On My Retirement

 

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As I approach retirement from what I often call my “tentmaking job,” because my real work is actually writing, some folks have asked me what I intend to do. Will I be playing golf every day? Will I go fishing? What about sitting in front of my television set watching old Westerns all day? Nope. None of these. Why? Because I’m going back into writing full-time, something I did for ten years when I was younger. And writing, my friends, though it is my passion…it’s also extremely hard work.

Particularly my genre, historical fiction. It’s easy to slip up on historical details. To my chagrin, I’ve done it. Even the best historical fiction authors have. We must consider so many minute details while weaving our tales! I cannot stress hard enough how important it is for our stories to be accurate. 

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Photo by Skitterphoto on Pexels.co

In the interest of accuracy, I like doing on-site research whenever I can. This means such things as visiting old homes, museums, and other historical spots. One of the first things I plan to do upon my retirement is visit the setting of one of my  current Works-in-Progress (WIPs).  Sure, I can find photographs of it online, but there’s nothing like onsite research to get a real feel for my story’s setting.

So if your story’s setting is a real place, if possible, make time to visit it  Not only will it help make your descriptions more accurate and believable, it’ll  also help you write more confidently, knowing  that your setting is accurate.

Till next week, friends. Keep on writing.

It’s Never Too Late

 

Many people think they’re too old to write professionally. My response? It’s never too late. Take these famous authors, for example. They all started late in life.

  1. Anna Sewell only wrote one book, but what a book! She wrote it at age fifty-seven. Since then, it’s become a classic for all the horse lovers. Its title? Black Beauty. She died a year after its publication.
  2. James Michener wrote his first book, Tales of the South Pacific, when he was forty years old.
  3. Laura Ingalls Wilder’s writing career began when she was in her 40s, but her fame didn’t happen overnight. It came from her book, Little House in the Big Woods, published some twenty years later.
  4. Toni Morrison’s first novel, The Bluest Eye, was published when she was forty years old.
  5. Frank McCourt published his first book, Angela’s Ashes,  at age sixty-six. He won several awards, among them the Pulitzer Prize.

No matter what our age, we can always be writers. For most of us, literary success doesn’t happen overnight. The key is to stick with it, study our craft, and continue revising and working on our projects.  We may have to revise a hundred times, or we may only need to do ten revisions or less.  Whatever it takes, keep working on our literary projects till we’re satisfied we’ve done our best.

Till next week, friends, keep on writing!

Frank McCourt’s photo credit: David Shankbone. All other photos are in the public domain.

 

Guest Blog: How to Write About Horses in Historical Fiction

I am currently working on a new fiction project centered around horse racing in the Antebellum South. Author, editor, and horse expert Tisha Martin offers excellent advice on portraying horses in fiction. With her permission, this post is shared from her website. For more advice on this and other literary subjects, visit it at http://www.tishamartin.com

How to Write about Horses in Historical Fiction
by Tisha Martin

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Horses have long since been an icon in American history, a loyal friend to the cowboy in the movies or in a novel. Often, too many historical writers don’t capitalize on the benefit of including the intelligence of the horses in their stories, and therefore, miss opportunities to add depth and personality to their stories and to shape the character arc. Horses are smart, despite what people may say. (And mules are even smarter! I’m thinking of Clarice from The Apple Dumpling Gang.)

Here are four ways authors can capitalize on the personality of the horse in their historical novels.

1. Use horses as secondary characters.

Perhaps that the idea of humanizing the horses in a story seems strange, but consider Little Brother, the mustang in Hidalgo, the western movie starring Viggo Mortensen. Little Brother acted as a secondary character in advancing the plot. When Frank T. Hopkins (Mortensen) went into the village to rescue Jazira, the horse worked with his human to make the rescue a success.

Including these types of minor details in a story adds depth to the plot and captures the essence of the character’s and horse’s relationship, further endearing both characters to the readers. That’s a pretty neat win-win, if you ask me.

2. Let horses help the human characters.

If you’re writing a western, consider this: horses will not run away from their owners. Many authors may think that horses are sneaky and always want to run off. In reality, horses are extremely loyal. I like to think they’re big dogs. For instance, if you leave a horse five miles down the trail so your main character has an easy getaway after the ambush, the horse will find its way back home without assistance. That’s called loyalty—and instinct.

3. Give horses an emotional personality.

Horses do show emotion if they are mistreated. If you have a nasty character in your story who mistreats the horse, you can show the horse’s emotional personality by describing the horse’s fear as it bucks, bites, or kicks. This adds suspense and propels the plot. Showing emotion in these scenes will deepen the care factor and enrich the story world.

But what if you want your character to have a positive relationship with the horse? Perhaps the character nurses the horse back to health, like Joe did in Black Beauty. You can use the horse’s gentle personality mixed with those moments of fear and mistrust (if the horse is coming from an abused situation or is now in a new environment) to liven up your scene. A horse that is treated with kindness and respect will respect its owner.

4. Consult the horse experts.

Nothing is more annoying to a horse lover than to read of inaccurate details in a story about horses. Some common inaccuracies include proper terms for horse tack, basic horse behavior, and horse anatomy. Often, these are misused because the writer googled what they did not know, found what appeared to be helpful information, and stuck it in their story.

Authors can avoid these glaring mistakes by bypassing the great internet and seeking out their local horse expert or local library for horse-related information. You can call a horse stable and ask questions, email the horse breed association, ask a friend who owns horses, or visit your local library and pull out a good horse resource book.

Remember, an animal is usually a reflection of its owner, especially if the animal has been loved for a long time. Now, a horse may not bring its owner the newspaper every morning (although stranger things have happened!), but the relationship between your character and their horse can be used to add a deeper layer to the story that feels and reads like a loyal friend.

Happy writing on the trail!

Anton Chekhov on “Show, Don’t Tell”

 

220px-anton_chekhov_with_bow-tie_sepia_imageEver since I took a class in Russian literature in college, I’ve always loved it. Here’s a great quote from one of Russia’s most  famous writers, Anton Chekhov: “Don’t tell me the moon is shining; show me the glint of light on broken glass.” 

When we’re writing a scene set at nighttime, we can show the moon without mentioning it by following Chekhov’s advice.

 

 

Next week, I’ll be featuring a special a post on writing about horses written by a horse expert and friend, Tisha Martin. Till next week, everyone. Keep on writing.

 

 

 

When to Stop Revising Your Novel

Author’s  Note: This is a revised post.

 

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What is the key to literary excellence? Revision, of course. However, the time comes when we must tell ourselves to stop. We can get so hooked on revision that we never submit our manuscripts to agents and publishers. I know, because I’ve had this problem. Like most writers, I love playing with words.

How do we know when to stop revising ? Here are a few tips.

1. When we’re tired of looking at/reading our manuscript after multiple revisions. This isn’t always a sign that we’re finished, but it might be. Put the work aside for a day or two, then return to it and look for any major problems we may have missed. See any? If so, we’re not done yet.

2. When all the major problems with our work have been corrected, such as openings, endings, scenes, characterization, plot, etc., our revision has reached its end.

3. When we’re just finding minor issues, such as punctuation errors and typos, after the major editing has finished. These minor errors must all be corrected, of course.

4. After we’ve let someone whose judgement we trust read our manuscript, who gives us honest feedback and advice for improving  our work. Be sure whoever gives the advice is qualified to give it, though. Don’t approach just any person for it.

5. When we’re confident that we’ve done our best work.

 

 

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WARNING! WARNING! OVER-REVISION.

When we over-revise, our writing suffers. This is why it’s important to know when to stop. What once was a good story will become a bad one because we’ve either cut it too much, or added too much to it.

Suppose, after we see our work in print, we still find problems with it? One thing I’ve learned from hard experience is this: these things happen. We aren’t perfect, editors aren’t perfect, proofreaders aren’t perfect. Sometimes the simplest things, such as misplaced punctuation or typos, are easy to miss. If we’ve done a good job, though, and have a good editor and/or proofreader, there shouldn’t be too many of these.

Write, revise. Write, revise. Write, revise. Then submit.

 

Port Hudson, Last Rebel Bastion on the Mississippi

The Defence of Port Hudson, Louisiana

Squire, Tales of a Mascot, due out in September by Ashland Park Books, tells the story of a canine mascot during the siege of Port Hudson, Louisiana, a tiny village on the banks of the Mississippi River. Though Port Hudson no longer exists, it was an important Confederate bastion during America’s Civil War. Cut off by sea and land, the Rebels held out against a vastly superior Union army for 48 days, the longest genuine siege of that war. It was also the last Confederate bastion on that river to fall to Union forces, surrendering just a few days after Vicksburg fell. map_porthudson842x1052

Quit Clearing Your Throat

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Sir Walter Scott, dog lover and creator of historical fiction, my favorite genre.

All writers have their own writing methods and styles. Regardless of how we write, though, every novel has a basic structure. It comes in three parts: the opening, the middle, and the end.

While all these parts are important, the opening is the most important. If our first sentence or paragraph doesn’t hook readers and draw them into our story, they’ll likely put down our book and look elsewhere for entertainment.

One common mistake beginning writers make is “throat-clearing.” In novel-writing, it means loading the opening pages with lots of information—backstory, description, and/or too many characters, for example. It’s coughing up words before we actually write the story.

When writing openings, think about a favorite movie. What was its opening scene? How did it hook us? I mention movies because they’re one of the main mediums we authors are competing against. Of course, we must also consider our favorite books. Study their opening lines. How did they motivate us to keep reading?

The best opening is the action opening. It begins in medias res (in the middle of things). These openings can start with something spectacular, such as an earthquake, or something seemingly innocent such as a knock on a character’s door. It can also include dialogue. We must either see a character in action or hint that something is about to happen. Also, be sure to mention your character(s) names as soon as possible.

In my book due out this coming fall, 2019, Squire, Tales of a Mascot, I didn’t “clear my throat” by writing lots of narrative background information and description while building up to the main story. Instead, I jumped right into the action. Here are my novel’s first two paragraphs:

Well, I’d sure as sand say he is going with us.” Jesse Webb sauntered down the steps of his father-in-law’s brick furniture store.

Rachel Webb folded her arms, her billowing hoopskirt spanning the slatted walkway in front of it. Her hazel eyes narrowed. “Oh no, he’s not. Besides, how could you take the most popular dog in Coughlin with you? What if he gets killed?”

I did four things in these opening lines:

1. I introduced the main characters—Jesse, Rachel, and their dog, Squire.

2. I identified the setting, the town of Coughlin.

3. I showed conflict between Jesse and Rachel.

4. I hinted at future danger for both Jesse and Squire. A few paragraphs later, we’ll learn what this danger is—Jesse and Squire are heading off to war.

So, let’s not “clear our throats” before we begin our story. Instead, jump right into it and hook our readers from the start.