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Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Belated Discovery - The Outlander Series

Strange how you resist a book or series of books then "discover" them long after millions of other readers already have. That's how it was for me with the Diana Gabaldon's Outlander series -
( At its core, the series centers around a historical romance, a paranormal romance at that....those are three terms that usually send me running away from a book as fast as I can go.

I read The Scottish Prisoner, the most recent book, first and fell in love with a secondary character, Lord John Grey. Lord John is honorable and dashing and gay (gay as in homosexual). He and Jamie Fraser are roughly co-equal characters in The Scottish Prisoner. I still didn't think the premise of the series, in which Claire Randall falls into a crack in time that exists in a circle of ancient stones on the Scottish Highlands and emerges 200 years into the past, sounded like my cup of tea. I sought out the other Outlander books that centered on Sir John until I'd read them all. Then, with some reluctance, I started at the beginning with The Outlander and was instantly captivated by the storylines, the characters, the descriptions, the history and the personality of Scotland in the era of Bonnie Prince Charlie.

They are great thick books that contain thoroughly satisfying stories about people you learn to love.

The Outlander series offered another benefit I never expected. At a time, when I'm just short of distraught about the hateful political climate of my country, the books highlighted how each generation, from one to another, becomes caught up in the passions of its time. For Lord John Grey and Jamie Fraser, it was a brutal war over who should be England's king. In the end, the Scottish Highlanders' failed effort to return the Stuarts to the British throne, resulted in desolation for that country's people. Many died on the battlefield or execution by the King's men or later, by starvation.

Yet, from our perspective now, that time is all about romantic heroes and legends - it is Bonnie Prince Charlie and courageous kilted warriors whose bones now lie peacefully under the Scottish heather. It was life and death and honor to those were were part of it but it seems unimportant now, just as fights over contraception and taxes and oil pipelines will seem unimportant to our great-great-grandchildren a century into the future - though humankind being what it is, they will no doubt be pursued by their own furies regarding popes and presidents and political philosophies.


Thursday, June 07, 2012

New Book - Magic Creek

I've just e-published a new book, Magic Creek, through Amazon  and Smashwords ( When she is 5, she sits in the blossom-laden branches of a cherry tree and declares, "I will always do 'xactly as I please". At 15, she leaves her home in Philadelphia to join a group of pioneers traveling to the wilderness. When she survives her first brutal winter with only a wildcat for company, she becomes known as Magic to both the whites and Indians. She endures many hardships during her years on Magic Creek including the loss of her true love when the government relocates his tribe West to facing trial for murder when she kills a man who attacks her in her cabin. Always, the touchstone of her life is her beloved piece of land on Magic Creek. Her life is characterized by strength and fierce independence.

Two hundred years later, another woman comes from Philadelphia to settle on Magic Creek but her circumstances are very different. Tory is kept captive by her brutal controlling physician husband. She is allowed no car, no money, no phone, no internet. She is only allowed to make calls when he listens to her side of the conversation, one allowed to send letters after he reads them first. He brutally crushes her smallest rebellion.

Eventually, Magic and Tory's lives entwine when she finds a silver spoon buried next to a fallen wall of stone and begins to have visions of a black-haired woman walking with a wildcat. Magic is drawn to try to help Tory escape her husband. In the end, the women discover that each person must find her own path in life.  

Talent Isn't Enough

I have taught many Creative Writing classes and workshops in the past 30 years. Writers are all unique in what and how they write and yet there are invariably students who share some of the same characteristics.

For instance, there are those who those who finish too soon and those who don't finish at all. Those who finish too soon just want to write. They have an exciting idea and can't wait to get it down on paper. The creativity is the fun part for them. Once that's over, they resist the tedium of editing their work in order to polish it into a professional manuscript. No matter how good their writing is, they will probably never sell it.

Those who don't finish get lost in the process. Unlike the first group, they edit and smooth and polish and re-write, never able to bring themselves to declare that it is time to stop because their piece is as good as they can make it. Perhaps it is simply the anxiety of public judgment that holds them back. No matter how good their writing is, they will most likely never sell it.

In every class I've ever taught, I've had excellent writers with real potential to sell their work who never will because they are terrified of rejection. Perhaps, they sent out a manuscript once and got back a form letter turning them down (something that happens to those of us who have had a little, or a lot, of success many, many times). But for the fearful ones, one humiliation (as they see it) is all they can bear. They will never allow themselves to be put in that position again. Obviously, if you don't even try to market your work, you never will.

I always have a few dreamers who think a lot about writing but never actually do it. They have entire articles or books in their heads but never manage to get them down on paper. They may make outlines. They go as far as creating Word documents. They give their piece a title but that's as far as they go. When faced with all that blank space, they zone out. Needless to say, no matter how good their ideas may be, if they can't translate them into something that can be shared, no one will ever know but them.

The worst for an instructor are those who eagerly write and edit and read aloud to the class but who have no talent for writing. They do everything so wrong, the instructor is at a loss to know how to begin to help them improve. They are so enthusiastic and willing to put every suggestion into practice but when you read their first paragraph, it is hard not to groan out loud and you're sure any editor who reads it will do the same.

For those who finish too soon, I recommend setting yourself a goal of editing your piece at least six times. Force yourself to be thorough even if it bores you, then send it out.

For those who can't finish, same thing. Edit six times, then make yourself call it quits and send it out.

For those who can't face rejection. tell yourself you're going to send your piece, then do it. Have the next potential market lined up and pop it back on-line or in the mail, as soon as it is turned down by the first one. Don't give yourself time to think about it. Remind yourself that best-selling novelists were often shunned by publishers many times before they were accepted.

For those who never actually write anything, set a goal to write at least a paragraph every day. If it is only a description of a character or a bit of dialogue, get something down on the page. The next day add another paragraph. What you write may be disjointed at first but you'll find yourself automatically pulling it together as you add more material. After a while, that paragraph will come easier. When that happens, up your goal to two paragraphs. Eventually, you'll be writing a page. One page a day everyday means completing a 365 page novel in a year.

For those who have no writing ability (as well as those who do), my recommendation is to keep at it. I used to attend an annual writing conference. One of the instructors was something of a legend. The first year she came with a novel manuscript that was purely awful. Still, everyone did the best they could to give her advice for how to improve it. The next year, she'd re-written her book. It was still pretty bad. The next year, it was a little better, the following year quite a bit better. The seventh year she attended the conference, she came with the news that she'd sold her novel to a publisher.

How many conference attendees do you suppose didn't sell a book or a magazine piece or a poem during those seven years - people who started out with much more talent than she had? The answer is many, because they didn't have her drive, her eagerness to improve, her will to overcome discouragement. She kept moving forward when others gave up.

The secret of writing and selling what you write is to write and to keep market and to keep marketing. There is no shortage of people with talent but perseverance, ah, that's what makes the difference between failure or success.