World War I and the Power of Story

I planned to write quite a different blog post, but then the Internet reminded me that today is the hundredth anniversary of the start of World War I, so that other post will have to wait.

All I can really remember about how I came to my interest in World War I is that sometime in middle or early high school, I saw a picture of some soldiers and thought that was the last time guys looked truly hot in uniform. Tell me, who doesn’t love a man in puttees? My mom told me my great-grandfather, who fought in France and spoke of the war only in reference to French girls in order to annoy my great-grandmother, would have appreciated that.

Also, I think it partly came down to a question of fairness. I’m an American. Americans can talk World War II all day long, but we’re kind of lost when it comes to World War I. That’s partly because we weren’t in it very long, but I think there’s more to it than that. World War II calls up more emotions Americans are comfortable with: clarity of purpose, a solid win. As a culture, we don’t like to dwell on the past, no matter how much it affects us. And what’s the use of a war no one could really win? I became interested in that neglected war because I saw that it was neglected, overshadowed by its bolder, more triumphant offspring. All wars are sad, but World War I seemed to me especially so, not as if the events were sad, but as if the war itself—insofar as wars have a consciousness—were sad.

World War I will always appeal to storytellers because it’s such a perfectly constructed tragedy, almost too perfect to have occurred naturally, as if it were scripted to wring the audience’s hearts. For a century, World War I has provided the raw material for excellent works of literature. It’s sometimes called the most literary of all wars, and maybe that also piqued my interest, because the military and diplomatic history of the war doesn’t interest me any more than military and diplomatic history ever does. (Not much).

I’ve grown out of my high school belief that F. Scott Fitzgerald was The Best Writer Ever to Live (Sorry, Dr. Bruccoli. Please think I am still smart.), but his take on the war in Tender is the Night rings truer to me than any other:

“This western-front business couldn’t be done again, not for a long time. The young men think they could do it but they couldn’t. They could fight the first Marne again but not this. This took religion and years of plenty and tremendous sureties and the exact relation that existed between the classes. The Russians and Italians weren’t any good on this front. You had to have a whole-souled sentimental equipment going back further than you could remember. You had to remember Christmas, and postcards of the Crown Prince and his fiancée, and little cafés in Valence and beer gardens in Unter den Linden and weddings at the mairie, and going to the Derby, and your grandfather’s whiskers.”

“General Grant invented this kind of battle at Petersburg in sixty-five.”

“No, he didn’t—he just invented mass butchery. This kind of battle was invented by Lewis Carroll and Jules Verne and whoever wrote Undine, and country deacons bowling and marraines in Marseilles and girls seduced in the back lanes of Wurtemburg and Westphalia. Why, this was a love battle—there was a century of middle-class love spent here. This was the last love battle.”

You see what I mean about why World War I appeals to writers and other artists? Half the work is done for you before you get there. I’d love to write about World War I, but I don’t know if I could do it right. Perhaps I am too American, too ready to grin into the sunlight, too unwilling to look back and grieve properly, to walk purposely into the darkness of a time which brought no real triumph—and indeed no satisfying conclusion.

What period of history draws you back time after time? Why do you think that is?

 

 

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Working Through A Monumentally Bad Day

A few weeks ago I had a Monumentally Bad Day, and today I’m having another one, though this one is not quite as bad. My Monumentally Bad Days usually start with lack of sleep the night before, which is not necessarily a pregnancy symptom—I’ve struggled with insomnia my entire adult life. Right now, everything is compounded by the stress late pregnancy is putting on my bones, joints, and muscles, so I spend a lot of time in a physically and emotionally draining state of chronic pain. Nine weeks to go. Only nine more weeks. I hope.

Add to that my ongoing struggle with the fact that I don’t feel either my writing or my teaching career is where it should be (and teaching’s on hold until we leave Illinois—thanks, ridiculous state certification requirements that don’t exist anywhere else! I really need another Bachelor’s degree now that I’ve been teaching at the college level for years: that definitely makes sense.), the fact that I feel like I miss out on almost everything important in the life of my South Carolina-based family and I’m afraid my child will miss out on even knowing her extended family, the fact that I AM NOT HAPPY about having a baby so far away from home, and a few other areas of dissatisfaction I feel powerless to change because God knows I have tried, and you have the recipe for a disastrous meltdown.

This isn’t meant to be an Eeyore post. My life is very blessed in many ways, and I’m nothing short of delighted that I won’t have fifteen family members in my hospital room taking pictures of me shortly after giving birth and peeyore in snowosting them on Facebook, so there is always a silver lining. I don’t know if I even have fifteen close family members—we’re a small bunch, like the Tudors but without the beheadings. These are just the things simmering under the surface that rise to the top when I don’t feel well. Yesterday, I had a Monumentally Good Day, so I guess it all evens out.

But I still need to work, even on bad days, even when I don’t feel well, even when Baby seems intent on spending her entire day repeatedly hurling her full body weight at my vital organs. I’ve tried cutting myself slack, and it’s not for me. I’m much happier when I expect more of myself.

I started this list for myself on my last Monumentally Bad Day, just to remind myself of things I can do to make it better and get things done.

How To Work (Even on a Bad Day):

  • Make sure you’re physically comfortable. Make sure the lighting is right for the work. Go to the bathroom if you need to. (I am really bad about this. For some reason I feel it’s a waste of time.) Brush your teeth. Wear comfortable clothes.
  • If you are making no progress on one item on the list, for whatever reason, move on to something else. Sometimes the best thing you can do is leave it and come back refreshed. Don’t use this as an excuse not to work on a project just because it’s hard, though. Only switch if you are really blocked. Just make sure you’re spending your time working on something.
  • Nap if you’re genuinely tired. Sometimes the most productive thing you can do is take a nap, especially if you really are sleep-deprived. This doesn’t have to take all day. Half an hour can sometimes make a huge difference in the quantity and quality of the work.
  • Eat if you’re genuinely hungry. The idea of the starving artist aside, low blood sugar never produced genius. But don’t eat too much, and don’t eat junk. Both will make you sluggish, and that will not help you think.
  • Exercise. I have a treadmill in my office, a recumbent bike downstairs, and several yoga and strength training videos. I am one of those annoying people who really enjoys exercise for its own sake. Sometimes, when I’m achy or tired or cranky, I have to remind myself that I always feel physically and mentally better if I get moving. Even now. And exercise is really good for your brain power.
  • A little caffeine goes a long way. Or it does for me, anyway. I’m limited to one cup of caffeinated tea a day right now because of the baby (I could have two and still be well under the limit, but I’m trying to be as good as I can), but as soon as she’s out, I am going to get so messed up on caffeine. Seriously, it helps. I know some people will get all judgy about caffeine consumption, just like they get all judgy over how long you breastfeed or if you babywear or cloth diaper or make your own baby food or whatever. (These people need to get a life and perhaps some perspective. I will do what is best for my baby, but I shudder at the thought of getting my identity from any part of my baby’s digestive system. Just saying.)

So there you have it. My notes to self about Working Through a Monumentally Bad Day. How do you stay productive at work when either your body or your brain isn’t cooperating?

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More From the Writing Process Blog Tour

You can read my contribution to the Writing Process Blog Tour here.

This week, check out responses from the awesome writers I tagged:

Mary Claire Marck

and

Bev Patt

scribe

Neither of these writers is an old man with a beard, but I love a good woodcut.

 

 

 

 

If you are a writer, I hope you get something you can use from these writing process blog posts. If you’re not, I still hope you get something you can use. I apply advice from athletes, chefs, and people in many other fields to my work all the time. What strategies or inspiration from people in other fields do you apply to your own work?

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Writing Process Blog Tour

The Writing Process Blog Tour has been making the rounds of the writing blogosphere, and I was tagged last week by the fabulous Maryanne Fantalis of A Writer’s Notepad. Maryanne and I met through our shared love for historical fiction over at Corsets, Cutlasses, and Candlesticks. Though we’ve never met in person, I know through her blog posts, emails, and Twitter feed that she’s a writer to watch! Maryanne’s current project is a retelling of The Taming of the Shrew, one of my favorites of Shakespeare’s plays. I can’t wait to read it!

Without further ado (but not about nothing), here’s my contribution to the Writing Process Blog Tour.

What am I working on right now?

My debut novel, The Last Sister, releases in October, which is very exciting! It’s a young adult historical fiction adventure/romance set in backcountry South Carolina in 1759-60 during the Anglo-Cherokee War—a war within a war within a war. Right now, I’m working with the publisher on marketing and promotion plans for that, and you’ll see more all over my website very soon. If I can get it all over other people’s websites, that will be even better.

I’m also getting ready to query a very different young adult novel. This one started out as an alternate history of the event we now call the Black Death but turned into a literary fairy tale along the way. It’s the story of a young woman’s fight to save her family’s manor after a watershed event and how we survive when the world we expected to live in disappears. Because the world changes so rapidly today, I think many young people can relate to the sense of not knowing how to prepare for the world they’ll have to live in as adults—though maybe not on the same scale as my protagonist.

How does my work differ from others of its genre?

The Last Sister had a long and winding path to becoming a novel. It started out as a completely different dystopian novel, which I ended up revising from scratch. (You can read more about that process here.) I know that definitely affected the final product. I wouldn’t have written this novel without the other. It’s solidly historical fiction now, but if you scratch the surface I think you can see the dystopia underneath. Two of my favorite scenes—the cougar attack and the first kiss—survive mostly intact.

My work-in-progress (WIP) reads like a fairy tale, which is why I call it one, but there’s no actual magic. It’s a different world from our own, but instead of magic they have a complex religious system. Like any religious system, it’s held in a balance between faith and doubt, and greatly affects the people who live under it, whatever they actually believe. I based my world on medieval Europe because I’ve always been fascinated by religion and violence as the two major elements that influenced the medieval mind and character, and I wanted to explore that.

Why do I write what I do?

I used to be afraid I would never have any good story ideas, and now I have the opposite problem: I have too many. I keep a notebook and choose new projects based on which stories won’t leave me alone. My WIP is very different from The Last Sister in terms of genre and point of view and voice and everything else, but it got stuck in my head. Iwait until the ideas for the book build up and I can see characters playing out scenes and have an idea of what their voices sound like. (Which is NOT to say I hear voices. Not exactly, anyway.) They usually don’t turn out much like the people in my head, and the story itself is almost always different, but I wait to start a first draft until the story demands to be told. There’s a tipping point where I feel I really need to write this book now.

As Toni Morrison said, “If there’s a book that you want to read, but it hasn’t been written yet, then you must write it.”

With both of these books, almost as soon as the idea came, I knew I wanted to read them and, sadly, no one had yet written them for me. It would have made my life a lot easier if someone had.

How does my writing process work?

On a strict outline and schedule. My start in academia made me a very organized, detail-oriented writer. Also, I just love organizing projects. While the process for each project never goes exactly the same, I’ve found a system that works for me. Here are my steps:

1. Write a really fast first draft. NaNoWriMo was made for people like me. 2,000 words a day lets me build the kind of momentum I need and keeps me from making excuses. I end up with about 40,000 words of crap, but that’s better than a blank page.

2. Write a second draft, also at a rate of about 2,000 words a day. End up with about 65,000 slightly less crappy words.

3. Let a very trusted beta reader see it. Usually, this is just my husband, who is an amazing plotter (uh, for books and for real life) and who will mercilessly point out all the problems. I do the same for him in his work projects. We are tough on each other, but it works for us.

4. Draft again and again and again. And again. And sometimes again.

5. At this point, I usually let my mom read it because I am in the dark night of the soul and need someone to tell me how brilliant it is so I can stand to keep working. (I know she’s my mom and would proudly put anything I do on the refrigerator, if only 200+ pages would stick. I don’t trust that it’s as good as she says, but I love a gold star like nobody’s business and getting one gives me the stamina to continue.)

6. Send the current draft to trusted beta readers, some of whom are also writers and some of whom are not. Get feedback. Revise again.

7. Eventually, the work is as good as I can make it, and I am tired. Uh…prepare for rejection at this point? Thicken skin.

This is what works for me. Feel free to steal any part of it if you think it might work for you.

I’ve tagged two more fabulous writers to participate next week, and I can’t wait to read what they have to say.

Mary Claire Marck and I go way back. We met when she brought her first chapters of a WIP to the college literacy center where I worked as a faculty writing consultant for several years. I was blown away, and I really wanted to read the rest of it. So I was like, “You should work here,” so she did. Mary Claire is now a great friend and my official house/dog/cat sitter. She has turned my dog into a Wonder Woman fan. She’s a talented artist, as well as a writer, and is working on several comic book projects. Check her out next week at her blog, Shaded Corners.

I met Bev Patt in February 2013 at the SCBWI-Illinois Downstate Craft Retreat, where we were placed in a critique group for writers with YA historical fiction projects. I was intrigued by her WIP, and hope to hear more about it in her post next week.

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What I’m Reading Now: June 2014 Edition

This has been a slow fiction reading month for me, what with hectic summer schedules at my house (husband out of town, mom in town, trying to catch friends as they come and go). I’ve also been doing a lot of online and print periodical reading. (I have new subscriptions to Booklist! And Horn Book! Exciting times!)

And it takes a lot of effort to be annoyed with out-of-town peeps (and in-town peeps I’m avoiding) asking awkward questions to try to figure out what my pregnant body looks like at six to seven months. I get that I am more sensitive to this than many people, but how the heck am I supposed to answer questions such as, “What do you look like?” I don’t know, what do you look like?

Seriously and no lie, someone came up to my husband at a public function while I was standing right next to him, looked me up and down, and said, “She’s not very big, is she? Well, I guess she’ll get bigger.” OMG, I AM IN THE ROOM, PEOPLE!

I don’t intend to turn this blog into an ongoing discussion of how obnoxious people are about pregnant women’s bodies, BUT since I’ve started speaking up, a lot of women have whispered to me that they didn’t like it, either. I hope by talking about it, I’m at least making it slightly more okay for us to say, “You know what? That’s really rude, and I bet you would never make personal remarks like that about a non-pregnant person’s body.” It’s okay with me if calling people out on this stuff is not “nice.” I could go on all day about the tyranny of “nice.” I don’t want my daughter to think she has to put up with sexist, misogynistic crap so people will think she’s “nice.”

But that really is not the main point of this post, so without further comment on comments on my body, three excellent books I’ve read this month. Speaking of sexist, misogynistic crap, the protagonists in these books all have to deal with their fair shares of it, and it’s inspiring to see how they overcome, despite historical contexts far more restrictive than our own.

A Mad, Wicked Folly by Sharon Biggs Waller (London, 1909)

A Mad, Wicked Folly CoverI had the very good fortune to meet and befriend Sharon at SCBWI-Illinois’s Prairie Writers’ and Illustrators’ Day in November 2013, where she introduced me to protagonist Victoria Darling. Vicky’s struggle to become an artist in an art world (and a world world) dominated by men is inspiring. The whole time I was reading, I was thinking, “I can’t believe my friend wrote this. This is amazing.” It’s also a great look at the suffragette movement in London in the early twentieth century, and it really made me interrogate my feelings about the intersections of art and motherhood and where those feelings come from. Excellent work, Sharon. You absolutely deserve the acclaim.

Gilt by Katherine Longshore (England, 1539-1542)

Gilt_CATKatherine is a blog sister of Sharon’s at Corsets, Cutlasses, and Candlesticks, which is how I encountered her Tudor-era novels. I’m usually more of a Plantagenet girl (I was Eleanor of Aquitaine for Halloween in sixth grade. Yeah, I got made fun of. Worth it.), but I was drawn to the jeweled covers of this set of companion novels, which continues in Tarnish and Brazen. Gilt is written from the perspective of Kitty Tylney, a friend of Henry VIII’s doomed fifth queen, Catherine Howard. Anne Boleyn usually gets all the press, so I was intrigued that a writer would choose to start with Catherine Howard. As I read, I kept thinking how interesting it was that I couldn’t put the book down, even though I technically knew the end. I think that’s a trick in historical fiction writing: keeping readers guessing even though we already know how certain things are going to play out.

Catherine, Called Birdy by Karen Cushman (England, 1290)

cover_catherinecalledbirdyI missed Karen Cushman’s excellent middle grade novels as a kid because by the time they came out, I was already past the target age. I was inspired to read this one by the 20th Anniversary Twitter buzz, and I’m so glad I did. Catherine, the daughter of a minor knight with a small manor, must spend her fourteenth year avoiding potential suitors. I really appreciated the fact that the novel doesn’t gloss over the realities of Catherine’s world: she has to marry. She really has no other viable options for survival, but how she manages to make her own choices within the unfair confines of her world is the key to her story.

No doubt I’ll have much more time to read this summer, as I have no intention of giving all these people who “want to see me pregnant” (Seriously, that’s weird. Really, listen to it.) much satisfaction, and because I work at home, I don’t have to. Haha. Extended reading time on my treadmill and recumbent bike, here I come. Because, yep: I still love working out and getting in my reading time while I do it. Which is partly why, in our schadenfreude-based world, I don’t look nearly as awful as people seem to hope.

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Some Reflections on Pregnancy, Touch, and Consent

Inspired by #YesAllWomen, the recent killings in California, the idea that even small children can understand the concept of consent, and my own recent experience as a woman who is pregnant (note the person-first language there), I feel compelled to write about the issues I have with the treatment of the bodies of women who are pregnant. I don’t have a large audience here, but if I make even one person think a bit harder about the language and assumptions surrounding women’s bodies, I will be happy.

I’m talking specifically about unwanted touch.

I spent much of my time in academia studying feminist theory. I know why this is happening. I know why I’m getting the side-eye inspection every time I go to church. (People are not as subtle as they think.) I know why I have to cross my hands over my abdomen, desperately trying to protect that vulnerable area from allegedly well-meaning whacks. (People are not as gentle as they think.) I know why I’ve had to press my husband into service as my bodyguard. I know why he has to whisper, “Sit down next to the wall, and I’ll stand on your other side.” I know why I’m receiving the message that I am my body and nothing more. And it ain’t because everyone is so dang happy for me, whatever the excuse of the moment may be.

It’s because the bodies of women who are pregnant, and of women who are brides, become objects in more than the usual way. Marriage—alliances formed between families—and childbearing—contributions for good or ill to the population—are of concern to the community. The community has a stake. The body of the woman becomes community property.

I didn’t much like being a bride, either. I invited only people I knew very well to my wedding, only those I knew were not there to gawk, were not there simply because they “like weddings” or “like to look at brides” or for the free cake. I invited only people I could bear to have with me at such an important moment. Only the people I knew were there to be with me, not simply to look at me.

Pregnancy is tougher to compartmentalize.

People look because they like to look. They touch because they like to touch, and because they can do it faster than I can say, “No.” And because they feel, on some fundamental level, that it is their right, as members of the community, to touch the body of a woman who is pregnant.

Our culture encourages this. Our culture tells us again and again that women do not have the right of consent.

“That’s just something you’ll have to deal with.”

“You just have to put up with it.”

“People are just happy for you.”

“That’s the way it is. There’s nothing you can do to change it.”

These are all things I’ve been told since I’ve started verbalizing how physically and mentally uncomfortable unwanted touching makes me.

But the thing is…it’s not the first time I’ve heard those words. I don’t doubt that every woman who has ever expressed dissatisfaction, annoyance, or outrage at the treatment of her body as an object has heard them at one time or another. Probably on a frequent basis. The message is clear: Your rights over your own body end where the desires of others begin. There is nothing you can do about this but accept it.

Speech like the examples above does something very scary: it removes the notion of consent from the conversation.

I’ve never met a woman who is or has ever been pregnant who liked the sneak attacks on her abdomen. I’ve never met a woman who wasn’t told she had to take it, who wasn’t told, even, that her refusal, her bristling, was rude. Because isn’t that one of the worst charges we can lay at a woman’s feet? That she isn’t nice. It’s not nice to refuse. It’s not nice to make someone else feel uncomfortable about touching you when you didn’t want to be touched.

I don’t really like to be randomly touched even when not pregnant. Neither does my husband. But I’ve long noticed something very interesting: he is allowed to say it. He can say, “I’m not a hugger,” and people laugh and sometimes they give him a hard time about it, but they respect it. They don’t take offense. They don’t try to force a hug anyway. They don’t tell him he isn’t nice.

I’d like to think for a moment about the abdomen. The abdomen is what dolphins go for to kill a shark. Along with the neck, the abdomen is what animals protect. The abdomen is a vulnerable spot for human animals, as well. Soft, unprotected, packed with vital organs. Animals expose their abdomens as an act of trust or submission. Usually, these concepts are combined. How much more complex that vulnerability becomes when the abdomen is also the temporary home of the animal’s young. An attack on something vulnerable. An expectation of submission.

The primary symptom of my own pregnancy has been pain. Often, my abdomen hurts: the sudden knifing pain of ligaments stretching, the dull ache of muscles tearing, the sharp pain of another human pressing on my bladder, the sickening pain that comes with eating.

I do not mind this. Everything good exacts a price.

I do mind being forced to allow acquaintances and strangers to make it worse with their thoughtless belly pats. Who was the person who first thought a sturdy thump was a good thing to give a vulnerable area, an area that is, in fact, in the process of being wounded?

“We can tell people you’re in pain,” says my husband, aware of how the world is, and concerned mostly, bless him, with keeping people from hurting me. “People will understand that.”

“Are you saying they won’t understand that I have the right say I don’t want to be touched? Just because I don’t want to be touched.”

“You know a lot of them won’t understand that. You could explain your reasons all day, and they still wouldn’t understand. They’d think you were just being weird and unreasonable.”

Well, yes. I’ve heard both of those before. I’ll likely hear them again, many times. I can hear some readers now, thinking, “She’s taking this too seriously.”

I will never take my right of consent anything but seriously.

Women have been imprisoned, force fed, starved to death, and much worse for demanding their rights. Perhaps one of the fights of my generation is the right—the true right—of consent. I do not expect we will finish it. But I can handle being called weird and unreasonable and too serious in its service.

Because I do not want my daughter to ever feel she has to give her body up to satisfy the desires of an individual or a community. If she chooses to marry or to bear children, I want her to be able to do so without subjecting herself to the rights other people feel they should have over her body. I want her to know that her body is and always has been her own.

Even while it was inside mine.

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Triplets!!!

Ha, made you look. I am such a stinker like that.

Still just one human baby arriving in September.

Anyway. Back to my triplets. (And as O. Henry says in “The Gift of the Magi,” “Forget the hashed metaphor.”)

I’ve had three book projects going into new stages of production at the end of May/beginning of June, and since I’ve established in my own mind that taking a book from that first little spark of an idea to a fully published/publishable work is basically the same as pregnancy, I have been calling them triplets.

They are the reason why I’ve been neglecting both the blog and my new website in general. Triplets keep you busy.

First, I had to review the page proofs for The Last Sister, my YA historical novel that’s coming out in October. Page proofs are what you get when the typesetting is done and you see how the words will actually look on the real page of the real book (eek!). The page proofs for The Last Sister are gorgeous, but the scary thing about page proofs is that you get to see the words on the page, and aside from typos or factual errors you find, you don’t get to change anything (eek!). That is how the book is going out into the world, and I don’t think I’m alone in the fact that seeing that makes me second guess everything I’ve ever written and whether I should, in fact, ever put fingers to keyboard again. When you get used to revision, revision, revision, this is a tough switch. Ask my husband, who had to live with me while I was doing this.

Second, I needed to finish up the final line edits for a book project I’ve been the editor for since last July. This was not so bad because approving of someone else’s work is way easier than approving of my own. I think this is probably also true for most people. The book, Uncovering Lives, is a memoir about genealogical research. It will be out later this summer, and don’t worry, I’ll bug you all to buy it then.

I got really involved with these two and ignored my third baby for about a week. (Note: I know not to do this with real babies. Don’t worry.) There were three (imagine!) reasons for this.

One was that at the end of a project, much like at the end of a pregnancy, I go into what Louisa May Alcott and I call “the vortex,” where you just want it to be over and will do anything to make that happen, including working all night or weekend or whenever. I don’t care at this point, I just want it done. With both human and print/e-babies, I think this is partly because I am tired of carrying it and partly because the project is finally ready to be born. Also, I am not the only one who unironically refers to her human baby’s due date as a “deadline,” right? I think it’s because “deadline” is the “d” word I’m used to saying to refer to something that must be accomplished by a certain date.

Two was that line edits and reading work you can’t change can be kind of boring but is easier than any other part of the process. It seemed like I was accomplishing a lot, but it was relatively easy work.

Three (which is ongoing) is that my third book baby, my work in progress, which moved into a new drafting stage this month, is being fussy. Revising is hard work. Revision is the stage at which I like to procrastinate. It’s also the stage where the project needs me the most.

So I put two babies to bed so I can give the third the attention it needs. Someday I will be in the vortex with this one. I won’t be able to put it down until it’s done.

Like real babies, all the stages have their issues and their joys, and every book project has different needs.

I’m feeling renewed and so excited to pay attention to the fussy third project in the coming week.

 

 

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Thursday Thoughts: Coming Soon

If you have superpowers of observation, you’ve noticed that the url for this site has changed. That’s because I came to a big decision yesterday about my online presence and because my husband, who is my webmaster extraordinaire, can’t stand not to act on a new idea immediately.

I had big deadlines last week, and the little things were piling up, so I’ve devoted this week to handling all those little bits and pieces, one of which is the direction I want to take my blog. Stephen is also my idea guy extraordinaire (I made a really good investment when I married him), so we blocked out time on Monday night to brainstorm. He had a million great ideas, which I considered for about 48 hours. Many of those hours were spent mildly freaking out about how much I have to do and how little time I have to do it.

Late yesterday afternoon, I realized the problem, the thing that was making me feel like I had an elephant sitting on my chest. I could do so much awesome fun stuff with this blog, but my goal isn’t to be a professional blogger. It is, and always has been if I’m honest, to be a professional author, which requires a whole different approach. Blogging regularly has been terrific discipline for me over the past year and a half. It’s made me accountable for the time I spend reading and writing. It’s helped me get comfortable sharing my thoughts with a wider, sometimes unknown audience. Every “like” was great for my self-esteem. It’s been great fun. I would absolutely recommend it as a discipline to anyone who wants to force himself or herself to write and to share that writing.

But it’s time for me to take it in a new direction. I started this blog partly as a defense of historical fiction, but it doesn’t really need me defending it anymore. Obviously, there’s an audience. Obviously, it will sell to the right people. As an author, I don’t need a blog specifically devoted to historical fiction anymore. I want to write about other things, too, on the blog and in fiction. One thing that ultimately made academia a bad fit for me was the constant pressure to choose one itty-bitty narrow thing and study it to death. That’s not me: I’m interested in everything. In the final analysis, I just don’t have the time or the desire to do the kind of intensive blogging Stephen and I talked about on Monday night. It would take away too much time from the work I get paid for and from the work that feeds my soul, both of which need to take precedence.

What I need now is an author website with an embedded blog, so over the next few weeks, that’s what I’ll be transitioning to. I’ll still be blogging on a fairly regular basis and talking about what I’m reading and writing, but this makes me feel a little freer to choose the topics that are relevant and helpful right at the moment. To be honest, it feels a little weird to have a url that’s just my name, but whatevs. As blogging helped me get comfortable with putting my work out there, I hope this new website will help me get comfortable with putting myself out there.

Thank you for all the support and interest you’ve expressed over the past year and a half. And please keep reading.

 

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Wednesday Words: “What Do You Do?”

I hate that question. I really, really hate it. I don’t work for a company (well, I work for several companies), and I don’t have a clear job title. Also, I’ve done jobs in the past that I’m not currently doing, but they’re still a big part of who I am. Do you stop being a teacher and a librarian just because you’re not doing it for a paycheck? I don’t think so; that kind of thing doesn’t get out of your blood easily. I hate the question because it makes me feel like I should have an easy, pat answer, and I don’t, so when I start to try to explain, “Well, I write curriculum…and novels…and I, uh, edit some stuff. Content and line,” people’s eyes start to glaze over, and I feel like a fraud, like I don’t do a “real job.”

I was quite gratified to discover that other people hate this question, too. In The Gifts of Imperfection, Brene’ Brown writes:

“I used to wince every time someone asked me this question. I felt like my choices were to reduce myself to an easily digestible sound bite or to confuse the hell out of people.

Now my answer to ‘What do you do?’ is ‘How much time do you have?’

Most of us have complicated answers to this question. For example, I’m a mom, partner, researcher, writer, storyteller, sister, friend, daughter, and teacher. All of these things make up who I am, so I never know how to answer that question. And, to be honest with you, I’m tired of choosing to make it easier on the person who asked” (113-114).

While this is something men struggle with, too, it immediately made me think of the following passage from Virginia Woolf’s A Room of One’s Own.

 

“There is no mark on the wall to measure the precise height of women. There are no yard measures, neatly divided into fractions of an inch, that one can lay against the qualities of a good mother or the devotion of a daughter, or the fidelity of a sister, or the capacity of a housekeeper” (84).

Oh, but how we all love yardsticks. And how people love to ask questions we don’t yet know the answers to or which don’t have quick and measurable answers or to which we couldn’t possibly yet know the answers. People love answers. Answers are more comfortable than questions.

So how do you answer this question? What do you do?

Brown, Brene’. The Gifts of Imperfection: Let Go of Who You Think You’re Supposed to Be and Embrace Who You Are. Hazelden, 2010.

Woolf, Virginia. A Room of One’s Own. 1929. Ed. Susan Gubar. Harvest-Harcourt, 2005.

 

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In Which I am a Guest of Some Awesome Authors

Hey, everyone! Today, check out my guest post over at Corsets, Cutlasses, and CandlesticksThe post is all about the inspiration for my novel, The Last Sister, forthcoming in October.

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