The Mystery of the Inspiring Author

by Tammy Trail

I am sitting in my office deciding which author I should choose to focus on for this month’s blog post. Too many to list. Do I pick a current favorite, or chose one from childhood?

We moved around a lot while I was growing up in the 70’s. I think being the new kid is the worst thing, ever. After spending a week or two in a new classroom you realized most of the kids sitting around you lived in the same neighborhoods, attended the same church together and shared the same classrooms from preschool to middle school. I absolutely hated middle school. You could not pay me enough money to relive those years.

Instead of being Miss Popularity (never even got close), I was the bookworm. I had a book with me everywhere I went (I still do). While my classmates were visiting before class, I would pull out my book and read. Once in awhile a teacher had to physically remove a book from my hands  to get my attention. I heard a familiar phrase during those years,  that while they appreciated my love of reading, I had to learn other skills too. So, in honor of that geeky, scrawny, metal mouth pre-teen I am going to choose Carolyn Keene, author of the beloved Nancy Drew mystery series. My favorite Nancy Drew book was “The Secret of Shadow Ranch.”  I imagined myself right there with Nancy as she searched for clues and dared to go against tradition and prove girls can achieve wonderful things just as well as boys can, or maybe even better sometimes.

While doing a bit of research I found that the name Carolyn Keene was a pseudonym for several authors. No one person came up with all of those page-turning stories, but several writers authored the Nancy Drew books. One was Mildred Wirt Benson who wrote under the pen name from 1929 to 1947. She wrote the first twenty-three books of the original thirty book series. I also was amazed to find that her second marriage to George A. Benson, an editor for the Toledo Blade, landed her in my home town of Toledo, Ohio. Mildred was a bit of an adventurer herself, and a fearless like Nancy Drew. She made trips to Central America, traveling through the jungles in a jeep and canoed down rivers, to scout out cultural sites. In 2001 Mildred Benson received a special Edgar Award from the Mystery Writers of America for her work on the Nancy Drew series.

Click to Tweet: I imagined myself right there with Nancy (Drew) as she searched for clues and dared to go against tradition, prove girls can achieve wonderful things just as well as boys can… from @trail_j via @InspiredPrompt #mystery #amreading


I still like a good suspense or mystery story to read. If you are so inclined, feel free to indulge in my story. I wrote a historical romance, with a bit of intrigue for a compilation with three other authors. I hope you will find enjoyment from all the stories.Tammy Trail, Mary Vee, Pamela Thibodeaux

Major John Tennant has recently returned from his post on the frontier to find his home razed to the ground and his children in the care of strangers. He struggles to bring the man responsible for the murder of his family to  justice while providing for his children.

After her fiance is impressed into the Royal Navy, Elaine Henderson is willing to do anything to help her brothers fight against British oppression. For years she has carried a bitterness in her heart until Providence replaces it with two motherless children.

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What Is So Historical About Research?

By Tammy Trail

When I began to write my first novel, I knew it would be a historical. I love history. I love the idea of our nation being shaped by hardworking men and women who sacrificed to live in an untamed country. I chose Frontier/American Revolution because that’s what I like to read.

I began of course with WHO, WHAT, WHERE, and WHEN. I was given advice from a writer friend to research everything for accuracy and keep notes on where I found that information. I may need it later to educate or confirm my research.

If you just google Historical Research, you will find a plethora of options. Historical research involves examining past events to draw conclusions about the future. That is one definition I found. Instead of drawing conclusions about the future, we who write historical fiction pour our definition of past events and how they might have affected our characters onto the page.

Some material that may help in your research are newspapers, diaries, letters, speeches, or interview a person with firsthand knowledge. Museums, historical societies, and old pictures are helpful too. I would really love to take a “research” trip one of these days. Williamsburg Virginia has been calling my name for years.

Other information you may need to research.

  • Food
  • Clothing
  • Trades
  • Politics
  • Travel
  • Weapons

In my American Revolutionary story, politics plays a huge role because it set the social and economic climate for that period. I read about some of the lesser known places and heroes that played a part in our winning independence from Great Britain.  I also asked myself what roles would a woman have played during the American Revolution? How does life go on when your men are away from home?

I have even read novels from other authors who write in my chosen time to get a feel for that era. I stay away from books that have a plot like my own. Some authors write blogs about their extensive research to share with others. Something as simple as shoes were totally different over 200 years ago. Beware of doing so much research that your story becomes bogged down with just facts, and not enough story. You can do too much research and never introduce your character to the world.

I have used Pinterest to keep pictures of my character’s lives. I can look at them and imagine what the interior of a home would look like, how my heroine may have dressed for chores, or how she may have dressed for a party.

I also dabbled in writing a western set in Wyoming territory in the early 1800s.  My heroine is a Chinese national who arrives in San Francisco on a ship. During my research for that story, I found a ship that sailed from China to that port in 1854. Now some of the other facts in my story had to be changed to fit that timeline. And that’s OK. It adds authenticity. I also needed to learn about the US Calvary, Indian tribes who were indigenous to that part of the country, and what obstacles my heroine might encounter because she was not born in the United States.

When you have all your questions answered and you begin to write, chances are you will find you have more questions. Keep researching or seek out an experienced author. I find that someone is always happy to help.

Writing Prompt: In what year did the following events take place?

  • Senator Daniel Webster endorses a bill as a measure to avert a possible civil war.
  • Millard Fillmore is sworn into office as President of the United States.
  • California is admitted as the 31st state.
  • P.T. Barnum introduces Swedish Nightingale, Jenny Lind to an American audience.

Click to Tweet: What Is So Historical About Research @InspiredPrompts #writetip #amwriting

 

Back to Basics for Writers – Plotter or Pantser?

by Tammy Trail

You might be a PLOTTER if you have ever wondered if you should be more organized with your writing. Plotting is a systematic way of putting your story thoughts together. You might decide to do it by scene or chapter. You will need to know what each character’s goal, motivation and conflict are for each scene. This system may require you to write an outline of your story idea.

A writer friend showed me one method when I first started working on my story. You simply take 3 X 5 index cards and write each chapter idea on a card until you have each chapter worked out for the whole book. If you’re writing romance, a suggestion with this method is using different colored index cards for your hero and heroine. For instance, pink index cards for the heroine and blue for the hero. Using index cards gives you an opportunity to change the cards around to rearrange your chapters, or change the time frame of your inciting incident.

There are many different plotting systems you can find with the help of the internet. I have read the “Plot Skeleton”, by Angela Hunt. Randy Ingermason has a Snowflake system that you can purchase from his website. Scrivener is a downloadable system that helps organize your story and allows you to keep your notes, pictures, outline, and your manuscript all in one place. This is also a great tool if you decide to self-publish your novel.

Some writers may consider themselves ‘free spirits”, and refuse to use any kind of plotting system because it stifles the creative flow. This is the PANTSER method – you fly by the seat of your pants. I started out with an idea for a story with no formal plotting method I imagined my heroine’s appearance, her personality and motivation. Then I created a life for her in the 18th century that I incorporated into a story.

My initial first chapter is now my third chapter, and I finished the book just shy of 70,000 words. When I began to edit my story, I found plot holes; places where my story lost connection and became a dead end. Now that I’ve had time to think about my story, I’ve written a whole different first chapter. Sounds a little crazy, huh?

Well, admittedly I am flustered with the complete process. Do I feel that I’ve wasted my time? Not a bit. I have learned a lot from this first draft. I went back to my index cards and began to look at them in a whole different light. I began to fix plot holes, and really think about deep point of view for my main characters. It’s still a work in progress.

Whichever method you choose, neither is wrong as long as you write the story. I haven’t given myself a label. I guess I’m just a bit of a rogue. I love my characters and the journey I envision for them. One day soon I hope to call myself a published author. I’m still learning through my own journey. How about you?

Writing Prompt:  Tracy pushed the off button on the remote just as the first clap of thunder shook her little house. She went to the kitchen to retrieve her flashlight; storms and electricity didn’t get along in her small town. The flashlight was forgotten when she heard a  rattle at her back door. She watched in awe as the doorknob shook violently from left to right. Then the lights went out.

Click to Tweet: So you want to #write. Back to Basics – Plotter or Pantser?

Stephen King’s “Rita Hayworth and the Shawshank Redemption”

I’d like to welcome a friend of mind, Cammi Woodall, to the blog today. She is sharing with us her favorite author…

Remember that hope is a good thing, Red, maybe the best of things, and no good thing ever dies.”

Of all the authors who could have penned the above quote, Stephen King probably never entered your mind. What words do you think of to describe a King novel? Horror, terror, despair? Vampires and killer clowns running amok in small New England towns?

All true. Stephen King is, well… the King of Horror Fiction. Many of his novels include graphic depictions of violence and brutality.

Underneath these gritty themes, however, lies hope. Not just hope for some, but hope for all, no matter your appearance, age, background, economic situation, perceived abilities, race, gender… Hope for anyone willing to grasp it and never let it go.

Most of King’s stories revolve around ordinary people thrust into incredible circumstances. Whether it is a clique of misfit children battling a centuries-old evil, a veteran and his friends trying to dismantle a mysterious dome encircling their town, or survivors of an apocalyptic super-virus struggling to rebuild at the world’s demise, hope drives King’s characters in their fight against evil, whether supernatural or human-made.

My favorite story that best represents this theme of hope is a novella from the book Different Seasons, titled “Rita Hayworth and The Shawshank Redemption”. Told in the first person, the story is narrated by Red, an inmate at Shawshank Correctional Facility. While Red narrates, his tale is about his friend, Andy DuFresne. Accused of a double murder, Andy maintains his innocence. His standoffish manner and calm determination turn the jury against him and he is sentenced to back-to-back life sentences in Shawshank. He’s basically never getting out.

If you’ve only seen the movie based on this novella, you need to read the story. Books and stories unfold so differently from their cinematic offspring. The movie does a good job by casting Morgan Freeman as Red and letting him narrate over the action, but there’s just no feeling like words unfurling on paper, your fingers itching to flip pages to see what happens.

Red takes us through Andy’s years in Shawshank. A loner at first, Andy soon becomes a member of Red’s group after an incident while tarring a roof. This also leads to him becoming a financial ‘pet’ for the warden and prison guards. Before long, Andy is doing taxes and filling out legal paper work for the employees. The warden recognizes his intelligence and soon has the inmate conducting an elaborate money laundering scheme.

Despite his friends and new consulting position, Andy’s life in Shawshank is far from easy. I warn you: this is a Stephen King story about a men’s prison. These men are serving hard time for crimes they committed. While detailed descriptions are not given, what is conveyed in crude terms and language lets you know exactly what is happening. Andy is targeted by a clique of bullies who torment him. He fights but doesn’t always win. No matter, because he fights again. He is repeatedly beaten and abused, but each time rises to carry on. He never gives up hope.

One afternoon in the prison yard, Andy tells Red about a small town in Mexico called Zihuatanejo. Dreams of the azure waters of the Pacific and what his life could be sustain him through the gritty reality of imprisonment. He tells Red of a tree standing sentinel in a field in Buxton, Maine, shading a stone fence. When Red gets out, Andy asks him to go to that tree and look for an unusual rock.

A tragedy near the end of the book tears Andy apart and it scares Red. For the first time since he entered the gates of Shawshank, Andy seems hopeless. Red suffers through a fright-filled night, afraid of what his friend might do in his lonely cell at the end of the block.

I will stop there. If you want to read the story, it’s best not to know beforehand what happens to Andy.

Jump forward several pages and Red is now a free man. Time has marched forward without him and he struggles to match a new fast paced rhythm. He thinks how men often commit a new crime just to get back to the familiarity of bars and the routine of someone dictating when you can eat or go to the bathroom. He also thinks of a tree in a field. He thinks of his friend.

After weeks of searching, Red finds that tree in a sun-dappled field. He also finds a letter with the quote that opens this paper. It isn’t a long note, but powerful enough to make the ex-con cry. I cried too, because no good thing ever dies.

Our story ends with Red, a man rightfully imprisoned for 38 years, sitting on a bus staring out the window, a representation of the cell and bars where he’d been incarcerated. But he sees beyond the walls and glass to the endless expanse of sky before him. He is a man who hopes to see his friend again and shake his hand. A man who hopes the Pacific is as blue as in his dreams. A man, though beaten down and repressed for his wrongdoings, now sees the beauty of life and possibilities of his future.

A man who hopes.

That’s how the novella ends. In Red’s own words; I hope.

The first time I read Shawshank, I pictured Red on that bus reaching out with both hands to grab the beauty life holds for him. As I read each of his wishes, I couldn’t help but think of my own declarations.

I hope to touch the sky from the top of Machu Picchu some day. I hope my family and friends know how much I love them and depend on them. I hope I am using my talents and gifts in the way they were intended.

I hope.

Click to tweet: What words do you think of to describe a King novel? Horror, terror, despair?

Machu Picchu

Writing Prompt: As I stood in line at our local bank, I couldn’t help but stare at the man across the room. Could that be Stephen King? Only one way to find out. I stepped out of line and…

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Is it really true? Genre: Biographical Fiction

Biographical Fiction takes a contemporary or historical figure and uses elements of that person’s life to tell a fictional narrative.

An author might choose the genre, biographical fiction, when writing about real experiences in their life or even a fictional account of the full story of their life. This genre isn’t a memoir (but can be written like a memoir with first person narration) because the story also contains elements of fiction.

Sometimes an author uses biographical fiction to avoid hurting others who become characters in their writing. They also may want to take liberty to change the details for dramatic effect.

41O0WxzeQ5L._SX255_BO1,204,203,200_An example of biographical fiction is, I Was Amelia Earhart by Jane Mendelsohn. It’s told in first person as Amelia Earhart, using biographical information known about the pilot.

Blurb from Amazon.com: “In this brilliantly imagined novel, Amelia Earhart tells us what happened after she and her navigator, Fred Noonan, disappeared off the coast of New Guinea one glorious, windy day in 1937. And she tells us about herself.

There is her love affair with flying (“The sky is flesh”) . . . .

There are her memories of the past: her childhood desire to become a heroine (“Heroines did what they wanted”) . . . her marriage to G.P. Putnam, who promoted her to fame, but was willing to gamble her life so that the book she was writing about her round-the-world flight would sell out before Christmas.

There is the flight itself — day after magnificent or perilous or exhilarating or terrifying day (“Noonan once said any fool could have seen I was risking my life but not living it”).

And there is, miraculously, an island (“We named it Heaven, as a kind of joke”).

And, most important, there is Noonan . . .

51v-zo8SXkL._AA160_Sylvia Plath’s Bell Jar, originally published under the pen name, Victoria Lucas, is also considered a biographical novel. It was the only novel that she ever published and it’s known to be associated with her own experiences with depression. She published it under a pen name because, according to “The Guardian” and many other sources, she didn’t want to hurt people that she wrote about in the book, namely her mother.

410XvrbROEL._AA160_From Amazon.com (back cover blurb) The Bell Jar chronicles the crack-up of Esther Greenwood: brilliant, beautiful, enormously talented, and successful, but slowly going under — maybe for the last time. Sylvia Plath masterfully draws the reader into Esther’s breakdown with such intensity that Esther’s insanity becomes completely real and even rational, as probable and accessible an experience as going to the movies. Such deep penetration into the dark and harrowing corners of the psyche is an extraordinary accomplishment and has made The Bell Jar a haunting American classic. 

One of my own writing goals is to write a series of biographical novels based on historical Christian men and women. I’m working on a biographical novel now about William Wilberforce using lots of research into historical documents.

Following is my excerpt from the beginning of Wilberforce — In, but not of, the World. The characters are real. I only added details to flesh out historical documents.

“Good Heavens Hannah, what have you done to my son?” Billy’s mother turned from his aunt to his uncle and namesake. “And William, have you no regard for the memory of your dear brother? Your aging father? Or me?” She pressed a gloved hand over the knotted bow of her cloak. “You allowed Billy to parley with low class fanatics while I’d fallen victim to a long and most dangerous fever.”

Aunt Hanna’s ashen appearances drew a stark contrast to his mother’s face, as red as the glowing embers in the parlor fireplace. She’d emerged from her illness like a lioness and rendered his aunt and uncle as stiff as the statues of Canterbury Cathedral.

His mother waved an envelope addressed in his handwriting. “It is quite evident that our best laid plans for Billy have gone horribly awry.”

If he’d known his letter would bring Mama to St. James Place, he never would’ve penned it. 

***

Often biographical novels are made into films, like Amazing Grace, which was based on the life of William Wilberforce.

1coverAnd lastly, while my first novel, Crooked Lines, is fiction, some of the scenes in the book were based on on mine and my husband’s life experiences. I’m including an excerpt here from a time–a true story–when my husband, a young seminarian in India, was put into a position to rescue teenagers who had dropped out of school to join a dangerous and radical communist group.

“Raju, where are your brother and his friends?”

“I cannot say.” The child stared at his bare feet.

Sagai knelt in the dirt, grasped Raju’s shoulders and looked him in the eye. “Raju, do you love your brother?”

“Yes, Brother Sagai.”

“Then take me to him.”

The boy folded his hands across his chest and jutted out his chin. Sagai spoke in his kindest voice.

“Raju, your brother is in trouble. Together we can help him.”

He pointed northward and ran.

Sagai followed down streets and alleys away from the lights of the village. Near a lone mud hut on the edge of town, the boy stopped.

“You’ve got to fight,” came a voice from inside. “Resist the government.” Sagai took a deep breath, made the sign of the cross and offered a prayer, then pushed open the door. 

***

Writing prompt: What experience have you had that would make a good premise for a biographical novel? Or would you prefer to call it fiction to add your own twist to the story…or to protect the identity of the characters based on real life people?