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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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Indecision

Indecision

If you are a writer, or a reader who has a curiosity about writing, you might understand this dilemma. You see, I’m experiencing a bit of a conundrum in my writing. Having just sent off the draft edits for the sequel to my debut novel, I’m faced with that dreaded, “what next?”.

 

I’m torn between starting a new series based on the two previous books right away, or taking on an entirely new project in the romance genre, but very different than the first two. I already have ideas for both, but wrestle with which to tackle first. I’ve even considered writing the two simultaneously, but I’m not sure my old brain can do that.

 

The truth is, both hold equal appeal, I’m just not sure how or where to start. As a woman who has passed the age of fifty, this type of situation has happened many times before in my life, separate and apart from my writing. So I acknowledge the need to stop for a bit and let my heart lead the way. Unlike my personal life, if I make a wrong start, I can simply put the current work aside and make a new beginning.

 

But wait, isn’t life like that too, to some extent. We’ve all heard of people who’ve made some pretty horrendous mistakes in their lives, and for a variety of reasons, chose to take a different path to find the peace and happiness they seek.

 

Years ago I divorced my first husband and chose to seek my future without him. It was one of the most difficult decisions I’d made up to that point. I was barely thirty-two years old and the mother of two young children. I had no job, and things at home had reached a melting point. I didn’t know what my future would hold as a single parent with very limited financial resources, but I knew I had to make a new start for myself and my children. The relationship wasn’t a healthy one, and rather than stay, I chose to take on a new direction. I made the right choice.

 

Love rules

Love rules

Years later I met my second husband and fell in love. He had three teenaged children and by then my own children were teens. That made five teenagers that we were considering putting together as a family. No, insanity doesn’t run in my family; it seems unique to me. I didn’t know what the future would hold in this proposed new scenario, and I could see the pitfalls ahead. But I was in love with this man, I cared very much about his children, and so I followed my heart. Now, we have five grown children and five incredible, beautiful grandchildren. It certainly hasn’t always been easy, by a long shot, but I’m happier for having my husband and our combined children than I ever was alone. Together, we’ve created a family that bickers, and loves, much as biological families do. I made the right choice.

 

When I was fired from a job as a medical office administrator for standing up for myself against another staff member with more seniority, I came home devastated. I cried, ached and felt such shame for being fired from a job I’d taken pride in. Then my husband asked me if I’d ever wanted to do anything other than work in an office, as I had since I was seventeen. I was stunned. No one had ever asked me that question before. I took it seriously and really thought about it. I was forty-one years old, the kids had mostly grown and gone, and I was in a new space in my life. I’d always wanted to get into real estate, so I told him I wanted to take the required courses, obtain my license, and go with my gut. Keep in mind here that I hadn’t even finished high school, having foolishly quit school two months before graduation in order to marry my first husband. The thought of taking an extensive course and begin the formal learning process again was daunting, for sure. It was also exciting. I completed that course, got my license and thoroughly enjoyed selling residential real estate for the next seven years. I made the right choice.

 

After those seven years, I was tired of long days and nights and little time away from work. I realized I had started missing out on so many family functions and important personal time with my husband due to work requirements. I’d gotten disillusioned with real estate sales and the sometimes cut-throat attitude of so many of the agents I’d encountered. I’d also met some wonderful co-workers and clients whom I truly enjoyed. But I was unhappy, so I wondered again, “what next?”.

 

After serious consideration, and in talking with family and friends I trusted, I made the decision to move into residential mortgage sales. It seemed the ideal fit based on my years in real estate and my basic knowledge of mortgages etc. I still wasn’t sure it’s what I should do, but I went ahead and took the courses to obtain my license and went to work selling mortgages. I should have listened to my gut instinct. I’d grown weary of commissioned sales and had only shifted the focus from real estate to mortgages, with little to no real change in the type of work I was doing. After only three years I was left dissatisfied and unhappy with where my career was going.

 

So it begins

So it begins

I remembered my husband’s question all those years ago about what I wanted to do with my life. I had always wanted to write, but had put it off. It was such an “out there” thing to do, and I was afraid to tackle the commitment I knew it would take. I hummed and hawed. I agonized and chewed it over for weeks. Then one day while I was off for Christmas break, I decided to just go for it. I went upstairs to my computer and sat down and began to write a story I’d been mulling over, along with my indecision. Approximately eight hours later, I came downstairs beaming. I hadn’t written anything stellar, and most of it I would later re-write completely, but that wasn’t the point. The point was, I’d crossed a line. I’d taken hold of an old fear and once again chosen to go with my gut feeling. By the time I came downstairs from my office, I knew I wanted to be a writer. I had my, “what next”.

 

It’s been three more years since then, and during that time I continued to work. Last November, with the release of In The Spirit Of Love, my debut novel, I already knew I’d found my place, so decided to quit my job and write full time. In truth, writing is where I probably should always have been. I’ve learned so much this past year, and the years before it. I’ve learned to trust myself and listen to my instincts. I’ve also learned that, just like in writing, I can choose my path. If it isn’t right, I’ll stop, listen, wait, and go with my gut.

 

I know I still have so much to learn, and I’m still not sure what I’ll do regarding my next project, but that’s okay. What I do know is that I’ll keep writing. In movies I’ve heard characters talk about the possibilities “tomorrow” holds. I think of Gone with the Wind and Scarlet O’Hara, who vowed to go home to Tara and figure out her future. I think of Little Orphan Annie who sang brightly of “Tomorrow”, and I think of all the songs and films and talk shows that encouraged me take chances and dream big. It isn’t even all about “making it big” (although that would certainly be nice). It’s about finding myself and my true passion and letting it lead me to new experiences. I guess what’s next for me, is simply to write.

 

So, what’s next for you? What dreams or aspirations have you followed up on, or wished you had?

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Reach for the Stars

Let me start by saying, we are not omnipotent. It doesn’t matter how much you might fight it, life, or fate, sometimes puts you smack in the middle of where you need to be. Many times over the years I’ve bemoaned a circumstance or event, only to realize, sometimes months or even years later, that I needed to be there. There are lessons to be learned, even if we don’t think we need to learn them.

When writing a fiction book, the author is God-like. We make omnipotent decisions for and about our characters, their lives and their choices. We manipulate circumstances to bring about desired events and we put people in places they may not normally be. We give them emotions, thoughts and flaws to make them human (even when the characters aren’t necessarily human at all). When writing, re-writing, editing, and throughout the entire process of crafting a believable story, we do this. We place our characters and the supporting characters where we want them to be so we can hopefully tie all the pieces together for a cohesive, enjoyable tale.

What power! We can’t do that in our own lives. We are subject to the same whims, peaks and valleys as everyone else. We struggle with health issues, fears, love, failure, successes as any other. We are eminently fallible. We have no more insight into the whys of our lives than other people. We are human. But human nature wants to control. We want to make the decisions and postulate on the right to choose our destiny. As authors, we brave fear and possible failure and rejection every day. We wouldn’t have it any other way. But sometimes we fight where we are in our lives. We push and shove to move forward.

A prime example is what’s going on in my life right now. Several months ago my husband and I were struggling financially, so we opted to sell our house (at no profit), reduce our bill payments and start over financially. Like so many others, we were drowning in debt, and it didn’t matter what we did or how hard we worked, the numbers just weren’t lining up. Add to that some health issues I began experiencing due to the increased stress. We decided to man up and make some hard decisions. One of those was getting out from under mortgage debt. Goodbye my lovely little home. We maintained our seasonal park model trailer and stayed there for the summer while we strategized our next course of action. By summer’s end we’d decided to continue the breather we’d taken and move in with my parents, who encouraged the decision. Dad was finding it harder and harder to do the odd jobs around their 1800 square foot home, and my mother’s health had been less than optimal for quite some time.

I love my parents tremendously, but I didn’t want to move in with them, even temporarily. I wanted my own space, my privacy, and my own way of doing things. I was adamant we would only stay a short while as we began looking for permanent living accommodations. Everyone agreed. Okay, I was on the road to recovery financially and emotionally. We had a short term plan in place and were moving ahead. It was all good.

Then last week, at my mother’s seventy-fifth birthday celebration luncheon, my father experienced a mild stroke. We rushed him to the hospital and although greatly shaken, were relieved he seemed to have suffered only minor damage to his left side. Throughout the last week we travelled back and forth between my parent’s home an hour away, my sister’s house, and the hospital. We brought clothing and toiletries to my mother who opted to stay in the city at my sister’s, drove her to the hospital when we could, and visited my dad. Scary stuff. I was supposed to attend a major trade show in Las Vegas for business this week, but it’s a no-brainer. I’m needed here more than there. Sure I’m disappointed. I’ve never been to Vegas before and was really pumped about going, but hey, trade show vs dad and family. No contest.

My superhero, my dad

My dad is my hero – my rock. He’s the one who keeps us on track and laughing (he loves to laugh). I remind myself it could have been so much worse, and it could. We are very lucky. We got a whopping wake up call and thump upside the head to remind us no one is immune. Not even my father.

Here’s the funny thing though. It occurred to me about mid-week that it was a very good thing we were here with them. A very good thing we were able to help out however we could this week. And perhaps a true blessing that my parents won’t return home alone. Over the course of this past week, my mother has said many times how relieved she is that we will be here with them when my dad finally comes home. My dad has expressed the same thing, as have my siblings and children.

Two days ago, on the way home from the hospital, I heaved a great sigh and said to my husband, “I guess it’s a good thing we’re going to be staying with mom and dad for a while, huh?” All the fight had gone out of me. I realized I was right where I needed to be. Life was teaching me another lesson despite myself. It’s all good and well to fight, to strive, to move forward, but sometimes there’s a reason we are where we are. Sometimes we may have to accept that God, or fate, or whatever you want to call it, places us right where we are needed so the story can continue as it should.

Memories

As an author, and as a person, I get that. For now, I’m content to do what needs to be done and be grateful for the lessons learned. I am willing to accept change and let go, for a while, the need to control everything, yet even my decision to do so is solely within my control. Today, I’m just a daughter who is needed by her parents. Each day, each week, each month, I’ll pick up the threads and continue weaving my life’s story, learning as I go.

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