Morning Coffee: Halloween

001It’s that time of year again. The time of year when the leaves change colors and drop from the trees. The time of year when we swap out t-shirts and shorts for jeans and cardigan sweaters, sandals for boots. We drink hot chocolate instead of iced tea. The daylight hours are growing shorter and the temperature is dropping. Two days ago we had our first snowfall here in northwest Wisconsin. We are beginning to nestle in for the winter, dreaming of the holidays to come and nights in front of a warm fire.

In the past, the change of seasons was seen as a shift between a time of plenty and a time of want, a time of life and a time of death. Halloween’s origins began 2000 years ago with the ancient Celtic festival of Samhain (pronounced: sow-in). For the Celts this was a time of both celebration and superstition. It was a celebration of the end of the harvest season and the beginning of winter as well as the new year, which they celebrated on November 1st. They also believed the night before Samhain, October 31st , was the one night each year when the spirits of the dead were free to return and walk the earth. The Celts lit great bonfires and wore costumes to ward off the ghosts. They believed that if they wore a mask, if they dressed like a ghost, the ghosts would believe they were one of them and pass them by. The Celts believed that the presence of spirits made it easier for the priests and Druids to make predictions about the future. They were a people dependent on the uncertainties of nature. By believing these prophesies they brought themselves comfort over the long, dark winter ahead.

In the 18th C Pope Gregory III declared November 1st All Saints Day, a day to honor the saints and martyrs. The night before became known as All Hallows Eve. This was a time to pray for the souls of their dead. The name later changed to Halloween. Gradually over the centuries this celebration has evolved into the secular, family-friendly holiday we know today. So tomorrow children in masks and costumes will ring your doorbell, give the obligatory chant of “trick-or-treat” and in return receive from you a piece of candy. We will carve faces into pumpkins and light them with candles. We will hang ghosts and witches from our trees. Some people will go all out and recreate entire cemeteries in their front yard. Adults and teenagers will dress-up and go to parties where they will dance, bob for apples, and perhaps drink too much. There may even be a bonfire or two.

But all in good fun, right???

Morning Coffee: Hunting

001Hunting season is in full swing here in northern Wisconsin. Grouse, pheasant, duck, goose, bear, deer…you name it and someone hunts it. As a writer I’m always hunting, hunting for the right word, the right emotion, the right style. My pen is my weapon and it doesn’t always hit the mark.

Sometimes it’s a matter of using the correct word, affect vs effect or who vs whom, but most of the time it’s about using the perfect word, that one word that says it all exactly right. The correct word means opening one or more of my always handy English usage guides; finding that elusive perfect word can be a lot trickier. That’s where my hunting skills come into play.

When my heroine cries does she sniffle, does she sob, or does she outright wail? Maybe she isn’t a crier at all; maybe she gets angry. Knowing my characters makes tracking the perfect word much easier. Then there are those words that are both correct and perfect and they can only be found with good old-fashioned research; and sometimes a lot of floor pacing.

In my historical romance, “Mary Bishop”, my heroine owns a gun and I had to determine what would be the perfect gun for her and for the time period. I couldn’t just keep referring to it as the gun, that tells my readers very little, and if I use the wrong gun for the time, or the wrong ammunition for the gun, my readers will be quick to call out my error. Problem is, I know very little about guns. On a positive note, I have a history degree, own a library full of historic reference books, and personally know many gun owners.

It’s 1881 and I chose a Colt 1860 Army Revolver that her now late husband took off a Confederate officer in the beginning months of the war. This choice led to much debate within my critique group. Not a debate over the gun choice, but over the way I reference it in the story. Some felt the term revolver sounds too modern and I should call it a pistol. This is where my research came in handy. I was able to explain that not only is the term revolver not a modern one, but why I believe it is the better choice. It’s more specific. Now my only decision is where I call it her revolver, her Colt, or her gun. If I don’t mix it up just right within a scene I risk sounding repetitive…thus the occasional pacing.

Happy hunting!

Morning Coffee: Bananas

Like bananas, you’ll find most successful writers in bunches. I know you’ve heard writing is a solitary task. That’s true. Sometimes creativity is a battle better fought alone. Who wants to be around us when we’re pacing the floor, agonizing over whether to write our Great American Novel in first or third person, past or present tense? But without the occasional support of other writers we’d go stark-raving mad and probably self-destruct. We need to know there are more of us struggling out there. We need to find the rest of our bunch.

I personally belong to a number of organizations/critique groups, each one helping me hold my head above water. The Wisconsin Writers Association (“WWA”) and the Wisconsin Fellowship of Poets (“WFOP”) offer conferences and publish regular newsletters where we can share our accomplishments. They also offer creative publications where we can showcase our work: Creative Wisconsin for WWA and the annual calendar for WFOP. I’ve been included in both.

Then there’s the Romance Writers of America (“RWA”), the Wisconsin Romance Writers of America (“WisRWA”), and our local WisRWA chapter in Chippewa Falls. They also offer conferences and news about members, as well as industry updates and the opportunity to compete for prizes for both published and unpublished works.

If it’s artistic feedback I seek, I belong to two wonderful critique groups. Locally there’s the Northern Lakes Writers Guild in Amery. While they’re open to any form of writing, I predominantly avail upon their expertise for my poetry. The group leader is a wonderful published poet and I’ve grown tremendously under his guidance. For fiction, I always return to a group of women I met with monthly for almost thirty years while living in Rochester, New York. This year they’ve provided me with sometimes brutally honest but always insightful comments as I’ve bombarded them with chapter after chapter of my historical romance “Mary Bishop”, and my book is better for it.

I don’t know where I’d be right now if I didn’t have my fellow bananas to periodically remind me that I’m not alone, and that not every word that flows from my brain onto paper is the word of God etched in stone. No matter how beautiful and inspired, sometimes they just have to go…thanks to my bunch.

Morning Coffee: Magic

Disney. A name synonymous with wonder, magic, and imagination. Disney. A place that promises “When you wish upon a star / Makes no difference who you are / Anything your heart desires / Will come to you … When you wish upon a star / Your dreams come true.”

Disney. A magical world where little girls dress like princesses, no matter how hot the weather. Disney. A time machine where grown women forget about their jobs, don mouse ears, and join their girlfriends for a day transported back to their childhood.

Isn’t that the goal of all writers? Walt Disney does not hold the rights to creativity. (Neither does Steven Spielberg, for that matter.) They’re just showing us how to achieve it, which path to follow; the path of hard work and perseverance. The path of “Believe” and it will happen. Every day when we sit at our keyboards we have the chance to create new worlds, characters that will capture the imagination of our readers.

Do you wish upon a star? Does your heart desire the dream? Then go for it because when you wish upon a star your dreams come true. Walt Disney said so.

Morning Coffee: Firsts

Firsts: first day of school, first love, first kiss, first child/grandchild, and the list goes on. Firsts are an important part of our lives. For me, this is my first blog, and it follows the completion of my first novel draft. . .and, hopefully, my first published book. But that can’t happen until I finish numerous rounds of revisions. <groans of agony>

So, hang on tight as we take this journey together. Oh, and please be patient as I figure out how to use such things as widgets. I will conquer this, too!