I Finished the First Draft of My Novel. Here’s What I Learned Along the Way.

I’ve finished the first draft of my novel.  This point has been a looong time coming because way back when I started this project I only had a sense of what I wanted to do.

I love reading and when I finished a particularly good novel, one of those that left me with a feeling of great satisfaction mingled with a sense of loss because I would not be spending any more time with those characters, I felt inspired and empowered.  I also felt a deep sense of yearning and desire because I really, really, really wanted to do what those authors did.

Oh lord, I had no idea what I was getting myself into.  The thing is, as readers all we see is the finished product which stirs us and gives us a sense of “hey, I can do that.  It’s easy!

Writing Iceberg

Bah.

Writing ain’t easy.  It’s hard, and very often frustrating, to spin the words until the page is infused with the magic that transports the reader to another land.  Not only that but it takes a long time to see the fruit of our labor.  A lot of steps and mis-steps, sometimes leaping forward, and other times sliding so far backward that we’re all the way back to the starting line.

Anyway, along this long and convoluted path I’ve taken, I’ve actually learned a few things that I’d like to share.  Keep in mind that I’m writing historical fiction so some of this might not apply to other genres.

  • Characterization is king.

Not just the king but the supreme ruler of fiction-land.  It’s all about the characters and their journey.  They can’t simply be like dust hovering in the air with no goals or aspirations.  I recently tried to critique an historical novel but could not finish because not only did the characters not seem to have any desires and goals but even as far as eight chapters in, I still couldn’t really tell what the story was actually about.

  • The bad guys have to have their own story too.

He or she can’t be bad for the sake of being bad.  There has to be a reason they’re like that.  This story is also theirs and they have their own motivations, goals and inspirations, which just happens to be at odds against the other characters.

If you really want to dig deep, blur the lines between his or her nefarious actions and the motivations behind them.  Could they be like that way they are because of a betrayal of some sort?

  • Make your bad guy just as complex as your main character.

Again, the bad guy can’t be bad for the sake of being bad. If your bad guy is a big ole burly dude who is covered in tatoos and spews racist and hate speech, put the infant daughter of his best friend in his arms and see what happens.

  • If your bad guy is a concept, such as religious extremism or hate, or discrimination, it needs a face, or a person, that the protagonist can actually strive against.

Again, I’m writing fiction so there must be someone the protagonist must strive against and the only way he or she can fight against a concept is if there is a person attached to it.  That person must embody the concept in all it’s fullness.   But beware of making he or she a flat stereotypical bad guy.  Just like I said above, make those antagonists fully fledged characters because they, too, have their own stories of why they came to be that way.

  • The story you’re writing must rise above the history.

I love love love history but I’m writing historical fiction, not a history textbook.  I fell into this trap more than once and found myself bringing the history to the forefront and relegating my characters to the back burner.  Every time I did this, I had to go back and fix it.

  • Let go of the “but that’s the way it really happened” mind set.

Again, I’m writing historical fiction, not a history book.  Even though I need to stay true to the historical record sometimes things just didn’t fit.  So in times like this, fudging and manipulation is the name of the game.  Mostly I just kept the focus on my story and said nothing about the history.  Other places I did make changes but I made sure they were very minor.  And for any changes I made, no matter how minor, I inserted an entry in the author notes section because there will always be someone out there who will take me to task about my failing to follow the historical record.

  • Primary sources are the best.

This is a super duper biggie.  Primary sources are those that were generated at or about the time of the events you’re writing about and because of that, they are the best.  The publication I heavily relied upon in writing For the Sake of Freedom was in itself not a primary sources but instead it was a book, born as a thesis paper, that relied solely upon primary sources, including the archives in Mexico.

Texian Iliad - My Bible

Texian Iliad – My Bible for For the Sake of Freedom

Find at least two sources that corroborate each other.  Look for diaries, letters, official correspondence, even newspaper articles and use those before you rely on anything else.  There is one publication that during the research phase I wanted to use but within the second chapter I had to put it down because a great deal of information was erroneous compared all the other primary sources I had found.

If you’re writing historical fiction, and if it’s late enough, also look for secondary sources, or other publications that were published soon after your time frame that relied on primary sources.  In my opinion they’re the next best thing because not only were they’re only one step away from the events of the day but they had access to the people who were alive and participated and wrote about the events of the day.

  • Sources are biased and can be sensationalistic.

Oh yeah.  Believe me, it’s there.  One of the sources I used relied heavily on primary sources yet the author used sensationalistic language.  That is not how I wanted to write my novel so I had to be very careful not to transfer that type of language over to my work.

  • Beware of the perpetuation of errors.

Know your material!  All it takes is one source to make an erroneous comment.  If that source has any amount of legitimacy, as times goes on, that error could become relied upon so much that it ends up becoming fact.

  • Always check the bibliography of your sources.

It will tell you what sources this particular source relied upon.  If you already know what’s out there, it can help corroborate its authentication but it can also open the door to more sources you had no idea were out there.

  • Make connections with those who work in museums and libraries.

They have access to all sorts of great material and if you’re nice, they will become your best friend during the research phase.  My novel is based on the actions of John Walker Baylor, Jr., the nephew of the founder of Baylor University Judge REB Baylor, during the Texas Revolution.  During my research phase, I contacted the curator of the San Jacinto Museum and she referred me to sources about the Baylor family I had no idea were in existence.

Juan Almonte's Texas

Juan Almonte’s Texas.  Not a primary source in itself but a compilation of letters he wrote concerning Texas and his concerns for her future.

So there you go.  Everything I’ve learned over the past few years delivered to all y’all in one big glop of information.

What’s next?  To print out the manuscript and, with red pen in hand, read it and make edits.  For me, reading and editing and navigating those hard copy pages is way easier than to do on a screen, regardless of the device, especially when I need to flip back and forth very quickly to make sure that “yes, I did say that back in chapter 3.”

The very best thing, though, about a hard copy manuscript is that having that tome in hand makes all that long hard work real.  Very real.

Karina

Posted in A Slice of Life, For the Sake of Freedom - Current WIP, Writing | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

On the Road Again – Wildflower Country and Baylor University

It’s springtime here in Central Texas and time for my mom’s annual trek down here to check out the wildflowers.  We got kind of a late start because the entire morning it was raining but we finally left about noon.  This time Mumsie and I went northeast into the heart of wildflower country.

Before we got our first eyeful of nature’s blessings, we saw the devastation from the wildfire that swept through Bastrop Labor Day weekend in 2011.  Every time I go through this area, my heart breaks at the devastation.  I wasn’t able to get much of a picture but here’s one of the debris that has been piled up.  Beyond that you can see the blackened trunks that stand amid the new life that has sprouted.

Wildfire Debris

Wildfire Debris

A little further east and nature rubbed her balm on my soul.

Bastrop Roadway

Bastrop Roadway

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We turned north at Smithville and wound our way through the country looking for fields of flowers, especially the blue bonnets, but mostly what we found were fields of red and yellow and maybe a little white.

And some cattle, lounging and showing off their bling.

Aren't I beautiful?

Ain’t I beautiful?

I always like driving the back country roads because you never know what kind of neat things you get to see.

Train Depot

Let’s have some ice cream while we wait for the train, shall we?

 

In Giddings we oohed and aawed at the Lee County Courthouse. Look at that architecture. Ain’t it beautiful? They sure don’t make stuff like this anymore and that is a terrible shame.

I’m getting a little thirsty. Shall we stop and have a drink?

White Horse Tavern

White Horse Tavern

Finally, finally we came across a good sized field of bluebonnets.  I pulled over and when I got out, oh my word could I smell them.  Bluebonnets by themselves have no scent but when they all get together their scent is a light crispy sweet fragrance that makes me just want to close my eyes and breath deep.

Continuing onward, we found another amazing field full of reds and yellows.

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Soon we arrived in Independence.  Baylor University was originally founded in Independence, Texas by Mumsie’s great, great uncle as a co-ed institution of higher learning.  At some point the sexes were separated and the men were moved to Baylor University on Windmill Hill in Independence.  Later the men’s college was moved to Waco as Baylor University and the women’s college was moved to Belton as the University of Mary Hardin-Baylor.

The columns in the picture on the left is what’s left of the original three story structure.  The picture on the right is what’s left of Baylor University on Windmill Hill.

Mumsie and I walked around for a good while, looking at everything and breathing in our family history.

All too soon the sun began to go down and it was time to go back home.

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I hope you enjoyed the trip!

Karina

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Poem – When the Sun Goes Down

 When the Sun Goes Down

When the sun goes down
And the earth breathes
A sigh of relief
And begins to rest,
The veil between the worlds
Begins to thin.

A soft breeze sighs,
Making it flutter apart.
Slowly the Holy One
Slips through its folds
Of time and space
To walk the land
In search of those
Who are awake.

In the midnight garden
The moonflower blooms wide,
Its heady intoxicating scent
Luring the moth.
Other wild things
Arise from their slumber
And celebrate life.

As for me,
I lay in the grass,
Just to unwind and relax,
And soon I feel my body
Fade away
Until it becomes
One with the land.

Under the rising moon
My soul begins to listen
With a depth
I’ve never known before.

A single word,
Spoken so soft that only
My beating heart can hear,
Drifts through the night air —

Come.

© 2014 KL

One night in August of last year, I was driving home and saw the full moon hovering above the horizon and casting its soft light over the dark countryside.  I felt a tugging in my heart to just stop, get out, and simply be.  I couldn’t do so there but when I got home, I went out to my backyard (which is also kinda sorta out in the country) and laid in the grass where in no time at all, I felt my physical existence fade away.  Nothing remained except for my communion with the divine.

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Book Stuff, Lent, and the Laziest Cat Ever

Howdy everyone.  Just wanted to pop in and give y’all an update on the novel that’s been dragging its feet and trying to take forever to finish.  I’m finally close to the finish line.  Finally!

Racing to the End!

Racing to the End!

Yep.  That’s right.  Nearly at the 100,000 word mark.  Since I’m writing historical fiction, my goal is to be between 100,000 and 110,000.  Any more than that and I’ll most likely need to cut it back.

Last week, when I realized how close I was to the finish line, I nearly had a panic attack because I still didn’t have a worthy title to this little labor of love.  The working title of GTT (Gone to Texas) is just a placeholder title because I wanted to wait and let the story tell me what I should call it.  Well by god, I’d been waiting and waiting and it just refused to tell me what to call it, hence my near panic attack.

I’m now glad to announce the baby has a name:  For the Sake of Freedom.

This title encompasses many layers of the novel.  My protagonist, Melina Parker, is not only struggling for freedom from the bad guy and his nefarious actions but also from society’s expectations of women.  Her supporting character, Walker Donelson is struggling to be free of his family’s political aspirations, and the anglo rebels of Tejas are struggling to be free from the despotic actions of El Presidente Santa Anna.

Geez, I’ve been calling it GTT for so long that it’s weird having a different name.  Now I have to really work hard in changing how I refer to it.

Which segues into Lent.

Lent is all about struggle and sacrifice and this year I had to take drastic action concerning chocolate. My consumption of it was getting ridiculously out of hand, which in my honest opinion is not really a bad thing because, you know, chocolate is the 5th major food group. You know that pyramid of nutrition? Check it out. That whole bottom layer is nothing but chocolate.

Nutrition Pyramid

My Nutrition Pyramid

Chocolate is the foundation on which all good things rest.

So even though life is fantastically good with chocolate, I’m fasting from chocolate for Lent so I need all sorts of good supporting thoughts from y’all so I can get through these next few weeks of struggle and sacrifice.

Peanut Butter Snickers, my latest fav

Peanut Butter Snickers, my latest fav

Which segues into the hilarity of cats.  Which I need because since I’m fasting from chocolate I need something else to stimulate the pleasure center of my brain.

I was wandering around Facebookland and I came across this video of the LAZIEST cat ever.  I think I’ve watched it a bazillion times already because it’s so freakin’ hilarious.

Take care now and have a piece of chocolate for me will ya?

Karina

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From Ancient Cambodia to Computers: There Really Is Nothing New Under The Sun

Just the other day, I was checking out Photochallenge.org.  They have photo challenges every week encouraging their readers to challenge themselves to take their photography to the next level.  This year the theme is macro photography.

Their 2015 Week 5 challenge was titled Computer and one photo caught my eye.

Central Processing Unit, Courtesy Luis Romero via Flikr

Central Processing Unit.  Courtesy Luis Romero via Flikr

This looks suspiciously similar to an ancient temple found in the middle of the Cambodian jungle by Henri Mouhot in 1860.

Angkor Wat, Courtesy Google Maps

Angkor Wat, Cambodia.  Courtesy Google Maps

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Nazca Lines – Yesterday and Today

Recently when I was reading a National Geographic magazine I came across an aerial image of Sun City, Arizona which reminded me of the Nazca lines of Peru.  Perchance might this be the modern day version of those Nazca lines of old?

Sun City, Arizona

Modern Nazca Lines Courtesy Google Maps

Sun City Neighborhood, Courtesy Google Maps

Peru

 

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Sunrise over the Gulf of Mexico

So the middle of January is upon us and the cedar season in Central Texas is in full bloom.  Or should I rather say that it’s the time of year in which the cedar has declared full war on the humans.  Because my Dude is so sensitive to the cedar pollen, we took our annual trek to South Padre Island for the salt air to clean out his sinuses.

We typically get a room that faces the Gulf of Mexico so we can open the balcony door to listen to the surf and let the salt air in the room.  This year, for the first time ever, I was able to watch the sun rise over the Gulf of Mexico:

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It never ceases to amaze me how something so common and everyday can be so different and special every time we see it.

Karina

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