Could Groundhog's Day be Irish?

What, me worry? So many things in life actually do trace back to Irish, or rather Celtic heritage, but what about Groundhog's Day? I took it upon myself to discover the truth, because I knew you wouldn't have time.

I found a few articles that very loosely related Groundhog's Day to early Celtic feast days in Ireland. First of all, there was Imbolc, signaling the end of winter and the beginning of spring. It was also known as lambing season, when sheep began to lactate for birthing lambs. A lamb is a far cry from a groundhog, you might say, and you'd be right, but stay with me.

After Imbolc there was St. Brigid's Day, honoring the Catholic saint named for a Celtic fertility goddess. This event was celebrated on February 1. By at least one account, ashes in the fireplace were raked smooth at night and then checked in the morning to see if the saint had visited. Still no groundhog, but there's something about making an appearance that may have informed the modern event.

Then we have Candlemas, which was February 2. Now this involved fire and purification, with candle processions and special foods celebrating the birth of spring. I'm sure it was quite a good time, but with all that purification going on, to my mind more likely inspired the annual spring cleaning.

But then I came across a short paragraph by one writer, saying Groundhog Day traces straight back to the Romans. They used a European hedgehog, though. I'm not sure whether the hedgehog was more astute in weather prediction than, say, Punxsutawney Phil.

Personally, I like the legend of Cailleach, a mythical old woman who gathered firewood for the rest of winter. If she wanted winter to last longer she'd make a sunny day so she could collect more wood. If she was tired she'd sleep in, and let the day be dark. I think she deserved a far better public image to follow her, though. Couldn't she have been a sleek horse? Or maybe a black cat? But no, a groundhog. Really?

I'd like to tell you groundhogs are cute and cuddly, and therefore deserving of the attention they receive, even if they aren't Irish and they aren't much help with the weather. But I found more evidence online that in fact most groundhogs are aggressive and mean, and it takes a lot of hard work to tame them.

But I think maybe such a demeanor is appropriate, so that Groundhog Day can remain grumpy and mysterious. It's how we all feel, waiting for the winter to end.

 

BrandYourselfRoyallyIn8SimpleSteps_Blanton_cropPlease follow this blog if you are interested in updates.

Last year my new book on personal branding — Brand Yourself Royally in 8 Simple Steps — was published in paperback and ebook. My new historical novel, The Prince of Glencurragh, is due out in summer 2016.

And please check out my award-winning Sharavogue, a novel of 17th century Ireland and the West Indies, for a fast-paced adventure you won’t soon forget.

SharavogueCoverMy website at nancyblanton.com provides more detail on books and upcoming events. Please visit!

Author branding: The work sheet

Steps on the path to your royal brand In last week’s post I summarized lessons learned from royalty—the first personal branders—covered in my 7-part series analyzing their techniques. This post gives you the steps I’ve laid out in my “personal branding worksheet.” I will cover how to complete the worksheet in two posts because it will get too long otherwise.

Irish runners, Woodcut by Albert Durer

As noted previously, there are many ways to go about personal branding, and you could spend years and thousands of dollars perfecting it if you choose. But I believe for an individual, and specifically for authors, this method is a simplified and effective way to create a workable brand that will represent you and guide you for years to come. Which reminds me to remind you: Branding, like book marketing, is a marathon, not a sprint. Be sure you can love and live with what you create because it should last for many years.

BEFORE WE BEGIN

In any kind of communications activity, the first thing you need to know is who you are talking to, and what they need. Who is your audience? Depending on your work and the types of writing you do, you may have one audience, or you may have several.

  • Are they distinct or do they overlap?
  • What do they need from you?
  • How do they get their information?
  • What do they expect, both from you as an author, and from you as communicator?

Think of one or two, or maybe a handful of individuals from your primary audience. What are they like? As an example, I write historical fiction, and my stories tend toward the hero’s journey and social milieu, and not so much toward battles and blood (although those are not completely absent). My readers are both male and female but a slightly higher percentage female. They love to read, like history and strong female characters. They want to be immersed in time and place, but also learn while they read. They are busy, smart and social.

I must always have this target audience in mind when thinking about my brand, and it helps me decide how best to express it, where and when. You can go into much greater detail than this, and define subgroups as needed if you write in more than one and very different genres.

How can you learn about your audience?

  • Watch comments in social media
  • Read reviews of other authors in your genre
  • Talk to them in bookstores or at book festivals
  • Ask friends who read your genre

And relax. It is not a perfect science no matter what the professional marketers say. In my case, I learned that some historical fiction readers were tired of the Tudor period and the proliferation of books on that era when so many other periods in history are not well covered. Also, I knew some readers are hesitant to invest an 800+ page novel. Who has time? I had heard complaints abut authors who overplay their research and include every detail instead of just what is important to move the story forward.

So, I targeted those readers by setting my story in a different time period, making sure it was fast paced, under 300 pages, and selective in detail. The result was successful and effective, but now some of my readers tell me they love the story, but maybe it moves too fast and they don't want it to end. They want it longer. They love learning about a period in time they have not read about before, but normally would not have looked for it when shopping for a book.

Perhaps I created a higher barrier to overcome in that readers aren't familiar with the period I’ve chosen or why they might want to read about it. But that’s okay, I know it is an exciting era, and highlighting this has become my challenge and my mission.

GETTING STARTED

With your audience in mind, let’s go. First, open a word document and copy and paste the list below. You may want to leave space between as we will be filling in under each one:

VALUES CORE BRAND DRIVER VISION MISSION POSITIONING TAGLINE MARKS COLOR PALETTE

VALUES

Your brand is not really about what you do. It’s about why you do it. Steve Jobs said Apple’s brand was not about a company that makes computers. It's about a company that values innovation, passion, aspiration and simplicity. Apple’s products support people who have those same values. You write books? Great – a lot of people write books. Your readers are interested in WHY you write them, what you believe in that makes you tell the stories you tell. The values that are most important to you are the building blocks of your brand.

There are so many values, a good way to start narrowing down is to pick from a list. Some companies ask their customers to pick values from a list that they believe describes the company, then they use those words in their brand materials. Sometimes they'll choose different words to help highlight different values they want their audiences to recognize. I found a link listing more than 400 values, but you’ll find many similar lists if you type “values list” into your search engine.

Look through and pick out the things that are most important to you, then narrow that list down to 10 or 20 words that you think define you as a person and as an author. Be honest. As we learned from Napoleon, it doesn’t pay to pretend to be something you are not, and it will be difficult to maintain a false façade.

With your short list, narrow it down again to those five or six values that define you but are also important to your audience. These are areas where you may be able to connect with them on a personal level. Values like Leadership and Generosity might be areas where your audience can relate to you. Hygiene and Poise are good values, but these may not be things you want to define your brand and, unless they are the topics of your books they may not rise to the top level of your brand values.

Once you have your values defined, you may want to sit with them a day or two to make sure you are happy with your choices, and feel confident they capture those parts of you that you want to project to your target audience. Then put them on your worksheet.

Next week we’ll pick up where we left off, using values to define your Core Brand Driver.

SharavogueCoverAnd in the meantime, embark on an adventure in Irish history! Sharavogue is the award-winning story of a peasant girl who vows to destroy Oliver Cromwell during his march of destruction across Ireland in the 17th century, and her struggle for survival on a West Indies sugar plantation. Winner of the Royal Palm Literary Award for historical fiction, it is available from online booksellers including amazon.com and barnesandnoble.com.

Tribute to the Pirate Queen

In honor of St. Patrick's Day today I am honoring a famous woman in Irish history, Grace O'Malley, also known as "the pirate queen," and "Granuaile." Grace was an amazing woman who supported her countrymen in rebellion against the English, defended her family castle, and stood face to face with Queen Elizabeth herself. photo-3Born in Ireland during the time of King Henry VIII, her father was a chieftain, her family seafaring, and her home deeply rooted in Clew Bay, County Mayo. Her family owned a string of castles protecting the coast, and the fishermen in the region paid a tax for that protection.

Story has it that Granuaile was a nickname her father gave her -- it means short or cropped, and that's exactly what she did to her hair when her father told her she could not accompany him on a trade voyage because her hair would get caught in the rigging.

Apparently she married two or three times, and had several children. When she took to the seas two of her sons, Tibbot and Murrough, were beside her.  With their ships tucked into the bays, they awaited merchant ships passing through their waters, then stopped and boarded them to demand a toll in cash or cargo.

In 1593 when her two sons and half brother were taken captive by the governor of Connacht, the pirate queen sailed to England for an audience with Queen Elizabeth to argue for their release. Even so, Grace defiantly refused to bow before the English queen because she did not recognize her as queen of Ireland.

Grace's story is long and complex, twisting and turning as many Irish stories do. She inspired legends, poems and songs, and I had her in mind as I set the character Elvy on a path toward her territory in my book, Sharavogue.  For a good biography on Grace and her adventures, look for Anne Chambers' book, Granuaile.

Happy St. Patrick's Day!

Setting yourself apart for readers

Part 9 in the "How I found my snow path to Dingle" series

Picking up where I left off on my series about my writing process for Sharavogue, today I am focusing on "What makes your book different from other books like it?" This is a question that might come during a media interview or from an anyone who is considering reading your book. To answer, I had to do my homework. When I selected the time period for my story, I searched for books in the Cromwellian years, the Interregnum, and on the bookends of that period during the reigns of Charles I and Charles II, the Restoration.

SharavogueCover2Specifically during Cromwell's time there were very few historical novels – I found only two, in fact -- that take place in this turbulent period. I have since found several more but I think I am safe to say I have written of a time often overlooked by other authors. So, for readers like me who also like to learn about history as they read, it might be a good choice.  Sharavogue (the title of my novel but also the name of the plantation where the protagonist was indentured) also illuminates what life was like for slaves and indentured servants on the sugar plantations of the 17th century. These plantations were a boon to England’s economy but could not have been profitable without slave labor.

An intriguing  and distinguishing fact is that a colony of Irish planters developed on the island of Montserrat, and they too had to own slaves. The focus is on an Irish colony and perspective rather than an English one.

My style of writing is also quite different. I have used devices and structure to keep the book light, exciting and fast paced, but still packed with story, action and historical information -- just enough, and interwoven as best I could so the story did not become a history lesson. My page count is under 300, not the tome of some historical novels. This required quite a bit of brutal editing, but I knew the costs of printing would make a larger book a difficult sell for an unknown author. Some people like this style -- the book keeps them engaged so that they read it all the way through in a day or two. (One reader laughingly complained that it was my fault she did not get her Easter cooking done). But others have told me they would have liked more time for contemplation by the characters.

My hope was always that after finishing the book my readers would come away satisfied, entertained and informed. I also hoped to tell a good story about the Irish, who have held my imagination since childhood. A recent reviewer captured the gist of the story just as I had hoped:

"The Irish were no different, after all, than the English. Cruelty reigned. We were without justice, without recourse. We were without hope." Fifteen-year-old Elvy Burke only wants to live up to her destiny. As the daughter of a great warrior, she dreams of being a leader of her people and a defender of her country. But Oliver Cromwell and his brutal army change her destiny. After cursing Cromwell to his face, she flees her village determined to find a way to kill Cromwell and free her land. She thinks that only Cromwell is brutal, but she discovers the hard way as she becomes an indentured servant in the West Indies, that the English do not have a monopoly on brutality. Elvy learns to survive and she finds kindness in unexpected places. She uncovers her own strengths as she fights her way back to her home in Ireland.

via Amazon.com: Customer Reviews: Sharavogue : A Novel.

This will be my last post in this series, unless any readers have additional questions that I will be most happy to answer. I look forward to any comments or suggestions for future posts. Best wishes and happy writing!

Is history relevant in a 140-character world?

Part 8 of my "How I found my snow path to Dingle" series In this edition I'm focusing on another question asked about historical novels: "How is this relevant in today's society?" Sharavogue takes place in the 1650s, far removed in both time and location to what most of us experience today. But it is based in fact, so an obvious answer is to refer to the quote attributed to philosopher George Santayana, "Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it." Or the same with similar wording attributed to Winston Churchill and several others -- all the way to Jesse Ventura. Then there is the ever-positive Kurt Vonnegut, who says "I've got news for Mr. Santayana: we're doomed to repeat the past no matter what. That's what it is to be alive.”

As one who loves history and historical fiction, I sometimes wonder why writers need bother with trying to prove history relevant. It is, because it is. History is fascinating and woven from the lives and experiences of everyone who lived before us. Most humans love a good story, no matter what century it comes from. When I read historical fiction I also love learning about what life was like at a different time, and what circumstances caused things to be that way, and why people made the choices they did. It always in some way informs my own life without the author having to draw direct connections.

HouseGirl I recently read House Girl by Tara Conklin, which flips back and forth between pre-Civil War slavery and a present-day lawyer trying to attribute works of art to the slave girl. The whole story is about connecting past to present, and parts of it were quite good, but I found the historical portions by far the most interesting and well written, and the present-day portions sometimes feeling forced and distracting.

I also recently stumbled across The Traveler's Gift by Andy Andrews, a book someone had given my husband when he retired. It is basically a trip back in time to get seven philosophies for success, with the underlying message that each of us has a gift and the things we do have value and importance, whether we know it or not at the time. At one point we visit the Battle of Little Round Top where Col. Joshua Chamberlain's desperate last-minute charge is key to the Union victory there, which ultimately leads to the end of war, the end of slavery in America, and the growth of a superpower that is able to do good in the world. An oversimplification to be sure, but a strong message about relevance.TravelersGift

In my book, I chose to stay in the 1650s. While the relevancy is not mapped for readers as in the books I've just described, I think it derives from the characters themselves and the struggles and obstacles they work to overcome. One of my readers talked to me at length about the character Tempest Wingfield, who becomes a plantation master only because he inherited when his father died. She related strongly to his internal ragings against a life he never chose, and the sorrows he felt nonetheless for not being a better son, honoring and loving his father while he had the chance. Other readers related strongly to the pain of the poor choices Elvy Burke makes that lead her down more difficult pathways. As noted in an earlier post, Sharavogue itself (the plantation on Montserrat) is a character, passively supporting the plantation lifestyle  in its own harsh existence.

Who has lost a loving parent and not felt deep regret? Who has not made poor choices in life and learned from them? And who has not witnessed injustices large or small and felt powerless to change them?

True relevance comes from the heart. But on a political level I must add that Oliver Cromwell (the bad guy in my book) remains today a relevant and controversial figure. I talked once with a British citizen who believed the commonwealth Cromwell established was the right and appropriate idea for his government, and the monarchy was irrelevant. Yet the Cromwell name is mostly associated with the 16th century Thomas who destroyed the Catholic monasteries, and the 17th century Oliver who slaughtered the Irish.

These stories and the jigsaw puzzle of factors that created them are impossible to deliver in a tweet or a Facebook post, and I worry about the lack of reading that could surely lead to the "forgetting" of history. (For example, I shudder when I hear women say they want to be stay-at-home moms, having lived through the time when women fought tooth-and-nail for the right to work and vote, and still struggle for equal pay.) But I take hope from something another writer once said to me: "People don't care about history until they realize they have one." And then it becomes all-important.

How memory informs story

Part 7 of my "How I found my snow path to Dingle" series It’s amazing sometimes, where the pathways of thought will lead. This example comes from when I was researching currency in the 17th century. In my novel Sharavogue, a coin is a central icon throughout the story so I needed to find just the right one. There is much to be found about Elizabethan currency, but so far not as much that is specific to my time period.

sixpenceAnyway, the word “sixpence” set me off.  It reminded me of “Half a Sixpence,” the 1967 musical based on a novel by H.G. Wells and starring British pop star of that time, Tommy Steele. The title song began to play in my head. I knew it well because my parents went to this show when I was 11 years old. They came home from their date absolutely bubbling. They were happy. They were both singing. They bought the soundtrack and played it frequently. And when my father sang it was a grand thing – not that he was a great singer (he wasn’t bad), but it meant there was happiness and joy in our household. When he was happy, we could all be happy. The converse was also true.

But then I remembered that this kind of happiness went from occasional to rare and did not last. Over the next eight years things would tumble, my parents would divorce, and I would go off to college bewildered and distressed. It was the 60s and 70s – sex, drugs, rock & roll. Everything was bewildering. Our family of five exploded, each going our own ways, and our ties to each other became thin and fragile.

Then I began to consider my father’s viewpoint in all of this, which I believe was primarily one of disappointment. Probably from before he and my mother even married, he had set his sights on having a family and hoped to raise three boys. He must have imagined them as smart and good-looking, athletic – probably winning ribbons and trophies on the swim team, playing on high school and college football teams, and then more ribbons and trophies riding hunter-jumpers with power and finesse. Then those sons would go on to make fortunes in their professions and sire grandsons in their own image, establishing my father’s legacy forever.  Was it God’s sense of humor that instead that instead gave my father three sensitive girls who loved dolls and pretty clothes? (There is no reason now why a girl can’t do all the same things the boys could do, but in the those days, as the TV series Mad Men demonstrates, the options were different and doors were not so open for women.)

Then I arrived at the next thought layer, focusing on my father’s disappointment. And I always seem to come ‘round to this. None of his daughters were particularly athletic, and I’m sure he thought we were destined to become housewives, secretaries or school teachers rather than captains of industry. I focused on journalism, and I recalled one morning when I was visiting him while on break from college and we were having breakfast. He told me if he was ever to write his memoirs he would start it in a particular way. I can’t even remember now what way that was, because my own young and disappointed mind was preparing to lash out him. Instead of encouraging him to write his memoir and offering to help – which is what I would like to do today – I smirked and said “That’s probably what they would tell you not to do.”

I think the conversation pretty much ended after that, not that I recall the rest clearly. My punishment is that my father wrote no memoir, and when he died suddenly I realized (with the impact of a brick squarely between the eyes) that I knew almost nothing about him, his life as a young man, his dreams, his turning points. My husband says that if my father wanted to write his memoir, he would have written it – my stupid comment would not have had the power to stop it. But then, to take on such a task one has to be inspired. I think my father felt he did not have a legacy he could be proud of.

Before he died my father once said to me he had reached the top of the mountain and was now descending the other side. He did not like it. He had nothing to show for his life. I said, “You have three daughters.” This elicited barely a shrug.

He was disappointed. And I was disappointed. Perhaps it was not so much disappointment in his daughters, as I had until now believed. We know he loved us. We know in his own way he was proud of us. Maybe he just felt that he should have done more with his life, and so it was this, along with self-doubt and perhaps even contempt, that caused him not to write about it.

As I considered all of this, I realized the value for a writer is to follow the thought process through when memories come up, to discover some perspectives that might not have been clear before. It may be painful and so it is easier to just turn away and focus on something else, but when relived in the mind these thoughts and emotions inform the depths of story. My first novel was about the life of a man of my father’s time – I did not have my father’s history, so I simply made it up. It was a satisfying process, and I was able to inject much of the feeling I had experienced in our family life (write what you know, as they say).

I never published that novel. Someday I may return to it and reconsider. It is based on the history of his times, but it is still only a story. I will never really know what my father experienced, what he thought or how he felt. I wish even now I could give a half a sixpence for his thoughts.

In writing Sharavogue, what I perceived as his disappointment informed the feelings and character of Tempest Wingfield, master of the plantation on the island of Montserrat. He too had dreams and ideas that were never realized, because he was trapped in a destiny of his father's making. It was his father's dream to have a plantation, but his father's death and other circumstances had determined this character's unwanted fate, and so the actions and behavior are ruled by his anger and sorrow.

Writing on a theme

Part 5 in the series: How I found the snow path to Dingle Reviewers said a big reason Dan Brown's Da Vinci Code was so successful was that he wrote on a theme no less important than the existence of Jesus himself. It was a question almost universal, and he took it to the next level, whether Jesus actually had children and a bloodline could exist today. Pretty compelling, and writers who target such a theme can easily tap into a large audience.

In my case, I was exploring a story that was unfolding as I researched and studied my topic area. And while themes certainly emerged, my goal was to tell the best story I could. Sharavogue began as a story of revenge and self-actualization, about the obstacles that can confront you on your way to your goals. Ultimately, and I only realized this after I stumbled across a Keats poem that rang home for me, it is about the range of emotion--from violence and hatred to love and mercy--that humans are capable of feeling and expressing.

I think writing on a theme is great if you are really emotionally engaged with that theme. For me, thinking about what my theme would be stifled the creative process. I needed to let the story unfold in its own way, and then refine it through revisions. When it came time to publish, I did feel a bit exposed, that through my writing I had perhaps revealed more of my private self than I wanted to or should.

As Glen C. Strathy writes:

Curiously, some novelists say they don't believe in theme – or at least they don't believe in giving any thought to the matter while writing. They prefer to concentrate on telling a good story rather than delivering a profound message. However, theme cannot be excluded. Every writer has interests, opinions, biases, and attitudes. Some are conscious; some are unconscious. Some you gain from experience and honest reflection, while others you pick up uncritically from others. You cannot avoid your personal “wisdom” creeping into what you write, creating patterns that can be identified as “themes.” via Choosing a Theme for Your Novel.

I believe in writing from the heart. In my case, I was working on the book for several years. If I had not been deeply and emotionally engaged, I don't believe I could have maintained the energy to complete it. I also had enough self doubt without allowing concern over the proper theme to feed the flame. That theme naturally emerges from creative writing is all part of the magic of writing, and what makes it such an interesting process of discovery.

What's your book about?

Part 4 in the series: How I found the snow path to Dingle I never would have guessed that one of the hardest things about writing a book is being able to describe it to someone in a succinct and compelling way. And when the story is set in a period that most people don't know? A nearly impossible nightmare. What was I thinking?

My publisher sent me some questions to help me prepare for a radio interview. Question 2: Summarize your book in one to three sentences. Here's what I came up with:

Sharavogue is a novel set in the turbulent 1650s, in the time of Oliver Cromwell and his brutal domination of Ireland. This is the tale of one girl’s vow of revenge, her journey through the lawless lands of the West Indies as an indentured servant, and her struggle to return to England to confront her sworn enemy and claim her destiny.

It's all true but I'm not sure compelling, and it doesn't quite get at the fun and adventurous aspects of the book. To do this, I really like the book Save the Cat by Blake Snyder. This book is aimed at screen writers but it is a fun, quick read, straight to the point and so helpful. You've got to be able to describe your book (screen play) in one sentence. "It's about a guy/girl who _______" fill in the blank. Simple, right? If only!

One thing I really liked about this book is that I realized I had basically and instinctively followed Blake's advice before I had even read it, in terms of the structure, the conflict, the beginning, middle and end. And I read the chapter on character development over and over again.

But mostly I liked the honesty and clarity about what works, what doesn't, and reminding us that writing is just one aspect of the book business. If you want people to read what you've written, you've got to sell it. Selling books and selling screenplays is a business, so you have to think in terms of what your customers want and care about.

The book's title refers to the idea that if you want readers to care about your main character, he or she can and should have flaws, but must also do something early on to win their hearts. Save the cat! In my case, my character tries to save her village. She fails, but hopefully by the time that happens the readers have already started to care about her and want to know what happens next, so they keep turning the pages.

Honestly, I still struggle with those one to three sentences. I've practiced saying them, described the book to many readers, and still there are times when I get a blank expression in return. Maybe one day I'll write about a time that people can immediately relate to, and I'll work in an irresistible cat.

Choosing a place in time

Part 3 in the series: How I found the snow path to Dingle pirate ship1670As noted in my last post, my research was leading me to believe I had a book on my hands, or at least I hoped so. I had already finished my first novel but it was lengthy and meandering, and though dear to my heart because it was written as a tribute to my father, I knew it was not marketable as it was and could not see a clear way to fix it. I had already started attending writers' conferences to learn, and found them both helpful and destructive.

In particular, I loved the Surrey International Writers Conference in British Columbia, where I met Diana Gabaldon (I've attended several times), and the Historical Novel Society where I met Margaret George, among others. I did not care for the Pacific Northwest Writers Conference in Seattle, where the speakers' attitudes seemed to be "we're published, you're not and never will be." When I sat down for lunch and realized everyone at my table had the same impression, I knew I'd never go back to that one. The Algonkian Writers Confererence at Half Moon Bay was limited to 15 people who had achieved a certain level of proficiency. I found it intimate, individualized, bonding, positive and instructive.

Among the things I learned was that as a new writer, you need to keep your word count down, because publishers are less likely to make an expensive investment in a new writer, and thick books are costly to print. The recommendation was between 120,000 and 150,000 words. It is tricky with historical fiction, because there is more to explain and describe, but it can be done. (As an example, Sharavogue comes in at just over 117,000 words and the printed book is 292 pages.)

I also learned, as we all know already, you must hook the reader with your first line, your first paragraph, your first page. There are certainly books I've read that did not hit this mark, but I think unless you have a friend in the publishing industry or something else up your sleeve, it's something to strive for. Think of an agent or editor sitting at a desk surrounded by stacks of manuscripts. He or she will be looking for a reason to eliminate some. Don't give them one. I rewrote my openings countless times. (How do you know when it is done? As another author said recently, you just have to write from the heart and hope for the best.)

At these conferences, editors and agents often speak on panels or you can learn what they are looking for during 10-minute one-on-one sessions booked in advance. I remember hearing one agent say enough already with the Tudor period. I saw that comment repeated on another agent's website. So in part that's the reason I decided to look for a time different than Henry VIII, Anne Boleyn or Elizabeth I. I decided to choose a time not often covered in books (the road less traveled, if you will); a time very important in Irish history that spoke to my own Irish heritage. And, one of my goals would be to help illuminate this new time period, because I believed readers of historical fiction wanted, just as I do, to learn about history as they read a good story. From Diana Gabaldon, while falling in love with Jamie I also learned about the battle at Culloden and the Scottish rebellion against English rule.

Of course, the danger in choosing a different time period is the agents and editors also don't know it, so they don't know how to sell it. I deeply admire Hilary Mantel who, with her brilliant books Wolf Hall and Bring Up The Bodies, found a way to approach the Tudor period from a completely different viewpoint: that of the infamous Thomas Cromwell.

I chose Oliver Cromwell, distantly related in the next century whose name still stirs hate among the Irish and admiration among some English, but definitely controversy among all. And I did choose this period, the Irish rebellion of 1641 through Cromwell's march of 1649, but it also chose me. Once I focused, books and articles came to me that I had not really searched for, and then because of those I was drawn to other resources that I sought relentlessly for months. Pieces began to come together like I big, messy jigsaw puzzle.

All good stories must have a beginning, a middle and an end. Fairly early on, I knew the beginning of my book, and then I knew how it would have to end. I really had no idea what would happen in the middle. It took years of research and discovery, but slowly the middle began to take shape and fill in. On that day when I realized the two ends would actually meet, the elation was magnificent!

Crimson Petal Watcher

Just finished watching The DVD disks for The Crimson Petal and the White. I remember feeling excited when the book came out and I bought it immediately, but then I had trouble reading it. I am not a fan of reading about the "dark, gritty underbelly" of anything, and the book is rife with it especially at the beginning, so that my mind could not latch on to one character. I did not finish the book and eventually ended up giving it away. I wish I had persevered, because now that I have seen it I truly love the story. The character Sugar harbors so much hate, having been turned to prostitution by her own mother when she was very young, but then she demonstrates a more loving heart than any other character. Her nurturing and protection of her lover's daughter are endearing, but by the time she steals the daughter away I am cheering for her and want to smack Mr. Rackham upside the head with a shovel. I can't wait to see the next episode and my husband is equally engaged. I had forgotten what cruel times these were for women, the tortures they experienced at the hands of doctors and fashion designers, and the few options they had for survival if they had no family or money. All very well done.