Sunday, August 30, 2015

The Season In Your Story

The last few days have blessed us with cool, crisp breezes and temperatures reminiscent of October. It's been glorious. It's no secret that I loathe summer. I'm pretty sure I have the opposite of SAD (Seasonal Affective Disorder) as people generally understand it. More sunlight makes me depressed. For the majority of summer, I fight from falling into the black pit of despair. I'm listless, and a gray cloud hangs over me most of the time.

But when autumn comes, oh, I come alive. Pure, unadulterated joy infuses my heart. 

It's funny, then, that my love for autumn is often reflected in my stories. Stories set during the summer are harder for me to write (even if they do line up with the historical events) and my characters often gripe about the heat (what can I say? Every character does embody a few traits of the author!). Likewise, stories set in the autumn are not necessarily easier to write, but my characters enjoy the weather much more. Writing descriptions of autumn feel effortless, and the story itself feels more alive than do those set in different seasons.

But no matter what season it is in your story, for me, it almost becomes a character in itself . My last novel was set in the harsh Nebraska winter and it was a metaphor for what my main character endured. He fought against the prevailing winds of prejudice and bitterness, and it was fun to use the winter season to reflect those same attitudes. 

The novel I'm writing now, however, it set during autumn, and it's actually a lot easier for me to write since the season itself is nearly here and because it's my favorite of all four seasons. It will give me an opportunity to observe the changing weather, the leaves turning glorious shades of red and gold and brown, the scent of earth beginning to prepare
for its long, winter slumber, and use it in my story. It will give it an authenticity that might be lacking.

It's not always possible that your novel will be in the season you're currently experiencing in whatever part of the world you live in. But when those two do mesh, it's an opportunity to slow down and really take in everything that season has to offer to infuse your story with the sights, smells, and sounds occurring around you.

Weather is a big part of our world. It affects so many different things - how we dress, what we eat, our activities, how we feel. So, too, should it affect your character. 

How can you use weather in your current story? Share your ideas in the comments. 

Thursday, August 13, 2015

The Battle Worth Fighting

The mind is a persnickety thing. I wish I understood more how the brain works, but I know that not even neuroscientists can fully understand the intricacies of it.

But sometimes, I really wish I could make my brain just behave already. (If you said that in Austin Powers' voice, you get 10 points!).

The plot for the novel I'm working has given me fits. I've deleted several chapters and started over - twice.

But then the angels sang and suddenly, there it was: the plot I'd been searching for. And as I began to draw up a basic outline, all these terrific scenes kept bombarding me and I got so darned excited about this novel again that I experienced a giddiness that is part and parcel of why I write.

Fast forward to the next day's writing session. I didn't even want to open my laptop. Tonight, I don't want to, either. Fear, or resistance (Steven Pressfield's The War of Art tackles this topic and is a book every writer and artist should read), keeps holding me back.

But why? Why do I have this unease in the pit of my soul when I think about actually writing that lovely plot I came up with? It's utterly bizarre to me. And I can only think that it boils down to one thing: that what I write will not be as good as what is in my head.

That's a pretty common fear for every artist. I have struggled with this in the past and I know I will continue to struggle with it in the future. What we create is usually not going to be as good as how we envision it in our heads. I'm sure it has something to do with those neurons and synapses and all the rest of that complicated yet perfect creation called our brain. What we envision in the mind that creates such vivid, incredible dreams somehow doesn't quite translate perfectly to the physical world of reality.

Every time this happens to me, I have to fight it. I have to give myself permission to create anyway. Let's face it: perfection doesn't exist. We can always change a word, delete a sentence, and tinker endlessly with a manuscript even after we've been through it sixty times or more. Giving ourselves permission not to be perfect is the key.

It's hard, which is why it is a continual battle.

But it is a battle worth fighting.

It's okay to whine and moan for a bit and say, "Why can't it be easy?" Relieve some of the pressure and let the air out of the balloon, so to speak. But then, you must get to work. Start writing, ignore that voice in your head that says you're doing it wrong, and immerse yourself in the world of your story.

Remember that perfection doesn't exist, but neither will your story if you don't write it.

Thursday, August 06, 2015

Dreaming of a Life Not Yet Lived

I admit it. When I see people living abroad and embarking on an adventure, I'm slightly envious.

As a kid and a teenager, and heck, even into my early 20s, I always wanted to live abroad and experience new cultures. I even applied to go to graduate school at Trinity College in Dublin, Ireland. Unfortunately, I didn't make it, but that didn't stop me from dreaming about it.

Life has a way of taking our plans and turning them completely around, and I think that can sometimes be a good thing. Shortly after I found out I wasn't accepted to Trinity, I met the love of my life, got married, and had a baby 9 months later. That baby, my daughter, is now 15 and I absolutely could not imagine life without her.

I also went to graduate school two years after she was born and earned my master's degree in history. My thesis led to me getting a contract for my book, Nebraska POW Camps, and has led to numerous speaking engagements and lots of other opportunities. In fact, I'm pretty happy with where I am in life. I've published lots of nonfiction, have an agent who is shopping around my historical novel, have a wonderful marriage (though it's not perfect - it's really HARD sometimes, but that's what marriage is!), a gorgeous daughter, a good job that has given me insight into the state where I grew up that I didn't have before, as well as teaching me about academic publishing, and the ability to be able to afford a few trips overseas here and there. My last trip to England was in in 2008 and I'm taking my daughter with me this time when we go to England in October.

Despite all of this, there's still that thirst for adventure. And if my health would cooperate more (if you're a new reader, I have rheumatoid arthritis) I tend to wonder what leaps of faith I could take here and now.

Picture I took of the Chesterfield Church. Derbyshire, England, 2008
Part of the problem, of course, is that my husband has already had those adventures. He lived in Germany for 8 years, and he's pretty content to stay right here in Nebraska. But me? Heck, I'd love to be able to live in the UK for a few years, travel all across Europe, visit my family in Italy, and see and experience new cultures. Whether my health would allow that is another question. But still...I'd really like to try!

Living the routine, dare I say "safe" life is ok most of the time. I've lived in the same state my entire life and it hasn't been bad. I go to the same job every day, live in a modest house, have great friends and family, and am quite content with how my writing career has progressed.

But that siren's call to adventure catches me every once in awhile and I wonder, "What if I just took a leap of faith? What if I decided to move overseas for a year, experience it, the good and the bad?"

My daughter is convinced she will live in London once she graduates from high school. And to tell you the truth, I wouldn't mind at all! Now if we can just convince hubby to join us...

Monday, August 03, 2015

What Are You Reading? August Edition

During these long, hot summer days, losing myself in a good book is a must. And now that Poldark is over (the season finale was last night and it was SO GOOD), I really need books to tide me over! Fortunately, there is a plethora of terrific historical fiction coming out soon (thanks for the heads up, Goodreads!) and I am hopeful that someday soon, my novel will be one of those available! 

I usually have more than one book going at a time, so here's what I'm reading now:

The Secret Keeper by Kate Morton. I love Morton's writing - it's so lush and lyrical. She pulls you into the story and creates an incredible world.

A Woman in Berlin by Anonymous. This is the second time I've read this book, but it's for research. It's about a woman who was in Berlin during the last days of the Third Reich, and what she saw and endured when the Russians came. 

With the Old Breed by Eugene Sledge. This is the definitive memoir of the Pacific War as told by Sledge. It's brutal and gripping. The HBO miniseries, The Pacific, took a lot of its content from this book. Again, this is for research, but it's a book that every World War 2 historian should read.

What are you reading?

What a Difference a Day (or Two) Made...

Dinah Washington sings a wonderful tune called "What a Difference a Day Made." While the lyrics are romantic in nature, it perfect...