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1. Free Online Laura Ingalls Wilder Course: Part 2

2015-02-16 10.57.51Author, teacher, and editor Pamela Smith Hill will begin the second part of Missouri State University’s Laura Ingalls Wilder course on April 6, 2015. The course runs for eight weeks and will cover the second half of Wilder’s Little House series, starting with By the Shores of Silver Lake as well as the second half of Hill’s Laura Ingalls Wilder: A Writer’s Life. Wilder’s recently released autobiography, Pioneer Girl, (edited by Hill) is recommended reading.

If you weren’t part of the 7,000 students who participated in the first course, no matter! Anyone can sign up. Click through to enroll.


The post Free Online Laura Ingalls Wilder Course: Part 2 appeared first on Caroline Starr Rose.

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2. Small Does Not Mean Powerless & Other Lessons I Learnt As A Person & As a Writer This February

On Monday my Kitty reminded me small can be very deadly  I'm a flawed human being. No, no, no, don't laugh! I know that's not news. It's just....it's always interesting when I see myself through someone else's eyes. Sometimes it's scary because they see this glowing, fabulous person on a day when I'd swear I look like Gollum. Other days, I'm Sauron to them and have to remind myself that

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3. Straight From the Source: Janet Fox on Writing Historical Fiction

Janet Fox writes award-winning fiction and non-fiction for children of all ages. Her 2010 young adult debut novel, FAITHFUL, was an Amelia Bloomer List pick, and was followed in 2011 by a companion novel, FORGIVEN, a Junior Library Guild selection and WILLA Literary Award Finalist. Her newest YA novel, SIRENS launched in November 2012; the Kirkus reviewer said in part, “SIRENS is a celebration of girl power, sisterhood, and hope for the future.” Janet is a 2010 graduate of the MFA/Writing for Children and Young Adults program at Vermont College of Fine Arts and a former high school English teacher. Janet and her family live in Bozeman, Montana, where they enjoy the mountain vistas.

What typically comes first for you: a character? An era? A story idea? How do you proceed from there?

Most of my stories begin with a scene, but it’s more like a dream sequence. I often have no idea what’s going on in the scene and who the characters are, but if it resonates at a deep level, has some meaning for me that I can’t – yet – put into words, then that becomes my mission: put this emotion into words. For example, the opening scene of SIRENS was also the first thing that came to me as I began thinking about the book, and that image of a wharf over the Hudson River at night was important but I had no idea why Jo was throwing medals into the water or why she was there, or even who she really was. Water, of course, became a motif, and Jo’s gesture was a metaphor for her to let go of the past.

As soon as I decide to go forward from my key scene, I focus on the character. I spend a lot of time thinking about my protagonist and my antagonist, although I do so very organically, because a great deal of what I learn comes through the drafting, since I’m a pantser. I write a lot of stuff that changes or goes away but that helps me discover who my character is and what she needs. My protagonist – her attitudes, behavior, dreams, desires – always drives my stories, not the other way around. When I write historical fiction it doesn’t change the fact that readers want stories that help them reach into their buried dreams, and they do that by identifying with the character.

What kinds of sources do you use? 

I use a number of sources, everything from primary on. I read novels written in the period because they tend to mimic the voice of their era, and contain details that I can use. I look for period costumes in pattern books and magazines of the times – which often reveal nice details like “hunting costumes” or the layers of undergarments. I do visit museums for visuals. And I try to find anything that will add nuance to the era I write about. In SIRENS, which is set in the 1920s, I wanted more than the usual flapper/gangster/Prohibition stuff, and while listening to the radio one night, I heard a discussion about the Spiritualism movement of the 1920s, and thought “that’s it.”

But my favorite resource, depending upon the era, is period newspapers. They are available on line, and I love perusing the society column and the ads, in particular. From those I can harvest a feeling for what people were dreaming about – what they wanted, aspired to acquire, and how much that might cost. And how the “society” behaved, which the lower classes might desire to emulate, or rebel against. Again, it comes down to individual desires and dreams.

At what point do you feel comfortable beginning to draft? How does your research continue once you begin writing?

I draft almost right away, because I start with that dream and character. I research as I go. That’s because I’m usually too impatient to start the story-telling to do research first! So I’ll write until I reach a point where I need to answer a question, like “what was the flu pandemic like?” or “what was happening in Chinatown then?” And then I’ll research, which is easy in this internet era. Other details – the sensory stuff that comes from place – I’ll either tap from memory and experience, or go to that place and soak it up. Or watch videos or comb through photographs, since I’m a very visual person.

I never spend much time researching in advance, because the story comes to me way before I know where and when to place it.

What’s your favorite thing about writing historical fiction?

I do love history. It was my favorite subject in high school. I like the echoes and resonant desires, I like especially the somewhat mythic historic elements – things like Robin Hood, or the Roman conquest, or the western expansion in America. I like taking history and turning over the rocks to discover the personal and small within historical times. I love the idea of having a character hear a famous speech or witness an historical event, and then interpret it at the scale of an individual lifetime.

Has your research ever affected the overall thrust of your book? How so?

Always, but in unexpected fashion. In researching FAITHFUL, I learned that in the early 1900s there were still highway robberies taking place in Yellowstone Park, and tourists were relieved of their possessions, but thought this was highly romantic and exciting, so I worked that experience into the novel – and it became crucial to both FAITHFUL and FORGIVEN. In researching FORGIVEN I learned of the importing of young – very young – Chinese girls who were sold into terrible slavery in San Francisco, and this became my protagonist’s larger goal, to free some of these girls. So while I have my core emotion and my character’s desire up front, I often find historical details that will bolster the story in unexpected ways.


Why is historical fiction important?

That old adage about being condemned to repeat the things we don’t learn the first time is true, and there are lots of historical moments I wouldn’t care to repeat. Historical fiction makes history more accessible, especially to young people. It personalizes history, and sheds a different spotlight on details, and can bring into focus comparisons between today’s events and historical events. Plus, well-written historical fiction is just plain fun to read.



The post Straight From the Source: Janet Fox on Writing Historical Fiction appeared first on Caroline Starr Rose.

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4. On Writing Historical Fiction


My beat may lie in another time, but my approach is that of a reporter, trying for a scoop, looking for clues, connecting facts, digging under the surface. . . . History is full of gossip; it’s real people and emotion. — Jean Fritz

The post On Writing Historical Fiction appeared first on Caroline Starr Rose.

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5. Writing Links


The Habits of Highly Effective Writers :: Chronicle

A Fan Letter to Readers :: Emu’s Debuts

It’s Okay to Write Terrible Stories by Julie Falatko :: The Nerdy Book Club

Picture Book Secrets :: Underdown

Familiarity Breeds Content :: Avi

On Writing :: Linda Urban

Writing Fast or Writing Slow: Which is Better? :: Kristi Holl

The post Writing Links appeared first on Caroline Starr Rose.

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6. Classroom Connections: THE WAY TO STAY IN DESTINY by Augusta Scattergood

Augusta scattergood

age range: 8-12

setting: Florida, 1974

visit Augusta Scattergood’s website

The cast of lively characters, including spunky and tough Anabel who befriends Theo, come to life under author Scattergood’s talented hand. A heartwarming story of friendship, family, and finding one’s place in the world despite hardship and heartache.   – School Library Journal

Please tell us about your book.

THE WAY TO STAY IN DESTINY, my second middle-grade novel, was recently published by Scholastic Press. It’s the story of a boy named Theo who’s forced to move to a little town called Destiny, Florida, with an uncle he doesn’t really know. Theo’s a resourceful, talented boy. His uncle’s an unhappy Vietnam veteran who doesn’t know how to raise a kid. But there’s a bright ray of sunshine in their new life together— Miss Sister Grandersole, dancer, advisor, and owner of the Rest Easy Rooming House and Dance Studio, where they fortunately have landed.

What inspired you to write this story?

We had recently moved to Florida and I was feeling a little like Theo! Where am I? Why are all these lizards in my garden? Also, as a child, I had some remarkable dance and piano teachers. Not always remarkable in their ability to teach—though some were extremely talented!—but certainly interesting characters. Once I convinced my critique group and my early readers that “Sister” was not a retired nun wearing red tap shoes, Miss Sister Grandersole was the most fun character to write. I guess you could say I was inspired by memories and moving.

Could you share with readers how you conducted your research or share a few interesting tidbits you learned while researching? 

My new book doesn’t focus on one truly important historical event like Freedom Summer, the backbone for my first novel, GLORY BE. The aftermath of the Vietnam conflict plays into the story, and there were details from that time that I wanted to get right. I used veterans’ sites to read of others’ experiences coming back from Vietnam. And I consulted my friends who had served.

I also verified all the baseball facts, but that part was easy. I loved reading about Hank Aaron’s journey. Because of his career milestones, THE WAY TO STAY IN DESTINY is set in 1974. Sometimes that seemed so recent, I had trouble remembering that made it historical fiction!

The hardest part of writing for me is that first draft. I struggle. A lot. But I love the revision process. Generally, I try to break it down and not tackle too many things at once. I’ll revise first for plot and character arcs. Then I’ll get to the fun part, making the language and the dialog read in a way I hope enriches the story.

I could go on and on, but I don’t want to make new writers think it’s not fun to write a book. Even on the days that nothing seems to work, writing really is more than hard, gut-wrenching work. It’s often a joy.

What are some special challenges associated with writing historical fiction?

Make the story sing and make the plot move quickly! Of course, these are challenges all writing presents, no matter the genre.

When creating historical fiction, it’s tempting to dump all the important facts into readers’ laps. But the smallest details like skate keys and 45s (those are musical recordings, for those of you too young to remember!) and anti-war buttons on knapsacks really bring the time period alive.

What topics does your book touch upon that would make it a perfect fit for the classroom?

Quite truthfully, the story behind THE WAY TO STAY IN DESTINY is timeless. A boy finds himself an outsider in a totally new place, meets someone who’s been there forever, makes a friend. Theo’s a kid who’s resilient, in the worst of situations. The post-Vietnam time period, the uncle who can’t quite get past his wartime experiences, families that were split apart by strong feelings during the Vietnam conflict should offer teachers an opportunity to discuss so many things. Perhaps even a few things not too often found in middle-grade novels.

But at heart, THE WAY TO STAY IN DESTINY is really about discovering family, not only the family you are born into, but the family of your heart. Those are the people who come into your life when you most need them.

The post Classroom Connections: THE WAY TO STAY IN DESTINY by Augusta Scattergood appeared first on Caroline Starr Rose.

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7. 5 Ways I’m Learning to Write Smart, Not Scared


It is good to work. Work with love and think of liking it when you do it. It is easy and interesting. It is a privilege. There is nothing hard about it but your anxious vanity and fear of failure.

And when you work on your writing remember these things. Work will all your intelligence and love. Work freely and rollickingly as though talking to a friend who loves you. Mentally thumb your nose at the know-it-alls, jeerers, critics, doubters.

— Brenda Ueland, If You Want to Write

I’m declaring 2015 the year of writing smart and not scared. What do I mean?

For one, I want to approach my writing with intelligence and love. I want to work freely and rollickingly (is there a better, more joyful word to describe doing the things we love to do?). In other words, I want to be a whole lot more like Brenda Ueland.


Here’s my game plan:

1. I want to be aware of the work beneath the work. Am I involved in frantic wheel spinning because I feel I need to produce something? What’s my motivation behind my need to be busy? More often than not, I’m  learning it’s fear.

2. I want to be proactive instead of reactive. Sometimes the writing life means there is nothing new to show, but important work has been done nonetheless. (I’m thinking of all the behind-the-scenes work that never, ever is efficient and sometimes feels like wasted time.) I want to learn to be more comfortable with what’s best for the work. And I want to think through what this means for each project (ideally ahead of time) so I’m not just putting out fires, but really benefiting the writing (and my learning, too).


3. I want my work, even when it’s hard, to bring about joy and satisfaction. Sorry, Brenda. I do believe it’s hard. But I still want the rollicking! I’m living my dream. There is so much to love: The freedom to experiment and play. The chance to write stuff that only I’ll ever see; to make things that might interest no one else, but will satisfy me. The room to try things that feel extra niche-y. The opportunity to pursue these things because the work feels like talking to a friend who loves me.

4. I will not be afraid of anxious vanity. I’m one to stress and worry about life in general. And this seeps into my writing life a lot. (I’m really awful when it comes to number 21 on this list.) I’m an all-out pro when it comes to worrying that I can’t write another book. I find it hard to give my work the space to grow from its fragile, junky beginnings, trusting it will one day be able to stand on its own. It’s way too easy to compare fledging drafts to finished books. That isn’t fair to the new work or to my creative process.


5. I will learn to mentally thumb my nose at the jeerers, critics, and doubters. Blue Birds has gotten some lovely reviews. You want to know something ridiculous? Those reviews have stressed me out, knocked me off my center. I hear waiting for reviews to roll in never gets easier, but here’s the thing: Reviews aren’t written for authors — never have been, never will be. Whether reviews are good or bad, I am proud of this book. My editor is proud of this book. This is enough.

There are so many ways to be thrown off your rails, as my dear friend Beth Kephart says. (And she’s had plenty of reason to feel off balance of late). What matters isn’t the externals,
but the number of times we actually stepped outside of ourselves and lived bright, thought big, made connections, reached over the fence toward another.

Anyone else want to learn to write this way?

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8. Dreams, Priorities and Money

Brainstorming on my chalkboard wall One of the scariest aspects of my decision to focus on fiction for 2015 and to take on less client work is where the money for paying bills is going to come from. On the surface, I have a good framework set up to achieve this goal - a stable home with enough room for a home office, a freezer full of  a variety of vegetables from my summer garden, an Autumn

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9. A Behind the Scenes Glimpse into WETLANDS

You might have noticed this lovely over in the sidebar.


This dear book comes into the world July 14, in the midst of hurricane season. While it isn’t a Katrina book, it is a Louisiana hurricane story, and its release before Katrina’s tenth anniversary feels just right.

A few months ago, illustrator Rob Dunlavey shared this wonderful mini-documentary about his process with OVER IN THE WETLANDS. I’d love if you took a few minutes to listen to what he has to say as he goes about his work.

Rob’s thoughts on process (don’t be afraid to screw up; art is boxing rather than rocket science, you just have to keep sparring and discovering what you want to say) and purpose (art changes the way you see the world; it’s about zeroing in, magnifying and feeling the joy; art exists to enhance living) speak to me as a writer. The purpose and drive behind the creative life really is familiar across the board.


The post A Behind the Scenes Glimpse into WETLANDS appeared first on Caroline Starr Rose.

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10. Taking A Long-Term View Of Your Writing Career

Today I was emailing back and forth with someone and they laughed a bit, commenting that I seem to be "taking a long-term view on things," meaning my writing career. At first I was startled because it was so natural for me to consider the fate of my work once I'm dead. I wasn't being morbid. It's just that for me, when we talk about the rights that we authors grant publishers, my mind

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11. Get It Done!

It’s the last few days of the National Novel Writing Month challenge. Many of you have already gotten to 50,000 words already (or blown right past it). But I haven’t. I’m still chipping away word by word. Yesterday I filled my belly with turkey and in my current state of post-food bliss I’m thinking about throwing in the towel. Who was the crazy person who decided NaNoWriMo should be in November?

But I shouldn’t give up. The fact that Thanksgiving is part of NaNoWriMo month is a lesson. I should write every day, even with a turkey coma, even when it’s a holiday.

I’m almost there. If you’re in the same boat as me and pushing these last few days to get your word count — let’s do it together! Let’s keep writing.

Here are some words of encouragement for you (and me!).










You’re almost there! Let’s do it together. I’ll see you on the other side of the finish line!

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12. Learning To Relax

By Christelle Du Toit In all the years that I’ve known Damaria, I know that when she gets stressed I need to chase her to the garden and/or outside for a walk. It calms her down and she’ll come back saying damn, why didn’t I think of that? Me? I’m not so good at relaxing, even when she tries to get me to. I stress and then stress about stressing. So when I had an opportunity to go

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13. Writing Advice from Author Valerie Geary

Jump into a scene late and get out early. Cut out anything that sounds like an introduction or summary ending. Explain as little as possible and let the scene speak for itself. Readers are smart; let them fill in some of the blanks.

Raise the stakes. Make it hard for your character to get what they want. Take away the things they love. Let them lose. Let them fight. Just never make it easy. In every stage of the process, I’m always asking myself, What else could happen? What if she made this choice instead of that one? Where would that lead? I’m rarely satisified with the first answer that comes to mind.

I am a huge Gillian Flynn fan. Also, Tana French and Kate Atkinson. All of these writers get my heart pounding and my brain churning. I love the way they balance plot with character with language. All three do really interesting things with their writing that satisfies me as a reader and inspires me as a writer.

Read more here.
Val’s interview at the Huffington Post.
Library Journal includes CROOKED RIVER in its Trio of Thrillers: Adult Books 4 Teens.

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14. Creativity and Routine: DAILY RITUALS

Daily Rituals

Ludwig van Beethoven poured water over his hands while humming scales. Jonathan Edwards pinned bits of paper to his clothing to remember ideas while horseback riding. Anthony Trollope paid a groom five extra pounds a year to bring him coffee each morning at 5:30.

Daily Rituals: How Artists Work is a collection of dozens of vignettes about “writers, composers, painters, choreographers, playwrights, sculptors, filmmakers, poets, philosophers and scientists on how they create.” I found it impossible to put down. Just when I thought I discovered a pattern to these artists’ daily practices (early morning work and no day job, for example) new structures began to emerge (the night-time only artist and those who held other occupations).

As someone who has sometimes struggled to find a rhythm to my writing, I found this glimpse into others’ lives both inspiring and familiar. While there were differences in each daily ritual, some habits were repeated in most creative processes*:


Structure allowed Trollope to “tutor his mind” and write for three hours before going to work at the Post Office. Gustave Flaubert believed being “regular and orderly in your life [allows you to be] violent and original in your work.” In other words, when the structure is established, you are freed to focus on what counts.

Solitude and simplicity seem to function hand in hand. Time alone, free of distraction is necessary to create. This means a narrowing or stripping away of extraneous things gives a creative the space to work. Some artists deliberately would forgo social commitments or would choose a hermit-like existence. Others would make room for community but keep those hours separate from the work. “What you need to do is clear all distraction,” Anne Rice says. “That’s the bottom line.”

I was surprised how many artists engaged in daily exercise — calisthenics, swimming, and the like — long, long before this was considered the ideal. Walking long distances was by far the exercise of choice, serving as both a break from the work and sometimes a new way to view it. Those walks I take with the dog when I’m feeling stuck? I’m in good company.

This book has inspired me to think again about how I might best keep my days simple and distraction free. In the midst of my daily solitude it has made me feel a part of something bigger than myself. I’m carrying the creative torch like those before me and those who will come after — important work indeed!

Does ritual play into your creative process?


*I’m focusing on the positive here. Many artists relied on various vices to (supposedly) bring out their best work. A few, like George Sand, felt “the work of the imagination is exciting enough…Whether you are secluded in your study or performing on the planks of a stage, you must be in total possession of yourself.”

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15. On Writing

Old Town roadrunner

And . . . what if the worst happens? What if you are never published? The market seems to grow more difficult and more idiosyncratic every year. Even so, you will have been doing, all along, the work that feeds your soul, that makes you a larger, more generous person, and, more concretely, is guaranteed to keep improving your writing.

If publication eludes you forever, you will still have created a gift for yourself and for those who care about you.

— Marion Dane Bauer

Read the rest at Marion’s blog, from the post called A Letter From a Reader.

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16. For Those Who Work Behind the Scenes


Today I’m feeling grateful for the people in my life who make the books happen. My agent, who believes in me and is the enthusiastic, in-the-know one who shows my work to others, the one who looks out for me and cheers me on.

My editors, who push me to find my best work, whose faith in my writing I can borrow when I’m not believing it myself.

The copyeditors, art directors, book designers, publicists, book sales reps, and marketing department who add their expertise and love.

I’ve got one small role in the process. If what I write is worth reading, its because of the hard work everyone else puts in behind the scenes.

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17. Writing Links


How Best-Selling Writers Sabotage Themselves (and How to Learn from Their Mistakes) :: Live Write Thrive

What it Really Takes :: Writer Unboxed

What does logic have to do with it? :: Avi

9 Reasons Your Reader is Bored :: Ingrid’s Notes

Encouraging Writers Who Don’t Know If They Should Keep Going :: Jody Hedlund

Your Best Promotional Tool :: Writer’s First Aid

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18. Writing Contests and Grants: Why You Should Enter

This post is an oldie but goodie worth re-running. In case you’re wondering, I continue to apply for grants and fellowships — three in the last eighteen months, to be exact.

in the mail

My high-tech list of submissions (contests included) before signing with my agent. Something kind of fun — #71 on the white page? A portion of that book will publish in an anthology in 2016. And Stacey Barney just happens to be my beloved editor of BLUE BIRDS as well as my next novel, coming in 2016.

I’ve entered/applied for roughly a dozen writing contests/grants over the years. One I finished first. One I got an honorable mention. The others I didn’t place at all. Still, every contest was worth experiencing for a number of reasons:

1. Working with a deadline: Those of us who haven’t yet sold a manuscript write without any sort of formal deadline. This works well for some, not so well for others. By signing up for a contest, you have committed to finishing and submitting your writing by a certain time, great practice for future deadlines once your work is sold.

2. Reviewing your writing: Whether applying for a grant or entering a contest, you’ll need to carefully study your work, looking for ways to strengthen it but also examining why your writing deserves to win (early pracitice on determining why your title would be successful in the marketplace). Filling out an application and following the contest’s guidelines will bolster your ability to write a strong, concise query.

3. Getting read: Some contests/grants offer feedback for those who place. It is so beneficial to see what others outside of your writing community have to say about your work. Authors, editors, and agents often judge these contests, putting your work front and center. Sometimes for me, just knowing someone I admire has read my work is enough. I entered Hunger Mountain’s Katherine Paterson Award so that she might read my writing. I got no feedback. I didn’t place, but the gracious, two-time Newbery winner read my words! I’m satisfied.

4. Publishing opportunities: Winning contests/grants means a portion of your work is often published, allowing for other readers, agents, and editors to learn of your writing. In winning first place for a novel excerpt at the Jambalaya Writers’ Conference, my work will be featured in an anthology put out by Nicholls University. At the same conference, I happened to be critiqued by a poetry professor from Southeastern Louisiana University. He asked for a few poems from my free-verse novel to publish in Louisiana Literature magazine, which he edits. These publications don’t have wide circulation, but my work is out there. People are reading it.

5. Beefing up your query: Winning a contest is great query fodder. I think a large part of my agent requests these last few months have come from winning this small, local contest and the publication that has come about as a result.

Those of you who are members of the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators need to take advantage of their grant programs, if you haven’t already. There are a half-dozen or so to choose from. You may enter one per calendar year. In the three I’ve entered, there have been only 200-400 other entrants. Think about it. There are thousands of member in this organization, but only a handful applying for grants. Your work will be read by industry professionals. You might even get some money out of the experience. What have you got to lose?

Have you entered contests or applied for grants? Any you could recommend? What has your expereince been?

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19. Straight From the Source: Debra McArthur on Writing Historical Fiction

Debra McArthur grew up in Springfield, Missouri, where her high school experience included church activities, choir, drum and bugle corps, and the kind of drama and angst that make a person really glad to grow up.  She earned B.A. and M.A. degrees in English from the University of Missouri-Kansas City, and an M.F.A. in Writing for Children and Young Adults from Hamline University. 

These days, Debra lives with her husband in Kansas City, Missouri. She teaches college along the bluffs of the Missouri River, and she is still collecting nouns that describe her: student, teacher, wife, mother, reader, writer, Irish dancer, marathon runner. Debra is the author of the novel A Voice for Kanzas. She also writes literary biographies and historical non-fiction.

What kinds of sources do you use? 

I really like to use actual information from the era—primary sources such as newspapers and personal journals. Those kinds of sources give me more than factual data; they give me personal viewpoints and the speech patterns of people of the era, as well as their attitudes about the events that were happening.

I also like to use sources that lead me closer to the life of my characters, and those are often not print sources. In A Voice for Kanzas, my character’s father runs a general store in Lawrence, Kansas in 1855. I loved exploring the Steamboat Arabia Museum in Kansas City. The items there were salvaged from the wreck of a boat that sank in 1856 that carried merchandise for general stores in the Territory. It not only helped me see what kinds of items they would have in their store, but also what kinds of household items were in daily use by the settlers.

For my current work-in-progress, the main character becomes the blacksmith’s apprentice in Lawrence in 1856. I went to a local historical park and did workshops with the blacksmith there to find out more about the craft, and to find out what parts of my body would hurt after pumping the bellows for a few hours! And the side benefit was some nifty new fireplace tools I made.

At what point do you feel comfortable beginning to draft? How does your research continue once you begin writing?

I’ve studied Kansas Territorial history for over many years, so I knew the era and the factual background of it pretty well before I decided to write a fictional story set there. But I can’t begin a story until I know my character. Once that character begins to whisper in my ear and tell me his or her story, I can begin. That’s when I know the character’s own voice and what he or she wants. The details will develop once I begin, but I have to hear the voice first.

When I’ve begun to draft the story, the research continues. I not only have to continue researching historical events, but also looking up specific details like weather, politics, clothing details, and more. In my current book, the character spends some time in church, and I needed to know what hymns might have been sung there.

What are some obstacles writing historical fiction brings?

I have to be careful not to let my 21st-century thinking interfere with my 19th century characters. Sometimes it’s hard because people of that era would not think in the same ways we do. Our modern-day ideas about gender roles and racial attitudes are very different. And some things I find in my historical research are certainly not “politically correct” in terms of words we would use now. It’s sometimes hard to be historically accurate and still be “appropriate” for young readers of today.

What’s one of the most interesting things you’ve learned while researching?

The Emigrant Aid Society settlers who founded the town of Lawrence were mostly Easterners who came to the Territory with lofty ideals about their role in making Kansas a free state. They were unprepared for the resistance of the Missourians who had a vested interest in making Kansas a slave state. During the first election, thousands of Missouri “border ruffians” came across the border and threatened the settlers with guns and knives in order to prevent them from voting. After this event, the Lawrence settlers wrote to their sponsors in Boston, asking for guns with which to defend themselves. Because all shipments by land and by river were watched by the ruffians, the rifles were sent in boxes marked “books” or even “bibles.” I had fun writing that into the plot of A Voice for Kanzas.

Because life isn’t always clear cut, the motives behind our actions don’t always make sense. But stories need to follow a logical path. What sorts of decisions have you had to make about “muddy” historical figures or events in order for your book to work?

It’s sometimes hard to know the truth of some historical events, because newspaper accounts of the day varied according to the political viewpoints of the varied individuals and newspapers of the time, especially in regards to their stance on the slavery issue. In my current book, the historical events include a murder and also conflicts between the citizens of Lawrence and the local sheriff. It isn’t always easy to determine the “good guys” and the “bad guys,” since both sides believed they were being unfairly characterized. I have to take the point of view of my main character and tell it through his eyes, so it may not be THE truth, but it is HIS truth.

Why is historical fiction important?

I never liked history much as a school subject because so much of the emphasis was on memorization of dates, names, battles, and such. Although it was factual, it never felt real. Historical fiction is like a time machine. It can take a reader to that time and place and let her live there for a while. I want my readers to love my stories and my characters, but also get a better understanding of the events and the emotions behind them. I want them to close the book and feel like they need to wipe the grit off their teeth because they’ve been walking the dusty Kansas roads along with my characters.

The post Straight From the Source: Debra McArthur on Writing Historical Fiction appeared first on Caroline Starr Rose.

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20. A Room Of My Own

A happy 2015 to you. I hope you  had a great festive season.. that you enjoyed your time with family and friends and that you are now ready to tackle 2015. I've had a good start to 2015. I took time to rest in December (actually, I was a sloth, doing absolutely nothing for days on end) and to plan for 2015. As I sit in my home office right now, I feel very fortunate that I have a room of my own

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21. The Minutiae Of A Writing Life In Phokeng

The words came today. Lots and lots of words. It wasn't the story that I had been working on, that I wanted to write. It wasn't part of a client project either. Still, when the words are begging me to write them, I'm not going to argue :) I wish I had a good quality camera to capture the charm of this room There is a lot stuff happening in my home office- there's a PC, a laptop, printer,

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22. The Gift of Friendship

Today is the last day you can receive this beautiful print if you pre-order Blue Birds. Details below.

girls and pearls

My husband’s first pastorate out of seminary was in Northern Virginia, just outside Washington DC. He was a youth pastor and I was a teacher, and we were still pretty new to town. One Sunday a young couple visited our church. I casually chatted with them — a British fellow with the name Steve Martin (isn’t that fun?) and his lovely American wife, Jamie. And in those few moments I had one of those weird experiences I’d only had once before: I knew immediately that Jamie and I would become very good friends.

It was a strange feeling with no real basis, other than an underlining conviction we had clicked in a meaningful way. Almost fifteen years have passed since that Sunday. We’ve lived apart for eleven of them. But the fledgling friendship that started that day has been one of my life’s dearest gifts.

One spring Jamie came to visit us in Michigan. As the two of us wandered through an antique shop, she handed me a worn school primer she’d found on a shelf. Maybe it will be helpful for that new book idea you have, she said. It ended up being key. On the day May B. came into the world, Jamie wrote something that to this day makes me cry.

As I struggled with writing Blue Birds, Jamie was the one to tell me good work is often hard work. Each time I’d email about how difficult it all was, she’d remind me the writing was hard because it was important.

This time last year I was deep in the midst of second-round edits and desperate to connect with Alis and Kimi in a meaningful way. So I started wearing a strand of pearls. Everyday. With sweats and dressy clothes and everything in between. Unless I was sleeping or exercising, the pearls were there. My Blue Birds girls share a pearl necklace (you can see Alis wearing it on the cover). Wearing pearls was a constant reminder of their friendship, a way to meet them beyond my writing sessions, to carry them with me to the grocery store, while walking the dog, into life’s small, quiet moments.

It was during this time I found this treasure in my mailbox. A gift from Jamie (who knew nothing about the pearls). And that’s when I knew with certainty exactly who this book was for.


If we’re lucky, we find friends in this world who love us as we are and bring out our best selves. I hope that’s what I’ve captured in Alis and Kimi’s relationship. It’s what Jamie Martin has given me.

BB PDF pic for blog postsThis post is part of a week-long celebration in honor of  Blue Birds. I’m giving away a downloadable PDF of this beautiful Blue Birds quote (created by Annie Barnett of Be Small Studios) for anyone who pre-orders the book from January 12-19. Simply click through to order from Amazon, Barnes and Noble, Books A Million, IndieBound, or Powell’s, then email a copy of your receipt to caroline@carolinestarrrose.com by Monday, January 19.

Join the Celebration!

An Interview with Caroline Starr Rose, author of Blue Birds :: From the Mixed Up Files…

What I’m Reading: Blue Birds by Caroline Starr Rose :: Views from a Window Seat

Blue Birds :: Augusta Scattergood

Blue Birds Interview with Caroline Starr Rose :: Reflections on the Teche

Book Review: Blue Birds by Caroline Starr Rose :: Book Covers




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23. Writing Links


Le Mot Juste :: Avi

Reading the Archetypes: Another Look at Levels :: Nerdy Book Club

An Epic Post about the Submission Process, from an Agent’s POV :: Jennifer Represents…

The Craft of Writing: Selling on Proposal, AKA the Dreaded Synopsis by Gretchen McNeil :: Adventures in YA Publishing

Voices of Self-Sabotage :: Writer’s First Aid

Why Writers Are Often Blind to Their Own Faults :: Jody Hedlund

A new middle-grade blog focusing on historical fiction — Mad about MG History

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24. Reset Expectations

birdsinatreeReset expectations instead of raising them. Hard to do if you’re a public company, but probably worth considering if you’re a human intent on making your art.

— from Seth Godin’s blog post, the paradox of rising expectations

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25. Straight From the Source: Dianne K. Salerni on Writing Historical Fiction

DIANNE K. SALERNI, a former fifth grade teacher, is the author of young adult historical novels, We Hear the Dead (Sourcebooks) and The Caged Graves (Clarion/HMH), and the middle-grade fantasy series, The Eighth Day (HarperCollins). In her spare time, Dianne is prone to hanging around creepy cemeteries and climbing 2000 year-old pyramids in the name of book research.

What typically comes first for you: a character? An era? A story idea? How do you proceed from there?

The premise of the story comes first, and that usually dictates the time period. When I decided to write about the Fox sisters, their séance fraud, and Maggie Fox’s romance with Elisha Kane, I had to follow the timeline of their true story. When I decided to write about the caged graves in Catawissa, Pennsylvania, I could have changed the time period, but I thought it was better to work with the actual dates of death on the headstones. When I began working on a project that involved Nikola Tesla, I obviously had to work within the span of his life.

Having determined the time period of each story, my first step is to research the subject (ie: biographies of Maggie Fox, Elisha Kane, Nikola Tesla), the setting (ie: the history of Catawissa), and when possible, read other books set within the same time period.

What kinds of sources do you use? 

I do a lot of my research online and depend on historical society websites, historic photographs, census information, and even online copies of old magazines, such as Godey’s Ladies Book. Who scans all this information and puts it online, I don’t know, but I owe them a debt of gratitude!

I also purchase books when appropriate, especially biographies and books on local history. If a historical character in my story has written a book (such as Elisha Kane’s Arctic Explorations) I may read that. I also have a few reference books on hand in my house, such as a giant dictionary of slang (which helps me date slang accurately for historical use) or The Writer’s Guide to Every Day Life in the 1800s.

On occasion, I’ll visit a location related to my book or a scene in the book, such as a cemetery, a town, a coal mine, or in one case, a pyramid in Mexico! (Did you know traveling for book research is tax deductible?!)

At what point do you feel comfortable beginning to draft? How does your research continue once you begin writing?

I begin writing when the opening of the story reveals itself to me and I have enough plot ideas to move forward from there. Although I usually sketch out a basic outline for a plot before beginning the story, I rarely stick to it. For me, the true story develops along the way, and it’s often not exactly what I planned it to be.

I will continue to research as things come up during the writing. (ie: What town was accessible to the main character’s home by train in a single day? Were cupcakes invented by the 1860s? How did someone acquire decorative plants in the days before florists and nurseries?)

What’s your favorite thing about writing historical fiction?

I love learning about the details of life and marveling at what people could do then that we can’t do now. Yes, that may be the opposite of what one expects – Can’t we do more now? – but the people of the past had many more skills than we do. We are specialized and rely on our technology. We need to know less, because we can always look something up or find somebody else who knows what we need. (People don’t even bother to memorize phone numbers anymore!)

I also love portraying people in historical time periods as very much the same as people today. For example, when one of my characters, Verity, becomes engaged to a young man she knows only through letters, it’s a lot like today’s online dating. When she finally meets him, she’s expecting insta-love, and when that doesn’t happen, it’s a disappointment to her.

What are some obstacles writing historical fiction brings?

If I had a penny for every time an editor passed on a manuscript, saying, “Historical fiction is a hard sell” … well, I’d have a lot of pennies.

I wish so many readers (especially YA readers) didn’t automatically write off historical fiction. History is a setting like any other – contemporary, dystopian, fantasy, or science fiction. Where and when the action takes place helps shapes the story, of course, but why historical settings would be considered less appealing than others puzzles me!

Because life isn’t always clear cut, the motives behind our actions don’t always make sense. But stories need to follow a logical path. What sorts of decisions have you had to make about “muddy” historical figures or events in order for your book to work?

This definitely came up a number of times when I was writing the story of the Fox sisters. They did what the historical record says they did, and I had to work with that. I had to provide the motivation behind their actions, even when those actions didn’t make sense. I believed the girls were frauds, but I had to work with witness accounts of their eerily accurate séances. Elisha Kane disappointed Maggie Fox repeatedly, but she always took him back. Why?

In the end, I had to remember that people in the past were not very different than people today. Witnesses lie. Girls believe their lovers will change, that this time, things will be different. When faced with a conundrum in history, I almost always found that human faults and frailties provided the solution for me. Because people aren’t logical or perfect.

Why is historical fiction important?

For exactly the reasons I stated above! People in the past were the same as people today. It’s important for us to understand that there’s nothing new under the sun – even if we think there is! Online dating and long-distance romance? Not new. Boyfriends who won’t commit and businesses that defraud the customers? Not new.

We need historical fiction in order to be less self-centered, to remind ourselves that people who came before us led lives as rich and interesting as our own – as will the people who come after us.

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