Writers Groups Matter

Writing is often said to be a lonely business, and the writing part surely is. You can’t have a group of people hanging around while you’re hunting and pecking your way to brilliance. What I do know, though, is that my writing has vastly improved since I got out of my cave once in a while.

Just this week, I attended two different writers groups, and for very different reasons. On Saturday, I was asked to read my short story, On the Rail, at the launch of Rivulets 27. That’s the 2015 version of the anthology put out by the Naperville Writers Group each year.

Reading On the Rail at the 2015 Rivulets launch.
Reading On the Rail at the 2015 Rivulets launch. That face is dramatizing a scene, not realizing what I actually wrote.

 

Then on Wednesday night I attended a new group–Author, Author, at the Wheaton library. I was invited by my friend and colleague Jerilyn Willin. It was focused on how to actually sell more books.

 

What do writers groups do for me?

 

  • They get me out of the house. I run my company from home, and cabin fever is a very real and dangerous thing. In order to prevent turning into Jack Nicholson from the Shining, I need to get out among human beings.
  • I get to read other people’s work, including things I would never voluntarily read. I’ve probably read more poetry in the last year than in the previous 30. Romance novels? Superhero fan fiction? Really awful drivel that should never be inflicted on innocent human beings? Really good work from people who are hiding their lights under giant bushels? Yup, yup, yup and yup.
  • I’m learning how to proof and edit, and see my own mistakes reflected in glorious, painful technicolor in my critiques of others.
  • I get feedback from people who aren’t related to me or have a vested interest in soothing my ego. The Count of the Sahara benefited greatly from the feedback of strangers or at least people who don’t live with me. Next week they’ll get the first peek at my new novel, The Horns of Hattin.
  • This is not a charitable thought, but here it is: I am pretty good. I know this because I see what else is out there. My work is better than a lot of people’s (which is good to know) and not nearly as good as some (which is humbling, but also really good to know.)
  • I learn I am not alone in trying to sell my work…. making money from a book is WAY harder than actually writing it,and takes more work. I need to learn all I can. Yes, Erik and the BookFolks do a nice job, but ultimately authors sell their work.
  • There are other people out there (some crazier, some saner) who understand what it is to be a writer.

    NWG member and darned fine writer won a copy of The Count of the Sahara. Can't wait for his feedback.
    NWG member and darned fine writer won a copy of The Count of the Sahara. Can’t wait for his feedback.

Even if you don’t go often, meeting other writers, getting feedback and lending an empathetic ear are important to the author’s journey.

Besides, when you drink in a group, you’re social. When you drink alone it’s just kinda sad.

Jacqueline Beard and a Suffragette Murder Mystery

Sometimes it’s hard to believe that our great grandmothers had to fight for the right to vote, and that meant fight. Those Suffragettes were some bad-ass women, and God bless’em for it. British author Jacqueline Beard has written a novel that captures the tension of that time, and combines it with a murder mystery to paint a picture of the beginning and end of the Victorian age.

So what’s the Jacqueline Beard story?

Jacqueline Beard, author of Vote for Murder
Jacqueline Beard, author of Vote for Murder

 

I’m a writer and genealogist, and have traced my family back to 1517 in the county of Suffolk in England.  I now live in the beautiful Cotswolds in Gloucestershire but visit Suffolk often. I am married with two children and a delinquent border terrier.

So give us a quick idea of what your book’s about.

Vote for Murder is a tale of two murders.  A census night evasion has been planned in Ipswich following years of fruitless campaigning which left the suffragettes no closer to gaining the vote.  When Louisa Russell finds an old diary, it leads to revelations about a Victorian Suffolk murderess. Louisa finds herself involved in suffragette protests while investigating two horrific murders – and the murderer is getting too close for comfort.

What is it about that time frame–actually frames, since you’re going back and forth– that intrigues you?

Where to start!  Victorian murderess Mary Cage appears in my own family tree.  She confessed to wicked, immoral behavior but despite all the evidence against her, she always denied murdering her husband.  Mary lived in abject poverty in a society where the only help for the destitute was the workhouse.  I wanted to get under her skin to work out how much the poverty contributed to her depravity.

The second murder involved a family of suffragists.  My genealogy also includes middle class suffragists Ada and Bessie Ridley who had close connections to Millicent Fawcett, leader of the National Union of Women’s Suffrage Societies.  I find the various factions of the suffragette movement fascinating; Millicent Fawcett’s mainly peaceful suffragists on the one hand and Emmeline Pankhurst’s militant suffragettes on the other.  My book is set in 1911 when many suffragists throughout the UK hid themselves away to avoid the 1911 census.  It was a peaceful protest but it wasn’t long before British suffragettes were chaining themselves to railings, performing acts of vandalism and breaking the law where they felt it necessary. Vote for murder contrasts the poverty of the 1851 murder with the relative wealth of the families in the 1911 murder.  Interestingly there’s a Meryl Streep film coming out shortly called Suffragette.  I will be first in the queue to see this at the cinema!

What’s your favorite scene in the book?

Vote for Murder covers two fascinating eras of British history
Vote for Murder covers two fascinating eras of British history

It’s not so much a scene, as a change of perspective.  The book is written in three voices but the one I enjoyed writing the most was that of Mary Cage as she described, in her own words, the events that led her to the gallows, writing her personality to alter according to events.  It was interesting to use the language and words prevalent in Victorian times and there were several colloquialisms peculiar to Suffolk that I was able to insert for authenticity.  I researched real newspaper extracts of the murder and kept faithfully to the story while developing Mary’s fictional character.

 

Vote for Murder can be found at Amazon.co.uk and Amazon.com and in paperback at Lulu.com

Jacqueline’s Blog:        https://jacquelinebeardwriter.wordpress.com/

Twitter:   @Jacquibwriter

Facebook:  https://www.facebook.com/VFM1851

 

 

Short Story: On the Rail

Every year, the Naperville Writers Group publishes an anthology of members’ works called “Rivulets.” This story will be in the 2015 version, “Rivulets 27,” due out October 3. You can join us for the launch party. Click here for details.

It began as a writing exercise: Could I capture everything that goes through someone’s mind during just the 2 minutes of a horse race? I leave it up to you whether I’ve succeeded. Please enjoy.

Can't imagine where the idea for a story featuring a 50-ish , slightly jaded, cigar-smoking railbird came from....
Can’t imagine where the idea for a story featuring a 50-ish , slightly jaded, cigar-smoking railbird came from….

On the Rail

     “And they’re off, and Billy’s Buddy takes the lead off the rail followed by Pleazpleazpleaz, Penzance Pirate and BarTab…”

I love to hang over the rail and lean in just so I can feel them passing by, the vibrations running through the ground, along the rail and up my arms. God I love this game.

Broke even so far but this is the race, I can feel it in my bones…. One and four. That’s the exacta. Four’s the favorite, what’s the name… oh yeah, what’s it say on the ticket, Billy’s Buddy, and he looks like chalk—only real horse in the race. Runs like a champ on the outside, with that white paint sploosh on his forehead and the jock in all blue silks and already up by a nose. Velasquez—top jockey at the track so he gets the best rides, no secret there.  Best riders, best rides, should be an easy winner against these dogs. Can’t make any money with favorites though.

Let’s check the slip, one and four for the exacta. Oh, Jesus, what’s the name of that…. RoundtheHorn, and I can get a really good look at the nag because he’s all by himself at the back of the pack. COME ON ALREADY, MOVE IT. Gimme a little love here for crying out loud.

     “At the quarter pole, it’s Billy’s Buddy, Perfect Pitch a length back, with Bar Tab running on the outside…”

      I can’t hear the rest because the perky little cheerleader in the floppy-ass hat with the, what is that a peacock feather? It ain’t Derby Day little girl, stop screaming. “Come on Bar Tab”, Sweet Jesus H Christ on a crooked crutch what is she six years old? I swear she just called him a “horsey”.  Look at her, maybe twenty one, and all her brains inside her sweater. And that hipster boyfriend of hers, what a piece of work he is, a real mook.

And RoundtheHorn trails going into the quarter pole…”

Come on, pick it up. It’s okay, I have’m boxed. Four horse can win long as one horse comes second… doesn’t pay as much but RoundtheHorn’s fifteen to one, so that’s four fifty plus the exacta…. We hit and it’s a mortgage payment. Make a move you frickin’ nag….

Look at that little dipshit she’s with. No one under forty should smoke cigars, it makes the little frat boy SOB look like he’s wearing his daddy’s clothes. Playing grownup and thinks he looks like Sinatra in that hat. Yeah, maybe Frank Junior. Jeez, I got concert T shirts older than this punk. And daddy’s got money, sure as God made little green apples. Why else would a little hottie like that…

Come on, one horse, you’re supposed to be a stalker. ‘Course so was Ted Bundy and look how that worked out….

Oh hell, they’re behind the scoreboard, check the screen. Those little circles with the numbers on them are moving around, changing position except for one… that little green circle with the 1 on it is still behind everyone else. You’re supposed to be a closer…. Coffee’s for closers, can I get you an espresso, you stupid can of dog food? Make a move damn you!

     “And off the turn, it’s Billy’s Buddy with Bar Tab two lengths back, Penzance Pirate and Perfect Pitch”

I can’t hear the announcer for that girl screaming and bouncing around. She picked him ‘cause she liked the name. Well of course she did.  And she’s proud of it, too. Sure didn’t look at his PP, and who bets a grey horse? Freakin’ amateur night. Didn’t daddy teach her nothing?

This is a numbers game, it’s science, and the numbers say he likes to close so make a move, Jose, come on, let him go. Let’s see, so Four horse wins and Round the Horn can comes second if he actually makes a FREAKING MOVE BEFORE DINNER.  Numbers don’t lie, he ran a hell of a final quarter last time out. I can’t read my form right now ‘cause it’s all crumpled up in my fist and I’m beating it on the railing. Yeah, that’ll make him run faster, you dumbass.

It’s Billy’s Buddy by a length, Penzance Pirate and Bar Tab with Booboo Kitty and RoundtheHorn moving on the outside…”

Come on Four you gotta hold on. I knew that jockey let you go too fast, you shouldn’t be front running… Velasquez knows better than that. Okay but one horse is making his move come on baby, that’s it… grind it, grind it….. Come on, one and four, one and four…..

She just won’t shut up, will she? And look at the way she looks at him. She wins on that little two dollar bet of hers and he’s in for a hell of a night. Hardly fair but that’s life, right? I could win the Triple Crown three times at ninety to one and never get a chick like that. Hell, even when I was hot Sheila never gave a…..

Alright about time, he made a move. The outside’s clear. Attaboy, what’s he sitting now, third? COMEON….

And at the last turn, it’s Billy’s Buddy, BarTab and Round the Horn, followed by Penzance Pirate and BoobooKitty”

Make a move, make a move. Four horse, what are you doing? You can’t let up for Chrissakes . I know you got something left in the tank. Hold off that gray piece of….

      “It’s BarTab and Billy’s Buddy, Billy’s Buddy and Bar Tab, neck and neck with RoundtheHorn and Penzance Pirate as they near the finish line…”

Come on, one and four, four and one I don’t care just finish it. Oh honey, give it a rest, your horse hasn’t got a….

And it’s BarTab, with Billy’s Buddy and RoundtheHorn, followed by BoobooKitty, Penzance Pirate…..”

Is there a challenge?  Let there be a challenge. Course not, God hates me, always has. Why toss me a bone now?  Place and Show isn’t good for a damned thing.  Crap, shouldn’t litter, I’ll drop it in the basket on my way to the window.

Sweet Jesus, what’s she gonna suck his face off? Let him breathe babygirl, he might need the oxygen later. And what’d she win, like nine bucks? What would she do to him if she hit a real long shot?  Kid wouldn’t live to tell the tale.

Second and third…beat by a…’cause she liked the name…. Christ, amateurs are ruining this game.

Okay who’s up in the fifth?

You can find my new novel, The Count of the Sahara at my publisher’s website or at Amazon.com

Alex Gough and the Bandits of Rome

So what is it about ancient Rome that has people all a flutter? It seems like the new hot topic in Historical Fiction is the Roman Empire. I will bet a quarter of the indie writers I connect with are writing about that particular period in time. And it’s not just fiction. My buddy Cameron Reilly’s Life of Caesar” podcast is insanely popular and a lot of fun.

 

Alex Gough is rockin' in the Roman Empire.
Alex Gough is rockin’ in the Roman Empire.

A new author to the field, writing only for Kindle at the moment, is Alex Gough from the UK. The latest in his Roman series is “Bandits of Rome.”

Oh, and those aren’t typos, he’s British. The language is English, deal with it……

Hi Alex. In a nutshell, what’s the new book about? 

Carbo (the hero of the series) and his loved ones leave Rome for the sleepy Italian countryside, desperate to recover from their recent traumas. But a chance encounter with locally notorious masked bandits leads to a devastating outcome. Carbo has to fight his own demons and an evil conspiracy to save himself and his friends, and avenge his loss.

Bandits of Rome, the sequel to the number one bestselling novel Watchmen of Rome, follows Carbo as he plunges from happiness to despair, from the Italian countryside to the lead mines of Sicily. Will Carbo ever find the peace he craves?

Good cliffhanger question. So what is it about Ancient Rome that is so intriguing? Seems like a lot of British writers are focusing on it- it’s becoming the new “Arthuriana.”

I’ve always had an interest in Ancient Rome, which has grown deeper the more I have found out. They were a civilisation of huge contrasts. They had mighty

Bandits of Rome is the third in his series.
Bandits of Rome is the third in his series.

armies, a huge Empire, philosophy, art and architecture. They also had terrible cruelty and awful poverty. I am fascinated by the ordinary people of the Roman Empire who had to survive in the shadows of the magnificent buildings. My hero, Carbo, is a traumatised war veteran, trying to find peace, and consistently failing. He has to overcome his own inner demons, as well as his prejudices, to fight for what is important.

A completely unfair question to ask an author; what’s your favorite scene in the book?

One favourite scene is too spoiler-heavy to describe but is full of emotion, especially if you have read the first book, Watchmen of Rome. Another favourite part involves Carbo being sent to the lead mines as a slave, and I try to describe the horror of the existence of a Roman mine slave.

Bandits of Rome, and all his books are available on Amazon UK and on Amazon.com, depending on how you want to spend your money.

Speaking of spending money, my novel The Count of the Sahara is now available on Kindle and Paperback from TheBookFolks.com

Holding Your Baby- The Count of the Sahara in Paperback

Nothing like holding an old-fashioned hard copy in your hands
Nothing like holding an old-fashioned hard copy in your hands

There is nothing like the feeling of holding a hard copy of your book in your hand for the first time. This is especially true in the case of my first novel, The Count of the Sahara.

I have published a number of books (you can see the whole list here) but until now, something’s been missing. I always felt in my heart that to be a “real writer” you had to have a novel published. And not just published, but published by someone who wasn’t you.

Thanks to the folks at The Book Folks, the dream has come true. My first novel, published by someone with a purely commercial interest in the works, and available to everyone is now out for the world to gaze in awe… and to take shots at.

Anyone who has ever been published knows that holding your book in your hand for the first time is an emotional experience, one that Kindle books–much as I love reading them–can’t match.

Today, I am a real author. Now to see if the world thinks my baby is ugly….

 

 

Launch Party for Rivulets- Naperville Writers Group

I’m thrilled that my short story “On the Rail” is going to be included in this years anthology from the Naperville Writers Group. Each year they get samples of writing from the membership and bind them in a paperback, called Rivulets.

This year is Rivulets 27. The launch will be held at the Naperville Library, 95th St

Branch on Saturday October 3 from 1-4:30. Join us for readings, prizes, and

This year's Rivulets anthology from the Naperville Writers Grou
This year’s Rivulets anthology from the Naperville Writers Group

getting to know some of the excellent local talent.

ADDRESS

3015 Cedar Glade Dr

Naperville, IL 60564

 

Hope to see you there. If you like what you see, come join us  on Wednesday evenings. There’s some great talent in the group.

7 Days in July- Revisiting the Civil War with Kenneth A Griffiths

I may be the only person in America not obsessed with the Civil War, but a good story is a good story. 7 Days in July is a new work from Kennneth A Griffiths. I interviewed him about the book and what inspired it.

So what’s the Ken Griffiths story?

KAG Photo 001 (1)
Ken A Griffiths , author of 7 Days in July

Born in Iowa, raised in central Florida, military school for 2 years in Atlanta, Florida State University, accepted into US Army Judge Advocate General’s Corps for many years. I declined selection for early promotion to Major, left active duty.  Hired by The Coca-Cola Company, passed Ga. bar exam, held 5 legal/management positions over the

next 11 years, resigned and became a commercial real estate broker first with a large national company , then a company in which I was a founder.  Remained in Army Reserves and retired as a Colonel. I’m married, three adult children and 4 granddaughters, all of whom are in or near Atlanta.

In a nutshell, what’s the story of 7 Days in July?
This book tells the story of the Battle of Atlanta during the Civil War

The book, “Seven Days In July” tells the story of the 7 days leading up to and including July 22, 1864, on which “the Battle of Atlanta” took place.  The history is as good as I could make it and,  I used fiction, hopefully informed, to illuminate otherwise dark, unknowable corners of history.  The story is balanced and is seen and told by men on both sides and at different levels of rank.  An effort was made to understand motivation as well as behavior.  Reader’s comments indicate some success in that regard.

Especially when it comes to the American Civil War, everyone has their own motivation for writing. What’s yours?
When I was 10 or so years old my paternal grandfather died.  As part of his estate, a box arrived at our house containing 2 civil war swords, a double barreled shotgun, a telescope, a drinking cup and a likeness of a man in uniform.  Additionally a 10 volume set of the “Photographic History of the Civil War” was in the box.  I had never seen a sword, knew nothing of Captain Henry H. Griffiths and had never seen photographs like those contained in the books.  My Dad served in WWII but never spoke of it, we were a non-warlike family, these things from the box were the stuff of fancy to a boy of 10.  These material items planted  an interest in family, genealogy, reading, history, patriotism and the law.  I discovered Captain Griffiths, my great grandfather, had fought in the Atlanta campaign and I set out to discover where he and the First Iowa Battery were located during the summer of 1864.  He makes an appearance or two in the book and served as a catalyst and inspiration for the story but it is not his story in any meaningful way.
Without giving away spoilers, what’s a favorite scene in the book?
My favorite is a fictional account of the death of Confederate General and division commander, William Walker.  The death of fiery, old Walker may well have been a costly turning point for the south as the attack by Hardee’s Corps jumps off.
Where can people find your work and your book?
You can find me and the book at Amazon or on the Indigo River Publishing web site at Seven Days in July | Kenneth A. Griffiths

Seamus O’Griffin and the Galloglass Series

Sometimes we read history to learn deep lessons about mankind and where we’re going as a people. Sometimes you just want hacking and cleaving and plenty of good old fashioned smiting. That’s where Seamus O’Griffin (and if that’s not one of the coolest writer names ever, I don’t know what is) and his Gallowglass series comes in.

It’s been a while since I just devoured a series like this. It’s the Medieval version of a beach read; lots of swords hacking, Saracens attacking and mysterious beautiful women. I was thrilled when he agreed to be interviewed for this little blog of mine.

So, what’s the Gallowglass series about?

The Gallowglass series is like a beach read only bloodier
The Gallowglass series is like a beach read only bloodier

 

The Gallowglass series follows the life and times of Ronan Mac Alasdair from a hot-headed, imprudent young man on the island of Islay to a hard bitten, professional soldier of Ireland and the isles; a Galloglass (yes you can look up what it means by clicking here, and yes, it is spelled both ways). The first three books in the series cover his early days as a Templar, his rise within the Order and his part in the siege and fall of Acre in 1291. The next books in the series will cover his return to the Isles and his rise as a Galloglass.

We share a fascination with the Crusades and swords and all kinds of “guy stuff.” Where’d that come from?

I have always been fascinated with the Middle Ages. I read a novel as a kid, I don’t remember its title, about the Siege of Malta, and I have been hooked ever since. Likewise, I had read about galloglasses and their dominance as professional soldiers throughout Ireland and the Scottish Isles for roughly four hundred years and thought that there was definitely a story there, one that few people had written about.

Without spoilers, what’s your favorite scene?

I don’t necessarily have one particular scene in the first three books that stands out as my favorite but I can tell you that I thoroughly enjoyed writing The Fall of Acre from beginning to end.

Seamus O'Griffin better hurry up, we're waiting for more.
Seamus O’Griffin better hurry up, we’re waiting for more.

I’m actually envious of the way you sustained the battle scene for basically a whole book, and since it’s called The Fall of Acre it’s not exactly a spoiler, is it? Where can readers find you?

They can find my books on Amazon or Smashwords.

Okay, well we’re waiting for the next book in the series, so quit talking to me and get back to work!

The Opinions of the Characters Are Not Necessarily Those of the Management

When the characters in your book say something despicable, stupid or “politically incorrect,” does that mean that the author is a racist, an idiot or a bad human being? This has been the topic of conversation, some of it fairly heated, at my writer’s group lately.

The cover of The Count of the Sahara available now on Kindle
The cover of The Count of the Sahara available now on Kindle

Historical fiction is particularly susceptible to this kind of discussion, because the characters must necessarily reflect the ethics and flavor of the time. My novel, The Count of the Sahara, takes place in the 1920s. This was a long time ago, and many attitudes have changed. Things that people said and believed then may seem outdated, wrong or even awful to us today. Don’t believe me? Get your Great-Grandma drunk and bring up the topic of race…. try not to be too scandalized by what comes out of her mouth–remember she’s old.

One of the few disagreements with Erik, my editor at TheBookFolks.com (a thousand blessings on his house and camels) was over just such a scene. Willy, a naive 19 year old German-American kid from Milwaukee walks up to the front desk and in his mind tries to place the ethnicity of the desk clerk.  In the original draft,  he looks at the slicked back hair and prominent nose and thinks he “must be a Jew or a Hungarian or something.”  The points I was making were a) in the cities of early 20th Century America, racial identity was just part of the landscape so this was the way Willy would think and b) the big dummy wasn’t anti-Semitic, just curious about where the desk clerk was from and probably couldn’t tell the difference between a Jew and a Hungarian. It wasn’t a judgment, it was an observation.  It also wasn’t a hill I was prepared to die on. Did I mention I lost that argument?

We had a similar dust-up at the Naperville Writers Group over the use of the “N” word in someone’s writing. Does the use of a certain hot-button word in your fiction condone it? One of my fellow writers actually made a great distinction: if it’s inside quotation marks, or the narrator is clearly identified as a specific character, you can get away with it. If the narrator is “third person omniscient,” then that narrator is basically you. If your character says something hurtful or insensitive, that’s one thing. If “you” do, perhaps you should reconsider.

Maybe I’m a liberal wimp, but I actually cringe a little when one of my characters says something I disagree with. It’s not being a slave to “political correctness,”  I consider it common courtesy. Do I want to unintentionally cause offense to someone? I  stop and think twice before writing something that I think might be hurtful to a reader, even if that’s not my intention.

Probably, though, I’ll write it anyway because that is what the character would do in that time and place. I’m not a 19 year old, big city, immigrant kid, and I don’t think like one. When I’m writing that character though, he’s not me either.

Maybe all fiction should contain a disclaimer: “Warning, opinions of the characters are not necessarily those of the management.”

Or maybe readers can just lighten the hell up a bit. Both work for me.

 

Finding the Right Voice for Historical Characters

When I was writing The Count of the Sahara, the hard part was taking facts that were well known, but making the characters more than just a regurgitation of what was already known and their own writing. How do you make the dialogue real, and the people involved come alive?

The cover of The Count of the Sahara available now on Kindle
The cover of The Count of the Sahara available now on Kindle

As I explain in this interview on Lavinia Colins blog, I had one of those aha moments writers love to blab on and on about. You can read the interview here,  but basically the desert scenes between Alonzo Pond and Byron de Prorok came alive when I found the analogy: It was “Amadeus in the Desert.” Read the article and find out why.

I remember standing in the archives at the Logan Museum of Anthropology when I had the epiphany.  The Logan’s exhibit on this expedition is opening soon, and if you’re in the area check it out. Meanwhile,  you can read the article on Lavinia’s site.

Full disclosure, Lavinia is a fellow writer for our publisher, TheBookFolks and a very good writer of Arthurian fantasy.