Best night of the week – writers group

Thursdays are special.

My writing friends take me to their worlds. We might spend time with a bounty hunter in Las Vegas or look over the shoulder of a small town Kansas cop. We are in the future – a bleak one – in the Pacific Northwest. We relive the turbulent ’60s in the South. Or we are in Czarist Russia experiencing life through the eyes of a teenage girl. We are in medieval England.

As my friend and fellow writer Catherine Hedge says, we come together to be surrounded by dreamers who are passionate about writing and to get support for our creative energies. This writers life? “Some call that madness. Writers call it fun.”–CH

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Charlene Newcomb is currently working on Book III of her Battle Scars series, 12th century historical fiction filled with war, political intrigue, and a knightly romance of forbidden love set during the reign of Richard the Lionheart. There will be more to come, so sign up for Char’s Newsletter. It will be used – sparingly – to offer exclusive content and and to let you be the first to know about special offers.

Excerpt from For King and Country

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Henry tried to shut out Marian and Robin’s voices as he and Stephan left. The wooden stairs creaked beneath their feet. At the landing, Henry heard Hugh settling his father for the night. Edward’s muffled laugh sounded, familiar and comforting, reminiscent of days long past.

Candlelight flickered beneath Bea’s door. She was singing softly, a verse their mother taught them and sang to lull her restless children to sleep.

Henry eased the door open to get a glimpse of his nephew. Bea sat near the brazier rocking David in her arms. She looked up as he peeked into the room.

“Is he not yet asleep?” Henry asked.

“Almost.”

Henry tiptoed into the room. He smiled down at the babe, gently touched his nose and forehead. He turned, trying to coax Stephan closer. “His skin is so soft.”

Stephan nodded from the door. He looked somber, but then his eyes grew soft and a hint of a smile curved his lips. He looked at Bea. “Goodnight, my lady,” he said and headed for Henry’s bedchamber.

Henry stroked the dark tuft of hair on David’s head. He needed to ask Bea about her late husband, the one whose name drew scowls every time he’d heard it mentioned. And then there was their father…and Stephan. But Bea looked so content and happy, and he saw no need to spoil the night.

He wandered to the window and opened the shutters. Clouds trailed across the moon, bathing the guards’ tents in eerie shadows. At the sight of the tents he shuddered, drew in a ragged breath. Knees suddenly weak, he plastered his hands to the wall either side of the window.

“Henry, what is it? What’s wrong?” Bea asked.

He stared into the courtyard. “The tents, the Holy Land, so much blood…” He clenched his fist, drawing it to his chest. “I try to remember I am home now.”

“Is it helpful to speak of it?”

“I will not burden you with the horrors I saw, the things I did. Stephan listens to me. That is all I need.”

Bea placed David in his cradle. She smoothed her silk sleeping gown and drew up to Henry, slipping her arms around his waist. “I am your sister. I love you. I will listen, help you, any way I can.”

“I know.”

Bea rested her cheek against his arm. “Stephan will be gone soon. I will be here for you.”

Henry’s throat tightened and he fought back a tide of grief. He held Bea tightly and tried to forget the day Stephan would leave. But Bea was right. That day would come all too soon.

*

For King and Country 

is available on Amazon sites worldwide.

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See Sharon’s full review at The Review

 

I’d rather be writing… A story of beta readers and taxes

IRS 1040 Tax Form Being Filled Out I’m working on taxes this week.

Normally I’ve completed this task by mid- to late February, but I wanted to get to “THE END” of For King and Country before I dove into the tax forms. Yes, round 2 of edits on the novel are done!

I should have done the taxes last week, but then the first round of comments from my British beta reader, Julie, arrived via email. I had to know…  I could have been satisfied with the general comments in her email: “There was plenty of action and drama, as well as a few tense moments, and some lovely interplay between [snip snip].”  But I was weak and immediately dove into the details and found, to my great relief, she did not note any major concerns or plot holes – at least in the first 75,000 words.

I had just finished tweaking the manuscript based on Julie’s comments when I received the marked-up manuscript from beta reader #2, Jen. I’ve looked over Jen’s comments, but haven’t started on edits yet. I thought I’d be safe when Julie’s part 2 comments arrived on Friday. I’ve been good. I haven’t looked at them…yet.

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Medieval Torture

Most writers recommend distancing yourself from the novel before starting on revisions. I know I should do that and let the story rest. But this is torture. It’s worse than facing the tax forms.

May your week be torture free, my friends!

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Tax forms shared  as CC BY-SA 2.0 
http://www.flickr.com/photos/teegardin/5512347305/
and linked to www.seniorliving.org for attribution as  requested
“Streckbett”. Licensed under Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons – http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Streckbett.jpg#/media/File:Streckbett.jpg

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Get swept away to the 12th centuryMen of the Cross
Sweeping battles, forbidden love, and 2 knights fighting for Richard the Lionheart
A 2014 B.R.A.G. Medallion honoree and Readers’ Favorite
Get it for Kindle & Nook and at Smashwords.

Me as a writer: 7 facts

keyboardI was challenged by Lynne Provost to write 7 facts about me as a writer. I’ve been interviewed about my historical fiction elsewhere, so I’m going back to my writing roots here:

1. I didn’t pen many stories when I was young – the ones I wrote down were required for school. But my imagination was my playground. I had stories of the past, present, and future—of real people and imaginary ones. Apparently I had the Partridge family on Star Trek… And an original character from the future who ended up in the American West of the 1880s and 1890s.  Somehow I’d managed to forget that Partridge Family idea until an old friend recently reminded me of it. (You’ll probably want to forget it too.)

2. I have never taken a creative writing class.

3. The first short story I wrote and submitted was accepted for publication in a role-playing game magazine licensed by Lucasfilm, Ltd. in 1994. Artist Mike Vilardi did an exceptional job capturing the look of my original main character Alex Winger.

4. I get a little upset when people refer to my Star Wars short stories as fan fiction. My stories were vetted by an editor at West End Games and by content editors at Lucasfilm. Though my inexperience as a writer shows in those works, someone saw a glimmer of hope. 🙂

5.  After publishing several short stories in the Star Wars Adventure Journal, I worked on my first original novel, a SciFi story. I wrote about 40,000 words and got stuck in the middle. I didn’t write another word for almost 6 years. Family came first, and work exhausted my creative energies. I finished a first draft of that SciFi novel around 2005. It’s still sitting on the hard drive. I re-read it a couple of years ago and hope to resurrect it some day.

6. In retrospect, I wished I’d received more constructive criticism on those short stories. Fortunately, I have 3 wonderful ‘teachers’ in the writing group I joined in 2009. I still have a lot to learn, but I feel my writing is improving.

7. Dialogue is my strong point. The first drafts of my 2 published novels were written in what I’d describe as a screenplay format with very little narrative. Once I had the story down, I went back and revised, adding the descriptive elements. I struggle with narrative and description., but as I mentioned in #6, I feel like my writing is improving.

Bonus #8. I got to “THE END” of Book II of Battle Scars, For King and Country. The manuscript has been sent to 2 beta readers.

Keyboard photo taken by me. CC BY-SA 4.0

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Get swept away to the 12th centuryMen of the Cross
Sweeping battles, forbidden love, and 2 knights fighting for Richard the Lionheart
A 2014 B.R.A.G. Medallion honoree and Readers’ Favorite
Get it for Kindle & Nook and at Smashwords.

writing process blog hop…

Robert Mullin, author of the speculative fiction/fantasy Bid the Gods Arise, invited me to participate in this blog hop several weeks ago. I got a bit side-tracked publishing my current novel, so forgive my coming late to this party.

Participants in this blog hop are asked to answer four questions about our writing process. So here goes…

1) What am I working on?
Late last week I began re-reading my rough draft of For King and Country, the sequel to Battle Scars Book I: Men of the Cross. I wrote the draft of Book II between late January and October last year and then set it aside to do the final edits on Men of the Cross. I hope to have a first draft ready before the end of the year to share with beta readers.

2) How does my work differ from others of its genre?
The Battle Scars series is historical fiction set at the end of 12th century during the Third Crusade. It seems the more popular fiction related to English history deals with the Tudors or the Regency period. Most people probably recognize the name ‘Richard the Lionheart,’ though they may not place him with the Third Crusade unless they know their history well. There are numerous recent bestsellers about the 12th century, including those by Sharon Kay Penman, Elizabeth Chadwick, and Angus Donald. Many works in this genre detail the lives of actual historical figures. My novels center on the lives of two fictional characters, Henry de Grey and Stephan l’Aigle. In Battle Scars, I’ve included those ‘real’ people – Richard the Lionheart, Eleanor of Aquitaine, Berengaria of Navarre, and Joanna, Queen of Sicily – but they are secondary characters, and Henry and Stephan’s lives are intertwined with theirs. Book I also introduces three characters from legend: Robin Hood, Allan a Dale, and Little John. Robin is not known as Hood in Book I, but I hope readers will see the men these 3 are, and see how their lives are shaped by the events and people around them – events that will eventually bring them to the Greenwood. Book II will include other ‘Merry Men.’ 

3) Why do I write what I do?
I’d always wanted to write historical fiction, though I thought my first attempt at this genre would center around the American Revolution. (I majored in U.S. History in college.) My interest in the Third Crusade began in 2007 when episodes of a BBC Robin Hood series touched on the impact of that conflict on Robin and his manservant Much. (The show had anachronisms galore, but it touched on many serious themes.) Being a history fiend, I wanted to know more about the Third Crusade and the Angevins. I devoured books (biographies and general histories), journal articles, and used interlibrary loan extensively. (Working at a university library has its perks!)

Of course, the post-traumatic stress syndrome (PTSD) angle intrigued me. I have observed friends with PTSD. I am a Navy veteran who had some stressful experiences because of the job, though I wouldn’t say I suffered from PTSD. I read a number of articles about it, but Henry’s experiences in the novel come from my own gut feelings.

As I noted in my author’s note for Men of the Cross, I wrote the last chapter of the book first – a short story I shared with my writers group. They wanted to know more about these characters, and I had a story to tell. I filled in the 97,000+ words that came before that last chapter and have a novel packed with conflict – between armies, between individuals, and in their own hearts and souls.

4) How does your writing process work?
It’s been different for the three novels – well, 2 novels & 1 rough draft – that I’ve written. I have character sketches for the main characters, though initially they aren’t fully drawn. In the case of Men of the Cross, I learned about Henry and Stephan as I wrote and fine-tuned them in subsequent drafts. I have been told the two knights are believable, act as the reader expects, and grow and change as the novel progresses. As I work on the sequel, I already know them well. Twelfth century chroniclers provided me in depth accounts of the events of the Third Crusade. I poured over the battles, over places, dates, and politics to determine how those intersected with Henry and Stephan’s lives. I have a spreadsheet filled with those events. The two knights served King Richard, but they weren’t so close to his inner circle to be privy to all of Richard’s actions.

My first drafts tend to be heavy with dialogue. I know what needs to occur in a given scene, know what I need to drive the plot forward. Narrative has never been my strong suit – I struggle with it, and fill it out in later drafts unless I have a very clear picture the first time around. I *think* I’m getting better at it. I create an outline that may consist of 1-2 bullet points per scene. I add to that outline as the scene becomes fleshed out in the writing process. I began using a writing software called Scrivener when I started Men of the Cross. It organizes everything on one screen for me – the outline, character sketches, research notes, and suggested plot twists and turns. I can easily add new scenes or shuffle them around, and with one click, I can check a character sketch – did he have blue eyes or green eyes? I feel that Scrivener has allowed me to focus and be more productive. The rough draft of Battle Scars II was completed in half the time of Battle Scars I. 

All right… Time for me to get back to Book II. In the meantime, you should check out Book I of Battle Scars. It is available in print & digital versions via AmazonAmazon (UK) & other Amazon sites worldwide, and on Nook.

 

The book blurb

How do you distill a 93,000 word manuscript down to 2 paragraphs? While my novel is off in beta hands, I’ve been writing, editing, scrapping, and re-writing my book blurb, or as it’s called on Amazon, the “product description”. That’s not very romantic, is it? If I was buying a blender or a new laptop, sure, “product description” seems to fit. But for a book?

I suppose that in the online environment our books don’t really have a book jacket or a back cover. Will kids in the future even know those terms? Most will be introduced to the smart phone, iPAD or Kindle before they start kindergarten. Will the touch and feel of a paperback (or hardcover), the smell of old paper, be foreign to them?

But I procrastinate. Product description. Why not  something as simple as “about this book”? Too boring I suppose.

But boring is NOT what the book blurb can be. It has to grab the reader immediately. A voice in their head says I must take a closer look at this book, which leads to “Buy now with 1-click” and makes us writer-ly types happy.

The advice about writing the book blurb here and here makes it sound like it should be  simple. Writers know that this is not a piece of cake. Think of all the plots and subplots in a novel. I know what the most important thing is; I can tell you what’s at stake for my protagonist. But keeping it short, punchy, and to the point without revealing the details – that’s the trick.

I posted my 4th attempt at the blurb for my upcoming novel here. I’ve already worked up 2 different versions, including one that went over really well at my writers group last week.

I’d love to hear from you and I know my non-writer readership would be interested in your tales! How many rewrites did it take you to finalize your own book blurb? Feedback on my current blurb is welcome, too!

Book excerpt – tagged for #luckyseven

Writers do interesting things to support each other while trying to sludge through the writing, revising, publishing process. Twitter is one refuge, even when you get tagged – a la hashtag – to participate in a mini-exercise. Marie Loughin included me on #luckyseven and as she notes, it’s a way for readers to get a glimpse of our writing.

The rules for #luckyseven are:

  • Go to page 7 or 77 in your current manuscript
  • Go to line 7
  • Post on your blog the next 7 lines or sentences – as they are!!
  • Tag 7 other people to do the same

So here goes. This is a little more than 7 lines from Keeping the Family Peace – aren’t you lucky! The setting: it is Thanksgiving 1992 and Admiral Chuck Bailey, an old friend, is visiting the family…

Chuck cuddled Jamie in the crook of his arm and wandered across the room to look over Pete’s shoulder. “They gave my assistant one of these new-fangled machines a few months ago. When she realized she could throw away the white-out, you’d have thought she’d won the lottery.” He shook his head. “I had one of those old dedicated terminals back in the seventies. At the NSA. A roomful of power and memory – probably what this one little machine holds.”

“And Windows 3.1. No more DOS,” Pete said. “Internet access. I’m going to buy one of these babies for Christmas.”

“You are?” Emma asked, surprised.

“Windows?” Chuck appeared to take it all in stride and held his own against Pete’s computer-speak. “That’s the operating software, right?”

Pete nodded.

“There goes my diamond necklace,” Emma sighed.

You’ll have to wait for the rest! But if current mainstream family sagas aren’t your cup of tea, how about a little historical fiction? A bonus! I can’t give you lines from p. 7 of this one because, in it’s current state, it’s a 5 page short story. But I will give you a taste of Battle Scars: England, one of 3 short stories set during the 1190s, where Henry, a young knight, has recently returned from Outremer where he served Richard the Lionheart during the Third Crusade:

Pulling his cap down tightly, Henry stared across the fog certain there was a low, deep hum coming from somewhere on the water. Ships, troops—Prince John’s mercenaries.

He buried his head in his hands. His heart beat rapidly throbbing loudly in his ears. It drowned the thrum of noise around him but the nightmares of fighting the king’s enemies and the sounds of battle remained, painted vividly in his mind. How often had he awakened with sweat beaded across his forehead remembering the times they’d come within a whisper of dying?

Memories stirred of Saracen war cries in the Holy Land, scars from that godforsaken desert. They were as clear as if they’d come off the water.

Oh God’s heaven, the chanting. Stop the awful chanting.

Watch for Battle Scars in 2013.

Check out many other authors participating in #luckyseven via links from Twitter at the hashtag here. And I know I’m supposed to tag 7 authors but most of those I follow have already participated.