Eight Months at a Dry Well

Last night I wrote for the first time since September 2012. That’s eight months of no writing. I was afraid I was going to hit a year. What writing I did back in September felt like pulling teeth, and I gave up until the feeling to write would come back.

I had no idea it would take eight months. Eight months of worrying why I wasn’t writing. Eight months of reading writer’s block buster articles. Eight months of reading research books about the location I thought I wanted to write about. Eight months of voicing frustrations to The Boy that I had lost my muse. Eight months of slight depression.

I tried to continue blogging, thinking writing non-fiction was better than not writing at all. But as you can tell by my pathetic archive, that only lasted a couple more months.

Writing againLast night I took the advice of a commenter and watched Shakespeare in Love for the first time. I was watching The Boy’s dogs while he met with his dance partner, having just gorged myself on homemade Chinese hot pot. The movie ended. I stared at my writing journal on my abandoned desk, which I had moved to my living room in the desperate attempt to remind myself to write.

That bright green cover with the bright blue ribbon filled with lined, unwritten pages no longer seemed so scary. I grabbed a pen and put it to paper. I wrote three pages, enough to be a decent first draft of a first chapter.

I don’t know if it’s still The Rebel’s Touch anymore. It’s not set in southern Ohio on the banks of the Ohio River. It’s in Columbus, my home city, on the banks of the Scioto. The main character has just discovered a dirty, emaciated man who just told her something that makes her think he escaped from Camp Chase, the Ohio prison for Confederates. Other than that, Abraham Lincoln has just died.

That’s really all I know. But it’s enough.

Best,
Belinda

An Emerging Theme in My Writing: Fathers and Daughters

As I’ve been working on The Rebel’s Touch and Atlanta & the Lion and Other Tales, I’ve begun to notice a pattern: I tend to write about young-ish women who have lost a male authority figure in their lives. I did the same thing with Catching the Rose and Haunting Miss Trentwood. The fact is, the topic fascinates me.

You see, my father has played a huge role in shaping my life. For the longest time, his morals were my morals. His rules were my rules. His ideas about relationships were my ideas about relationships. To think of a life not shaped by my father, or any male authority figure, boggles my mind. I explored the idea of what happens when a girl doesn’t have a father to protect her from an arranged marriage she doesn’t want; how does she take care of herself when her mother can’t help her (Catching the Rose)? I explored the idea of what happens to a girl whose father had shaped her daily existence due to his illness but when he finally succumbs she has to pick up the pieces and start living her own life (Haunting Miss Trentwood).

The short story I’m reworking for Atlanta & the Lion is unnamed as yet; it might be called “The Friendly Suffragette,” or “Killing with Kindness,” or “A Smile with Arms.” The heroine has lost her grandfather, and she has joined the suffragette movement as a way to fill her days. The tactics of the other women don’t seem to be making headway, so, she tries something radical: she offers hugs to those who need them.

First off, as an aside, can I tell you how frustrating it can be, writing historical fiction, sometimes? I was halfway through writing the story when I realized I didn’t know if the word “hug” was something someone would say around 1913. Thanks to the internet, I now know the word “hug” was first used to mean “affectionate embrace” as early as the 1650’s. So phew.

I’ve had a couple people comment that Haunting Miss Trentwood is unsettling because it’s about a father dying and haunting his daughter. Totally understandable. The beginning of the book is a true gothic tale but it descends into silliness fairly quickly once Mr Trentwood starts quipping his one liners. I learned from that book to establish the level of silliness as soon as possible so the reader knows what to expect.

In The Rebel’s Touch, I keep paring back the plot. First, it was to be about the Underground Railroad. The heroine, Tempest Gray, was to have stumbled onto a group of slaves and their guide at the shore of the Ohio River. She gets kidnapped, and discovers that the man who kidnapped her has no memory… but when he touches her, he remembers something. Throw in a greedy father and mother who want to marry her off to the local rich man who has access to food stores despite the blockade on the Confederacy, and you have one convoluted, confused mess of a book.

The Rebel’s Touch is no longer about the Underground Railroad. A shame, because I bought a bunch of books on the topic and am now somewhat of an amateur historian in regards to Ripley, OH and its Underground Railroad celebrities. The book is now set somewhere in Kentucky, Lexington, I’m guessing, because I will be there this fall and so will have access to their libraries and historians if I can plan everything properly. It’s still about a girl who finds a man without a memory… but in the days after the Civil War, and thus is a story about the American Restoration. As always, I’m beginning my journey with this book by hunting and gathering images to inspire me, which you can follow on Pinterest.

The first sentence goes something like this:

Everyone else remembered it as the day the president died, but Tempest Gray remembered it as the day the man with no memory fell from her tree.

Looking forward to the restart of this adventure. Not sure where the father-daughter relationship will come to play, but since the theme has emerged in my other works, I expect it will manifest soon.

When Someone Reads Your Writing

Dear Reader,

I just sent Atlanta & the Lion and Other Tales and The Rebel’s Touch to a trusted friend from my 8th grade after school writing club who continued to write and got her masters in the creative writing industry. Let me tell you, I am nervous. Caitlin O’Sullivan has always been a better writer than me, and I haven’t had anyone look at my work in two years while I’ve been busy setting up my apartment, transitioning to a new job, and diving into the swing dancing world.

Kind of terrified about her critique, even though I know I need it as a kick in the pants to get writing again. I’d like to release the short story and poetry anthology sooner rather than later as I have the whole thing compiled, it just needs severe editing. Which I’m sure she will rip it apart with the best intentions. This is the scary thing about beta readers… they’re looking at your work before you’re ready to show it to someone else, say, an editor you’re going to pay. The beta reader is usually a reciprocal relationship, so I fully expect Caitlin to ask me to look at her work at some point, and I’ll do so gladly.

Which reminds me… I remember Caitlin saying a while back she was interested in breaking into the editing gig, and considering I trust her opinion completely… for those of you who are looking to try out a new editor, send Caitlin a line asking about her rates. She’s working on a historical fiction, and I know she wrote science fiction in high school, so her range is pretty broad.

Looking forward to seeing what she has to say, though I’m cringing at the thought at the same time!

Best,

Belinda

Requesting Beta Readers for The Rebel’s Touch

Dear Reader,

Goodness gracious I’ve been busy, but not on The Rebel’s Touch.

Requesting Beta Readers for The Rebel’s Touch

I don’t know why, I’m just so horribly stuck with that book. I’ve put it aside, so very frustrated and wondering what to do with it. Perhaps send it to a beta reader or two? If you’re interested, let me know! I’d love your thoughts and, most importantly, questions, so I know what to answer as the book goes forward. Leave a comment or contact me via Twitter, Tumblr, Facebook, or the contact form on my website to let me know if you’d like a sneak peek to the first couple chapters to provide feedback.

What’s up with Mad Maxine?

In the meantime, I keep tweaking my short story, Mad Maxine. I’ve never liked the cover for it and finally, on Monday night while sipping a nice red blend with How I Met Your Mother in the background, I redesigned the cover and uploaded it to my distributors. See below for all the different covers and the final (fingers crossed) selection.

First cover Second attempt Third attempt

Whatever happened to Loving, Longing, Leaving?

Remember that anthology I was going to pull together last year? Well, I’ve rejuvenated the project. I even created a cover for it, to provide some sort of accountability on my part. I’m compiling my old poetry and short stories and will be sending it to my editor for her input fairly soon. It’s called Atlanta & the Lion, and Other Tales.

The collection is quirky, kind of weird, and everything is set in some undetermined time and place including characters concerned with a man on an epic journey to reclaim his lost mustache, a woman whose boyfriend is a lion, and a grieving woman who thinks if she hugs enough people, the Bureau of Motor Vehicles might become a better place, and more. Sounds fun, right?

I like this cover because it’s starting to show how my non-Victorian or historical pieces will all have a particular visual theme. The kind of mid-century “I’m typing on a keyboard but I’m influenced by the past” sort of feel. Me likey lots.

Buy Haunting Miss Trentwood direct!

I finally set it up so you can purchase Haunting Miss Trentwood directly from me. I have a Kindle and ePub version available, as well as the first ten chapters of the audiobook available as a teaser. The full audiobook will be direct for purchase in the coming months.

But you keep disappearing!

I know, I know. I pop into the blog to say, “Hi! I’m still alive! I promise I’m still working on things!” And then you don’t hear from me for too long. I post things at Tumblr more frequently, images and quotes and the like, and I’m working on a way to automatically import those posts into this blog because I think it would be nice to spice things up a bit. So look for that. You’ll know if it works because I’ll be posting more often.

So yes. That is the skinny on Belinda’s writing world right now. I have a dance lesson tonight, a dance tomorrow and Saturday night, and Father’s day on Sunday. Busy busy busy!

Promising to keep working,

Belinda

Such a Slump

Dear Reader,

I haven’t written a word for The Rebel’s Touch, something which continues to bother me. However, over the weekend I hosted two swing dancers from Louisville and their interest in my woefully neglected manuscript has begun a spark of something which I hope will ignite into full-blown chapter writing.

These two ladies, being from Kentucky, were most interested in the location of The Rebel’s Touch. I told them the majority of the book is in Ripley, OH, and I had intended to visit the area last summer but never made it down.

They encouraged me to visit them this summer, not only for a bluegrass jazz festival which sounds amazing, but also because they can show me a Civil War hospital, and we could take a bike ride to the waterfront where Tempest would have been carried across to Ripley.

Have to admit, it sounds like a pretty fun weekend vacation. In other news, my entire body aches, and I’m not sure if it’s from allergies or the fact that I kicked my own butt on Monday by running for 20 min on the elliptical machine at resistance level 8. Maybe a mixture of both. Combine that with the fact that I think I ate something bad yesterday, and I feel like I have the flu. Ugh.

So yes. In the meantime, I’m on the hunt for some fun historical romance books to read. Lately I’ve been in such a slump! Everything I read seems to depress me. What is on your radar?

Best,
Belinda

Kentucky Unionist Slaveholders?

KyCivilWar_SlaveCompensationDear Reader,

When you’re in school in the States, it’s really easy to make it seem as though the Civil War was Yankees vs Rebels, North vs South, Unionists vs Confederates, Abolitionists vs Slaveholders. As if Yankee = North = Unionist = Abolitionist and Rebel = South = Confederate = Slaveholder. Without question.

It’s only after doing a (very little) bit of digging that I’ve realized this is not the case at all. You could be a slaveholding Unionist, i.e. supporting the federal Union that made the USA government. You could be a Confederate abolitionist, i.e. someone who supported state rights but disagreed with slavery. And on and on. It’s a fascinating mess.

Anyway, The New York Times is continuing its great series about the Civil War, chronicling the four years on its 150th anniversary. Today it’s a great article about Kentucky during the Civil War, this time about a staunch Unionist family who also happened to be slaveholders.

Though the Underwoods, like Kentucky, stayed loyal, their staunch Unionism made them outsiders at home. Josie’s father campaigned across the state for peace, leading to charges that he was under the sway of “Lovejoy and the abolitionists” and thus not a “consistent Southerner.” Crowds of secessionists shouted “hurrah for Jeff Davis” at trains passing through town on the L and N. “Every man on that train will think Bowling Green is Rebel — when she’s Union,” Josie lamented, “though the Union sentiment is much the greatest in Kentucky, the Rebels have so many rowdies they make the most noise.”

Make sure you read the entire article. It is certainly eye-opening and great material for The Rebel’s Touch, since Tempest is a slaveholding Unionist.

Honestly, the more I read about the Civil War, even though I’m focusing on one year around the Ohio River at Ripley and across the river in Kentucky… I keep learning so much. It is a real struggle to know what to include in the book and what to keep out. Which real people to I add as supporting characters, and why? How does it support the story of a man trying to regain his memory during a tumultuous time in history? My brain hurts just thinking about it. Goodness, why do I have to make everything so difficult…

Best,

Belinda

Old Maps Online

Dear Reader,

I have been beyond busy practicing for a local swing dance/lindy hop team competition, which is exhausting, thrilling, stressful… but we won first place, so all the hard work was worth it! It would have been worth it had we not won, I became close to some really amazing people, but winning… yeah. It was indescribable. I might have almost started crying.

In other news, I just found this awesome website called Old Maps Online, via Flowing Data.

So of course, I had to look up Ripley, OH where The Rebel’s Touch is supposed to be located. They don’t have a specific Ripley map form 1860 – 1865, but they do have a map of Ohio and Indiana linked, which is pretty freaking awesome. And! A map of Kentucky and Tennessee (because Tempest is actually from Kentucky).

Now that the competition preparations are over, I have more time to read and write. I am dipping my toes into The Rebel’s Touch again, trying not to feel like a total loser for not writing for three months and for feeling completely stuck at where I did stop.

Rather than picking up the story right where I left it, last night I let my mind wander and wrote a scene that would happen a couple chapters after the current written point. The scene is internal, Tempest thinking about Daniel and how her feelings might be starting to change but she has no idea how he would react…

Not gonna lie, writing the scene almost made me cry. Sometimes there is nothing worse than the not-knowing, the wondering, the too-scared-to-ask-and-ruin-a-good-thing. Happens all the time in real life, happens in fiction, too. Heartbreak via silence is a tough thing to handle. Not sure if you have experienced it, but believe me, it’s no fun. But boy is it a great thing to draw inspiration from to write about!

Best,

Belinda

When Awesome Happens: To My Old Master

Dear Reader,

I have stumbled upon an amazing discovery where a letter from a former slave to their former master’s request to “return home” has surfaced in blog format.  This is such a great find for me as I continue to do research for The Rebel’s Touch, and I wanted to share the experience with you. Below is the first paragraph. So fantastic.

Dayton, Ohio,

August 7, 1865

To My Old Master, Colonel P.H. Anderson, Big Spring, Tennessee

Sir: I got your letter, and was glad to find that you had not forgotten Jourdon, and that you wanted me to come back and live with you again, promising to do better for me than anybody else can. I have often felt uneasy about you. I thought the Yankees would have hung you long before this, for harboring Rebs they found at your house. I suppose they never heard about your going to Colonel Martin’s to kill the Union soldier that was left by his company in their stable. Although you shot at me twice before I left you, I did not want to hear of your being hurt, and am glad you are still living. It would do me good to go back to the dear old home again, and see Miss Mary and Miss Martha and Allen, Esther, Green, and Lee. Give my love to them all, and tell them I hope we will meet in the better world, if not in this. I would have gone back to see you all when I was working in the Nashville Hospital, but one of the neighbors told me that Henry intended to shoot me if he ever got a chance…

Tons of thanks to Shaun Usher of Letters of Note for finding this gem and reproducing the letter in full! Read the entire thing at his website.

Best,

Belinda

Bleeding on the page

Dear Reader,

Life has been rather rough on me lately, testing my character in ways I never expected. I have been terrified, startled, shocked, ashamed, depressed, angry, despairing, hopeful, and ultimately, numb. I have struggled with facing adversity and prejudice when it slapped me in the face, and trembled when tempted with something I wanted so badly but couldn’t have because it didn’t belong to me. When it came down to it, I lost my grip on reality and retreated into my mind, seeming somber to others while fighting my way out of the battle with my demons.

In the end, my writing is what made me victorious. I channeled my emotions into Tempest, my character from The Rebel’s Hero (hereafter named The Rebel’s Touch). When she felt confused and conflicted, I dove into my mind and pulled out the core of my own confusion and conflict. When she was angry, I referenced my fears that made me angry.

Writing is so much more than a job to me. I need it to cope with my life events. This past week, one of the worst I’ve had to deal with in years, was a startling wake-up call. My best writing comes from moments of despair and frustration, which kind of scares me a little.

Do I have to be unhappy to write well? I hope not. That doesn’t lend to a healthy emotional life. Nor does it lend to a sustainable writing career. But these intense moments of emotion which run roughshod over my lens of the world seems to open the very vein I need to bleed words onto the page. That raw emotion which tugs at heartstrings and makes people think of their own heartbreak. Anyway, after not writing for a little over a week, I poured almost two thousand words yesterday in a sort of daze.

It is an understatement to say the activity was cathartic. I wasn’t writing or talking or thinking about me anymore and how I was feeling. I was talking about Tempest, her issues, her emotions, her conflict. These weren’t my problems, they were hers. I was just the objective observer, feeling sorry for her plight and not being able to help in any way other than to be a friendly ear.

Am I the only one who approaches writing fiction like this? Is it unhealthy for me to write like this, or is it healthy because I get the emotions out without hurting anyone else in the process?

The Rebel’s Touch

As mentioned earlier in the post, buried somewhere in a paragraph I mentioned that The Rebel’s Hero will now be The Rebel’s Touch from now on. Why? The more I worked on it, the more I realized none of the characters are saving each other, no one is anyone’s “hero” per se. There is touching involved, though; it’s the primary plot point.Therefore, The Rebel’s Hero is henceforth The Rebel’s Touch.

Daniel needs to touch Tempest to regain memories. But he’s such a gentleman, and so shy, and so afraid of the headaches that come from recovering another memory that he’s afraid to touch her at all, even something as simple as a finger brushing the back of her hand. And Tempest has her own issues and history with not wanting to be touched… but she wants to help this man who, despite their less-than-stellar beginning, is everything she thought the ideal, impossible man should be.

Conflict. We has it.

All the best,

Belinda

* Painting by Dean McDowell, found via Tumblr

The Big Question

Dear Reader,

As of writing this post, I’m 17k words into The Rebel’s Hero, which is about 24% toward my word count goal. Without fail, when I get to this percentage mark, I get cold feet. I don’t know why. It’s very frustrating. I start to doubt my ability to write, to craft characters, to weave details, to drive the plot forward. I think this is because the beginning is complete. Now the meat of the story takes over, the plot thickens, and more questions are thrown to the reader.

I’m standing in place, deer in the headlights, frightened by this monstrous train called The Rebel’s Hero steaming full blast down the tracks because even though I’ve set up a good story with a multitude of questions I need to answer throughout the plot…

I still don’t know what The Question is. What am I trying to answer with this work? What is my big question that I’m struggling to explore and engage?

Peeking over shoulders

Do other authors do this? I feel like they do. I think MJ Rose explores the question of “what if the paranormal were real?” Her form of paranormal is more of the mundane… reincarnation, hypnotism, etc. Her fiction is fascinating, deep, driven. Joan Reeves, highlighted at The Book Designer last week, asked the question “Why would a woman marry a man for money?” and was surprised when her book was labeled a romance.

Sometimes crafting fiction feels backwards. I know I write romances, sweet though they may be. But maybe I should stop worrying about the genre, since I already know that’s what I gravitate to. Instead, I should worry, what is my question?

Exploring the space

I write this blog to be transparent about the writing process. It isn’t easy, and sometimes, it isn’t fun. I look to my previous fiction to remind myself that I’ve done this before, and I can do it again. Catching the Rose asks the question “what would you do to find your first love?” Haunting Miss Trentwood asks “what do you do after your parents have died?” Mad Maxine, my short story, asks “what happens when you don’t let go?”

I’ve blogged about The Big Question before in terms of individual characters, but for the plot? Here is a list of questions The Rebel’s Hero could be about…

  • Why do bad things happen to good people?
  • Why would a woman marry a man with no memory?
  • What would you do to escape an arranged marriage?
  • What would you do to help a man in need?
  • What would you do to regain your memory?

I think the last one might be a winner. Throw the question into the Civil War, add the Underground Railroad, and I just might be able to pull this off. After all, it always feels impossible until it is done.

Best,

Belinda