Tuesday, September 2, 2014

First of the Month Review - September

Back to the reviews, and I realize that today is Tuesday, but yesterday was Labor Day in the United States, so I finished up my writing vacation.

For those of you who don't know about my other site focusing on the weaving/fiber arts, Bryony Studios is the site. If you're interested in fiber arts both history and patterns, make certain to check out the Bryony Studio blog.

Also, by clicking on the book cover, it will take you directly to Amazon where you can purchase the book. Just to let you know, by clicking on the book, I receive money based upon clicks. The same is true for the other book covers as well.

How to Write Killer Historical Mysteries by Kathy Lynn Emerson is one of my to-go to books both for ideas as well as information. Quite honestly, it's pack full of interesting tidbits that help guide the new writer. Added to the notes Emerson has, she's interviewed many of the big names in historical murder mystery including one of my favorites, Elizabeth Peters, author of the Amelia Peabody series.

The book divides itself up into chapters focusing the writer's attention to details needed to create novels. Details, I might add, most of us might not consider such as love life and occupation. Now, granted, we do consider those elements: is a character married, single, widowed or separated? What is the main character's occupation? For us, these are simple answers depending upon the character development.

Yet, we must remember that cops, detectives and many other careers didn't exist. Some, as the book points out, can be manipulated. For example, a private investigator might work directly for nobleman and become a solver of riddles. In many time periods, the military acted as a police force.

For me, one of the best sections focused upon women, and some of the occupations they could have practiced. For most of human history, women have not had the freedoms men have enjoyed. In fact, in some cases, women are confined to small areas. It is often the case that the wealthier one was the more restrictions applied. Unless one had a liberal husband or father, women could find themselves in uncomfortable limitations.

The book provides you with a good overview for writing mysteries. The insights from other writers, and their suggestions help guide you through the development process. All in all, I recommend this book for anyone wanting to write an historical mystery novel or series.

Friday, August 29, 2014

Getting back into the Swing of Things

So I have a fair in a week. I've been off fairs for almost three weeks which hasn't been bad, because I've been weaving.  I'm still a writer, and balancing the writer and the weaver has proven harder than I thought it would. Not terrible, just different. I tend to focus on a job, finish it then focus on the next job. That, I might add is a wonderful excuse (though it is true) because I've also been putting off writing.

Abandoned Building in Ireland, 2007

Because I'm still navigating how the next books in Azure's and Orfhlait's series are going to progress. Granted, for Orfhlait, there is a great deal of research needed, but there are also other elements that I'm not certain how they'll play.

Also, I have other books that are finished, but just need some editing for me to submit. I would like to expand a little bit out of the Christian fiction market and into a more mainstream market. It's not unlike the photo above: lots of muck and work, but great potential. The question becomes where do I focus the energy, and how do I make a choice?

Much of it is, like the title of this post, just getting back into the swing of things. It takes discipline to set aside one project to work on another project. I've found that working a schedule set in two to four hour blocks seems to work best for me. The time limits provide enough time to get into a project, but also limits me so I don't waste time. Four hours seems to be the maximum time I can spend focused on one project, and by focused, I mean working on it steadily no matter what the elements include. It doesn't always mean weaving or writing, but sometimes includes elements around those two items.

Other things work best if I have less time allotted to it. Things like cleaning or dishes tend to take less time if I turn them into a challenge: how much can I finish in this amount of time?

The object is just to start. I had a conversation with a couple of friends last week about writing. They asked what it takes to be a writer, and I answered: "If you're waiting for inspiration, you'll never be a writer." It's a true statement. Great art involves talent, yes; but it also requires a great deal of hard work. You have to put in the time to be great at whatever it is you do.

As we transition from one season into another, take the time to incorporate your writing or art into your daily life. You might find that you have more time or less time depending on your schedule, but even putting fifteen to twenty minutes into your craft will help you improve.

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Crazy Busy Summer

So I mentioned last week, that yes, I'm still around, but it's been a busy summer. Now, with summer winding down, I'm looking to get back into my fairly normal routine which means that more entries will be added to the blog.

Unfortunately, September remains on my near horizon, and I have fairs basically every weekend. Yeah!

Normally, I'm not all the thrilled for busy days. I'm more of a serendipity sort of person. I like having items on my to-do list, but less then ten. Granted, when it sometimes take me a day to write a chapter in a book, having less than ten of those sorts of items to do is very practical.

My normal day would include weaving and writing and breaks. Both weaving and writing have their long stretches of work. Once I'm finished writing a novel, it needs to be edited by me, someone else (usually Mom) and lastly the editor. The editing stage can take upwards of six to eight months depending how quickly it goes.

Weaving often takes less time only because I weave a smaller amount of warp. To finish the poncho below it takes me about two days.

River Moss Poncho
Granted, the weaving is the longest portion, taking most of a day and a half to do. Putting the poncho together takes about two hours ... ish. By the way, said poncho is for sale over at my Etsy store (here).

Yet, busy days are also good days. Fair days are always busy, as are the days preceding the fair, but it's a good sort of busy. So, what about you? Do you prefer your days full of activity or do you prefer a slower day?

Monday, August 11, 2014


Just letting you all know that I haven't fallen off the edge of the world. It's been a busy summer (thankfully), and I haven't had time to slow down to post recently. Things will still be a bit hit and miss until September rolls around.

Also, by the way, look what I got in the mail finally:

Below is a photo of what I've been doing this summer. I took this photo two weeks ago at the Saturday Artisan Market at Canalside in Buffalo NY; that's my mom sitting inside my tent. If you're up in Buffalo area the first and third Saturdays of September and October 2014, this is where I'll be. Come visit.

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Stone Walls

How are you with rejection?

Inside of an Irish church
For many of us it depends on the rejection we receive. I applied for a job recently, and while I would have liked the position, I knew it was something of a long-shot. I qualified, and would have done well, but I lived far away (the job was in England, and I live in America). The rejection was expected, though it was still disappointing.

Rejection of my books hurts a bit more, but once again sometimes you know someone won't like the story. Recently, one of my extended family members purchased two of my books to support me. She told me later she didn't really like the storyline, but I was thrilled she read Azure Maris.

When you put your heart out on the line, there is always the possibility it will be stomped upon, kicked or shot. We take that risk simply by living. Though we can protect ourselves, we often realize that in protecting ourselves, we leave important parts of our life underdeveloped like love, empathy and trust.

We like to think of ourselves as unbreakable, but we can be broken easily.

For me, it depends on the situation. If the rejection is from a distance (manuscript submission for example), I can handle it fairly well. It's the continual rejections that hurt. Not the in-your-face rejection, but the subtle disinterest. It is very much like running into a stone wall repeatedly, even though you keep hoping to find the door.

When the wall arises do you stop and turn a different path, or do you keep running into it for either a door or to break it down? I don't know. I wish I did.

For now, I keep walking, and maybe climb over the wall. It's a momentary block on my path, I just have to figure out where the path is leading.

Thursday, July 10, 2014

Woven Revolution: Athena

The average person who learns about Lancaster PA, thinks of buggies and bonnets. While the Amish and Mennonite communities are quite strong in Lancaster, they are not the only Protestant groups in the community. Their English counterparts, Baptists, are alive and well.

Pennsylvania, however, was not founded by Anabaptists or Baptists, but by Quakers. In Colonial Lancaster, a group of Irish Quakers had residence. They are a small group, though little is recorded of them. Like the Anabaptists, the Quakers are pacifists, but during the American Revolution, a few Quakers opted to fight, one of them was Nathanael Greene who became a major general in the Continental Army.

Knotted Pile Sampler, 2011

Business in Lancaster

Athena MacGuire, is many things, but she is uncertain of who she is. She is an Irish Quaker in Lancaster, an unmarried woman and the owner of her own business. During the Colonial time period, women did own businesses: some ran inns, some ran millinery shops. Others were dressmakers, and still others found other occupations. Many of these women inherited businesses from deceased husbands or fathers, but many others established their own businesses without male supervision.

In farming communities like Lancaster, most women married and raised their own families or helped their husbands with shops. Though there were women owners, they were few. It wasn't that women couldn't own a business, it just was not common, culturally.

For Athena, owning her own business is a matter of life.

A Woman Contained

At the age of thirty, Athena is an old maid with little to no hope of every marrying. Though her mother, Penelope still lives, her father has died in the defense of Bunker Hill. Unlike the other two women, Athena has very personal reasons for despising the British troops.

Since 1770, Athena has run an inn in Lancaster named The Fighting Quaker. She makes her living off the inn, and when her father dies in 1775, offers space for her mother to join her. Penelope declines the offer, but remains a constant support to her daughter.

Athena's brothers, however, are an entirely different matter. The eldest of four children, Athena watches her younger brothers with a cool eye. The two eldest brothers dismiss fighting, and blame their youngest brother for their father's death. Added to their bitterness, they see Athena's inn as a constant sore in their lives and make life difficult for her.

Her brothers, however, are the least of her worries. Athena struggles with her faith. On one hand, she understands the reason she is not to fight, but on the other hand, backing away from a fight seems pointless. As she withdraws farther from her Quaker roots, the Quaker community tries to pull her back into their fold. The struggle threatens to loosen the constrains Athena has placed around herself for like Circe, she is a passionate woman who has learned the fire her tongue can bring.

She desires respect from a man who can see her worth as his equal, not his subordinate. In a world still ruled by men, even with all their freedoms, Athena, like the other two women, desire freedom of their own. The freedom to be who they were meant to be.

Through her story, Athena finds the way to unlock the cultural rules that have left her contained within a cell of her own making.

Tuesday, July 8, 2014

Bleep Free Guarantee

My local Christian radio station has this as their motto: bleep free guarantee. Their reason is two-fold: (1) whatever is played or discussed is squeaky clean, and (2) it is safe for everyone to hear.

I have mixed feelings on this, but I understand their reasoning.
Three Wise Monkeys
The concept of the wise monkeys is that they see no evil, speak no evil and hear no evil. Honorable deeds, of course, but I tend to see the Christian community taking this concept to an extreme. In some communities, it shows up in banning gossiping - not malicious intent, but anything evil about someone else, even if that evil is criminal.

For others, it is the inability to have any swear words or euphemisms in conversation. For this crowd, there are lists of bad words that we cannot speak in public, private, or even think. Some words even make no sense whatsoever or exclude certain songs from being sung, even innocuous ones that deal with the ox and the ass.

For the last group, anything that smacks of sin is abolished from their sight. Drinking alcohol? Gone. Playing with cards? Dismissed. Dancing? Heaven help us.

Don't get me wrong here, I honestly understand where people come from. I will not watch certain shows or films solely based upon the topics covered or commercials promoting them. A good friend of mine from college doesn't listen to any CCM (contemporary Christian music) because she doesn't want to go back to her pre-Christian music styles.

So, yes, I understand this desire to live a godly, holy life, but I wonder if this "bleep free guarantee" does more harm sometimes.

Squeaky Clean

When I was little, my mom told me if my hair squeaked it was clean. Low and behold, a couple years ago, I learned that if our hair squeaked, it may mean we've damaged it by removing the oils that protect it. In other news, some scientists believe that the anti-bacterial craze may actually be hurting our immune systems by not allowing our bodies to build up immunity to common diseases like cold strains.

In our desire to protect ourselves, we might actually be hurting ourselves, and it makes me wonder in what other ways have we hurt ourselves?

Should there be a point where the good outweighs the bad? If we're so sensitive to foul words, can we ignore a good book that will teach us great things?

For example, Dorothy Sayers wrote the Lord Peter Wimsey series back in the 1920s. Wimsey, a man of his times, uses damn on a somewhat regular cycle. It's a word simply to express frustration, horror or annoyance. Culturally, it was, and is, considered a mild expletive.

Should one ignore the Lord Peter Wimsey series solely based upon its use of damn? Should we read it as a good murder mystery which asks us interesting questions? I would argue that, yes, we should read the Lord Peter Wimsey series. Others would argue that a "little leaven spoils the whole batch."

I'm not a hundred percent certain that they're right. Taken to the extreme, one wonders how they manage to live in the world around them.

The Life of Riley

There once was man from Galway,
Who drank and danced all day.
He loved his wife so wiley;
And lived the life of Riley,
While Riley was away.

Limericks are short poems that follow a pattern focusing on the rhythm and rhyme. Normally, they also had a punch line at the end either sexual or situational. The one above is one I wrote based on the last two lines of one I heard, but could not remember.

There are no foul worlds in the limerick, but it is definitely naughty, and unless you considered it for some length or saw it written out, the punch line may be lost. It is an example of something clean that portrays questionable behavior.

It begs the question: what other "clean" stories aren't so clean? Does their uncleanliness negate the point? In the limerick above, the point is a wink and a nudge about men who stay away from home too often. Questions can be raised concerning the reason for the absence as well as its profitability.

Books like Anna Karenina and the Scarlet Letter focus on a woman's fall from grace, but also focus on others within their worlds. Hester survives to raise her daughter well, while the father of the child eventually commits suicide.

Focusing on Hester for a moment here, she commits a sin in her community by sleeping with a man who is not her husband. She becomes pregnant, and lives with the consequences of her one night. Her community condemns here, but she is able to rise above her past.

On the other hand, books like the Elsie Dinsmore series focuses on a girl doing the "right thing" all the time. Serious questions should be raised when Elsie winds up marrying her father's friend. It is a "clean" book, but promotes things that are questionable at best.

Countering the Squeak

How do we counter the nonsense out there? I think it comes from us thinking about the items. Just because something is "clean" doesn't make it good; just because something is "a little dirty" doesn't make it bad.

In one of my series, murder is committed using belladonna berries which are highly poisonous. They look pretty, and edible, but are lethal. On the other hand, when my dad makes applesauce, he often picks up the fallen fruit then washes them clean before using them. There might be some bad spots, and their might be some deformities, but all in all the apples are still good.

We need to recognize the good and the bad in things. Are there superficial elements that cause troubles or are there deeper issues that cause concern? Deeper issues need to be dealt with; superficial issues can be washed off.

It's going to take the Christian community a concerted effort to distinguish between deep issues and superficial issues. It will take each person time to develop a sense of good and bad, but as we do so we are able to discern the diamonds in the rough.