Monthly Archives: April 2016

T is for Tardy

Yes, I know it’s the last day of April. Yes, I also know that I skipped T and went right to U. Yes, I know there are letters after U.

Okay, well, my first foray into the blogosphere ended with a bit of a stumble. But I can explain!

This past week, I have been hustling at work, trying to prepare my students for an end-of-course state STAAR test in U.S. History this coming Monday. It’s quite a challenging test, and I want my students to succeed. I teach at an alternative high school, and my students, for one reason or another, have struggled at the traditional high school. They all have stories to tell about that, and we learn their stories and try to help them graduate.

So T is for Teaching. And a Test. A big one.

One thing I’ve learned as a writer is about forgiving myself. This is a hobby, something I love to do, and I move a lot of my life around to make it happen. But there are things in life I can’t move. Like test dates. Kids who need me. And a tired body.

T is definitely for Tired.

Okay, I’ll stop that T-is-for stuff now.

But anyway, I take writing very seriously, much more than a “casual hobbyist” should.

Self-forgiveness, however, means that sometimes I get to the end of the month before I hit 25,000 words for Camp NaNoWriMo. And sometimes it means I’m writing T blogs on April 30th.

I haven’t failed. I’ve written 20+ more blogs this month than I ever have in my natural life. And I’ve written lots of words, started my second novel, worked on editing my first, and joined a writing workshop, all in the month before my students take their U.S. History STAAR test. Oh, and I bought a FitBit, which yells at me about my health, too, and I obey.

So, yeah. Not bad at all.

Yes, lay out the ambitious goals, push harder, do more. And listen to your body, and be there for your family and students/colleagues/whomever. Do what you can, celebrate what you achieve.

Because something’s better than nothing. And late is better than never.

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U is for University of Bologna

Ah, the well-intentioned blog post for which I had planned to do research. Thanks, adulthood, for keeping me too busy to properly research this topic by April 26th! Booo…

Okay, so it may have been Blogging Challenge Letter B, which seems like years ago, when I mentioned that I set the first two books in my novel series in Bologna because their university accepted women.

This was exciting! A medieval woman attending university!

Nope.

So apparently, while I was not reading closely enough, I saw that a woman lectured at the University in the thirteenth century. No wait, she was allowed to lecture in the street outside the university. Maybe with a veil over her face, though that detail seems rather apocryphal.

But no women students.

Okay, so when? Ah. Mid-eighteenth century, around the time that Laura Bassi became one of the first women professors to hold a chair in Europe. And two hundred years after The Journeymen is set.

This illustration from a fourteenth-century manuscript shows Henry of Germany delivering a lecture to university students in Bologna.

Fourteenth Century manuscript illustration of a lecture by Henry of Germany at the University of Bologna. I SWEAR that person in the front row center is a woman! And that guy sleeping in the third row is clearly one of my students in a past life. (Photo courtesy of Dr. Nancy L. Turner, http://people.uwplatt.edu/~turnern/classroomFull.html)

Crap. Cue the proverbial crumpling of papers outlining a key plot point in La Dotta.

This is where decisions must be made. In my book, newly widowed Giuliana Bruni, living with her brother Niccolo and his wife Emilia, would love nothing more than to go to university and read philosophy. Niccolo, who is well-whipped by his beloved wife, may even let her. But can she? And what would the logistics be?

Sometimes, the historical research writes your story for you. It did that quite often in my first book, Shadow of the Portico, which is still in editing Purgatory as we speak. So I do hope I can relate an authentic story here somehow, even if it is not perfectly historically accurate.

It is like being the midst of A Tale of Two Bachelor Degrees. The English major in me bellows, “Go for it, Becca! It’s all about the story.” The History major in me cringes and says, “Hooooonestly, Becca. Plot no further, woman, until you do the research!”

Then the adult in me says, “You were going to get this done by when?” and laughs uproariously.

 

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S is for SCA

SCA… that’s Society for Creative Anachronism. I’m in it. I love it.

But… what is it?

It is a group of reenactors and researchers interested in pre-modern Europe, generally during the Middle Ages, though they have stretched that a bit these days to cover pretty much pre-17th century. There are also those who research Asian and Pre-Columbian American cultures as well.

My in working garb… need to get a picture of me in fancy garb one day.

Fancy verbiage aside. We like Medieval stuff. We like dressing up and reading and playing and beating each other with sticks.

We love those magical moments when we can suspend disbelief for a twinkling of time and watch the banners fly, the men and women on horseback, the crafters and kings, the fighters on the list field. For a few breathless seconds, it’s almost like we’re there, centuries back, in a whole other world.

I brought my love of reenacting into the Journeymen series. In the story, the time travelers learn their skills through an SCA-like group called the Medieval Reenactment Association. Yeah, it’s a bit of a cheat, but I’m too poor for unhappy legal tangles.

Anyway, they learn everything from fighting to tailoring to cooking and a thousand little details that would be handy to know in a pre-modern world. You know, in case you step on a portal and get thrown back to, say, 1578 Italy.

Our post-industrial world doesn’t really appreciate what goes into the things we use every day and take for granted.

One of my favorite things to do in my World History classes is to give my students a tuft of wool. I have them comb it out and then try to spin it into thread. After varying degrees of success, including showing them a spindle, I let them know that’s step 1. Now let’s weave it, dye it, cut it into a pattern, hand sew the pieces, and all the rest to create a garment. By then, they get the point.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m deeply appreciative of living in a modern world with industrial manufacturing of goods so I can own several pairs of shoes and never visit a cobbler. It’s just that we should also appreciate what our world was like before mass production.

Anyway, I just love the fact that I can use my reenacting experience in my book as well. Like so many things I’ve written about, I just sort of stumbled into it and it has would up being perfect.

If you’re curious about the SCA, you should start here. Or, you can ask me about it. There’s probably a group not too far from you. My group here in Austin, Texas has a website here.

 

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R is for Role Play

I’m a nerd.

Now that we’ve established that, you should understand when I say I love playing in virtual worlds. These are online programs like Second Life and InWorldz. They aren’t really games, per se. They’re more like social chat rooms with graphics. Lots of graphics. Think Minecraft for adults.

Role Play ShotBesides building anything your mind can imagine, virtual worlds are wonderful places to do role play, since you can build a physical world that looks however you want. Then you can create a beautiful person to put into that world. Then you can type out whatever you want that character to do.

Being a fast typist helps.

A couple friends and I developed a Medieval role play world in Second Life. We invited people to play on our sim (our virtual island), which we laid out with a tavern, church, houses and a big honking castle. Then we asked them to develop a fictional character and come interact in a plausibly historically authentic manner. We didn’t reenact any particular place or time, just vaguely Medieval.

Breila_001

Breila Jenvieve (me…)

If you’re a writer, you should already get the idea of what a magnificent character development sandbox this is.

I have been more than a little tempted to go back and set something up and work with other writers in a world similar to their novels. This is especially helpful if you need to work on dialogue, whether interacting with other characters, or internal dialogue when you’re sharing thoughts and feelings without being too detailed and giving away too much information during any particular interaction.

This writing workshop virtual role play sandbox is a dream of mine that I’d love to do in InWorldz. I prefer IWz to Second Life because it is more flexible and more welcoming to creative people. Second Life is kind of a big, crowded, expensive mess.

I’d love to hear from you if this is something you might be interested in, or if you have questions. Or if you just want to hang out in a virtual world.

 

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Q is for Quitting

A while back, my favorite Facebook group, 10 Minute Novelists, sponsored a chat called “Do We Ever Give Up?” It wasn’t the usual hour of encouragement, cheerleading, and advice. It was, however, a message I needed to hear. What happens when you pour your soul into writing and realize that maybe this isn’t the thing for you? What happens when your dream dies? How do we let go? How do we mourn?

I spend hour after hour thinking about my novel. Writing my novel. Researching my novel. Dreaming about, obsessing over, editing, loving, hating, and otherwise experiencing my novel. I have eight more in mind after this one, and I wonder how I’ll survive it. It’s become so all-encompassing.

But I realized something. Being a novelist wasn’t always my dream. Not at all. I have held and let go of several dreams. I dreamed of being a musician, but frankly I didn’t have the ambition and work ethic, even though music came easily to me. I suppose that’s called talent, but I think that makes me sound better than I was. I went to music college after high school and promptly burned myself not. Not because I wasn’t “talented” per se, but because my personal life was in shambles. I was 18 and had emerged from a home where alcoholism and abuse were my normal, so I sought out that bad normal as a musician as well. Now, you may think that angst and madness go well with being a musician, but I would point out the graves of musicians who took their own lives and beg you to reconsider such an idea.

I gave up that dream, but it wouldn’t quite die, because I made the mistake of marrying a fabulous, shredding guitarist. He plays and he doesn’t even realize how he stokes my flames. Sexy guitar players do that, you know–make you want to play with them. Yes, I mean all the entendres. But I digress.

After the disappointment of music school, I created a bucket list full of dreams. I would get a PhD in history and be a professor. I would travel through Europe. I would learn to ice skate and play in a hockey game. No, I’m not kidding. The bucket was full. Unfortunately, my pocketbook was empty. A bad marriage and a divorce led me hopscotching down the road to poverty.

My mistakes. My regrets. My idiocy. All of this kept my bucket full and unfulfilled.

But there’s nothing that empties a bucket faster than a diagnosis.

I’m 49 and I’m a heart patient. I have coronary artery disease with multiple stents holding my arteries open and I have issues with diabetes and other words I don’t like typing. It sucks. I’m tired a lot, which has put the brakes on much of that bucket list.

First to go was the hockey. Okay, that was easy to let go, quite honestly.

Graduate school was much harder. It still tempts me, but I just can’t. It would be good for my teaching career… but I just can’t. That hurts. I always fancied myself a scholar. I also fancy myself able to function, able to keep a job, to be a wife and mother. Graduate school would tip the scales too much. I just can’t, and it breaks my heart.

I had hoped that my involvement with the Society for Creative Anachronism would be a worthy substitute for graduate school. It has been a disappointment. I didn’t have the money or time to invest in it, and as time has gone on, I didn’t have the energy, either. I spent twenty some-odd years on the fringes of historical reenactment, on the outside looking in, watching that dream slowly fade from view. I stick around, though, because there are wonderful people involved and we have a lot of fun. I’m kind of used to being on the fringe of it now, and it’s okay.

I started writing my novel two and a half years ago. It was nothing more than wish fulfillment. I used to role play in virtual worlds like Second Life, and I missed the characters I created. Especially the charming rogue named Giovanni. My other character, the one most like me, was Breila. Since I always called her the part-time princess, her name became Sarah. Thus, I built my series’s main characters.

How this inauspicious start turned into ideas for a score of novels, I couldn’t begin to tell you. Overactive imagination, long commute, insomnia. Something like that.

It was fun, though, imagining their friendship becoming love. The little dramas that played out in my head. Then, when I decided to incorporate time travel and drop them into the historical settings I had studied and loved so much, the wish fulfillment was maximized.

It didn’t require much energy.

It didn’t cost much money.

It didn’t necessitate much in the way of social skills. (Until I have to market it… then… oy vey…)

Writing became the way to let my other dreams go. Not so much buried in the ground as released into the stars, fireflies into the night. They didn’t die, so much as they changed.

Like my body.

We grow and we change, and our expectations of life change with us. We need to be open to that. Not necessarily give up our dreams, but to be open to the possibilities our desires present.

I’m not a professional historian, but I’m a history teacher and I write history novels and do the necessary research. Maybe I’ll use that research and write papers for the Society for Creative Anachronism. These are new dreams. Very fulfilling dreams. They keep me going.

Maybe people will read and enjoy the novels, and I can leave something behind of myself. I don’t need fame or fortune, but when someone says, “Oh man, I love Sarah and Giovanni,” I feel unbelievably warm and happy. I love them too. They’re a part of who I am. They’re my dream. And if God grants me enough days to finish their story, then they’re my legacy, too.

We don’t give up, we evolve. We understand ourselves and appreciate who are. We respect ourselves well enough to adjust our dreams to the people we are becoming. And whatever we ultimately decide those dreams are, I believe that we should never, ever, give them up.

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P is for Prequels and Sequels

True story. Sarah and Giovanni’s tale started off as a contemporary romance that, based on the sketchy story I originally had, wasn’t going to be very long.

Then I added a historical setting.

I had considered just moving my intrepid couple to another period in history and making them fall in love in a tavern rather than a cafe. But it didn’t feel right. They were too modern. I stomped my foot and pouted. I wanted the best of both worlds.

And that’s when it hit me. Time travel. Of course.

Now I find myself with a whole series. What’s interesting, though, is that I know there are authors out there who write stand-alone novels. One and done. Even though I started off the way I did, I can’t remotely imagine The Journeymen as a one and done stand-alone. Now I have sequels. And even worse, prequels.

It seems that every time I come up with a new idea, it finds its way into what I’m now calling The Journeyman Franchise.

I have always wanted to write about the evacuation of Saigon, which I learned about because my husband was a freshly minted sailor on the USS Midway when it happened. I’m a medievalist, mind you, but I think this would be a fascinating study. My story wasn’t going to have time travel. It would just be a love story about a Navy pilot and a missionary girl.

And yet, wouldn’t it be perfect if they were Journeymen?

The creation has become the monster that has consumed my very being.

Should I be concerned about this? That I can’t seem to escape this… this… franchise? That I bring everything back around to The Journeymen? That I’m, dare I say, obsessed?

Probably. But I’m going to say no. It’s all good. It just means that I’m focused, right? Or, you could say I’m writing my own fan fiction. I’m all about skipping the middle man.

Just so you know, these are the stories I’d like to write:

  • Five novels telling Sarah and Giovanni’s story
  • A sequel telling the story of Matt, Giovanni’s cousin
  • A prequel telling the story of Sarah’s parents, Tina and Doug
  • A novella set in Vietnam telling the story of Cassie and Richard, who are parents of a couple of Sarah’s friends
  • A young adult novella about Emilia, whom we meet in the first book in 1578

Yeah, so stay with me and see if I can actually do this — it’ll be fun!

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O is for Olivia

If you are a writer and you haven’t found a writing buddy yet, put down this blog and go get one. There is nothing like a dear friend who will tell you the truth in love, who will encourage you and gut-check you. Writing isn’t something we can do alone. We need a community. We need friends. We need accountability. We need–

Ba-DING!

Yep. When my phone makes that noise, I’m pretty sure it’s Olivia.

Not that I don’t have other friends. I’m blessed to be surrounded by a lot of wonderful people who are encouraging, talented, funny, and just plain fabulous.

But she is the one who is right there for me. And that’s a wonderful place to be.

Olivia Folmar Ard really ought to tick me off. She’s literally half my age, and she is writing her third book. I have not finished one yet. Her books bring me to tears, laughter, and rabid jealousy at her silky prose and perceptive stories.

She doesn’t tick me off, though. She absolutely inspires me.

We found each other when we were both administrators of an online writing group. It was something of a trying experience, and a few of us provided each other with mutual support. As we chatted, Olivia and I found out that we have a remarkable amount of things in common. We’re in happy marriages. We share the same faith. We majored in history, then English. Those and a thousand other incidental things and attitudes and beliefs.

It’s always extraordinary when you find a kindred spirit.

What has earned Olivia a coveted letter in my Blogging A to Z Challenge, though, is that she has become my dearest friend.

Sure, we spend a lot of time talking about writing. We run ideas by each other. We talk each other down from the ledge. (That’s mostly me on the ledge. She’s already been there and done that and bought the t-shirt on a lot of the issues I’m just now experiencing.)

But we also talk about our lives, our families, our jobs. Our crazy everyday experiences that start with, “So, this happened,” and end with, “LOL!”

She doesn’t mind that I’m a kooky old lady who doesn’t really know what I’m doing as I flail through the writing process. I don’t mind that she’s young and beautiful and brilliant and has her whole life ahead of her.

Well. I don’t mind too much, anyway.

So today is for you, Olivia. Thank you for being my writing bestie and my fitness bestie and my Facebook bestie and my bestie bestie. Love you!

Now y’all, go buy her books!

 

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N is for Names

Just a really quick blog today to talk about the historical names I use in my stories.

If you’ve been following along, you may have picked up that my first two novels are partially set in Bologna between 1576 and 1579. While a couple of my characters were historical figures, I had to create all the others. Therefore, I had to find names for them.

A couple were based on famous people from the period. My darling Renaissance man Niccolo was named after Niccolo Machiavelli. No, that was not an accident. You’ll see why when you read about him.

Another important character was Baldassare, who is named after Baldassare Castiglione, author of The Book of the Courtier, which is one of my favorite pieces of research reading. Written as a conversation among courtiers and ladies, it is a dialogue discussing ideals about behavior. Its opinions about love and marriage in particular informed some of the characters in my novel.

Beyond Niccolo and Baldassare, I had to depend on another source for my historical character names, The Academy of Saint Gabriel.

This site is used by the Society for Creative Anachronism and other historical reenactment groups to document historical names from the early middle ages. Most of the members are from the SCA, in fact, and have done painstaking research verifying that names and spellings are correct for various places and times from approximately 500 to 1600.

Having had the pleasure of researching authentic names for members of the SCA, I take great delight in ensuring that the names I’m using in my stories are a reasonable attempt at being historically accurate. Put another way, I find myself mildly irritated at inaccurate names in historical fiction.

Yeah, I went there. I’m a purist. Don’t ever see historical movies me. Ever. Seriously.

Anyway, I wanted to share this website with you all because I do get asked about Medieval name conventions now and then, and this is where I send people. And this is where I go when they come back to me saying, “I can’t figure that site out. Maybe I’ll just check this baby name book here–”

No! Step away from the baby name book! Don’t make me yell!

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M is for Musicians, Especially Cute Ones

Sometime in the summer of 1994, when I was working in sales and marketing in the depths of Orange County, California, I received an interesting message on my voice mail. Nothing was said. It was just a drum beat and some chords on a keyboard, then a ripping lead guitar solo. I was mildly befuddled by this, as you could imagine. Thankfully, before I could delete it, I received an email from my friend in Texas claiming ownership. “If you hear some malfeasant playing guitar in your phone, that’s me.”

The friend in Texas was about to become much more than a friend.

Bobs Guitar

My Darling Husband on his birthday this year with his gift from me… a Fender Strat and Fender Amp.

My now-husband Bob is a very talented guitarist and an outstanding instinctive musician. He doesn’t read music, but his ear is extraordinary.

Since I appreciate his talent so much, I have given my main character, Giovanni, the same ability. Because who doesn’t lust after the guitarist? Especially one who’s tall with broad shoulders and long, red curls. I mean tall and Italian with long dark wavy hair.

But I digress.

I’m also a musician. A band/orchestra/choir nerd in high school, I majored in Music Education at a conservatory for a couple years before I decided that perhaps being a band director one day wasn’t really for me. I still play now and then, sometimes the bass, though these days the mandolin, which I’m enjoying despite the pain in my poor, now uncalloused fingertips. I’m working on that.

The great thing about writing novels is that whole wish fulfillment thing. I can make my characters exceptionally good musicians, even though I wasn’t every more than a mildly passable one. I can make them charming, brilliant, insightful. Exceptional. In fact, since I’m writing a story that is ostensibly paranormal fantasy, I can take it way into the next level.

In my novel series, the Journeymen are not only able to travel through time, they have a unique genetic code. This genetic quirk, as I call it, tends to give them artistic talents that we mere mortals can only envy. Hey, who knows, maybe Eric Clapton or Salvador Dali or <fill in the blank of an artist you admire> is secretly a Journeyman.

In fact, they can do all kinds of intriguing things. But I don’t want to spoil it for you. I want you to read the books!

I do have one more thing to share, though. Early in the novel, we find that Sarah, Giovanni’s beloved, is also a talented musician. In the story, she brings Giovanni to tears playing a mournful Chopin nocturne. For your listening pleasure, here is that nocturne. It probably won’t make you cry… Giovanni was just in a bad place. Anyway, enjoy!

Claudio Arrrau performing Chopin’s Nocturne No.21 in C-Minor

 

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L is for a Lack of Agony

I wanted to call this blog “L is for Life, Jim, But Not As We Know It.” Ten points if you get the reference.

I don’t have much to say today, so I’ll just ramble a bit, if it’s all the same with you.

I’m tired. I’m two weeks away from Texas’s standardized test in U.S. History, and my students are sick of my face. I’m sick of my face, too.

Speaking of which, my face hurts. I have a toothache.

To get my mind off the toothache, I bought a FitBit. I’m too dense to set it up. Maybe I don’t want to know what it has to say. I know, I need to know. That doesn’t mean I want to know. I’d rather deal with my lousy health by pretending I’m healthy and don’t have to watch my heart rate or check my blood glucose. Stupid FitBit, reminding me that I’m not in the least bit fit.

I’m being negative. Let’s talk about something else.

My husband is watching television over there. He’s kind of amazing. I can’t believe someone loves me like he does. Me! You have to know me to appreciate the gravity of this. We think we’re all entitled to that kind of love until we actually have it. Then it becomes kind of surreal. He loves me. Wow… How did that happen?

The ibuprofen and oral benzocaine is starting to kick in. You don’t appreciate how wonderful the lack of agonizing pain is until you get a toothache, or whatever flavor of pain you battle, and it goes away.

We should learn to walk through life appreciating when it’s good. Not just the bliss, mind you. The lack of agony. I don’t know about you, but I take for granted the lack of agony much too much.

My husband and my two sons are my lack of agony. I’m so incredibly blessed to have them. To have a God who watches over me, most likely shaking His head. To have my job that I don’t love right now, but I will again soon. To have my friends, one of whom will likely yell at me for not setting up my FitBit yet.

I think I came up with a nickname for my FitBit. It’s not suitable for a PG-rated blog. I shouldn’t really hate it before I even learn how to turn it on.

Life is funny. Unexpected. It doesn’t work quite like the novel I’m writing. There’s not inciting event, no rising action, no climax, followed by a clean denouement. We must be drawn to stories like that because it gives us that moment when we close the book with a sigh, the story resolved, things as they should be.

A lack of agony.

And no more toothache.

 

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