Category Archives: #AtoZChallenge

Q is for Quintessential

I had some ideas for topics I’d write about during this A to Z challenge.

And then there was Q.

It’s not a bad letter. It just doesn’t lend itself well to a lot of vocabulary. It’s a 10-point Scrabble word for a reason. So is Z, but we have eons before I have to deal with that.

Anyway, I thought about doing a post full of quotations. The ones I love most, the ones that speak to me. But I sort of got lost in the mire of identifying those quintessential quotes.

Quintessential.

What a funny word. I studied Latin in high school, so when I see quint(us), I think five. But what is that? The fifth essential? Fifth element? (A movie I haven’t seen. Go ahead and castigate me.)

So, scratching my head, I did what nerdy people are wont to do… I checked the etymology. And yes, it’s the fifth element according to Aristotle, the one that transcends earth, air, fire, and water. It’s aether, the incorruptible and heavenly element.

That got me wondering. Now mind you, I don’t have a scientific mind, really. My interests are much more in the humanities. But when you decide to dabble in time travel, you suddenly discover long buried sciency brain files.

If aether is the stuff that holds the universe together, isn’t it essentially what we know as gravity? Magnetism? The stuff that draws and pulls and holds?

Not having much knowledge in quantum physics or anything, I kind of thought that was cool. It’s applicable to my story, since it’s (kinda-sorta) magnetism that is the force that pulls my time travelers back to the past.

Where am I going with this? I have no idea. Only that words are beautiful receptacles of the surprising and new and fabulous in the universe.

If these things are something you know about, I’d love to hear from you, and learn more about the quintessential truths of the quintessential.

Whoa. Meta. Not bad for a Q word. Ten points for me!

 

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Filed under #AtoZChallenge, Chatting with the Readers, Time Travel

P is for Prologue

I used to be completely, vehemently anti-prologue.

(If only I was so utterly anti-adverb.)

Really? Two lines in and I’m already digressing?

Yeah, I was really down on prologues, because so many of them were one of two things:

  1. An introduction that could well have been chapter one. I mean, start the story where you’re going to start the story, right?
  2. An egregious info dump that leaves no opportunity for subtext to develop over time.

It was that second one that was such a problem for me as both a reader and a writer.

I wrote any number of prologues that tried to make my main character, Giovanni, a more flawed character. I wrote a number of flash fiction stories that were supposed to be part of his backstory, part of who he was so the reader would be more sympathetic to him in the course of the novel.

They didn’t work.

Because I was trying to hook my readers, I made the stories particularly egregious and shocking. Something I’ve learned in this writing odyssey is that life is tragic enough, and I didn’t need to go over the top to make Giovanni feel life’s pain. His story was sad enough; I didn’t need a horrifying prologue to emphasize that. It’ll come through as the story unfolds.

I went to the other extreme. Prologue bad. Prologue info dump. Prologue evil.

Then one day Dan Wells cleared it all up for me. He calls it the Ice Monster Prologue.

There is a prologue in the Game of Thrones series that features magic and adventure and ice monsters called Others.

Except all that comes later in the story. Like most good stories, the beginning of things isn’t terribly exciting. It’s the regular old world of one of the main characters.

In Shadow of the Portico, it’s Giovanni being yelled at by his older sisters for being a bonehead.

But The Journeymen is about a group of superhuman time travelers. We are well into the book before Giovanni discovers that he is one of them. It made a lot of sense to me to start the story–indeed, the series–by getting a little taste of what it’s like to travel back in time 440 years.

Armed with this new paradigm, I went in and wrote my prologue. You can read it here.

Always looking for the larger lesson, I realize that even when you think you know something, whether it’s about writing or anything else, you are never above learning something new.

Prologue good.

By the way, if you’re interested in Dan Wells’s story structure, I put a link to his videos on my Writing Resources page.

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N is for N00b

…in which Becca busts out all the gaming lingo to make a point about writing.

It would have been odd if my two sons (now ages 20 and 18) had grown up and not become gamers, considering who their mother is.

Sure, their dad will dust off the old 8-bit Super Mario or Zelda games now and then, but he doesn’t play much anymore. Me, on the other hand . . .

Being a gamer mom probably qualifies me to be at least nominated for Mom of the Year, as far as my sons are concerned. However, my actual parenting skills suffer when I am particularly frustrated with a boss or a BTC (blame the controller) moment. One can imagine that those moments don’t make for squeaky-clean, aproned maternal experiences.

These days, I’ve limited my gaming to one MMORPG called RuneScape, an online game I’ve been playing since 2007. You’d think I’d be pretty good at it. You’d be wrong. My stats make me the world’s oldest n00b (a newbie, to the uninitiated). Pretty much a clueless scrub, or maybe even a try-hard.

The problem is, it takes me forever to grind through that game and get XP (experience that causes my character to level up). I play old-school. I don’t buy experience, I gain it the hard way, through slow, meticulous work. And I have only so many hours in the day.

Like my writing.

I spend a lot of time thinking about my books, and this translates into spending a lot of time talking and writing about them. It seems like I’ve been writing them forever. And I suppose I have.

I’m the world’s oldest n00b.

But it’s because I don’t want to be a scrub or a try-hard.  Had I put out Shadow before it was ready, that’s what would have happened.

I want to take my time and learn the craft. It’s important to me that if it has my name on it–even my maiden name, for heaven’s sake–I want it to be the best I can do.

Will I ever be l33t? (Elite… honestly, Gaming is a dialect of its own…) I don’t know. That’s not really my ambition. I didn’t start writing to make money. But it’s been fun to get glimpses of recognition now and then. I could see myself wanting more of that.

Who wouldn’t?

But for now, I’m enjoying grinding out stories, fleshing out characters, tweaking my prose. I love being a writer.

It’s definitely not XP waste.

 

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M is for Making More Memories

I wish I was better about taking pictures.

Seriously, I have a phone that never leaves my person. It has a great camera that I don’t use.

Masks Ren Fest 2014I’ve just discovered that the first pics that are on this phone are from the exact period when I began my writing adventure — November 2014. That Thanksgiving, we went to Texas Renaissance Festival, not garbed (shamefully), and I took a picture of a mask that my son, Joshua, liked. I took a few other pics that weren’t terribly notable. I should have taken more, but we didn’t dress up. Such a silly reason to not take pics.

But yeah, that’s when all this started, inauspiciously, when I decided I could write stuff, sure, what the heck? And I already had Giovanni, so I gave him a love. Sarah, whose name means princess, a medieval scholar with messy hair and a stutter (I had to make her imperfect somehow).

Bologna 1604 Fontana BookBy January, I had taken this picture of Bologna from the period when my book is set. It’s from a book called Lavinia Fontana: A Painter and Her Patrons in Sixteenth-Century Bologna by Caroline P. Murphy. I’m pretty stoked to find this picture on my phone. It means that between Thanksgiving and January, I had already decided that I wanted to make my novel a historical romance rather than a modern one. Alas, though, my characters struck me as terribly modern. How do I reconcile this?

It just so happened that season one of Outlander was being shown. I refused to watch it until I read the book. So, that was on my bed stand when the lightning bolt that my contemporary characters could time travel to the Renaissance hit me. I think I spent that Christmas break in a state of extreme manic creativity.

It was Bologna because of the University. It was 1578 because I had found that book about Lavinia, and that was when her painting career took off, and there had been a plague a couple years before that I thought I’d build a story around. I developed a character named Emilia, given the same name as Lavinia’s first child. Caroline Murphy’s book was a veritable goldmine. Still is.

By January 25th, I had Niccolo, Emilia’s beloved. I know this because I shot this picture of a resource I found in the library at the University of Texas.

Notary Source Jan 2015

I’m not sure why he ended up as a notary, and I’m still looking for the resource that told me notaries wore black, but those things stuck. He became my dark, mysterious man, as much as a Pollyanna like me can write a dark character. Especially since I absolutely adore him.

20161222_162318.jpgWell. This wasn’t what I was going to do my M-is-for post on at all! But perhaps it’s appropriate that I record these spontaneous decisions I had made that didn’t seem important at the time.

I suppose a great way to frame this blog post is to show a picture of my son, Joshua, standing outside a mask shop in Venice. We were in Italy researching the book series. Who would have ever thought my silly ideas for some scribbling would turn into this?

Yeah, and I guess I had forgotten how old (and fabulous) my phone is. (Samsung Galaxy 6, people…)

What did we learn today, kids? TAKE MORE PICTURES! Make More Memories. They may turn out to be more important than you can ever imagine.

Oh, before you go. I have a postscript to yesterday’s blog about the actor who’s my Giovanni muse. I woke up to this on my Twitter feed this morning. Can I just say how much I love being a writer?

Alberto Tweet

 

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Filed under #AtoZChallenge, Chatting with the Readers, Historical Fiction, Trip To Italy 2016

L is for Lope

You never know when it will happen. You’re minding your own business, doing some legitimate book edits, when AHHHH!

You fall down the rabbit hole.

Me, I fell down a wicked one sometime back.

You see, I’m always looking for people to cast in my books. This is an author’s favorite pastime, it seems–casting the movie version of their books. There’s a group of actors who always seem to be the inspiration for the romantic male leads of these books. And sure, they’re all gorgeous, in a classic Hollywood kind of way.

But none of them look like Giovanni.

He’s been part of me for a long time, so I have a definite look in my mind for him. And all these years later, I still hadn’t found it.

Then, one day a reader looking at the prologue of Shadow of the Portico told me that she didn’t understand why I meant by a “slouchy lope.”

My character, Giovanni, is 6’3″ and much taller than pretty much everyone in early modern Bologna. So when he walks around town, he kind of slouches to try and blend in a bit, and he walks with a lope–a long stride.

But just to be safe, I looked up the word “lope” on Google.

Yes, I was right, that’s what it meant.

But wait. I noticed off to the side there were some images . . .

Lope

Woah! Hold the line . . . This is from a movie called Lope from 2010, set in the late sixteenth century (like my books), in Spain, about playwright Lope de Vega, a familiar name, but I had never read any of his stuff. But, this actor in his leather doublet . . . woah.

Alberto LopeI looked at more photos, and a publicity shot from the movie popped up.

Oh, my.

I found a name — Alberto Ammann. I’m afraid I hadn’t heard of him, since most of his work is in Spanish, and I don’t watch a lot of movies anyway, even the ones for which I don’t need subtitles.

But look at him: tall and lithe with that beautifully messy dark hair, the friendly approachable face, the nose slightly too big to be classically handsome. All he needed was gray eyes and glasses, and too bad he’s not Italian, but wow, close enough, I’d say.

Then I slipped further down the bunny hole and saw this spread from Marie Claire:

Alberto Marie 1

Alberto Marie 2

Great googly moogly! That smile! That smolder! I had, at long last, found my Giovanni.

I can’t imagine what it’s like to be an actor. I know they kind of put themselves out there into the great wide world to be ogled. But I wonder they really expect middle-aged women authors to become obsessed with them. Crazy writers with their imaginary friends spending untold hours staring at these poor actors, completely unbeknownst to them.

Except I’m blogging about it, so I’m kind of making it . . . well, beknownst.

It’s just that we have these characters we love, and we want them to become human. Real. Perhaps that’s why authors love casting their novels. It becomes a little more corporeal for us.

Alberto NarcosAnyway, my human version of Giovanni, Alberto Ammann, is probably best known for his work as Pacho in Netflix’s Narcos, a show you couldn’t otherwise pay me to watch. I don’t do violence. They do violence. A lot of it. It’s horrifying.

He’s about as non-Giovanni as you can imagine in this show, and he’s fantastic. Definitely a great actor.

Alberto Mars

These days, he’s on National Geographic’s MARS, a docudrama about what the possibility of sending the first manned missions to Mars in 2033. Now, this is a show I can actually watch with the husband, my beloved space nerd. How perfect is that?

I’m actually thrilled that I finally found my muse for Giovanni. He’s already had a huge influence on my writing–I’ve even gone in and fixed a few of his descriptions in the books. (Giovanni has straighter hair and a short beard now because I can’t picture him otherwise anymore.)

I hope the fact that I have something like a celebrity crush at this point in my well-seasoned life doesn’t make me some kind of deviant. If anything, Alberto has inspired my fiction and brought to life a character I’ve adored for a long time. And I’m about to go read me some sixteenth-century Spanish poetry, so I’m expanding my literary horizons.

Besides, who can resist a cute guy reading in a cafe?

Alberto Gif

Gotta love those crazy, distracting rabbit holes.

 

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J is for Jade Tablets

All right, I’m totally cheating.

I’m not writing about jade tablets. I’m writing a book review today. The book has jade tablets in it. Hence, I’m covering my “J” requirement.

Now, before you judge, I could have written about Journeymen, since that’s the title of my series. I could have done some shameless self-promotion here. But this struck me as more important.

The book I reviewed is My Beautiful Enemy by Sherry Thomas, which I read for our local library’s romance group. Ms. Thomas, it turns out, is a local author here in Austin, and she came to the meeting to talk about the book.

And so did I.

It was my first time attending this group, which was nervewracking. You see, I’m an ex-extrovert. (This could have been my “X” topic. Still might be…) I don’t really attend many public functions anymore, even though when I do, I love them. But somewhere in my process of becoming more seasoned, I have become shy. Anxious, even, especially when it comes to meeting people.

But I’m so glad I went last night.

The group was a lot of fun, Ms. Thomas was extremely gracious and insightful, and she encouraged me to get into some writing groups here in town. As a rather bashful new author, I really appreciated that.

I figure the least I could do in return would be to recommend her wonderful book that I just finished reading for the group. And since the letter “J” is in the book once or twice, I have a great excuse to feature the review here in my A to Z blog challenge.

So thank you, Sherry Thomas, for writing a great book and being an awesome example of how authors should treat their fans. Check out my review of her book on my Reviews page. I hope it will be the first of many.

 

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Filed under #AtoZChallenge, Book Reviews and Recommendations, Chatting with the Readers, Historical Fiction

E is for Early Modern Europe

Someone should take me aside and gently advise me against pointing out the empty pages on my website.

You know, like that page that says Historical Bibliography.

I mean, it’s certainly not for a lack of historical reading that we find that page empty. But like my reviews and resources, I just find it hard to get anything up on there. You know, because of time and real life and jobs and family and all that nonsense.

Anyway, my first two time travel novels in The Journeymen series are partially set in Europe in 1578. Most people tend to describe that as the Renaissance, and since it’s a term people can easily embrace, I tend to go along with it.

But that whole “renaissance” thing kind of sets my teeth on edge. I consider myself a medievalist, and the idea of a renaissance as a “new birth” just seems like a big diss to the entire middle ages, which is undeserved and not helpful to understanding either period.

Renaissance is a bit nebulous as well. It, such as it is, happened at different times in different places. While many people like easy terms like renaissance that invokes images of Michelangelo and the Tudors, I tend to see the problems inherent with the oversimplification of historical periodization.

I’m pretty sure that last sentence just chased off half of my six blog readers.

Suffice to say, I’m adding a page of the books I’m reading to conduct my research in early modern Europe.

I like that term. Rolls off the brain very nicely, doesn’t it? Early Modern Europe

Think about it. We think of modern Europe as the society that has explored the world and colonized the Americas and has modern-looking commercial enterprises. One that has a printing press and Protestants and vernacular literature and realistic art. Early modern Europe is simply the beginning of all this. Makes sense, right?

All this blathering to say, I’d love to expand my empty Early Modern bibliography. If you do research in the area, I’d love to get your recommendation for good books and resources that go deeper into the period than your garden variety web page. I’m especially interested in Italy, the Council of Trent, and everyday life in the late sixteenth century. I’ll put up what I’ve been reading as well. At Home in Renaissance Italy

I promise.

Including this book that I just read that is absolutely revolutionizing my depth of understanding about Italian households in the sixteenth century. It not only discusses objects in Italian households, it tells the stories behind them, providing a depth of context that is proving invaluable as I put my characters in these same settings.

(I’ve quite forgiven the title. People like that “R” word. What are you going to do?)

I hope all these new pages will be something of a renaissance for my website. That would be a renaissance I can wholly embrace.

 

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D is for La Dotta

Today, I’ll be sharing a bit about my second book in the Journeymen series, La Dotta. Even though I spend a lot of time yammering on about Shadow of the Portico, it’s only because it’s my first book and I’m nostril-deep in rewriting it. (I admit, I learned a lot about the writing craft after I wrote my first book. I’m putting some of that knowledge on the Writing Resources page. Eventually. And in Shadow. Now.)

Anyway, while Shadow is the story of Giovanni, an affable, charming, beta-male ex-womanizer with an inferiority complex, La Dotta is about Sarah, the entirely-more-complex woman he loves.

Sarah started off as someone kind of like me – interested in medieval history, fulfilling my own life’s wish of getting a PhD. But as the story went deeper, I decided to layer on a whole lot of complications.

She stutters badly. This is a problem for a woman who wants to be a professor. Giovanni has no problem believing she will be a fine professor, but Sarah never believes it, even though she vehemently protests that she could be. At some point, she’s going to have to end the delusion that she even wants to be a professor and figure out what she’s really going to do with her life. Perhaps something that doesn’t make her throw up the way lecturing in front of more than two people does.

As we get to know Sarah, we come to find out that being honest with herself is not one of her strong points. She’s even worse about handling disappointment. Especially when she manufactures that disappointment within herself by her self-deception. (Maybe she’s still kind of like me…)

Writing flawed people is fun!

The title La Dotta comes from one of the three nicknames given to the city of Bologna, where parts of my novels are set. La Dotta, the learned, refers to Europe’s oldest university located in Bologna. La Grossa, the fat, refers to the culinary tradition in the city. (It doesn’t refer to Sarah’s love of cooking.) Finally, Bologna is called La Rossa, the red, because of the red roofs that dominate the skyline. (Nothing to do with Sarah’s habit of blushing all the time.)

Giovanni calls Sarah la dotta as a safer nickname than dolcezza, which is more like sweetheart. She is his little scholar. But like Bologna, he will soon see Sarah as his heart’s home.

Not satisfied with pounding that metaphor to death, though, I carry it further. Sarah is going to discover the Commedia Dell’arte in La Dotta. This was more or less an improv theatre in early modern Italy. They had standard characters who acted out variations on a theme and created a comedy from it. One of the characters is an old man called Il Dottore, the doctor, a pompous, lecherous, overly erudite fool who is at cross purposes with the lovers in the story. At some point, poor Sarah is going to recognize that she is much too much like that guy, and she needs to make some important changes if she’s going to find happiness.

No spoilers, though. You have to read the book. Soon as I finish writing it. And the first book. I’d better get on it.

 

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Filed under #AtoZChallenge, Bologna, Chatting with the Readers, Early Modern Italy, La Dotta

C is for Craft

Not crafts, like sewing and such, which I also love. I mean craft, like writing craft.

One of my favorite ways to procrastinate when I should be writing is to go on social media and participate in writing groups. I have a few favorites, among then 10 Minute Novelists on Facebook. That’s a group of time-crunched writers who have to fit in writing spurts between loads of laundry. And procrastination.

Anyway, I’ll frequently see questions in that group about what are the best writing resources, especially for new writers. I keep recommending the same bundle of books, web pages, and podcasts, so I thought perhaps I would put them together in one place and refer friends to it.

Hey, so now my blog will be more than just my usual blitherings… it can actually be a useful resource! Such a nice thought.

So, as part of my Life in All the Words theme for this A to Z blogging challenge, I am adding a tab on my website called Writing Resources and amassing my growing collection of resources that have all become my go-to when I have a question about inciting events and how to add depth to my characters.

I’ll be growing this bit by bit as I have time, but my first entry is going to be this book that I just bought, Lisa Cron’s Story Genius.

Story GeniusSo far, I’m finding it to be, well, genius. (Way to live up to the name!) It describes the way the human mind is hard-wired to give and receive stories, why it is that way, and what kinds of stories will humans most deeply respond to. The part I’m reading now debunks the whole idea of plotters versus planners and why the manner in which we construct a book sort of misses the point. I love it. (FWIW, I’m a plantser, but I suppose I’ll get into that more on the craft page as I build it.)

All right, so, if I can figure out how to add another tab on the top of my site — this is not a given — I will soon have an area for all my favorite writing resources. Cheers!

 

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B is for Book Reviews

I’ve had this little blog for a couple years now, and something I’ve always wanted to do was have book reviews posted on it.

In fact, there is a Reviews tab up there.

With one review.

Mind you, it was a really good book I thoroughly enjoyed, but I’ve thoroughly enjoyed lots of other books, too. It’s just that I’m not so good about writing reviews. One might say I’m not so good at writing reviews.

I intend to remedy this.

I’ve been blessed to meet a number of authors via social media and read their terrific stories. Many of them are independent authors, and for those of us who write without the backing of a traditional publisher, reviews are basically our bread and butter.

Reviews are how novels are recognized, how they obtain marketing, how people get to know them when they’ve never heard the author’s name. I want to do my tiny part in this by getting my reviews on this site, along with Amazon and Goodreads and wherever else they will help.

No, I’m not a book blogger. I blog my interests, and I love books… among other things.

So today, B is for Book Reviews, really Book Recommendations, and I hope to do two a month. I’m honored to be able to spotlight my talented friends in this way!

Before I go to bed, there will be a second recommendation on my Reviews page. Oooh! Can’t wait!

Now, um… I just need to write it.  🙂

 

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