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Research is Important

Research is Important

I used to think that research would have to be the most boring aspect to writing. I remember actually making a similar comment at a book signing event I attended for another writer who wrote historical fiction. I was pretty smug in my assumption, but honestly, I had no idea what I was talking about. I’d just begun my writing journey, and I thought fiction writing, especially paranormal romance writing, wouldn’t require any research. I was wrong.

 

Not long into the process of writing my first published title, In The Spirit Of Love, I realized that I needed more information on a variety of subjects ranging from food to geography. Then I thought I should learn a little bit about the types of grand country estates that dot the English countryside, and period clothing. Oh, and I figured it might be a good idea to learn about some of the famous ghost stories surrounding those old English manor homes. One thing kept leading to another, and as I wound down the various paths of information, each new thing pointed to another interesting tid bit of information. I began making notes, book marking sites to return to, and generally getting right into the research behind the fiction story I was telling.

 

I had no idea I’d enjoy it so much! In fact, periodically I had to pull myself back into the business of actually writing the story. Now, I should probably have done all the research up front before even starting to write, but what did I know? I let the story tell me what areas to research. Each time I’d come up against a blank wall where I didn’t know something, I’d go off on a tangent and research it. That was actually fun, and it gave me some much needed breaks in my writing. In fact, some of my research became the germ of an idea for the story, or the sequel, In The Spirit Of Forgiveness, which followed.

 

History speaks

History speaks

I was surprised by how much I enjoyed the research part of writing, but I suppose I shouldn’t have been. After all, I love learning new things, and the past has always fascinated me. It also made me yearn to visit the places I was researching. I came away with a deeper appreciation for people I hadn’t met and places I had never been. I developed a love of research I hadn’t expected.

 

After the small success of my first two books, I felt I was ready to tackle a much bigger project I’d been wanting to write for several years; a fact-based historical fiction novel entitled The King’s Consort-The Louise Rasmussen Story (not yet published), about a woman who lived in Denmark’s mid-1800s. Going into the writing of this story I knew I was biting off a good, sizeable chunk. It was a daunting task, because the people and places actually existed. So, armed with my new love of research, I began reading anything and everything about the main protagonist, Louise Rasmussen, and her love interest, King Frederik VII. From my experience in writing the two In The Spirit Of books, I knew the internet and library were my closest friends and allies. I couldn’t actually go to Denmark (not on this writer’s budget), but I could research to my heart’s content, and I did. I also talked at length to my Danish-born mother about the small details of Danish life, and some of the locations I was writing about. I made copious notes and bookmarked many pages to refer to time and again. I created a story outline, arc, and character profiles based on the information I retrieved. I began to see the characters and story come alive in my mind as I wrote, and any areas I became stuck on, I researched some more. As with the first two books, the research for The King’s Consort lead me down paths I hadn’t considered before, and helped me create a fictional world to surround the very real characters and places I was writing about. I don’t know if I got everything just right, and I’m sure there are areas I could improve on, but I write with my gut instinct. I let the story unfold, assisted by the facts I uncovered. I felt as if I were placing flesh on old bones and giving sound to voices long silenced.

 

I recently read a Writer’s Digest article written by Scott Francis, wherein he discusses “How to Research Your Novel”. Scott gives some excellent advice to writers, and reminds us that fact-finding and verification make for a much more believable story.

 

At The Centre for Fiction, author Helen Benedict talks about the importance of writers doing their due diligence when it comes to blending fact and fiction. As Benedict claims, it’s imperative that the writer not “cheat” and try to fool the reader. That’s not to say that every novelist gets it right every time, but the goal is to get it as right as possible and check the facts.

 

Freelance fiction editor, Beth Hill, addresses this issue in her post, Details and Descriptions-Getting the Facts Right and gives some concrete suggestions about where writers should focus their efforts when researching for a story.

 

While I’m in the querying phase for The King’s Consort, which is akin to long, slow torture, I console myself with hours upon hours of research for my next historical fiction novel. It’s a huge project, but it excites and enchants me. It also scares me, but I’m going to go for it anyway. The research for this novel is just as deep, the characters are just as complex to learn and understand, and the work ahead is tremendous. Still, I’m once again enjoying the process of learning the who, how, what, and where of the story. When I finally begin writing the chapters, I know I’ll feel the familiar thrill of bringing the past to life again. It’s a challenge I simultaneously welcome and dread, precisely because it’s a challenge.

 

Storytelling

Storytelling

I’m not an expert. I’m not a historian. I’m not a scholar. I’m a writer and story-teller, and I just do the best I can with what I have. Because of my fascinating research, I’ve learned so much about subjects I had no idea would appeal to me. I’ve also promised myself I’ll some day visit the many places I’ve written about, walking through streets, halls, and gardens my characters, both real and fictional, have tread. For now though, I’ll content myself with my imagination and the dusty old facts I uncover. Such is the life of a writer.

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merry go roundI’m a huge believer in “what goes around, comes around”. This holds true for me in my personal life and in business. Of course I expect to be paid for my work, but I don’t always expect something in return for small things I do for others. For me, this is more an acknowledgement that the universe (or God, or Fate, what have you) is set up this way. I truly believe you get out of life what you are willing to put into it. I also know that human nature is generally one of selfishness. We have to put food on the table, a roof over our heads, and pay our bills, but when we step outside ourselves and do something to help another person, purely because we can, then we benefit as well. This benefit most definitely may not be monetary, but it makes us feel better about ourselves, our own lives, and our capacity of effect change for other people.

 

As much as I admire huge accomplishments, like those performed by such luminaries as Oprah Winfrey, the Gates family, and other proponents of social change, I’m equally as impressed by the small, individual acts of kindness and assistance we can all perform in our every day lives.

 

As writers, we reach out with our words to audiences we may never meet. We extend ourselves to hopefully touch the lives of our readers in some manner. It may be for pure entertainment that readers read our stories, articles or blogs, but even that small touch point means something. If we are successful and have done our jobs correctly, each reader takes something personal away from our work. The interpretations of our words and stories are as varied as the people who read them, but that’s the beauty of it. It is completely and utterly subjective.

 

How can I helpThat’s all very well and good, but how can we really pay it forward? How can we go beyond our work, our lives, and ourselves to help others? It’s really so easy. Whenever a writer shares information with another writer via social networking groups or blogs, or stops in their busy day to answer a question posed on one of these forums, we can help other writers. When we attend a book signing, reading, or seminar we’re giving, we help when we answer questions of attendees. The questions may not seem particularly earth-shattering, but to the person posing the question, it’s important. If we take the time to answer the questions thoughtfully and honestly, we may be helping not only the questioner, but others in the audience who were too timid to ask.

 

I’ve always been a questioner. I listen to what’s being said, then I want to know how, where, why, when?  That’s how I build my own conclusions. I’m not always right, and I don’t profess to know and understand all the nuances of any particular subject, but I ask. As a writer, I also read. I read industry related articles in on-line magazines like Forbes and Writer’s Digest. I read other writer’s blogs for the information they have to share, such as Bestseller Labs, and Writing Secrets of 7 Scribes. When I’m front and center and asked a question, I do my best to be honest and forthright, and if I don’t know an answer, I admit it. No shame in that, even in a public appearance where we’re supposed to be the “experts”.

Paying it forward can be as easy as forwarding an email you know would be of interest to others in your circle. Goodreads, Facebook and Twitter have become the ultimate sharing sites, but there are literally tons of others. I share everything from inspirational quotes that might brighten someone’s day, to articles I’ve discovered from another writer or journalist that I think would benefit someone else.

 

What does this gain me for my work, my books? Maybe nothing, but perhaps just one person will be interested enough to look a little further and see what else I have to say, or share. Maybe they’ll Google my name and see that I’ve written a book, or have a blog and website, and check it out. Maybe they won’t be interested, but forward the information along to someone else who might. The truth is, I’ll never know, and I’m good with that. I don’t need to know what’s in it for me every time I do something. There are enough people like that out there, scrabbling in business to make a sale, to undercut the competition, to lure the customer in. It isn’t that I’m above all that, I was in sales for over ten years, so I know how hard it is to earn every dollar. I’m also far from independently wealthy. In fact, my husband and I are pretty monetarily strapped right now, trying to live on his small pension since being downsized out of a huge corporate company after thirty years service (that’s another discussion altogether). We have to watch every penny that comes in and goes out, but I can still do small things that don’t cost me anything but my time.

 Book writingAs writers, we often feel pressured to “produce”. We’re always working on the current WIP, the next project, marketing, promotion, personal appearances, etc. So who has the time to help someone else? Heck, we may be struggling to figure it all out ourselves. I know I am. That’s exactly when it’s important to share what information we have and come across. It doesn’t take a great deal more time to share a timely article you’ve read with followers on Facebook, Twitter, or your blog. As writers, we also know how important ratings and reviews of our work are, so if you’re reading something, take a few moments to post a review and rating! You know how thrilled the other writer will be to hear your comments, and what it means to algorithms (if you don’t you need to learn about this too, then share your findings).

 

In fact, there are so many ways we can “pay it forward” as writers. Don’t worry about what’s in it for you, just get out there and do it. You may be surprised where it leads down the road.

We're off to see the Wizard...

We’re off to see the Wizard…

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Create a To Do List

Create a To Do List

People keep asking me, how do I stay focused and productive every day? Well, each day I begin with a “To Do” list of things I’d like to accomplish. It helps me sort out what I need to do and (hopefully) not get so easily sidetracked. When you work from home in relative silence, getting sidetracked is easily done. There’s always something you could/should be doing around the house, or the weather’s so nice you’d rather be outside doing  just about anything, or someone calls and you’d rather chat, and then there’s the reading. It’s no surprise that writers are also avid readers, so the temptation to just curl up and indulge can be huge.

But I have to work, so after writing out my list, I tackle each task one at a time and check it off my list. It could be as simple as “check and respond to emails”, or “WIP”, which means I need to actually WRITE something on my current book. As things crop up, or I remember them, I add them to the list. What I don’t complete one day, I move over onto the next day’s list. This keeps me semi organized. At least that’s the plan. Usually it works.

A large part of my day lately has had to involve marketing and promotion of my new release. Now, I’d rather just sit and write, or do any of the other thousand things I’d like to do, but if I want to make a career out of this writing gig, and I do, then I need to take it seriously. If I want my book to sell, and if I want to grow my readership, then I have to work at it. I knew going into this writing thing that it would be a lot of work, and I wasn’t disappointed. Good thing I like challenges and don’t mind the hard work. What I don’t like is feeling like I don’t have a clue what I’m doing, what might work, what doesn’t work for me, where to go for resources, who/what/when to connect.

Networking works!

Networking works!

Social media has taken over a large chunk of on-line marketing and promotion, so being relatively active on FaceBook, Goodreads, Twitter is a must, as is having a regular (key is regular) blog and staying top of mind with those who follow you. Your readers and followers might also help spread the word about your work, so an updated, hopefully interesting website with current content is important. That’s it. Simple. Yep, simple, but time-consuming and necessary. If you don’t want to promote your work and are just writing for the sake of writing, then you don’t have to do any of these things, but as in life, if you want to succeed, you have to be willing to put your back into it.

Research is also a large component to promotion and marketing for a new author. After all, you have to know where to go, what the options are, what to do, etc. Thank goodness the internet is a treasure trove of valuable information and websites to learn just about anything and everything you ever needed to know about writing, publishing, networking, promoting and marketing your work (which is separtate from researching things for the story you’re writing). Sites such as The Savvy Book Marketer and Shelley Lieber’s Wordy Woman are terrific resources, as are other authors. Start following authors you admire and reading what they have to say, but don’t be afraid to branch out to new, unknown authors you’ve discovered and following their blogs. Some of the best ideas and suggestions, as well as support, has come from these amazing resources. They’re free, interactive, and allow each writer to explore what works and what doesn’t, while also giving hands-on information on how to’s and links to other sites of interest.

Publications like  Writer Gazette, Publisher’s Lunch, and Writer’s Digest are invaluable in their content for writers of any genre. Use any and all information until you find what works for you, and don’t be afraid to put your own spin on things. After all, you are the master at the helm of your own ship. Steer it where you like, because the beauty is that nothing you do is wrong, it’s all just a learning  journey. Rather than be uptight and worry about whether what I’m doing is the right thing, I just try to have fun with it and do the absolute best I can. If I need to fix something later I can, and if something works particularly well, I’ll use it as much as I feel I need to.

In the midst of all this social networking and on-line research, don’t forget your own backyard though. Explore avenues like local newspapers, for example. I was nervous about contacting my local libraries to see if they’d be interested in my work. I mean, these are libraries for heaven’s sake, and I’m an unknown nobody! I’m not really an agressive sales person, never wanted to be, so this felt like pushing myself on people who may or may not be interested. But I’d committed to doing everthing I could, and that meant putting myself out there, front and centre. I’m fully aware (thanks to my years in real estate, mortgage sales and more recently, incentive marketing, that what I’m really selling out there is me. My books will or won’t stand on their own merit, but I also have to be comfortable and confident enough in myself to stick out my hand and introduce myself. This actually doesn’t come naturally to me. I’m fortunate to have watched my mother and younger sisters do this with great aplomb and success in their own businesses. I just straighten my shoulders and tell myself, ‘If they can do it, I can do it’. And I can.

Shout it out

Shout it out

You see, I’d sent out a “press release” introduction to several local newspapers over a month ago, but none had responded. The success with the local libraries gave me the courage to follow up with two of our larger local newspapers, The Exeter Times Advance, and the Forest Standard/Parkhill Gazette and ask (bold, I know) if they’d be interested in doing an interview with me as a local author. When they each said yes, I was ecstatic! What I’m learning from all this is, first and foremost, I can do this, and second, people just might be more open and receptive than I’d originally thought.

I keep saying this writing thing is teaching me about life; the parallels are always there. It’s also helping me to grow and expand my knowledge on so many fronts, I sometimes have trouble shutting my mind off at night (you know what that’s like). What I know for sure is that I have so much more to learn, and love the experiences, connections and opportunities that keep coming my way. Will it all be sunshine and roses, not likely, but hopefully I will learn something from those too, even if it’s only not to repeat the mistakes. Oh, and I’m also aware of how important it is to just shut it all off and spend time doing the things in my life that are important besides writing and promotion. Things like family, getting outside, taking breaks and sometimes yes, just goofing off for the day and enjoying the moments of sheer freedom. I’m not saying I have it all figured out, but I know balance has to be in play, or I’ll burn out. Today’s a working day, but tomorrow…?

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The Persecution of Mildred Dunlap

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