The new little prune-plum orchard came into bloom, heralding spring on the farm. About a month late, given the late spring we’re having in western Oregon. We just went from frosty mornings to summery afternoons. With warm sunny days now the fruit should set well. It’ll be interesting to see. My kids and I planted this small orchard below the hazelnuts soon after we moved to the farm.
In my other life, my writing life, the new book blooms too. The rough draft’s complete. Beta readers reading. I can’t seem to leave it alone. I think of a change I want to make in one of the scenes. I fix that. Read a little farther because–well the words are on the screen right in front of me. The next thing I know an hour has passed, or two, and I have read many more pages. The story has captured me. I’m immersed in the world of my characters in faraway lands, deep in the past, caught in their overwhelming dilemmas. The joys. The sorrows. The anger. The triumphs. I believe that bodes well.
Feedback is good so far. Some constructive critiquing and suggesting. But overall positive.
I still need to do several more straight-through readings myself for fine tuning, once the initial revisions are made.
Waiting for winter to go. Waiting for snow to melt. Waiting for spring.
Waiting for that important email. Waiting for that vital phone call.
Waiting. Waiting. Waiting.
Now, I realize that those of us in western Oregon know nothing of snow the way our friends or family in, say, Maine or Montana do. But it’s already March 5 and my daffodils are usually opening their faces by now. They’re my flowers of promise. They remind me that after the dark winter the light of spring will emerge. Oh yes, we get plenty of dark winter skies in the rainy Pacific Northwest. And snow is bright and beautiful. But I’m ready for spring’s light.
Below you see these same daffodils on February 28, 2022. February 28!
Of course winter offers one positive feature. It’s a good time to delve into indoor projects, like writing. I’m happy to say I just finished the outline for my next book. I’m ready to start the best part of creating a new story–the first draft when I immerse myself in another world and that world comes alive. May it bloom no matter how late the world outside my door.
First light on snowy western hills always thrills me. I wake in the dark early hours, thoughts spinning, as my new book comes to life. I know I should be sleeping, but I’m just beginning to see how that next scene will take shape. It grips me, won’t let go.
Finally the room fills with light and I rise from my bed to see this. How can I not stop to share it?
For my followers who may not realize, snow rarely comes to these Oregon hills. Not like the mountains of Montana where I lived for a few years. These foothills of the coast range usually stay green with Douglas Fir forests, even in winter. The middle ground is Pleasant Plain, so called by the pioneers who settled it, the foreground my own oaks. All more accustomed to green. The deep-green river wraps around Pleasant Plain on its snaking journey to the sea.
I step out onto my deck for the early picture. A quick shot. It’s cold out there. In the 20s. We’re not used to that either.
It’s also the view from my office where my stories grow.
The sun lifts higher. I’m just past the three-quarter mark on the outline. Time to turn those waking thoughts into story.
The story waits, ready to be written from a skeletal document inside the computer, a hard copy of that framework in the blue notebook shown below. The outline.
In my mind I see not the words but the people and places, like the wondrous temple of Knossos on the Greek island of Crete. And the green fields of Ireland that resemble my own green knolls on this soft May afternoon in Oregon.
The characters are almost as real to me as my neighbors—because I move inside them as I show their story. I laughed with delight when I heard travel guide Rick Steves comment about the ancient Romans. They “were just people, like you and me, without electricity.”
True, they had different customs, but they felt joy and sadness and love and fury just as we do. For me it has always been exciting to imagine what life was like in ancient times—or will be in the future. I love Star Trek too. But these ancient times in these two unique islands caught my heart.
To outline or not to outline?
Authors often hold strong views on that question. Non-outline writers may insist they’d be hemmed in by an outline. Outliners like me can’t imagine drawing all those threads together without one. I would never let the outline stop me from taking new directions. But I’m not just keeping threads together for one book.
This is a series that follows two great families through the generations—the high priestesses and kings of Crete, the clan mothers and chiefs of Éire. This new story begins about 100 years after the opening scenes of Book One in the series. I have to keep track of them all.
Besides consistency, each story requires new research. Scholars keep digging and adding more information. Sometimes I find details—either new or new to me—that affect other stories in the series. For instance when I first started writing about voyages from Crete to Ireland I assumed it would take many months to make the journey. But I found a website where you could enter names of modern ports, designate the speed of travel, and voila. They give you the overall trip time. I had to cut the time dramatically. Of course I had to determine from other sources how fast the ancient ships might go with their single square sails and ranks of oarsmen. I found estimates for similar Viking ships, other estimates for simple rowing, prevailing winds that would increase or decrease the speed.
In other instances when you’re writing a tight storyline where you want a lot to happen in a day you have to figure out what you can fit into that day and roughly what hour events can happen—even though I can’t express time in hours for people who lived by the sun, moon, and stars, not the clock. Another website tells exactly when dawn and dusk happen on any given day in any given setting. It’s not just how fast a ship can go, but a horse, a man, a woman. All these details take time to calculate. I don’t want to stop in the middle of a fast-moving scene to figure it out. So that goes into the outline. From that the rough draft can move swiftly.
Now this new one is ready for me to plunge in and live it as the words flow.
I just finished the rough draft of a new novel, a historical to conclude my trilogy set in ancient Ireland. Spring always puts me in mind of things coming to life, so it seems fitting that this book has come to life for me now as my daffodils bloom.
It seems doubly fitting, given the fertile nature of the island of Ireland–or Éire, as I call it in the book.
My friend Tilly Engholm and I visited Ireland a few years ago when I was researching the first in the trilogy. We spent the month of May there, a glorious time. Scenes I came to know then reappear in this new book–and the stones.
The stone circles of the island hold a special place for the clanspeople in my stories, and I needed to visit many circles on our visit. As Tilly and I headed out one day in our rental car, she glanced at me. “We’re going to look at more rocks, aren’t we?”
I laughed. “Yes, we are.”
She took it in good stride, though.
In this book the characters also travel to Iberia, now Portugal, and to Crete and Thera (Santorini), with other stops along the Mediterranean, places of beauty and wonder and peril.
It has been a great ride and I look forward to sharing it with readers.