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Viewing: Blog Posts Tagged with: The Writing Life, Most Recent at Top [Help]
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1. 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.

The post Straight From the Source: Dianne K. Salerni on Writing Historical Fiction appeared first on Caroline Starr Rose.

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2. 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

The post Reset Expectations appeared first on Caroline Starr Rose.

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3. 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

The post Writing Links appeared first on Caroline Starr Rose.

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4. 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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5. 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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6. 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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7. 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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8. 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?

The post Writing Contests and Grants: Why You Should Enter appeared first on Caroline Starr Rose.

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9. 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

The post Writing Links appeared first on Caroline Starr Rose.

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10. Back to the Classroom -- NOT about school visits

It was 2011. I was a full-time teacher with one novel published and prize-winning, and another due the following year. I had just signed up for an Arvon YA course with Celia Rees and Linda Newbery, and I was so excited that I shared the information with an acquaintance who was an aspiring writer. ‘Oh,’ she said, ‘I wouldn’t like that, being told what to do. I would never go to something like that.’ She remains unpublished. (And by the way, the course was amazing, and many of us are still friends, with several now published or well on the way.)
all will be revealed...

This isn’t a contribution to the Can Writing be Taught debate: it’s my experience as both learner and teacher that talent can’t be influenced by a teacher or mentor or contact with others, but that many elements of craft and language-awareness can.

I love learning. I was a swot at school and I worked and played hard at university (four degrees at two universities). When writing became a big part of my life, it was natural to me to seek out places where I could learn about that too.

Back in 2001, I signed up for a course called Novel Writing at the local FE college. I had, then, a very rough unfinished first draft of an unpublishable novel, whose progress was erratic because back in those days I used to write ‘when I felt like it’ or ‘when I was inspired’. (Shrieks of silent mirth.) The very first thing the tutor gave us was an exercise in the correct use of the semi-colon. I had a PhD in English and to be honest, I was a bit offended. Surely, I thought, people on a novel writing course don’t need basic punctuation lessons? (OK, more shrieks of silent mirth: I was young and naïve.)

Despite the bad beginning, the course was useful, if for no other reason than that it gave me an incentive to make weekly progress, and introduced me to the importance of giving and receiving feedback. Now, when I meet and mentor aspiring writers I always encourage them to seek out something similar, and I often feel annoyed at their (not infrequent) reluctance. Don’t they know how lucky they are, I fume, to have access to so many courses? I give them Arvon brochures and tell them honestly how my first Arvon course taught me more about writing than a subsequent M.A. in Creative Writing.

Recently I was interviewed as part of an initiative of the NI Arts Council to identify areas of need for arts professionals, and the main thing I could think of was the need for professional development for published writers. There are plenty of courses and mentoring opportunities for aspiring and emerging writers, but anything beyond that tends to be generated by writers themselves, often informally. Of course there must be writers who feel they don’t need professional development, and good luck to them, but I’m sure there are many like me, with a few successful books under our books but no idea how things will work out in the future, who would love to be able to keep on learning. After all, professional ballet dancers take daily classes; athletes train. Yes, of course I learn on my own. Every book I read – and write –  teaches me something. But there is something magical about being in a class, with a wise guide, and other learners to share experiences with.

Books are wonderful, but sometimes you need people. I’m teaching myself the guitar: I’ve always sung but this is my first attempt at learning to accompany myself. I have a reasonable ear, so I wince and try again when it sounds horrible, and I have made progress. After six weeks, when I could play a song all the way through at normal speed without embarrassing gaps while I fumbled for the next chord, I let my stepfather (a brilliant guitarist) hear me. My chord changes were grand, he assured me – but my strumming was wrong. I had been so focussed on the more difficult thing that I hadn’t realised how badly I was doing something equally important. If he hadn’t shown me, I would never have known – even with a lifetime of watching other people play. Even with a good Teach Yourself Guitar book. Sometimes you need people.
sometimes you need people 

That’s why I was so thrilled when, last week, Arvon announced a course especially for its own tutors. I signed up immediately and, given that it’s in January, I’m just praying not to be snowed in, so that I can go and be a student again.

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11. Do One Main Task Each Day

That has been my mantra for the past couple of days. On Tuesday I focussed on writing a children's story (early reader). It's finished and I sent it to a writer friend to read through and comment. She likes it. Yesterday was the day of completing a concept proposal for a possible funder for a project. We've already met and they suggested the proposal, so I had some guidance on what their Key

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12. Christmas wish list

Christmas holidays are all about catching up with friends and family, and catching up on all the books that I haven’t had a chance to read during the year. I’m not a fan of reading on the beach – too sunny, too many kids to watch, too many friends to chat with. But once I […]

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13. Keep On Writing

I’m participating in NaNoWriMo this month. It’s a mad-sprint to write 50,000 words of a novel in a month, and we just reached the half-way mark. This means we’re wading through the murky middle of our novels when it feels like nothing is happening and it’s hard to keep our momentum.

If you’re like me and you need a little internet inspiration, I’m happy to provide these pep-talks of writing wisdom:








Keep calm and write on










Why are you still here?

I thought all that was pretty clear.

Get to your keyboard, and remember…


Happy writing everyone.

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14. On Editorial Guidelines, Implementation Plans, Spreadsheets & The Craft Of Writing For Children

One of the toughest things I've tried to articulate to my non-writer friends about the writing process is the craft required to ensure that a children's story meets editorial guidelines. Or maybe they just don't get it because it doesn't sound very creative.. it sounds like a trade... maybe like laying the story out brick by brick, or panelbeating what's already there? LOL! I think the "

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15. A Conversation with Sarah MacKenzie of the Read Aloud Revival Podcast

I’m so excited to share with you a recent conversation I had with Sarah MacKenzie of the Read Aloud Revival Podcast. We talked poetry, how I stumbled into writing verse novels, and what three books I would take to a desert island.

Swing by and have a listen!

The post A Conversation with Sarah MacKenzie of the Read Aloud Revival Podcast appeared first on Caroline Starr Rose.

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16. Sometimes Being A Writer Involves A Million Little Tasks That Add Up To Something Great

A flattering view my food garden this week It's been a productive couple of days. I submitted a children's story I wrote to a mainstream publisher. I really really hope they like it. I'm making the distinction (in italics) because I also submitted 6 children's stories written by someone else to an indie publisher. I hope admitting to forwarding someone else's manuscript is not going to come

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17. Classroom Connections: SEARCHING FOR SILVERHEELS, by Jeannie Mobley

age range: 10-14 years
setting: Colorado, 1917
Jeannie Mobley’s website

study guide

Pearl’s lively narration reveals her transformation from an old-fashioned, romantic girl into a spirited, courageous champion. Mobley uses the legend of Silverheels to effectively “raise questions about the traditional roles of women and their sources of strength,” as she writes in her author’s note, against the backdrop of wartime Colorado. An engrossing, plausible story of several unlikely feminist heroines with a touch of romance and intrigue. — Kirkus Reviews

Please tell us about your book.

Searching for Silverheels is the story of a romantically minded 13 year old, Pearl, who works in her family’s café in the small mountain town of Como, Colorado in 1917, just after the United States has entered the First World War.  She loves the local legend of Silverheels, a dance hall girl of the gold rush era, who saved a town from smallpox. However, Josie, a cynical old women’s suffragist, scoffs at Pearl for telling the story to the tourists, arguing that Silverheels was more likely a crook after the miner’s gold than a hero. They enter into a bet, each trying to prove their version of the legend, but in the mean time, accusations of sedition and anti-patriotism arise in the town, threatening both Pearl’s family and Josie. Pearl is forced to decide what she really believes in and to act, even if it costs her.

What inspired you to write this story?

I have known the legend of Silverheels for as long as I can remember, being a Colorado native that spent a great deal of time in the mountains in the area where Silverheels lived, and where there is, to this day, a mountain named after her. I hadn’t thought about the legend for a long time, but when I heard it again I realized there are some odd inconsistencies in it that made me think that Silverheels had the perfect set up for a scam–tend the dying miners, seduce them with her legendary beauty, and then take their gold.  As a kid, I had loved the legend for its romantic, tragic beauty, and having this new vision of it as a more cynical adult, I thought, what an interesting story it would be to debate the story from the two sides.

I also realized what a good set up for exploring the roles of women in traditional society, and all the ways that women are called to be strong. So, I chose to set it during World War I so I could bring in the suffrage movement as well as all the things women did on the home front to keep the country going during the war.

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

I did very little book research before I started writing this story. Since I’ve known the legend of Silverheels and the area where the story took place since childhood, I tried to draw on deep childhood memories to shape the character of Pearl and her experiences and feelings about her mountain home. While Pearl’s story is entirely fictitious, her feelings and personality are  drawn very much on who I was as a kid.  So, I did a small amount of research about the home front in various wars, and settled on World War I, mostly because the National Women’s party, one arm of the  suffrage movement, came to blows with the authorities over criticizing the president during war time.

I researched details as I wrote, stopping when I needed to fill in a detail–like when the first Liberty Bonds were issued, what they cost and how the program worked, or what the train schedule was like in Como, a railroad hub of the era, or how long it might have taken by train to get from one location to another.  Sometimes those details would draw me into an hour of research, sometimes I’d have to work on research for a day or more. And there were a few times I found things out and had to back up and rewrite things I had gotten wrong. That is a definite problem with my system of research-as-I-go, but I don’t know what I need to research until I get there.

Always, when I am writing a piece of historical fiction, I am “researching” in my time away from the writing desk, too. I watch TV programs or read novels set in that era or written in that era, I listen to period music, and I daydream, to get my mind steeped in the deeper feeling of the time period.

What are some special challenges associated with writing historical fiction?

Of course, there is always the challenge of getting the historical era right and finding the balance of including enough historical detail to get a sense of the era without overdoing it. I think it is also important to hit the right balance of making it feel familiar and also exotic.  Historical fiction appeals to readers for its ability to help us escape into a different world, but at the same time, I think historical fiction has a romantic appeal too. There is something warm about the “good old days,” even if they weren’t all that good in reality. I think many readers like the comfortable warmth of stories set in the late 19th/early 20th century. The sense of family and of home that linger in the memories of adults who read the Little House books as kids, for example. 

So for me, I try to evoke some of those same feelings in my work, while still being true to all the things that made the “good old days” not so good. Because there was a lot of hard work and discrimination and sexism in those days, and there was a struggle to survive. I try to keep all of that present in my work.

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

My book looks at traditional roles of women, the home front during war, and the suffrage movement, all topics of interest in American History. We are now in the hundredth anniversary of World War I, which began in Europe in the summer of 1914, and continued until 1918. For the United States, the centennial of our involvement in the war doesn’t begin until 2017, but there is a new focus on that war right now, and this book fits into that topic very neatly.

I also think that historical fiction can fit in nicely with the focus of the Common Core on increased attention to informational texts, which include things like non-fiction and primary sources.  One of the intriguing things about historical fiction is it creates a personal interest in history, because it gets the reader emotionally involved with people in the past. And once that emotional involvement is there, it is much more interesting to do the background research (for example, people who never study history often love researching an ancestor). 

So, I think historical fiction can be a wonderful gateway into those informational texts, as readers of the novel say, “Did that really happen?” or “Did people really do that back then?” Those questions can be used as starting points for digging in deeper and finding out the truth. For example, in my book, suffragists are arrested at the White House in July of 1917, which triggers a protest rally on the steps of the State Capitol in Denver. Readers might then ask, did that really happen, and they can turn to the history books or old newspapers to find out. Toward that end, I do include various links to research resources in my teachers guides and on my website.

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18. Writing Links


Pixar’s 22 Rules of Storytelling :: Ragan’s PR Daily

The Love for Children :: Avi

Ten Tips for a Perfect Author Visit :: Nerdy Book Club

On Getting to Work :: Dani Shapiro

Put Your Best Work Out There: Avoid These 25 Newbie Writer Mistakes :: Jody Hedlund

Querying 101 :: Ingrid’s Notes

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19. 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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20. 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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21. 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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22. 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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23. 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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24. 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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25. 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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