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10 Years Later, ‘North & South’ Remains the Greatest Period-Drama Miniseries of All Time

Friday, November 14, 2014
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Kaye Dacus:

It’s hard to believe that NORTH & SOUTH came out ten years ago. Great retrospective/review over at Flavorwire. I think this will be a great weekend to rewatch this classic!

Originally posted on Flavorwire:

Ten years ago tonight, the BBC premiered a four-part miniseries, North & South (not to be confused with the Patrick Swayze-starring civil war drama of the same name), adapted from Elizabeth Gaskell’s 19th-century novel of cross-class romance in the industrial North of England. The BBC didn’t harbor huge expectations for the series, coming as it did in the midst of a glorious decade of nonstop adaptations of major works by Austen, Brontë, and Dickens. But then, a few weeks later, the fourth installment of North & South ended with a tender, long-awaited kiss (now known to viewers as “The Kiss”). Immediately, so many people flooded the BBC’s online message boards that they crashed and shut down. It’s been enshrined in fangirl lore as “the infamous night that period drama fans broke (a small part of) the BBC (dot com).”

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A 2014 Reading Challenge Check-In

Thursday, November 13, 2014

With just seven weeks left in 2014, I thought now would be a good time to review my reading challenge and see if I’m going to meet both goals I set for myself.

Goal #1—Read at least 50 books in 2014
I will meet this goal, no problem. I currently have books #47, 48, and 49 in progress.

Goal #2—Read books in 25 specific pre-determined categories
I’m missing 5 from the specified categories (#21-25 below). Here’s everything I’ve read so far (and am currently reading) in 2014:

2014 Reading Challenge Categories

# Category Actually Read Date Finished Star Rating
1. Annual Austen Persuasion by Jane Austen 11/8/2014 5
2. Book written by a fellow SHU-WPF Alumnus Touch of Power by Maria V. Snyder 3/20/2014 4
3. Classic American Literature Washington Square by Henry James 10/6/2014 2.5
4. Classic British Literature The Making of a Marchioness by Frances Hodgson Burnett 2/24/2014 3.5
5. Fantasy The Hero’s Lot (The Staff and the Sword, #2) by Patrick W. Carr 7/14/2014 4
6. From my Books to Sample list A Night to Surrender by Tessa Dare 2/12/2014 3
7. General Market Contemporary Romance Love Overdue by Pamela Morsi 2/18/2014 3
8. Horror/ Paranormal Better Homes and Hauntings by Molly Harper 7/15/2014 4.25
9. Inspirational Historical Romance When Calls the Heart (Canadian West #1) by Janette Oke 3/20/2014 3
10. Lifelong Favorite (re-read) Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire by J. K. Rowling 2/24/2014 5
11. Mystery Dead Heat by Dick Francis 5/24/2014 4
12. New-to-Me Non-Romance Author A Deeper Darkness by J. T. Ellison 4/21/2014 4
13. New-to-Me Romance Author Secrets of a Summer Night by Lisa Kleypas 1/25/2014 2.75
14. Nonfiction: History or Biography The Adventure of English: The Biography of a Language by Melvyn Bragg 8/14/2014 5
15. Nonfiction: Literary Criticism What Matters in Jane Austen?: Twenty Crucial Puzzles Solved by John Mullan 1/15/2014 4
16. Nonfiction: Memoir Call the Midwife: A Memoir of Birth, Joy, and Hard Times by Jennifer Worth 8/16/2014 3.75
17. Nonfiction: Writing/Professional Development The Writer’s Guide to Everyday Life in the Middle Ages: The British Isles, 500 to 1500 by Sherrilyn Kenyon 6/21/2014 3
18. Science Fiction The Empress of Mars by Kage Baker 10/13/2014 3
19. Time Travel Lightning by Dean Koontz 3/5/2014 4.5
20. Young Adult Divergent (Divergent, #1) by Veronica Roth 1/13/2014 3
21. Classic “Other” Literature Literature considered “classic” written somewhere other than Great Britain or America
22. General Fiction (non-romance)
23. Historical Fiction (non-romance)
24. Inspirational Contemporary Romance
25. Romantic Suspense (Inspy or General Market)
26. Other (Books I Wrote) Ransome’s Quest (The Ransome Trilogy #3) by Kaye Dacus 4/25/2014 5
27. Other (Books I Wrote) Ransome’s Crossing (The Ransome Trilogy, #2) by Kaye Dacus 4/15/2014 5
28. Other (Books I Wrote) An Honest Heart (The Great Exhibition #2) by Kaye Dacus 10/21/2014 4.5
29. Other (Classic American Literature) The Legend of Sleepy Hollow by Washington Irving 9/22/2014 3.5
30. Other (GM Contemporary Romance) Stand-In Groom by Suzanne Brockmann 10/29/2014 2.75
31. Other (GM Contemporary Romance) The House on Main Street (Apple Valley, #1) by Shirlee McCoy 10/6/2014 4
32. Other (GM Contemporary Romance, Media Tie-In) The Secret Diary of Lizzie Bennet: A Novel by Bernie Su and Kate Rorick 7/6/2014 5
33. Other (Historical Mystery) Silent in the Grave by Deanna Raybourn 7/30/2014 2.5
34. Other (Historical Romance) The Countess Conspiracy (Brothers Sinister, #3) by Courtney Milan 4/16/2014 4
35. Other (Historical Romance) The Captain’s Kidnapped Beauty by Mary Nichols 9/20/2014 1
36. Other (Historical Romance) Return of the Border Warrior by Blythe Gifford 5/10/2014 1
37. Other (Historical Romance) Just Like Heaven by Julia Quinn 5/12/2014 4
38. Other (Historical Romance) The Escape (The Survivors’ Club #3) by Mary Balogh 9/4/2014 4
39. Other (Historical Romance) It’s in His Kiss (Bridgertons #7) by Julia Quinn 3/1/2014 4
40. Other (Historical Romance) Loving a Lost Lord (Lost Lords #1) by Mary Jo Putney 3/13/2014 3.5
41. Other (Historical Romance) The Heiress Effect (Brothers Sinister, #2) by Courtney Milan 3/24/2014 4
42. Other (Historical Romance) On the Way to the Wedding (Bridgertons, #8) by Julia Quinn 4/2/2014 4
43. Other (Historical Romance) His Bonnie Bride by Hannah Howell 7/1/2014 2
44. Other (Historical Romance) The Husband Trap (The Trap Trilogy, #1) by Tracy Anne Warren 8/20/2014 4
45. Other (Historical Romance) Highland Surrender by Tracy Brogan 9/19/2014 3.5
46. Other (Historical Romance) Darling Beast (Maiden Lane, #7) by Elizabeth Hoyt 11/3/2014 2.25
47. Other (Historical Romance) The Captain and the Wallflower by Lyn Stone 5/21/2014 3.5
48. Other (Historical Romance) The Ranger (Highland Guard, #3) by Monica McCarty 6/16/2014 1
49. Other (Historical Romance) Almost a Scandal (The Reckless Brides, #1) by Elizabeth Essex In Progress
50. Other (Nonfiction: History or Biography) Liar, Temptress, Soldier, Spy: Women Undercover in the Civil War by Karen Abbott In Progress
51. Other (Science Fiction, Media Tie-In) Tarkin: A Star Wars Novel by James Luceno In Progress
52. Other (Young Adult, Fantasy) Across the Great Barrier (Frontier Magic, #2) by Patricia C. Wrede 9/18/2014 4
53. Other (Young Adult, Fantasy) Thirteenth Child (Frontier Magic, #1) by Patricia C. Wrede 8/14/2014 4
54. Other (Young Adult, Lifelong Favorite) Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix by J. K. Rowling 10/6/2014 5

#NaNo Tips: “Stealing” Writing Time

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Awhile back, I was at a church where the pastor’s sermon topic was on tools to becoming a more godly parent. (Needless to say, as a single, childless person, if I’d known ahead of time this is what the topic was going to be, I probably would have found a way to keep from being obligated to go.) So I spent the twenty-five minutes of the sermon time brainstorming the next couple of scenes of the story I was working on at the time, while still listening to why parents shouldn’t let their boys take lessons from Ray Rice on how to treat women, nor allow their girls to take behavior and fashion lessons from Miley Cyrus.

This made me think about all of the places and events where I’ve “stolen” writing time.

Almost a decade ago, just before the 2005 Nashville ACFW conference, I took Rachel Hauck and Susan May Warren to the Bluebird Cafe for writers’ night. Rachel was researching her Nashville-set chick lit novels, and Susie and I were along for the fun. While we were sitting there enjoying the music as performed by the people who originally penned it (not the people who recorded it), I dug down into my purse for a pen and grabbed the stack of napkins (yes, paper napkins!) from the middle of the table and started writing. As Vice President of ACFW, I’d been so extremely busy for weeks preparing for the conference that I hadn’t had a chance to get any writing done . . . and I had a full revision of my thesis novel due in about five weeks and needed to rewrite the first several chapters. I enjoyed the music, had a good time with Rachel and Susie, and got about five napkins covered with the new opening scene of my thesis novel (Stand-In Groom), which was probably the only writing I got done in about a two-week span of time.

A few months before that, I’d gone to Baton Rouge for Memorial Day weekend to attend a family wedding. While there, my cousin and his wife were giving a concert at my grandmother’s church’s Saturday night “cowboy” church (dinner, Southern Gospel music, a short sermon).Ransome Brainstorming We were still seated at the long table, which had been covered with white butcher paper. Shortly after the music started, I once again dug for a pen in my purse (I always have four or five with me). A few weeks before, I’d written the opening chapter to an idea for a historical novel to submit for workshop critiques at school. I’d been cogitating on the ideas for the characters for a while, but I wasn’t sure exactly where the story was going. So I started brainstorming ideas right there on the tablecloth! By the end of the evening, I ended up taking home a two-foot by three-foot section of butcher paper where I clearly outlined the two directions I could take the story—either Julia could stow-away on William’s ship or she could make a business arrangement with him where they would marry so she could return to Jamaica aboard his ship. I wrote notes for both scenarios and the pros and cons of each. When I returned to Nashville, I knew exactly which decision Julia was supposed to make and moved ahead with writing Ransome’s Honor. (Yes, I was writing RH while in revisions on SIG.)

Back when I was a full-time writer/editor and was traveling quite a lot (I logged an average of 7,500 miles each of those four years for writing events/workshops, book signings, and conferences), I “stole” the travel time by writing in the car. Yes, when I was driving—by using the voice recognition software built into Windows 7 to dictate my story into text. (Revisions afterward were quite interesting, especially when I got to parts where the computer hadn’t understood what I was saying and, even reading it aloud and trying to figure out what the words the computer wrote down sounded like, I couldn’t remember what I’d been saying.)

More recently, it’s stealing time on my lunch break at work, whether it’s bringing my laptop or Surface with me and doing it deliberately or grabbing some scrap paper off the recycle pile and scribbling like mad to get an idea down before it disappears (and then carrying those pages, folded up, around in my purse for weeks until I remember I did that and need to type them into the computer at home).

While technology (cell phone with Quick Office, a Surface tablet with the full Office suite) makes writing in any situation/location easy—such as recently, as I’ve sat in the waiting room at too many different medical-type offices—sometimes I just can’t be hunched over my phone or tablet, such as in a meeting at work or at a music event/venue. Sometimes, it does mean just grabbing the nearest paper-like substance and a writing utensil and making do.

And sometimes, it’s forcing myself to spend time brainstorming and thinking through where my story is going—like when I’m on the treadmill. Usually, I’ll just plug my earbuds into my ears in without any music playing (to block auditory distractions) and then make myself think about my characters and story as I’m walking. I did this ten years ago when working on Stand-In Groom, except then I was swimming an hour or more after work every evening. In the middle of a lap, I came up from the water gasping from just having hatched the idea of George’s secret-identity plot.

As I’ve stated in another post, everywhere is a good place to brainstorm (or write). But how often do we either recognize and/or utilize the opportunity to “steal” that time and actually use it for writing?

What are some instances of time you’ve “stolen” time from another activity or event to write?

NaNoWriMo—What If You Get Stuck/Blocked?

Monday, November 10, 2014

Kaye Dacus:

I posted this during NaNo last year, and thought it might be about the right time to trot it out again.

Originally posted on KayeDacus.com:

According to the NaNo word-count matrix, yesterday, you should have hit right around 10,000 words on your Story-in-Progress (SIP). That’s a good chunk of writing—20% of your manuscript if you’re aiming for a finished length of 50k words.

But what if you didn’t hit 10k yesterday? What if you did gangbusters the first day or two and you’re sitting at about 3,300 words? What if you’ve lost interest in your story or characters? What if your motivation just disappeared?

Here are a few prompts that will get you writing again (even if the word count may not end up in your final manuscript) but also keep you focused on your manuscript.

  • Write a “travel magazine” style article about your main setting. Or an Archetectural Digest piece on your main character’s home. Don’t forget the paragraph and paragraph of minute description of everything you “see”—from the big landmarks to the knickknacks…

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What Are You Reading? (November 2014)

Monday, November 3, 2014

Happy First Monday of November, everyone.
It’s Reading Report time!

Open Book by Dave Dugdale

Open Book by Dave Dugdale

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Tell us what you’ve finished over the last month, what you’re currently reading, and what’s on your To Be Read stack/list. And if you’ve reviewed the books you’ve read somewhere, please include links!

To format your text, click here for an HTML cheat-sheet. If you want to embed link your test (like my “click here” links) instead of just pasting the link into your comment, click here.
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  • What book(s) did you finish reading (or listening to) since the last update?

  • What are you currently reading and/or listening to?

  • What’s the next book on your To Be Read stack/list?

Finding Your Beginning in “The End”: Ending Your Beginning

Sunday, November 2, 2014

And now we come to the point at which we actually discuss finding your beginning in the ending of your story. (And only the sixth post of the series? So soon?) ;-)

Readers of the Lost Arcs

When you finish writing the ending of your story, ask yourself these questions:

  • How did my characters get here?
  • What change(s) did my characters make in order to journey from the opening scene to the last?
  • What change(s) do I need to make to characters in the opening scene(s) in order to make sure they have a character arc that drives the story logically to what happens in the last scene?

We’ve all had this experience: You get to the end of a book and all of a sudden, a character does something completely unexpected, completely out of the blue, something that leaves you scratching your head wondering how in the world that happened, because nothing else in the book pointed to or set up that particular ending.

What happened is that the author forgot to analyze the end of her story to see where her characters ended up and go back and revise (or out-and-out rewrite) the beginning in order to put the story on the correct path to the ending she eventually wrote.

No matter how meticulously you’ve plotted and pre-planned your story, new scenes, new plot ideas, new characters crop up as you write. So much of our creativity comes from our subconscious processes that our stories at times seem to take on a life of their own—we become a conduit for the story that’s taking shape on the page, and we’re almost like spectators watching a movie or reading someone else’s book. And these new ideas and twists can change the tone, theme, or even plot of the story once you get to the end. How can you weave setups for these new scenarios into the opening scenes when you go back for revisions?

What are some hints and clues you can go back and
pepper into your opening scene to foreshadow
the events that happen later?

Then there are the books we read where we know from the second paragraph of the opening page exactly what’s going to happen on the last page. And I’m not talking about “these two characters are going to end up together” knowing—I’m talking about knowing exactly what the main conflict will be, how it will be overcome, and how these two characters will end up together. Because the author gives too much information, does too much setting up, drops too many “hints,” includes too much foreshadowing.

Do you reveal too much in the beginning
and take away from the reader’s joy of discovery?

After finishing your first draft and then setting it aside for a while, when you go back and re-read it before starting your revisions here are some questions to ask yourself, some things to make notes about:

  • Is the character the same at the end as at the beginning or is there growth/change?
  • Does the character’s growth/change happen throughout the story or suddenly at the end?
  • Does the ending fulfill the promise of the opening scene?
  • Does the ending make anything in the opening unnecessary?

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Piece and Content-ment

Even if you’re a revise-as-you-go writer, you can’t revise your “story” until the whole story is written. If you concentrate too much on polishing a piece here and a piece there (e.g., focusing all of your energy on polishing and repolishing your first three chapters without having written your ending to know if it will affect what happens in the beginning), you’re going to make your manuscript choppy and inconsistent. Some pieces will have been polished to the point at which they’re worn thin, while others are going to still be rough and raw from not receiving enough attention.

Before a book is published, it goes through not only copy editing but also content editing. A content editor looks at the “big picture”—the whole story—from which to make their revision suggestions.

Something I find helps when going into the revision process (and it helps in writing your long synopsis, too) is to go quickly through the manuscript and write a one- or two-sentence summary of what happens in each chapter. This will give you a good working map and timeline of what actually happens in your story. You can follow this up by doing the same thing but for each scene in the story. This will show you if your scenes are in the correct order, if they advance the plot, or if they need to be revised and/or removed.

Writing your synopsis before starting your revision is a very helpful exercise in figuring out what your story is “about” before you start trying to polish it into a gem shaped like that.

Parting Words

Remember to allow yourself to write a first draft. Story FIRST—structure and craft later!

More important than polishing your opening or crafting the “perfect” first line . . . FINISH YOUR FIRST DRAFT!!!

Finding Your Beginning in “The End”: The Importance of Finishing Your First Draft

Friday, October 31, 2014

If you know the ending of a story,
you’ll know the beginning,
but if you know the beginning,
you won’t necessarily know the ending.

–Steven James, Story Trumps Structure
(p. 34)

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You know my mantra: Above all else, FINISH YOUR FIRST DRAFT

More than going to conferences, more than reading how-to books to help you learn about the craft of writing, more than anything else you can do, finishing your first draft teaches you how to write. It also lets you know what you need to go back and change in the beginning of your manuscript.

In other words, writing “The End” teaches you what needs to go in The Beginning.

We’ve spent a lot of time looking at what to do/not do when writing openings. But none of that will matter if you never get a complete draft written. Instead of going on and on about the importance of finishing your first draft, I’ll refer you to another post dedicated solely to that subject:

Writing Tip #1: FINISH YOUR FIRST DRAFT


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Finding the Beginning in “The End”

As I’ve mentioned throughout this series, your opening scene needs to tie in with your last scene—in tone and in theme. If your ending is going to be serious in tone, your opening needs to be serious. If humorous, then humorous. And so on.

Your opening scene also needs to set up your last scene. Sol Stein tells us to “excite the reader’s curiosity” (Stein on Writing). Les Edgerton calls it creating a “Story-Worthy Problem” (Hooked). What they’re saying is that your opening scene needs to make a promise that you keep in your last scene.

Nancy Kress in Beginnings, Middles & Ends puts it this way:

      Every story makes a promise to the reader. Actually, two promises, one emotional and one intellectual. . . .

      The emotional promise goes: Read this and you’ll be entertained or thrilled or scared or titillated or saddened or nostalgic or uplifted—but always absorbed.

      There are three versions of the intellectual promise . . . (1) Read this and you’ll see this world from a different perspective; (2) Read this and you’ll have confirmed what you already want to believe about the world; or (3) Read this and you’ll learn of a different, more interesting world than this.

      By the time she’s read your opening, your reader knows what you’ve implicitly promised. A satisfying middle is one that develops that promise with specificity and interest. A satisfying ending is one that delivers on the promise, providing new insight or comfortable confirmation or vicarious happiness. Even when it’s surprising in some way, the ending feels inevitable, because it fulfills the promise of the story. And—this is important—the ending feels satisfying only because the beginning set up the implicit promise in the first place.

      (Kress, pp. 7–8)

Again—your first and last scenes must be consistent with characters, conflicts, themes, tone, problems, and tensions. There’s nothing that will frustrate a reader more than to get wrapped up in a story, desperately turning pages to see how your established characters will solve the problems you’ve thrown at them—only for you to bring in the cavalry out of the blue to rescue them and solve all of their problems. If the cavalry is going to swoop in for the rescue at the end of your novel, the cavalry needs to be established in the beginning of your novel.

When drafting your opening scenes, remember that the rest of your story has to live up to whatever you include in your opening. If you open with a car chase/crash scene, the action in your story needs to escalate from there. If you open with a car chase/crash scene just to set up the meeting between your hero/heroine (she’s the firefighter or doctor who saves him), but there aren’t any additional action scenes in the story, you’ve made a false promise by generating false conflict/tension. If your opening hints at conflict to come and then you shy (or veer) away from that conflict, you’ve lost your readers’ trust and they will shy (or veer) away from picking up books you’ve written ever again in the future.

Your ending scene should be a direct result
of the consequences of your opening scene.

At its beginning, a story makes the kind of implicit promise we’ve discussed throughout this book. In the middle, the development of both characters and conflict extends that promise by arranging forces in opposition to each other. We see, through skillfully chosen patterns of events, various problems and tensions come closer and closer to collision . Then comes the ending. It must use those same characters, conflicts, problems and tensions to show us the collision (the climax).

If the ending tries to use different characters (such as the cavalry riding over the hill at the last minute), the story will fail. If the ending tries to switch to some other last -minute conflict, the story will fail. If the ending tries to evade the promised collision (by, for instance, a peaceful compromise in which no one loses anything), the story will fail. You cannot, in other words, promise apples and deliver oranges. The middle of your story—how you’ve developed the implicit promise—determines your ending. This isn’t to say that there is only one possible ending for any story. There may be more than one. But the ending chosen must complete what has been promised, not violate it.

(Kress, p. 105)

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Works Cited:

Edgerton, Les. Hooked: Write Fiction That Grabs Readers at Page One & Never Lets Them Go. Cincinnati, OH: Writer’s Digest Books, 2007. Print.

James, Steven. Story Trumps Structure: How to Write Unforgettable Fiction by Breaking the Rules. Blue Ash, OH: Writer’s Digest Books, 2014. Kindle Edition.

Kress, Nancy. Beginnings, Middles & Ends (Elements of Fiction Writing). Cincinnati, OH: Writer’s Digest Books, 1993. Print.

Stein, Sol. Stein On Writing: A Master Editor of Some of the Most Successful Writers of Our Century Shares His Craft Techniques and Strategies. New York, NY: St. Martin’s Press, 1995. Print.

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