G is for Genre

I worry about genre.

I suppose I enjoy categorizing things. I organize my Magic the Gathering cards and re-shelve library books for fun. I like when things have a place, a definition, clarity.

My books don’t have that, really, and it makes me twitchy.

I write time travel stories. They are set in contemporary time, until they aren’t. They have paranormal humans with special abilities, but I had best not call it paranormal, because vampires. I had best not call it Christian, because they aren’t always clean. Romance? Ugh, I screwed that up, too.

So, late last year when I learned about elemental genres from the writing podcast Writing Excuses, I was a bit weary. Oh no, more categorization I can muck up.

Except no, this is something else. Something revolutionary, at least for me.

Elemental genres are writing with large concepts in mind. Building a sense of wonder, creating ideas, adventures, curiosity through mystery, tension through thrillers, humor, drama, issues, relationships, ensembles. These have given me a different paradigm through which I can view the development of my stories.

I appreciate that. A good story is a bit of a mashup, and that’s fun to imagine and write.

I know I’m not doing it justice here, as I hastily write this up. So instead, I’ll go ahead and add it to that Writing Resources page I set up. If you’re a writer, it’s definitely worth a look.

Saturday is my writing day, so I’ll now go back to my genre-fluid time travel story. See you Monday.

 

 

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F is for a Foundation in Faith and Friendship

Oh, so many F-words.

When you take more than a few weeks to write a novel as I have, you tend to agonize over character choices. I, especially, after making so many poor life choices, feel inept when it comes to making decisions for an entire cast of characters I’ve grown to love these last three years.

But I pause here to say that at one point I finally did make a good decision. His name is Bob. Twenty-four years on, falling in love with him was the best decision I ever made, and still make every day.

Our relationship and marriage always had two foundations: faith and friendship.

When we met, we were both in a state of wandering when it came to our faith. It was a neglected seed in both of us. When we found each other, we decided to water each other. I have always sensed God’s hand in our relationship because of that. He brought us together to cultivate each other.

We had started off as friends. I was going through one of the roughest patches of my life, in and out of bad relationships and making horrible decisions at every turn. Bob was the bit of stability in my life, my friend, and while I was living in the sandstorm, I could sneak over to him and have a bit of fun, some normal conversation, a pleasant respite.

You’d think I would have recognized immediately the implications of that, wouldn’t you? Oh, well, he must be the one I should love since his friendship is so comfortable. Bob was a warm blanket and a mug of coffee with whipped cream. Hard to believe it took me a while to figure it out. Though, given my proclivity for terrible life decisions, I suppose I shouldn’t be surprised.

So, now I have these characters I love. Sarah and Giovanni, and Emilia and Niccolo in 1578. Two couples who fall in love as friends, and whose relationships are built on a foundation of faith in God.

I’m deeply reluctant to call my novel an inspiration novel or a Christian novel, even though Christianity is at the heart of what I write. Like Bob and me, my characters’ faith has flaws. Emilia’s childlike faith is constantly shaken until she nearly abandons it. In her despair, Sarah will abandon her faith for a time and have trouble finding her way back. Giovanni is just coming into his faith, repenting from a life a sin when the first novel starts. And Niccolo—my poor, darling Nico—begins the story with no faith at all, believing he is destined for hell or, at best, oblivion, if he is lucky.

Our walk with God is like that—no two stories look the same. Faith doesn’t have a single profile. Faith, like the humans who possess it, comes in a billion stories. I think sometimes the Church doesn’t always see that, but that is a blog post for another day.

I suppose that’s why it was a small miracle that Bob and I met when we did, when we were both at the same crossroad in our own faith story.

So, good reader, please don’t be surprised or judge harshly if my characters talk about church and praying and bibles and such. Don’t be surprised if they swear and succumb to temptation. Or remain celibate. Or hold grudges, or forgive with foolish abandon. This is the Christian walk as I have known it, and my characters will make decisions based on things I wished I had done, and things I wished I hadn’t.

Because they tell me a good author writes what she knows.

 

 

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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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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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A is for April… again

It’s almost comical, my attempts at things like Blogging A to Z and Camp NaNoWriMo.

If you’ve been following my blog or my life for any amount of time, you know how much I love these challenges. Ooh, blog every day for a month! Ooh, write 1700 words a day, despite a full time job and chronic distractions! I can do eeet!

Eh… not usually.

But that doesn’t mean I shouldn’t try, and keep trying.

Blogging is particularly challenging for me, because I get rather hung up about what to write about. It’s hard enough for me to message my friends and say, “Hey, how’s it going?” without feeling audacious. Oh, but give me a website and some bandwidth and I’m supposed to opine every single day about life, the universe, and everything?

Eeek.

Ah, but I’m a writer, so I should have all the words.

Okay, yes, I have words. Cogent thoughts are perhaps a bit scarce, but words I seem to have in abundance.

This convoluted and slightly derailed train of thought is how I came up with my theme for this year’s Blogging A to Z Challenge:  Life in All the Words.

So, I’ll be writing about my happy little time travel novels, of course. But I want to pull in some other threads in my life. I feel like it’s important for me to weave all those threads together into some kind of cohesive narrative after what happened to me a few months ago.

(If you want to know what happened, please read the previous blog entry. It’s fascinating stuff I’d just as soon get over and forget.)

Not that real life has a nice, neat narrative (see previous blog entry). Especially not one that comes laid out in alphabetical order and includes the letters Q, X, and Z. But that’s okay, since I’ll probably peter out before I get that far.

The likely inevitability of failing but doing it anyway… that’s basically what life is about, isn’t it?

And if I don’t fail by some miracle or sudden acquisition of perseverance, I hope you’re impressed with what I can pull out of my butt with my sparkly star-studded magic wand. Especially on Q, X, and Z days. Bllllling!

Happy April, everyone, and blessed Easter and Passover. Thanks for stopping by.

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Where Have I Been All Your Life?

I haven’t had a blog entry since <mumbles>.

December, okay? DECEMBER!

But I have an excuse, and it’s legit and everything.

Not long after I finished my previous blog entry asking for suggestions for books to ask for last Christmas, I went a bit under the weather.

We were just about to get released for our Christmas break at school. I had magnificently laid plans not to think about teaching for two whole weeks. I would write. It would be lovely.

I’m sure you already sense the inevitable disaster looming.

I got appendicitis on December 18th.

I mean, no big deal, minor surgery, in and out in three days, plenty of time to anticipate the scent of turkey filling the house. Except… because this is me we’re talking about, I had a few complications.

My last Facebook post on the 19th, which I don’t remember posting or experiencing, talked about how I wished they’d stop giving me whatever post-surgical pain meds I was on because they were making me vomit, and I longed to keep down my Jello-O.

Alas, as Jimi Hendrix might attest to, vomiting and strong narcotics don’t mix.

On the 20th, I aspirated, filling my lungs and giving myself double pneumonia and respiratory failure. The x-ray of my lungs, which should be clear, was opaque. I would spend the next week on life support in a coma. They took me off the ventilator once, but had to put me back on. There had been much hand wringing, apparently, over my prognosis.

I don’t know. I wasn’t there.

On December 28th, they took me off the ventilator again, and this time it took. I had to wear a torturous breathing apparatus that forced my lungs to breathe while I learned how, but I was awake.

On our 22nd wedding anniversary, December 29th, my husband was allowed to bring our two sons, ages 20 and 17, into the ICU for a visit. It warmed my heart to be with my family, see my boys be silly and bounce off each other. My husband’s eyes filled with tears when he said, “It’s so good to see you smiling!” How bad was this for him, I wondered.

Sometime while I was comatose or coming around, I had the most terrifying hallucinations you could imagine.

find myself pausing here as I type this. I can’t bring myself to describe them. They felt absolutely real, these experiences that nobody should ever have to go through. That’s all I can say.

I asked my husband leading questions to see if any of the things I experienced were remotely possible. No, if what he said was true, they were not possible. It was all in my head. I’m still not utterly convinced I believe him, but I must. I have no reason not to believe him, except for the vivid terror that went on and on without the respite of waking up.

That terror was replaced by consciousness and lingering paranoia, and I spent another week in ICU recovering. I was learning to breathe, to swallow, to sit up, eventually even stand. I fell at one point and wondered if I’d ever be independent again. I tried to write something down for my husband, but the letters I thought I was forming were nonsensical scribbles. I wondered then if I had lost everything.

Spoiler: I hadn’t. It all came back, slowly, as the powerful drugs they had given me wore off and I regained a more normal neurological function.

I was in the hospital for a month. They said my recovery was remarkable. I was back at my teaching job about three weeks after that. My breathing and balance were spotty (still are, but improving). All in all, a remarkable bounce-back, according to the smorgasbord of doctors on my team.

But I had lost something. I lost my spark.

I had no ambition to write, to teach, to do anything. I wasn’t just tired, I was done. This despite the fact that my near-death experience should have had the opposite effect. It should have lit a fire under me. Life is fragile, gone in a whiff. I needed to finish what I had started, to tell the stories I’ve been learning and longing to write these last few years.

But I had lost it.

I kept trying anyway, and even made some progress over these past few months, even without the passion. I began to accept that this hollowed out existence would be my new normal, that my youth had died when my lungs filled, and I would have to make the best of this sudden onset of old age.

Okay, before you get all sad for me, I want you to know I turned a corner. Spring Break, last week, I finally got my school holiday, and the rest seemed to awaken my sleeping mojo. It wasn’t lost, just dormant.

It may seem obvious that I just needed time to recuperate. That recovery only took three months after the trauma that nearly took my life, and I should have been more patient with the process. I think, though, until you go through something like that, you don’t realize how much you take for granted that your body, your mind, your life will always be business as usual.

Nope.

Whether it’s a health scare, or a major life change of any sort, the sands will shift and priorities will shift with them. We may feel like we’re in one place, but we are flying through space and time at breakneck speed.

Never pass the chance to embrace a moment, a passion, a loved one. Our solid floor is just a tectonic raft that can upend at any time. And never give up on yourself, even when you are broken and exhausted. Even when the raft throws you off… just get back on. And wait for your equilibrium and balance to come back. It will, hopefully.

While there’s life, there’s hope, right?

All that to say… uh, yeah, I will try to blog more often now. Missed you!

 

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Brain Hacks and Christmas Wish Lists

I don’t take nearly as much time as I’d like to read. I do a lot of researching, which requires reading in bits and pieces, but pleasure reading tends to evade me.

That’s a shame, because I’m the pleasure-reader authors dream about. I get lost in the story, fall in love with the characters, cheer and cry and laugh at all the right times. I’m your favorite fangirl.

Those things also make me a terrible editor. Proofreading for errors? Sure, all day. Editing for plot holes and messy character arcs and other problems? When I’m that lost in a story, I can’t see past my tissues. It’s just a big ol’ bag o’ nope.

I digress. It’s my blog, I reserve the right.

So a few weeks back, while casually strolling through the library, I happened upon a time travel novel with a cool cover (yes, we do judge). It was Jodi Taylor’s Just One Damned Thing After Another. I expected it to be not terribly exciting, and it took a while for me to crack it open.

I was oh-so-ever-so wrong.

Turns out, it was the first book in the Chronicles of St. Mary’s series, which I wish I could hook up to my arm like an IV. I’ve just finished book four in the series and I’ve had to pause a bit before I had an emotional and intellectual breakdown.

That’s what books should do to you. In the Writing Excuses podcast for authors, they talk a lot about hacking your brain. I love that phrase! When we read, we are opening our minds to be hacked to turn black squiggles on a white page into a whole story playing in our heads, with all the pictures, ideas, and feels that go with it. It’s really an extraordinary experience if you think about it.

Anyway, I had intended today’s blog to be a wish list of what I want to read in the coming year and planned to send it to all my loved ones just before Christmas. You know, just in case they needed a nudge. But I have digressed, which I again assert my right to do.

Hey, maybe I’ll just throw this out there. Do you have any recommendations for me? I love early modern European history, romances, and time travel. You know, like my novel. I’m open to other genres as well.

What should I put on my Christmas list, provided I make it to the Nice column?

Our collective suggestions will be my next post. Make ‘em good!

 

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Still Here…

You’ll be happy to know that the rumors of my demise are greatly exaggerated.

Seriously, though, I’m a bit confused about myself, which, at my age, is troubling indeed.

You see, I’m a teacher. You know, one of those people who take summers off, right? Yeah, well, I have never taken a summer off in my adult life. I always work summer school to stave off poverty, and as a way to teach English now at then instead of my usual history classes.

This year, though, everything changed.

First, I changed jobs, to a district much closer to home, and I teach English for special needs students. Since I changed districts, my old district decided they didn’t need me for summer school.

Wow, a summer off! Lots of time to write! Get that second novel done while I wait for the first one to be edited! Blog like a mad woman!

Yeah, no.

I turned into an absolute slug. Proving, I’m sad to say, that I have no self-discipline.

So now, I’m just finding my groove again, starting to write with some regularity, and getting back into shape, mentally and physically. Because slug.

All that to say, hey, I’m back. And one of the things I really want to do is to start monitoring all the research I’ve been doing. Which, as it turns out, was the one way I was productive all summer.

That and gaming. Sigh . . . I’ve all but left a trail of slime behind me.

So, you may notice a new page on my site called Bibliography. I thought I’d go ahead and keep a running bibliography online of the research I’m doing. Hopefully it will become a decent resource for those of you looking at the same eras as me. And you can get an idea of just what goes into the preparation for writing historical fiction.

I feel pretty bad about wasting a summer off like that. Maybe I needed it, I don’t know. But for some reason, the less time I have to write, the more time I actually spend writing.

And if that’s not confusing, nothing is.

 

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