Category Archives: The Writing Life

Tip My Hand Tuesday

While doing a writing sprint this morning, I read an article by James Scott Bell entitled, Garlic Breath for Writers (aka Bad First Pages). The article helps writers improve their first pages so no one shies away.

He points out that writers don’t have much time to attract an editor’s attention so don’t blow it by making your opening lines uninteresting. I think it’s a little unfair that we write books for the mythic editor, (or reader), that only gives you 13 seconds to WOW them. If they’re not transfixed by your characters, plot and setting in that time, you’re tossed aside like so much cold oatmeal. But, I also have ended my past policy of if-I-start-your-novel-I-finish-your-novel. I give a writer 50 pages. I don’t have to be transfixed by your book. I don’t even have to be in love. I just have to be interested enough to turn the page. Maybe like me, the only shocking thing is how many books fail to do even that!

IN the spirit of putting myself at risk, I’m putting the first few paragraphs of a new novel I’m working on. (Yeah, yeah, I know, “finish the ones you’ve got going now, Madam Can’t-finish-a-thing!)

The first segment is the original from the first draft I’m working on. The second is the reworked version. The segments include a title change, a short synopsis, and several paragraphs of narrative and dialogue.

Let me know what you think in the comments.

The Original:

THOUGH I HAD A SON

The stillborn son of the Elliots survived.  With a son, SW is worse than ever about precedence, money, rank, all of it. Though Lady Elliot survives past 1800, she is often “unwell” and must withdraw from society for short periods. During these times, SW is free to spend on their son at an alarming rate. This brings the retrenchment closer more quickly.

CHAPTER ONE

Anne Elliot took her place down the table from her father, Sir Walter. With the eldest Elizabeth on his left, and his son and heir, Young Walter on his right, it was always Anne’s duty to go lower. Her father was reading a letter that had her sister and brother’s rapt attention. She carefully eased her napkin from under the silver so as not to disrupt him.

The warm touch of her mother’s hand comforted her. Lady Elliot sat straight and still, still facing her husband, but her eyes shifted to Anne. She winked. A wisp of a smile followed and then she looked back to the head of the table.

There were no footmen to serve the family’s breakfast, so Anne served herself an egg and a bit of sausage. This was the one area in which Lady Elliot was supreme. She had grown up in a house with a lawyer for a father who left the ordering of the house to her mother who was raised on a farm. The household had moved through the seasons dictated by what the land needed at the moment. At no time of year was it acceptable to dawdle over meals. There was no ceremony about seating, who sat where sorted itself by who got to the table first. If the matter was left to Sir Walter, every meal would be a rigorous, proper affair that took far too much time. Before the children had been born, and she still had a hold over him, she had insisted that breakfast be a quiet, casual affair. It was still a battle to keep it such. Everything, whether household or estate was now being used to teach their son that, in the words of Sir Walter, “a baronet should be seen to live as a baronet.” Even if that meant the hard-won domestic preferences of my lady were dashed.

“… and so, Miss Elizabeth’s gown, and the suits of Sir Walter, and Young Walter Elliot are ready for a final fitting. If you would be so kind as to fix a date that would be convenient to you and your children. Madam and I are most anxious to travel to Kellynch and to see our creations in the very house they will grace.  M. Perry and co.”

The havoc a fitting would stir depressed Anne. Before the visit, her sister was sure to fly into fits. Problems with the materials, snagged lace, uneven stitching, and surely the colours will be nothing at all like the ones she chose a month ago. Her father would be as bad, if not worse. Young Walter would merely snipe about the Mr Perry’s broad accent, the couples being from Exeter, and not being a fine London tailor.

“I do think that is high-handed of Perry, Father—”

“Yes, it is, Father. And his wife is not even a seamstress. The only proper gowns I have are made in London—”

“—presumptuous to make himself and that silly little wife out to be the actual creators of anything. If it were not for us, he would have been doing nothing in his little shop sewing buttons, and hems, and nothing else.” Young Walter took a bite of potato. A bit dropped on his waistcoat. He then stabbed a bit of toast in some yoke to follow. “What?” with a full mouth he demanded of Anne.

“Nothing, Walter. I just—”

“You have no interest in this, sister. You chose to embarrass the family by having something made over by Mother’s maid rather than—”

“Enough, Walter,” Lady Elliot said.

Yes, indeed,” their father said, folding the note. “Anne’s choices are her own. The dress was your mother’s and fit for London a season ago, so I think it will be sufficient. Though,” he set the note aside, “I hope you will make more than a superficial appearance at the ball my dear.” He spoke to Lady Elliot. She was in one of her periods of societal withdrawal, as Sir Walter called them. “We are twenty-two years married and this is a great occasion.” He realized he was leaning forward and that his voice was brusque. After a deep breath, he softened his tone. “It is my fondest wish that you would rally yourself and be at my side throughout the evening.” He smiled and raised a finger to the children. They turned and smiled as well.

The reworked version:

ANNE ELLIOT’S MOST DEGRADING ALLIANCE

From the Baronetage: “Walter Elliot, Born March 1, 1760 … Anne, born August 9, 1787; a still-born son, Nov. 5, 1789 … ” In the Regency period, a son made all the difference in the world to a family. Particularly one with a title and estate. In this Persuasion retelling, the stillborn son of the Elliots survived. In this story, as in reality, a small change can make a startling difference.

CHAPTER ONE

Anne Elliot carefully eased her napkin from under the silver so as not to disrupt her father as he read a letter at the breakfast table. The warm touch of her mother’s hand comforted her. Lady Elliot’s eyes shifted to Anne. Her mother winked. A wisp of a smile followed and then she looked back to the head of the table.

Her mother’s posture was ramrod straight. The Baronet’s flagrant disregard for his wife’s opinion that dining table was a place for polite and appropriate conversations amongst the family was, once again, ignored. Meals had never been delightful family affairs, but lately, tension was always on the menu.

Unfortunately, tension was not restricted to the dining room. More often than not, walking into a room unannounced brought a halt to intense conversations between her parents. As a matter of course, Anne cleared her throat or dropped things to make her presence known. Her elder sister, Elizabeth, was beginning to take notice, and her younger brother, Young Walter, outright called her an oaf. These snatches of conversations, and oblique references to things only understood by her parents weighed heavily on her.

“… and so, Miss Elizabeth’s gown, and the suits of Sir Walter, and Young Walter Elliot are ready for a final fitting. If you would be so kind as to fix a date that would be convenient to you and your children. Madam and I are most anxious to travel to Kellynch and to see our creations in the very house they will grace.  M. Perry and co.”

The Elliots were celebrating their twenty-second wedding anniversary with a ball. Lady Elliot was notorious for limiting extravagant socialising, and this gave Anne’s father an excuse to open his purse and spend freely. This included new clothes for everyone. The occasion being what it was, her mother felt helpless to stop him

The tailor’s letter held Elizabeth and Young Walter in thrall. A fitting with the Perry’s would rain havoc on the household. Even before their arrival, Elizabeth would fly into fits about snagged lace, uneven stitching, and mismatched buttons. She suspected there would also be doubts that the colours or even the material itself will be the ones she chose a month ago. Her father would be as bad, adding irregular lapels, and breeches too loose or too tight, whichever made the least sense. Young Walter would not bother commenting on the possibilities about the clothing, but cruelly snipe about Mr Perry’s broad accent and how the couple residing in Exeter could not possibly be skilled as a fine London tailor.

“I do think that is high-handed of Perry, Father—” So began Young Walter’s bombast.

“Yes, so high-handed, Father. And his wife is not even a seamstress. The only proper gowns I have are made in London—”

“—presumptuous to make himself and that silly little wife out to be the actual creators of anything suitable. If it were not for us, he would have been doing nothing in his little shop sewing buttons, and hems, and nothing else.” Young Walter took a bite of potato. A bit dropped on his waistcoat. He then stabbed a bit of toast in some yoke to follow.

“In the past, they have proven very good—”

What?” with a full mouth he demanded of Anne.

“Nothing, Walter. I just—”

“You have no interest in this, sister. You chose to embarrass the family by having something made over by Mother’s maid rather than—”

“Enough, Walter,” Lady Elliot said.

“Yes, indeed, enough.” their father said, folding the note. “Anne’s choices are her own. The dress was your mother’s and fit for London a season ago, so I think it will be sufficient. Though,” he set the note aside, speaking to Lady Elliot. “I hope you will make more than a superficial appearance at the ball my dear.” She was in one of her periods of societal withdrawal, as Sir Walter called them. “We are twenty-two years married and this is a great occasion.” After a deep breath, he softened his tone. Was it possible that he realised he was leaning a bit too far forward and that his voice was little too brusque? “It is my fondest wish that you would rally yourself and be at my side throughout the evening.” He smiled and raised a finger to the children. They turned and smiled as well.

 

These are both portions of a work-in-progress and subject to change.

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The Days They Pass …

acquired on PEXEL.COM

SUNDAY, OCTOBER 22, 2017
My tinnitus is screaming, which means I’ve been to church. Every Sunday, I try to remember just when every service become like a full-on DEAF Leppard concert. We even have a guitar player who does a modified shred during praise and worship. I’m just not appreciative of that sort of “freedom.” When did I become so old?

 

MONDAY, OCTOBER 23, 2017
I finally caught up on season six, seven, and eight of The Walking Dead. I’ve been away from Rick and Co for nearly two years. But when my mom moved to be closer to my brother, I decided I would go back and catch up. I still love the storytelling; taut and tense. The more things change the more they stay the same. Well except for Glenn being gone.

TUESDAY, OCTOBER 24, 2017
I got up and am working on a silly SciFi-esque story for Frederick and Anne. Here’s hoping to have some of it ready to post at BEYOND AUSTEN by Halloween. Or as most of us without children know it, next Tuesday. And today is beans and rice day. Any good recipes? The only serious bean recipe I know by heart is for Navy Bean soup. Love it but it’s not cold enough yet. Interesting aside, when looking for a graphic, all that came up at the graphics site I am using was coffee beans. So, coffee is what sustains us now, not food. Good to know.

Sue (Susan Kaye)

 

No Darcy, No Way

Darcy is Best Left to Others

Someone said to me that I should write some Pride and Prejudice fan fiction. In the past, it’s been suggested I write Colonel Brandon. My first response to both suggestions was a simple, “no way.”

While that response is harsh but accurate, I have thought about why I don’t want to even try my hand at writing Darcy or the Colonel. It comes down to having nothing new or interesting to say about the characters or their stories.

Refrain_from_writingThere are days I look at what I’m writing about Anne and Frederick and think the same thing, but at least I have a sort of visceral desire to work with them. About the casts of P&P and S&S, not so much.

Every month in the Austen fandom, there are scads of books published. The vast majority of them are using P&P as their base. I’m sure most are retelling the girl-meets-boy-boy-disdains-girl-boy-proposes-marriage-girl-rejects-boy-boy-saves-girl’s-family-and-reputation-girl-and-boy-admit-to-loving-one-another plot.

Unique stories, like Laura Hile’s Darcy by any Other Name, and Robin Helm’s various series have covered a lot of new ground that doesn’t need to be plowed again by me. There are other fine writers who absolutely love the characters and the story. That affection shows in every aspect of their writing.

At the very best, I would be day laborer working for paycheck. Not that writing for pay is bad. I firmly believe that some of the best writing (and music, visual art, etc) has been done by people putting food on the table, not looking to leave a legacy of amazing prose. The difference is that in fandom, the love of characters is baked into the foundation of the work. Without it, the foundation is wonky at best. And let’s face it, there have been times you’ve read a book that is merely a word count with a cover and a dedication. Did you think well of the author? Race to Amazon to see if they had more of the same? My point exactly.

Darcy is an icon and I have no desire to mess with him. Brandon is an interesting character I prefer to read rather than write. Long story shortened, I won’t be writing any P&P, or S&S fics anytime soon. No heart for the subjects, and no desire to bore you all to tears.

An Observation

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Mum old man taps bell.
Barely a sound calls help.
Mumness surrounds him.

 

 

We are to blog as writers so that we have a platform. We create a platform so that people find us and read our books. They read our books, we make a living, and the cycle continues.

Except when you hit days like today.

The above lame haiku came about because I was going to describe a trip to the store last week. Down and dirty: Dollar Store. Checkers restocking, checkout empty. Bell on belt for service. Older man gets there before me. I ask him to ring. Startle him. Tiny voice says, okay. His ring is as tiny as his voice. Checker comes and all’s well that ends well.

I was going to observe that people resemble their noticeable traits. He was small, stooped, took up little space. His voice was tiny. His ring of the bell was light, barely noticeable.

Writing that was taking up too much time because I’m a wordy old blowhard. I searched for a picture of an older man to go with the  post so I could shorten it. Couldn’t find a pic of a frail old man so chose to go with a writing prompt of a weird pic I DID find.

Nothing worth reading.

Wrote the above, lame haiku to post. Found a pic of a desk bell to go with lame haiku above.

That took nearly two hours.

Thank the Lord I wrote earlier today and got something real accomplished.

Unless reading this, and seeing that other people have to wade through useless effort,  helps you. Then it’s not a waste. <smile>

However this day shakes out, Happy Tuesday!

 

 

 

They won’t say it but I will

As you saw on the previous post, Laura Hile’s Darcy By Any Other Name is now available in the Kindle version right now. Go and buy it. When the paperback version is available, go buy that as well. I have no idea what the price of the print version will be, but I’ll bet, even when added to the $4.99 for the Kindle version, you will be down less than what you’d spend on a movie and lunch. (HInt, Jane Austen’s Lady Susan, directed by Whit Stillman, is said to be a worthy offering.)

Below is a photograph of a woman working in an airplane factory in WWII.

LH_aircraft_worker

QA. Quality Control. That what writers do just before the hit “SEND.” A writer has the idea. We draw up the the blueprints, or plot. The parts, or characters are molded by us, and we assemble the lot of it to make a novel. And most of that is done alone. Except for the coffee/liquor/chocolate that many of us use to medicate our way through the manufacturing process.

In the same way that we salute the civilian women of WWII, salute your favorite writers by buying their books. A nice payday is a great reward for a story well-done. Review their books. Nothing says “I care” like helping other readers understand the greatness of your fave author. And most of all, enjoy their work. Writers may never see their readers, but we do get a kick out of knowing someone is going to get that sly little joke in Chapter 10.

Again, DARCY BY ANY OTHER NAME is available at Amazon. Buy it. You will not regret it.

Use Protection, Kids. And Lots of It!

Romance_Travel_CoverFor a while I have been working to arrange a move for my mother. There are lots of moving parts and I’m not all that good at multitasking these days. To keep my sanity, I have been working on a new story.  I finally got far enough in and was confident I would keep with it, so started posting the story on Beyond Austen.  Captain Wentworth’s Guide to Romance and Travel: Lyme Regis is Persuasion without Louisa Musgrove’s fall from the Cobb. This past week I was in the trenches of packing boxes, paper, tapes, and Sharpie markers. Wednesday is the day I had chosen to post and so a week ago I put the flash drive in my computer to retrieve the post, and, VOILA! The drive was emp-ty.

Not a crumb remains.

A few years ago, I took Laura Hile’s loss of thousands of words in a computer crash as a warning and started keeping all my writing on flash drives. A couple of years after that I starting getting serious about organizing my writing, graphics, and private business. Yes, indeedy, I did.

So much for my trying to be grown-up.

I’m thankful for two things: that I was hip-deep in real life and not focused on my writing, and that it took several days to realize that the aforementioned story wasn’t the only thing on the drive.

I’ve now officially lost one whole novel, two partial–each hovering around 175 pages–several outlines of novel ideas, and countless graphics I had created for this and other blogs, and several book covers.

There were many family photos as well, but I have found them on other drives and online haunts of mine.

I am home now and have signed up for an automatic, online, cloud storage service.

Lessons learnt: exhaustion keeps you from going ballistic when the unthinkable happens, and back up your back ups. And then back it all up again.

Nothing is certain.

Except the Web Gods will exact a price.

I will be back next week with Wentworth Wednesday. Anne and Frederick finally talk in the relative quiet of the White Hart dining room with the Musgrove clan dickering over going to the theatre.

Later.

And this is why P. D. James was one of the best …

10429275_10152939229007728_8375510980942188307_nThe author P. D. James died on Thanksgiving day. She’s British so she didn’t know she was dampening a holiday for me. I’m sure she didn’t plan on dampening anything for anyone. As a Christian she passed into her next life and I’m happy for her. What she left me was a gift I will cherish for the rest of mine.

I’m not easily pleased as a reader. I’m more suited to, and give greater latitude to, movies. I have all or most of the films of several actors, but James is the only novelist I’ve even made the same attempt with. It was reading James from her first novel to the last I learned how much an author improves and refines themselves over the course of their work. James went from a clumsy earnestness in “Cover Her Face” to to a sleek, albeit tired sort of ease in “The Private Patient.” Her hero, Adam Dalgliesh, is a policeman and a poet, the son of a vicar, and a widower who over time found love again. The crimes she wrote of were sometimes notorious and very public, other times they were quiet, unnoticed, and sad.

Sadness is, in my experience, one of the toughest emotions to write. Keeping the attention of readers when the hero is sad, or just dealing with sadness is difficult. Sad people are rarely if ever a lot of laughs and they can be tiresome to be around. When the real life escapades of a reader’s cat become more interesting than the story you’re telling, you lose them. Sad characters can lose you readers. James knew this, I think, but she was courageous in that she told the truth. The truth is, this world is riddled with sadness. That’s why this is one of my favorite passages from “Original Sin,” my favorite of her Dalgliesh mysteries:

“…He (Dalgliesh) glanced at the books. The shelves were paperback copies of crime and detective stories, but he noticed that few of the writers were living. Mrs. Carling’s taste was for women writers of the Golden Age. They all looked well-read. Below them was a shelf of real-crime: books on the Wallace case, on Jack the Ripper, on the more famous Victorian murderers, Adelaide Bartlett and Constance Kent. The lower shelves held leather-bound and gold-titled copies of her own works, an extravagance, Dalgliesh thought, unlikely to have been subsidized by Peverell Press. The sight of this harmless vanity depressed him, evoking a spasm of pity. Who would inherit this accumulated record of a life lived by murder and ended by murder? On what shelf in a drawing-room, bedroom, or lavatory would they find an honoured or tolerated place? Or would they be bought as a job-lot by some second-hand bookseller and priced as a set, their value enhanced by the horror  and appalling appropriateness of her death? … He told himself that she had probably given pleasure to more people with her mysteries than he had with his poetry. And if the pleasure was of a different kind, who was to say that one was inferior to the other. She had at least respected the English language and used it as well as lay in her power. In an age rapidly becoming illiterate that was something. … He hoped that when she had come as last face to face with reality the encounter had been brief and merciful.”

In this paragraph is the encapsulation of a life. You know nothing about her really, but you know all you need to. The woman wrote stories that barely supported her, and it’s very likely their value now will be measured in how much a potential buyer cares about the way she died.

The entire chapter in Original Sin is very sad. But you stay with it because you suspect James is writing about herself as an author. She didn’t look it, but in many ways she was fearless. She knew her monetary value was weighed by the fickle public. I suppose she also knew what it was like to be measured by other wordsmiths who considered writing mysteries to be  less than.

Anyway, enough of the maudlin. I am grateful to have read her books, seen her read a passage from “In Holy Orders” in person, and have her characters nudge me intellectually. If you’ve never read anything by P. D. James, I encourage you to do so. Original Sin is, IMO, her best mystery novel. The adaptation by Masterpiece Mystery is great, though not perfectly faithful, and stars my favorite Anne Elliot, Amanda Root. “The Children of Men” is a great speculative fiction novel.

Try James if you’re looking for a new-to-you writer.

Thank you, Lady James.