Sunday, December 25, 2011

Happy Christmas!


Old Christmas comes but once a year,
Of that there is no question;
But when he comes we all feel queer,
Hurrah for indigestion!

Dyspepsia follows in his train,
The Stomach-ache attends him;
And every sort of inward pain
A gay enjoyment lends him.

As honest country-people say,
In all their sickly hobbles,
We’re “wrong inside”—alas, the day!
“We’ve got the colly-wobbles.”

Though we are poor, roast goose is rich;
So, gladly let us greet it:
Plum pudding is a dainty which
Upsets us; so we’ll eat it.

A Christian people prove they’re such
Not by their lives amended;
But just by eating twice as much
As Nature had intended.

Avaunt ye doctors, silly elves!
In vain your righteous passion,
We mean to over-eat ourselves
In good old English fashion.

Black draught and pills of awful blue,
By-and-bye from you we’ll borrow,
To-day we’ll be to Christmas true,
You’d better call tomorrow.

**As appeared 23 December 1885 in the Judy, or the London Serio-Comic Journal

I found this on a blog I visit, The Quack Doctor.

Sunday, December 18, 2011

Reading & Research

A writer is not worth their salt if they are not a reader as well. I have met many writers who can not give me a name of an author they like and some even have long explanations as to why they don't read. I have heard it all. One amateur told me they don't read and nor do they derive inspiration from music or art work. They told me they just let it flow and after she told me this I realized that was most likely the reason why her vocabulary was so limited and her writing elementary.

A writer can not get better at their craft if they do not study the masters.

A historical writer can not create an accurate historical world without research. For the overall amount of time I spend on my book, average about 15 to 20 hours a week, half is spent writing or editing. The other half is spent reading either fiction, mainly historical mysteries at the moment, or non-fiction books like the one I just got at the library and just can't put down.

Poison, An Illustrated History by Joel Levy.

This book is very heavy on science and terminology, which is not normally what I go for but the subject matter is so intriguing and I am reading it with my notebook at the ready to jot down facts as I read them or even plot lines that occur off the cuff as well.

These kinds of books, historical non-fiction, have fulfilled a need within me to find out as much as I can and also provides a three dimensional aspect to my books. I doubt I will ever stop devouring historical non-fictions because I will never learn it all. I will forever be a student of the past.

Monday, December 12, 2011

Falling In Love with a Fictional Character

I realized this weekend that I am absolutely in love with PETER AINSLEY and he's not even real. I made him up. Everything about him, his hair, his eyes, his arrogance and propensity to drink are all figments of my imagination and yet he seems as real to me as anyone else. I think about him all the time. What he is doing and where the story will take him next. I worry about his family and career and whether or not I am putting too much on his shoulders.

Because I feel such a connection to him I have decided to write another book about him. The editing phase of book one has begun and I am two chapters into my next book. I am also working on a submission for a mystery anthology and decided to use PETER AINSLEY as my main character in that as well.

Is this like putting the cart before the horse?

There is no guarantee that anyone will be interested in book one, so what makes me so sure there will be a need for book two?

Absolutely nothing. I am writing on blind faith at this moment hoping it all comes together. I really love the act of writing. Editing and marketing are okay but I do all that so I can write.

I am hoping I can approach literary agents soon with queries but should that not pan out, I have decided to self-epublish. And I really hope readers like Peter as much as I do.

Friday, November 25, 2011

Almost Done!

Can you believe it? I am almost done my first draft of my mystery novel. I am in the midst of writing the final showdown scene between my protagonist, PETER AINSLEY, and the murderer he never suspected. It is all suppose to come to ahead in that one final, satisfying scene but I have a problem; there are so many ways I could approach this, it's hard to choose just one.

I want this to be big, and like I said before, satisfying. There is nothing worse than an author who can't deliver a good ending after a strong build up of tension. At least for mystery writers.

My ending word count should be around 85,000, and it's taken my 14 months to get to this point. I could have really focused and got this puppy finished months ago but I'm an artist and we never get things done on time.

It doesn't matter. I am in the home stretch. Man, what a party I will have when I can type in the words; the end.

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Seascape Writer's Retreat

I went on a writer's retreat in New England a few weekends ago, I tacked on a week at a seaside cottage in the area to make it worth my drive. In retrospect this was probably not a good idea. I felt so pumped at the end of my "weekend with writers" that all I really wanted to do was hide away in a room and finish my book. Sunbathing on an Atlantic beach was the farthest thing from my mind. I wanted to write damn it and here these kids were begging for my attention. You`d think I had been away for three days or something.

So now I am home and fully removed from the critique groups and the information sessions. Over my vacation though I was able to think about what my fellow writers said about my work in progress. I would say 80 per cent was helpful and even encouraging, the other 20 per cent just served to confuse the crap out of me. No guff. And now I am stressing. Stressing about whether my preference to keep something is, in effect, literary suicide. Stressing about my voice, style and use of language and wondering if I truly am `wordy` or if I am remaining true to my historical genre, and my formulaic style.

I was the only person writing a historical and it was a challenge to convey that, yes, I have done my research and yes, I am not just `making this stuff up` because it makes for a good backdrop.

I feel great about my character though, Peter Ainsley, and my ability to spin a tale. The style in which I tell it, well now, isn`t that the subjective part? Isn`t that all up for creative interpretation?...oh great, now look at me, I am one of those whiny, defensive attendees who is just digging my heels in and claiming it to be art, an expression of me and my pysche. Good Lord, I am in trouble.

Changes I will make, but only after I finish. Nothing negative was said about my story and did get many encouraging words in this regard, so I believe in the whole I am on the right track plot-wise. I simply can not go back now, not when there is only 30,000 more words to write. I am so close I can taste it. Substituting words here and there, rewriting the odd sentence or two will only serve to derail my forward progress. I have however, formulated an opinion about these types of shindigs, these critique groups and gatherings of authors but that is a post/rant for another day.

Thursday, September 1, 2011

New Look

I finally got glasses. It was coming for a long time and I am amazed at how clearer everything is. I never knew what I was missing.

So, do I look like a writer now?

Friday, August 12, 2011

Rejection & Progress

I recieved another rejection letter this week for a short (15,000 word) romance I wrote two summers ago. This is the one I recieved such good praise for from Harlequin except for the absence of erotica. I dusted it off a month or so ago and submitted with a small romance e-press. This time I simply got a form rejection. And now I recall what these feel like.

I can not say how many hours I have invested in this short piece but it seems that now it is destined for the archived folded on my hard drive. Perhaps it's just not good enough to be worth much of anything other than an exercise in writing.

All I can do is move forward, resolve to write better and keep submitting.
Of course this rejection came at a crucial time in my current manuscript. I spent the majority of my writing time this week rearranging scenes and smoothing out the transitions so they make sense. I was nearly frozen at the beginning of the week not knowing how to move forward. There was something wrong with the last few scenes I wrote and my temporary solution was to avoid it because it was difficult.

I finally sat down Tuesday evening and hacked away. Coming up for air on the other side of what was a very tedious and nail biting process, I saw that I did what I had to do in order to keep the story in line and moving forward. I am happy with it now and hoping I can make quick work of the last third of the novel.

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

BOOK: Stiff, the Curious Lives of Human Cadavers

I recently finished reading, Stiff: the Curious Lives of Human Cadavers by Mary Roach. What could have been dry reading filled with the whens, wheres and whys of human cadavers, is actually a very well written, witty account into what happens to us after we die.

Bodies donated to science are used for medical training, scientific study, crash test dummies, and more. Through the donation of others we as a society have learned a tremendous amount about how the body decomposes under various circumstances as well as how to cure the maladies of the living.

"The human head is of the same approximate size and weight as a roaster chicken. I have never before had occasion to make the comparison, for never before today have I seen a head in a roasting pan. but here are forty of them, one per pan, resting face up on what looks to be a small pet-food bowl. The heads are for plastic surgeons, two per head, to practice on."
Chapter One, Stiff

Roach offers some historical facts, which I am much obliged, and offers a respectful though humourous account of her escapades while researching this book. I zipped through it chuckling all the way and gleaning tonnes from the knowledge splashed within. No doubt this is one I will read again.

Monday, August 1, 2011

The Best Rejection Ever

My work in progress, or wip, is my fourth attempt at a novel. I have been writing for a little over ten years while trying to craft that one manuscript that will have agents thrusting contracts at me. I have learned a lot along the way. I attribute most of the flops to genre confusion. Nothing sparked me. Everything seemed formulaic and contrived. I was striving to be published more than I was striving to create an excellent work of fiction. My fire was not lit and it showed.

Rejection letter after rejection letter came my way and it got so bad I almost quit. I was ready to throw in the towel and say "to hell with it". Life is too short to write mediocre manuscriots and rejection requests. I quit writing. I think I lasted a month, which is a long time for me. I tried to convince myself I was better off and that I was not meant to write. It worked for a while until one straggler rejection came to my mail box. I think I even forgot I had submitted something.

This rejection letter was the best rejection letter I have ever recieved. It praised my writing, complimented my style. The personalized rejection pointed to good parts of my story and gave me real feedback to make it better. Their biggest complaint was that I was a prude... she didn't actually say I'm a prude but she told me there was not enough sex for their publishing house. I remember reading that and thinking, "huh? Not sexy enough, really?" Since then I have embraced my prudish self (well not really) and have contemplated framing that rejection. The kind words and gentle praise was enough to get me started again.

After that I wrote half of another manuscript before abandoning it and starting my current project. When I find myself in a lull I pull out that rejection and smile. I may be a prude but somebody thinks I am a good writer.

Friday, July 8, 2011

When Your Story Sags, Kill Someone

This is so true. Lately, I have been experiencing what I lovingly call "a writer's funk". Nothing is sounding right. Everything that I write seems hopelessly lacking and it's these times when I think, should I bother being a writer at all?

Sometimes I feel this way when I read something amazing and subsequently convince myself that my books will never be of the same caliber. Sometimes this funk is a result of comments from others that come way out of left field making me feel like I have been delusional all this time believing I was on to something good. And sometimes it's because I am stuck. My plot sags, my vocabulary reservoir has dried up and I am at a loss of what to do.

What can you do? Kill someone off. Nothing revives a plot, a sense of danger and intrigue like the piling up of bodies. Now mind you, it must make sense, and there is usually some ground work that must be done to set up the death but as a technique to get the creative juices flowing, it really does work.

I am currently in 'the meddlesome middle'. I'm 40,000 words in and know exactly where my end is, but how do I get there and not loose readers to boredom? I started to think about my cast of characters and which one is least important this far in to the story? Who is the next on the bottom tier? Eventually I found the perfect character to kill off, and one readers would not be expecting. An excellent twist with perfect timing, just when my protagonist feels he has a handle on the situation.

Not only has this dramatic change revived my plot but it's also revived my writing. I have written over 4,000 words in the last 24 hours (intermittently) and I now feel my plot is on track to keep readers turning the page. An excellent solution if I do say so myself. Good show, Watson, good show!

Sunday, July 3, 2011

Negative Feedback

Rejection is inevitable. Writing is an art and as such certain styles don't appeal to everyone. I may not be a fan of modern art but I enjoy impressionism. Same with writing. Not everyone is going to like everything and rejection, or negative feedback, can be hard to take.

I am involved with an online critique group. Five mystery writers who all write in different sub genres. I'm working on a historical mystery set in Victorian times. One person is writing a modern day espionage thriller, another one is writing a cozy mystery, another still in writing about a campy heroine who is always getting herself in to sticky situations.

We all have our different time periods, style and preferences. A debate raged and battle lines were drawn recently over the use of contractions. I prefer to stay away from contractions in my descriptions. Thoughts and dialogue notwithstanding, I feel contractions in historical novels take away that feeling of the past. I am not saying they can not be used, contractions have been part of the English language for centuries. I simply choose to use them sparingly and only in dialogue if it suits the character. This personal style decision does not sit well with some of my critique partners who have said my novel does not flow because I have omitted them. Again, it's all about choice.

I receive comments about my choice of words, my sentence structure and the like. I use terms and phrases that are more often found in Jane Austen, Charles Dickens and Lucy Maud Montgomery but are not found amongst modern literature. Is this wrong or a matter of style choice?

My use of repetition to create literary emphasis has been put under scrutiny as well. Again, is this a matter of style or a matter of right and wrong?

Critique groups can be good to point out obvious flaws and holes in the story. But when it comes to personal style I think too many writers try to impress their own style onto the people they are critiquing.

It's been hard for me not to take the negative feedback to heart. I have to remind myself that everyone has an opinion and if I ask for feedback I can not control the type of feedback I receive. I have to take the good with the bad and learn what I can from it. Above all I must keep writing because that is the only way I will be able to get to where I want to be. Published.

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Fiction: She Told Me She Loved Me

By Tracy Ward

She told me she loved me. Leaning in to me, crinoline to crinoline, Violetta stroked the small of my back flashing that mischievous smile. I suppose she wished me to say that I loved her and perhaps I did though I'd never admit as much. Her lips were so close to mine as we huddled amidst the throng of people gathered in Mr. Taylor's dance hall. The music played ferociously while I scanned the room for a suitable dance partner. When she leaned in I expected her to tell me some devilish tidbit about someone else close by. The way her eyes widened at the sight of me I thought for sure she had been itching to let me in on a scandalous secret.

We were close friends, her and I. Though we had just become acquainted, we'd spent much of the previous weeks together strolling the park and giggling like unmarried women do when there is nothing else to fill their days. She knew I had my cap set on Mr. Tydesdale and so why she wished to complicate matters thus was beyond comprehension.

“Do you think he'll come?” I asked, pushing her recent confession from my mind.

Her smile slipped away somewhat and she hesitated. I pressed on, not willing to show my distaste for her, at least not in a public house.

She avoided me for a few days following that incident. I can not say I was upset. It was better that she stayed away. Mr. Tydsdale had called at the house once and, as it was, I was free to accept his invite for a stroll. Four days after the dance, she sent me flowers. Red Tulips they were, arranged in a glass vase. There was a card with nothing but a V scrolled on it in what was clearly created by a feminine hand. I hid the card from Mother and pretended they came from Mr. Tydsdale, hoping their existence would never come up in a conversation with him present.

I wanted, with all my heart, to shred those blossoms to pieces and shove them down the privy but Mother watched me, waiting for me to dote upon them exclaiming how lovely they were. They lived for six days in their prominent spot on the mantle, a constant reminder that another woman was pining for me.

I accepted a invitation to Maybelle's house for a garden party. Maybelle and I are not good friends, though she has a lovely garden and some delicious brothers. Imagine my shock when I found Violetta there, looking like the cat who eat a canary. I tried to avoid her but couldn't. She watched me, rather openly I might add, as the afternoon progressed. Finally I resolved to speak to her.

With lemonade in hand, I cornered her in the farthest section of the yard near the potting shed. Making sure we were not seen, I dropped my placid smile. She reached for my hand but I slapped hers away, nearly spilling the lemonade in my other hand. “Stop it!” I yelled. “You can not continue doing this.”

“I can't help it,” she said, with a girlish laugh. “You are all I can think about—”
“No, you can not. I forbid it!”

She bit her lower lip then, and sent her gaze to the ground between us. I thought she would cry then, the reality of what I had said hitting her like a runaway horse and carriage. She didn't though. I saw her let out a breath and raise her eyes to meet mine. “You love me too,” she said, “I know you do.”

She kissed me then. As her lips pressed into mine, I dropped the crystal glass holding my lemonade and tried to push her away. I touched her shoulders with my gloved hands to push her from me, but found her too intent and demanding. Her tongue teased mine and I relented for the briefest of moments. I did not want her kiss, you understand, nor did I encourage it. She held me close and wrapped her arms around me just like a man would.

When she finally pulled away, that devilish smile shining brightly, I slapped her. My gloved hand did little to send the point home and when I tried to slap her with my other hand she grabbed it and we struggled. She was at an advantage and I found myself falling backwards into the bushes. She fell on top of me then and in between my kicks and attempts at pushing her away, I saw that amazingly decadent smile.
It all happened so fast. We were kissing and touching each other all over, enjoying that moment when nothing else mattered. She said she loved me again, whispering it in my ear as we fooled around.

“I love you too,” I answered softly, brushing the tendrils of hair from her face. For however long we were there, hidden amongst the bushes, Maybelle's garden party taking place all around us, we were together, in love and not caring.

After a length, my senses returned. My giddy smile faded and I sat up. I was adjusting my hat, repositioning it's pin when Violetta reached out to me, tracing the form of my waist and hips with her pointed finger. “What's the matter?” she asked, a drunk laugh accenting her lust.

“Do not touch me!” I commanded. I pulled myself up, aware that my white dress looked a wreck. She was the devil I decided. That day, I knew, she would never let me go with another. Shakily, I made my way back to the party, plastering a forced smile to my face as I mingled, all the while wishing for the end to the wretched day. I had been seduced, I decided. Seduced and wooed by the devil intent on securing my soul.

Shortly after I invited her for tea. While we engaged in small talk, I expected her to tell me her tea tasted bitter but she didn't. She accepted two cupfuls from me, never suspecting a thing. I had never done anything like that before and I wasn't sure what to expect. We parted merrily. She kissed my cheek in the standard fashion before wiggling her fingers in goodbye. As she walked down the steps toward the street I almost regretted doing what I did. It was too late then.

Mother told me the next morning at breakfast that Violetta was dead.
“Positively dreadful,” she said, “She fell ill so suddenly. How did she seem when she was here yesterday?”

I shrugged. “Right as rain.”

I knew I had done the right thing. She would have ruined everything. She was going to ruin us all.

So you see, Detective, I simply had no choice because I am suppose to marry Mr. Tydsdale.

Please note this is a work of fiction and in no way does it depict my opinions or feelings regarding same sex relationships or people who partake in them. This is more of a commentary on how society can box us into expected roles

Sunday, June 26, 2011

Honey, should I be worried?

I know a little too much about arsenic. I have conducted extensive research into early autopsy techniques and even found myself drooling over a 100 year old embalming kit the other day (I'm still thinking about it).

When I decided my protagonist was going to be a Victorian surgeon, I knew there would be many times when I would need to describe dead bodies, bloody scenes, internal organs and, of course, the myriad of ways Victorians "off'd" each other. To be honest, nothing thrills me more. The writing part is only half the fun. I find just as much enjoyment out of reading everything I can about the Victorian era, especially when it comes to medicine, crime and the seedy underbelly that was once a major part of London life.

Lately I have been living, breathing and dreaming this stuff so it surprises me when other writers I know tell me "I hope you are doing you research because there are readers out there who will rip you to shreds." I really want to be indignant towards them. Of course I am researching this crap! What heck do you think I am doing? Pulling it out of my ass while hoping no one notices?

I can't blame them though. I don't really give off a (Jack the) Ripper-ologist vibe. I'm the mild mannered former reporter pecking at my keyboard. I don't talk about my work with... well anyone really. The few times when I ventured to read my work at a writer's meeting left me with sideways glances and perhaps a few less points on the 'respectability scale*'.

Thankfully no one bothers me too much and I am pretty much left to my own imaginary world of depravity and murder. Every once in a while though I can see the look on my husband's face when he finds my notebook open to a page of scribbles outlining methods of arsenic poisoning and how someone might avoid its detection. I am waiting for the day when he places a gentle hand on my arm and asks, "Honey, should I be worried?"

* I made that up. I'm a novelist, what do you expect?

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Behind the Photos

The photos featured on my blog were the results of a trip we took in 2008 to the colonial town of Salem, Massachusetts. Five days in October introduced us to the world where the devil seemed to roam everywhere and everyone was pointing fingers at those around them. It is a scary time in history both here in North America and in Europe where women and men were routinely burned or hanged for suspicions of witch craft.

Salem is known around the world for the part it played in the witch hunt hysteria. Travelers from all over come to part take in the mock trials while costumed actors assume the roles of historical figures. The small town plays host to innumerable people visiting the witch museums and attending annual parties commemorating the hellish deeds once perpetrated there. It has become a carnival atmosphere in some ways, especially around Halloween, when society is more inclined to speak of witches and warlocks.

During our visit, we toured The House of Seven Gables where Nathaniel Hawthorne set his most famed literary work. We were led around the house by a theatrically trained interpreter who lent a stellar dramatic flare to the place and really gave us a feel for the home and its previous inhabitants. Hawthorne despised his heritage and familial connection to Salem's sordid past and changed the spelling of his surname to give greater distance between him and his grandfather John Hathorne, who was magistrate and interrogator during the Witch Trials.

In the heart of Salem is an colonial cemetery (pictured above), bearing the names of people from the past. I spent quite a bit of time there snapping pictures and getting a feel for the place. Nathaniel Hawthorne was known to frequent the graveyard when he wanted time to think. His love interest, and later wife, Sophia Peabody lived with her family nearby so some speculate that they enjoyed secret trysts there.

Salem and much of New England has a spectacular connection to the old world, unlike any other place in America. The connections I felt to the people who once lived there and the early buildings constructed there was amazing. I believe spirits still roam, enveloping places with their energy, good or bad, leaving it tainted forever more. Salem is one of these places, marred by the hysterical energy that was once the Salem Witch Trials.

Our modern day fascination with the witch hunts of old stem from fears within ourselves. Would we have been one of the accused, tormented for being different and targeted for our land? Or would we have been an accuser, saving ourselves from suspicion by pointing the fingers at others? There is a third option too, the ones powerless to do anything but watched as accusations flew, terrified that they would be next. I have often asked myself, what would I have done?

Thank goodness I will never know.

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Write? You mean I have to actually write something?

I have a bright shiny blog to promote my exploits as an aspiring writer. Okay now what?

I'm not really that daft (slightly so, but certainly not THAT daft). My plan is to post excerpts, book reviews and interesting writing or reading things I find. I will write a bit about how I feel about the projects I am working on and what is getting done, or not, depending.

I use to write literary fiction but found the genre far too subjective, elitist and, to be blunt, a bit boring. I shifted into romance, not because I actually read romances, you see. I had learned it is a very lucrative portion of the publishing industry. I was under the distinct impression that one could follow a simple formula to finish a 50,000 word manuscript and follow the corset-strewn yellow brick road to publishing. Not exactly. My stories were far too complex compared to the standard guy meets girl prototype. They involved too many characters and did not have enough sex. Well then...I'll just take my prudish-self elsewhere.

I only recently started to delve into the mystery world when I realized it was a genre that could keep my interest and feed my soul.

By this time I had written one partial literary fiction novel, two complete romance novels and a partial modern mystery that just was not coming together. In addition, I also had 60 rejection letters addressed to yours truly. What's a girl to do? I ditched them all, started from scratch and came up with Peter Ainsley, a Victorian surgeon who specializes in the dead and dying.


This is more like it. Corpses, body parts, murderers and mystery.