Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Doing the research

For me, research for writing is not so much a labor of love as a break in the flow of my story-telling. For Flavia's Secret I was researching ancient Rome, ancient Romano-British food, society, class, fashion, the city of Roman Bath and the baths themselves - I did the same kind of research on ancient Egypt for my forthcoming Blue Gold, too, beginning first with a visit to the children's library for lots of clear explanations and lovely picture-books).

Pictures and personal observation are what I find most useful in all my research. When I'm researching for a book, days are taken up with observation - noting people's gestures, the sounds and rhythms of their speech, the pervading scent of a place, the number of steps to a particular church. My husband is a keen photographer and takes pictures not only for himself but also for me: not only the battlements and arrow-slits of a castle for a medieval such as A Knight's Vow, A Knight's Captive or my forthcoming A Knight's Enchantment, but strange shots of dustbins and public telephones and kiosks and then, teasingly, candid pictures of myself, sunhat jammed over my eyes, head down as I take copious notes.

We repeated this in Rhodes as I researched the Dodecanese islands for my early romantic suspense book, Night of the Storm, and my novella, A Secret Treasure. The heroine of A Secret Treasure is an intelligent, sensitive young woman and keen cook in a high-pressure situation so I approached my research through Eve's eyes, noting how stark the contrast between shade and sun at midday, between the bustle and crowds of Rhodes Old Town and the pine-fretted quiet of Ancient Kamiros, where fragile orchids grow along the edges of the paths, learning how delicious grilled meat can taste, liberally sprinkled with fresh lemon juice and rigani, or how thorny and close-packed Greek heathland is.

Back home, the temptation is to use every scrap of my notes and then my writer's day is one of choice, because to put everything in would be fatal. My fiction is suspenseful, romantic, active: to stem the flow with a stodge of travelogue material would be a huge mistake - which isn't to say I don't commit such blunders! Usually then I spend a significant proportion of the next day taking out what I put in - a task which often inspires me to try even harder as I aim to get the most out of what I really love doing: writing.

(The Roman bikini picture is from the Villa del Casale, Piazza Armerina, Sicily (source: Wikimedia Commons (public domain).)

Monday, November 23, 2009

Research v Testimony

I love to talk to people and hear their stories. Research is important to get the facts, but there is nothing like personal testimony to add feeling and realism to your writing.
There is a down side.

First, you have to assume the person is telling the truth. Then you have to assume he is remembering the facts right. One patient I have always gets sympathy by claiming " I was injured in Nam"
t is true, he was injured in Vietnam, after he stole a jeep, got drunk and ran it into a tree.

When dealing with personal testimony, you deal with faulty memory, mixed facts and slanted information.

One client told me about being AWOL when Pearl Harbor was bombed. He met a woman and stayed the night at her place instead of going back to the Arizona. The act of rebellion saved his life, but left him with survivor guilt.
I can't think of a reason why he would lie about this. when gathering personal testimony it is important to weigh the facts with what is possible on an individual basis.

Even if the information isn't 100% accurate, opinions enrich the characters.
Canisters of mustard gas was sunk into the ocean after WWI. It was the opinion of one man that the canisters are breaking open and this is why we have such a problem with red tide.
Possible? The mustard gas indeed affected breathing as does red tide. Is it caused by a contaminate or is it naturally occurring?

One subject I couldn't resist asking my patients was how dating was different fifty years ago as opposed to now. History will tell you attitudes changed because of birth control and the sexual revolution, but I will never forget the sadness in my patients eyes when she took my hand and explained how women have hurt themselves over the years.

she explained how romance was bled from courtship. Sex was a stagnant act, something to do when there was nothing on the TV. commitment has flown away on the breeze because couples no longer take the time to build a relationship. They want it all too fast, and love is something that can't be rushed.
she felt genuine sympathy for the new generation of women, because in a desire to be equal, to be strong, we abandoned the joy of being feminine.

Men instinctively care for us, they protect us. In our struggle to be more like them, we forgot who we are and made it more confusing to deal with us. In 1912, the Titanic sank. It was not debated, women and children were given the life boats. men accepted death with courage and dignity, certain they were acting with honor.

In 2000 men answered a questionnaire, many would not be willing to give a woman his seat on the life boat. many see no problem with striking a woman, especially if she hits first.

Maybe she is old fashioned and maybe the circumstances vary person to person. Research gives the facts, but testimony pumps the blood into the heart.
As writers, its up to us to strike a balance.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Notes from the desk of a new author.

Well the first thing I should address is how long can you call yourself "new"? I've been writing for years, but this is the first year I've actually been published. Since the January release of my first title 'The Millionaire's Fake Fiancee' I've had 4 other titles released and contracted 3 more. So for all intents and purposes I'm still new and learning my way around publishing, which leads me to the notes piled around my desk.

For aspiring and new authors like me there are so many questions and not enough answers. Should I go the traditional route? Is e-publishing the way for me? To agent or not to agent? How do authors promote their books? How do you protect yourself from piracy?

To begin with you have to think of writing like any other craft. If you've never picked up a needle and thread making a beautiful intricate quilt might seems like an impossible feat. And if you've never held a brush before would really expect to become the next Picaso? Writing can be viewed much the same way. For an aspiring or new author reading the so called 'rules' and looking at an 80,000 word count goal it can seem overwhelming. But when you break things down it doesn't feel so formidable.

Being new to publishing myself I've spent some time dwelling on the questions

above and other bouncing around in my cluttered mind. So here is what I've learned so far.

1.) Only you can decide which publishing road to take.
2.) I'm still undecided on the agent question.
3.) Rules can be broken if done right.
4.) Promotion is still a wonder to me.

I will say that when I was reasearching publishers and the differences between print and e-publishing (besides the obvious of course)one of the most reoccuring comment I heard was read, a lot. Especially from the publishing houses you intend to submit to. this will help you determine if your voice fits in with their style. Since I'm and avid reader I've figured I'm set there.

So onto the second comment I kept hearing. Write what you know. So my goal has been to find ways to merge what I know with what I love. Hence the creation of my Brazen Sister Series. Coming from a big family I decided to show readers how much fub and annoying growing up with siblings can be. In this case 6 sisters are trying to remodel the family's lodge and cabins and switch their clientel from sportsmen to people looking for a romantic getaway in the woods with no interuptions. They don't expect the men who come along so it adds twists and turns none of them are ready for.

I admit I've broken some of those rules I've read so much about. One of the things I like being about a writer is I get to make all the decsions. Being able to choose how the characters react is important to the flow of the story, but I'm the one directing them. not neccesarily in the way most people might expect or want, but the one thing growing up in big family has taught me was to expect the unexpected.

So with my goal of adding what I know to my writing I now have a new goal.


More next month on that subject.

Rita Sawyer
Giving You It All
Romance Passion Laughter

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Five Reasons to Love Revisions

Writing is fun but revising what you’ve written…let’s just say it can be a major pain the butt. But it also has it pluses. I once hated the revising part of creating a book but here are five reasons why I’ve embraced it.

View Your Work From a New Perspective
I’ll make a confession right here, when I was a new writer I never listened to this sage advice. The one about not starting on your second draft for at least two weeks after you’ve finished your manuscript. Now I’ve gone to the extreme and wait at least a month until I take a second look. When I open the file and start to read it’s almost as if someone else wrote the work. I look at it from a different perspective and with a more critical eye.

You Become a Better Writer
You’re writing should improve with not only with each book you write but each draft you create. Each revision you tackle makes you a stronger writer. If you don’t believe me, read something you penned a year ago. Yes, even a published book or story, and tell me what you think. If you’re like me you’ll feel some embarrassment that you actually used to write like that.

A Different and Better Story Might Emerge
When you get to the revision stage of your manuscript you might realize you’re writing the wrong type of story. Maybe you intended it to be a romance, but it’s taken on a whole new life and now it could be a top rate mystery. Or you might realize you’re writing in the wrong POV.

You Don’t Waste Time
Revision is oftentimes a reality check. Did you have some doubts about the story while you were writing? On the second draft you know this one’s not going to make it and you move on to something more worthwhile and productive.

It Means You’re A Working Writer
Lots of people say they’re going to write a book, few actually do. If you get to the revision stage of the manuscript, congratulations, you’ve written a book!

Susan Palmquist is a freelance writer and author. Her fourth novel, Sleeping with Fairies will be released by Lyrical Press on December 21st, 2009. Her short mystery story, The Bake Sale Caper will be published by Woman’s World magazine on December 12th. She’s currently working on two contemporary romances and two historical novellas. Find out more about Susan and her writing at

Monday, November 16, 2009

Stephen King: what the master of horror teaches about romance

I got busted reading "Carrie" in science class. I trembled with the thought of surviving a pandemic with "The Stand."

Stephen King: A romantic hero? Maybe atypical but absolutely! Let’s look at why:
Stephen knows loss. He grew up with an absentee father and a mother who took charge, a woman who made her living working hard and caring for her sons. She tended to her children's mental and spiritual health as well as caring for her extended family. A woman who provided an inspiration of strength for those who knew her. She died far too young. A loss a young man shouldn't have to face, but her strength was passed on to her children. instead of blaming the fates, they carried on.

His modest background gave him sensitivity to the working class and some vital insight about the human condition.
Stephen went to college He worked his way through school as a janitor.
It was in college Stephen met Tabitha. As writers they connected.He admired her for her intelligence and creativity, as she is a writer as well. It was Tabitha who rescued "Carrie" from the trash and demanded her husband finish the manuscript. He was smart enough to listen to his wife, and finished the work.

He has loved and dedicated his life to his lady, Tabitha, his college sweetheart. Together they’ve faced and overcome his drug addiction and the physical challenges that came from a severe motor vehicle accident.
He has been a father to his children for the long haul.

He has overcome personal tragedy and offered support to budding authors with his "On writing" book.He fought a drug addiction during his marriage. It takes courage to admit you have a problem and to ask for help. It is even more courageous to make private pain public so others can be inspired to seek help too, even though doing this gives the mean spirited an easy target.
Stephen was given another horrific challenge when he was hit by a car. Months in physical therapy allowed him to walk again, but the steps were slow, a grueling struggle to heal. Despite the damage to his body Stephen didn’t fall into despair. The self is the greatest enemy, the love of his family his greatest asset. Tabitha was with him every step of the way, no matter how trying.

Horror is all around us. We see the evils humans do; it drags us into emotional mire. Hearing the news is enough to make us want to hide under our beds or just get through the day so we can make it back to the sanctuary of our homes. Through it all love makes it bearable, infusing us with the power to look evil in its face and claim victory. The master of horror, by his own strength and perseverance is the model of a true hero.

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