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Friday, March 31, 2017

Chewing the Cud - Tips for First Draft ... by Meg Mims

The terror of the blank page… ah, yes. All that white space.

Who else has heard advice like, "just vomit it out," or "get it down fast, you can fix it later," or what have you. Uh huh. If that works for you. Doesn't for me. I get stuck. Often. And I'm not a "pantser" anyway, never have been. I need at the very least Michael Hauge's 5-point outline, with the inciting incident, first and second turning points, point of no return, and climax. After writing ten plus books and novellas, I need more before I sit down to write something new.

Sure, we’ve seen quotes from famous authors about first drafts. “The first draft of anything is sh**.” (Ernest Hemingway) “I’m simply shoveling sand into a box so that later I can build sand castles.” (Shannon Hale) “The first draft is just you telling yourself the story.” (Terry Pratchett)

I like the last one best, but even in telling myself the story, I falter. Um… hmm. Hoo boy. I know A-B-C-D, but what about the points in between? The gaps in my outline. The little details about my characters that never made it into my sketches when I first started preparations. And I spend a good month preparing before every book, especially now that I’m writing a series. Ever hear of a "book bible"? Yeah, you need one. Don’t let anyone tell you otherwise, or you'll find characters with the same first or last name, or switching identities faster than models on a runway. If you don't know your characters, readers will get confused. So will you. "Uh, who's Bill? Oh, wait... he's Jim."

You also need to know your characters' backgrounds, from birthdate to family to home life to education to friends, married or single, kids or not wanting them, attitudes toward parents, religion, morals, etc., etc., etc. There are lots of charts you can fill out, or make up your own. Protagonists, minor characters, and don't forget your villains. They need motives for what they do. If you don’t know your characters well enough, they may end up worse than flat soda.

They’ll also stop talking to you. Like wayward, snotty kids holding back secrets. Yeah. They’re brutal that way. You're typing along, feeling smug, pushing to the halfway point, and then WHAM. Your hero or heroine does something stupid. And you're sitting there, wondering why.

Ooooh, man.

Or like a bad actor, they go hide in their trailer and refuse to come out. Until you beg them, bribe them, or figure out what is going on. And you'd better, or that deadline's gonna hit you right in the nose.

That's why I stop, take stock of who these people are and why they do what they do instead of what I want them to do - and what's odd, sometimes they're right.

SO I'm finally getting around to the point. What does work (for me) is a process I call “chewing the cud.” Sounds gross, doesn’t it. The humble cow, or goat, alpaca, sheep, and antelope, cannot digest one time through, so they repeat the process. Rumination: “chewing the cud.” Also, “a deep or considered thought about something.”

So when I sit with my laptop, taking snippets of my outline and pasting them into the next chapter, pushing out the words, halting every so often until they run out... Sound familiar? I take a break. Get up, walk around, do the dishes (Agatha Christie swore by such chores), vacuum (you'd be surprised how the noise helps your brain ponder, almost as good as listening to music), take a shower, a walk, a box of cookies out of the fridge – er, no, I can’t do that anymore. Dang. Who can stop at one anyway...

Maybe those cattle ponder things while chewing. They do look fairly peaceful out in the pastures.

I’m flummoxed by writers who can churn out thousands of words day after day. Yeah, everyone has a different process. Mine is more of an “ocean wave” where the tide comes in and goes out, a little farther each time… but dang. Some days the tide stops. So I give my brain (and subconscious) a little break, time to ruminate, swallow, chew again. Taking a break (like right now, writing this blog post) can refresh the well, fill the cistern, drink from the stream of ... well, you get the idea. Every writer needs a few breaks to prevent burnout. Take a nap. Do yoga. READ A BOOK.

Reading is especially good, especially if it's something outside of the genre you're writing. Anything but, in fact, as far from normal as possible, like a zombie horror, or a biography (I'm tackling the one about Alexander Hamilton), a classic, whatever strikes your fancy. And read like a writer while you're at it. Nuances of character, a fresh descriptive phrase, or a vocabulary word the author uses in a unique way. File it in the back of your mind.

Thibodeau Photography
I almost always come up with something to plug in that works earlier in the draft, or where I stopped. Often what comes is something important that I’d never planned on – a happy accident, as the painter Bob Ross would call it. Sometimes it’s just a small detail. Whatever, I welcome it.

Chew on that. It might help your first draft.

Meg Mims is currently writing the "Shamelessly Adorable" teddy bear cozy mystery series - Bearly Departed will debut in June for Kensington, and she's working on Bear Witness to Murder now. Meg won a 2012 Best First Novel Spur Award for Double Crossing, a western mystery, and is also one half of the writing team D.E. Ireland for the Eliza Doolittle & Henry Higgins mysteries - with two finalist berths in 2014 and 2016 for the Agatha Award Best Historical Mystery. Meg is chafing to write another western, if she can squeeze more calendar days into the year.

Tuesday, March 21, 2017

Huzzah! Knights, Kings and Living the High Life

Town square anchored by medieval church in Astorga, Spain. The city began life as a Roman outpost, then town, and is now a major stop on the Camino de Santiago.

This is the second of a six-part series about the Middle Ages with the goal of giving casual readers of medieval romances a better understanding of the time period.  Eventually, we’ll talk about why there were no damsels in distress and why a knight is shining armor isn’t a good sign but first… we’re going to discuss The High Middle Ages, which is pretty much what people think of when you say “medieval.”


In First the Fall, Then the Babarians, we discussed the macro trends of the early medieval period and how they set the foundation for the Early Middle Ages. In short, these trends were the breakdown of the Pax Romana followed by mass, sometimes violent, migrations that led to the establishment of dozens of small kingdoms in which kings vowed to protect while those around him pledged loyalty and service. 

Today, we're talking about kings and knights.

High Middle Ages (~1100 to 1400) 

For most people, Medieval travel was disguised as a "pilgrimage."
The High Middle Ages started about 1050 A.D. (shortly after the millennium came and went without the world ending—yes, medieval Europe had a Y1K scare) and lasted until about the 1348. After that date, repeated waves of plague, war and economic troubles inexorably altered society. The period between the High Middle Ages and the Renaissance is typically called the Late Middle Ages. From an academic point-of-view, I prefer to call it a transition period, but that’s me.

During the High Middle Ages, the barbarian invasions ceased, the Vikings got religion and grew roots, and Europe became more politically organized and—most importantly—politically stable, which leads to wealth, leisure, scholarship, art and architecture and travel. Politically instability leads to the loss of those key social components.

Key Trends

  • Population growth. The population reached levels in the mid-13th century that wouldn’t be seen again for 600 years.
  • A warming trend from the 10th to the 14th century bolstered crop yields and saw wheat grown in Scandinavia and wine grapes raised in England
  • Food production increased due to the use of a heavier plow, horses instead of oxen, and a three-field system.

This population boom also contributed to the growth of urban centers and in industrial and economic activity during the period. This period brought us spinning wheels (an improvement over the distaff), magnetic compasses (major impact on navigation and trade) and movable type (which made possible the printing press—arguably the most significant advance of our species).

Bumper crops contributed to increased trade and learning, which created an outburst of creativity in art and architecture. In part because of the Crusades, the learned rediscovered Aristotle. The philosophical giants of the age included Peter Abelard, Thomas Aquinas, and Francesco Petrarca (Petrarch). 

Political leadership was in the hands of the likes of Pope Gregory VII, Henry II, and Emperor Henry IV, and the power struggle between church and state reached its apex. The era also gave us chivalric role models such as Richard the Lionheart, William Marshal, and Edward, the Black Prince.

On the downside, the social structure solidified with titles, occupations and place becoming inherited. What this meant for most people is if their father were a tanner, they would be a tanner.

Knights also became common baronial accouterments. Technically, these armed men served the king (each vassal owed the king so many lance fees depending upon the size of his lands) but these knights also kept royal power in check as the king couldn’t always force his vassals to do as he bid. Under weak kings household knights amounted to a private army and contributed to the Anarchy of the English Civil War and kept the Capetian Kings’ influence limited to its power base in and around Paris. 

A Good King

Unlike the early Middle Ages when the king had to be a good warrior, warrior kings could be disastrous during this era. The most extreme case is probably Richard I, who didn’t pay attention to the administrative details, didn’t leave an heir before traipsing off on crusade and bankrupting England during his 10-year reign. 

His brother John, on the other hand, had the makings of a good king because he was an able administrator. He failed, though, because he inherited a bankrupt kingdom from his brother and was extremely unpopular with his nobles and subjects. In my opinion, he neither liked people nor was liked by them, so the ability to build relationships, which is critical to good governance in any era, eluded him.

The Good Fight

The Crusades stimulated the economy, reviving trade and banking, weakened many noble families (who were bankrupted or destroyed by the crusades), which in turned strengthened crown and miter, and energized learning, contributing to the growth of universities. Another benefit, less easily traced but one that we can assume is a certain refinement that came from the lords and knights who did return from the Holy Land. Travel tends to change how one thinks. It was true then. It’s true now.

Leisure time was a benefit of political stability. Society could build the great cathedrals, people could afford to go on pilgrimages, and families could survive having a son spend years at one of the universities. Leisure time also allowed for the growth of jousts or tournaments, the football (soccer) of its day.

If you've never seen the Heath Ledger movie A Knights Tale, watch it. The anachronisms are legion. But the movie captures the spirit of a medieval tournament, and is good brain candy.

Note: these tournaments were similar to today’s modern rodeo, a celebration of skills that are no longer needed in everyday life. With this in mind, we’ll talk about the Ideals of Chivalry vs. Realities of War next month.

Keena Kincaid writes historical romances in which passion, magic and treachery collide to create unforgettable stories. Her books are available from Prairie Rose Publications and Amazon. For more information on her stories, visit her Amazon page, her website, or Facebook.

Monday, March 20, 2017


While working on my most recent novel set in the mountains of eastern California, for one scene I needed a predator. I considered both cougars and black bears, animals still found in California. A quick review of how a cougar stalks and attacks its prey convinced me it was not my best choice for my scene.

A black bear—a misnomer since this species of bear can be anywhere from black to golden brown in color—can be a formidable foe, but not enough. Living as close to Yosemite National Park as I do, I know about the bear problems that can erupt there, mainly black bears raiding ice chests and tearing open cars to get at food left where it can be seen. However, it is known that if people run across a black bear, as long as they don’t have it cornered to where there is no escape route, a lot of shouting, arm-waving and creating loud noises such as beating on the bottom a pan with a metal spoon will almost always scare a black bear away.

I was a counselor for a church girls camp up in Clark’s Fork in the Sierra Nevada Mountains one year when they had a problem with two black bears that raided the dumpster every night. There were strict rules on not allowing the girls at night to keep candy or treats in the A-frame shelters that were open on one end. Every night, the girls were expected to put their candy and treats they brought from home in a sack with their name on it and bring it to the camp kitchen where it could be secured until morning. 

Do you have any idea how well twelve year-old girls DO NOT listen to warnings of danger when it means not having access to their candy? The first night in camp, while almost asleep, I detected the distinct sounds and smells of candy being unwrapped and consumed. I got out of my sleeping bag, gathered up all the offending wrappers and the remaining candy, demanded of the other girls they produce any stash they might have on hand, and marched a sackful to the middle of a big open field where I left it. I warned them if they pulled that stunt again they were sleeping outside the A-frame. If a bear was going to come after their candy, or even the smell of candy on their breaths, because they refused to follow the safety rules, I didn’t want it to get anywhere near me. That was the end of the secret nighttime candy stashing. I was not invited back as a youth counselor the following year.

Back to my dilemma of deciding on a credible predator for my characters to face. I ruled out both mountain lions and black bears. Only a grizzly bear would do. The question was, were there still grizzly bears alive in California in 1884?

The California grizzly (Ursus arctos californicus) was a subspecies of the grizzly, the very large North American brown bear. "Grizzly" could have meant "grizzled" (that is, with golden and grey tips of the hair) or "fear-inspiring". Nonetheless, after careful study, naturalist George Ord formally classified it in 1815 – not for its hair, but for its character – as Ursus horribilis ("terrifying bear"). Genetically, North American grizzlies are closely related; in size and coloring, the California grizzly was much like the grizzly of the southern coast of Alaska, shown above. In California, it was particularly admired for its beauty, size, and strength.

 The first recorded encounters of California grizzlies by the Europeans are in the diaries kept by several members of the 1769 Portola expedition, first exploration by land of what is now the state of California. Several place names that include the Spanish word for bear (oso) trace their origins back to that first expedition.

As the settled frontier of New Spain was extended northward, settlers began to populate California and establish large cattle herds as the main industry. The grizzly bears killed livestock and so became enemies of the rancheros. Vaqueros hunted the grizzlies, sometimes roping and capturing them to be displayed in public battles with bulls. This popular spectator sport inspired betting as to whether the bear or the bull would win.

The Euro-Americans found a large population of grizzlies throughout the state. Grizzlies were perceived as a dire threat to life and property, and were killed in large numbers. By the early 1900s, few grizzlies and little of their prime habitat in the Central Valley where I currently live remained.
Kodiak bear, similar in appearance to a California Grizzly.
A Kodiak bear (Ursus arctos middendorffi), is very similar physiologically to the California grizzly, despite the pronounced humpback.

The grizzly became a symbol of the Bear Flag Republic, a moniker that was attached to the short-lived attempt by a group of American settlers to break away from Mexico in 1846. Critics often pointed out that this quickly-assembled flag looked more like a pig than a bear. However the men of the Bear Flag Revolt intended it to be not just a bear, but a grizzly bear, a symbol in that part of the world of something powerful and to be feared if crossed. Later, this rebel flag became the basis for the state flag of California. California became known as the "Bear State."

The California Grizzly Bear, the largest and most powerful of the bears, thrived in the state for centuries. Some grew to a formidable height of 8 feet and weighed 2,000 pounds, according to a history of California written in 1898. When European immigrants arrived in the state, it was estimated that 10,000 grizzlies inhabited most regions of California. As humans began to populate the state, the grizzly stood its ground, refusing to retreat in the face of advancing civilization.
James Grizzly Adams
Less than 75 years after the discovery of gold, however, every grizzly in California had been tracked down and killed. Although the grizzly had roamed the state at will for 300 years, the gold rush of 1849 rang the death knell for the bear. 

It has been said that the appearance of the repeating rifle in 1848 spelled death for the grizzly. Initially hunted by miners and others because it was considered dangerous, the grizzly was then mercilessly hunted for sport and for its warm fur. Settlers in the late 1800s commonly shot and poisoned bears to protect their livestock. The last hunted California grizzly was shot in Tulare County, California, in August 1922, although no body, skeleton or pelt was ever produced. Two years later in 1924, what was thought to be a grizzly was spotted in Sequoia National Park for the last time, and thereafter, grizzlies were never seen again in California.

Today, the California grizzly (Ursus arctos californicus) is an extinct subspecies of the grizzly, the very large North American brown bear. However, the memory as a powerful predator and a formidable foe lives on by its presence on the California state flag.

Zina Abbott is the pen name used by Robyn Echols for her historical western romances. Five of her books in the Eastern Sierra Brides 1884 series, , Big Meadows Valentine, A Resurrected Heart, Her Independent Spirit, Haunted by Love  and Bridgeport Holiday Brides, have been published by Prairie Rose Publications and are available. A sixth full-size novel, Luck Joy Bride, is in the works.

Wikipedia-California Grizzly Bears

Wednesday, March 15, 2017



This week, I became obsessed with the desire to write an Important Book. Time has proven that I can write a book...several, in fact...and readers like them, and in some cases, love them. But does this make any of my books Important?I think not.
But what kinds of books become Important? And why?

Books of the Bible: surely these are Important Books. Each one was inspired by an unusual or mystic event that eventually changed the history of the world and mankind.  Each book was conceived by either a witness to a miracle, a prophetic dream, a dramatic experience, or a religious revelation. Probably no one today could write books such as these: Exodus, The Four Gospels, Revelation, Psalm, Proverbs. 
The Great Books of the Western World: The original editors of the series chose three criteria for inclusion: Relevant to contemporary issues, important in historical context, and must be a part of "the great conversation about the great ideas."  A few examples are: Works by Aristotle, Plato, Virgil, Homer, William Shakespeare, Charles Darwin, Karl Marx.  
Important Books--A children's book titled, what else but "The Important Book," written by author of "Good Night, Moon," Margaret Wise. This simple book is about learning the importance of objects: a ball (it's round), a box (it's square), etc. So simple, I could have written this book. But...I didn't.
Classics: Almost everyone would agree the books now categorized as Classics are Important Books: To Kill a Mockingbird, Les Miserables, The Old Man and the Sea, Little Women, Jane Eyre, The Scarlet Letter, Gatsby, Little Women, Moby Dick, Lord of the Flies--all these will live on.
Best Sellers: Some all-time best sellers might be labeled as Important Books. The most important have sold more than 100 million copies: A Tale of Two Cities, Lord of the Rings, The Little Prince, The Hobbit, Then There Were None. (To Kill a Mockingbird? Nope.. not even close to 100 million.)
Inspirational or Motivational: The Purpose Driven Life, How to Win Friends and Influence People, The Power of Positive Thinking, The Road Less Traveled.
I see that I have a very high mountain to climb. How can I possibly compete with any of these Important Books?Well, I can't. I don't know one person in the realm of all my acquaintances in my entire life who has written An Important Book.
So, where does that leave me? In the dust, so to speak. Now I don't feel so much like a failure. Thinking I might possibly write something Important should just be a thought to put away.
On the other hand, how many common people never thought they'd do or write something Important? But they did? Maybe the book or feat wasn't way up there with Aristotle or M. Scott, M.D. who wrote The Road Less Traveled, but it still turned out to be good enough to be on the NY Best Sellers List.
We don't need to reach for the moon, but we might want to consider reaching a little farther than we have so far. My goodness, look at me. I have inspired myself! I'll just wait for a prophetic dream, a revelation of some sort, or perhaps a miracle. And then, get out of my way. I might write an Important Book.

"A Journey sets Annie on a path of discovery--new horizons, an inner strength, and quite possibly, love."
Celia YearyRomance, and a little bit of Texas
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Tuesday, March 14, 2017

Indian Boarding Schools

By Kristy McCaffrey

During the 1800’s, when many Native Americans were forced onto reservations, the American government agreed to provide money, food, and education for their children. While this exchange proved to be largely detrimental to the Indian population, it was still believed that if they could learn to speak English, become Christian, and farm the land as European Americans did, then they would become successful in life. To this end, Christian churches began to open mission schools on reservations. Later, boarding schools were created with the idea that it would be easier to teach children a new way of life if they were taken from their own families and people. Boarding schools were established in 15 states or territories including Pennsylvania, Michigan, Nebraska, Oregon, California and Idaho. Children stayed anywhere from four to ten years.

While some parents readily agreed to send their children, believing they needed to learn English and new job skills, others refused. In many instances, the government forced the children to go. In 1895, a group of Hopi leaders were sent to Alcatraz Island for seven months because they wouldn’t send their children to a boarding school.

New students were stripped of their native clothing and given uniforms. Their hair was usually cut short, and they were given English names. They were punished if they used their native language. Their spiritual traditions were forbidden, replaced instead with church services and the observance of Christian holidays. The schools were often over-crowded and many children became sick, contracting influenza, tuberculosis, and measles.

While overwhelmingly negative for most children, one positive aspect was that many built lasting friendships with Native Americans from other tribes while at school together. It wasn’t until the mid-1900’s that most boarding schools were closed.

* * * * *

In my book, Into the Land of Shadows, a historical western romance set in the Arizona Territory, Ethan Barstow and Kate Kinsellawhile searching for Ethan's brother, Charleyfind three Hopi children hiding in the desert, on the run from nearby Keams Canyon Boarding School.

A steamy historical western romance set in 1893 Arizona Territory.

Carolyn Readers’ Choice Award Finalist

FREE in Kindle Unlimited

“…as if ‘Romancing The Stone’ and ‘The Good, the Bad and the Ugly’ and ‘Dances With Wolves’ got together and had a kid.” ~ Armenia, Reading Alley Reviewer

Into the Land of Shadows is a must read. Kristy McCaffrey tells a story that is engaging and edge-of-the-seat gripping. Her vivid descriptions and great cast of characters, with exceptional dialogue, bring this story to life.”

            ~ Cherokee, Coffee Time Romance & More

Frustrated from enduring Kate’s close proximity for hours, Ethan decided it was high time he broke Brandy of her overwhelming fondness for her mama. How was he supposed to keep his distance if Kate rode so close to him all day? It was his own damn fault, of course, for not being stricter with his favorite mare. Ethan had a soft spot for Whiskey and honestly saw no problem allowing her to dote on her offspring. But it was a problem now. Kate Kinsella was a problem.

Movement off to the right caught his eye. An object flew toward him and he jerked forward in reflex as Kate screamed.

Ethan turned to see the rock smack her in the face and push her from Brandy. He struggled with Whiskey’s reins as the horse snorted and stepped backward. She wanted to bolt, but Ethan held her steady with one hand while pulling his gun with the other.

He shot in the direction of the hidden attacker. Or attackers? It couldn’t be the three bastards who wanted their donkey back. If it was, they were damn persistent. Ethan decided he would pay for the damn animal and be done with it.

He slid off Whiskey’s back and crouched low. He shot three more times as he rounded Brandy’s backside, hoping she wouldn’t kick him in the head.

As he reached Kate’s side Whiskey and Brandy bolted, leaving a cloud of dust in their wake and Ethan and Kate without cover. Fred was nowhere to be seen. There was no return gunfire so Ethan scooped Kate into his arms and ran quickly behind a rocky outcrop, keeping his gun pointed and ready. As he released her to the ground he saw blood oozing between her fingers where her hand covered her left eye.

“Jesus, Kate, are you all right?

“What was that?” She looked dazed.

“I think it was a rock,” Ethan replied. “Move your hand and let me have a look.” She complied and Ethan saw an open gash but luckily it had missed her eye. Still, it was nasty and needed immediate attention.

“You’re gonna be fine,” he said soothingly. She was going to have a humdinger of a scar, especially if he didn’t get it stitched up, but he didn’t really want to break that news to her yet.

“I’m bleeding a lot,” she said, staring at her bloodied hand.

“I know.” Ethan reloaded his gun. “Face wounds do that. I’m gonna take care of these sonsofbitches,” he said, anger filling his thoughts. “Stay here. I’ll get you cleaned up in no time.”

“Ethan—” He ignored Kate’s plea, stood and advanced on their attackers.

“You worthless scumbags!” he yelled. “Come on out and show yourselves.”

With his arm stretched long, he fixed his gun on the last known location of the rock thrower. No more shots in the legs or shoulders. If they didn’t surrender this time, he would kill them. Kate’s safety demanded it.

He heard the scuffle of rocks and dirt as someone, or several men, started to retreat. Ethan made a wide arc and moved quickly to the assailant's hideout.

“I’ll shoot,” he warned, his finger resting on the trigger and close to doing just that. He stopped short at the faces that stared back at him, wide-eyed and innocent.

The attackers were three young Indian children.

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