Friday, July 6, 2018

Historical Accuracy



I am currently working with a first-time author who is writing a historical novel about a time and subject about which I know very little. This, in fact, is why I was excited to edit her story. I enjoy learning new things.

However, a very short way into the book, some red flags arose. She had her character traveling on a railroad traveling north to south just prior to the Civil War. I looked up the name of the line she had used and discovered it didn’t exist—ever.

\When I questioned her about it, she said, “I just used literary license and made it up.”

Uh no.

Readers of historical fiction—especially those who read about the particular time in which she is writing, would have her head for such an invention. Readers are passionate about accuracy when it comes to their favorite periods and locations, and authors must research everything they write.

I have been known to close a book and throw it away (or remove it from my Kindle library) for blatant inaccuracies. I know devotees to particular eras do the same. Even when writing contemporary fiction, research is still important.

The more reality you include in your fiction, the more believable it becomes. So, where can you use literary license, and where should you strive for absolute accuracy? Larry wrote a blog for me a few years ago where he describes it better than I could. The following is from his blog.

WRITING A REAL LOCATION
In our second mystery, Murder in Paradise, our protagonist, Agapé Jones, retired NYPD detective, was supposed to drive from Honolulu to Hale’iwa. While doing research on Oahu, I drove the same route, noticed the outrigger canoes parked along the Ala Wai Canal, and shopped at the Foodland in Hale’iwa. Then Agapé did the same things in the book. We know our readers will never forgive us if we mess up their town. And if our hero drives the wrong way on a one-way street, we’ll never hear the end of it. [One reader, who had lived on Oahu, said he knew exactly where he was every minute—a testament to the value of the research.]


While I write a story in a real place, I surround myself with photos, clippings, and maps of the area I intend to write about. Anything to keep me grounded in reality.

Sometimes a picture will inspire a scene. In Murder in Paradise, I had the grandmother character tell the story of growing up as a child on the North Shore and visiting the Hale’iwa Hotel, a beautiful Victorian-style inn featuring a two-story lanai and luxurious dining room. Opened in 1898, the building was torn down in 1952. As inspiration, I purchased several early photos of the old hotel from North Shore Photo Hawaii and hung them on the wall over my computer. The pictures themselves never appeared in the book, but my descriptions became more accurate because I could visualize being there. Hopefully, I passed my vision on to the reader.

WRITING A FICTIONAL LOCATION
Lorna and four friends created the fictitious town of Aspen Grove, Colorado, as the location for their romance anthologies, Snowflake Secrets, Seasons of Love, Directions of Love, The Art of Love, An Aspen Grove Christmas, and …And a Silver Sixpence in Her Shoe. This allowed the authors to invent shops, restaurants, churches, B&Bs, etc. to fit their novellas. They placed Aspen Grove in the mountains west of Denver on the road leading to the ski resorts. Even though it is fictitious, it needed to have the real look and character of the area. Aspen Grove became a composite of several real towns.

Walk down the main street of Idaho Springs and you expect to see Daisy’s Diner and the Book Nook. Wander along the lakefront in Georgetown to find Drew’s log cabin, and on through town a stone building houses the Presbyterian Church. Several readers have remarked they would love to visit Aspen Grove. So would we. [But we have come close in these two small Colorado towns. Idaho Springs is shown below.]


WRITING HISTORICAL FICTION
Not only do the locations need to be correct, but also the specific time period. The events, language, customs, clothing, and props must all fit the era.

In historical fiction, it is even more important to do accurate research. Our historical novel, The Memory Keeper, concerns life at the San Juan Capistrano Mission between 1820 and 1890 as seen through the eyes of a Juaneño Indian.

For inspiration, an original etching by Rob Shaw, published in 1890 by H L Everett, showing the mission grounds, hangs over my computer and did so during the writing of the book.

Our bibliography ran eleven pages. We also enlisted the aid of the San Juan Capistrano Historical Society, mission docents, the local San Juan historian, and a Juaneño native storyteller as beta readers for historical information. We weren’t satisfied until they were satisfied with the accuracy of our details.

That said, I have to remind myself. Never let the facts get in the way of the story. Too many details can turn a good story into a boring history lesson. In the end, the research should support and enhance, but not overwhelm. We must choose which facts to include, leave out, and make up. If we’ve done our job, our readers will become so involved with the plot and compelling characters, the facts will blend in. They’ll never know how much research went into it. But we will.

Tuesday, June 26, 2018

Why Authors Need Business Cards


Several months after we published our first book, 31 Months in Japan: The Building of a Theme Park, we attended a writers’ conference because we were finalists in their contest. This experience proved to be one of the most valuable events in our writing careers. We met some terrific people (some of whom have remained good friends). We networked with other industry professionals. But, perhaps most valuable, we got lots of excellent advice and information.

One of the speakers was a marketing expert. In addition to the usual recommendations (have a professional-looking website, join LinkedIn, Facebook, Twitter, etc.), she emphasized getting business cards—and using them.

We already had cards, provided by the publisher, and had given them out during the conference, but the speaker pointed out why they were important and other ways they could be useful.

A primary reason to have cards is to establish yourself as a serious writer. Once your first book comes out, you are a published author. You need to emphasize your professionalism. Your website LinkedIn profile, author page on Facebook, and your cards all convey this idea.

For the first romance anthology, my second book, Snowflake Secrets, I made my own cards. Staples and other office supply stores carry blank cards.

At first, we had cards printed for each book and passed them out ahead of publication to increase interest. Vistaprint.com used to offer free cards for just the price of shipping. You had to use one of their basic designs, but fortunately, we liked them. This is still the least expensive source we have found. We are on their mailing list, so we also get additional special offers.

Once we were multi-published, we realized we needed author cards with our basic information on them. These are the ones we now use most often. Sometimes we use the generic designs. At other times, especially when they have a sale, we create our own design. This one is one of theirs.

For series books, we sometimes create one card to span the series. We did this for the first book of Larry’s sci-fi series The McGregor Chronicles: Book 1 – Saving Mike because we always knew he’d write more. (Book 5 is ready for publication, and he’s halfway through Book 6.)

So, how do we use them?

First, we always carry them wherever we go. If we meet someone and start to talk about our books, we can hand them a card and tell them to visit our website. (it’s listed on the card.) Since we now have seventeen published books between us, sending them to the website makes sense.

We have given out cards while standing in line at Disneyland, at the mall, and lots of other unexpected places. I recently gave on to a lady in a store. I think she used it because we sold one of the books we had discussed on about the same day we talked to her.

One of our favorite uses is when we eat in a restaurant. We usually pay with a credit card. When we sign the receipt (or leave a tip), we take out a card and write “Thank You” on the back. First, it is a nice gesture to the wait staff. Second, they may remember you. Of course, you have to leave a nice tip, but we always do.

We did this one day, and our waiter returned with two other ladies. One was the restaurant owner, and the other was an organizer of an upcoming event at the restaurant. Since the whole event focused on the history of San Juan Capistrano, about which we have written, we were glad to know about it. We attended, met some valuable contacts, and handed out more cards.

You never know when someone will use your card. We have been contacted by people who told us they had been given one of our cards by someone else.

I once worked for a company where, on the second day of employment, every employee received a box of business cards, whether or not they dealt with vendors or customers. When I asked why, I was told, “This is the cheapest form of advertising.” We have always felt the same.

Since Claire’s book, Trust the Wind, was published on her birthday, I had cards made for her as her birthday present. This time, I chose custom ones.

One of my dear author friends has separate cards made for each of her books and uses them to create interest prior to the book’s launch. She attends many author events, conferences, and book fairs where she can hand them out.

Do you have business cards? How do you use them?

Tuesday, June 19, 2018

Mentoring


We first met Claire Crafts when she was eight-years-old. Her younger brother broke a window in our house, and his dad brought him and his sisters to the house. In Claire, I recognized a kindred spirit. Thereafter, whenever I saw her, we had long discussions about writing.

When she was ten, she joined our critique group. Being surrounded by published adult writers did not intimidate her, and we made no exceptions when critiquing her work. Because several of our authors were writing young adult novels, Claire’s input became invaluable.

At first, she wrote historical short stories, ala Little House on the Prairie. (All her young heroines were named “Millie,” and all the fathers were dead in her families. Her own father started to wonder about this particular plotline.)

As she progressed, she decided to write a novel. She started several, but never completed them. Part of the problem was she tried to write from an adult point-of-view. She also attempted to write about places and events about which she had little knowledge.

Finally, last summer when she was fifteen, she not only began but completed a lovely coming-of-age romance novel. She shared it with the group and received positive feedback.

On April 30, her sixteenth birthday, her novel, Trust the Wind was published on Amazon.com. She took the cover photo, and Larry did the design and layout.

So far, she has earned more royalties in six weeks than any of the adults in our group has ever earned in the same period!
Claire has several more books in her queue, including a book of poetry.

Encouraging the creativity of this very talented young lady has been a joy for all of us.
~~~
We have just helped our grand-niece complete her first fantasy novel. Savannah is only eleven, and she is also exceptionally talented.
Her mother told us about the book last Thanksgiving, and she sent it to me. Imagine my surprise when I read it and found it was better than some submissions I have received from the adults for whom I edit.

Savannah understands how to tell a story, how to create a story arc, character arcs, tension, and suspense. She has an impressive grasp of language and understands the value of dialogue. We went through the manuscript and identified a few issues, but overall, it was well done.

We promised her as part of her Christmas present we would help her publish it. We intend to keep our promise.

Larry created a wonderful cover, and the final edit is completed.
As soon as we work out the financial details, we’ll publish this one as well.

Like Claire, Savannah has more books planned.

Seeing the enthusiasm and talent of these young writers brings us a great deal of satisfaction.

Another young lady of fourteen has just joined out critique group. We’re anxious to see what she produces.

Have you ever had the experience of mentoring someone? Did you have mentors? How much difference did they make?

Tuesday, June 12, 2018

Editing Guidelines


Recently my friend and fellow author, Marilyn Meredith, posted a blog on self-editing. These are some of the guidelines I give my clients, based on the style sheets of several publishers I've worked for:


Proper English
Use proper English most of the time. This does not mean formal language, just correct word usage. The one place where diversion from proper English is allowed is in dialogue. A speaker may have a regional accent or may sound illiterate. Indicate these characteristics to emphasize characteristics of the character. However, with dialect, choose only one or two words and use them consistently.

Choose a Writing POV
Decide whether to write in first or third person. Don't use omniscient POV. Most people do not execute it well. When writing in third person POV, write in deep POV. Commit to the character's emotions or actions.

Point of View
Use only one point of view per chapter or scene. Identify your POV character. This person cannot know what anyone else sees, hears, thinks, or feels. Describe the scene only from this person's viewpoint.

Limit the POV to the main characters in the story. Do not write in the POV of peripheral characters.

Do not change POV by breaking the scene every few paragraphs with a hiatus (***). If the events happen in the same place at the same time, it's the same scene, and a hiatus does not work.

You may use a single transition during the scene from one POV to another. It works best mid-scene or at a crucial point where it makes sense for the POV to switch to another character. If the POV switch happens three-to-five paragraphs in, the beginning of the scene may not be necessary. Delete it.

Do not head-hop. Do not switch back and forth between characters in the same scene. This is annoying for readers, and as an editor, I don't allow it.

Show, Don't Tell
Don't say: "She was frightened." Instead, say: "Her heart pounded, she felt sweat pool beneath her arms, and her whole body shook."

Avoid Passive Voice
Use active verbs rather than passive ones. In passive, the character is the recipient of the action. Passive voice is usually awkward and unclear, while active voice flows better and is more direct.

Examples of Passive Voice:

The door was locked by Emma.
Todd's foot was stepped on by another student.

Fixed:

Emma locked the door.
Another student stepped on Todd's foot.

Use Direct Writing
Avoid “was -ing” and “began to” verb structures. They dilute the action. If a character does something, have them do it. As Yoda said, "Do or do not, there is no try." There is also no 'begin to.'

Examples:

She began to leave the room.
He was making breakfast, while she was showering.
He was starting to suspect she was trying to confuse him.

Fixed:

She turned to leave the room.
He made breakfast while she showered.
He suspected she intended to confuse him.

When can a character “begin to” do something, or “'start to”' do something? When the action is interrupted.

Examples:

Sally began to wash the dishes, but then the phone rang.
Damien started to leave the driveway when Dennis pulled in behind him.

Keep Up the Pace
Sometimes these words interrupt the flow of the scene. Be firm. Be clear. If you are, you won't need these words. This list is incomplete, but you should get the idea:
Immediately
Began to
Eventually
Just then
All of a sudden
Might
Often
Proceeded to
Suddenly
Then
Started to
Suddenly

Limit “-ly” Adverbs
Stephen King said "The road to hell is paved with adjectives." The same might be said about adverbs. Adverbs are often redundant, and the action they describe can be inferred from the rest of the sentence.

Example:

He set the priceless vase on the table carefully.
“Let's get out of here," she said as she quickly turned to leave.
Betty rocked the baby and gently laid her back in her crib.

Fixed:

He set the priceless vase on the table.
"Let's get out of here.” She turned to leave.
Betty rocked the baby and laid her back in her crib.

The rest of the sentence implies the way they would complete the action. However, if the action is in contradiction to what the reader would expect, further description is warranted, but try to avoid “-ly” adverbs.

Example:

Bill slammed the priceless vase onto the granite countertop and glared at Janice.

Avoid the Word 'that'
Most of the time, the use of the word 'that' is unnecessary, and it is often overused. When you find the word 'that' in a sentence, read the sentence excluding the word. If it makes sense, without it, remove it.

Em-Dashes Interrupt and Ellipses Pause
Authors sometimes use one or the other all the time.

They may always use dashes (em-dashes, not hyphens), even with an abrupt halt or stutter isn't meant, or they may use ellipses (three dots used together as a single character) when they intend for the speaker to be cut off, not just trail off.

Use an Ellipse when the speaker doesn't finish their thought, perhaps because they're distracted, or they intend to leave something unsaid. Use Em-Dashes the speaker is halted or interrupted, for instance, in an argument.

No CAPS for Emphasis
Save CAPS for acronyms like FBI, CIA, IRS, etc. If you need to emphasize dialogue or narrative, use italics.

No Double Punctuation
Never use “?!” ever. This is not to say you can't use either character, but never use them together as a unit.

Eliminate Exclamation Points
Avoid exclamation points. My rule is no more than one per manuscript. Use your words to indicate the level of emphasis.

Italics
Use for internal thoughts, memories, dreams, etc. or for emphasis. Also, use them for book titles, brand names, television program names, etc. Be careful of copyright issues. Note: song titles are shown in quotes.

Avoid Semi-colons
Do not use these. Most writers misuse them. Try to rework the sentence before resorting to a semi-colon. Replace with a period and start another sentence.

Purple Prose
Avoid extravagant, erudite, or flowery language. It sounds stilted and may send your readers running to the dictionary. Once they are gone, they may not return.

Alright is Never All Right
All right is two words, despite how often it appears as one.

Replace Dialog Tags
Nothing is more annoying than repeated “he said” and “she said.” If your dialogue is between two people with identifiable positions and language styles, or a male and a female, no tags are necessary. Even when they are, replace the tags with action.

Reader Feeder
Avoid long, descriptive, and unnecessary paragraphs. They slow or stop the action. Some description is necessary to establish a sense of place, but too much bogs down the story. Especially avoid pages and pages of backstory. Include this information as the story unfolds. Always ask:
1. Is it necessary?
2. Does it move the story along?
3.  Are there any extra words?
Recently my friend and fellow author, Marilyn Meredith, posted a blog on self-editing. These are some of the guidelines I give my clients, based on the style sheets of several publishers I've worked for:


What are your pet peeves in writing?

Tuesday, June 5, 2018

France – Heading Home – 4/13/2018



Another lovely breakfast in the ancient wine cellar below the Millesime Hotel. Then back to our rooms to finish packing. We always carry an extra ripstop nylon bag with us so we can add a carry-on for the trip home if we buy gifts, etc. The good news: everything fit into our two carry-on rolling bags plus Larry’s backpack and my carry-on computer bag. No checked bags, thank goodness.

We went down to the lobby to settle our bills and wait for our airport transport. Another surprise: we had the same driver who picked us up when we arrived. Somehow, it felt comforting, like we were seeing another friend.

Larry and Bob both commented about how awful Paris traffic was. They agreed they were glad they weren’t driving in it. The motorcycles racing in and out of crazy traffic made the situation even more scary.

We arrived at De Gaulle, located the Norwegian Air terminal, checked in, went through security, and then found our gate. The boarding process was the usual hurry-up-and-wait we have come to expect. At last on the plane, we were relieved to see our equipment was a Boeing 787 Dreamliner as on our flight when we arrived.

Au revoir to France.

This time, our seats were near the back of the plane, but they were comfortable. The personal entertainment systems—with free access—provided quite a few choices. I was happy I had brought my noise-cancelling headphones. Larry brought a few sets of earbuds, so he loaned Bob and Bernie each a set for the return flight.

I had seen nearly all the movies I was interested in, so I listened to my iPod and read a book on my Kindle Fire.

Once again, we were served meals, included in the price of our tickets. Not great, but satisfactory.

We arrived in Los Angeles on time. The plane taxied for what seemed like several miles to a building far away from the main terminals. It looked like the same one where we boarded the plane for our departure flight.

Then, we followed the same routine as on our previous flight but in reverse: recover our bags, deplane, walk down the long, winding ramp to the ground floor, board busses. They took us back to the main terminal.

We found ourselves in one huge area. Instead of the separate customs areas we had seen on previous trips, everyone on international flights is now processed together in the same area. The result is several long, long, long lines.

We were routed to computer terminals where our faces were photographed, then to others where we scanned our passports. Then we moved onto another set of terminals were our passports were compared to the photos. And on, and on.

We finally approached the last long queue where our passports would be stamped. Bob and Bernie moved ahead, but we were rerouted to the opposite end of the building where those with foreign passports had been processed, Then, we waited, and waited, and waited.

Bob and Bernie finished and waved as they passed by our area.

One by one, the people in our queue approached the desk. One officer manned one station for all of us waiting in line. (The other area where Bob and Bernie went had several officers working.) So, our line didn’t move very fast.

It took nearly an hour just to get through this part of the process. Finally, two more officers opened additional stations.

Two-and-a-half hours after we landed, we finally reached the lobby, where Bob and Bernie’s grandson, Clayton, had been waiting. What a sight for sore eyes!

The trip home in the van went well, and we finally arrived—tired and on overload with the memories all our wonderful experiences.

Friday, June 1, 2018

France – Day 15 – 4/12/2018

We woke to our last full day in France. Our bed was comfortable, and I slept well. I still had some pain, but it had diminished considerably.

The bathroom was modern and lovely. I enjoyed the shower, and the heat helped ease my aches.

We followed directions and went downstairs via the circular stairway. We entered the basement room, and I was impressed.




The walls of the old building had been whitewashed. In contrast, the very modern furniture and accessories worked well. I would never have thought of using these pieces in such an old structure, but the place looked gorgeous.

When we went to the lobby, we asked about the building. The concierge, Damien, told us all the property for several blocks from the cathedral had originally belonged to the church. This particular mansion contained the original wine cellar. It was protected by a historical designation. Somehow, respect for the history and modern convenience had been balanced perfectly here.

Our room was on the ground floor, and Bob & Bernie’s was above us. Theirs had its own private balcony.


Bob wanted to see the new Monet Museum, Musee Marmottan Monet, so we found the route and took the Metro. What a wonderful place. The special exhibit featured the works of Corot, focused on his models. The paintings were spectacular. And the museum contained so much more.

One area featured the works of many of the impressionists, including Monet. Another area featured Napoleonic era artwork. Still another featured religious icons and illuminations.

We all enjoyed this museum and agreed we were happy to have been able to see it.

Since it was lunchtime, we found the Tabac de la Muette, where we enjoyed some of our favorites. Bernie and I ate Croque Monsier again. Larry had the Croque Royale. Bob ordered a pepper burger. We shared an order of frites (French fries).

Since we still had some time, we decided to go to the Champs-Élysées to see the Arc de Triomphe up close and personal. So, back to the Metro and into town. The exit put us in front of the Arc. Bob wasn’t interested in taking the elevator to the top. (He is terrified of heights.) Besides, it was crowded, and it was raining.

Then we decided we ought to see the Moulin Rouge.

We took the obligatory photos and then headed back to the hotel.

I had heard so much about the delicious soup the others had enjoyed the evening before, I suggested we return to Au 35 for dinner.

We arrived about half an hour before they opened. Since it was raining, the owner let us stay while he prepared for dinner service.

Bob had decided to order a glass of the same wine he’d had the night before. Larry ordered one, too. The owner asked if Bernie or I wanted wine. I declined, but Bernie described the type she enjoyed and asked him to recommend something. Our wine arrived. Bernie enjoyed the variety he recommended.

We savored our chance to relax until the restaurant opened. The owner took our orders, and other guests arrived.

A couple sat down at the next table. The lady admired Bernie’s cross necklace, and we began a conversation.

The couple, Michel and Julia Moreau, met when they were serving in the Peace Corps. She was American, and he was French. They married and returned to the US, where they raised a family. Once their children were grown, they moved back to Michel’s hometown in Normandy. However, they travel back to the US often to see their family.

We ate a delicious dinner and then ordered our final French dessert. I went back to crème brulee, but Larry ordered their specialty, pistachio crème brulee. We both enjoyed our selections.

This was the perfect way to end our final day in France: good food, good friends, new friends, and delightful conversation.

The final blog next time: Back to reality.