Monday, October 31, 2011

New Life for First Novels

Today we have a guest post from writer Lyn Cote, whose historical and contemporary fiction has won many awards, including this year's CAROL from American Christian Fiction Writers. Her books have also been named finalists for romance writing's highest honor, the RITA, and the HOLT Medallion and the National Readers Choice Award. 
Lyn approaches her historical fiction this way:

I prefer to take history and gently fit my characters into the historical setting as if they were a true part of it. Many times when I do my research for a new story, I find that the true events are more wonderful than anything I could have made up. One example of this was in my WWII book, Bette. I read that before WWII, two Nazi agents were walking in NY City and arguing. The argument became so heated that they walked out into traffic and one was hit by a car and killed. The Nazis were being followed at the time and the FBI agent was able to find important papers on the dead Nazi. So I used this scene in my book. I mean--could I think of anything more bizarre?
Recently, Lyn went back to her beginnings. And for anyone toiling on their first book -- especially while taking care of little kids -- Lyn's story should give you hope. Her first novel La Belle Christiane is now available on Amazon and Nook sites for .99 cents. Print copies  are also available.   
Here's a short summary of this historical romance set in the 1770s:

"Can the beautiful daughter of a French courtesan find a love that lasts for a lifetime? Beautiful Christiane Pelletier is next in a line of French courtesans. Her family has been favorites through the reigns of two monarchs. But the winds of change are sweeping Europe, and after her mother's violent murder, Christiane flees France with her renegade father. Leaving wealth and privilege behind, she survives the Canadian wilderness and later finds herself involved in the burgeoning American Revolution. But through all the changes, one man lingers in her memory. Once he was her friend; now he has become her enemy. Will he also become her destiny?"
Also, check out Lyn's website where she offers tips on writing and self-publishing. 

First Book, Now Available 
                    by Lyn Cote
When I began writing my first manuscript, I literally ran after my two toddlers with a clipboard in my hand and wrote whenever they paused! I wrote that story without knowing anything about writing or marketing fiction. In fact, I told myself just to write the book and then I'd think about polishing and marketing it. The thought of that was overwhelming at that time. It took me three years of writing to finish my first manuscript-1,000 handwritten pages. Whew!
I found out that while it garnered interest from agents and editors, it never found a publisher. I think that's because there are "unwritten" rules for inspirational fiction and I didn't know them or follow them. I still think it's a good story and I've revised it and improved it once more. And now it's FINALLY available in digital and print. I did this because I didn't want it to sit ignored in my files forever. So now I'll let the readers decide whether it deserved to be published or not. I hope you agree with me and let others know about it. 
                               -- Lyn

                                                        First page excerpt from Chapter One

British Canada, July 1774
Tonight, I’ll lie beside some stranger as his wife. Christiane blinked away the bright morning sunlight but could not blink away the dread. Once again she had embarked on another journey that would change her life. She sat between her Algonquin father Shaw-nee-awk-kee and his son in a birch bark canoe. To the rhythm of the dipping paddles, they were gliding farther down the Ottawa River. In the cramped space, she hugged her knees to herself and pressed her forehead against her tattered skirt. 
She glanced sideways into the remorseless current, wishing for time, for control. But instead, the river, shimmering with molten sunlight, gave her glimmers of the past--candlelight on silver, soft lace against skin, frosting on the tip of the tongue. But she’d fled France with her father, here to Canada and then. . . She thrust all thoughts of the past year aside. She had to face today. Tonight, I’ll be some stranger’s wife
The thought brought fear, a rush of sensation—as if the bottom of the canoe, her protection, parted, and she was plunged into the cool water. She fought her way to the surface of this feeling, gasping for air, pushing down panic. She pressed her face harder against her knees. I will not shame myself. Ever.

Friday, October 14, 2011

A dear friend is expecting her first baby, while writing her first novel.

The baby news filled me with joy, the kind that put tears in my eyes. But the news also led me to think about threading that needle known as Motherhood and Writing.

I want my friend to cherish motherhood, and I want her to finish her novel.

With two kids, six years homeschooling, five published novels, and ten-thousand readings of "Mr. Brown Can Moo, Can You?," I almost feel qualified to offer some advice.

So here's my humble five-point offering to every mom serving in the happy trenches while trying to write.

1. Don't quit writing. 

There will never -- never -- be a good time to write. Never. Ever. Stop thinking the world will someday agree with your compulsion to put words on paper. The world doesn't care. But YOU care and frankly, God cares because God made you a writer.

If that last statement strikes you as pretentious, congratulations. Feel free to pick up your glue-gun and complete all those Martha Stewart projects. You're not a writer.

Meanwhile, we blessed wretches will continue to comb through our minds, searching for meaning and wrestling with words.

Writers need to write. Need, not want. The same way some birds were designed to fly south every winter whether they feel like it or not, writers were designed to translate thoughts into words. You will know if you're among that flock if deep down inside, you feel like you might suffer some kind of death if you don't write. Soul, spirit, emotion. Maybe even physical death. Frank McCourt once said that he wrote "Angela's Ashes" because if he didn't, he would "die howling."

The sooner a writer recognizes this built-in need, the sooner they become a productive person rather than a garden-variety dysfunctional oddity understood by precisely nobody.

2. You're a mom. Make it manageable.

Motherhood comes first.

Scratch that.

Your husband comes first, even after baby arrives. Then baby. Then writing. Break that order and you'll build an idol.

But because of where it stands on the totem pole, mom-writing needs manageable goals. When my kids were toddlers and took naps, I placed a note card over my computer that read "500 words an hour." My daily goal. With a background in newspapers, my five hundred words seemed like a cake walk. Some days I was surprised by 1000 words. Other days I could squeak out six. (Yes, six: "My brain has turned into Jello.")

But on those difficult days -- both in motherhood and writing -- remind yourself that this glorious gift of life will only make you a better writer, eventually. If you don't quit. I guarantee this. With motherhood, a heart grows new chambers of understanding. It only improves your writing.

If you don't quit.

3. If somebody understands your blessing/affliction, cherish them.

My first novel,"The Stones Cry Out," arrived like a thunderclap. The story came complete with a cast of characters, a setting, and a plot.

Unfortunately, the timing couldn't have been worse: I was seven months pregnant with my first child.

But God's timing doesn't resemble man's timing. And the gift seemed perishable. So, despite the gasps of horror from polite ladies who probably had good intentions, I waddled into the FBI's forensic mineralogy department, asking questions about murder and mayhem.

Only a handful of people understood why I was starting a novel when it looked like my water was about to break. My husband. My dad who was battling stage-four throat cancer. My mom who was also a writer. And an elderly uncle who once attempted to write a novel but quit -- he really understood.

The rest of the world treated me as though the novel was a betrayal of the child in my womb.

Fourteen years later, not much has changed. The other day, a homeschool mom asked me in a baffled tone of voice: "Why do you even feel the need to write these books -- I mean, are you making a ton of money or something?"

4. You can answer those questions, but it probably won't help.

Any explanation will make you sound like a televangelist who can't afford glittery clothes ("God called me"), or just plain weird ("The day doesn't seem quite real until I write about it.")

Most people won't understand. But writers don't live an either-or existence. They live two lives. Here, and not here. Experiencing life, and imagining it.

Yes, I know. I just described a dual personality.

But as Dorothea Brande writes in her essential little book "Becoming a Writer," the writer's double existence is not a bad thing:

"A dual personality, to the reader who has a number of half-digested notions about the constitution of the mind, is an unlucky fellow who should be in a psychopathic ward; or, at the happiest, a flighty hysterical creature. Nevertheless, every author is a very fortunate sort of dual personality, and it is this very fact that makes him such a bewildering, tantalizing, irritating figure to the plain man of affairs who flatters himself that he, at least, is all of a piece."

5. All interruptions come from God.

As though stating the case for me, my kids just knocked on my office door. They want pancakes. They want to start their school work. They want me.

And I am happy to go.

Very happy to go.

I can always write about it later.

Sunday, October 9, 2011

My husband recently met one of his harmonica heroes, Charlie Mussselwhite. That's Musselwhite on the left, and Hunk of Italy on the right. (Cute, aint he?)

If you haven't heard Musselwhite's harmonica, you haven't heard the Blues. I could say the same for my hubby, only he's not as famous. Yet.

Musselwhite is rumored to be the inspiration for Dan Akroyd's "Blues Brothers" character. More than just a musician; Musselwhite's an artist.

You can see that artistry in the simplest things. Take the liner notes on his most recent CD, "The Well."

"This tune," he writes of the title song, "tells my story in a nutshell about what happened when baby Jessica McClure fell into a well in Texas. I was struck by the courage of this child at the bottom of the well with a broken arm, singing nursery rhymes to herself. Suddenly my alcohol problem/addiction seemed very minor in comparison to her life and death struggle. I decided as a prayer for her, I would show some bravery too and not drink until she got out of the well. When she was rescued three days later, I was out of the well, too. I haven't had a drink in 22 years."

The story is amazing all on its own. But check out those undertones, resonating like minor keys. Don't we tend to fall into wells of our own digging? Doesn't God stand ready with the rescue crew, if we'll just admit we messed up and need help? And isn't it telling that Jesus waited for a truly messed up woman at a well in order to tell her about "living water"?

Maybe I'm reading too much into it (hey, I'm a writer). But then again, maybe not.

Here's Musselwhite playing the instrument God put in his hands. The song is "Christo Redemptor" from his very first album.

Wait for the harp to come in. And enjoy.