Was it necessary for Mairenn Vestergaard to even be an archaeologist? That’s a good question. As authors, we have the privilege of playing God with our characters, to make them live or die, to fall in love or to never find it, to succeed or fail. We create the broader landscape and populate it with people who have a story to tell. And while we type, we hope they tell it well.
I thought I’d share with you how I found Dr. Mairenn Vestergaard.
A couple of years ago, I read an article about a Native American site two hours south of where I live. An incoming business had been given permission to use the mound for fill dirt. There was public and academic outcry over the destruction and loss of such a valuable and irreplaceable site. The last update I saw was dated 2013.
And another story. Later, I read an article about Native American mounds that had graced the landscape near Bessemer, Alabama. They were 400 years older than the more famous mounds at Moundville. Over the years, treasure hunters had left their mark, and numerous excavations beginning in 1890 yielded many artifacts, but destroyed the mounds. A large portion of the Indian village has, in recent years, been developed over.
Then I learned that here in Alabama, when Native American sites are on private land, the landowner can pretty much do whatever he wants. However, the state hopes that the owner will seek advice from archaeology experts in order to preserve and protect the site for future generations.
I also watched a documentary about the Viking explorers, their travels in Europe and west to Canada, settling for a time at a place that has become known as L’Anse aux Meadows. What intrigued me was the mention of butternut tree seeds discovered there. The tree isn’t native to Canada and that suggests that the explorers sailed south, at least to the Gulf of St. Lawrence area.
So, all the information jelled and Mairenn Vestergaard was born–an idea with a few sentences. She was the right heroine for His Norse Star. I know–she’s not real, she’s just a fictional character, but I’ve known her all her life. She’s smart. Well-educated. Steeped in Norse culture. Loves Turkish style coffee and Bubble and Squeak. But she’s far from perfect, although she’s perfect for Tec Raines. She has insecurities, too. And fears. Just like all of us.
Her role in the story began with a what if? What if the land the Raines brothers inherited contained a previously unknown Native American site? What if artifacts had been stolen, including several that shouldn’t logically be there? What if those illogical items were tied to the Norse who settled L’Anse aux Meadows? And a final consideration – what if the Raines brothers were considering selling the land to developers?
Did the Norse explorers travel farther south than the area where they found the butternut tree seeds? I’ll leave that to the experts. Maybe they didn’t, but I like to think they did. Perhaps not as far south, perhaps not to Alabama, but somewhere.
Finally, to answer my first question – yes, Mairenn Vestergaard had to be an archaeologist. There was no other way for the story to go. She had to be the one to find the glass bead that started the ball rolling.
Writers tend to be solitary, introverted people, quietly weaving stories, and breathing life into imaginary characters who become real. For many, the thought of co-authoring a book is a nightmare not visited, and for good reason, as this professor discovered when he paired his students for an exercise in ‘tandem writing.’
After reading this, I’ll never think about co-authoring the same way again. Hop over to The Federalist Papers to read Jason W. Stevens’ post about this sometimes disastrous form of writing in all of its humorous glory!
Me? And Hannibal Lecter? We have something in common? No way! I wouldn’t have thought that writers and serial killers could have anything in common, but James L’Etoile, author of Little River, over at murder, mystery & mayhem, suggests otherwise. His take on the connection between writers and serial killers is a great read. Sure made me stop and think. My family and friends need not worry, however. I only “off” characters in my books, NOT in real life.
Writers and Serial Killers have more in common than you think.
I binge watched (yes, I should have been writing – consider me scolded) the first season of Hannibal this week, something that I’d put off for a while. The Thomas Harris novels, Red Dragon, Silence of the Lambs and Hannibal were gripping and the movie persona of Dr. Hannibal Lecter was so perfect, that anyone other than Anthony Hopkins just wasn’t going to work.
Or, so I thought.
From NBC archives
Mads Mikkelsen plays a younger Dr. Lecter in a timeline before Red Dragon. Hannibal is cruel, sadistic and gets off on watching the people around him crumble and self destruct. In addition to his cannibalistic predilections, Hannibal plays the other characters like a puppet master. FBI investigator Will Graham goes slowly insane and victim Abigail Hobbs is psychically driven off a cliff under the good doctor’s care.
I found the following post to be quite enlightening—detailing how a person gets snared by a sociopath and what happens when the bloom is off the rose. I know one young woman who found herself caught in this spider’s trap and how difficult it was to get out. Anyone who has ever crafted a twisted and cunning antagonist will appreciate how complex the human mind is.
I have been researching histrionic personality disorder. I am interested in the similarities between male and female, and why males are often diagnosed Sociopaths and females diagnosed Histrionic Personality Disorder (not always, but it is common).
I came across this article about psychopathic mirroring on Psychcentral. I don’t usually copy and paste articles to this site. I was really impressed with this article, thought I should share.
A psychopath will mirror your identity at the beginning, middle and end of a relationship, only in different ways at each stage. Initially, in order to win you over, he will pretend to be like you and to like everything about you. Robert Hare and Paul Babiak describe in Snakes in Suits how during the “assessment phase” of the relationship a psychopath will convey to his target four main messages: 1) I like you; 2) I share your interests; 3) I’m like you…
pro•cras•ti•nate – (prō-krăs′tə-nāt′); 1) To put off doing something, especially out of habitual carelessness or laziness; 2) To postpone or delay needlessly.
I think the definitions should be reversed. I want to believe that more people are #2 than #1. Number 2 can happen to any of us at any time. It’s a fact. It’s reality. It could be a sick child. A sick spouse. Skinned knees. Parent/teacher conferences. Your friends invite you to lunch. Family and friends call. They come over unannounced. A faucet springs a leak or
the toilet overflows. Your dog swallows a child’s plastic golf ball. A tree limb falls on your house during a storm. You’ve gained new followers on Facebook and Twitter. And if you have a 9 to 5 job, that stress alone can drop a manhole cover on your well of creativity.
Life intrudes. It squeezes between good intentions, frays our nerves, and wrecks our plans. There’s no escape. Things pile up until we’re in over our heads. We’re in its clutches, and when that happens, we don’t know what to do. We can’t NOT address life’s challenges. Yet we freeze up. The more we think about it, the worse it gets. Pretty soon, our writing begins to suffer until the day comes when we realize it’s been weeks since we sat down for some serious writing.
So, how do we wear all the hats in our lives and still find time to write the next bestseller? Is there a miracle answer? No. And there’s no magic pill to set the minutes of our day on the course we want to go. If you’re having difficulties or know someone who is, I hope what I’m about to share will help you the way it helped me.
It’s time to kick procrastination to the curb! All of us have the power to put an end to the very thing that holds us back. Here are some things to think about:
1. How long can you devote to writing? Don’t think hours. Think minutes–10? 15?
2. Make an honest commitment to set aside time each day. Use a timer.
3. Stop thinking in terms of pages and word count. Think sentences.
You see, my grandson challenged me to a race. How many sentences could I write in an hour versus how many math problems he could solve. He usually has 25-28 math problems and he challenged me to write 35 sentences. I set the countdown timer and away we went. We got done about the same time. He did all his math problems and I had 35 sentences. When he asked me how many words I had, I was surprised to discover I had almost 400. Just for one hour! We’ve been doing it every day since then.
Select a time and a place. Use a timer. I can’t stress that enough. Be realistic in how many sentences you can complete in the time you’ve chosen. The number of sentences is based on an average sentence of narrative. If you’re writing dialogue, you’ll get more. Even the sentence “What?” counts. The following numbers are approximate:
• 1 hour = 30-35 sentences or 1 sentence every 2 minutes
• 30 minutes = 15-18 sentences
• 15 minutes = 7-8 sentences.
• Even a ten minute session can get you about 5-7 sentences.
Four hundred words a day doesn’t sound like much, but it is. If your plan is to write an 80,000 word novel, you can write the first draft (not counting the weekends) in about 200 days. For a 50,000 word novel, the first draft will take approximately 125 days. It’s doable.
Don’t worry if you have trouble. Last summer, when I was suffering with a bout of insomnia, I was lucky to get a few words a day, let alone a few sentences. In the six weeks it took to re-establish a regular sleeping pattern, I probably wrote about one page–not a page a day–just one page. I know what it’s like to sit there, staring at a blank page with the cursor blinking at me–mockingly.
Increase your time slowly. If you can consistently write for fifteen minutes, raise it by five minutes until you’re getting a full hour. After that you can decide if you want to increase the time more. Or, you may have to decrease it. But that’s okay. Writing is letting you inner muse out to play. It’s work, but it should be fun to create, too.
The whole idea is to get you back into the game gradually, without falling into the trap of beating yourself up for “failing.” There IS no fail. Repeat that! It’s all about taking the manhole cover off your well of creativity, not dropping it on your foot.
So, go ahead! Kick procrastination to the curb! You’ve got nothing to lose and everything to gain. In fact, you might be writing a bestseller!
Thanks for stopping by. I appreciate each and every one of you. Please say hello, and if you’re interested in reading the original post about my grandson’s writing challenge, you’ll find The Thirty-Five Sentences Writing Challenge by following the link.
Jonathan Gunson of Bestseller Labs has put together ten key questions that will cut to the heart of our fears as writers. He then answers the questions, stripping away the
insecurities that plague us, holding us back and preventing us from even trying to reach our goals, our dreams. Are we stalled in the middle of a project or is there a story in our heads, but have yet to begin writing it? Perhaps we sit at the computer or laptop, staring at the blank page and watching the cursor blink endlessly. Are we allowing daily life to intrude on our writing time? Do we even HAVE a writing time? Are we afraid of what others will think of our work?
He asks this very important question: “Do you know WHY you are writing? Get clear why you are doing this.There’s no doubt you’d like to earn some money from your work, but essentially it is vocational. Being a writer embodies more than putting words on paper. It reaches deep within. It’s who you ARE. Furthermore, most writers are not aware of the extraordinarily powerful advantage they have: IDENTITY: I am a writer. Very few people on earth know who they are, or what their purpose is. But you do.”
Not all historical novels will have fight scenes, but when they do, here are eight tips from YA author Lisa Voisin to help us write better and more realistic battle scenes, whether it’s between two characters or a cast of thousands.
Recently, I attended VCON, a science fiction and fantasy conference in Surrey (part of Metro Vancouver) and attended a session called “Writing About Fighting.” The panel consisted of writers and experts who were disciplined in multiple martial arts, including authors Lorna Suzuki and T.G. Shepherd, and Devon Boorman, the swordmaster of Academie Duello in Vancouver. (I lost my program, so if you remember who else was there, please leave it in the comments, below)
For me, this talk was so fascinating, it was worth the cost of admission to VCON. In fact, I spent days thinking about the topics discussed and tried to incorporate them into The Watcher Saga. These are just a few of them as I remember it.
Eight Things Writers Forget About Fight Scenes:
1. It’s not about the technical details
First of all, if you’re not technical and don’t know the details of fighting, you…
See the picture of the wigged out, frustrated, teeth gnashing, hair pulling author? That was me almost two years ago. There I sat, sick to my stomach. What had I been thinking? Publishing books without the benefit of professional editing? Was I daft? Did I eat soup with a fork? The answer to my questions was a resounding–
I confess. I’m a “pantser,” one of those writers who has some basic story ideas, like the opening sequence, a couple of plot points, and the ending. I’m also a nail biter, wondering how the story will unfold after the first chapter that I spent one month laboring over. No outline of any kind. Just some scribbled notes that didn’t amount to much.
Somehow, I got through it, but afterward, it required numerous rewrites, and when I was satisfied with it, I clicked submit and off it went. I did it for 3 books (Heart of A Rose Series). Suddenly, readers were finding problems and my heart sank. At that moment, I realized I wasn’t an editor, and I would never be an editor, no matter how hard I tried. I went on a hunt for an editor and with her help, I made it through some major rewrites on the first 3 books. Jennifer Quinlan is her name and her editorial business is called, Historical Editorial. )She also does beautiful book covers.)
I defined a “pantser” for those who don’t know what one is, AND I’ve confessed to being one. A lot of authors are. And there’s nothing wrong with that. It works for those who use it. For me, I could see the limitations, and the problems it caused, but I wasn’t sure if this leopard could change her spots. I decided I wanted more than continual rewrites and fixing plot holes AFTER I’d written the book. I wanted to find those problems BEFORE I finished writing the book.
Enter the Snowflake Method. Developed by Randy Ingermanson at Advanced Fiction Writing, it teaches the writer how to take a basic plot idea (a triangle) and gradually turn it into a complete synopsis (a six-sided snowflake). I was intrigued, so I read everything I could on his website and subscribed to his e-zine. Now, he doesn’t know me from Adam, and he isn’t even aware that I’m writing a review. I just wanted to share what I learned by giving the Snowflake Method an honest try. So . . .
Here goes! I took a stab at the method (just the basics) and wrote my fourth book, Forsaken. My editor had somewhat less to deal with and noted that the story seemed better put together. When it came time to write Pictures for Maddie, I went a little more into the story and characterizations, but didn’t go as far as I should have. When it came time to begin my, so far unnamed, Book 2 of the Majesta Landing series, I knew I wanted to keep it near 80,000 words. I knew I couldn’t wander around aimlessly. The story had to be concise.
So, I bought Randy’s book, How to Write a Novel using the Snowflake Method. It teaches while telling a story of its own. It’s filled with excellent tips and how to’s at the end of each chapter. So, I began, but I still felt like I was floundering around. It didn’t take me long to realize the book wasn’t going to be enough to satisfy my demands, which were a lot. Short of paying Randy Ingermanson for personal tutoring lessons, I did the only thing I could do.
I purchased the Snowflake Pro, Randy Ingermanson’s software package ($100). It was easy to download and install. My husband is the computer guru in the family (he works in the industry), but I wanted to do it myself. And I did. I didn’t know what to expect, but once I completed the installation process, I got to take my first look at it.
There are screen shots on the website, but now I filled in the boxes with my information and the story I wanted to write. It began with a welcome, where the Snowflake Methodis explained. Then I entered my personal info which could be used at the end to write a query/proposal (the scariest part if you want to go with a traditional publisher). But that’s way down the road.
Next, I defined my project by filling in the info being requested. It wasn’t as hard as I thought it would be, although I had to be prepared to go the distance and not just stop because I had an “urge” to write. Truth be told, I already had about 15,000 words, but I had to stop before I messed it up so bad that I’d have to start over. There was no choice.
Of course, the process begins with that pesky one liner that every author has to think about. On and on it goes, using the step tabs at the top, until I had a fully developed story, character synopses with charts and a section to plan your chapters, scene by scene. There’s also a nifty section for making notes on each chapter which I discovered comes in handy when needing to go back to fix something.
And that brings me to the reason for this blog post. Randy Ingermanson is quick to point out that one of the boons to taking the time to do all of this work beforehand is that you’ll likely find problems quicker and save weeks or months of heavy-duty rewriting later on. How do I know this? Because it’s already happened to me.
It all looked good, each snowflake page filled with info about the story and characters, but then, I realized I had a problem. I knew something was wrong but for a while, I couldn’t figure it out. I kept looking at all the work I did with the Snowflake Pro and I finally saw exactly where the problem was and how to address it. It was a sequencing/pacing issue. Best of all, I fixed the problem before I moved on. And more importantly, I won’t have to make changes in later chapters due to this issue because those pages haven’t been written yet. I believe it should help tighten the story, too, which (I hope) will make a better reading experience for anyone who’s kind enough to buy a copy.
So, I owe Randy Ingermanson and Advanced Fiction Writing a HUGE thank you for showing this “pantser” how to plan and plot a book differently. (Thanks, Randy!) There will always be a certain amount of “pantser-izing” for me, but I’m happier knowing where the story is going long before I get there. Plus, as ideas for new books come to mind, I can create a new file and dump info there. I didn’t agonize over the process which was new for me. It took about a month to work through it. Of course, that doesn’t mean that surprising things don’t happen—they do. I just had something pop up in the heroine’s past that made me go, “Whoa! I didn’t see that coming!” So I went with it. It didn’t change the plotting. It merely added another layer to the character.
The bottom line is, that for me, it works. Now I’m a happy woman, like the one in the picture above. If you’re looking for a new way to plot and plan–who knows, it might work for you, too. I only know that I won’t be writing any more books without the Snowflake Method.
I would love to know if anyone has tried the Snowflake Method. What are YOUR thoughts? Just add your comment below.