To write a book…

charlie-chaplin-392926_1280When I was in school I hated American History. I thought it was boring. I thought that since other countries had been around so much longer, they were obviously much more interesting.

Now that I am older, I am no longer so excluding. For the past few weeks I’ve been focused on the American Civil War. My attention was peaked last year when I did some family history research. It was more recently that I received a book of local ghost stories that pinged that interest again.

Then I spoke with another writer who I greatly admire. I told him that I had been thinking about writing a book that takes place during the civil war. I recounted what I had found out about my family, and he said: That sounds like a good place to start. Why don’t you?

That “Why don’t you?” Has been echoing around the empty cavern of my skull for weeks.

I tried to use the excuse, “Well, life has so many changes going on right now, with the new job and going back to school…”

My inner writer answered with, “You don’t work on the weekends and part of your degree is going to be in History anyway.”

Then the dragon of self doubt raised its head and said, “Do you really think you can find anime_dragon_1024x768-634320the time to write a book? Look how well that has worked in the past. You have three unfinished novels sitting on your computer right now. And remember that rejection letter. The one that hit the mark so well.”

The dragon almost got me. Then I remembered the rejection letter it was reminding me of was the catalyst I needed to pull up my boots and march back to school. The three unfinished novels reminded me that my current way of writing isn’t working very well and I need to try something new. (Not that those three will never be finished. Two are honestly in a rewrite stage but I changed things and got stuck in the muddle in the middle. Then proceeded to wallow in the muck.)

So now, with so many things already on my plate and with so many new challenges to face, I find myself stacking yet another task on top. I’m going to write a book. Sanderson Quote-800wi

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Chasing Tall Tales

A week ago my mom bought a booklet of local ghost stories a thrift store for a quarter. Just twenty-two pages long, bound with staples and orange card stock, it really doesn’t look like much. However, the first story in this book has been driving me to distraction. Short enough to be considered flash fiction, the story is only two paragraphs long and is a reprint of something that appeared in a local paper nearly 20 years ago.

Roughly it states that, while working on widening a rural road, a road crew dug up a body of an adult woman. She was buried in the middle of the road with a wooded stake through her heart. Both the stake and the body had been petrified.

The lack of information immediately intrigued my curiosity. I am well aware that this a toothless gifwork of fiction. Sort of a local legend. It’s the kind of thing my older cousins used to make up to scare me when we took walks in the woods near my grandparents house. However, whatever it is inside that makes me a writer started whispering, “What if?”

It is plausible that a woman could have been killed and buried in an unmarked grave. Depending on when she was buried, maybe there wasn’t a road there at the time. Or maybe it was the only convenient spot. The story wouldn’t leave me alone. It claimed to have happened less than thirty minutes away, so I began digging. (Figuratively. I am pretty sure I would be writing this on the walls of the local jail if I actually tried digging up the road.)

Armed with just the name of the road I searched and found out that they did widen the road back in 1917. I also discover there has been precedence set for the petrification of human remains, if under the right conditions. The part of the road were the story claims the woman was buried runs close to the Hiwassee river. This is important because not only would the soil need the right minerals but it would also need the right amount of moisture.

In 1867 there was a great flood that decimated the area. It took out bridges and caused a train wreck where many died. There are even claims that the streets of Chattanooga were so flooded, that a man living on Lookout Mountain watched bodies float down them.

background-313572_1280So if the mythical woman had been killed and buried before the flood, then it is even plausible that she could have been petrified. If she existed. But if so, what happened to the body? Why was she buried in the road? Did whomever it was that killed her think they were slaying a vampire or a witch?

These are questions I don’t have answers to yet. I did find a similar story in a book called The Granny Curse and Other legends from East Tennessee by Randy Russell and Janet Barnett. It is about a chair haunted by the ghost of a vampire. (I didn’t know vampires could have ghosts but stranger things have become local legends.)

I am still investigating. Some people will probably laugh at me for chasing ghost stories and say I am on a snipe hunt or a wild goose chase. Just because it may not turn out to be true, doesn’t mean it isn’t teaching me a lot about the past. I had no knowledge of the flood of 1867 or of body petrification until now. I am sure it will end up being useful at some point, even if it is only in fiction.

Tell the story. Then let someone else read it.

boring_bookRecently I was reading a book of short fiction by an author with more experience and success than I. The stories had interesting ideas driving them but then they fell flat. This author has been published traditionally and has marched the independent path. This particular work was indie published.

I am a big supporter of indie publishing. It gets more of what I like to read in my hands and provides writers with another way to get there stuff out there. It is a tool for the tool box. However, I am not sure I can finish reading this book.

It isn’t bad. Not really. I see some of my own mistakes made by this author and it irritates me. Also I doubt the author uses beta readers. That is a mistake I try not to make. (Not saying I’ve never made it, but I try not to get impatient and toss out stuff that isn’t ready.)

Beta readers are one of the most important tools a writer can have. You really do need thatYou_Keep_Using_That_Word_Meme_FP_Wide second pair of eyes. I know I have written about this before but it is still true. Fresh eyes and a fresh brain see things you will miss. If you spell the wrong word correctly, spell check isn’t going to catch it.

Often writers will read what is supposed to be there rather than what actually is. So get a beta reader. Two or three if you can. Bribe them. Beg them. Whatever it takes. I find coffee, the occasional lunch, or a free book work well for mine. Some will even do it just because they love to read. Make use of your bookish or grammar Nazi friends.

Those personality quirks that may annoy you in everyday life will 6a00d8341c630a53ef013488af5745970c-800wibe indispensable for your writing world.

Labor Day

gear-408364_640This Monday begins a new month and also marks a turning point in history. In the United States, during the industrial revolution, work weeks were often 12 hours shifts, 7 days a week. Children, barely more than toddlers, were working in factories and mines instead of playing games. No kindergarten for these kiddies. The whole family had to work to make sure mouths were fed. Working conditions, especially if you were poor or new to the country, surpassed dangerous and sometimes were just plain deadly.

Labor Unions began to form and began protesting the poor working conditions. In 1867 the government signed into effect a law regulating working hours for federal employees and Illinois workers, changing their shifts to an 8 hour day.  May 1, 1886 there was a movement to include the rest of the nation.

The thing is, they never actually enforced the law. A shorter work day and better pay work-384745_640sounded great to overworked, underpaid employees. So union banners were taken up and the peaceful protest marches began.  Some employers feared a “workers revolution” so they quickly signed on for shorter work days.

May 4, 1886 a rally was organized in Haymarket Square to protest the shooting of striking workers by the Chicago police the day before. The turn out was less than what was expected and the speakers either didn’t arrive or were late. Rain began falling toward the end of the rally which sent some of those who had hung around scurrying for home.That was when the police showed up to disperse the rest and chaos erupted. Someone from the crowd threw a bomb, shooting began which led to the deaths of seven policemen and four workers.

No one was sure who brought a bomb to a peaceful rally, but blood had been spilled so someone had to answer for it. Eight men, (*Cough, Cough, scapegoats) were rounded up and charged. Seven of the men were sentenced to death and the last one was give 15 years in prison.

matchstick-20237_640More strikes and more rallies happened over the next eight years, but it wasn’t until the American Railway Union began a boycott of Pullman railway cars and brought the nation to a stand still, that notice was finally taken.  Pullman Palace Car Company, maker of railway cars, had cut hours and fire union representatives. The workers went on strike and the boycott began. Things got so bad, troops had to be brought in. Which, of course, outraged many and started a wave of riots in Chicago.

In 1894 Labor Day became a Federal Holiday.  So now, on the first Monday in September, we sit around the barbeque with our friends and family enjoying the holiday.  Kids don’t have to go to school and the banks are closed so everyone can have a day off.  (If we aren’t scheduled to work.)

 

 

 

 

 

Starving on a plate too full

cat-peeking-out-from-under-beddingI didn’t post on Monday.  I meant to.  I even had the whole thing written out on paper.  I just never got the chance to transfer it from the paper to my computer.  I could come up with a dozen excuse as to why not, but to be honest I chose sleep over writing.  Sometimes that happens.  (It has to or at some point you become a danger to yourself and others.)

Working third shift, as a single parent, with two elementary school aged children, and trying to give a writing career a go is hard.  Doing all of that with two sick elementary school aged children, plus fighting off a cold/allergies-of-doom is nigh impossible.  Thank God for my mom or I don’t think I would have survived this past week.

Also with the threat of NaNoWriMo on the horizon, I have been striving to reorganize a few things.  If I am having trouble just getting through the day with all of my obligations now, then writing a 50,000 word book in 30 days will not happen. (And giving up NaNo is not an option.  As crazy as it sounds, it’s something I really look forward to.  I can write a book, just for me, and it doesn’t have to be good.  Think of it as the literary equivalent of screaming into a pillow.)

I’ve needed to take a look at my plate and push a few things around for awhile now but I im-najera-froissartam one of those people that say “no, I can do it” even when it is obvious that I am trying to fight an fully armored charging army, by myself with a toothpick.  (My friends have called me on this many many times.) I think it is a family trait.  My brother and my parents do the same thing.

I was on a friend’s street team.  (Which is a group of people that work together to help an author promote their books.)  I still respect her.  I still greatly enjoy her books and will throw it a plug here or there when I can, but it isn’t something I can really focus on at the moment.  Not with everything else.  I suffer guilt for giving it up, but at the same time I know it was the right thing to do. (And fortunately she is one of those gracious people that understands.)

Also with cold and flu season starting up, work has gotten a lot more hectic.  Saturday, tissuesjudging from the people at our pharmacy at 2am, you would have thought the ER had a two for one special going on.

I probably will still have to do some more shifting of all my obligations, but right now the portions on my plate look a lot better than they did.  During November, if blog post dwindle back to twice a month, don’t worry it is only temporary.  My Monday schedule of posting will remain the same, it just may not be every week.

“Our Heart’s there to conquer the world, but we’re only human beings.” -Aaron Rudolph Flinchum

…How you measure success

black-41201_640Okay so my self inflicted schedule says that I only do blog posts on Mondays and Wednesdays.  Today is neither Monday or Wednesday, yet I felt the need to share this link.  I think it makes a person think.  What is important?  How do you measure success?

http://stephanie-osborn.blogspot.com/2013/08/guest-post-by-aaron-paul-lazar-for.html?utm_source=feedburner&utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=Feed%3A+CometTales+%28Comet+Tales%29&utm_content=Yahoo!+Mail

Beta Readers and Accepting the Truth

once uponOnce upon a time I wrote a story…

Yes, I know. You think you’ve heard this one, well listen up because the story I am about to tell is a little different. (Spoiler: I am going to admit to being wrong about something.)  You see, I wrote a story and like a responsible writer I sent it out to some beta readers to read.

Soon the readers finished the story and sent it back to me.  All of the comments were very Standing_at_the_Pool_of_Creation_Printsimilar.  They were things along the lines of:  “This was great, but I don’t think it is finished.”  or  “I loved the characters, but where is the rest of it.”  And one person thought he was funny by giving it back to me with a big “F” written on it along with the comment “Not Finished”.   (He hasn’t read anything of mine since. I was not amused.)

I loved my characters and I thought what I had was well written.  For the most part people agreed with me.  So, ignoring the “but” following the good comments I stamped the story done.  I even sent it out a couple of times only to have it rejected.

I was being lazy.  I didn’t want to think about wizards and what else might happen.  When it was rejected I tucked into a folder and forgot about it.

tigYesterday I came across it again.  After re-reading it I discovered something.  My Beta readers were right.  It wasn’t finished.  I had been wrong to ignore their input. I was embarrassed by my own narcissism.  True, I had written a pretty picture but that was all it was; a sketch without the ink or paint.

So now I have dusted off the unfinished story and have started trying to figure out the rest.  The moral of this story (since the guy titanic-sinkingwho gave me the F seems to think that all stories should come with morals…) Hubris can get in your way and waste your time.  Have faith in your work but also have faith in those you trust to read it.