Friday, October 24, 2014

A visit to All Hallows Eve in the 18th Century, by Diane Scott Lewis

To celebrate the coming of Halloween, and for my historical novel Ring of Stone, I researched ancient customs in Cornwall. Here is an abridged excerpt where my heroine, Rose, slips out in the night with her brother on All Hallows Eve to witness the rising of the spirits:

Rose opened the back door to the inky black. A lantern winked not far off. "That should be Mr. Poldeen." Her heart skipped and she stepped out into a cold breeze that whipped her face. Her brother Michael rushed past her toward the lantern.

The caretaker, Mr. Poldeen, tipped his hat when she came close. "Are you ready, Miss Rose?"

"Of course, let us proceed." She walked beside him. The lantern bobbed a circle of light as they approached the stream. Poldeen took her hand and helped her over it. Such a casual, polite gesture, yet her skin heated at the touch of his strong callused palm.

"Hurry!" Michael ran ahead, beyond the light.

"Your brother is quite anxious to find out about the spirits this night." Amusement filled Poldeen’s voice.

"I’ll be honest with you, Mr. Poldeen. I haven’t been very daring when it comes to this stone circle. But I’ve yet to understand why." She listened to make certain she still heard her brother’s footsteps.

"It comes from the same feeling as in St. Petroc’s. You should know, as like there, the ring has secrets, but is not evil."

How could rocks and stones have the same aspects as human beings? A tiny part of her worried that they’d experience nothing tonight, and the ring held no magic.

"Well, I’m here, and intend not to demure." She stumbled over a stone. He grasped her arm and held it. Again, she had that urge to lean into him. What had come over her with this man?

They reached the field. The breeze ruffled the grass. The ocean surf slapped the cliffs in the distance, like a living entity, breathing in and out.

"Michael, stay with us," Rose called when her brother, a murky outline, started to tramp over the grass. "Mr. Poldeen, please tell us some of tonight’s custom, won’t you?"

He waited until Michael rejoined them. "This be the end of the old year, or Samhain, meaning summer’s end, an’ the beginning of the new. The Celtic god straddles the two, and hopes to pierce the veil to see what comes."

Rose stared toward the cliff outline where the ring stood shrouded in darker shadows.

Poldeen set down the lantern. The light spread over their shoes. The salty wind flapped their coats like night birds. "The living can travel to the underworld, but all must return to their rightful place at cockcrow. If you have faith in the legend, this be the perfect time for your ancestors who died here to search for you."

"Senara died somewhere else. But Mrs. Trew insisted she was buried here." Rose shivered as the wind cut deeper. The darkness pressed in around her.

"Let’s walk over to the stone." Michael hopped up and down, rubbing his hands together.

"Let us do that, if you wish, Miss?" Poldeen picked up the lantern and crooked out his arm. Rose took it and they stepped across the damp grass. Michael again hurried ahead.

The cliffs were framed against the starry sky. Poldeen lifted the lantern until a blot of light trailed over the crags and across the stone circle, which looked quiet, innocuous.

"I read," Rose absorbed the heated closeness of his body, yet his nearness made her jittery—or maybe it was the unusual situation, "that the ancient Celtic view of time is a cycle. So tonight, this eve of the new year represents a point outside of time, when the natural order dissolves back into primordial chaos, and prepares to reestablish itself in a new order."

"’Tis true. The Celts see tonight as the time when they can view any other time, past or present. But the church, now they say not to hold a feast for the unblessed dead, only those hallowed, made holy. That’s why she’s All Hallows Eve." He halted. They stood only a few yards from the ring. The wind whistled through it like a flute.

Rose inhaled a deep, slow breath when the whistle turned to a moan.

"Can you hear that?" Michael leaned forward. "Is it Malscos calling to Senara?"

"Of course it isn’t. I want to step closer to the circle." Rose slid her foot forward in the grass. Hand fisted, this was her moment. She’d touch the ring and banish her qualms.

A flapping noise sailed over her head. Rose blinked and stared up. A bird or bat of some kind—wings fluttering in the shades of blackness. Her bonnet slapped at her cheeks and she stifled a gasp.

A figure, hunched over, hair flying, moved along the cliff top. A loud laugh sounded. Or was it more of a cry?

More rustling sounded, then feet running. Rose squeezed up against the caretaker before she realized she’d done it.

"It’s a woman." Michael ran up and grabbed her other hand. His fingers felt cold and trembled a little. "Senara! Is that you?"

Footsteps raced by, leaving the scent of herbs. Poldeen swung up the lantern.

The figure darted closer. Hair streamed in wisps about a round face, an arm thrust up to shield their eyes.

"They were here! The spirits have gone back now!" rasped a voice. "You be too late."

To find out what happens, purchase Ring of Stone.

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Thursday, October 23, 2014

A Fall To Remember by Victoria Chatham

 John Keats’ Ode to Autumn caught my attention at an early age. I love the sensations that the first line, Season of mists and mellow fruitfulness, engenders.
Maybe it’s because September is my birth month or maybe it’s that my imagination warms with the rich visuals Keats offers us. I’m no poet, but I love poetry. It’s a different way of writing, a different way of conveying scenes, senses, characters and sometimes packs more of an emotional wallop than does prose.
Of all the seasons, I find fall to be the most peaceful. The promise of spring rushes into the bustle of summer but then, when those first fall mists creep over the fields, when those dew-dropped cobwebs form on bushes and fences, there is a quiet expectancy as the world waits for winter.

I was fortunate to live for several years in a 300-year old house in rural Gloucestershire in England. Of all the houses in which I have ever lived, I loved that house the most. My mother could never understand why I gave up a modern double-glazed, centrally heated home in favor of a draughty, stone and brick built not-quite-heritage house but it had its own charm. It also had its regular fall visitors.
Sometimes mice and other critters decide to move in to a home. It may be because of a food source, it may be to construct a cozy nest but in our case we knew that when those mists started forming over the surrounding fields and the temperatures cooled, then we could expect an influx of field mice. These were dealt with in the traditional manner of traps and cheese, and less traditional by the animal rights supporter in the household who stalked and pounced with as much joy as a Yorkshire terrier on the hunt. The offending creature was then taken outside and released. This was all very well, but one year I had the feeling we were in for something else when my daughter asked, “What does a rat look like?”
I live now in Alberta, Canada, which is a rat-free province but even so everyone understands the damage of which this rodent, and indeed all rodents, are capable. I did not want one living in my house but as we lived very close to a farmyard the only surprise was that we had not been visited by one before. 
After my daughter’s first sighting of said rat there were more positive signs that we had an extra and unwelcome house guest. These were more sounds than signs, scratching and scraping in the walls, scurrying and squeaking up and down the chimney breast which ran from the living room up through my bedroom and the attic bedroom above it. As these sounds happened late at night when most of the household was either in bed asleep or not yet arrived home, my comments were met with some scepticism.
Grocery day came. Bags and boxes of groceries were hauled in from the car into the house to be stored away in our large walk-in pantry. I opened the door, reached in to switch on the light and came face to face with a large brown rat. All I can say was that it looked extremely healthy with a rich mahogany coat, long and plentiful whiskers and bright, black eyes. Its naked tail hung down over the edge of the shelf. Before I could blink it jumped down, ran over my feet and headed up the stairs. The blood drained from my face at the same time as all pandemonium broke loose.
My dogs, Sue, Charlie and Tim took off up the stairs after the rat. My children took off after the dogs. I got my wind and blood back at about the same time and went after all of them. On the first floor landing the children had come to a halt, deciding that maybe it would be better if the dogs did the catching as they really didn’t want to get bitten. Baying like a real pack, the dogs had run the rat to ground under the water tank in the attic bedroom. I pushed the dogs aside and shone a flashlight under the tank and could see the reflections of those beady eyes and the gleam of twitching whiskers. Then the rat was gone, melting into the fabric of the eaves like a wisp of smoke dispersing in fresh air.
The animal rights supporter was all for making a cage for a trap and release operation. I felt this would be a direct invitation for the rat to return. No, the only solution as far as I was concerned was to call the town council’s pest control department. This was duly done and, on the appointed day, the rat catcher arrived.
I’m not sure what I expected but it certainly wasn’t the lady who arrived on my doorstep. Her face was tanned and textured like a dried out old apple with more lines than an ordnance survey map. Out of this leathery visage peered a pair of bright, brown eyes disconcertingly similar to those of our rat. She wore a battered blue felt had on top of her grey curls and was dressed in brown overalls.
“Afternoon,” she said in the dialect of deepest Gloucestershire, making the word sound more like ‘addernoon’.
“Hello,” I responded. “Can I help you?”
At this point I was sure she was a tinker after some knife grinding work or looking for old scrap metal.
“No, I’m here to help you, m’dear,” this apparition replied. “I be Amy. I’ve come for your rat.”
“Oh, well, yes,” I stuttered. “You’d better come in.”
Amy stepped out of a pair of Wellington boots that had seen much better days and padded into my house on feet clad in purple wool socks.
“Where did you last see ‘un?” she asked.
I took her up to the attic and pointed at the water tank. “Under there, but I mostly hear it in the chimney.”
“They old walls in that chimbley be just like a staircase to one ‘o they,” she declared.
I watched Amy get down on hands and knees. She shone her flashlight under the tank, just as I had. A big game hunter on the African veldt couldn’t have been more determined than Amy. She puffed and panted, grunted and got up, dusting her knees off.
“Could you see anything?” I asked.
“Oh, ar, reg’lar ‘ole highway through there. We’ll stop ‘un.” She removed the lid from the bucket she was carrying and scooped out a measure of green-dyed grain. “Warfarin,” she said. “Should do the trick, ‘specially if there be only one. Keep the kiddies and the dogs away from it but if they little beggers gets into it, doctor ‘em right away.”
I said I would but how, I wondered, had Amy got to be a rat catcher.
“Twas the war,” she said, answering my unasked question. “Well, when they men went away, someone had to do it and I was better ‘n most. Then when they bliddy men came back I warn’t goin’ to be put out of a job so I told they council gaffers I was staying and I did.”
The rat caused us no further problems. Maybe the news went around the local rat and mouse population that our house was not a friendly one because the following fall, and for the rest of my time there, we had no further problems.
Keats I am definitely not, but that poem still intrigues me and sparks my imagination. It      enables to me to, I hope, convey scenes, senses and characters of a fall season which I will never forget. 
Is there a poem that prompts your recollection of a particular season, if so what might it be? 

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Tuesday, October 21, 2014

You Can Come Home Again by Sandy Semerad

     Thomas Wolfe haunted me on my way to Geneva, Alabama. Wolfe wrote You Can’t Go Home Again, which was published after his death. The main character is an author, who discovers he’s not welcome in his hometown. He’d written about his town and its people, and they are angry enough to kill him.
     Thinking about this, my imagination went wild. As many writers, I’ve used creative license and the backdrop of my hometown Geneva, for scenes in Sex, Love and Murder and Hurricane House.
     In my latest book, A Message in the Roses, I wrote about a murder trial I covered as a reporter. That book is set in Atlanta, but many of its characters share traits and backstories of people I’ve known.

     Before I arrived in town, the Geneva Reaper ran an article on me and my books. The newspaper also stated that authors, craftsmen and artists would descend on Robert Fowler Memorial Park to celebrate Total Recall, Oct. 10. Anyone who had ever attended school in Geneva had been invited back. Tents and tables would be set up, where a variety of vendors and alumni were expected to gather.

     Like other southern towns, Geneva has fascinating personalities. Some of my dearest friends live there or nearby. This town (population about 4,300) is  renowned for the Constitution Oak, the oldest and largest live oak tree in the United States. Possibly the largest in the world. This oak has lived at least 500 years. It is 75 feet tall. The tree’s branches spread approximately 175 feet.
     Homecoming day in Geneva was hot and humid. No breeze rustled the stalwart branches of the Constitution Oak.

     Breeze or no breeze, I eagerly anticipated visiting with old friends, even though one friend had asked,“Remember the lady you mentioned in your first book, the one who hated your mother’s piano playing, the one who slept with the preacher?”

     I froze, unable to respond.

     “I knew that woman,” she added.

     In light of what happened in Thomas Wolfe’s book, I felt the need to explain myself. “I made up that story. I’m always making up stories in my head. As a child, I entertained myself by making up stories.”

     As my friend quietly studied me, I expounded on my entire writing process. I wanted her to know, I didn’t intentionally defame real life people in my books.

      I went on to explain how I write a back story for the main characters and give detailed descriptions. “I outline on note cards. Outlining keeps me on track,” I told her.

“When I begin the process of writing and typing the story, I’m in a zone,” I said. “I think I know my characters, but they’re always surprising me.”
“How long does it take you to write a book?” she asked.
“It depends. Once I’ve completed a rough draft, I read through the story again and fill in gaps. If I find common themes, I try to accentuate and weave those themes throughout. I’m always trying to create more conflict. And I ask my husband to read it and give suggestions. I also ask my writer friends to be brutally honest with their critiques. I’ve learned I can’t shove my baby out in the world before she’s ready. It’s helpful to let the manuscript sit for a week or two and come back to it with fresh eyes. Then I rewrite and rewrite and pray for perfection.”
            After I finished explaining my writing process, my friend said, “Hurry up and finish the sequel to A Message in the Roses. I want to know what happens to Carrie Sue and Marcus.”
            I hugged her and thanked her for reading my books. “It was great seeing you again,” I said. “Wonderful being back home in Geneva.” 
And indeed it was.

Monday, October 20, 2014

The Rules Apply to Westerns, too. #writingtips

Whether or not we write western novels or any other genre, there are certain rules to follow that make us better writers/authors.  I've done a lot of reading lately, and also re-edited a couple of my previously published booked in order to add in the things I've learned since they were published the first time.  How many times have you read something you've written and said, "oh, I wish I had known that then?"

I decided to share a few common "unnecessary" faux pas I see, AND WRITE out of habit.

If you read a sentence containing "that" without the word and the meaning is still perfectly clear, take out the word.  I was a big offender when I first started writing but now I catch myself, and also do a search before I submit a manuscript for publication..

Example:  His declaration that he was innocent fell on deaf ears.
Better:  His declaration of innocence fell on deaf ears.

Note:  did you know "was" is passive? (I normally would have said 'did you know that "was"....I'm trying hard to minimize how many times I use the word.  Be sure to watch your tenses and stay in the present.  I'm not a big fan of "to" phrases, except in the case above because trying is something I intend...  in my mind using 'to see' and similar combinations shows intent rather than action.  It's important to have the story unfold as if the events are taking place in the moment.

How tired do you get of reading "he watched, she heard, she knew, or similar sentence lead-ins?"  We generally write from one person's point-of-view, and if we are doing a good job and not hopping from one head to another, then the reader will know who is watching, hearing, knowing or seeing. Of course there are time you will use a pronoun, but here's an example of how much more smoothly your novel will read if you adhere to this rule of thumb:

Bad:  She heard the doorbell and knew it was probably Michael.  She heard a muted whistling sound outside, opened the door, and found she was right.  
Better:  The doorbell sliced the silence and Greta placed her eye against the peephole.  Michael stood on the porch.. His puckered lips sent the muted melody he whistled  beneath the door. His handsome profile made her heart flutter. She opened the door and invited him inside.

Okay...maybe a little much, but I think you get the idea.

How about tags.  They can get very tiresome, and we forget how smart our readers are. If only two people are in the room. If you feel the need to identify the person speaking, have them do something...that's called an action tag.

Example:  "Nice day, isn't it? John said
Better:  "Nice day, isn't it?"  John stood at the window overlooking the garden.

Okay, so I used an "ing" word, and we've been beaten into submission about why to avoid them.  I think rules are made to be broken sometimes, especially ones that don't make sense.  I could have said  "that overlooked," but why?  I try to use them sparingly, but there are just times when nothing works as well as an "ing or an ly."  If there is a stronger verb to be used, I use those to SHOW more than tell, which brings me to another rule.

Show rather than tell!  I learned with my debut novel that there is a real difference between telling a story and showing a novel.  Strong verbs that SHOW the emotions, emphasize aromas, and put the reader in the character's shoes are signs you've done a good job.

"I'm so angry I could spit."  Jane left the room.  (Tells the reader Jane's angry.)
"I'm so angry I could spit."  Jane spun around and stomped out. (Shows the anger)

Oh...I should also mention that dialogue is really important, especially if you want to describe the person whose POV you're in. Normally a person would not describe themselves, such as long, brown hair, or eye color.  When you think or talk do you refer to your characteristics?  Probably not.  I'm sure not going to mention the size of my butt, and I hope no one else does, but you never know.

"I love the sparkle in your green eyes and the way the sunlight deepens the red in your long curls."  John brushed her lips with a kiss.

Last but not least...cause before affect.  In other words...something has to happen before someone can react.

Bad:  Susie started at the slamming door.
Better: The door slammed and Susie jumped.

Okay, I could go on and on, but I won't.  If you think of something to add, please feel free to use comments.  What bothers you most when you read?  Inquiring minds NEED to know.

Brides of Banff Springs by Victoria Chatham

AVAILABLE HERE   VICTORIA CHATHAM is a young-at-heart senior who has written short stories, newspaper and magazine articles on a...