Tuesday, July 25, 2017

Dangerous Excursions

At a gathering of writers in my locale, I had a discussion with a fellow Historical Romance author who, when I mentioned the era of my soon to be released novel, said “You had better be on the right side of history if you’re writing about that period.”

If there is anything more censorial to be said to a writer than that, let me know.

After reading broadly and without bias about the American Civil War, I came to see that there are always two sides of an issue and making a dictatorial proclamation of “right” can only lead to more conflict.

While I have strong beliefs about the evil of slavery, I also know that this evil has existed through the millennia since human beings discovered they did not have to kill their enemies. And slavery exists today. We only have to watch the evening news to hear stories of human trafficking, in ways that are exactly as they were hundreds and thousands of years ago.

Slavery will continue to exist as long as human beings exploit one another for profit and excuse their actions with convenient interpretations of superstitions and prejudices that condone the exploitation of the “other,” the “enemy.” And, especially, the vulnerable and the desperate.

There is no civilization or culture in history that was not and is not guilty of this behavior, including African, Asian, Greek, Roman, Native American, Persian, Arabian, Judaic, et cetera, et cetera.

Therefore, as much as we would like otherwise, there is no “right” side of history.

Writers are particularly vulnerable to censorship, even those of us who shy away from controversial areas. We can either write in all honesty about our fellow humans, or we can take the safe route of “right” (accepted) side, thus contributing to further division and conflict.

In my forthcoming novel, I have chosen to see the good and evil on both sides of the conflict. After all, every conflict is based on the interaction of human beings and their institutions. Novels thrive on conflict. I could have ignored one side of the conflict between the North and South, or whitewashed one side while tarring the other.

But then, how could I have written about the struggle of my hero and heroine to come to terms with how that monumental conflict affected their actions and ability to come to terms with one another?

To write about a period of time in human history, is to embrace the opportunity to examine our own prejudices and preconceptions. Not to engage in that exploration is to deny the ultimate human truth: none of us is perfect.

Tuesday, July 11, 2017

Conference Time

by Fran McNabb

After a lot of soul-searching, financial probing, and writing needs, I decided to once again attend RWA’s National Conference this year in Orlando. I’ve been attending nationals since 2001 or 2002 when I went to my first one as a new non-published RWA member in New Orleans. I was like a kid in a candy store. I wanted to see and to experience everything—and tried to!

I went to as many workshops as I could fit into my day, took copious notes, and talked to as many other writers as I could. By the end of the day I was exhausted, and by the time I drove home I collapsed. It took days for me to recuperate.

As a published author with many local, regional and national conferences under my belt, I now consider myself a seasoned conference attendee. My expectations are totally different. I have volunteered to help during the conference. What better way to meet new people. I will still attend as many workshops as I can, but I’ll be more selective. My goal now is to work on marketing and career info. I might drop into some craft workshops as well because I think we are never too old or too experienced to learn something new. If I can take away one bit of new information from a workshop I feel I’ve used my time wisely. Sometimes just being reminded of things we know we should be doing as a writer is as important as the new info we get.

When I’m asked to give recommendations to new writers, I always tell them to attend as many writing conferences and workshops as possible. Learning is never complete. 
If you're going to RWA this year and it's your first conference, plan for an exciting, educational few days. Wear comfortable shoes, dress in layers, plan your days so you can have downtime, attend workshops that will best fill your needs as a writer, but most of all have fun.

I look forward to a great time in Orlando. If you see me, please stop and say hello.

FRAN MCNABB grew up along the Gulf Coast and uses that setting in many of her novels. She writes tender romances and presently has eight available through most major outlets. She and her husband live on a quiet bayou harbor and enjoy boating, fishing, and visiting the local islands. Writing, painting, and spending time with grandsons fill the rest of her days. Visit her at www.FranMcNabb.com  or contact her at mcnabbf@bellsouth.net. She loves to hear from her readers.

Saturday, July 8, 2017

The Freedom to Write

By Karen McCullough

I’m writing this on July 4th, the day the U.S. celebrates as Independence Day, which started me meditating on freedom and what that means to an author. There are so many layers to the topic I barely know where to start, though, just as freedom itself can be a sticky issue involving questions of individual liberty versus responsibility to others.

I suppose on the broadest possible level, my brain can come up with anything at all to write about. And at an only slightly narrower level, legally I can write pretty much anything I want.  I’m fortunate to live in a country where I have broad leeway to do and say what I want with significant legal protections for my right to say things. I know there are places in the world where that isn’t true.

That said, there are still some constraints. Ugly legal consequences are likely to ensue if I decide to write something that slanders or libels others, plagiarizes someone else, or violates trademarks, etc. Those should be repugnant for an ethical author in any case.

The next level would be standards of good taste that one violates at one’s own risk. There are things I simply won’t write about it. I’m not going into detail because others won’t necessarily agree with my limits, and some people can write well about sensitive topics that I wouldn’t dare tackle. This is also a moving target. Fifty years ago four-letter words and anything hotter than a chaste kiss were verboten in romance novels. Now frank language is the norm and details of sex acts are pretty much expected unless the book is characterized as “sweet.”

And then there’s the practical level, the one that comes down to decisions about marketability, viability, and career-building. At its most basic it’s about the realities of the publishing industry today, and this is the one where I struggle. The way things stand today, whether you’re published by a company big or small or even self-publishing, you’re most likely road to success is to find a niche and fill it as best you can.

And that’s something I’ve never been able to do. My restless imagination chases ideas through a number of different genres and subgenres, returning with story ideas that rarely fit well into any single category or series. I’ve been published in mystery, romance, fantasy, romantic suspense, and paranormal. 

I have one mystery series that lost its publisher after the first one when Five Star/Cengage cut its mystery line. The second one had been written and accepted editorially at the time of the purge, and I’ve since self-published it. Harlequin picked it up (as it hard the first one) and will do a mass market paperback for the Worldwide Mystery Library. And I’m now in the process of writing the third in the series. So far sales aren’t blowing the roof off, but I’m just happy that I actually have some.

So I’ve exercised my right to write whatever I want, and the market has exercised its right to shrug and mostly ignore me. That’s the way it goes.

If you'd like to check out all the different books I've published over the years and their assorted genres, come visit my website at http://www.kmccullough.com

Thursday, July 6, 2017

Holidays, Choices and Freedom

 by Janis Susan May/Janis Patterson

Okay, today I’m going to be a little serious today, because this is a subject on which I am passionate. Don’t worry – I’ll go back to writing and other frivolities next month.

July 1st was Canada Day. July 4th (day before yesterday) was America’s beloved celebration of Independence. July 14th will be France’s Bastille Day, recognized as the beginning of the Revolution against the tyranny of the Bourbon royal house.

I have always wondered why the celebrations of the freedom and sovereignty of three great nations had to fall in the hottest and most uncomfortable month of the year. Anywhere in the Northern Hemisphere you can pretty much count on July being miserable. However, that’s neither here nor there and completely beyond my pay grade.

We must look beyond the physical discomfort and revel in the ideals behind the celebrations. Oh, I know everyone loves the fireworks and parades and picnics and all the other trappings of the holiday, but let’s be honest – anyone can hold a parade or set up a fireworks show just about any time of the year. What is important is the idea behind these three monumental holidays, and this should be important to everyone no matter their political allegiance. Some things go beyond politics.

Freedom. Or, if you prefer, liberty. The right of the people to rule themselves without bowing to the dictates of a single group or another country. The right of the people to choose their own path. The ideal that every man has – within the limits of fair and equitable laws – the right to live his own life as he sees fit. The right of every man to determine his own destiny by his own work and ability. The right of self-reliance and the right to keep what you earn. The right of the pursuit of happiness.

Sometimes each of these countries has fallen a bit short on each of these rights, none of which are guarantees. Every generation has to win these rights again, for as President Reagan said, “Freedom is always only one generation away from extinction.” (And I’m paraphrasing here, but that’s the gist of his statement.) Someone else said that the Tree of Liberty must be watered with the blood of Patriots. I find that incredibly sad, but it’s also incredibly true.

I hope each and every one of you had or will have a simply splendid holiday, with friends and food and fireworks and all good things, but I also hope than during this day of celebration and all the days that follow you remember the reason for celebrating. And give a moment of thought to those who died to preserve your freedom to go your own way and make your own choices.

If I can leave you with one thought, it would be (as so many truths are) from Benjamin Franklin. It comes from a letter he wrote to the Pennsylvania Assembly; many versions of the words exist, but the thought is always the same : “Those who would give up essential Liberty, to purchase a little temporary Safety, deserve neither Liberty nor Safety.”

Even as you celebrate, make your choices well.

Tuesday, July 4, 2017


My husband, daughter and I recently stayed at a B&B on Nantucket.  On our first morning, the owner asked the twelve of us at breakfast a question:  If you could have a conversation with anyone, alive or dead, who would it be? 

I avoided answering because the question seemed so personal.  I didn’t know this woman and had just met the others.  No matter whom I picked, I was afraid my answer would be too revealing.  I’m sure that says something significant about me, but that’s not my point here. Nor will I address why I feel comfortable now answering this question in my blog that could, theoretically, reach more people.

My first thought, if I had answered, was to say I’d like to talk to my mother. She died when I was in my forties before my children became adults and before I’d become the person I am now. She was not easy to talk to and the number of real conversations the two of us had could be counted on the fingers of one hand with several left over. I like to think with more years of life behind me that I’d be able to talk to her now and push past her defenses and get real without her shutting me down. 

But if I had answered that morning I wouldn’t have said my mother.  Instead I’d pick a writer who I admire.  My first thought was Jane Austen because I have read all her books and love every one. But I think the times she lived in are so different than ours that we would not have the same concerns. In addition, because she never had a husband or children she never had to juggle work, children and a spouse or justify occasionally putting herself first.

On the other hand, Ann Tyler, another favorite author, is alive and does have a family. I love how she turns domestic stories into brilliant character studies.  Because I’ve read most of her books, I’m not sure I’d need to ask her any specific questions.  Instead, I’d like to hang out, have lunch, coffee or a glass of wine and chat.  That way I’d find out if she’s a lot different than I am or more like my friends and I with the extra dash of genius that produced such novels as The Accidental Tourist and Dinner at the Homesick Restaurant.

I’d also pick her because she’s a woman.  It seems so many male writers have big egos, assistants and attitude.  I don’t think they would let their hair down or forget that they’re famous and part of the literati as easily as a female writer.  In sum, I don’t imagine they’d be that much fun to spend time with over a drink. 

But mostly Ann Tyler would be my choice because of an essay she wrote about having to schedule her writing time around her children’s activities.  In the essay she described how she’d put away a manuscript to go to her child’s athletic event.  As a woman and a mother, I can so relate to that.  I don’t see a male writer interrupting his afternoon of writing to catch his daughter or son’s soccer game though maybe I’m being harsh and hasty in casting aspersions.

Most significantly though I’d pick Ann Tyler because the last conversation I had with my mother was about one of Ann Tyler’s books, Breathing Lessons.  My mother thought the book was funny.  I read it later, after she died, and didn’t find it funny at all.  But I like to think that talking about it and why we had such different reactions could be a starting point for us.

I wonder how others would answer the question: who would you want to talk to, alive or dead?  Would it be an historical figure?  An ancestor, or would you also go for someone who you could relate to and learn from?