Kristen Lamb

Author, Blogger, Social Media Jedi

Kristen Lamb — Photo

Posts Categorized: Organization and Productivity

memoir, biography, autobiography, family history, oral history

Cait here. I know, I know. I mention the word ‘memoir,’ and we get nightmare visions of Snookie’s autobiography prominently positioned on a table at the front of Barnes & Noble with New York Times Bestseller emblazoned on the cover.

I could reduce you all to a mass of existential angst and tears of futility by bringing up the 1991 epic Ice by Ice from Vanilla Ice, Paris Hilton’s Confessions of an Heiress, or even Justin Bieber’s First Step 2 Forever: My Story, but, I won’t. Because I’m a nice person.

Memoir, biography, autobiography, celebrity biography
I don’t even have to caption this or meme it. It just is… (Image courtesy of Justin Bieber Wikia and Harper Collins)

These days, memoirs, oral histories, and biographies seem less like a valid genre and more like an exercise in creating cringe-worthy categories like:

      • The autobiography (not written) by some 16-year-old pop sensation who has yet to get a driver’s license or go to rehab (hint: post-rehab books sell much better);

     

      • The true, inspiring story of struggle and strength from some athlete (who later will turn out to have been pumping more pills than pounds to achieve the incredible goal of <insert homeruns/touchdowns/speed record here>);

     

        • NB: The athlete may be substituted by any combination of one-gag-wonder YouTube sensation, HGTV host who rose to fame through aggressive full-body-contact crafting, or washed-out child star/rock star/Disney sitcom teenage actor from the 1990’s (because we’ve already run through most everyone from the 80’s).

       

      • The *gasp* SHOCKING *gasp* UNAUTHORIZED *gasp* NEVER-BEFORE-REVEALED TRUE STORY OF <insert politician, Hollywood icon, serial killer, royalty here>.

     

      • Let’s not forget the deeply personal and agonizingly extensive accounts of ordinary individuals suffering through chronic hangnails. These stories read like vaguebooking and an encounter group got drunk at a bar and hooked up for a bad one night stand that neither wants to remember in the morning;

     

      • The garden path paved with good intentions to mind-numbing boredom of listening to our aged relative go on and on about a half-century’s worth of knitting projects while we record her in the hopes of capturing the essence of a bygone era, but which in reality ends up being a special kind of hell because once we’ve recorded her, we realize we have to listen to it all over again in order to transcribe everything she said;

     

      • Finally, I should also toss a bone to the self-deprecating rags-to-riches archetype whose stories are meant to uplift and change our lives (well, until we spend the $3,000 for the weekend warrior seminar, workbooks, videos, and nutritional supplements that leave us exhausted, broke, and confused as to whether we’re supposed to do the ‘good dog’ head-patting self-empowerment exercise before or after we spend three minutes dancing naked before the $249 dreamcatcher add-on product that we bought in a moment of mid-seminar ecstatic dissociative fugue).

     

Legacy…it isn’t just for software any more

Like any cult leader worth their Kool-Aid, now that I’ve completely broken you down and destroyed your will to self-actualize and write any kind of personal story or work on a family history…let me build you back up…in my glorious image. *stops and shakes self, doesn’t know where that last part came from*

Memoir, autobiography, biography, family history, oral history

Truly, though, somewhere in the middle of all this mediocre dross are two truths that are so fundamental to humanity, we often overlook them or fail to recognize their power as a driving force behind everything we do. What are these truths?

Narrative is the most primal and primary form of human communication.

We all want to leave a legacy.

When we tell our friend/spouse/partner how our day was at work, that’s narrative. When we comfort a friend who has just been dumped by sharing our own dating war stories, that’s narrative. When we explain how to do something to a new employee, that’s a form of instructional narrative.

Our histories, morals, lessons, entertainment, and culture are all passed along in various forms of narrative, from Grandma’s stories to *shudder* the faux-scripting of reality television. On the scale of what is of real value to humanity, frankly, YOUR life’s story has more to offer the world as a legacy than anything the Kardashians can come up with. Fan of the Kardashians? Fight me. *Warning: I am a mean-spirited, 5’1″ Slytherin who fights dirty. I will win.

Cue Bon Jovi

*sings* It’s my liiiiiiiife, it’s now or never….

Ready to start that family history or share your own story? Great! Let’s get started. Ready?

Ready?

And?…..

Bueller?…..

Memoir, autobiography, biography, family history, oral history

Having trouble getting started, or even just knowing WHERE to start? I totally understand. It’s a common problem, and kind of ironic considering that we know the plot really, really well and aren’t just pantsing this particular story.

Let’s take a look at the 3 most common obstacles to getting a memoir project off the ground.

1. The Naturally Outgoing, Extroverted, Boastful Nature of Writers (NOT): If there’s a downward-facing-dog adjective for derision, we will find a way to put a ‘self’ in front of it–self-deprecating, self-effacing, self-sabotaging, etc. Even if we have something of real value to say that could either entertain or help others, we hesitate to convey it through narrative of our own personal experiences. We’d rather find a way to slip it as a theme into a plot where Taylor and Seraphina must stop a drug cartel from taking over a small Texas town populated by gluten-intolerant wolf shifters. We somehow believe that our own experiences are not worth it. If there’s not a jewelry heist, an AR-15, and Michael Bay-esque explosions involved, we think no one could possibly be interested in our lives.

2. An Embarrassment of Riches…: Okay, say we’ve gotten past the self-effacement syndrome and are ready and willing to share our story (or a family story). How do we start? Where do we start? From the egg? From the accidental backseat fumble to the accompanying crooning of Buddy Holly that led to that particular egg taking off on a spectacular career that lead to you? The first time we successfully made it to the training potty in time and the glorious lollipop of victory? The first date (the parental introductions alone could be an entire chapter in instructional humiliation)? For a body of material that we are entirely in control of and know to the last detail, it’s ironic that we can be so at a loss as to how to structure a narrative.

3. Truth, Libel, and Who Has to Die Before You Can Publish?: Ready to become an unwitting (and maybe unwilling) historiographer? When we undertake any kind of nonfiction biographical project, we are forced to join the ranks of historians who study the study of history, easily identifiable by the premature grey, dark circles, and habit of walking around muttering to themselves about theoretical frameworks, revisionism, primary source authentication, and hagiography. Any project involving people and history will have certain inalienable facts, but we’re also dealing with mushy memories, opinions, changes in perception over time, evolving social contexts, and some sticky legal and family issues when it comes to bringing some things to light. (Aunt Muriel’s Thanksgiving dinner is gonna be wicked interesting this year…)

Looking at all of this, it’s no wonder we would rather volunteer for the 7:00 a.m. Saturday morning carpool for the rest of eternity than tackle writing a memoir.

When in doubt, turn to M&M’s (&M)

Yes, chocolate is always a viable answer, but I’m actually talking about three ‘M’s’ that help break down the gargantuan project of a memoir into workable rules, structures, and craft.

Memoir, autobiography, biography, family history, oral history

1. MESSAGE: The idea of the message isn’t all that dissimilar to the theme of a work of fiction. What is the main truth/moral/advice/idea we want to convey in the telling of our story? Are we telling a story about survival against the odds, the power of love over hate, creating our identity anew after a life-changing event? Just like fiction, we can’t put everything into this narrative, so whatever we choose to include should be driven by and always tie back to the message. So…out with the glorious potty-training-lollipop-of-victory and in with how our first date taught us we can not only survive rejection, but learn to thrive and grow stronger.

2. MATERIAL: Before we decide what to put in or leave out, we have to get all the material we can in one place. This is the part of the process where we leave no stone unturned, no story unrecorded, no photo (however embarrassing) in the ‘out’ pile. From birth certificates to postcards, digital recordings to that unfortunate VHS video where you fell asleep face-first in your second birthday cake, it’s essential to chase down pretty much everything. In some cases, the material refreshes our memories or corrects a mistaken impression. In other cases, the material can help shape the message, raise challenging questions, and reveal unexpected truths. Gathering, organizing, and learning to interpret our resources is the foundation from which we build the narrative to support the message.

3. METHOD: There is no one-size-fits-all general methodology for memoirs and family histories. There is however a single one-size-fits-all rule: CONSISTENCY. However we decide to deal with blanks or gaps in the ‘record,’ we need to approach it the same way every time. This also goes for if/how much/what kind of family secrets we share, because let’s face it, once we publish anything, it’s the equivalent of running the dirty family underwear up the digital flagpole. We have to examine our own subjective viewpoints on people and events to see if we need either sensitivity training or ‘roid rage. There’s also the tedious bit where we have to do a basic survey of copyright, libel, and slander laws to make sure we don’t end up getting sued because we couldn’t resist sharing the story about the time Cousin Vinny ran 10 kilos of cocaine across the border in a riding lawn mower while singing Jimmy Buffett songs at the top of his lungs.

Maybe the goal isn’t to publish our story, but to create something we can give to the next generation of our family, or it’s a series of blog posts about something in our lives that was truly meaningful, or, it’s going through and organizing the boxes of old letters and photos to learn more about ourselves, who we are, and where we come from. Maybe, it’s just about spending some quality time with the people we love and learning things we never knew about them.

They say life is stranger than fiction, and I have to agree. Otherwise, where would Investigation Discovery get all the ideas for its shows? We all have something of value to share with the world, whether it’s our own story or our family’s story. Sharing narrative is the common thread that ties together all of humanity’s experiences into one beautiful, kaleidoscopic vision called life.

Life as a Story: How to Write a Memoir 

Instructor: Cait Reynolds

Price: $65.00 USD

Where: W.A.N.A. Digital Classroom

Date: Friday, January 26th, 2018. 7:00-9:00 p.m. EST

We all have a story to tell, something worth preserving or even sharing. This might be the tale of our own life, or the life of someone dear to us.  Maybe we long to capture oral histories of relatives before the living past disappears forever.

Regardless, the memoir is a genre that requires an approach, voice, and technique vastly different from fiction.

Topics we cover in this class include:

  • Developing the thematic frame of the memoir;
  • Creating a compelling narrative structure out of facts and timelines;
  • The art of the follow-up question: going beyond the generic questionnaires to dig deep and mine memories to get the extraordinary details and important information;
  • Developing and refining your memoirist voice;
  • Knowing when extra research is needed, what is needed, and how to find it;
  • Filling in the gaps when no information exists;
  • Understanding legal constraints (i.e. libel) and how to maneuver around them yet maintain story integrity;
  • Recreating dialogue and excerpting from original documents (letters, journals, etc.);
  • Positioning your memoir for multiple markets.

A recording is included with class purchase.

Business of the Writing Business: Ready to ROAR!

Instructor: Kristen Lamb

Price: $55.00 USD

Where: W.A.N.A. Digital Classroom

When: Thursday, February 15, 2018, 7:00-9:00 p.m. EST

Being a professional author entails much more than simply writing books. Many emerging authors believe all we need is a completed novel and an agent/readers will come.

There’s a lot more that goes into the writing business…but not nearly as much as some might want us to believe. There’s a fine balance between being educated about business and killing ourselves with so much we do everything but WRITE MORE BOOKS.

This class is to prepare you for the reality of Digital Age Publishing and help you build a foundation that can withstand major upheavals. Beyond the ‘final draft’ what then? What should we be doing while writing the novel?

We are in the Wilderness of Publishing and predators abound. Knowledge is power. We don’t get what we work for, we get what we negotiate. This is to prepare you for success, to help you understand a gamble from a grift a deal from a dud. We will discuss:

  • The Product
  • Agents/Editors
  • Types of Publishing
  • Platform and Brand
  • Marketing and Promotion
  • Making Money
  • Where Writers REALLY Need to Focus

A recording of this class is also included with purchase.

Self-Publishing for Professionals: Amateur Hour is OVER

Instructor: Cait Reynolds

Price: $99.00 USD

Where: W.A.N.A. Digital Classroom

When: Friday, February 16, 2018, 7:00-10:00 p.m. EST

Let’s get down to brass tacks. Are you going to go KDP Select or wide distribution with Smashwords as a distributor? Are you going to use the KDP/CreateSpace ISBN’s or purchase your own package? What BISAC codes have you chosen? What keywords are you going to use to get into your target categories? Who’s your competition, and how are you positioned against them?

Okay, hold on. Breathe. Slow down. I didn’t mean to induce a panic attack. I’m actually here to help.

Beyond just uploading a book to Amazon, there are a lot of tricks of the trade that can help us build our brand, keep our books on the algorithmic radar, and find the readers who will go the distance with us. If getting our books up on Amazon and CreateSpace is ‘Self-Publishing 101,’ then this class is the ‘Self-Publishing senior seminar’ that will help you turn your books into a business and your writing into a long-term career.

Topics include:

  • Competitive research (because publishing is about as friendly as the Red Wedding in Game of Thrones)
  • Distribution decisions (because there’s actually a choice!)
  • Copyright, ISBN’s, intellectual property, and what it actually all means for writers
  • Algorithm magic: keywords, BISAC codes, and meta descriptions made easy
  • Finding the reader (beyond trusting Amazon to deliver them)
  • Demystifying the USA Today and NYT bestselling author titles
  • How to run yourself like a business even when you hate business and can’t math (I can’t math either, so it’s cool)

Yes, this is going to be a 3-hour class because there is SO much to cover…but, like L’Oréal says, you’re worth it! Also, a recording of this class is also included with purchase.

The class includes a workbook that will guide you through everything we talk about from how to do competitive research to tracking ISBNs and distribution, and much, much more!

Time is MONEY, and your time is valuable so this will help you make every moment count…so you can go back to writing GREAT BOOKS.

DOUBLE-TROUBLE BUSINESS BUNDLE

BOTH classes for $129 (Save $55). This bundle is FIVE hours of professional training, plus the recordings, plus Cait’s workbook to guide you through everything from how to do competitive research to tracking ISBNs and distribution and more.

One major advantage of being older is the blessing of perspective. Us “older folk” have lived enough years to have gained decades of experiences, failures, mistakes, victories, setbacks, trials, and tests. This means we have the benefit of context. Many of us also have a clearer picture of what “success” really looks like. What is important and what’s worth our time and what is not.

Stuff we freaked out over and that was world-ending as a teen? We laugh at now when we see that same drama in our own kids or the children of others.

We may even shake out heads and think, “I wish I would have known this when I was younger.”

Of all the lessons I’ve learned, there’s one that surpasses them all—a linchpin to any kind of meaningful life, love, success, peace or prosperity. Good news is the lesson is simple. Bad news, it’s far from easy.

I challenge you to…INVOKE THE NO!

The Power of NO!!!!

Yes, invoke the NO. NO to the wrong stuff makes room for the YES for the right stuff.

Seriously, give yourself a quota of Nos. Start with 5 and work from there. No to yourself, no to others. The word NO is the key. Yeah, this song below is about pickup-lines in clubs and is cute and I bought it and work out to it and recommend it. It doesn’t specifically apply to our NO lesson, but the chorus is actually highly useful as an ear worm.

Just retool it for your specific needs.

Kristen’s version?

My name is…NO.

My sign is…NO.

My email is…NO.

My best day to bake cookies is…NO.

I gotta let you go. My answer still is no.

Setting Boundaries Using the NO

I could and probably will write a whole book on this one day but trust me when I tell you it is impossible to enjoy any kind of success, meaning, joy, peace or prosperity unless we become masters at setting firm boundaries, which again means invoking the NO.

TIME is a treasure, the most valuable possession we have.

Every minute a gold coin, every hour a jewel, every week a necklace, every year a crown. We are given this treasure at birth (though we never are aware of the treasure’s actual size). We take time for granted, thus too often fail to guard it with the NO. We give into the easy “yes” which steals our treasure one coin, one jewel at a time.

Then we are clueless as to why we are emotionally bankrupt and have nothing to show for all this work. Truth is there is a HUGE difference between being busy and being productive and that difference is two letters long.

N-O.

We Can’t Have It All

Why is saying NO so tough? Because, we are flawed humans who have a tendency to get greedy (including me). We don’t want to believe we really cannot have it all.

Blunt truth time…

“Having it all” is a marketing LIE used to sell us stuff we won’t use, don’t need, can’t afford and frequently cannot even FIND. “Having it ALL” is a tactic to rook us into spending time instead of investing time 😉 .

INVOKE THE NO!

Anyone who tells us we can say “yes” to everything is a) a fool or b) playing us for the fool. Yet part of growing and learning and maturing is we too often DO fall for the delusion we can have it all and this makes us, for lack of a better word…a dumb@$$.

This dumb@$$ery is usually most visibly witnessed January 2nd of every year.

Even I’ve had stupid ideas/life plans like:

I’m going to have a bikini body, build up the home business into a multi-billion-dollar franchise, have an immaculate home, an organic vegetable garden, romantic getaways with Hubby, write ten novels, bake gluten-free nut-free vegan paleo cookies for Spawn’s school bake sale, and volunteer rescuing homeless baby pygmy goats, which I will then crochet onesies for—obviously made from yarn I will spin myself.

*hair flip*

Imagine my shock when, at the gym, I realized Spin Class had all these bicycles that were only producing pain and sadness…and NOT yarn for my pygmy goat onesies.

Boundaries INCREASE FOCUS—Use Your NO Lens

NO is a lens that focuses energy and amplifies our actions. By the power of NO, we accomplish more with less. When we say no to all but that which is a priority, our energy transforms from diffused white light to a laser that can cut through diamonds.

We’re working smarter, not harder.

Boundaries on OURSELVES

Again NO.

Earlier I said the secret to everything is boundaries. It IS simple. If I set a priority (finished novel) I must then place boundaries around that priority starting with myself by invoking the NO.

Two hours on Instagram watching makeup tutorials….NO.

Binging on HBO series….NO.

Joining in on FB drama…NO.

Volunteering to beta read everyone who asks me…NO.

Boundaries set in place by the Power of NO makes the right YESes easier to spot and harness.

Dedicate two hours working on novel…YES.

Boundaries on OTHERS—N to the No to the No, No, No

Actually takers never WILL.

Placing boundaries on others (family, friends, social media pals, kids, etc.) is the really tough part that requires probably even more training (especially for women who are taught to be “nice”).

Train your NO.

Invoking the NO has power, and the more we use it the stronger it gets.

In many females, our NO is a withered, forgotten muscle. At first when we invoke the NO, it will be painful, uncomfortable and weird. But that’s temporary. It will pass (perhaps like a kidney stone but it will pass).

If we have friends or family who never remember our number until they need money or help moving or free therapy or a place they can unload all their toxic waste (drama) on us?

NO.

Learn to ignore the call (or block the number/unfriend).

When I’m working (writing), I put my phone in Airplane Mode so no one can call or text me. There is the added benefit of silencing the siren’s song of FB pings that could distract me.

I invoke the NO using my Settings. My iPhone is strong so I don’t need to be 😀 .

We also—wait for it—do NOT need to constantly check emails. There’s no law that states we must instantly reply to all messages. We merely must respond in a reasonable amount of time because it is polite.

Anyone who gets pissy because they don’t get “instant” response can get over it. They want instant, they can buy some Sanka.

We have no Make You Happy Meals for sale. So…N to the No to the NO, NO, NO!

Yes, today I have my Sassy Pants on, but I really wish I would’ve understood this simple yet vital lesson in my 20s or 30s or even…four weeks ago.

I love helping and serving and nurturing but there’s only so much of ME (or YOU) to go around. When we focus on US by invoking the NO, we get stronger, and when we are stronger we serve better.

We have more energy, more resources (I.e. great books sales), and more discernment. YES is not always a good thing. If that person who feels the need to vent all over you suddenly can’t reach you to get all the answers spoon fed to them?

Then maybe they will have to grow up, suck it up buttercup and FIGURE IT OUT like adults DO. No is just as good for others as it is for us.

Many emerging writers want to complete NaNoWriMo. My advice? INVOKE THE NO. Want to trim down, lose some fluff? INVOKE THE NO. Want stronger finances, to be debt-free? INVOKE THE NO. Want to finish a novel? INVOKE THE NO.

Y’all get the gist 😉 .

BRING ME NOs! I WANT THEIR HEADS!

What are your thoughts? Do you struggle with invoking the NO? I’m getting better but, until very recently, I’d failed to make NO a deliberate plan and strategy. I’d failed to see I needed to make it stronger.

Which is why I am now paying my STUPID TAX honoring commitments I didn’t say no to but should have.

Like I tell my son:

When the mind is stupid, the body suffers.

Applies to me, too. Sigh. Anyway…

Do you have a hard time saying no to Facebook? Family? School bake sales? Making your kid a sandwich instead of letting him/her figure it out? No to the BIG CLEARANCE SALE? Are you getting better at saying no? What have you said NO to that you are super proud about? Share your victory and inspire us!

Do you think you could invoke the no 5 times a day? Ready to take the INVOKE THE NO CHALLENGE?

Are you an older person who now has wisdom you wish you’d have had when you were young? What do you wish you would have learned earlier in life? Share your stories OH WISE ONES!

I LOVE HEARING FROM YOU! And I am NOT above BRIBERY!

What do you WIN? For the month of September, for everyone who leaves a comment, I will put your name in a hat. If you comment and link back to my blog on your blog, you get your name in the hat twice. What do you win? The unvarnished truth from yours truly. I will pick a winner once a month and it will be a critique of the first 20 pages of your novel, or your query letter, or your synopsis (5 pages or less).

We are in the process of moving classes around due to the two MONSTER hurricanes so a fresh class list will be available next post. You can also dash over to W.A.N.A. International to check out what’s coming up and get your spot!

It’s Cait Reynolds again, and you know what that means…muahahahahahaha

Image courtesy of memegenerator.co

Historical romance is full of strong-jawed heroes in possession of a good fortune and in want of a wife…whether they know it or not.

In fact, if you add up all the fine, vast estates throughout England, you’d probably end up with a country the size of the North American continent. Actually, better add in Central America just to make sure we have enough acreage. (Thanks to my friend Britt for pointing this out to me all those years ago.)

For every Lord So-and-So, and Duke of Blah-Blah, there is a lovely, feisty young lady who much overcome a sad lack of fortune, sudden misfortune, or the tragedy of unfortunate connections in order to save the day, the estate, and the hero…who naturally obliges by falling in love with her.

Oh, wait. Sorry. Gone off the rails there.

We’re not talking puerile plotting today (and besides, that’s Lamb’s specialty). I’m here to talk about how to write about an ingratiatingly indignant and independence-loving heroine together with her seriously sensitive and sinfully seductive hero so that they are not walking, talking anachronisms that make readers want to tear their eyes out with the pickle fork.

Before we jump in, can I just ask…does it always have to be Regency England? Really? Historical writing is hard enough without thousands of experts ready to jump in and point out any inaccuracy or anachronism. I mean, I have seen virtual fisticuffs break out among the delicately natured about the precise method of shining Hessian boots as mentioned in a particular book.

Anyway.

We have to do the research. There is no silver bullet, no short-cut. We might not be doing the world-building of fantasy, but we are re-building a world that impacts every single thing our characters will do, say, think…and eat. Yes, certain emotions and reactions are consistent across time and fundamental to human nature. However, the way our characters understand the actions and circumstances that create those emotions and the way their reactions are expressed are absolutely rooted and shaded by their contemporary context.

Let’s take a look at a sample of the areas that we need to consider when tackling historical world re-building.

Dentistry, Dandruff & Deodorant

Perfume was invented for a reason. Back in ye olde, personal hygiene was far more…shall we say…individualistic? Perhaps optional would be a better word. I’m not saying people didn’t try to wash—somewhat. But, ‘somewhat’ had very different connotations and practices in the 12th century and the 19th century.

Even nobility had issues with the stink. I mean, think about it. You try walking around on a sunny, 70-degree day in several layers of silk and linen while having your internal organs constricted by whalebone. Oh, and don’t forget the wig (and attendant weevils and other creepy crawlies that would take up residence therein).

Bathing involved servants, buckets, lots of wood or coal, and a short soak in rapidly-cooling water. We should be considerate of Sally the under housemaid when deciding that your character is going to have a bath every day. She already has a lot of work to do around the house (including emptying your chamber pot), and helping to prepare a bath for you under the watchful eye of your abigail isn’t making her job any easier.

We don’t have to write that everyone stinks or about the housekeeper’s armpit hair. But, we need to think twice and do some research before glibly tossing out that Our Heroine shampooed her hair.

Watch Your Mouth

Seriously. If I read another manuscript where the author has used words like sure/okay/all right, I am going to reach for that pickle fork. But, it’s not just use of modern slang that can jar the reader out of the story, upsetting hoop skirts everywhere.

Even the way sentences in dialogue are constructed can indicate whether a character is speaking Tudorish, Regencyish, or Victorianish.

Image courtesy of Mental Floss

Even commoners would speak more formally than we do today—and the riff-raff, beggars, and laborers would also know just enough to speak with respect to their betters.

We should not make the mistake of thinking formal means ponderous or dull, though. It’s fun to play with that stereotype here and there, especially when writing the dialogue of a pompous, hidebound old windbag. But, formality and a more extensive vocabulary doesn’t mean we can’t have witty, chatty characters that are silly, sexy, and scintillating.

Help Wanted

Elizabeth Bennet did not repine the fact she could not go to university, or become a doctor or a soldier. She operated well-within the confines of acceptable social norms and expectations, and she did so because she naturally accepted that circumscribing and did not question it.

Why would she? It simply was how things were. Yes, she challenged the status quo about marrying for love, but she never challenged marriage or denied that there were only a handful of respectable options outside of marriage for a young lady.

This brings me to something that I see over and over again in stories: the feisty heroine who dreams of becoming X (insert impossibly modern career choice here). That’s not to say that we can’t write a good, convincing story about a heroine who dreams of becoming X, but we have to take a good, long, hard look at her starting place before we do.

Image courtesy of memegenerator.net

Seraphina is bored with embroidering all day and wants to join her brother and become a knight. She’s all about how girls can fight just as well as boys, and girls should get a chance, etc. She tosses her golden hair as she fights openly with her father about wanting to learn how to use a sword.

Cue pickle fork.

Seraphina was always closest to her brother Rolf. They supported and protected each other while growing up in a difficult family situation. When Rolf is called to go serve the king in a crusade, Seraphina panics.

She doesn’t want to be left alone to deal with the difficult family situation at home. She doesn’t think she could handle waiting months or even years for Rolf to come home—if he even makes it home.

She is backed into a corner, but because of her native courage, she makes a daring choice. She convinces Rolf to let her come along in disguise as part of his retinue. Along the way, she has to practice and sharpen up her fighting skills in order to pass for his squire. It’s a different world out there, when wooden swords are replaced with cold, hard steel.

Basically, people need to stop shoving heroines with 21st century values and beliefs into ye olde days. The only way to avoid making this mistake is to read and learn about the cultural values of the period and to immerse our brains into thinking in this way so our characters will behave naturally in harmony with the times.

Not Bread and Cheese Again!

Would people please stop having their characters eat nothing but bread and cheese? There is so much bread and cheese in poorly-researched historical novels that I feel nutritionally-imbalanced just reading about it.

There is no excuse for bread and cheese. If anything, historical food is one of the easiest areas to research! Just type ’18th century English food’ into Google, and BAM! You’ve got blogs, Google Books, PDFs of actual recipe books, and even photos of meals cooked from authentic recipes.

Image courtesy of Me.Me

Also, pay attention to what your characters are drinking. Well water (hello, giardia)? Beer or ale? Possibly. You could have combination of sherry, wine, and port or brandy with dinner. Be careful of tea, coffee, and hot chocolate before the 18th century. Yes, they were around, but not universally, depending on the decade and country. And, don’t let me catch you talking about hot chocolate like it’s some Swiss Miss crap. Hot chocolate was just that. Hot. Chocolate.

So, next time you want to write food into your scene, don’t settle for Wonder Bread and Kraft Singles. Let loose with Sack posset, quail in puff pastry, Chelsea buns, turnip soup, and Portugal Cakes…with a couple bottles of good Madeira to go along with it all!

Dressing the Part

Our dear Charity has managed to get away from her odious great aunt and is at the house of her friend Isabelle, getting ready for the ball. We the readers are treated to an extensive description of fabric, décolletage, sleeves, overskirts, hems, and lace. Let’s not forget the incredible jewelry, hairstyling, and make-up.

There’s a whole other sermon I could write about the sins of describing outfits. Today, I’ll confine myself to discussing historical accuracy. We need to dress our characters according to their social position, and we know what that means (hint: it involves research). A barmaid will not have a closet full of everyday dresses. If some malmsey-nosed sot spills beer on her, she can’t go home and change. Most likely, she would go rinse out the beer from her skirt because this would be her only summer skirt, and her other outfit would be for winter. Maybe, if she was lucky, she would have one good dress for weddings and funerals, and that dress would probably have been cut down from one of her mother’s in a style of twenty years earlier.

Yes. That is me. I own a steel-boned corset, and it is damn comfortable!

Yes, almost all women who could afford them wore corsets. But, before you have our dear Charity go complain about having to wear a corset, stop. Just. Stop. That would be like complaining about wearing a bra. Yes, we all do it sometimes, and we know it’s possible to go without one. Yet, it’s not really a big deal. It’s just part of what we wear every day.

This also goes for cravats for the gents, because someone, somewhere thought it would be a marvelous little joke to make men strangle themselves every day in the name of fashion.

Clothing wasn’t so much put on as assembled onto a person, with people who couldn’t afford maids helping each other. Both sexes wore stockings (at least up until the early 19th century) with garters to hold them up. There were petticoats and felt strips, chemisettes and buckles.

Just be careful of underwear. Drawers, pantaloons, panties, and small clothes weren’t really all that commonplace until the 19th century. This means if you want to go deep POV, you could mention the occasional strategic draft…

Pickle Forks and POV

The point of all this work is to show, but not show off. Out of everything you learn, only 10% should make it into your book. Wait. Stop. There will be no flipping of tables while reading this blog! Hear me out.

It’s all about understanding POV. What is normal for the character versus what is noteworthy. Think about contemporary fiction: ‘Taylor sat down at the table and helped himself to the potatoes.’ We can easily picture this in our minds. There’s a table, chairs, a dish, a bowl with potatoes and some kind of serving utensil. This sentence could work just as well in historical fiction just as it is (assuming we are working with a time period where potatoes were part of the European diet…and knowing that Taylor as a first name really wasn’t used back then but whatevs): ‘Sir Taylor sat down at the table and helped himself to the potato and gruyere galette.’

We do not need to elaborate just to show off that you verified the status of potatoes or know how dishes were served in the 19th century. There is no real reason we should ever write: ‘Sir Taylor entered the formal dining room where even on ordinary, daily occasions, the family gathered to eat. He settled himself in an ornately carved chair and reached for the porcelain platter with the Potato and Gruyere Galette.’

Image (and RECIPE) from paperandsalt.org

Some people would snort and point out that there is nothing wrong with that sentence, that it is lovely and descriptive. Yes, it is descriptive, but would Sir Taylor really think about how interesting it was that the family used the formal dining room every day, or how ornately carved his chair was? Do we notice with mild surprise where our dining table is every time you sit down to eat? No? Then, why would Sir Taylor?

Stay focused on the character, the plot, and the action. All I had to do to evoke a fancy, historical feel to the food was to change it from potatoes to an actual recipe (one which George Sand was rather fond of). If I’ve done my job right earlier in the book/chapter/scene, I’ve already given you a feel for the manor house, its size, décor, etc., but all done in the context of dialogue and POV.

So, now that I’ve beat sloppy historical fiction about the head and ears, I’m going to tell you about an opportunity to learn how to do sufficient and efficient research to be credible, interesting, and subtle. I’m offering an online class on Saturday, July 8, from 2:00-4:00 p.m. EST on W.A.N.A.! Information and sign up links are below.

The Class

So, you want to write historical romance. Awesome. Now, you just need to learn everything about that time period. Yay! Yay? Oh…crap.

While we don’t need a PhD in history to write historical fiction, we do need to do your research so that we can avoid the pitfalls of anachronistic language, modern Mary Sues, and the unforgivable sin of having our characters pay morning calls before one o’clock in the afternoon.

But, how do we start researching? And, when do we end? How do we know we know enough to start plotting–let alone writing? How do we keep track of everything we need to remember?

This class answers all those questions and more.

  • Get a template that guides you through all the steps of research
  • Discover the tricks of effectively and efficiently using Google and Pinterest
  • Learn how to use historical context in character development (i.e. no more Mary Sues)
  • Find out when and how to take research shortcuts…and when you have to buckle down and just slog through it all
  • Learn how to build a research reference library of your own
  • Discover how to find non-fiction books that are NOT boring
  • Develop an understanding of what kind of historical details to put into your story, and more importantly, what to leave out

Research for Historical Romance Writing – Or, How NOT to Lose Six Hours on Pinterest July 8th $35 for Basic/ $75 for GOLD / $125 for PLATINUM

Historical GOLD
You get the class (recording included in price) with Cait plus one hour of personalized one-on-one consulting regarding YOUR story.

Historical PLATINUM
You get the class (recording included in price) with Cait plus two hours of personalized one-on-one consulting regarding YOUR story and bonus worksheets. These worksheets will efficiently guide you through in-depth world-building and research, providing you with consistency for your writing and an excellent reference/style sheet for your editor and proofreader.

****Just FYI, in an effort to combat spammers your comment won’t appear until I approve it, so don’t fret if it doesn’t appear right away.

Talk to me! And MAKE SURE to check out the classes below and sign up! Summer school! YAY!

And to prove it and show my love, for the month of JUNE, everyone who leaves a comment I will put your name in a hat. If you comment and link back to my blog on your blog, you get your name in the hat twice. What do you win? The unvarnished truth from yours truly.

I will pick a winner once a month and it will be a critique of the first 20 pages of your novel, or your query letter, or your synopsis (5 pages or less).

NEW CLASSES!

Obviously, I have my areas of expertise, but I’ve wanted for a long time to fill in some gaps on classes I could offer.

Cait Reynolds was my answer.

She is an unbelievable editor, mentor and teacher and a serious expert in these areas. She consults numerous very successful USA Today and NYTBS authors and I highly, highly recommend her classes.

OMG, Like How to Write Fleek YA July 7th $40 with Cait Reynolds

How to Dominate Your Sex Scenes (No Safe Words Here) July 14th $40 w/ Cait Reynolds

Gaskets and Gaiters: How to Create a Compelling Steampunk World July 21st $35 w/ Cait Reynolds 

Lasers & Dragons & Swords, Oh MY! World Building for Fantasy & Science Fiction 

July 28th w/ Cait Reynolds $35/ GOLD $75/ PLATINUM $125

Classes with MOI!

Plotting for Dummies July 13th $35 ($250 for GOLD)

Blogging for Authors July 20th $50 ($150 for GOLD)

Branding for Authors  July 27th $35

OTHER Classes with Cait Reynolds

Shift Your Shifter Romance into High Gear July 15th $35 Basic/ $75 GOLD/ $125 PLATINUM

Classes with Lisa Hall-Wilson

Growing An Organic Platform On Facebook July 22nd $40

 

 

Image via Flikr Creative Commons, courtesy of elaueverose.
Image via Flikr Creative Commons, courtesy of elaueverose.

I do a lot of stuff. Actually too much stuff but I am totally woking on that saying “No” thing. Hey, I’m getting there. Two days ago I finally earned my fourth stripe on my white belt in Brazilian Jiu Jitsu. For those who don’t know, in BJJ, you are a white belt forever. It takes anywhere from a year to a year and a half to earn a blue belt. My next level is blue belt and I am stoked. 

In BJJ, the blue belt is almost as big of a deal as black belt because most people never get that far.

My Jiu Jitsu brothers.
My Jiu Jitsu brothers.

But I constantly hear people say things like, “Oh, I’d love to write a book. I just can’t find the time.” “Wow, I’d love to do Jiu Jitsu. If I could only find the time.

I am no angel. My life gets out of control, too. But, I can say that these periods are far shorter than they used to be because I have learned solid principles that work. When my life feels like it has been tossed in a blender? It means I am no longer in the driver’s seat. I am allowing other people’s agendas to bleed into my life and I am mistaking the urgent for the important.

Here’s the deal…

We live in a society that feeds us a lot of lies. The biggest one is about TIME. Oh, if I only had more time, then I could (fill in the blank). The truth is we are all given the same amount of time—24 hours a day. Of course the next big lie that’s easy to believe (and I’ve been guilty) is Well, if I only work HARDER, that will get me where I want to be.

That’s crap.

More time doesn’t equal MORE AWESOME.

Thus, today we’re going to look at some of the lies and time-stealers and ways to be masters of time, not slaves to it. We need to be vigilant and proactive so we don’t fall into Hamster Wheel Management. We’re called to be fruitful NOT busy.

Original image via Dan Derritt Flikr Creative Commons
Original image via Dan Derritt Flikr Creative Commons

We Can’t Find Time, We Can Only SPEND Time

One of the most common phrases in the English language? “If I could only find the time…”

Okay, sorry to break the news but time isn’t hidden in the couch cushions like loose change, Cheerios and that remote control we haven’t seen in a month. We can’t find time. We’re given time. How we spend it’s our choice.

Via Flikr Creative commons, courtesy of Tax Credits.
Via Flikr Creative commons, courtesy of Tax Credits.

Write a Clear Mission Statement of What We WANT

Feel free to have multiple mission statements: Faith/Spiritual, Family, Health, Finances, Work (Writing). For templates of how to do this, I recommend Habits of Highly Effective People.

Mission statements are a lot like the log-lines for our novels. No log-line for a novel—ONE sentence that clearly states what our book is ABOUT? Easy to drift off down a bazillion rabbit-trails because every wild idea that pops in our brain seems worth giving a try. In the end, we’re more likely to end up with a mess than a masterpiece.

Same in life.

Without a clear picture of what we want, it’s impossible to spot the time-wasters versus the sound investments.

Make at Least TWO Lists

We’ve talked before about the Pareto Principle, also known as The 80/20 rule. Twenty percent of all our decisions will have 80% of the most return. This is a fairly universal rule. If you have employees, 20% will produce 80% of the output. If you run a volunteer organization, 20% will do 80% of the work.

Conversely, 20% of employees (customers, friends, volunteers, family members) can create 80% of our headaches. Limit time with psychic vampires and focus more on spending time with those who add value. Even being alone is better than leaking 80% of our time on stressful, counterproductive people/activities.

With the 80/20 Rule in mind…

List #1—The Boulders

The boulders are the BIG stuff. These are the actions that will make 80% of positive impact. Being a career author (need a finished novel). Becoming debt-free (need a budget). Possessing a healthy spirit, family, mind, and body (need boundaries and rest).

With a clear action plan, anything that gets in the way of these big goals can be easily spotted, rerouted or removed. No plan? We are reactive, wasteful and spend most of our time treading water.

No item on the BIG LIST can be done in one day, but we can write out steps that get us closer to that BIG goal every day. Remember, small actions over time add up. Those steps to our BIG GOAL are what we tackle FIRST.

Every day, I have a list of 2-6 BIG things that need doing, often stuff I dread. But the day isn’t complete until these items are knocked out (so many pages of research, writing so many words, writing a critical e-mail, creating a spreadsheet, etc).

In the meantime…

List #2—The Pebbles

The BIG LIST are boulders. They will take steady chipping away over time. Between time? Pebbles are easy. Too many people focus all their time on pebbles—which NEVER go away—at the expense of a few whacks on the boulder. Or they focus all on the boulder, then wear themselves out and become overwhelmed and discouraged because they’re buried in ignored pebbles.

Or they ignore/avoid the boulders AND the pebbles with useless activities that will never bear fruit.

Pebbles are small, worthwhile tasks that take less than 20 minutes to complete (most about 5).

Every day, when my main blog is finished, I call my mother and close friends. I believe in healthy relationships. But, while on the phone, I tackle a bucket of pebbles (stuff on my #2 List).

I sort laundry (5 minutes), empty the dishwasher (5 minutes), put a chicken in the crock pot for dinner (15 minutes), tidy the silverware drawer (5 minutes), sweep (5 minutes), or wipe down a counter or two (5 minutes), and have great company while I work.

If I have to pay a bill and they put me on hold? I read research, fill the cat bowl, or jot down ideas for blogs. I know I can’t write 12 hours a day and that being active keeps the tendonitis away. So, I take Brazilian Jiu Jitsu with Spawn. We get a good workout and Mommy-Kiddo time.

5 minutes a day reclaimed ADDS 30 hours a year

10 minutes a day reclaimed ADDS 60 hours a year

15 minutes a day reclaimed ADDS 90 hours a year

30 minutes a day reclaimed ADDS 120 hours a year

60 minutes a day reclaimed ADDS 340 hours a year

It’s easy to waste an hour a day 5 minutes at a time. Take those minutes back, and we can add 31.6 eight-hour workdays to our lives (Via The Art of Getting It DONE). And all this time we wondered where our vacation time went? 😉 It’s leaking away unless we are proactive at plugging holes.

I’m not here to make you guys multi-tasking robots. I’m here to help you invest in the future you want.

Time with family, naps, relaxation, downtime, vacations and rest are essential for genuine success (the kind that doesn’t have us living off energy drinks, Xanax and screaming at the kids). If we’re conscious to be fruitful instead of busy, we’ll find we accomplish far more with less effort.

Focus increases confidence, offers a sense of authentic accomplishment and relieves anxiety. Focus will also free up time for more fun stuff (and more writing). Activity can be diffused like white light, or it can be a laser.

Do you feel eaten alive by your life? Is your To Do List a Frankenstein monster wrecking your life? Do you feel discouraged and overwhelmed? Have you learned to prioritize and set boundaries? What are some tips that have helped you regain control?

Announcements:

Before we go, my log-line class will be TONIGHT  Your Story in a Sentence—Crafting Your Log-Line . This class will include me gutting your log-line in class (or via e-mail if you’re shy) to make it agent ready. We should be able to tell others what our story is about in one sentence or odds are we have a big problem. Class is recorded and the recording and shredding are included.

Also, due to popular demand, I am rerunning my Hooking the Reader—Your First Five Pages at the end of the month and I am doing something different. Gold Level includes me looking (and shredding your first five) but I have added in some higher levels and will look at up to 20 pages. This can be really useful if you’re stuck. I can help you diagnose the problems. It’s also a great deal if you have to submit to an agent and want to make your work the best it can be.

I LOVE hearing from you!

To prove it and show my love, for the month of JULY, everyone who leaves a comment I will put your name in a hat. If you comment and link back to my blog on your blog, you get your name in the hat twice. What do you win? The unvarnished truth from yours truly. I will pick a winner once a month and it will be a critique of the first 20 pages of your novel, or your query letter, or your synopsis (5 pages or less). 

For those who need help building a platform and keeping it SIMPLE, pick up a copy of my latest social media/branding book Rise of the Machines—Human Authors in a Digital World on AMAZON, iBooks, or Nook

Screen Shot 2014-07-25 at 10.33.50 AM

I know people are being polite when they begin messages/conversations with, “Kristen, I know you have been busy but…” Lord, I work hard not to be busy. I don’t believe humans are called to be busy, rather we’re called to be fruitful. 

Now, I’ll warn you. The world will relentlessly preach the opposite—namely because the world has something to sell to make us “more productive”…and then, when we have a nervous breakdown from doing a thousand things at one time, there are meds, vacations and Snuggies for sale.

The Hard “Science”

Laundry multiplies when left alone too long. My inside sources (The Dust Bunnies) tell me the dirty laundry, when left too long to their own devices start forming cults, particularly “The Whites.” According to The Bunnies, laundry apparently must sacrifice a sock to their god—Dry-Ur—every load so Dry-Ur will not smite them.

Um what else did you think Dry-Ur lint was made from?

With the proper sacrifice, the laundry can be fruitful and multiply. “The Reds” have been known to give a blood sacrifice on occasion. Yes, your husband’s undershirts will be pink, but the laundry is then blessed with more generations of progeny.

The Dust Bunnies swear on their lives this is true, so they’ve bought a little time. That and the vengeful monster-god Vah-COOM has been satiated with enough sacrifices of left earrings and Cheerios that he told me to take a day off.

Aside from the occult activities happening in your hamper and under your couch, there are a lot of other distractions in life. Namely? LIFE.

No one gets out alive.

Don’t you have days that you’re simply exhausted? You’ve been running, running, running all day, but feel you have nothing to show for it? There’s a difference between busy and fruitful. Here’s some tips for being fruitful.

Multi-Tasking vs. Multi-Focusing

“Experts” claim people can’t multitask. That’s bunk or no infant or husband would have survived the first generation of humans.

I do a lot of multi-tasking, but it needs to be one “thinking activity” and one “mindless.” We can multi-task. We cannot multi-focus.

I make the beds and pick up toys while checking in with my mother each morning. Relationships take effort, and so does keeping the bottoms of our feet from being shredded from matchbox cars and Legos. This is being fruitful. Listening to a sermon or self-help podcast while dusting? Fruitful. Folding laundry while watching movies (good for writers–clean clothes and stories)? Fruitful.

When I get into trouble is when I try and do two “thinking” activities.

I once accidentally drove to Missouri. TRUE STORY.

I was in sales, and I did a lot of driving, about 1500-3000 miles a week. I had a nine-state territory and Northern Mexico, meaning I drove to Mexico about every six weeks. So I was on the road most of the time, and often quite tired (and bored). I had certain “routes” I drove. I’d drive to Wichita, Kansas, then work my way down. Next day Tulsa, next day OKC, then back to Dallas.

This particular day, I finished my morning appointment in Kansas and then my late afternoon appointment in Tulsa and ate dinner. By seven I was on the road. I was really fatigued, but I wanted to get to OKC by around nine so I could pass out and be rested for my early morning meeting.

Ah, add in a cell phone.

A customer called as I was headed for the Interstate and instead of waiting? I answered and was handling business questions while navigating. Once on the highway, I knew I was in for a long stretch of NOTHING, so after I hung up with my client, I called Mom. Unbeknownst to me, during that first critical interruption, I’d gotten on the turnpike going north instead of south. So I’m talking away for mile after mile then finally I see a sign, “Joplin 20 Miles.”

Joplin? Joplin, Oklahoma? That doesn’t sound right.

Since I was really tired, I said to my Mom, “Joplin? Joplin’s not in Oklahoma.”

“Baby, you’re in Missouri.” *head desk* #epicfail

I finally made it to OKC at 2:00 in the morning, since I had to drive all the way to Joplin to escape the turnpike and turn around, then drive from Missouri back to OKC.

Yes, I have peeled the banana, kept the peel and tossed the banana. I’ve put my cell phone in the freezer, my keys in the fridge. But accidentally driving to Missouri? I think I get bonus idiot points for that.

Multi-tasking is fine. Listen to music on a long drive. Muti-focusing? For the most part, it can just make a mess. So, yeah, fold towels while talking to loved ones…just don’t put the towels away. They could end up in the garage.

Make Lists

Write out a list of the most important things you need to accomplish. Lists help us focus. They also help us see the most efficient way of doing things. Can we pick up the cleaning on the way to pick up kid from school, then stop by pharmacy on the way to the grocery store, then swing by the post office on the way home?

Fruitful.

….And Goals

If we sit down and just write, that’s good, but word count or page count goals are better.

Set a Routine and GET SLEEP

When I get out of my routine, everything just seems to go sideways. I write at the same time every day. I find when I don’t stop working by a certain time, it affects my sleep. I refuse to look at e-mail after 5:00 P.M.

If I stick to my routine, I wake up refreshed. If I don’t?

This stuff happens.

I lost the nacho chips. Why didn't I think to look in the REFRIGERATOR?
I lost the nacho chips. Why didn’t I think to look in the REFRIGERATOR?

So WANA MAMA Says…

Eat good stuff, drink water, get enough sleep, multi-task away (but multi-focus at your own risk). Make lists so it’s easier to be efficient and prioritize. Otherwise, life will feel like you are strapped to Hell’s Tilt-A Whirl.

What about you guys? What are some of your multi-focusing mishaps? Bet you can’t beat accidentally driving to MISSOURI. What tools do you use to be productive instead of just busy?

Oh, and meet Vah-COOM…(there are kittens involved).

I love hearing from you!

To prove it and show my love, for the month of SEPTEMBER, everyone who leaves a comment I will put your name in a hat. If you comment and link back to my blog on your blog, you get your name in the hat twice. What do you win? The unvarnished truth from yours truly. I will pick a winner once a month and it will be a critique of the first 20 pages of your novel, or your query letter, or your synopsis (5 pages or less).

ANNOUNCEMENTS:

Back to School!

Upcoming Classes: NEW!!! Going Pro Series

 Going Pro Craft is CLOSED, but with the bundle you will get the recoding and notes in On-Demand format, then Going Pro SocialMedia/Branding ALSO CLOSED but also offered on-demand, and TOMORROW EVENING Going Pro Business September 10th, Going Pro All the Way! (ALL THREE). Use WANA15 for $15 off individual classes.

For those who need help building a platform and keeping it SIMPLE, pick up a copy of my latest social media/branding book Rise of the Machines—Human Authors in a Digital World on AMAZON, iBooks, or Nook