Sunday, February 28, 2010

Your Novel’s Time Frame: Researching the Big Picture

"To give an accurate description of what has never occurred is not merely the proper occupation of the historian [fiction writers], but the inalienable privilege of any man of parts and culture." Oscar Wilde, 1854-1900, Anglo-Irish playwright and author, in The Critic as Artist, published in Intentions, 1891.

Need to move into time groove of your novel? Where do you start researching daily life, politics and fashion? Google, Project Gutenberg and JSTOR provide interesting leads. Reading encyclopedia articles, general history texts and children's books with illustrations provide great overviews. Below you’ll find a few online resources to gain a big picture of the time period.

Recapture the year’s nostalgia

What was like ‘back when’? Whathappenedinmybirthyear http://whathappenedinmybirthyear.com/ focuses on American pop-culture, as well as some world and sports history. The information unfolds as if typed by someone, which may be irritating if you’re in a hurry. It also jumps ahead to your teenage years to include some pop culture. I immediately started singing the words to the year’s most popular hit song.

Generate a customized time capsule

Check out top news headlines for the week, the decade’s top songs, books and consumer prices, President, VP and academy award winners. The advanced time capture allows you to select specific headlines, birthdays, songs, TV shows, toys, and books for the selected date. You can edit the information and add your own information to the final page.

Review the time period news stories

HistoryBuff.com focuses primarily on major, and not so major events in American history were reported in newspapers of the time. Time periods cover 1700-1739, 1740-1769, 1770-1799, 1800-1830, 1831-1860, 1861-1865, 1866-1885, 1886-1915, 1900-1915, 1916-1940, 1941-1945, 1946-1965, 1966-1980, 1981-2004.

Looking for a fashion blast from the past?

This website sorts costumes according to historical periods. The history of hairstyles provides an overview of hairstyles from 3000 B.C. to present day. Did you know that women in the 1660’s wore six-inch heals? Check out the history of shoes.

Find holidays and observances for every day of the year

The Daily Almanac provides a fascinating list of trivia, plus a timeline of the world.

Recreate historic recipes

Did you know the Chinese ate ice cream in 3000 BC? From 17,000 BC to 2009, the Food Timeline presents a buffet of fascinating tidbits about food.

Friday, February 26, 2010

The Value of Voice

"Be yourself; everyone else is already taken."
~ author Oscar Wilde

Just back from the My Book Therapy Deep Thinkers Retreat, which took place in Melbourne, Florida last weekend.
I'm still trying to process all the wonderful writing insights shared by bestselling authors Susan May Warren and Rachel Hauck, while unpacking, doing laundry and generally getting back to normal life.
Whatever that is.
One of the last things Susan and Rachel talked about was a writer's voice. Those are my actual notes scribbled in red in the photo. I'm addicted to fine line Sharpies right now, but that is so beside the point! I've found myself returning to this page in the Deep Thinkers Retreat workbook. It's about adding color or word painting.
One statement Rachel made has replayed in my head this past week: "The foundation to every novelist is their voice."
I agree with her--and I also think that every writer--whether you write fiction or non-fiction--has a voice. I also think it is imperative for a writer to discover her voice. Rachel suggested one way to do that was to ask God, "What is my voice?"
Being in a critique group also hones your voice. It's vital that your crit partners understand and respect your voice--that they not squelch it.
I'll be honest here: I once trampled all over Scoti's voice. She writes with passion and emotion, what I sometimes call an "opera" voice. I mean that as a compliment. Scoti's voice is full and rich.
In the early years of our group, I critiqued an article Scoti wrote--and in the process I stripped her voice right out of it. Someone else, who knew Scoti better than I did, commented on my mistake.
And I realized she was right--and I was oh, so wrong.
I apologized and determined to respect Scoti's voice.
As Susan said, "Voice equals personality on the page."
Discovering your voice and then polishing your voice so that it adds depth to your writing takes time. You have to know yourself as a writer--and it helps if you are connected with other trusted writers who know you too.

Here's one way I know I'm writing in my voice: When someone reads something I wrote and says, "It sounds just like you were talking to me--just like we were sitting together in your kitchen," that's when I know my writing is reflecting my personality.

What about you? How have you developed your writer's voice? When do you recognize it?

Monday, February 22, 2010

The Drunken Writer

“Write drunk, edit sober.”—Ernest Hemingway

I confess…I’m a researchaholic. I don’t need alcohol to get me high, reading and research send my heart and mind soaring. Like a person intoxicated after a major research binge, my lowered writing inhibitions throw up words all over the page. Bits and pieces of research splatter across page after page after page. Then I sober up and face reality: unmanageable words are powerless.

The Sober Editor

It isn’t a bad thing to be a drunken writer hurling research, thoughts and ideas onto the page. When I’m loaded and under the influence of interesting research, wasted wabbits weave this way and that. Yet, regurgitating my interesting discoveries help me figure out what information I want to keep.

After sleeping off emotional attachment to every word and thought, my stone cold editor

  • evaluates the hangovers
  • takes a fearless inventory
  • visualizes what I think
  • sharpens the focus
  • reframes content in my words and voice
  • eliminates unnecessary ideas and words.

I don't need alcoholic substances to anesthetize the ups and downs of life. Life as a researchaholic transcends my circumstances, taking me to far away places. Research offers the joys of getting high on research and writing and then taking pleasure in the challenge of cut, cut, edit, edit.

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Blog Tour & Contest: PJ Sugar: Double Trouble

You've got to love a girl who fends off criminals with donut holes, dons a wig and faux tattoos for the sake of an investigation, and wants to follow God more than the lure of her past life--and love.

I confess to shouting with glee when I received my copy of Double Trouble, while holding off my daughter, who soon realized she'd have to wait in line to read Susan May Warren's second installment in the PJ Sugar series.

My shouting soon gave way to laughing out loud. PJ just can't stay out of trouble, for all her good intentions. What's PJ's life like in Double Trouble?

With one solved case under her belt, PJ Sugar is ready to dive into her career as a private investigator. Or at least a PI's assistant until she can prove herself to Jeremy Kane, her new boss. Suddenly, PJ's seeing crime everywhere. But is it just in her head, or can she trust her instincts? When she takes on her first official case--house sitting for a witness in protective custody--Jeremy assures her there's no danger involved. But it soon becomes clear that there is someone after the witness ... and now they are after PJ too.

I can relate to PJ. She's not perfect, but she's trying to do the right thing. She wants to help others, and she means well. She doesn't feel like others understand her and sometimes she doesn't understand herself, either.

One of the things I appreciate about Warren's writing style is how she so effortlessly weaves spiritual truths into a fun, fast-paced novel. In some Christian fiction, the story grinds to halt with a "We now interrupt your regularly scheduled reading while the author imparts a spiritual lesson" moment. Not so in Warren's books.


Click on the button to find out all you need to know about the Double-Trouble Giveaway! One Grand Prize winner will recieve a $150 Super Sleuth prize package that includes:
  • a brand new iPod shuffle (perfect for those all-night stakeouts)
  • a $10 iTunes gift card (We recommend the Alias soundtrack.)
  • a $10 Amazon gift card (Why, yes, they do sell spy pens.)
  • a $10 Starbucks gift card (for fuel, of course)
  • a gorgeous scarf from World Market ( can be used as a blindfold and/or for tying up the bad guys)
  • signed copies of both Nothing But Trouble and Double Trouble (Romance! Danger! Intrigue! Much better than Surveillance for Dummies!)

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Turning Conversation into Dialogue

I used to write down pithy quotes and bits of overheard conversation in a little notebook I carried with me. But as I added diapers and bottles and other paraphernalia to my bag of necessities, the little notebook got left behind, then lost. In the last year or so, I started carrying a notebook again and recorded a quote last night.

I was in Chick-fil-A--it seems I'm always in Chick-fil-A these days, killing time between kids' activities. My littlest guy and I were headed for the restroom when a little girl, just old enough to handle the responsibility of going to the bathroom by herself, darted in front of me. As she reached for the door handle, she looked over her shoulder and said, "Mom, don't forget to save my seat."

Did she think her mother would auction off her seat to the next child who happened to come along? Was the girl's latest activity so costly the mom was looking for a way to recoup the expense?

Her mother and I made eye contact and laughed. I don't know if I'll ever use that line in a story, but it was a funny moment.

Here's a real question that found its way into my book:
Child, age 3, to his mother: "Can I have a banana with no clothes on?"
No, the child doesn't want to strip and eat. He wants a peeled banana.
When I needed a child to interrupt the heroine's thoughts, it was a perfect quote to use.

Here's a snatch of conversation spoken when the price of gas first started rising.
Grandma says out loud within sight of preschool granddaughter: "Gee, this gas is high."
Granddaughter: "That's okay, Grandma. You can reach it because you're a grown up."

At times, my kids get excited and one comment will set off another. On their own, none of them are quite ready for stand-up comedy, but aiding and abetting one another, they often come close. Midway through a rant, I want to capture the conversation to use as future dialogue. I think I need to keep a tape recorder playing during big family meals. Does this happen to you? Do you overhear words that are too good to lose? Are you saving them? If not, when are you going to begin?

~Roxanne Sherwood

Monday, February 15, 2010

101 Most Influential People Who Never Lived

“I had no idea that such individuals exist outside of stories.”—Dr. Watson about Sherlock Holmes, A Study in Scarlet (1887)

This video features critically-acclaimed author Joyce Carol Oates who discusses how a writer develops realistic characters. Is it possible for fictional characters to impact the world more than real people? Apparently so.

In the book The 101 Most Influential People Who Never Lived, the authors rank the “characters of myth, legends, television, and movies [who] shaped our society, changed our behavior, and set the course of history.”

  1. The Marlboro Man
  2. Big Brother
  3. King Arthur
  4. Santa Claus (St. Nick)
  5. Hamlet
  6. Dr. Frankenstein's Monster
  7. Siegfried
  8. Sherlock Holmes
  9. Romeo and Juliet
  10. Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde
  11. Uncle Tom
  12. Robin Hood
  13. Jim Crow
  14. Oedipus
  15. Lady Chatterly
  16. Ebenezer Scrooge
  17. Don Quixote
  18. Mickey Mouse
  19. The American Cowboy
  20. Prince Charming
  21. Smokey Bear
  22. Robinson Crusoe
  23. Apollo and Dionysus
  24. Odysseus
  25. Nora Helmer
  26. Cinderella
  27. Shylock
  28. Rosie the Riveter
  29. Midas
  30. Hester Prynne
  31. The Little Engine That Could
  32. Archie Bunker
  33. Dracula
  34. Alice in Wonderland
  35. Citizen Kane
  36. Faust
  37. Figaro
  38. Godzilla
  39. Mary Richards
  40. Don Juan
  41. Bambi
  42. William Tell
  43. Barbie
  44. Buffy the Vampire Slayer
  45. Venus and Cupid
  46. Prometheus
  47. Pandora
  48. G.I. Joe
  49. Tarzan
  50. Captain Kirk and Mr. Spock
  51. James Bond
  52. Hansel and Gretel
  53. Captain Ahab
  54. Richard Blaine
  55. The Ugly Duckling
  56. Loch Ness Monster (Nessie)
  57. Atticus Finch
  58. Saint Valentine
  59. Helen of Troy
  60. Batman
  61. Uncle Sam
  62. Nancy Drew
  63. J.R. Ewing
  64. Superman
  65. Tom Sawyer and Huckleberry Finn
  66. HAL 9000
  67. Kermit the Frog
  68. Sam Spade
  69. The Pied Piper
  70. Peter Pan
  71. Hiawatha
  72. Othello
  73. The Little Tramp
  74. King Kong
  75. Norman Bates
  76. Hercules (Herakles)
  77. Dick Tracy
  78. Joe Camel
  79. The Cat in the Hat
  80. Icarus
  81. Mammy
  82. Sindbad
  83. Amos 'n' Andy
  84. Buck Rogers
  85. Luke Skywalker
  86. Perry Mason
  87. Dr. Strangelove
  88. Pygmalion
  89. Madame Butterfly
  90. Hans Beckert
  91. Dorothy Gale
  92. The Wandering Jew
  93. The Great Gatsby
  94. Buck (Jack London, The Call of the Wild)
  95. Willy Loman
  96. Betty Boop
  97. Ivanhoe
  98. Elmer Gantry
  99. Lilith
  100. John Doe
  101. Paul Bunyan

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Christian Author Kelly Irvin Publishes in General Market

Debut Author Kelly Irvin’s romantic suspense novel, A Deadly Wilderness, is a great read with a diverse cast of characters and a complex plot. Irvin is in the unique position of publishing her novel with a strong Christian protagonist in the general market as a library-edition hardcover by Five Star. In A Deadly Wilderness, Detective Ray Johnson lives out his faith without being preachy. Please request A Deadly Wilderness from your local library so more books like this may be available.


Single Titles
"D├ębut author Kelly Irvin captures our attention instantly with a terrifying prologue that draws her readers into a suspenseful tale of intrigue, murder, greed and passion."

Publishers Weekly
"At the start of Irvin's solid romantic suspense debut, San Antonio, Tex., homicide detective Ray Johnson (aka “Bible Boy”) is hiking with his girlfriend Susana Acosta's eight-year-old son, when he falls down a ravine and lands near the body of Joey Doyle, the victim of a hired assassin, Lalo Hernandez, who has cut off Doyle's ring finger. When the police discover Joey was the youngest son of a wealthy car dealership owner (apparently unaffected by the auto industry meltdown), they investigate members of Joey's family, starting with his wife, Melody. Aware of her husband's infidelities, Melody had plenty of motive. Ray, a likable Christian cop who's not too holier-than-thou, has to decide whether he stays on the force or studies for the ministry to keep Susana's heart. In contrast stands Hernandez, the aging Latino assassin, whose laconic attitude makes him all too chillingly real."

Author Allison Pittman:
"A Deadly Wilderness is a killer of a good read. Kelly Irvin invites us in to savor the city of San Antonio while giving us a peek into a deliciously fictional dark side. It’s a breathless charge through twisting suspense, where murder, corruption and betrayal share equal time with loyalty, heroism and trust. Chilling scenes are unleashed through the eyes of a ruthless killer, but the true story unfolds with the hero, Ray Johnson, as he risks his life and his heart to solve a crime, protect his partner, and take steps to rebuild a life shattered by tragedy. Most striking, perhaps, is Irvin’s beautifully assembled, perfect cast of characters, a variety of voices, each of them weaving a unique thread. A Deadly Wilderness is a complex story, echoing the refrain of family in all its forms—the ones we love as well as the ones we simply endure. Above all, A Deadly Wilderness explores the idea of the family we’re willing to fight for, and to die for, and how we survive in the wake of those choices. "

A Deadly Wilderness is available online through Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and Borders. Check to see if your local library has a copy. If not, please request one.

For more information, visit Kelly Irvin at www.kellyirvin.com

Monday, February 8, 2010

Memoir or Personal Essay

Do you know the difference between writing a memoir and a personal essay? This video explains the difference. And now a few quotes that hopefully make you laugh.

“Isn't this amazing? Clinton is getting $8M for his memoir, Hillary got $8M for her memoir. That is $16M for two people who for eight years couldn't remember anything.”—Jay Leno

“I put off writing the first Left Behind book for a year because I got invited to assist Billy Graham in his memoirs, and had we known what we were putting off for a year, we might not have put it off.”—Jerry B. Jenkins

“His memoir is a splendid artichoke of anecdotes, in which not merely the heart and leaves but the thistles as well are edible.”—John Leonard

“There ain't nothing that breaks up homes, country and nations like somebody publishing their memoirs.”—Will Rogers

“I've given my memoirs far more thought than any of my marriages. You can't divorce a book.”—Gloria Swanson

Friday, February 5, 2010

What Goes Around, Comes Around

A number of months ago, I despaired of my daughter ever understanding my love of writing--much less following in my footsteps along the writing road.
Sure, Christa loves to read. She even pens the occasional 9-year-old novel, complete with heroes and heroines, conflicts and happily-ever-afters. But the one time I tried to talk to her about the magical world of magazine editing, her eyes glazed over. A few minutes later, she wandered over to where her dad sat reading a medical publication. "Oooh, cool pictures, Dad! What is that?!"
Oh, well. Maybe her future is in medicine.
I'm learning, though, that you never know what's taking root in our children. The other day I was working on an article. Christa came into my office and leaned against my shoulder. I didn't realize she was also reading over my shoulder until she said, "I think there's a typo there, Mom. You might want to check that."
What? My daughter was editing me?!
Yep. And she was right--my writing needed to be corrected.
I confess I battled feelings of chagrin and pride. Edited by my 9-year-old. How embarrassing. And then I thought, I must be doing something right if my daughter knew enough to catch a writing mistake. I decided to savor the moment, rather than cringe.
I realize this doesn't mean Christa will love cutting sentences down to size like I do. She may grow up to be a dolphin trainer or a ballerina or doctor like her dad. So be it. I can be confident she'll be a capable writer too--in whatever capacity she chooses.

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

So What Are We Waiting For?

If you visit The Writing Road often, you know, though I'm trying to write, life keeps getting in my way. I'm inspired by Vonda Skelton's post on February 2, 2010, on the Blue Ridge Mountains Christian Writers Conference Blog, and I believe you'll be inspired too.


I'm not waiting any longer. Instead, I'm trying hard to finish a project near and dear to my heart in 2010. How? I joined a gym just for the daily two hours of "free" childcare. Though I'd love to be in shape, sometimes I don't work out. While my little guy runs around burning energy, I might spend the whole time in the cafe working on my manuscript. Right now, finishing and submitting my novel is a bigger priority than working out. I'd love to do both, but I'm not going to let another year pass with my great idea stuck in my computer. As a friend reminds me, my characters have been served an eviction notice. It's time for them to move into their Happily Ever After and for me to make room for the other characters, whose stories I yearn to tell.

What's your great idea? What's kept you from completing your project? How can you change that?

~Roxanne Sherwood

Monday, February 1, 2010

When Crisis Hits

“God will wipe away every tear from their eyes; and there will no longer be any death; there will no longer be any mourning, or crying, or pain; the first things have passed away.”—Revelation 21:4 (NASB)

Life as I knew it abruptly halted last Tuesday. A dear friend ended up in ICU on life support. I've been taking twelve hour shifts each day so that my precious friend will not be alone. It's amazing how quickly "important priorities" pale in comparison to a life and death struggle.

The second day, phone call after phone call barraged my cell phone. Some called to offer prayers and comfort. Others wanted details. Having to tell what happened was too painful and exhausting. I thought, After this is over I will write an article giving tips for people who know someone who sits beside a loved one in ICU--hoping against hope.

In Chinese, the word crisis uses two letters. One represents danger, which faces my precious friend. The other letter represents opportunity. It's my prayer that through this crisis of opportunity that others will come to recognize and know God for themselves.

As I anxiously wait in ICU, El Roi, the God who sees, whispers, "I see you." The prognosis is not what we hoped. The decisions to be made are painful and difficult. God sees my friend and knows his will for our lives. Please pray for us, especially my friend's parents.