period or someone who follows me needs reference pictures from that time period. Most likely, a theatre friend needs help researching and I send them a link to their heart’s content (it’s what I do and I enjoy doing it because I like knowing that I helped someone).

I found this on Pinterest!

While Pinterest is great, and it is especially to help organize things like potential images for character references, tips for writing, prompts, research images, etc, it’s also a den of misinformation. This brings us to vetting information. or verifying if the information you are taking in is truthful and accurate. The great thing about the Internet is everything is accessible. The terrible thing about the Internet is there’s a ton of misinformation out there that it can be scary to navigate. You really can’t believe everything you read on the Internet. Wikipedia, for example, is a decent resource BUT keep in mind they have volunteers correcting the pages.  I myself have tried to go and correct pages, with book and scholarly journal citations, only to have them rejected as not being true (even though they were true), which was extremely frustrating. Also, how they modify pages is very confusing is you are not a computer programmer (it’s not user friendly to those of us who are not technologically inclined is what I am saying).

So, what is a writer, or anyone trying to do any kind of research to do? Thankfully there are these great places called Museums that have exhibits available on-line. While not the same as going there in person, having access to images and artifacts that are kept in the archives available on-line is a terrific things. Take, for example, Brazil’s National Museum. It tragically burned down in 2018 and so much was destroyed and lost. Thankfully, Google did a virtual tour and those artifacts are now preserved digitally as well as people submitting videos and photographs to Brazil in order to preserve what was once a beautiful museum. So there is hope that one day there will be a digital version of the original National Museum for all to visit.

One of the exhibits at Brazil’s National Museum that was destroyed. Courtesy of thisiscolossal.com

Luckily, Museums don’t often get destroyed (though we are all still reeling from the loss of Notre Dame). Museum websites and heritage websites are some of the best resources for finding all sorts of information. Portraits, extant clothing (clothing from that time period), furniture, jewelry, even samples of preserved food sometimes makes an appearance in a museum. Heritage sites will showcase how reactors (or historians) explain how people lived, sometimes setting tables or bedrooms up in period correct ways, which is really nice to see as the earliest photograph wasn’t taken until 1826 or 1827 (the date is up for debate). I also like heritage sites because they will show the places people don’t necessarily ever talk about in history books, such as the outhouses, the ice house, where laundry was done. The places you’d think people would want to know about, but are rarely ever seen in any historical film, which is why we never think people had toliets back in Ancient Rome.

Public Toilets in Ancient Rome.Yes, they did exist. Hollywood lies. HBO lies. Courtesy of Science Magazine

So, an example of a site you can’t trust is one that is telling you that everything that is well documented is a lie. One that is stating that every known image, known portrait, known account is a lie and only they know the truth. In layman’s terms, this is known as fake history. In scholarly terms, we call it revisionist history.

Original picture of King George III of Great Britain, he was not an Albino (European) he was a Moor (so-called black). Here is the mailing address authentication of this depiction. Write to "Science Museum of London Exhibition Rd London SW7 2DD, United Kingdom.

So, let’s test your critical thinking skills here. Take this image I’ve posted above. It’s from the website momoafrica.com and has been shared on other websites including Pinterest. People are posting this as FACT. Now, IF you know basis English history, you will nkow that King George III (also known as tghe Mad King) lived from 1738-1820. And remember earlier when I stated when the fist known photograph was taken? Hard to take a photograph of a dead guy 6 or 7 years after he’s buried. Then there is the question of clothing. The clothes shown are clearly 1850s-1870s, making this thirty to forty years after the death of the King. And finally, the picture is of an African American. King George was of German, Austrian , and Welsh decent. The man was White and I do mean White in the most courteous of terms.

Detail view of King George when he was crowned. Courtesy of the Royal Family’s website.

Now, I have gotten into an argument with the website stating that the picture is fake and they are guilty of revisionist history. They replied that I am part of the conspiracy and every person who has been in charge throughout history has been black (or of color) and it’s been whitewashed to keep black people down. Now, let’s un-package this nonsense. If everyone throughout history has been of color, then why would they have allowed Slavery? Allowed the British to colonize places like Asia, India, Africa, Australia? Why would they have allowed the Trail of Tears to occur? See how quickly and easily it is to see how what they are stating as fact isn’t?

Offered as proof of King George’s “blackness” by momoafrica.com

I was then sent the above image as “proof” of King George’s “blackness” by the same website with this above image. First, this is an engraving. This doesn’t indicate he was black or of color at all. The process of engraving is using lines or dots to indicate shadow and dimension. The same process if used on paper currency. By this logic, we can then conclude that George Washington was Green because he’s green on American Currency.

Another engraving done by another artist at the same time as the one I was sent. Same pose, different interpretation. Based off the same portrait. Courtesy of the Royal Family’s website.

So, while I am saying use Pinterest to help organize your thoughts, organize research images, be aware that there are some sketchy and weird information floating out there. If it sounds really weird and too good to be true, it probably is. If you want to double check before pinning, Google it. If it comes up with hits that seem to come from verified sources like museums and scholarly journals telling you that this is true, then go ahead and pin it. If it comes back as hitting a bunch of conspiracy theory sites, then avoid like the plague. Trust me, this will only help you in the long run.

Places I have actually found to be really good resources are auction houses. I know, it seems like a weird resource to use, but think about it for a minute. The people who work there are experts, they research the items for authenticity and verify that they are what they say they are. Next to a Museum website, this is a really good and underused resource in the community. I love using Bonham’s, Christies, Augusta, and other verifiable, high end auction houses for research purposes. Any of them you can follow on Pinterest (which is nice) and you get to see a wide variety of items that you may never see in a museum. I’ve come across scissors from the 1600s that are meant to cut leather. I had no idea those existed. Of course, logically, they MUST have existed, but seeing an image of them was pretty neat. And they are really good about giving a nice detailed history of the item including what it is made of, dimensions, and where it was possibly made. It’s like having a cheat sheet but without you having to do all the hard work.

University and college websites are also a great resource. Sometimes lectures on certain subjects are made available to the public on the websites and are posted on Pinterst, sometimes you find them via Google. It’s really good to keep an eye out for these because not only is it valuable for giving you a goldmine of information from an academic who’s a specialist in the field, they generally list where they are getting this information (as in a bibliography) at the end or on the course website, which can lead you down further paths of research!

This comes to the last bit of research. Blogs can be great. I follow some blogs written by historians and some written by Theatre people. But there are some blogs that just copy and paste from other blogs. I’ve come across Regency blogs that copy and paste blog posts from other blogs topics you know that person probably researched and put together years ago and that’s dishonest. But that’s the nature of having a blog. Those sites generally don’t copy and paste where the information came from (as in museum sites or books), which is how you know it’s probably not a good site. Now, in the beginning of this blog, I was still learning the ropes, so if you come across one with not many entries, they may just be leanring the ropes as well (it’s a learning curve), and I generally now state where I get my images (unless it’s clipart, then I just don’t because it’s clipart).

So now you have all these great on-line resources, it’s best to organize (ha! you thought I forgot about that) them. Bookmarking them in general folders is going to be a time saver and also give you a smaller window when you first pull up the bookmark window. I just stick to the basics. One is just Museums, the other Auction Websites, then I have one that’s Social (where I have my Facebook, Blog, Twitter, Pinterest, and Email websites saved). I have one that is for my Library, but I also keep my Goodreads account there (it makes sense in my mind). I also have the Thesaurus and Dictionary website saved under Library because you can’t always be lugging them around if you are typing in a Panera or Starbucks.  I also have folders for each of the my novels with a subfolder that specifically says characters. And for that, there two folders, one says tearsheets and the other is for cheatsheets (word documents with basic information I can pull up when typing without having to have a notebook on me-I will write about all of that soon!). the point is to have as much as possible in your notebooks to help you write, but also have some of that available on-line and on your PC or laptop so you don’t have to have this massive pile on your desk when typing. I use my notebooks when writing (I wrote most of my novel out by hand then typed it, which I think was helpful because I could edit and add at that point, so I consider it my first edit and I’ve done 7 more since then and yes, that’s normal). Just keep in mind this is a process. And it’s long and tedious. Even though I’ve done 20 years of research for my time period, that was very generic and basic. For each novel, because I am focusing on a specific time frame, I do have to go through my research and sometimes have to search for specific things for each one. So while one is done and being queried, I am now in that early stage of another. Most of all, have some fun looking around and finding what sites are out there.

Pinterest

 

How to Research (Part 1)

I’d thought it would be good to take a break from the adaptations (only 2 left and then 2 bonus reviews!) to talk about research. Research is one of those weird topics that if you try and Google or go to the library and find just basic steps on how to to it, you’ll probably go insane like poor Ophelia and we wouldn’t want that!

John Everet Millias’s interpretation of Ophelia. Don’t feel overwhelmed when it comes to research!

So, not everyone who wants to write is going to have the advantage (or the curse) or having gone to a graduate school where you get taught how to research things like Thesis and Dissertations and Papers for Conferences! It’s OK, I’m not going to bore you will all of that. However, there were quite a few tips that I find from my grad school days that do end up being quite useful. One is get to know your local library and the librarians who work there. Trust me, these people will become your best friends in the world. You may never learn their first names or exchange phone numbers, but going there and being someone they learn to recognize is helpful. Especially when you need help researching something really obscure and cannot find it in the library and are unsure how to proceed. Because they can track that sucker down through Interlibrary Loan.

The research library and archive at Sir John Soane’s Museum. I can smell the books! (soane.org)

Now, where to start? Firstly, if you have a computer at home, start a Pinterest board. I have several actually and I can talk about how to organize and what is a good pin versus a bad pin at a later time (because yes, it should be discussed). Let’s say we’re going to research Dragons because we want to write a YA novel involving Dragons. So, you might start a Board on Pinterest called Dragons and pin things like sculptures, art (anime, medieval manuscripts, etc), links to legends and myths, perhaps even books or films that feature dragons (even TV shows like GOT). Basically, Pinterest is used like a giant corkboard of where you collect ideas, even random ones, to start that complex journey into the realm of research. Good thing is that in that general board, you can then organize those pins into different categories however you see fit.

An image from a PS3/4 game called Dragon’s Crown found on Pinterest and was featured in Forbes Magazine. Pinterest is handy!

 

Secondly, go to the dollar store and buy a few notebooks, pens, post-its flags or paperclips if you don’t have any. Pens in at least 2 different colors is nice, but purchasing some highlighters or even some colored pencils or crayons will work just as well because you will take one of those notebooks with you to the library when you start to do some serious research. For notebooks, I prefer those composition books because they have a hardcover and don’t have that annoying metal spiral to contend with. Some composition books are not hardcover and that’s OK too. If you have an old spiral notebook laying around, use it! Don’t go out and buy a bunch of stuff if you all ready have it laying around. Only go and buy it if you need it (because writing is not a money maker folks).

I try to find college ruled in these, which is not always easy.

Now that you have a notebook and pens, let’s go back to researching Dragons at the library. Now, some of you are thinking that this is going to be a really hard topic to research because Dragons aren’t real and I am more of a historical person. Yes, that is true but I did work in a college library at both the undergraduate and graduate level (the undergraduate college also had a children’s section for teachers, so I was used to finding things like fairy tales, etc for both students and the public). If you know your way around the library, you’d head over to the electronic card catalog and probably type in “dragons”. You’ll come up with a lot of hits featuring children related materials, so don’t stress out! If you need, help, ask a librarian because they can show you how to change the search parameters to only feature adult related books and help narrow that filed of study for you. Though don’t discount the children’s books entirely since you are interested in writing for that YA group, it helps to read books in that field to get a sense of what is expected in terms of writing, but also what agents & publishers are looking for. Plus some of the most enjoyable books are considered YA (like The Hobbit for example, which features a dragon).

The modern card catalog is entirely an electronic database. Some of us still remember the good old fashioned card catalogs & their cabinets!

This is how you used to search!

Sticking to our theme of Dragons, places you may want to start researching would be mythology. Chinese, Japanese, British mythology featuring dragons would be an ideal place to start and take notes as to physical characteristics, habitat, eating habits, range of domain, and any pertinent information such as communication, hoarding behavior, etc. From there, one could branch out into specific areas like Arthurian legends (which are a mixture of Welsh and French), looking at the Greek origins, the Mesopotamian God Dagon, Vietnamese mythology, Norse myths, Hindu Nagas, Roman mythology (which is a rehash of Greek mythos), then modern usage. This could also incorporate a look into Sea creatures of mythology, like the Lock Ness and the Champlain Lake Monster, and could meld into a look at real creatures like Dinosaurs for comparison.

Researching a Ptesosaur could assist in Dragon research when trying to visualize the size because if there was any living creature that could come close to a Dragon, Ptresosaurs came close. (courtesy of dinoaminals.com)

 

Now, back to the library side of things. You are going to have to learn to enjoy the tedious pleasure known as reading and taking notes. Since we are researching Dragons, a good tool would be to watch how they are recreated on film and take notes (yes, I am being serious). The library may have BBC or Discovery Channel DVDs like Walking with Dinosaurs that you can check out and watch. There was this wonderful film in 2004 called Dragons: Fantasy Made Real which really went through the biological process of dragons. So if one was to research dragons, that would be an excellent place to start. So, while in the beginning, it seemed like it would be impossible to really have any real research on Dragons, hopefully I have shown that pretty quickly, one can easily have notebooks filled with bits and pieces of information just from mythology and looking into dinosaurs. We haven’t even discussed looking at scholarly journal articles that existed discussing the topic. And they exist on all sort of subjects ranging from the importance of dragons in literature to the significance of dragons on medieval tapestries. Any of these can broaden your research and led you down paths to creating a world wholly unique yet grounded in some form of reality.

An image from Dragons: A Fantasy Made Real showing skeletal structure.

When it comes to organizing the notes, this is where the highlighters, etc come in handy. Chose a color for a specific things, say physical characteristic, and go through all the notes and highlight the start of each area that pertains to that subject. And just keep doing that. And hopefully, you also kept a log of where you got all your information. Now, this is what I did, which sounds insane, but it’s how I work and if it helps you, great, if not, also great. Target has these composition books called Yoobi which are college ruled and contain much more paper than the average composition notebook. I then took all my notes and on a clean sheet of paper, write down how I wanted them organized, like how you would see it in a book (basically, I have a section called Finances, and underneath are things like pay for servants, coinage of the realm, banks, etc). So I then wrote out everything in these notebooks, sticking to my prearranged format. Each heading is written in one color, each subheading in another and the notes in general are in black ink. Each heading is also flagged with a post it note for easy access. And yes, I have the index for each notebook written inside the front cover. As for the sources, all that information is in it’s own section (a bibliography). Now I made the mistake of not indicating where each note came from (my error and I regret that I made it), but at least I do have a complete list of all the sources I used and looked at, which is where I perhaps differ from others. I write down books and places I looked and read that I didn’t take any notes from. Now, you don’t have to write down all the books you looked at and didn’t use, but it makes it handy when going back to the library and not wanting to keep checking out the same materials over and over again.

These are my preferred notebooks for compiling massive amounts of notes. I only had to buy one package to contain all my notes for 1790-1830 for my 6 novels. And those notes are all generic. I also have a notebook specific to each novel with more specific notes (I use a regular composition notebook for them though).

A hold over from my college days. These come in all sorts of shapes and colors and are useful in flagging pages of interest in books as well. Also you can find versions of these everywhere.

 

Basically, if you’ve never done any kind of research, it’s going to take some time for you to get used to doing it. And while I research actual history, I’ve hope I’ve proven that you can research anything if you have the determination and the perseverance to do this. Even if you just want to research your family tree, the same rules apply. The library is a great place to start and the librarians working there are wonderful people who are there to assist you! It’s their job and they love to do it! I cannot tell you how much attention I got when I went in one day asking for help in finding books to finish my thesis. They fawned over me and were only too happy to assist. This is what they are trained to do folks, Allow them to help you.

On Editing (or yes, I am still editing my first Novel)

While I have finished writing my first novel and all 12 agents I sent it to have rejected it (yes, only 12 so far), I decided to go back and take a look at the novel overall. First, I am biased in this but I do think it’s fairly good. When I first wrote it, it was close to 200K in length, which is approaching Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norell proportions (that book is over 260K in length). So, I edited it a few times and whittled it down to a respectable 140,083. The loss of roughly 50K words is no major feat to cut from a novel and it took a lot of work. So, why am I still editing it?

Basically, most first novels tend to be between 70-100K word length. Of course, this doesn’t mean there aren’t’ exceptions to the rule, because Jonathan Strange clearly is a major exception for a debut novel. This doesn’t mean one should write and only confine themselves to 100K words or less. I think doing so would stifle creativity. But this doesn’t mean that my novel of 140K couldn’t still use some refinement.

While I was writing my novel, I was taking a medication called Medroxprogesterone (also known as Medroxypr AC) because I had a male OB/GYN who decided that I had PCOS (Polycystic Ovaries) and shouldn’t be on normal birth control to regulate my menstrual cycles. Now, as most women can tell you, almost every woman has been told she has PCOS. The fact of the matter is, most doctors don’t bother to give a simple blood test to determine if the woman has it or not. Good news, my Endocrinologist tested me and I do not have PCOS (I have Diabetes and most diabetics should be seeing an Endo for medication and treatment). So, why is this medication I was on significant? Well, one of the side effects is loss of concentration-in other words, repeating oneself. I have found through editing my novel that I did repeat sentences. Maybe not directly, but would summarize or rewrite them, but not remember to delete the one I didn’t like. This meant I had a lot of repetition and no wonder no agent wanted to read it!

So, first I had to allow the medication to leave my system, which took a good four to five months. I could tell by this February it was practically gone because my concentration levels were so vastly improved I could watch a film and not be distracted (yes, it was that bad). This medication also causes a worsening of depression, so it’s not something any woman should be on, We all ready deal with fluctuating hormones as it is, why take something that will worsen it (and it’s a common side effect that it will worsen or cause immense depressive moods). It also causes weight gain, and who wants to deal with that?

So, the good news is I feel much better and my Endo has me on regular birth control, like I want to be on because some of us have never had regular cycles. Trust me, we really do take this for health reasons. And I’ve edited the novel (up to Chapter 17) and the word count now stands at 134,812. That’s 5,271 words gone and I think it’s making the novel stronger, more polished and definitely more streamlined. Will it ever be 100K? Probably not because I don’t think the tale I am telling would be able to be told in so many words. But perhaps I can get it under 134K, which is a far cry from where it was originally and perhaps agents may be willing to take a chance on it because it is less lengthy.

Now, why put it out there that I was having medication issues which ended up affecting my writing? Because side effects of medications are a real issue and can cause serious problems to those of us who are in the arts or academia. We often don’t take good care of ourselves because we are focused on caring for others, so it’s important to step back and realize that may be the medication the doctor prescribed is doing more harm than good and there are always other options to treat your health issue. And if one doctor is not listening to you, find one who does. I know I will have to go back to the OB/GYN eventually (I have been not wanting to confront him), but he should realize that my health, my input is more valid than his beliefs regarding my reproductive rights. I take birth control for health reasons. The medication he prescribed has so many side effects it should not be prescribed to women any more (in my opinion).

Always, always, always take care of yourself first.

Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have to go back and continue editing!

OMG I’m done, so what Genre did I just write; an ode to a panic attack

Now that I have finished writing, editing (five times, thank you very much), and formatting to not have academia long paragraphs (plus, punctuation corrections), I have now started my search for a literary agent. There are some who pitch ideas for books before writing, and I’ve seen loads of examples of how to write such letters in order to get an agent in that manner. However, I cannot work that way and decided to finish this first novel (1 of 6 mind you; I do have a plan to my madness) before embarking on attaching myself to any agent.

I did the most logical, sensible thing in the world-I created a Pinterest board of writing tips and guidelines which included links to how to find a literary agent(see gigantic board linked below). One such link recommended Query Tracker. This website is free (though for premium services, you can pay a fee-I have elected not to at this time). It has loads of agents listed who are actively seeking new writers in various genres. Thus is my dilemma. What genre is my novel? And I do realize that I will have to write a query letter (basically a brief summary for any potential agents) which will hopefully capture someone’s interest. But both the website and letter require me to choose a genre.

My novel is, for the most part, a variation of an Austen novel. And it’s hard for me to pinpoint what genre that good lady’s novels fit into. When I first read Sense & Sensibility at age 12, for instance, they were located in the young adult (YA) section. The same for Emma and Northanger Abbey. I’ve also seen people list Emma as being part of a comedic-romantic genre, and Northanger Abbey as a pseudo-Gothic Romance. On the other hand, I recall having to get my mother’s written permission for the librarian would allow me to check out Pride & Prejudice (again, at age 12 or 13) because it was in the Adult section and listed as a Historical Romance (hidden amongst the bodice rippers-oh my!). Mansfield Park was in the Adult Romance section (rated PG-13 for the incestuous relationship between Fanny and Edward) which leaves Persuasion (my personal favourite) being listed as straight Romance in the library.

I decided on just plain Literary Fiction because I’m not sure if I should choose Historical as while I did include actual historical fact (researched and fully vetted), it’s not the typical historical fiction. I’ve read historical fiction and this isn’t quite the same. It’s more witty, heartbreaking, and, well, to be honest, it’s more like Jane Austen. Except it’s not (and it is at the same time). I could have chosen Romance, for it is a love story, but usually people tend to think Romance nowadays includes sex and this does not contain sex, being true to the who I am as a writer. Plus I do hope to get some poems published in magazines and the like as well and do not want to be known as just a writer of romantic fiction. I do have ideas swarming inside this head for children’s tales as well. Though I am quite proud for having pointed out the Quadrille was NOT a stately, leisurely dance. It’s the little details that you can now point out in every Austen adaptation to your friends as being completely wrong. You’re welcome.

Proof:

Websites I have been finding useful:

http://www.writersdigest.com (so much information, I can spend hours on it)

querytracker.net (I do think the basic free version is sufficient at this time)

On Writing: Character Charts & Tearsheets

I have notebooks (one for each of the six novels I have planned to write in the Austen Style) with a list of characters and a few lines describing each. That is not much to go on once you begin the writing process. I have found that writing (yes, in the notebooks) a more detailed list of each character, then typing it out makes it not only accessible when I am writing, but also when I am then typing out the story and want to make sure that I am not screwing up a description of said character without having to rummage for the notebook. Yes, this is a lot of work and probably more than the average person will ever go into. For me, it is easier to physically write out notes and then type from them. Call it an affectation leftover from my days of writing a paper every week during graduate school. This doesn’t necessarily mean that my entire story is written out verbatim prior to typing it out. I would state that a majority of it is there, sometimes with little notes from me stating to add a line regarding the weather or other such nonsense. But when I began typing it out, I did some editing from the written page to the typewritten screen, Some things I did away with completely; others were expanded upon. I created an entire chapter I had not planned on, which forced me to do a quick handwritten outline before typing. And while I am sure all of this is interesting, the one thing I have found the most useful is the use of Character Charts and Tearsheets.

I found a decent Character Chart via Pintrest from the website daddilifedotcom. While most of it has been useful, it distinctly reminded me of character charts I had to do as a Costume Designer and as a Theatre Major. It’s amazing how much of what I had loved and learned has translated into the writing process. I would say that if you ever happen upon a copy of The Magic Garment (by Rebecca Cunningham) and turn to the chapter of understanding the play, you will see some of these same questions, or similar, from the Character Chart given as a way of understanding the characters one is designing for. Actors and Directors go through the same process as well, so this is not an unfamiliar concept for me. I will state this, there are other sources that state you should have at least 100-200 questions answered per character to truly understand them before writing. I find that a tad excessive, except my questions ranged around 70, so perhaps it’s not that excessive after all.

The true strength is, of course, is to cater the questions to the type of novel (or even short story) that you are writing. If you find a chart or list asking questions about modern technology, and you are setting your story in the Viking Era, please feel free to disregard those questions. Not unless you’re doing some weird science fiction tale, then proceed. There were questions from that Chart I found that I didn’t answer for every character. Some character really didn’t have a favorite type of music or food. And for those, I simply stated that they had no preference. If one had an aversion to a certain color, I also gave a reason why. Such as ‘Mr. X hated black as he found it too depressing and brought up memories of funerals’. Questions not on the chart, are things like smells or touch. What if you’re character suffers from a form of Anxiety of PTSD, certain smells or sounds can bring back unpleasant memories. I use touch as a sensory too because if, say, someone was physically abused, they may find causal touching unpleasant. So, think of the chart as a way to start analyzing your character from the ground up, and even psychologically. Though don’t go overboard with it. Not every single character needs to be this thought out. A servant or random background character who has a few lines can be described with a few lines of notes, which is what I did for an office of lawyers who are mentioned, but never seen.

Tearsheets are most likely a term no one has heard of outside of the Theatre or Film Industry. It’s definitely a Designer term, but one I feel has been extremely beneficial to me and I hope will be beneficial for others. In layman’s terms, a tearsheet is a word document with an assortment of images, phrases (or both) that helps you “see” your character in the flesh. It’s a very basic Costume Design way of doing an initial concept, but I found it very helpful to use in conjunction with the charts. For example, I have a historical image of a naval uniform from the 1800s along with an image of a man in modern dress on the same page. While I am writing a historical novel, the image of the modern man, I have made a notation of, is being used for his posture. Basically, the way he is standing, the air he is giving off, is what I “see” in my mind for this particular character. I have an image of someone else because of their hair colour. I have an image of a 3 mast Frigate (I believe it’s Old ironsides to be specific here). I have an image of a few men in period portraits for hair styles. It’s a visual way of me being able to “see” this character, but it also helps, in turn, on the chart when trying to describe his eye color. I can’t say they are one thing when I’ve clearly decided visually that they are another.

Now, does this mean I will do one for every character? Heavens no! I only have tearsheets for the main characters (I believe I only have 8 in total for this novel, though I have close to 15 or 16 charts). Some characters are in the novel so briefly that a chart is sufficient enough for me that I didn’t need any visualization in order to write them. Some, especially the ones who are in it almost all the time, I did need the visual along with the written. Bear in mind that this is how it worked on this particular novel. The next may require me to have tearsheets on almost everyone or only two or three. I really don’t know until I start the writing process as the other 5 are in pure Outline stage. Not every technique I have come across will work for me, but it may work for you. I tend to use what I am most familiar with, which are techniques I learned as an English Major and a Theatre Major. If you are more inclined to just write on a laptop or PC without anything handwritten, then by all means go forth and write!

Books that I have found useful as they have great insight on how to process characters and analyze them. They can be expensive, so please use your local library:

The Magic Garment (2nd Edition) by Rebecca Cunningham

Acting: A Handbook of the Stanislavki Method Introduction by Lee Strasberg and Compiled by Toby Cole

Acting in Shakespeare by Robert Cohen

Theatrical Design & Production (4th Edition) by J. Michael Gillette

Color: A Workshop for Artists & Deisngers (2nd Edition) by David Hornung

On Writing (& International English)

I was inspired by an interesting conversation on Twitter last week that was occurring on Brigid Kemmerer’s profile (@BrigidKemmerer). She is an author who specializes in Young Adult fiction and the conversation was about why people chose to become writers. Well, that is a most interesting question so simple answer is because we wish to create. For me (and I have since found out that this is true for many authors out there), I wish to write a book that I know I would enjoy. Which sounds a bit selfish or egotistical, but I believe it is more the need to create a story that I wish existed already. I don’t recall everything that was said, but I do know I had tweeted something along those lines (the need to create and share). But I feel some background as to why I am choosing to write and become an author now deserves to be told.

I have always been an avid reader. My first true enjoyment of reading was at the age of 7 and it was The Hobbit. I firmly blame Tolkien for my love of language and words, plus I am sure that most people fall in love with words in a similar fashion. At the age of 8, I moved onto Shakespeare and Homer’s Odyssey. Yes, this was at age 8 and I am fully aware of how unusual that must be and how hard it is to believe. I didn’t read Shakespeare’s plays at that age, I did stick to the Sonnets (which is a bit easier, I think, to start off with). But I was a very weird child with more adult tastes in literature. I recall that at school, the school was adamant that I be tested for ADHD (and to have an IQ test done) because when it came to any English or Spelling lesson, I was most likely doodling in my notebook and not paying attention. And yet I was scoring 100% every time, so the school was very perplexed. My IQ at that time was rated to be 132, which is high for a child of 8. So it seems that I didn’t have ADHD, but was just extremely bored. So I was moved into classes with much older students and was fairly content. However, they had to retest my IQ two years later because while I was advanced in terms of literature and English comprehension, I couldn’t do the advanced Math classes they had placed me in. The school, at that time, had a weird policy that if a child was gifted in one area, then they must be gifted in others. It’s difficult for a child of 10 to do middle school math when they haven’t been taught multiplication. My IQ, however, had jumped to 136 and I am ashamed to say that I haven’t been tested since, though I should at some point do it just because I am curious as to what it may be at this point given all my education and knowledge. Unlike some politicians, I don’t relish stating what my IQ was because I know it can make people feel like I am boasting, which is not my intention with sharing it. Only to be aware, perhaps, that sometimes children acting out in school classrooms isn’t always a behavior issue. Maybe, just maybe, that child is simply bored because they aren’t being challenged.

As to writing, I guess it should come as no surprise that I have always been writing in some fashion. Poetry is something I wrote in the past and still write. I recall writing very simple poems when I was about 10, but I don’t think any juvenile poetry of mine is in existence anymore as paper degrades and most likely has been recycled. I have a poem from High School still, which is something, as I know I wrote it when I was about 16. So I do have one piece of juvenile writing. But most of my poems are from 1999 onwards. And the muse comes in waves, I’m afraid. I can write 12 poems in a single day and then go for months without anything.To be fair, when I am severely depressed, poetry doesn’t come to me, so periods of nothing are usually periods of depression. Though I also didn’t when I was in graduate school simply because I was depressed, but also I was too busy trying to survive graduate school. Sometimes writing has to take a back seat to life. As to the number of poems, they are well over 200. I currently have close to 30 saved as notes on my phone (which I really should type out) and over 200 in one small journal. I have another journal with additional poems as well. One day, I hope to publish some of them in a book. For now, I will endeavor to submit them to journals and other such media to get them published.

However, writing a novel, let alone 6, is a feat I have never undertaken before. A short story is not hard for me to accomplish (and I have one that I wrote for my undergraduate that’s basically a retold fairy tale), but a novel is another kettle of fish. The 6 I am currently working on are set in the Regency Era, but the emphasis will be on historical accuracy, with wit and humor. Sort of a peek behind the rose tinted glasses we wear when we think of Regency novels. Of course, my inspiration is Jane Austen, whom I was introduced to by a local librarian when I was 12 and thus started my journey into researching the 19th Century. To be fair, I didn’t start actual research until I was closer to 16, which means I have been researching the 19th Century off and on for over 20 years. At least 10 of those while I was at university (both undergrad and grad) in any spare time I had. This, of course, means that I am a very boring sort of person who’d rather curl up with a good book and a nice cuppa than going out to the local club. Even though I have been known to go out, it has never been a must for me (although I do enjoy dancing and being with people-I’m not a complete dullard).

This, of course, brings us to what I like to call “International English” or, to put it simply, I tend to write in a blended style of American and U.K. English. Of course, this drove some of my professors mad and some never noticed (which is even more shocking).  One can, of course, blame my love of classical British literature like Austen or Shakespeare on this peculiarity of mine, but that would be unfair. I simply think colour should be spelled properly and accept that I also use a zed in certain words like “realize”. Which, I think may drive my future and yet unknown agent up the proverbial wall. Especially the editor as well. Unless, of course, I can convince them that “International English” needs to be recognized as a valid form of English. The way I write, though, lends itself to this blending, I feel, because it is how I think. I do think in more formal language when I am writing and also when I am tweeting. I really cannot help it. I’ve been told it’s presumptuous of me to be using such vernacular, but this is how the inside of my mind works. I do try to not be so formal, though it does poke out when I am feeling provoked or wish to make a witticism. Colloquial language that we use everyday has lost some of it’s spark, it’s romance and perhaps that is what I am rebelling against. Plus, using such formal language does tend to make comebacks sound oh so lovely. A minor point, but a valid one nonetheless.

As to how I write, well first I had to research. And by research, I mean I have 3 notebooks filled with information I felt I may need just spanning the years 1790-1830. Most of the information is centered on the U.K., though I did include some historical information on America. Mainly for myself (as I do love American History during the 19th Century) but just in case it should ever pop up in one of the novels. I’d rather have too much research than not enough. This does not include an almost filled additional notebook filled with writing tips, websites, and how to edit/write dialogue. Personally, I found it more useful to look at how playwrights construct dialogue than writers. That could be because of my background in Theatre but also as plays do tend to be more realistic in terms of dialogue than most novels and I do so want the dialogue to seem more realistic. Each novel has at least 2 notebooks as well-one contains the actual story that I’ve written (or outlined in 4 of these novels) and another that gives a list of the characters, short snippets of information under their name, places (i.e. settings), and sometimes a little information on money as it relates to the characters. Then I have a list of questions for each character (sort of an in-depth biography) into who they are. Some questions are basic, such as their age, hair colour, nicknames. Other’s ask questions as to their favourite food, health, and even any regrets they may have. All of which is never seen in the novel, but it helps me get into their heads. It helps me see them, speak to them and for them. Which sounds a bit maddening at times-and I assure you, it is. They all have their little quirks and even though I may not like some of them, I do enjoy writing them.

The hard part, to be honest, has been now typing out the one novel from the notebook writings. Hard because I sometimes shorten and abbreviate words when I am writing and have to remind myself to type out the entire word. But also hard as some things just change as I am typing them out. Sometimes what worked on paper no longer works on the screen so I just change it, or add to it. In a way, writing it out then being forced to type it out has been a way to do a first semi-edit in a way. I know there are some areas that I am not pleased with, but instead of focusing on them and getting worked up, I type out what I have and continue on. Anything that I am not happy with, I know I can deal with once everything has been typed up and then printed out so I can really edit it properly (red pens at the ready!). I try not to focus on word counts at this point (just an FYI, most novels are over 40K words and average around 70K) as I know it will be long enough. My one concern is, of course, that I tend to write in this blended style. Should I keep it that way and offer an explanation as to why I write like that to a potential agent? Or should I chose American or U.K. English and reformat? Personally, I’d rather keep the blended style as then it would be appropriate to be published in the U.K. and the U.S. without having to change all the words. It’s a practical form of English. One that I have invented, it seems, as I can find no evidence of this blended style in existence elsewhere. But those are musings for another day.

The Folly of Letter Writing & A Few Poems

As someone who loves Austen, one knows that all correspondence during this period was done by letter writing (unless done by visiting in person). Now in the electronic age that we reside in, letter writing seems a very quaint and old fashioned way of communication. One that I still feel deserves some revival and some credit in a way. After all, does not one’s pulse quicken when Elizabeth Bennett reads Darcy’s letter that day at Rosing Park? Or feel one’s heart break when Marianne Dashwood writes letter upon letter to John Willoughby and receives nary a reply? I confess that when I am feeling low, I turn to Captain Frederick Wentworth’s letter of his love to Anne Elliot in Persuasion. That, I have always felt, to be the epitome of romantic confession at it’s finest in Austen’s writings. And I confess that I, in turn, have used letter writing myself, much to great disappointment and heartbreak.

In today’s age of the dating scene, many meet on-line or in clubs or bars. Dining out seems to be the norm for any social interaction these days and quite frankly, I must confess that I’m not that kind of woman. I’m afraid that while most of my sex are fine with the social conventions of the day, I’d rather be much happier with a man who’d be willing to take me to a museum. I know it seems rather odd and a bit strange, but when you think really hard about it, it doesn’t seem very strange at all. To me, the modern social dating scene is very much like the Theatre-a lot of dressing up, a lot of acting and hidden meaning. I don’t want to go out to put on a mask and be surrounded by players in the pseudo fancy dress party we call the social scene (yes, yes, I am well aware of Shakespeare’s “All the World’s a Stage” quote). To me, how can this lead to any meaningful relationship (and I have given this much thought since I’ve done nothing but think about this over the years). While I enjoy dressing up and acting a part on the stage, I don’t wish to play a part all the time and I do feel that our modern society demands that we constantly portray a version of ourselves that is false and not our true selves. Perhaps we do this for protection. Perhaps because Society, in general, has become so superficial and jaded that we can no longer recognize truth and only appreciate falseness.

To counter this false reality, I want to be not only honest with myself, but also honest with any man that I am interested in. Yes, I am sure that I would enjoy going out to a fancy restaurant and dressing up. I’m not too unusual in that regard that I would not enjoy some sort of romantic dining experience. But I don’t think that should be the only basis of a relationship. Nor should bar hopping or clubbing (neither of which I find particularly interesting). Yes, I would rather go to a museum or for a stroll in a park or even fishing (yes, some girls do fish).  I am also too set in my ways (and too old at this point) to demand attention all the time. I enjoy having time to myself and would think that any man I chose to be with would also appreciate alone time as well.

As to how this ties in to letter writing, I have written two such letters in my life that expressed very personal and deep emotions to two very different men.  One I did seeking answers (and also closure) which I never received and probably never will. Did this person hurt me? Yes, absolutely and he did so either intentionally or unintentionally (perhaps a mixture of both). But I have long since forgiven him and have never demanded an answer or explanation from him. Life is too short and too precious to waste time on someone who clearly didn’t care enough to even say he was sorry. The second I wrote very recently to someone I very much care for basically telling him that I do like him but I, being the nerdy person that I am, would much rather go to something like a museum than a fancy restaurant. I should also mention that said letter was four typed pages long and I tried very hard to be extremely witty but feel that I failed at it. For by my reckoning, this man has had said letter for over 24 hrs and is either shocked and still digesting said letter or will now hate the very sight of me. I am well aware of my shortcomings in the looks department, but considering that I am very kind and very smart, I am hoping that he would at least be kind enough to see that an outing to a museum is pretty tame in comparison to what he normally does.

So was this a smart move on my behalf? I am not sure. It was pure folly to be sure, but born out of frustration as well. This man in question would be upset at any other single gentleman paying any sort of attention to me. And it boils down to if he doesn’t wish other men paying call to me, then there’s clearly only one logical solution-become the suitor. If you do not wish me to have other suitors, then you must woo me. Considering that I do not want fancy dinners nor late nights out drinking, and would be more content with a trip to a bookstore or renting a film, I’d say I was fairly easy going sort of woman. Not that a fancy dinner or two wouldn’t be warranted-I’d like some modern taste of romance thank you very much. But if I had to chose between spending time in a boat on a lake fishing or going to a club, I’d chose the boat each and every time. Even though this would mean I’d be wearing very casual clothing, no jewelry, no makeup (except sunscreen), and most likely be wearing a hat with my hair in a ponytail. Basically, dressed for practicality, not to be cute or sexy.

Now, I did give this man my blog address and I do hope that he reads this post, if only to understand me a little bit more. But to also see that this is who I am-I am a writer. Now, I’ve been busy working of late which has prevented much writing, but I plan on doing some writing to make up for that. Both on this blog and on my novel. But that doesn’t mean that I don’t wish to spend some time with him because I really do. I really fancy him even though he drives me insane, is unlike anyone I’ve ever met, makes me laugh, and tells me that I am beautiful. That in itself is very seductive to any female.

The Poems:

What do you want of me?

I am more than a friend but less than a lover.

I have no clue why you compliment my eyes to others

Yet tease me so mercilessly. I do not know what you want of me.

You talk to me, confide in me.

Yet I have no loving sighs, no sweet kisses to sustain me.

You have the general nickname for all the girls

And yet a few special ones for me.

But you have nicknames for others as well. I wish you’d tell me

What  you want of me.

I grow frustratedly bothered at inconvenient times.

You stare-and I stare back. A game of who looks away first.

Sometimes it’s me and at others you.

Again, what do you want of me?

 

 

I slept ill, legs constantly moving

Refusing to remain still while cruel images

Filtered through my mind’s playback.

Comparisons made-cruel things those.

I can never compare to others.

They are far more lovely, more thin than I.

Yes, my clothes are loose fitting, yet always neat and tidy.

Still, you made allusions to a preference-a more skin tight appearance.

How cruel you are lately!

So very cruel and mean! No longer kind and caring.

Gone is the man I feel for.

Where is the sweet love that worried about my wellbeing?

Now there is a vain, pompous man in his place

That cares more about his looks and how he is seen than how

He treats others. His jests have gone from airy lightness to sharp pains.

I need to fall out of love

It must be so. Your actions have made is easier

For you treat me so badly with your cruel teasing that

My heart is breaking.

My soul is wounded and cut very deeply.

I am bleeding rivulets of tears.