A Victorian evening at home

Leisure time wasn’t much of a problem for a lot of Regency and Victorian working class families, but the more well-to-do found themselves with evenings that had to be filled with something. All those accomplishments ladies sought after, which might seem frivolous to us today, came in handy. They could read, play cards, write letters, do needlework, draw, sing, play instruments, write stories, perform plays, etc. Jane Austen started her writing career to amuse her family members, and the March sisters in Little Women performed Jo’s melodramas.

They had some entertainments that seem odd to us today, like putting on a tableau. This was a bit like charades, except they would put together an elaborate scene with props and costumes and silently hold the pose as their audience admired it and perhaps tried to guess what they were re-enacting.

Other of their activities would be very familiar to us. Board games have an ancient history and were played in the 1700s and 1800s, and jigsaw puzzles had their advent around this time. Jigsaw puzzles were called dissected maps or dissections until the late 1800s, as the originals were cut up maps or other educational pictures. (I tried using the term “dissected picture” in context in one of my Victorian novels, but my beta readers were so confused I relented and called it a puzzle.)

My husband collects old board games, and he found this replica dissection for me. It’s a picture showing all the rulers of England from William I to George II. My kids like puzzles, and they loved this one. So, we spent a nice Victorian-style evening putting it together several times. At this rate, the kids will have all the British monarchs memorized soon. The tiles even have little facts about each ruler. Those Georgians and Victorians were tricky–always making sure there was a lesson behind the fun (In fact, I’ve heard “fun” was considered a vulgar word–don’t get caught having too much of it!).

A replica "dissection" from 1788
A replica “dissection” from 1788
Details of Queen Anne and King George
Details of Queen Anne and King George

NaNoWriMo 2014!

National Novel Writing Month (mundanely known as November) is rapidly approaching, and today I “created” my NaNo novel for this year. Given that I just signed a publishing contract for last year’s project, I’m really stoked for this year. Something about seeing that little word count bar set to “0” makes me want to start typing. This year, though, I’m using NaNoWriMo to write the sequel to my Victorian folklore retelling. I want to wrap up those characters’ stories before I move on to another project, and this seems like the perfect motivation to get it finished. All those continuity issues make writing a sequel scary. But the nice thing about being forced to write the whole thing in a month is that it keeps it pretty fresh in your head–actively writing several hours a day and working through plot problems while washing dishes, making dinner, or walking the kids to school.

NaNoWriMo doesn’t work for everyone, but I find it kind of liberating. I start with a rough outline and a good feel for the characters and then just write and let the story and characters go where they want, not worrying yet if that sentence could be a little prettier or if that scene is a bit corny–that’s what the next eight months of editing are for.

If you’re doing NaNoWriMo too, add me as a writing buddy here!

Forthcoming July 14, 2015: The Haunting of Springett Hall!

After two-and-a-half years of intense writing and editing, two manuscripts, close to forty query letters, a dozen writing and pitch contests, countless critiques, and a dizzying number of ups and downs (plus about twenty-five years of dreaming!), I’m excited to announce that I’ve signed a contract with Cedar Fort Publishing for my debut novel, The Haunting of Springett Hall!

The past few days since I got the phone call have brought a deluge of emotions: shock, excitement, nervousness, and gratitude among the foremost. I’ve been signing paperwork, notifying other people I queried that the manuscript is no longer available, putting together information about the book and myself for the publisher, and celebrating.

After so much work and searching and waiting for this door to open, I’m struck by the realization that the door itself wasn’t the goal, and there’s a whole new, unfamiliar world on the other side: final edits so the manuscript’s as polished as possible for readers, marketing so readers know they want to read it, and of course more writing. I have more stories to tell and probably more reject letters to collect, since it’s true that failure is a part of growth. For now, though, I’m enjoying the high and saying thank you again to everyone’s who’s helped me so far.

If you’re a writer, keep writing, and keep writing what you love. YA paranormal is a tough sell these days, but this was the story I wanted to tell, even if I never found a publisher who wanted it. I believed in the story, so I didn’t give up on it, and now I’ve found an editor who’s excited about it too. I wondered if it would be worth all the heartache of rejection. It is.

Try and try and try

I’m currently wading through the quagmire of querying (and adding to my collection of reject letters), so when I came across this inspiring post from Elizabeth Gilbert, it struck a chord with me. I’d encourage you to click the link and read the whole thing (after you finish my post, of course 😉 ), but these were the highlights that really charged me back up:

“I also thought: ‘Hey – somebody has to write all those stories: why not me?’ … It has never been easy for me to understand why people work so hard to create something beautiful, but then refuse to share it with anyone, for fear of criticism. Wasn’t that the point of the creation – to communicate something to the world? So PUT IT OUT THERE. Send your work off to editors and agents as much as possible, show it to your neighbors, plaster it on the walls of the bus stops – just don’t sit on your work and suffocate it. At least try. And when the powers-that-be send you back your manuscript (and they will), take a deep breath and try again …

“My suggestion is that you start with the love and then work very hard and try to let go of the results. Cast out your will, and then cut the line. Please try, also, not to go totally freaking insane in the process. Insanity is a very tempting path for artists, but we don’t need any more of that in the world at the moment, so please resist your call to insanity. We need more creation, not more destruction. We need our artists more than ever, and we need them to be stable, steadfast, honorable and brave – they are our soldiers, our hope … Become a knight, a force of diligence and faith. I don’t know how else to do it except that way. As the great poet Jack Gilbert said once to young writer, when she asked him for advice about her own poems: ‘Do you have the courage to bring forth this work? The treasures that are hidden inside you are hoping you will say YES.'”