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

Eep! NaNoWriMo Around the Corner?

Dear Reader,

I’m in a pickle because I can’t decide if I want to do NaNoWriMo this year. NaNoWrimo is the National Novel Writing Month, and depending who you talk to, it’s the best or worst thing to hit the writing community, ever. The entire point of NaNoWriMo is to write 50k words in 30 days. That’s it. They don’t have to be good, make sense, anything. Just write. Write for your life.

There are authors who contend that NaNoWriMo makes anyone feel they can write and publish a book… the self-publishing explosion hasn’t helped matters because it seems people often publish what they wrote during NaNoWriMo without vetting it with an editor. There are authors who encourage and support NaNoWriMo because it is a wonderful way to connect and network with other writers, either locally or online.

Why am I hesitating?

My dilemma is that I’m still figuring things out for The Rebel’s Hero. I didn’t tell you this because I was afraid you would get upset, but I restarted it (again!) a couple of weeks ago for the fourth time. Never fear! I’m already past the word count from the third attempt… I’m around 17k words with an estimated goal of 70k. I’m doing my best to learn from the critiques I’ve received, which means I’m focusing on tightening the plot (no wild chases or random characters popping in at critical moments for no reason), and exploring relationships (why is it people are doing these things, and why do we care?).

My writing schedule has dropped from attempting something every day, to writing once a week. That is, the act of writing happens once a week… I spend a lot of my down time thinking, reading philosophy and historical texts, and having deep discussions with people, much like my characters. When I do sit down to write, I bust out a couple thousand words. At least I’m making progress!

Writing Vacation

I’ve been considering, quite seriously, taking a weekend trip somewhere. Just holing myself up in a charming little bed and breakfast and seeing how much I can write without distractions. I think the money spent might be worth it. Exercise helps, for sure, but my schedule has been so hectic lately I haven’t had a chance to really beat myself up and free those toxins creating the writer’s block.

Heh it feels like I’m saying I’m not participating in NaNoWriMo this year, due to schedules, etc. I might just be making excuses. Or I might feel confident in my new writing schedule. Whatever the case, I’m curious… are you participating in NaNoWriMo this year? What are your thoughts about it?

Determining a Character’s Big Goal

Dear Reader,

The last couple of weeks I’ve talked about how I brandish the Red Pen of Doom for editing. I needed the edits so I could determine which characters were necessary to the plot, whether I needed to change motivations, and if I needed to tweak the hints I’ve dropped about character pasts.

Eventually I will have to type the edits into the manuscript but in the meantime, I’ve locked them away for safekeeping so I can focus on writing new content rather than obsessively tweaking existing content. To keep me on track with the new content, I wrote the characters’ Big Goals on a whiteboard.

What are Big Goals?

If I could tattoo the Big Goals on my arm I would. Just looking at them inspire me to write. Big Goals are the primary motivation behind the character  doing anything in the book. Let’s look at our h/h from The Rebel’s Hero, for instance.

Tempest wants to be free, but when she is kidnapped, she gets confused and thinks her Big Goal is to get home. Daniel wants to help runaway slaves, but when he meets Tempest he gets confused into thinking he wants to get rid of her. However, neither of these are his Big Goal. Daniel’s Big Goal is to figure out what happened to him; why he lost all of his memories from before age fourteen.

In Haunting Miss Trentwood, Mary’s Big Goal is to live her life quietly and in peace, but when her father begins to haunt her, her Big Goal switches to figuring out why he’s haunting her and what she can do about it. Hartwell’s Big Goal is to protect his family, and along the way in Haunting Miss Trentwood, his Big Goal is clouded by his growing attraction and affection for Mary.

So you see, determining the Big Goals brings characters together. The way they go about accomplishing these goals is where the spats, clashes, passion, and drama occur. It’s inspiring to me, and makes writing fun.

Also, imagery like the one in this post inspires me to write. If The Rebel’s Hero wasn’t already a play on Sleeping Beauty, I’d totally make it more Steampunk. After all, my masters thesis used Steampunk artisans as a case study. This fantastic piece is called On Steampunk Wings, by Gwendolyn Basala on DeviantArt. She’s got some excellent stuff there.

Procrastinate by browsing her work! Gotta love reenacters. I have half a mind to bug her about dressing the part and what a woman could get away with not wearing, since Tempest isn’t such a fan of crinolines (hoop skirts) or her stays (corset).

Best,
Belinda

Wielding the Red Pen of Doom (i.e. Editing)

Dear Reader,

This week I’d like to talk about what I look for when I pull out the Red Pen of Doom on my shitty first draft. But first, a sketch of Tempest Granville, the main character of The Rebel’s Hero, that I drew during a boring meeting at work…

She has wild hair because she is a tomboy. She is frowning because her dad wants to marry her to someone she doesn’t like. And then there’s the whole kidnapping escapade. That definitely brought a frown to her face.

Wielding the Red Pen of Doom

When I pull out the Red Pen of Doom, especially in the early chapters when I haven’t written the remainder of the book, I look for three main things:

  1. Is the heroine’s goal clear?
  2. Is the hero’s goal clear?
  3. Does the combination of their goals make for an interesting and intelligible story?

Notice I’m not too concerned about characterization or setting yet. That comes with the draft that is between the Shitty First Draft and the Reader Worthy First Draft. I like to call that draft, the one that is interesting and intelligible but lacking the meaty descriptions and emotions, Shitty First Draft B.

I use the Red Pen of Doom to remind me that I must be brutal to the Shitty First Draft. This is no time to hold onto my darlings. They aren’t my darlings yet, I haven’t lived with them long enough. This is my best opportunity to make goals of characters crystal clear. I consolidate unnecessary characters and plot lines, simplifying them so I can explore backstories and emotions fully in later drafts.

I ask the three questions I listed above on every page. If I don’t have an answer in seconds, then goodbye you lovely paragraph that was a study of beauteous grammar, but you are dead weight and you must go.

I tend to do this sort of editing when I’ve had a good day. I’m more objective when I’m in a neutral/good mood rather than when I’ve had a crappy day and want to punch everyone’s face in for even thinking of looking at me.

Writing. It’s a tough job, but someone’s got to do it.

Best,

Belinda

P.S. If you’re here because of the Back to Books Giveaway Hop, welcome! This is a simple giveaway. Subscribe to my newsletter below to get half-off my book Haunting Miss Trentwood. You should receive your discount code upon confirmation of your subscription.

 

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Why We Write Shitty First Drafts

Dear Reader,

If your English teacher was worth anything in high school, then they should have told you that you must write a “shitty first draft.” I’ve talked about shitty first drafts before, but a friend complained to me recently that they didn’t like that advice.

Why? Because their college professor ripped apart their first draft, saying it wasn’t good enough. It traumatized my friend.

I stared at him a moment, not sure he was serious. Of course, he was. I said, “But darling, you never show your actual first draft to anyone. There’s a writer’s first draft, and then there’s what I like to call a Reader-Worthy-First-Draft.”

The writer’s shitty first draft is, more often than not, a really shitty draft. It is the definition of shitty. The characters are cardboard, the plot is dramatic and full of holes, the grammar is awful. That is the point. That draft is for the writer to get ideas to the page with as little judgment as possible. A Reader-Worthy-First-Draft is when you’ve gone back through so that the draft makes sense.

I am at that point for the first eleven chapters for The Rebel’s Hero. I had to go back through it twice. I wanted to share the result, in all its gory beauty.

I use a Red Pen of Doom because it means serious business. Now you know I’m alive and working on making my shitty drafts Reader Worthy. Look forward to my next blog post where I’ll detail some of the things I look for when the Red Pen of Doom makes an appearance.

Best,

Belinda