The joys of reading OLD history books: Myths & Legends of the Celtic Race

What I’m reading right now, in between fiction books, is Myths and Legends of the Celtic Race by T.W. Rolleston and it’s reaffirming my love for several things: the really old books, and history books.

As some of these old history books can be, I expected it to be pretty dry, but have found myself pleasantly surprised! He keeps it entertaining while also informing.

The sensory

This is one of the early editions and so it’s delightfully dog-eared, splattered with foxing, softened pages from usage, and that nice old-book smell.

The intellectual

He dives into historical origins in the beginning before he gets to the myths and legends, and it was fun to go into his little sidenotes he explored via footnotes–little diversions that a modern historian would never dare indulge in. Like the footnote that talked about how the early Celts had dolichocephalic-shaped heads.

Some things I’ve learned so far about the Celts (according to Rolleston) that I didn’t know (and fully acknowledging later scholarship could have disproved some of this. It’s still fun):

  • Their 24-hour day started at nightfall. Makes sense when you think about it. It is kind of weird that we just mark it in the middle of the night.
  • Makes a case for Egyptian cultural and religious origins
  • Their belief in an afterlife was so vivid and real, they’d loan money on IOUs payable in the next life
  • I’d always associated the Stone of Scone with Scotland. I didn’t know there were claims of an Irish origin and that it was one of the gifts of the Tuatha De Danann and loaned to Scotland in the 6th century.

And I just came across this wonderful sentence and duly noted its usage of “dilates” in my writer’s journal. For context, he’s talking about another historian’s book, O’Grady’s “Critical History of Ireland”:

This work is no less remarkable for its critical insight…than for the true bardic imagination, kindred to that of the ancient myth-makers themselves, which recreates the dead forms of the past and dilates them with the breath of life.

Wow. I just loved that! My brain immediately got what he was trying to say with that usage of the word ‘dilates’ — I pictured it immediately blooming large.

The fun

Not surprisingly, I came across references to myths referenced in other author’s works of fiction, but it was still fun to come across. Like when the origin of the sword Fragarach was mentioned, and I was like “Hey! That’s Atticus’ sword!” I’m a huge fan of Kevin Hearne’s Iron Druid Chronicles and so tweeted him yesterday when I came to that part in the book:

Anyway, I’m totally enjoying this book, and I’m only a quarter of the way through it. And I’m not sure I’d enjoy it quite so much if I was reading a modern reprint. Part of the charm is the package :)

What are you reading right now that’s surprised you?

 

Six Sentence Sunday – 10/14/12

I’m back after almost a month! I missed y’all!

NEWS: I landed an agent! I actually had three offers! I want to thank all of you who have regularly commented since I started doing #sixsunday almost a year ago. Your support kept me thinking positive even when I faced rejections! Some of you even helped Beta! THANK YOU! This doesn’t necessarily mean a publisher will buy it, but I’m one step closer….

Today’s Six Sunday is from STEAM ME UP, RAWLEY, my steampunk romance set in Mobile, AL. I’m skipping to the next day and we’re finally in Rawley’s POV. He’s outside standing in the rain after calming an agitated horse and our heroine arrives, breathless (It’s been a while, but here’s a link to an earlier SSS entry where Rawley gave the heroine a scandalous peek at his neck when they first met the previous day, so as to put his reflections about his disheveled state in perspective):

Her hat, a frivolous contraption, sat at a jaunty angle on her head. His fingers itched to push it up to sit properly. Over all, she held a large yellow umbrella, protecting her from the blasted rain. He shoved fingers through his wet hair, inwardly cursing to find himself again in a disheveled state before her. The same unsettling feeling as yesterday overtook him, as if his body couldn’t determine if it was about to step off a cliff or fall into a luxuriant, buoyant cloud.

She stepped close, admitting him to her protected space.

As always I welcome constructive feedback.

To see snippets from others who are participating or to sign up yourself, visit here.

Thank you to everyone who comes by and comments each week! 

Weekend Grab Bag – From Writing Tips to Oppan Klingon Style (Gangnam parody)

Song playing right now on my playlist: “I Shall Believe,” by Sheryl Crow

Writing and the Writing Life:

Romance Writers:

In Geekdom:

  • And I’ll leave you with this KLINGON STYLE (Star Trek Parody of PSY – GANGNAM STYLE) – h/t: @geekgirldiva — they’re even singing it in Klingon (turn on subtitles)!

So you want to NaNoWriMo? Plotting and Fast-Drafting

This was prepared by me as a presentation for this month’s Mobile Writer’s Guild monthly meeting and cross-posted on their website. I thought it could be useful to those outside their reach, so thought I’d post it here too.

First: What is NaNoWriMo? It’s an acronym for National Novel Writing Month, which is a project spearheaded by the Office of Letters and Light and happens every November. It’s fun, it’s crazy, and it’s a great way to get you unstuck from the dreaded writer’s block. You pledge to write 50,000 words in 30 days.

This is compiled from my experiences in participating and “winning” NaNoWriMo both years that I participated, as well as from taking Candace Havens’ FastDraft class, which aims to write more than 50,000 words in just 14 days.

On board? Here’s what you can do ahead of time to help you succeed:

In October:

Plot (Yes, plot. Keep reading)

Use October to plot as much as you can stand. I pantsed my way through NaNoWriMo, but there were definite moments, er, days, of panic when I wasn’t contributing to my wordcount because I was stuck. For FastDraft, I plotted out as much as I could the month prior and boy did that make a difference. I’d conceived my idea and then started storyboarding it. Even if you believe down to your very tippy toes that you are not a plotter, try it. You might be surprised how much you can stomach. You might find that you fall somewhere in between, where you can come up with your turning points and some scenes all the way to the end, but that conducting character interviews is going too far. That’s okay. Experiment and push to see how far your muse will let you dabble in plotting before it protests.

PANTSERS: See if you can do any of these beforehand:

  • Write your logline. Can you boil your characters and conflict into one sentence? See if you can fill this out (from author Holly Bodger): “When [MAIN CHARACTER] [INCITING INCIDENT], s/he [CONFLICT]. And if s/he doesn’t [GOAL] s/he will [CONSEQUENCES].” This is not the only way to construct a logline, but you must have character, goal and conflict and hopefully a dash of irony. This will come in handy when you’re ready to pitch your story. For more on this, see Kristin Lamb’s Structure Part 5–Keeping Focused & Nailing the Pitch–Understand Your “Seed Idea”
  • Write your main characters’ GMCs (Goals, Motivations and Conflict). See if you can fill out the following for each character (especially your main character(s)).  ___________ (name) wants ______________________(goal) because __________________(motivation) but _____________________________(conflict). And see if you can do it for their internal and external GMCs! (Internal is emotional and external is the external plot—external is what the character thinks they want and internal is what they really need.) For more information, Debra Dixon wrote an excellent book (don’t pay the exorbitant price on Amazon, go here). And here’s a blog post that goes into more detail.
  • Identify your opening scene, first major turning point, second major turning point, dark moment and resolution.
  • Brainstorm scenes that could fill in between these
  • Write a two page synopsis that covers the main turning points and ending.
  • See if you can identify your theme (it’s okay if you don’t, sometimes this happens organically)

Of course you plotters do WAY more than this, so this isn’t geared to you. You already have your system ;) Pantsers, keep experimenting with how far toward the plotter end of the spectrum you can push yourself. It will save time during revisions and make your first draft go much smoother. It will enable you to write faster because you already know where you need to go.

With me so far?

Prep your physical and mental space

Okay, in between running around getting Halloween costumes and candy, see if you can clear the decks as much as possible. By that I mean, alert your friends that you might not be around so much, stock up on food and snacks, clean your desk and get whatever you need ready.

Do you write to music? Make your playlist! I have a playlist called “NaNoWriMo” actually.

For FastDraft, I was using Scrivener and so I entered in all my scene cards that I had mapped out.

Another important step is to get prepared mentally:

  • Believe in yourself. Here’s what Candace Havens says, “You have to throw out all those preconceived notions about how fast you write. This is different. NEGATIVITY in any form is not allowed. Let go of the past and move forward with your writing. We are thinking positive. We are thinking how cool it will when we have a first draft done [in thirty days]“
  • You have no time to polish. Give yourself permission to write crap. Yes, crap. You’d be surprised at how much more creative you are when you’re not censuring your words as you type.

Don’t forget to actually join NaNoWriMo. Go to NaNoWriMo.org and sign up. It’s free. You’ll find lots of support in their forums, but during November, don’t get lolled into the forums too much! But it’s a great way to ask quick questions and find other participants in your area. Mobile might have a team you can join and meet with them for “write-ins.” Having other people share in your journey is a great motivator.

November

All right. So November 1st dawns. What do you do? Here’s some tips:

Tip #1 – Think in pages, not words.

I’m going to adapt the FastDraft method here. For NaNoWriMo, you must write 1667 words a day to meet your goal. I remember thinking that it sounded so unattainable (I’d been struggling to write a novel for almost a year at this point and had only written five chapters.) The idea of writing that amount EVERY DAY scared me. So I signed up precisely because it did. I never dreamed I’d actually do it. But I remember both years pulling words out almost one at a time and looking at that word count and thinking I had SO MUCH more work to do to get to that number. I’d write a little and check my word count. Only 55 words? Ugh, I still have 1279 to go!! But I’d update my wordcount on the NaNoWriMo so I could see the daily goal line go up infinitesimally. But with FastDraft, Candace asked us to make the number of pages we write a day our goal. I committed to 15 a day. And did it. That’s 3000-4000 words a day! And you know what? I found it easier to push myself to write another page (roughly equal to 250 words) and another, and see that hey, I just wrote 8 pages I only have 7 more to go. Seemed somehow more attainable. So for NaNoWriMo, make your daily page goal 8 pages double-spaced and then when you’ve written that, tally up the word count and you probably either made it or gone over! And going over is great, as you’ve now banked those words for when you might not be able to make your daily goal.

Tip #2 – Blanks are your friend

If I didn’t know something and couldn’t find the answer in two minutes of Google-Fu, I just typed in brackets things like [look up how they did this] or [describe this better] or even used _____ for place names or names of things I didn’t know yet, and kept typing. I also used the Document Notes in Scrivener for each scene and typed out things I’d need to look up in revision for that scene.

Tip #3 – Use Twitter’s #1k1hr

Seriously this hashtag on Twitter I owe a serious debt to. I made many new friends that way too. I think almost every hour I wrote I used this tag. It really helped me focus and cut down a ton on my compulsion to check out what’s happening on the web. I knew that when that hour was up, I had to say my word count, and I really wanted it to be over 1000 so it made me push. One time I wrote 1858 words in one hour, but typically I averaged around 1200-1500. So for NaNoWriMo, you could possibly make your goal with just ONE HOUR of writing! At the most, two.

Tip #4 – Choke Your Inner Editor

We covered this earlier in how to mentally prepare, but it’s worth repeating here because it WILL haunt you in the beginning. If you’re not making your goal, it’s because of your inner editor who is sitting on your shoulder telling you the words you’re typing are crap, that the plot is crap, that the characters are crap. Take it by the throat and say, “Yep, it is! Got a problem with that?!” and then mentally shut it up somehow. At the end of the month, when you go to reread, cringing with dread about what a big stinking pile of poo you created, you’ll actually be pleasantly surprised at how bad it wasn’t. You can fix ALL OF IT in revisions. That’s when you can invite your inner editor back. But at least you’ve got the bones of the story down and you can flesh it out and decorate it in revisions.

Tip #5 – Make Time

Don’t have a solid hour or two to make your goal? Do it in 15 minute increments. Get out your pad and pen while waiting at the doctor’s office. You can write in many more places than you think you can.

Tip #6 – Keep Going Forward

In FastDraft, Candace was way more strict than you need to be for NaNo. She didn’t allow you to reread or edit ANY previous day’s writing! However, when I was doing NaNo, I found that if I just went back to the previous day’s writing and quickly read it to put myself in scene again and flesh out sparse description, I could add 100-300 words easy. The trick is not to let your editor start rewriting sentences. DO NOT DELETE ANYTHING. If you can’t resist, and it’s just really bugging you that something is there, use your Strikethru button in Word so that it’s “deleted” but not really. Any words you write during NaNo on your story contribute to your word goal, so this way those “deleted” words still count. In December you can then delete them. Many who do NaNo as well as FastDraft recommend ending the day mid scene so it’s easy to pick up because you know what’s happening next. I was afraid I might forget some new idea, so I made sure to jot notes down at the end of my session so I wouldn’t forget the next day.

Tip #7 – Pair up with others

In this instance, peer pressure is great. Make it work for you. Get others you know to join you and cheer each other on.

Resources:

Are you participating in NaNoWriMo? I’m not sure yet if I am, it all depends on what happens in the next week or so with my agent and what she wants me to do. Have you participated before? Do you have tips to share?

I got an agent!! No joke.

I can finally announce the news officially that I’ve been hinting about in posts.

I GOT AN AGENT!

The news became official while I was out of town for Georgia’s Moonlight & Magnolia Conference so I could only announce my good news on my social networks. For some reason it won’t feel really official until I can post it on my blog (apologies to those who’ve already heard the news).

My agent! Maura Kye-Casella with Don Congdon Assoc.

I actually ended up with three offers of representation, but ended up going with the fabulous Maura Kye-Casella with Don Congdon, Associates. For those fellow sci-fi nerds out there, their founder discovered Ray Bradbury, how cool is that? In romance land, she represents Sophie Jordan and Colleen Gleason! It still feels a little surreal and that I’m talking about this happening to someone else.

I thought I’d share a little about how it all happened for those of you still seeking representation, so you can see that it can happen to you. Like I said last week, I have patience and hard work to thank for this moment. All three agents commented about how “clean and polished” my manuscript was, and that they could send it out on submission right now. Squeee! So if you read last week’s post, that’s what I was hinting at, that all that polishing paid off!

Two of the agents who offered were the two I pitched to at RWA, so there’s several lessons to be had there. One, to tie into last week’s post (again), thank God I didn’t give in to my impatience and send them those partials right when I got back from RWA. This is NOT, however, an endorsement of pitching an incomplete manuscript! That is soooo different from the phase mine was in. Anyway, onward with my list. Two, pitches do work! Both said during our phone calls that they remembered the pitch and were intrigued from the start. Three, do your homework on whom to pitch to. It wasn’t random, I don’t think, that this all fell out for me this way. When I got that list from RWA, I researched every single agent on that two page list and narrowed down my choices to the ones I thought were my best chance. Actually, this segues into: Four, get ballsy. I thought Maura was out of my league when I pitched to her and couldn’t believe I had the nerve to do so.

Anyway, this all started happening one week after I began querying. One of the agents I pitched to made me giddy by asking to have my partial converted to a full. I felt like if nothing else happened, I’d at least made that milestone–that an agent had seen the goods and STILL wanted to keep reading. The next night, I got my first offer (from a different agent), which left me stunned! I alerted the other agents who were considering me, to let them know and gave them a time frame to respond. Monday, the second agent (the one I pitched to and who had converted the partial to a full) offered and now I was reeling. Thursday, Maura emailed to say she’d finished, said some very nice things about MUST LOVE BREECHES, and wanted to set up a call for Monday (this past Monday). Now I’m on pins and needles, not knowing if she’d offer. Obviously, she did, and I couldn’t be more thrilled! This doesn’t automatically mean it’ll find a home with a publisher, but I’m one step closer and feel like I have the best advocate for me! For those non-writer friends reading this, most traditional publishers will not look at unagented manuscripts so this is my only way to get into their hands and on your bookshelves.

So this is not only me sharing my awesome news, but also my way of encouraging you. Yes, it CAN happen. I thought this day would never come. I’d read and heard all the doom and gloom about how hard it is to land an agent. But don’t give up. Every time I got a rejection, I picked myself back up again and kept going, knowing that others would not, so I envisioned it as an opportunity to move into thinner ranks. Many fine writers give up after only 5 rejections. Don’t be one of those. I wouldn’t be in this position if I’d done that. Instead of giving up in the Spring when I faced rejection, I realized my manuscript wasn’t quite ready and did another Beta round and then did all the hard work of polishing that puppy up!

Are you querying? Do you have any specific questions about my path? Do you have good news to share too?

Ready to Query? The Importance of Patience

I had a fellow writer friend ask my advice about the right time to submit to agents. She had everything mapped out admirably in her calendar, including sending it off to a freelance editor. She was doing everything right, except for one thing. She wanted to know if she could slot the query process into the same place in her timeline as when her book is with her editor. She’d heard how long agents could take and so thought she could telescope that part of the process.

This was back in May and I had done a short burst of querying at this point, enough to know this was a bad idea. I had an agent request a full in less than 24 hours. So I advised her not to do that. Sure, some agents can take up to four months to get to your query, but that’s not always the case, and don’t you want to be ready for those agents that are quick?

I started my full-press querying in the middle of last month (so almost three weeks ago) and again the experience bore out my advice and my own personal decision to wait until I had every little thing ready. Most agents are quick now, and from what I could tell on forums, if they’re interested they actually act faster. I had several ask for fulls within the same day!

It’s so hard to be patient but it really does pay off. The other part of patience I had to practice was during the polishing phase. I had all my Beta feedback returned in June and had incorporated all the changes and revisions before the RWA conference. It was so tempting to send off my conference partial requests then because I SO wanted to get this manuscript into the queue and move on. But fortunately (though I cursed it several times during the process) I saw a blog post around that time from Janice Hardy called The Spit Shine: Things to Check Before You Submit. I used it as a jumping off point, creating a two page list of “flag” words from her post and others. So for several months I entered into a Polishing Phase. I did a search for every word on that list and evaluated its usage. I probably trimmed 3000 words that way! Or sometimes the words helped me see I’d lapsed out of Deep POV, so I rewrote that bit. Then I did one final read through scrutinizing each word, each phrase to decide whether I really needed it. Was it redundant? Did it have any relevance to the story plot? If not, I deleted them. It was exhausting and numbing and several times I really wondered if this effort was worth it. It was like pulling teeth making myself do this, because this isn’t the fun stage of revisions.

I actually did get a little impatient at the end and began querying a few who didn’t need to see any sample pages on a Wednesday, which pushed me to finish the rest that weekend. So as I got through the first 30 then 50, I sent off my partials and began querying the rest on my list. I pushed through my reading and was ready to send out full requests by that Monday (and I had some already)!

Whew!

Was it worth the extra time and patience?

Oh, yeah! More on that next week :)

The important thing is: don’t rush. You spent so much time on your manuscript, why short change it at the end of the process? Agents are not your Beta readers. Are you querying right now? What are you finding in response times? Did you also have to fight your impatience during this phase?

Housekeeping note: I will be at Georgia RWA’s Moonlight & Magnolia Conference this weekend! If you’re going too, drop me a line. But this means there will be no regularly scheduled posts until next week.

Monday Hunk Who Reads – Keanu Reeves

By Y! Música (Flickr) [CC-BY-2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons

Keanu Reeves

Seriously! Read on, and I’ll make a believer out of you! I was first alerted to this by seeing a bio of romance author Liz Matis and her answer to the question “Who would you prefer to go on a date with, George Clooney, Brad Pitt, or someone else?” Her answer? “Hands down, no competition – Keanu Reeves. You might be surprised to know that he loves to read. I picture us meeting in the poetry aisle at a Barnes and Noble, he buys me a hot chocolate and we talk about books.”

I stored that nugget away until I could profile him and was so glad I did. I find this interesting article in Details magazine, in which this is an excerpt:

“He is the opposite of dumb,” says Scott Derrickson, who directed him in December’s The Day the Earth Stood Still. “That is a word that has no applicationto him. This is not just a director trying to defend his actor and say, ‘No, really, he’s not dumb.’ He’s fiercely intelligent.”… So could it be? Is Keanu Reeves some kind of . . . stealth genius? “I’ve swapped a lot of books with him in the last nine months. He is one of the most voracious readers I’ve ever met,” Derrickson says. “He’s very unpretentious about it. Nobody really knows, and he doesn’t really care that nobody knows.”

No. It becomes clear after 30 seconds of watching Keanu pinball around the aisles of Book Soup that he approaches the printed word as both a glutton and a gourmand: He inhales a lot, and he’s game to order off-menu. He tells me he just finished all of the novels in John Updike’s Rabbit series. “So fantastic,” he says with a reverent hush. I mention another work about suburban crisis, Richard Yates’ Revolutionary Road, and he rears back and slides the helmet onto his head so that he can free up his left hand. “Oh, YES!!!” he shouts. “Let’s high-five on Revolutionary Road!” We slap palms. This prompts a rumination from Keanu on the primary characters in that book, Frank and April Wheeler, and “the identities that they’re wearing—you know, their authentic self and then their external self and that dialogue that’s going on.”

As we pass Proust, Keanu reveals that he devoured every page of the meticulous colossus that is Remembrance of Things Past. “It took a couple of years, but I did it,” he says. The grin has straightened itself; it’s ear-to-ear now. “I didn’t do the Moncrief, I did the newer translation. Some books would come in between. But I found that it was a thread—like time—that you could walk away and come back to. I didn’t feel like I had lost the momentum of the story at all. It was like meeting a good friend or someone that you like, and you’re like, ‘Hey, dude! How’s it goin’?’”

It’s worth reading the article in its entirety. In it, they visit Book Soup, the bookstore in Los Angeles, which he’s been visiting for 20 years and knows the sales clerk by name. He rattles off books he likes: “James Salter’s A Sport and a Pastime? Yes, he’s read that. David Mitchell’s Cloud Atlas? That too, yes. The Butcher, an erotic novel by Alina Reyes? Absolutely. He’s never put off by a dash of kink—in fact, he’d be happy to recommend a volume in that vein. “You’ve read Bataille, right?”” And off they go to search for that. The store didn’t have it, but Reeves recommends The Elementary Particles by Michel Houellebecq, which he said made his head explode when he read it. Later in the article, they are on a long drive and Reeves recites from three different Shakespeare sonnets.

Some industrious denizen of Goodreads has helpfully gathered the books he likes. He also penned a satirical self-help book called “Ode to Happiness.

Here is a picture of him with a Chapter book from Frank151

So that’s this month’s Hunk Who Reads. If you like these articles, please comment. They’re fun to write, but are time-consuming :) — on that note, if you run across any photos of hunks reading, please let me know. If you know of an intellectual hunk you’d like to see profiled, let me know that too.Reading is sexy people!

For further opportunities to idolize men and books:

Do you have any photos of male celebrities reading?

Come back on the first Mondays of each month to see the next Hunk Who Reads…

Past Hunks Who Read/Related Articles:

*previous Ovaries Exploding Award winner