On the Red Clay Hills

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I’m hard at work on the next MacLachlainn story … meaning, my fingers are typing sporadically, but in between the typing bouts my mind is lost in the writing daydream. Like each of the other MacLachlainn stories, I’m also spending an inordinate amount of time reading and researching the time and place where the story takes place.

When I write a contemporary story, there’s a minimal amount of research I have to do to make sure the story facts are accurately portrayed. After all, I’ve lived through this time period myself … I know what things are like. Except for specialized knowledge about places and products, I pretty much know enough to be accurate.

Not so when I write stories set in the past. I have to glean knowledge and understanding by reading materials written by those who either lived in those times or have studied them. And so my historical novels take much, much longer to research/write. (You should SEE the stack of books in my office!)

I’ve been studying the time period for this novel, which will be titled “On the Red Clay Hills,” for over two years now. There’s still a lot I need to know, so I’ll keep doing research even as I write.

So … it may take me a while to get to “The End” of this story, but … I’m on my way!

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Writing…again

Georgia Guidestones

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Some writers plot. Some don’t. I happen to belong to the latter category.

When I begin a novel, sometimes I have a vague impression of where I’d like it to go. At other times, not so much.

And another thing. Some writers can determine what they will write. Like, they may decide, “THIS time, I’m gonna write a romance.” Wish I could do that. When I started tappa-tapping the keys a couple of weeks ago, I DID decide I was gonna write a romance. Unfortunately for me, my fingers didn’t get the message.

Now, I’m several thousand words into what promises to be yet another thriller: Scribbles II, sequel to Scribbles.

Have you ever heard of the Georgia Guidestones? AKA, American Stonehenge? When I learned about them a couple of years ago, they crept into the novel I was writing at the time…but they didn’t fit. Red pencil time. I cut them because they didn’t fit that story. But I saved what I’d written about them, thinking one day, some day, maybe, they’d be part of another story.

So. When I started typing recently, expecting a romance to magically appear on my computer monitor, imagine my surprise when I saw the indicators that the Georgia Guidestones were on the horizon in the developing story.

Oh, well. I suppose I have to bow to the inevitable. This story is gonna write itself, and apparently, those granite blocks standing on end in Elbert County, Georgia, with their creepy engraved message, will be part of it.

Let the tappa-tapping continue.

…about The Sands of Santa Rosa.

I’m about half-way through what I hope will be the final edit of The Sands of Santa Rosa. And I decided to do something I’ve not done before: give folks a glimmer into how one of my stories came to be. (That’s assuming, of course, that anyone has any interest in knowing.)

Last year when I attended the Pierre Chastain Family Association Reunion in Dalton, Georgia (my hometown), several of my Chastain relatives I met there asked why none of my books featured a Chastain character. I decided that the main character of my next novel would be a Chastain.
And in October, with the oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico being a main topic of conversation here on the Gulf Coast, a cousin’s husband off-handedly said I should write a novel about an oil spill.
Ok, I thought. I’ll do that.
NaNoWriMo was looming, and I already had a character (Tilmon Lamont “Cotton” Chastain) and a setting/situation (oil spill in the Gulf). Now I needed a title.
Folks around here have told me they like reading the stories that are set in our local area, and On Berryhill Road is my best seller at festivals and book signings. So, I wanted a title that would anchor the story here. Since Santa Rosa Island is our barrier island fronting the Gulf, I thought it would be nice to use “Santa Rosa” as part of the title, and since the beach sands are impacted by things like oil spills, the title became The Sands of Santa Rosa.
All cut and dried and ready to go, right? Um, not so fast.
As usually happens when I write, what happens in my stories surprises me more than my readers. And this story was no exception.
I had a character, I had a setting/situation, and I had a title that I THOUGHT I knew the meaning of. But I was wrong.
As I wrote a scene where I followed Cotton Chastain onto the Santa Rosa Island beach at Navarre, suddenly, out of nowhere, a little girl popped up and said to him, “What you doing, mister?”
The little girl’s name? Sara Sands.

…about the language.

It should be a given that writers, like other craftsmen, should know how to use the tools of their trade: words.

It should be a given, but it isn’t.

In my own work, I sometimes find grammatical errors, misspellings and other evidence of lack of expertise with the language. And that is so unnecessary.

Books abound which contain advice and instruction on proper grammar. And dictionaries, both print and online versions, are readily available to help the writer with spelling and with selection of the proper word to use in a given instance. (Spellcheckers are of some help, but they cannot always determine which word is appropriate, i.e., “there,” “their,” or “they’re,” and are, therefore, unreliable.)

Since one of the first pieces of advice editors give regarding submissions is, “Make sure your manuscript is free of typos, misspellings and grammatical mistakes,” one would think writers would make working to acquire proficiency with the language a number one priority.

One would think so, but……

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…about research.

Write what you know, they say.

But what if the story you are burning to tell is set in a place where you have never been? Or in a time not your own? What if you don’t “know” the location or time period?

The answer to your dilemma is: research.

And while the research can provide valuable knowledge of the details you’ll need to include to make your story believable, it will also give you an opportunity to immerse yourself in the “world” of which you will be writing, to get to know the people of that time and place, to understand something of how they lived and what they did. And, perhaps, gain some insight into how they may have felt and what they may have thought. Which can lend an authenticity to your writing.

The amount of research necessary to write “High on a Mountain” seemed daunting when I started. But I found that the learning became an adventure in itself.

Now that the story has been finished, I’m beginning to delve again into the discovery of facts about another time and place and people, to prepare myself so that I can write the sequel to Ailean’s story. But this time, I know what an adventure the research can be, and I’m diving into it joyfully, whole-heartedly.

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…about the writer’s conference.

I began writing this blog post while at the conference. And, yes, I brought my laptop with me to the conference. (My laptop and the motel’s wireless made it easy to feed my computer/internet addiction and keep the cybermonkey on my back happy.)

The conference was great — there were great speakers, it was great meeting fellow writers and it was a great opportunity to pitch my novel to editors and literary agents (who, it turns out, are such nice folks, kind and gracious). If you are a writer and haven’t attended a writers’ conference, I recommend doing so.

I approached my pitches with fear and trembling, but, surprise, I received requests for synopses/sample chapters.

To say that I am bowled over is the understatement of the year. I am stoked. I am excited, delighted, elated, and exhilarated (check your thesaurus for other synonyms of the word “exhilarate” if these words I’ve chosen don’t paint a clear picture for you). And I say a big “THANK YOU” to my friends who prayed for my success this weekend.