04/20/17

The Third Book Takes a Sharp Right Turn

Writing a series is like when a dinner guest becomes a roommate. Writing the first book is like having a dinner party with exciting and stimulating guests, carefully planned menu, atmosphere – but the guests get to go home. And you get to put your feet up and relax. Writing a series, the guests stay permanently. You have to think of exciting things for them to do, vary the menu, invite different guests for them to play with.” — Rebecca Forster

The Lynton Series so far.

Book One and Book Two

Four books set in a fictional city in New Hampshire centered around the lives of a group of women brought together by fate. That was the plan. At the time, I had no idea how ambitious an undertaking it was for a first-time writer.

I am a series reader and have been since being introduced as a child to The Bobbsey Twins, Nancy Drew, and Trixie BeldenI love to follow the characters and I hate it when a series ends. I miss them.

Recently, I re-read (I think I already told you that I am a dedicated re-reader of long-standing) the Tradd Street Series written by Karen White. There are five books in the series and I am hoping she will keep going because I want to know more about what Mellie and Jack are doing. The series is set in Charleston. If you like ghosts and quirky characters, these books are a treat not to be missed.

This second time I read the books as a writer not as a reader and I learned a lot about what it takes to write a successful series. The biggest “Ah ha!” I had was the need to stay with the characters you start out with. In The Lynton Series this would be: Brid, Franny, Sofia, Neil and Brendan.

Maggie’s Girls, the story I have been writing (and fighting with) for the last year, doesn’t follow this rule. The story introduces a new main character along with her complicated family and friends. The usual Lynton ladies do make an appearance but only in supporting roles. Having read the Tradd Street Series again, along with readers often asking me what is happening with Franny and Nick, I realized this was not the right book to be number three in the series.

The wonderful thing about writing fiction is very little is ever completely lost. Writers smush things together and move them around or, worst case, shove them in a drawer. I intend to come back to Maggie’s Girls one day.

Book Three, as yet unnamed, will focus on where the relationship between Nick and Franny is going. Brid, Sofia, and Lilah will have a lot to say. As Rebecca Forster indicates in the above quote, I will have to think of exciting things for them to do and maybe sneak in a new face or two along the way. Faces that I have been writing about in Maggie’s Girls.

Meanwhile, the Muse is delighted that I have finally figured out what was she tells me was obvious to HER and I am tapping away at the keys once again.

“I could have told you…”

02/6/17

Knitting My Way to Clarity

Knitting’s addictive and it’s soothing, and for a few minutes anyway, it makes me feel closer to my mother.” ― Anita Shreve, Light on Snow

I am knitting.

“Not writing?” You might well ask.

No, I’m knitting. Knitting, I have discovered, is very conducive to writing, which, for me, always happens after a lot of thinking. Knitting allows you to sit and think.

Here’s my dilemma. Maggie’s Girls has too many characters. Some have to go. Maybe they will show up in another book but now they have to leave this one. The problem is, I have become fond of them. So, I’m knitting and I’m thinking. Who should I kick out?

Thinking is one of the great benefits of knitting, second only to the fact that you can’t eat while doing it. Something you can do while writing. Unfortunately.

I have a friend who often refers to “my culture”.  As in, “You know how in your culture…” Huh? I thought we were from the same culture. Obviously, from her perspective, we are not.

We have come through, more or less, months of nastiness, name-calling, finger-pointing, and shaming. Life-long friendships have been shattered and families polarized because it turns out that maybe we didn’t know each other as well as we thought. And those cracks continue to widen as we head into a new year.

Knitting my way through two small sweaters, ironically, one red and one blue, I have thought a lot about “my culture”.  And where I do come from and, upon even further thought, how that culture formed the values I try to live my life by.

I learned to knit when I was ten. Here’s what I remember: bright pink yarn, cream-colored needles with black tops, and lots of holes that were not supposed to be there. I remember my mother, my beautiful, hardworking, talented and extremely frustrated mother, trying to teach me what to do with my hands, the needles and the yarn I kept tangling.

Here’s a snapshot of “my culture”.  I am a blue-collar girl born in what was then considered to be a working-class suburb of Boston, two generations removed from Ireland, Italy and Switzerland. I was the second in my family to go to college, following my cousin to Salem State College in Salem, Massachusetts. My parents worked four jobs between them to pay for it.

My mother and father came of age in the heart of the Great Depression. Life was hard and nothing was taken for granted. They used and re-purposed – although it was not called that – everything and never missed a chance to earn a little extra money. For years my mother spent her evenings after working all day managing a bakery, making Raggedy Ann and Andy dolls – popular then – to earn some spare cash.

My grandmother was a dressmaker who carried her sewing box into the homes of wealthy Boston women in order to measure them and then make their clothes. My mother, too, was a talented seamstress tackling things liked bound buttonholes and French darts. I, on the other hand, was a disaster when it came to anything involving the needle arts.

Still, as was expected from girls of “my culture”,  I slogged my way through it all: several ill-fitting skirts and dresses, one quilt, a hooked rug, a crewel picture and numerous knitting projects. None of the output was more than marginal. My head was always in the book I was reading or the story I was making up. My mother despaired, often taking whatever I was making a botch of from my hands to fix and then finish for me.

Maggie’s Girls is a story of mothers and daughters and of sisters – several groups of sisters. This should not come as a surprise as I write Women’s Fiction. The older women, the Hudson sisters: Honoria, Grace, Stasia and Charlotte come from the heart of “my culture”.

It turns out that I do a lot of ripping out when I knit. Sometimes, I lose my way in the pattern and as the Irish say, it all goes wrong. Not at all unlike what I have to do as a writer when a character takes an abrupt right turn from the plot.

So I sit and I knit and I think about which characters have to go.

Sometimes, for just a moment,  I feel my mother’s hands gently guiding mine and then she’s gone.

10/25/16

When the Writer Goes Missing

It’s Gerard,” she called over her shoulder. “St. Gerard Majella. He’s the patron saint of women in trouble in childbirth. My mother was devoted to him.  Brid Sheerin  – Francesca’s Foundlings. 

Two years ago, I wrote a story, Francesca’s Foundlings, about a young woman who developed a life-threatening complication during her pregnancy.  I try to make sure that my fiction is as accurate as possible and I did considerable research on this condition before inflicting it on my character.

Last July, in a twist of fate where life mirrored fiction, my daughter faced this same condition as she awaited the birth of her child. There are 2,986 miles between Boston and Dublin, Ireland. Never have I been more thankful to live in a time of texting and instant messaging as I awaited news of the latest scan of the baby or reading of her blood pressure.

“Do NOT come,” she kept ordering me from her hospital bed during that seemingly endless week when I learned the true meaning of words like: harrowing, terrified, courage, hope and, at last, very early on Friday morning, pure joy.

I spent the month of August in Ireland, watching the swans glide along the Royal Canal, helping one very tiny boy discover the world he arrived in so precipitously. When you are taking care of a newborn, that’s really all you do. Life stands still. It provided me with a lot of time for quiet reflection. Ideal conditions for a writer.

McCullough’s Women and Francesca’s Foundlings are stories of friendships between women. Some are related and others start out as enemies. Maggie’s Girls, the third book in the Lynton Series, continues this theme but also explores what it means to be a mother. Toward the end of Francesca’s Foundlings, the reader meets Maggie Kennedy.

Maggie’s Girls is her story. Holding my grandson, I thought a lot about the bonds that develop between and a mother and her child. I think you will like Maggie. I hope you do.

How this writer feels.

How this writer feels…

Home now, once again thankful for the videos and photos that greet me every morning, I am trying to get back on task and focus on Maggie’s Girls.

I want to thank all of you who kept checking my Facebook page for updates over the last few months. I am sorry I neglected you but as you now know, it was for the best of all possible reasons. I promise to be better about posting on the page. I am excited to get back to writing.

I am also grateful to St.Gerard for hearing our prayers. My mother, like Brid’s, was devoted to him.

07/8/16

How Characters are Made: Meet Jake Kellan

It begins with a character, usually, and once he stands up on his feet and begins to move, all I can do is trot along behind him with a paper and pencil trying to keep up long enough to put down what he says and does.”  – William Faulkner

People are always curious about where my characters come from. I suspect some of them are worried they might see themselves. People are not unique and often share both good and bad traits. We often see these traits mirrored for us in the books we read without them having been stolen from us. We are drawn to characters like us and are often put off by those who are not.

Desmond Sheerin in MacCullough’s Women shares similar traits with other elderly Irish-American gentlemen I have known including my own grandfather. But Desmond is not Pa, although Pa could play the piano like Desmond.

There are a few new characters showing up in Maggie’s Girls. This is what it is like to “trot along behind” one of them.

Cookie Kennedy was Franny’s college roommate. The reader first meets her in Francesca’s Foundlings. Cookie needed a significant other. She’s a wonderful person and really deserves to be appreciated and she’s lonely– her character is based on nobody I know, in case you’re  wondering. It’s about time the right man crosses her path. Jake Kellan stood up to be that guy.

Organized writers, like my friend Sue, begin with a character sheet. And I do applaud them. Goggle character sheets and you will come up with a number of options, ranging from the simple to the complex. One example I saw was nine pages of questions be filled out for each character. Had I answered all the questions asked, I would have had a document stretching to close to five times as many pages as the original template. That’s right, for each character.

I am a “pantser” meaning that I write by “the seat of my pants.” I don’t know if Mr. Faulkner was,too, but he describes the way one writes – as he would– beautifully. I “trot along behind” the character madly typing as we go. An example of this would be that I had no idea Brendan Feeney’s college roommate had an Italian grandmother until I found him making her “gravy” recipe one night in Franny’s kitchen. That’s the kind of information you would find on a character sheet, if I had created one.

So who is Jake Kellan?

So who is Jake Kellan?


Here’s Jake talking to Cookie on their first date in the current draft of Maggie’s Girls:

             For the first time, Jake seemed uncomfortable, almost guarded. “Well, I’m a pretty boring guy. No Made-for-TV movies in my past.” Cookie just smiled and said nothing.

            “Fine. I can see this is the only way I can get back to the aunts.” He took a sip of his scotch, appearing to gather his thoughts. “Well, here are the basics I imagine most women want to know: I am forty years old, not married, have never been married, no children. And yes, I like girls. I was born here in Manchester. I have a younger brother and sister. My brother lives in Manhattan. My sister lives in Bedford. I have three nieces and a nephew. My mother still lives in the house where I grew up. My father owned his own company here. He died last spring.

I know. Boring, right? Except that Jake has a couple of definitely NOT boring twists in his past. I think he may be one of those characters interested in dragging me into writing a sex scene, too.

You’ll just have to read the book to find out.

 

 

 

07/1/16

Between the Sheets: When Characters Want to Have Sex

“In essence, a good sex scene is usually a dialogue scene with physical details.” ―Diana Gabaldon

IMG_0429

“I really liked your book,” the reader told me. “I hope the next one has more sex in it.”

The book she was referring to is McCullough’s Women. There are two sex scenes in the book. One ends abruptly and the other plays itself out, as sex scenes do, across four pages employing all the required words: naked, suckle, nipple, tongue, climax…and more. The first time I read it aloud to my Writers’ Group, which consisted of four women and two men, I had to sit in a chair with my back to them. And even then, my face was scarlet when I finished reading.

I have been a prolific reader since I was nine years old, sometimes reading as many as four books every week. I am often reading two books at the same time, picking up whichever one is closest to me. Over the course of my life, I have read across all genres. I can safely say that, starting with those first sneaked “dirty” books as a young teenager – which in hindsight weren’t really that sexy – I have read a lot of sex scenes, some of which were more pornographic than “romantic” or “artistic”. Reading them in the privacy of your bed or a secluded chair is one thing. Writing a sex scene for other people to read with your name attached to it, is quite another and not for the faint of heart.

My theory as a writer is that when it comes to sex, less is more. This explains why there is not a lot of sex in my books. I try to get the characters into bed when they really need to be there for the sake of the story. I am huge fan of Gone With the Wind. I consider it to be the great American novel. Margaret Mitchell believed in leaving things to the imagination. Here she writes the beginning of what remains one of the most romantic love scenes ever brought to the screen.

The following excerpt is taken from Gone With the Wind:

 “He swung her off her feet into his arms and started up the stairs…Somehow, her arms were around his neck and her lips trembling beneath his and they were going up, up into the darkness again…

 And after that, Mitchell leaves you, the reader, to imagine the rest.

We live in a world were every human act is documented and displayed for the world to see. You don’t believe me? Check your Facebook newsfeed this morning. Sometimes it is hard as a writer to resist the urge to put in “more sex”. Everyone does it after all, or if they are not doing it now, they most likely have. And readers certainly seem to want it.

There are two complete sex scenes in Francesca’s Foundlings. And there are four couples in Maggie’s Girls who would love to climb into bed together. I guess you will have to read the book to find out who makes it there. I suppose this must mean that my writing is getting steamier.

I have been told I do good job writing about sex. The problem is whenever I finish writing one of these scenes my first thought is, Thank God my mother is dead.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

06/29/16

In Pursuit of Balance

“Writing is not a matter of time, but a matter of space. If you don’t keep space in your head for writing, you won’t write even if you have the time.” ― Katerina Stoykova Klemer

Trying to find the balance...

Trying to find the balance…

These last few months I have been struggling in every sense with space and balance. This year has not been a good year in a life that can only be described as never having been known for either. Starting last September, I took three spectacular falls. Once you receive your Medicare card, which I did this June, the concern is that falls may be caused by cognitive issues. Oh, no!

When I mentioned this to my sister, she said, “What about that time I watched you walk across the cafeteria and throw your used lunch bag in the trash and then fall flat on your face?” She was fourteen and I was seventeen. Reviewing the long list of times I ended up on the ground over the course of my life, I suspect this year of epic falls were a combination of my not paying attention because I was thinking of something else —like what a character should or should not be doing— or because I am and always will be a klutz.

“Incidents” that I bounced back from earlier in my life with nothing more than a bruise or two now require weeks of ice packs, elevation and physical therapy. Something I have not found conducive to writing.

The latest fiasco occurred in April. I fell down the basement stairs. Really, this should not have been a big deal. I was carrying the cat’s bed in one hand and hanging onto the railing with the other and then I missed the last two steps. I slid down and slapped my left foot on the cement floor. Hard. Should not have been a big deal and would not have been a big deal once upon a time but now involved great drama including a trip to the ER, x-rays and disheartening orthopedic “stuff” i.e., knee immobilizer, walkers, canes, etc. It wasn’t funny. I did learn a new medical term “acute effusion” which is a complicated way of saying “swollen” which I filed away to be used in some future novel.

The balance Katerina Klemer is referring to comes down to finding the time and the space to write. I have the physical space – an office I am delighted with. Finding the mental space and the time continues to elude me. I understand why writers leave home to seek refuge in libraries and cafes to write. Home presents too many distractions. I am working at eliminating those. When I retired from my job as a corporate training manager, I (foolishly) thought I would have so much time I might be bored. Ha, ha. The joke was on me.

I try to write every day. There are days the writing does not happen because other things crowd in. I’m working on Maggie’s Girls, the sequel to Francesca’s Foundlings. I’m struggling with finding balance in this story, too. Writing a series is challenging. You need to include the characters from your previous books and introduce new ones to keep the story interesting. I’m trying to find the balance of who goes and who stays. They all beg to be included. The plan is to bring all of them back together in the fourth book currently planned as the series finale.

Meanwhile, in an effort to keep myself balanced, I have been practicing Tai Chi. I am doing the shorter form of 24 -Yang Style Chuan. I love it so much that I think you will see a character take it up soon.

I wonder which one?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

10/28/15

Going-to Girl signs up for NaNoWriMo

“It’s the witching hour once more – when the Muse comes out to play.” Belle Whittington

 

With some trepidation, I have signed up to participate in National Novel Writing Month known as NaNoWriMo. If you have never heard of it, this is an internet-based creative writing project held every year during the month of November. The goal is to produce 50,000 words – the minimum for a novel – in thirty days.

It took me almost four years to finish writing Francesca’s Foundlings. I had retired from my day job to focus on writing, so this came as a surprise to me, although it shouldn’t have. I am a world-class procrastinator – my father used to call me “The Going-to Girl” because that was my standard answer when asked when I would do something. I am my own boss accountable for my time only to myself – unlike when I wrote MacCullough’s Women. Then, I got up before dawn and wrote for two hours before starting my day job.

In 2007, long before I conceived the idea of the Lynton Series, I fell in love with the idea of writing a novel about a mother and her daughters. This is, of course, a much-loved and familiar theme beautifully done by Louisa May Alcott in Little Women. The twist in my story is the mother has two daughters, one biological and the other her stepdaughter. Yes, I know. Also done before in Cinderella – that wicked, wicked stepmother- by the Brothers Grimm and others.

The vilification of stepmothers is a theme close to my heart because I am one. Trust me a more difficult and less appreciated role does not exist. I wrote copious notes describing characters and potential scenes and then abandoned the story to finish and eventually publish MacCullough’s Women. While I was writing Francesca’s Foundlings, I realized Franny seemed to have no girlfriends. I knew while she was married to Drew he consumed her life but what about BD – before Drew? A light went on and the idea of how Maggie’s Girls could become part of the Lynton Series was born.

Just as Lilah Patch, the catalyst of Francesca’s Foundlings, makes her brief appearance in the Sheerin Gallery in MacCullough’s Women, first Maggie Kennedy and then her stepdaughter, Cookie, find their way through the door of Franny’s doll shop in Francesca’s Foundlings.

Maggie’s Girls will be the third novel in the Lynton Series. The focus will change but you will still find within its pages those familiar Lynton faces, I hope you have come to enjoy.

My plan is to use the discipline of NaNoWriMo to produce a first draft of this novel by –dare I say it? – November 30.

Writers are often a superstitious lot. I am no exception. Before I start a new novel, I like to find a talisman to help me focus on the project.

Yesterday, while treating myself to a visit to the League of NH Craftsmen shop, I found this. I thought it was appropriate for NaNoWriMo. We all remember Aesop’s tale of the race between the tortoise and the hare.

Tortoise