Monthly Archives: June 2015

Reading Monday: What’s in your vacation tote?

130890640264ycmYMy family and I went to Charleston last week for our yearly vacation. We loaded all six of us into our minivan and traveled east to our destination. I’m fortunate enough to be able to read in a car. My husband and two of my children can’t read in the car because then they get carsick. So my husband often does the driving, and if I don’t fall asleep, I get to spend mile after mile reading. At least I read my books when I’m not mediating any arguments or reading to my five-year-olds. Most of the time, I tend to read romance novels or cozy mysteries. As a romance writer, I love reading all the different genres of romance: contemporary, historical, inspirational, and even the occasional paranormal. With my lifelong love of mysteries (I was hooked on mysteries the minute I opened the covers of a Trixie Belden novel), I love mysteries series, especially Carolyn Hart’s Annie and Max. Most people grab mysteries and romances when they head on vacation. I grab my presidential and celebrity biographies and hit the road.

This time I spent some marvelous hours in the car with Harry and Bess Truman in their quest to drive cross-country, thinking they’d have some anonymity now that they no longer lived in the White House. In his book Harry Truman’s Excellent Adventure, Matthew Algeo goes into great depth about why that was not the case. Everywhere they went, people mobbed them, wanting to shout “Hey, Harry” or get an autograph. Police chiefs held their breaths until the former president left their jurisdiction. In the days before former presidents were accorded Secret Service protection, they left their Secret Service detail at the White House. Many of the police chiefs where Truman visited would spare officers in order to protect him and Bess as they traveled in their 1953 Chrysler New Yorker.

My wonderful hubby also got to spend hours in the car listening to whole passages from the book as I recounted story after story to him. I’d tell him about people’s reactions when they realized that the man traveling with his wife and stopping at their family’s restaurant or hotel was no other than Harry Truman. I shared with him the passage about the rise of the modern highway system and with it, the advent of the hotel.

When my oldest son fell ill in the middle of the next to last night, my wonderful hubby and I debated whether to head home but decided to stay to give his stomach a chance to settle before a six-hour car ride. My hubby took the other three kids to Patriot’s Point while I wrote the last blog and finished reading Harry Truman’s Excellent Adventure. I missed my hubby when I read of the night Harry ate dinner at 21 in New York. Who else was at 21 that night? Thomas Dewey. The manager believed neither knew the other one was there that night thanks to some careful rearranging. In my hotel room, I finished the tale of Harry and Bess’ car trip. It was their last such trip. Over the course of the adventure, they came to realize people knew who they were, and people wanted to talk to them. Harry and Bess could not be any more anonymous than Dwight and Mamie Eisenhower.

Now that I’m home, I’m reading Marie Force’s All You Need Is Love and Jenna Harte’s Old Flames Never Die, a book that combines my two reading loves-mysteries and romance. On my next family vacation, I have a biography of Spencer Tracy that I can’t wait to open.

What about you? What do you like to read on vacation? Let me know.

Writing Wednesday: What I learned from a historical site

On vacation, my wonderful hubby and I try to plan family excursions, but sometimes we decide that there are certain activities better suited to older kids and some better suited to our younger ones. Yesterday was one of those days. In the past, I’ve taken our two youngest to our travel destination’s children’s museums while he’s taken our two oldest to someplace else. Yesterday, my wonderful hubby went to the children’s museum while I took Kath and MJ to the Aiken-Rhett house. The antebellum Charleston home was once home to a South Carolina governor. When you arrive at the house, you find it is an audio tour where you’re given a headset and a small MP3 player with a prerecorded tour. The very first stop is in a former storeroom that told the evolution of the house. When it was originally built, it had four rooms on each level. When Aiken bought the house, he built onto the structure, and then another wave of construction brought the house to its current size. At that moment, I realized old houses are a lot like books. The writer in me found her next blog.

Original house. The original house had several excellent features. On the tour, the MP3 player urged me to stop and look at the original foyer and the fine architectural molding near the ceiling. The fine detail was breathtaking in its preciseness and showed the original house’s beauty and grandeur.

So too a first draft has several good paragraphs that might make it to the final version. It has promise and has the barebones of the story. It is the structure in which the author retains what is good and beautiful in the story. There are times upon rereading the first draft where I every so often find a paragraph with the right amount of emotional resonance and description and realize I wrote something worth saving in that draft.

First addition. While the original house had some fine features, some beautiful trim, and elegant rooms, the new owner needed more space and added onto the house. The new owner changed the entrance, moving the front door to a different location. The new owners also changed the configuration of the main floor and built additional rooms.

Authors go through this type of work. I loved the first five pages of one of my books, but more than one trusted critique said I started too early, that the real action began after that. So I changed the “entrance” of the book and in so doing found myself resetting the tone. Now I began with the hero’s POV and delved right into the romance.

Authors also often find a need for a new configuration. Maybe a later chapter worked better earlier in the book. Maybe a whole chapter didn’t move the story forward and needed to go into the edit files (what’s what I call an edit file? It’s my files of everything I delete on subsequent drafts. I go back later and look at what I changed-was it a craft issue? An introspection issue? Not enough emotional resonance?).

And just as Aiken undoubtedly hired an architect and builders for the additions, so too do critique partners and beta readers come into play with this first addition. Sometimes my critique partner tells me I need more detail, I need to make finer adjustments in certain paragraphs. Then I go back to the drawing board and edit, edit, edit.

Final draft. In the 1850s, the owners commissioned an art gallery to be constructed for the house. They took care to make sure skylights were added to only allow natural light to flow onto the paintings, providing them with a backdrop of beauty. All the time, the owners had to be careful to maintain the structural integrity of the house and not make it look like the additions were not well thought out.

So too I have to make sure that any additional scenes flow well with the rest of the book. When I edit based on suggestions from critique partners, I have to try not to lose my voice in the changes. Sometimes I realize I thought I had something in there but find it wasn’t on the read-through. Then I do have to add it, and then go back for another read-through.

Today’s house. No longer is the Aiken-Rhett house a residence. There are no families living there, creating new memories, new chapters. Instead it is a historical site where people pay to tour and reflect on its past history: both the right and the wrong (because the house is located in Charleston, the owners did own slaves, and the audio presentation presents points for the listener to ponder-the living conditions, the cramped quarters, the hard work, the inherent wrongs of slavery.)

So too there is the moment when an author has to accept the book is finished and move onto the next book.

I love touring historical sites. It makes me think about the past, the present, and the future. So too I love writing. I love to think about my characters’ pasts, presents, and futures. What about you? Do you have any favorite historical sites that you’ve visited? Let me know.