New Book Birthing

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 grand pillars of Knossos.

Green fields of Ireland.

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.

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Writing and Breathing

A good crowd turned out for my talk at the Roseburg writers group meeting this week. Thanks to my friend Heather Villa for snapping a photo.

I appreciated the friendly reception and the interaction during our lively Q & A afterward. This being a group of writers, the discussion delved into the writing process.

Every author develops some kind of process for writing a book, and when asked about my own I tried to describe what isn’t so much a daily regimen but a progression through the various stages of the project.

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I don’t write every day. I need to take in a lot of information before I’m ready to write a novel.

This could be compared to breathing. Inhale before exhaling.

As a writer of historicals much of that inhaling is research. Read about my subject. Imagine my characters interacting in worlds I discover. Read other novels to see what other authors do. Visit places. Soak in the smells, the sensations. Open myself to the ideas that will come in if I let them. Listen to my muse.

Scribble down what comes. That’s writing of a sort. Exhaling as I go. Some of those notes may find their way into the final pages, word for word.

Eventually I’ll reach the stage where the flood of ideas must be brought to some pattern, an arc of storytelling that will lead me through from beginning to middle to end. Once that’s organized–and yes, I do outline–the story spills out. Then I’m fully breathing out the air I’ve been breathing in. The long exhale.

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Back to the Coast ~ To Newport

Update: My speaking engagement at Newport is cancelled due to a sudden snowstorm in my path. We hope to reschedule at a later date.

I’m headed for Newport tomorrow on Oregon’s beautiful coast to speak at a meeting of the Willamette Writers Coast Branch. The location has moved. We’ll be at the Newport Recreation Center at 225 SE Avery Street in Room 105, Sunday the 16th from 2 to 4 pm.

sunset-at-heceta-headPhoto by Robin Loznak

My son-in-law Robin snapped the above photo one spectacular evening on the Oregon coast a ways south of Newport.

I plan to talk to this group of writers and friends about my rocky road to publication with particular focus on the research that brought my work to life so readers would have a sense of the times I wrote about for both The Shifting Winds and A Place of Her Own.

These two books serve as bookends in my long quest to get published. Although Shifting Winds is my most recent book published it was one of the first serious books I wrote, many years ago.

Both books are set in the days of America’s great westward migration to the Oregon country, with pioneers and mountain men and fur traders from the British Hudson’s Bay Company. When I started the first one I had a lot to learn about the era. I wrote Shifting Winds before we had the internet. No Google. And I didn’t write it on a computer. I used an old Selectric typewriter. Anyone remember those?

I went to the library to find books on my subject, not just the local library, but the Multnomah County Library in Portland and the Oregon Historical Society Library in Portland. I visited museums, talked to local museum director George Abdill, who offered a wealth of material. I developed my own library on the history of the period.

Years later when I wrote A Place of Her Own I already had a sense of the era, but still I had research to do on the people, on my great-great-grandmother, the subject of my story. When a question entered my head I had the internet at my fingertips. Such a change. I still read many more books, buying some, using the library for others. I visited courthouses, dug through records, contacted experts. Through the internet I found cousins who had done genealogical research–especially Linda Noel on the coast in Reedsport, who generously shared reams of material with me.

I visited the sites for a sense of the places, not just how they looked, but how they felt, and the kinds of echoes that may have been left by those who walked these places before me.

A Place of Her Own was sold as nonfiction, although it reads like a novel. After it was published I heard that my editor was buying a little fiction and told my agent about this historical novel I had done some years ago, set in the same period as Place of Her Own. She encouraged me to bring it out. I did, but it wasn’t easy. I had learned a lot about writing in the intervening years. I thoroughly rewrote it, and the editor liked it. This old favorite became another published book, The Shifting Winds.

I look forward to sharing my story with the people of Newport–and to my visit in that beautiful setting.

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