Creating My Worlds

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My sister and I at an Orange County Chapter of Romance Writers of America Meeting

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Our Writing Something Romantic Sisterhood

Someone once asked me how I create a world for whatever book I’m writing at the time. Since I write historical romance, you’d think the answer would be simple – research. But it’s a bit more complicated than that.

While I do spend a considerable amount of effort studying the history of a particular time and place, I also must create fictional characters who have a backstory which shaped them. Every important character has a family. Fathers and mothers leave their imprint on their children, for good or bad. Brothers and sisters play an important part in each hero or heroine’s childhood. Qualities – positive or negative – instilled by parents or mentors become lifelong traits.

Let me give you an example.

In Promise Me, a story set in the Regency time period, Court Shelburne nearly loses the love of his life through his unreasoning jealousy. His lack of trust begins early on, when his mother is too involved with her current lover to return home to the bedside of her dying son – Court’s older brother. That traumatic event is the catalyst for everything that follows.

Now, I don’t start out by telling you, the reader, that’s why Court feels unworthy of love. Or why he’s so quick to believe that Philippa has betrayed him with his best friend. All we know for certain at the beginning of the story is that Court believes he holds the moral high ground – while at the same time he’s plotting his coldhearted revenge on his faithless wife.

However, things are not always what they seem.

When first creating a story, I ask myself: What secrets are they (hero and heroine) keeping from each other? These secrets often stem from incidents in their childhood.

But not always.

In Lachlan’s Bride, set in the reign of James IV of Scotland, Lady Francine is keeping a secret belonging not to herself, but to her sister, who’s died five years before the tale begins. Yet at the time of the story’s events, the concealment of the past becomes pivotal to the continued safety of Francine and her daughter.

Once again, I don’t tell the reader at the beginning of the romance that Francine is boldfaced lying to Lachlan MacRath (and everyone else).

But in the end, of course, all will be revealed.

Kathleen Harrington

WRITING A BOOK

by Ottilia Scherschel

“Writing a book is a horrible, exhausting struggle, like a long bout of some painful illness. One would never undertake such a thing if one were not driven on by some demon whom one can neither resist nor understand.”

I don’t know when George Orwell wrote that, but I know I agree with him. I often ask myself why I go through the “exhausting struggle” of putting words on the page. Am I “driven by some demon” as Orwell suggests?

I like to think I’m driven by curiosity, a desire to explore the “what if-s” of life. I’m currently working on a short story about smuggling antiquities. In my real world, I wouldn’t dream of doing such a thing, but on the page figuring out what a smuggler might do is fascinating. Let’s face it. The idea is to escape my everyday world into a place where anything and everything is possible.

Isn’t this why you read? So far so good. I’ve told you the fun part of what I do as a writer. Now, let’s get to the “exhausting struggle” part.

Writing is a time consuming task. Ideas don’t always come quickly, and sometimes my brain can be as dry as bones bleached by the desert sun. My first draft is never my last draft since what I wrote yesterday may not make sense today. Progress can be slow and at times even negative when I have to start something over. Yet, I refuse to give up. Are you starting to feel “some demon whom one can neither resist nor understand?”

When I finish a writing project, I have a sense of accomplishment and relief—the first because I’m finished and can celebrate completing a task and the second because I can start a new story or book. I begin the “exhausting struggle once more.” I work and keep working because I’m a writer.

Is there something you enjoy doing that would fit Orwell’s description of writing a book?

 

It’s in the voice

I’ve been reading romance novels since—forever and haven’t read a romance I didn’t love—well maybe one or two. Several years ago my “to read” stack of books was growing and my reading time was shrinking. A time when I was working fifty plus hours a week and free time was at a premium.

I spent the day with author Linda McLaughlin, shopping at Barnes and Noble (adding to the “to read” stack) when we found an audio cassette box set of Nora Roberts’ The Key Trilogy. Linda asked if I’d read the trilogy, and sadly I had not. In fact, I’d only read one or 9781491542071_p0_v1_s192x300two of Nora’s books. She suggested giving the box set a try. I’d only listened, or tried to listen, to one audio book before when a friend let me borrow a mystery-suspense novel. I ejected the first cassette within minutes because the narrator’s voice drove me crazy, and never tried one again. At the time, I spent a minimum of two hours a day sitting on the freeway going to and from work, and since my car had a cassette player I decided to give audio books a second chance. If this one faired better, then I would be able to read more authors—no, listen to more novels by authors I hadn’t had time to read.

I slid the first cassette to The Key of Light into the dash. Brother, what a difference a voice makes. Within minutes Susan Ericken’s wonderful voice swept me into the lives of Malory Price, Dana Steele and Zoe McCourt and the world surrounding Warrior’s Peak. When I finished The Key of Light, I immediately started book two, The Key of Knowledge and finished with the Key of Valor.

One audio book led to another and another and another. Before I knew it, I’d listened to numerous titles by Nora, including J.D. Robb. I added other authors I didn’t have time to read. Then I started listening to favorite books I’d read. My favorite historical romance is 9781469261492_p0_v2_s192x300Saving Grace by Julie Garwood. I’ve read the book several times and when I was finally able to obtain an audio version, I was in seventh heaven. Performed by Rosalyn Landor, the Highlands and the Scottish warrior Gabriel MacBain became so vivid in my mind. I remember listening to Jennifer Cruzie’s Agnes and the Hit Man and laughing out loud while driving down the freeway.

My audio library is still growing. I now have either CD’s or MP3-CD’s in both unabridged and abridged (I prefer unabridged). I have even repurchased certain audio books I originally bought in cassette format. I recently read an article that stated there has been a strong growth in audio books in companies such as Audible. Amazon’s Kindle Edition offers an audible narration with your book’s purchase. OverDrive is a digital download platform for public libraries.

Even though I no longer find myself sitting on the freeway for hours at a time, I still prefer listening to an audio book instead of a music channel. And heaven forbid if I forgot to bring an audio book along.

If you have never tried an audio book, why not give one a try? You too might find yourself falling for them as I have.

Somewhere in Time – Kathleen Harrington

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Someone once asked me, if I could visit any time period and location, when and where would I go? I felt pulled in, oh, so many directions, just envisioning the possibilities.

Even today, I find that a hard question to answer. Every epoch has its allure, and I’ve visited many exotic locales in my books. If you’ve ever seen Woody Allen’s MIDNIGHT IN PARIS, you can understand my dilemma. The hero, played by Owen Wilson, yearned to be in Paris when it was the literary playground of such greats as Hemmingway and Fitzgerald. But in the film, a young woman from that era longed to live in the Paris of Toulouse Lautrec and the Moulin Rouge.

One of the first choices that come to mind, for me, is London during the Regency. Of course, I’d want to be the daughter of a wealthy duke with handsome suitors surrounding me at a grand ball. And my dance card would be absolutely full. Yowza!

I love the thought of elegant carriages pulled by matching chestnuts, morning rides around Hyde Park, town mansions lit in the evening with brilliant chandeliers, and spacious country estates. No wonder I cherish Jane Austen! Ah, to be Lizzie Bennet, Mr. Darcy’s beloved spitfire. Sigh.

Another place I can envision visiting is the Scottish Highlands during Scotland’s Golden Years under James IV. On the brink of the Enlightenment, the country remained independent from English rule. Clansmen in their tartans, with great claymores on their backs, met in the Scottish Court at Edinburgh to woo their sweethearts with song and poetry. Who can resist the sight of a brawny Scot in a kilt? Hmm. Not me.

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I think, however, the place and time I’d most like to visit is the American West in the 1880’s. Women wore the most fantastic costumes, fitted tightly through the bust and waist, and adorned with buttons and bows and perky bustles perched right on top their you-know-what. They carried frilly parasols over their feathered bonnets and button shoes on their dainty feet.

But the men, oh my! They were anything but dainty! Wearing leather chaps and wide Stetsons, pistols strapped to their sides, the broad-shouldered fellows simply oozed muscular, masculine charm. Add to that, horses with tooled leather saddles, ropes hanging from a saddle horn, and riding with your darling in a surrey with a fringe on top! Doesn’t get better than that!

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Hmm. Guess I’ll let you choose which place and time sounds the best to you.

Kathleen lives in Southern California with her American Bulldog, Auron. Her latest release, BLACK RAVEN’S LADY, Book 3 of the Highland Lairds Trilogy, is now on sale.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Barb’s Nest

Jill Jaynes, in her excellent blog here entitled “Where do Writers Write?” talked about where her story is created, whether in her head or on the page. I’m going to talk about where I write – physically. I’m sure you’ve noticed folks in Starbucks sitting at small tables studiously tapping away on their laptops. They could have been writers. One of them could have been me. I also frequent local Corner Bakery cafes (I’m writing this blog right now in just such a place), with their free Wi-Fi, convenient electrical outlets, writer-friendly staff, not to mention yummy food. Since I’m retired why do I feel the need to get out of the house to write? Two words.

Retired husband.

But when I do write at home, I write in what we pretentiously call The Library. It was my son’s bedroom and I was measuring for desks and bookshelves long before he married and moved out. I think he was five at the time when I stood on his rumpled bed taking measurements. The room contains generous shelves brimming with books, two matching desks that cover one wall, and a round glass-topped table with three chairs for visiting writers.

Now, as a reader, I’m sure you prepare, even in some small way, a spot where you sit down with a good book. You choose a comfy chair with a squishy pillow, perhaps a lap robe iIMG_2148f it’s chilly. Others may take it a few steps further—comfy chair, plump pillows, lap robe, cozy fire, a soothing cup of tea, ottoman for tired feet, a small furry, purry friend for company. Hmmm. Sounds wonderful. As a writer, I need to create a space that is not only comfortable, but one that enhances my creativity. I build a nest.
IMG_2138Barb’s nest (pictured here) consists of a regulation office chair (soon to be replaced by a comfier one in a new house), soft pillow, my new MacBook Air, a soothing cup of tea, some of my favorite craft books at my fingertips, my Charlotte Award for encouragement, and Thor for, well, it’s Thor. The nameplate is when I’m lost in my characters and don’t remember my name. Oh, the cat with the heart-shaped mark on her forehead? She’s my furry, purry friend. My nest wouldn’t be complete without her.

What does your nest look like?

Living in the Moment

Kathy's SnowmanAs the holidays grow closer, I find myself so busy getting ready that I forget to enjoy the simple acts of preparing for the celebrations. I always work off a to-do list that seems to become never-ending. I cross off things accomplished in the evening and add things to be done in the morning. A trip to the post office for stamps. And a second trip the next week to mail packages. Then Target on Monday, Costco on Tuesday – well, you get the idea!

But yesterday my shopping errand brought me back into the moment. A moment of delight and anticipation and pleasure.

I went to Barnes and Noble.

Just walking into a real brick-and-mortar store devoted to the sale of books, books, books sent a thrill right through me. I hurried straight to the back where the children’s books are displayed, fighting the urge to check out the romance section first. (That would have to wait for another time.) I was on a mission to choose age-appropriate books for my grand-nephews. And as I picked up the familiar storybooks, happy memories flooded through me.

For many years, I taught First Grade and the highlight of each school day was story-time. How the children loved the tale of the witch who wanted to pick her pumpkin to make pie, but the giant pumpkin wouldn’t budge from the vine. Although the mummy, the vampire, and the monster all tried their best to help her, it was the little bat who solved the problem. And, of course, they all celebrated with the witch’s delicious pumpkin pie.

Once when I was sharing The Night Before Christmas and read the phrase the smoke it encircled his head like a wreath, the children stared at me wide-eyed and aghast. Santa smoked a pipe? ( The class had learned about the evils of drugs and tobacco in October.) I quickly assured them that, although he’d once smoked, Santa had given it up a long time ago.

Since none of my grandnephews are older than Kindergarten age, I had no difficulty knowing which book would be right for each child. But there were so many wonderful choices, familiar and new, that it took a long, long time to settle on two books for each boy. I found a brand-new one which was perfect for the two-year-olds: llama, llama, red pajama. (The title has no caps.) If you know a youngster who doesn’t want to go to bed alone at night, check this one out.

As I left Barnes and Noble, I had a satisfied smile on my face. Not simply because I could cross this errand off my to-do list.

For the duration of my visit there, reading children’s storybooks, I was truly living in the moment.

Memento vivere.

That’s Latin for Remember to Live!

Making Memories

My memories of Christmas have centered on food. I had a Grandmother who loved to cook. She faithfully made the same pastries and cookies every year. At the end of November, she started her season by baking at least a dozen poppy seed and walnut rolls some of which I wrapped in gold foil and delivered on her behalf as gifts to close friends. The rest she stored in the garage in tins.

She tackled cookies the first week of December and stood in the kitchen with the hot oven going for days and days. She made delicate almond crescents rolled in vanilla sugar, puff pastry bites oozing with apricot preserves, raspberry pinwheels and apple squares that no one could duplicate. To keep the family’s thieving fingers out of her cookie stash, she put a sampler plate of her product daily on the table after dinner for everyone to share. Each delicate morsel melted in my mouth with the creamy sweetness of butter.

I loved every cookie and pastry she made. Eating them became an evening ritual. I slowly savored each bite when she proudly served plates filled with her creations between Christmas Eve and New Year’s Day. I knew she would not bake any of these cookies or pastries again for a whole year. When I asked why not, she said she was making memories.

My Christmas would not be complete without the cookies and pastries my Grandmother made. The only month of the year I buy mountains of butter is December. I bake and put my family through the ritual of my youth. What could be better than making memories by celebrating through the sense of taste?

Have a yummy and blessed season!

 

 

My Holiday Wish For You

It’s hard to believe the hectic holiday season is upon us already. WChristmas Firee’re up to our jolly Santa hats in gifts, wrapping, decorations, holiday parties, cards and the rest. All this multi-tasking makes my head hurt. So here’s my holiday wish for you: make a cuppa—whatever soothes your soul; find a quiet corner, pull up a comfy chair (if it comes with a special furry friend, all the better); grab a good book. Relax and refresh. Then go have the most merry of times!

Barb DeLong

The Writing Life and Having a Life

Jill Jaynes

There are lots of words for it- time management, multi-tasking, work-life balance.

Some people think writers sit at keyboards all day long and write book after book- undisturbed, undistracted. Safely hidden away in beautifully decorated offices, maybe with pipe smoke wreathing their heads. And maybe there are a few like that, but I haven’t met any. And I’ve met a lot of writers.

In my experience, writers are some of the most creative time managers in the world. Many of them juggle an unbelievable spectrum of competing priorities- careers, children (extra points for toddlers and teenagers), spouses, in-laws, home maintenance, other creative passions like crafts or music, and the fabled “me time.” And yet make time to write.

It’s really all about priorities.

Sometimes your priorities are your own, sometimes it feels like your priorities own you. But really, they are your own.

One of my favorite authors Susan Squires (who I am fortunate to know), said that turning point in her career from wanna-be writer to serious writer came when she asked herself the question- “How bad do I want this?”- “this” meaning getting published. She answer? Pretty bad.

She didn’t quit her day job- she was an attorney at the time and loved her day job. She didn’t stop having a family. She didn’t stop having a life. But she knew what she wanted and that want made priorities fall into new lines. Writing became a priority she pursued like an elusive lover. Twenty or so books later, I’d say her strategy was pretty successful.

But a single priority, no matter how attractive, how satisfying, can’t be everything. Just like that elusive lover can’t provide the “best-friend-forever” fix we need from time to time. We need to refresh, refill, recharge. We need multi-tasking, and relationships. We think we balance them, but its more like they balance us.

Another author I heard speak recently shared how after writing dozens of books, surprise! She hit a wall, burned out. The well was dry. Why was the well dry? She didn’t refill it. Her editor prescribed a regimen of reading. Only reading. No writing. For six months. She hadn’t read a book in years- spent all her time writing them, and that greedy, selfish lover sucked her dry.

Feeling she had nothing to lose by trying, she picked up a book. Then another, then another. She remembered why she loved books and stories and imagination. She remembered why she wrote. To her surprise, ideas suddenly flowed and bubbled and demanded to become stories.

So, I’m offering this simple phrase, as Christmas falls upon us once more- take a tip from writers; don’t forget to enjoy this season. Refill, recharge and enjoy the wonderful things there are to experience.

You need it.

Kathleen Harrington-What’s Next

 

Kathleen HarringtonAs readers look back at the stories I’ve told, it might appear that I’ve moved without rhyme or reason from the American West in the early 1800’s to Regency London to medieval Scotland. But I know better. The backstory or the future events in each adventure – or the research itself – led me to another time, another place.

Sometimes outside influences provided the jumping-off point. For example, after reading Larry McMurtry’s Lonesome Dove, I decided to write a “journey” tale with unusual and, hopefully, fascinating and memorable characters. This goal evolved into my first book, Cherish the Dream, which took my readers on a topographical expedition across the unmapped prairies of the early US. From this initial story came my interest in the Northern Cheyenne, leading to Warrior Dreams and Dream Catcher, both set in Montana. In addition, Montana Angel came from my research there.

Not all my stories are linked in some way. Sunshine and Shadow, a Georgian romance, and Promise Me, a Regency, arose from my love of the writings of Georgette Heyer.

Most evolved, however, with an intangible thread running through them. The Dreamseekers Series brought my twin heroines to England in Fly with the Eagle, and Scotland in Enchanted by You. My research of Scotland piqued my interest in the history of the Highland Clans, evolving into my latest trilogy. The stories of three Scottish ship captains in The MacLean Groom, Lachlan’s Bride, and Black Raven’s Lady resulted in my captivation with sailing ships.

So what’s next?

I’m presently researching a series about a Boston family of shipbuilders and sea captains set in the early 1800’s – around the early U.S. Navy, of Barbary Pirates, of merchant ships sailing to the Orient and returning with cargoes of extraordinary worth. On the high seas, our young nation couldn’t compete with the power and sway of the British navy and its mighty ships-of-the-line. But Yankee ingenuity and courage took us to the far-off edges of the world and back again.

This is the time of the birth-pangs of our fledging Republic, when no one knew for certain if our country and our Constitution would survive past the first few years.

Kathleen lives in Southern California with her American Bulldog, Auron. Her latest release, BLACK RAVEN’S LADY, Book 3 of the Highland Lairds Trilogy, is now on sale.

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