19 Years in Numbers

Today is the day! My debut novel, A HUNDRED KISSES, is finally out! I’m not sure what most authors do on their big days (…notice that plural I snuck in there? I plan on having many more big release days…). Besides having a glass of Atholl Brose (although this non-drinker would rather celebrate with a frothy latte), and a fun book release party complete with bannocks & whisky, I am keeping it low key. Okay, yes, I am blasting social media a wee bit, too. So let’s get the plug for my book out of the way first. Hop over here to order it via Amazon or The Wild Rose Press [both have e-book and paperback options available]. Don’t forget to please post a review on Amazon or Goodreads! Authors value their readers’ feedback. Thank you in advance!

Next, I’d love to shout out a gigantic heartfelt thank-you to many people. First, to my mother, who continues to inspire me. She will always be with me in spirit, in the words that flow off my fingertips, and in my memories. Thank you, my dear husband, who has put up with my raving writer antics and ramblings about characters you have never met. Thank you to my amazing sons’ who were patient when “mommy was on her computer again.” [That won't be ending anytime soon, kiddos]. Thank you to my family - for cheering me on all steps of the way, including my dad, stepmom, mother and father-in-law, brothers, aunts, and my sister (and sister-in-laws). And my friends – you all know who you are – whether you were a coveted beta reader (Oh, thank you, thank you, thank you!) or a friend who listened to this tormented writer's woes. [Quick plug for my writing warrior and sidekick for this entire journey, Lorraine – check out her website & blog]

Plugs – done. Thank you’s – done. Now back to numbers...

With the necessaries out of the way, I’d like to digress and talk about numbers. I’m a scientist by training and a list-maker. I do enjoy numbers and a list of organized thoughts, to-do’s, or “a top ten.” Certainly my logical scientist has shifted to the passenger seat while the creative artist jumped behind the wheel a few years ago when I decided to more actively pursue my writing dream. Right now the scientist has become map-holder and navigator. Sometimes that crazy driver takes me on detours, around bumpy turns, and down dead-end roads. But oh, what a ride it has been!

So, back to numbers. Well, since my book is called A Hundred Kisses, I thought the past 19 years in numbers would be fun to contemplate. Enjoy. And so many thanks to all!

Sláinte,

Jean

19 Years in Numbers

19 Years in Numbers

The Scottish Tongue

Recently a friend asked me if I would put a glossary in the back of my newest book release, A Hundred Kisses, to help with the Scottish words.  That got me thinking…how does one pronounce some of those mixed vowels and perplexing consonant-vowel duos? Admittedly, during my writing journey when I came upon the names, towns, and phrases while researching, I found myself googling their pronunciation as well.

In my opinion, there are 3 types of readers and approaches when a perplexing foreign word comes along. Let’s use an example from my novel. The isle of Uist. Seems simple, doesn’t it? Och, aye, maybe not.

The Three Types:

1.     Glossers: People that glide right over it (you fast readers, you know who you are) and they just assign it some arbitrary sound – or heck they just see the word and are like “U-something”, moving on… You readers are speed-readers and oh, how I envy your nonchalant approach!

2.     Ponderers: People that stumble and look at it for a longer time and come up with how they think it may sound. YOU-IST. Okay, got it. Or no wait, maybe it’s UHST. Okay, that’s what I am going to say in my head even if it’s not correct.

3.     Seekers: And then there is group three. These readers want…no, NEED to know how it sounds. So, they look for the glossary. Darn, not included. Okay, then… off to google or Wikipedia they go. Ah, now they know what it sounds like. Got it. And they also know all about it. Uist just happens to be an isle in northern Scotland, has some standing stones, and actually there is a North Uist and South Uist, and at one point it was inhabited by the Norse (Norwegian Vikings). So this group knows more than just the pronunciation.

And yes, the pronunciation is YOU-IST.

Depending on my mood and the book, I can be any one of those three types of readers. Word pronunciation can be a great discussion point between friends reading the same book, with groups on Facebook pages, and between people commenting on blogs.

Ever hear of a character named Leg-Hair? Well, if you are an Outlander-phile (ahem, yes I am!), you have. That would be the bonnie Laoghaire in Diana Gabaldon’s Outlander series. Look at that name! I can see why many of us called her Leg-Hair (it also went along with her conniving, prissy character). But really, it’s pronounced LEE-ree. Whoa! Mmphmm! We were way off the mark, huh? To help with the Outlander-addiction, the current Starz television series which has brought the book to the screen, had put out a series of lessons on “Speaking Outalnder”, videos on word pronunciations from the series. It was entertaining.

Now, given that A Hundred Kisses takes place in 13th century Scotland, my use of Scots vernacular is minimal; I use just enough to set the story. There is a mixture of traditional Gaelic words, Scots slang, and regular Scottish vocabulary that has its own unique challenges.  A contemporary story could be vastly different, as Scots phrases are commonplace, much like those in any other country or culture. Granted, my thesis advisor, who hailed from the land of pointy crags, sheep, magnificent stone castles, kilts, golf, and whisky, did teach me a phrase or two – but those couldn’t be repeated here. They are a bit colorful, to say the least. However, he also taught me how to understand the lilted “r” and to appreciate the tunes of a fantastic Scottish folk band.

And just for fun, I threw some Norse into my book, as the isles are rich in both Scottish and Norse history.

Which one do you fall under, my fellow lovers of words? Glosser, Ponderer, or Seeker? Come on over to my Facebook page and share your reading approach to befuddling and fun words.

Sláinte,

Jean

A sampling of some words from A Hundred Kisses. Created by WordArt.com.

A sampling of some words from A Hundred Kisses. Created by WordArt.com.

A Hundred Kisses - Releases May 17th!

I am excited to announce that my book, A Hundred Kisses, is set to release on MAY 17th! Pre-orders of the e-book and print book are available now on both The Wild Rose Press and on Amazon.

A Hundred Kisses is a historical Scottish romance, with a hint of magic.

1296

Two wedding nights. Two dead husbands. 

Deirdre MacCoinneach wishes to understand her unusual ability to sense others’ lifeblood energies…and vows to discover if her gift killed the men she married. Her father’s search for a new and unsuspecting suitor for Deirdre becomes complicated when rumors of witchcraft abound.

Under the façade of a trader, Alasdair Montgomerie travels to Uist with pivotal information for a Claimant seeking the Scottish throne. A ruthless baron hunts him and a dark past haunts him, leaving little room for alliances with a Highland laird or his tempting daughter.

Awestruck when she realizes that her unlikely travel companion is the man from her visions, a man whose thickly veiled emotions are buried beneath his burning lifeblood, Deirdre wonders if he, too, will die in her bed if she follows her father’s orders. Amidst magic, superstition, and ghosts of the past, Alasdair and Deirdre find themselves falling together in a web of secrets and the curse of a hundred kisses…

 In the meantime, how about an excerpt?

Happy reading!

She sensed no colors in the murky, lifeless water, and it was freeing. All breath escaped her. Muted visions passed before her eyes—her mother, her father, Gordon, and Cortland. Just a moment longer, she thought…

Suddenly, a burst of warm light invaded her thoughts as air filled her lungs. Red-hot hands burned her shoulders and ripped her from her icy grave. She breathed life into her body. She coughed, gagging on the change.

Muffled words yelled at her.

Oh, God, so hot. His fingers were like hot pokers. Her head pounded as she slowly returned to the present. Heat radiated from her rescuer. Somebody had pulled her from the water.

“Wh—?”

“Hush, lass. You nearly drowned.”

His voice was as soothing as a warm cup of goat’s milk on a winter’s day. A red-hot glow emanated from his body. Never before had she felt such a strong lifeblood, and it nearly burned her. She struggled in his arms to get free. She blinked, only seeing a blurry form before her. “Release me!”

She splashed and wriggled, and he did as told. She clambered to the shoreline. Numb and shaken, she began to dress. It wasn’t easy as she fumbled with slick fingers to put dry clothes over wet skin. She instantly regretted her naked swim. She pulled on her long-sleeved white chemise first.

She faced the forest, away from her rescuer. He quietly splashed to shore. His lifeblood burned into her back. He wasn’t far behind, but he stopped. She refused to look at him until she was fully clothed, not out of embarrassment of her nudity, but for what had just happened. He released a groan and mumbled under his breath about wet boots. His voice was not one of her father’s soldiers.

When she put the last garment on, her brown wool work kirtle, she squeezed out her sopping hair and swept her hands through the knotty mess. She fastened her belt and tied the lacings up the front of the kirtle. Blood returned to her fingertips, and she regained her composure. Belated awareness struck her, and she leaned down and searched through her bag for her dagger. She spun around.

She gasped as she saw the man sitting on the stone-covered shoreline, his wet boots off. Confusion and the hint of a scowl filled his strong-featured face. She staggered back, caught her heel on a stone, and fell, dropping the dagger. Dirt and pebbles stuck to her wet hands and feet, and she instinctively scrambled away from him.

His glower, iridescent dark blue eyes, and disheveled black hair were not unfamiliar. Staring at her was the man she had seen in her dream—it was the man from the wood.

:) - J

Available from thewildrosepress.com on May 17th!

Available from thewildrosepress.com on May 17th!

If it’s Precious, Let it Go…

“In writing, you must kill all your darlings.”   - William Faulkner

The writing process is loaded with steps (forward and back), potholes, meandering trails, mountains, and valleys, so much so that your fingers, brain, and heart may need a few bandages sometimes. They don’t say it’s a blood, sweat, and tears career for nothing! There are epiphany moments, fueled by espresso-laced energy that keep you up half the night or rising before the roosters crow, to get that scene finished (as you think to yourself: “This is awesome!”). And then there are moments like when you get feedback on the first draft of your manuscript from your beloved beta readers, and your heart cringes with their review (and you think to yourself: “This is not so awesome” or worse, “I stink”). But remember that even gold starts out raw and elemental, and is worked and molded into a shiny ring.

Editing is just that – taking the gold, and working it into it a piece of art.

So what’s all this about killing darlings? Faulkner (or the numerous other authors credited with that quotation) put it well. You will need to kill off your beloved narratives or sentences, characters, scenes, plot points, and entire chapters…for the good of the manuscript. It happens to us all. Those golden nuggets written in feverish excitement that had you smiling (or chuckling) to yourself like Gollum from Lord of The Rings, “Oh, my Precious!” ...yup, those parts. Slice and dice, baby. Toss them into the fiery pits of Mt. Doom! Heck, you may even look like Gollum after the nights you’ve put into writing!

And the hard reality is that not everyone will think your darlings are so precious, though.

Killing your darlings can be like pulling a bandage off or as deep as stitching up a wound. With time, it will heal. Yet that doesn’t make the removal and stitching any easier. And in time, sometimes you forget all about the injury or what could have been. It becomes a distant memory or a bumpy scar that your hand glances over from time to time.  

So how do we kill our darlings? Judiciously. With sweet abandon. With hesitation. With strategic attacks.

Your red-penned manuscript sits before you on the desk (or the MS Word doc with the glaring colored marks of track changes hums on your computer screen). The edits, comments, and scratch marks stare at you with menacing eyes. Now what? Well, first, you read them. Then, if you’re like me, you mourn, cry, shout, even argue with your reviewer a little. This is usually followed by a sulking period of time, where self-doubts creep in. The comments may need to sit there and marinate for a few days or weeks. If you have other projects you’re working on, you may procrastinate and focus your efforts on those (hey, that’s good! Keep writing something!). But eventually those edits and comments need to be addressed. A version two, a glossier gold ring, awaits after all! The worst thing you can do is ignore it all and give up. Critiques and editing make for a better writer.

Once the sulking and defending are over, it is time to roll up your sleeves and dig in. Usually during the mourning period, I spend my time carefully reading the reviewer’s comments. Always remember, the final decision is yours as writer. You may not agree with your reviewer’s comments. Often, I agree with 75-90% of what my beta readers have said. Some of those thoughts may have already held a residence in my mind before I handed off that coveted first draft. So, I let the cutting begin.

I save those dissected wedges of lines, scenes, plot points, or character flaws in a file. To perhaps be used later. Honestly, those cut sections are usually never resuscitated. They stay forever filed away into a folder of the past. Some of these sections, at the time when they were written, may have indeed been one of my darlings. A scene, thought, or plot point I’d thought was amazingly genius! But with more time, ah, perhaps not so genius…recently, I spent a lot of time for a recent work in progress researching a military base and how to break into one. Yup. That scene got tossed into the burning depths of Mordor. In fact, I gouged out my entire last few chapters and rewrote them to clean up the story. Sure, I have those scenes tucked away in a word document. Just in case.

So how do you know what to cut? That’s up to you. In my previous post (Setting Goals for Your Characters), I discuss the points of GMC – goals, motivation, and conflict. All scenes must a). move the story forward in some way (a goal, motivation, or a conflict) or b). enhance character development. Does the scene (or plot point/chapter/whatever) that needs to be addressed make the cut? Or should it be revised or tweaked? Perhaps told from another character’s POV? Maybe parts of the scene can still be used, but moved elsewhere? Be strategic in your slicing. Look at it all carefully. Does it move the story forward? Is it truly needed? I am notorious for writing whiny, aimless female protagonists in my first drafts – they’ve needed major makeovers to become the strong heroines they’ve evolve into.

So, grab that red pen or keyboard, a side of dark-roasted java or a glass of aged Cabernet, and take a deep breath and dive in, knowing that some darlings need to be tossed into the fire to make room for a literary work that will shine like a golden ring that will lure all its readers in with its beauty.

Mt. Doom doesn't look too scary now, does it? (Mt. Ngauruhoe, New Zealand, inspiration for the LOTR's movie adaptation of Mt. Doom)

Mt. Doom doesn't look too scary now, does it? (Mt. Ngauruhoe, New Zealand, inspiration for the LOTR's movie adaptation of Mt. Doom)

Finding Magic and Myths in Scotland

Thistles and heather. Kilts. Castles. Ruins. Craggy mountains. Rain. Lots of rain. Sheep.

Magic. Mystery.

My trip to Scotland fulfilled a bucket list goal and it also fed my imagination for writing about this windswept, mystical place. It was a memorable trip indeed!

When I finally made a trip to Scotland in 2008 after reading books set there (Diana Gabaldon’s Outlander, or Judy Garwood’s books, anyone?), I was not disappointed. Those books were just teasers. I was going to see the real thing. They don’t call me a Daydream Believer for nothing (although I was not a homecoming queen, but the Monkees got it pretty close). Kilted Highland lairds (and Jamie Frasier), castles, mountains, and enchanting romances…ah, yeah, I was hooked. And as luck would have it, I even married a man with Scottish ancestry, who – drum roll, please – wore a kilt for our wedding (round out with a bagpiper for entertainment). So, for our anniversary a few years later, it only seemed logical to set off on a fairy tale trip. My husband had studied in Scotland for a semester in college, so he brought a wealth of insider knowledge.

Oh, but did I mention that it rains in Scotland? A lot. Even though September is supposed to be a drier month, many of our supposedly breathtaking sights were shrouded in a gray cloud of heavy precipitation. Aside from our mishaps (which I'll elaborate upon in a moment), Scotland fulfilled my preconceived notions, with my own Scottish knight by my side to escort me through the perils of winding highland roads, haunting castle ruins, and dark alleyways to questionable hostels.

Lone sheep wandered down the middle of a meandering country road. Windswept moors, heather fields, and green rolling hills flanked our drives. Wild rocky trails and impressive mountains greeted us on our hikes. Blue lochs were aplenty (yes, Loch Ness is a deep beautiful loch and no, we didn’t see Nessie – but we did see the ghostly remains of Urquhart castle) on our two-week trip in this geological gem of a country. I think I gasped on the tarmac when I emerged from the plane in Glasgow.

My husband and I packed our itinerary because when we go tramping, we set the bar high and want to soak it all in! What can a couple do in less than two weeks? Well…

  • Visit a dozen castles and palaces (Threave castle required a rowboat ride across an overflowed River Dee)
  • Kayak on the astutely named Loch Awe to the ruins of Kilchurn Castle
  • Hike through Highlands and mountains
  • Watch a Highland game
  • Partake in culinary delights such as haggis and fish and chips
  • Carry on conversations with locals (about the upcoming American presidential election)
  • Drive over sketchy bridges to reach Rua Reidh, a lighthouse hostel on the North Minch of Wester Ross (no, not the Westeros of Game of Thrones fame, but I can see the striking similarities)
  • Expand our navigation skills on double-roundabouts (like a figure 8), one lane roads, and left-side driving
  • Meander through abbey and church ruins
  • Take a moment of reflection at the remains of Culloden battlefield
  • Stay at the haunted (yes, there's a ghost) 14th century Borthwick Castle

Certainly there were lows (err, mishaps?)…blowing out a car tire on a rock, getting a manual car instead of an automatic, while driving on the opposite side of the road (it is the UK, after all) – oops!, castles closing before we got there, getting lost on city roads, plodding trough the deluging rain to find a hostel down a dark alley, and hiking a washed out trail through Glencoe, while hundreds of midges made a home in my hair…okay, those are a lot of mishaps for one vacation. Nonetheless, I left Scotland feeling rejuvenated and inspired and ready to take on the next big novel!

The setting in A Hundred Kisses (release date is this spring, stay tuned!) takes my hero and heroine on a journey across Skye (another soaker of a day on our trip – those majestic Cuillin, yeah, they were hidden by rain – thank goodness for internet research). But their journey begins at a signature castle, Eilean Donan, and remarkably, sunshine visited us that day. This castle is as resplendent and utterly romantic as all the pictures portray. We even managed a solo visit right before a tour bus arrived. We didn’t get out to the big islands to see standing stones, so as luck would have it, there’s a bit of that in my novel, too. I did say I have a good imagination (and love research), right? Our visit to Dryburgh Abbey inspired one of my “practice novels” (the manuscript currently sits on my desk for revision, awaiting resurrection as I contemplate throwing a ghost into that story). And magic? What thirteenth-century Scottish romance would be complete without that magical element entrenched in those standing stones and a culture rooted in superstitions (remember Nessie)?

So, how did we do on our Scotland adventure? Thistles and heather – check! Kilts, castles, ruins, craggy mountains, lots of rain, sheep – check!

Magic and mystery?

Checkmate.

Slioch (a view from a hike up Ben Eighe), a thistle, Eilean Donan Castle, and Glencoe.

Slioch (a view from a hike up Ben Eighe), a thistle, Eilean Donan Castle, and Glencoe.