A Season of Renewal and Reinvention

By Linda Bennett Pennell

Life can at times be frustrating, joyous, depressing, boring, even mysterious. It is not always clear in the moment why things happen as they do, but one thing is for certain, unless we make the best of what we’ve been given, life cannot be lived to the fullest. I think I always knew this, but it took a change in direction and taking a risk to grasp its true meaning.

I never intended to be a writer. In fact, as an elementary student, I despaired of even being competent in the language arts. It should be said that my early education left a great deal to be desired, but that is another story. It was not until my senior year of high school that I had a rewarding creative writing experience. Thank you, Miss Miller, wherever you are. Once in college, however, I put aside creative writing for the rigors of historical research and expository writing. Another degree and several certifications later and I have come full circle.

My other life is in public education as a reading specialist and secondary school administrator, but about five years ago, I decided to pick up my creative pen again. I can’t say exactly why or when the decision was made. That is one of those mysteries. All I can say is that I came to feel a burning desire to write and the experience has been a revelation and a joy.

It hasn’t been all easy sailing. Nothing in life worth having ever really comes without some pain. Sending out queries and the rejections that came with them were not particularly fun, but it was not as difficult as I thought it would be. With a debut novel that is being well received, I can now say that the process was definitely worth the risk. More important, my venture in writing has allowed me to reinvent myself, and through reinvention, I have found a season of renewal as well. We humans are truly multifaceted creatures, but unfortunately we tend to sort and categorize each other into neat, easily understood packages that rarely reveal the whole person. Writing has allowed me to tap into skills and talents I had all but buried for many years. I am a newer, better version of myself for the experience.

Spring brings rebirth, growth, and change to the earth. Perhaps in this season of renewal, you, too, are wishing to step out of the box in which you find yourself. I encourage you to look at the possibilities and imagine. Be filled with childlike wonder in your mental wanderings. Envision what might be, not simply what is. Let us never forget, all good fiction begins when someone says to herself or himself, “Let’s pretend.”

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Rites of Spring

Yesterday was Easter, and although it’s a Christian holiday today, many of the traditions associated with this time of year go back hundreds, if not thousands of years. Even the day Easter is observed on has to do with an ancient perspective of time and the seasons. Easter is always celebrated on the first Sunday after the first full moon after the Spring Equinox.

The term “Easter” likely also has pagan roots, as many sources believe the word is a variation of the name Eostre (also Estre, Eastra or Ostara), who was a Saxon goddess associated with springtime. Adding support to this theory, rites honoring Eostre involved eggs and hares, much as Easter eggs and bunnies are associated with the modern holiday. My Saxon heroine in my dark age romance The Dragon Prince is named Eastra, after this Germanic goddess.

Spring was certainly something to celebrate for our European ancestors, since it announced an end to the dark cold days of winter, as well as the first planting of crops and the birth of young livestock, which meant fresh milk and the beginning of a season of plentiful food.

The Celts celebrated two spring festivals. Imbolc, which is a holiday associated with the beginning of lambing, was celebrated around February 2nd, our Groundhog Day. Beltaine festivities took place around May 1st and were celebrated in Ireland, Scotland and the Isle of Man. Beltaine was considered the beginning of summer and the time when cattle were moved to the summer pastures. Bon fires were lit (the term Beltaine probably comes from “Bel” for Belenos, the Irish sun god, and “tene” for fire) and cattle would be led around the fires for purification. The bon fire itself was thought to lend light and energy to the increasing warmth and light of the sun. People would dance in circles around the fire or even jump over the coals as a symbol of purification and to encourage fecundity. They would douse the hearth fires in their homes and then relight them from the bonfire.

The doorways of houses were decorated with garlands of flowers and a sacred bush, called a “May bush”, was strewn with flowers, ribbons and shells. The May Bush evolved into the May Pole. A young tree was cut down, the branches removed and the trunk fixed in the ground and decorated with greenery. Everyone would dance around the maypole to celebrate the return of warm weather and the beginning of planting. A young maiden was chosen as the May Queen and crowned with flowers.

May Day was a tradition in every English village until the mid-17th century, when the Puritans attempted to do away with the holiday, since they disliked the sexual symbolism of the maypole and the fertility rite connotations of the festival. But despite the Puritans, some May Day traditions survived. English school children still enjoy dancing around the maypole. Ribbons are attached to the top and they practice until their dancing creates a complex plaiting of the ribbons. In the U.S., children still distribute May baskets and make flower garlands to celebrate the holiday.

What was once a fertility rite and an observance of the changing seasons has evolved into a playful celebration of flowers, sunshine and the coming of summer. But even though our culture is no longer focused on agriculture and the fecundity of the earth, and we may connect the uplifting positive themes of these ancient springtime rituals with religious events rather than pagan ones, the celebration of the return of warmth and sunshine still strikes a chord deep within most of us.

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Just Get It On the Page

I never get neckties for Fathers’ Day. What a waste of money that would be–I probably wear a tie once/year. Instead, my family loves to see my eyes light up when they give me a T-shirt with a pithy slogan on it. I guess their image of me is a bumper.

And since I’m a writer, T-shirts with writing slogans are big. My wife Kate gets a handful of catalogs just to make sure there’s always something available (she’s a professional organizer, so she orders in advance. Probably not something the rest of you have experienced).

Yesterday I wore one that said, “Be careful or you’ll end up in my novel.” Always get lots of comments. Got to talk to 3 new people about my books and hand out business cards. Hey, maybe one of them will even buy one. You never know.

But my favorite T-shirt to wear to my writers’ groups proclaims: “Even if it’s crap, just get it on the page.”

That seems like such a contradiction. We all grew up with a least one English teacher waxing eloquent about writers and Inspiration. Keats hearing the transcendent melody of a nightingale outside his window and writing the poem, “Ode to a Nightingale.” Coleridge going to sleep in an opium haze and dreaming the imagery of “Kubla Khan.”

In Xanadu did Kubla Khan/A stately pleasure-dome decree

But I’ll share a secret with you.   The biggest difference between people who have written a book and people who always dreamed of writing a book, maybe even started it two or three times, but never actually managed to finish, is this: people who actually write books don’t wait until they’re inspired to write. They sit down and write, even if when they’ve finished they realize that it’s too bad to salvage and end up throwing it away. “Pockets on the seat,” my friend and fellow writer Stella calls it.

Back when I was working for a living, I wrote over lunch. One hour, every day. You can’t believe how much you can get done in a hour a day. If you practice guitar an hour a day, you’ll be good in a year. If you write an hour a day, you can finish a novel in a couple of years (depending on how much you have to throw away).

When I would tell people how I worked, they were always astonished. “Oh, I could never do that. I’d have to be in the mood.”

You’d be amazed. On a typical day, it would take me about 2 minutes to go from engineering mode to author mode. About how long it took to read what I’d written the day before. The characters were all there, eager to get on the with the story. While I was busy using my left brain to solve logical type problems, they were drinking tea and playing cards in my subconscious, waiting for me to get back.

Even if it’s crap, just get it on the page. even if it's crap

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Everything New is Old Again, by Char Chaffin

Wait a minute. I might have that phrase backward. Isn’t it ‘Everything Old is New . . .?’ I guess it depends on perspective.

From my perspective, I’ve just gone backward. Earlier this month I released my third full-length novel with Soul Mate, Jesse’s GirlJessesGirl Starting with three characters and a song title, I jumped back into first the Eighties, then fell even deeper into the past and landed in the mid-Sixties. But before I regressed, I tried very hard to set my characters in the present.

It didn’t work, and for a reason that made decent sense to me: my characters weren’t new.

Oh, I don’t mean to say I had written them before. And I don’t want to suggest I swiped them from somewhere else. It’s just that I quickly found out their personalities, their conflicts and emotions, wouldn’t fit in 2014. I puzzled over where to dump them: my hero, Tim O’Malley, misunderstood, much-maligned and looking to start over with a clean slate and no more shadows. Dorothy Whitaker, my lovely and put-upon heroine, eager to begin her own life but straining under the yoke of Christian duty and daughterly responsibility. Jesse Prescott, whose rash and selfish actions one hot July night changed the lives of more than just his.

Overlaying all of that was a dusty coating of innocence and doubt, of emerging inner strength and wild passion, all contained within the kind of small-town mentality that would drive all three of my characters crazy. And suddenly, 2014 didn’t work anymore. It was too new.

So I went for old, and they fit right in. Opting for 1965, I closed my eyes, sat back in my chair, and thought of what I remember from that era.

beatles 1965I remember being madly in love with the Beatles, spending every nickel of my allowance on their records and playing them until I wore grooves in my favorite tracks. I yearned to dress like Jean Shrimpton, jean swith masses of hair teased to perfection, gliding around my room smelling deliciously of Oh! De London perfume as ‘A Hard Days’ Night’ repeated on my record player. Maybe I’d meet a guy who looked just like Paul McCartney and he’d sweep me off my feet and into that hot ’65 Mustang convertible I’d spotted in front of the Woolworth five-and-dime down on Main Street. Maybe he’d sing to me as we went cruising; a lyric or two of ‘And I Love Her.’

I was eleven in 1965, old enough to know there were bad things happening in the world but too young to care. The Sixties were my era. The biggest influences of my more formative years occurred between 1964 and 1969, when I suffered the embarrassment of my first bra, then in 1966 made the awkward leap from grade school to junior high, and wore my first pair of fish-net stockings and go-go boots.go go boots I knew the music, the hot cars, the fashions and the makeup trends. And Vietnam was barely a blip on my childish radar.

All of this ran through my head when I made the choice to go backward instead of forward. Turns out it was the right direction, for my three main characters thrived in that setting.

Tim could have lived in several different eras. He’s quietly passionate, strong, respects his family and loves his community. He’s the kind of guy anyone would be proud to call a friend.

Jesse was the opposite of Tim in just about every way. Too slick, too wild, self-destructive and smart enough to cover up his behavior. Even so, Tim and Jesse were best friends. Where Jesse led, Tim, out of loyalty, followed. And as he followed, he worried what would become of Jesse.

Dorothy was actually the easiest to write, because I knew a girl in school just like her. Modest, endearingly lovely, loyal. Eager to please. Dorothy grew up with obedience first and foremost in her mind. It never occurs to her to rebel, until it’s almost too late to reach out for her life’s happiness and grasp it tightly. She wanted Tim but he waited too long to claim her, and Jesse got hold of her first. Once she agreed to be Jesse’s girl, her course was pretty much set.

Until Tim came back into her life, and their story truly began.

Setting my trio in 1965, small-town Ohio was the absolute right place for them. Everything else slid into position as soon as I did. And that, believe me, is an amazing feeling that doesn’t always happen.

I needed a span of years in my story, because what’s in Tim’s and Dorothy’s past almost kills their future. So throughout the story I returned to a fateful summer night in 1958, when everything changed for my hero and heroine.

I think the best memories are the ones that make you smile and suffer mortification in equal measure. I rediscovered all of it when I began writing Jesse’s Girl. And I could relive so many of the emotions that boiled inside me when I was eleven and simply not old enough for the fashions, the makeup, the music . . . and, oh, yes, the boys. I could relive it, and I could embellish it, since I was now dealing with older characters that have the capability to French-kiss, undress each other and have sex. All while they still retain a gloss of innocence left over from the Fifties, and those strict “dating rules” their church-going parents would have burdened them with.

Though for the most part I’m a Contemporary-romance kind of writer, I might just have to go back in time again. Another era, another story. How far back is hard to say. After all, I haven’t written it.  Yet.

Char Chaffin is the author of PROMISES TO KEEP, UNSAFE HAVEN, JESSE’S GIRL, and co-author of A SOULMATE FOR CHRISTMAS, all with Soul Mate Publishing. She is currently working on her fifth novel, MADE FOR EACH OTHER. She is also an Acquisitions Editor for Soul Mate Publishing.



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Amazon Affiliate Program

Amazon, bless their greedy little hearts, has developed an associate program for authors (and others) called the Amazon Affiliate Program. What this program does, if you join, is to give you a small pittance for everything a shopper buys after they click on your book, short story, website, etc. It’s not much, but can add up if you have several books on Amazon. And the membership is free.

My daughter is a member of the program and she receives approximately $10 per month from it which, of course, she uses to buy more books. She got more per month in the Christmas shopping season because shoppers are buying more merchandise then.

The link for joining the program is Amazon.com Associates: The web’s most popular and successful Affiliate Program. Like I said, it’s not much, but every penny counts and if you have a book take off, clicks on your book link which lead to other purchases, can add up to a decent little pile of change. Better than a kick in the behind, eh?

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That’s a Wrap . . . or, not.

outtakesI’m a huge fan of outtakes from stories.

I love reading them and I love writing them.

I’m a huge fan of anything really (alternate POVs, outtakes, pasttakes, futuretakes . . . undertakings, which is what I like to call side jobs, or spin offs), that has anything to do with any story (and / or movie) that I fall in love with (and it’s characters).  Sometimes, I just want MORE. All the time. I want the author to write these people (for me). Forever.

Excellent examples are: Jim Butcher’s outtakes (Side Jobs) from his Harry Dresden series and (even though I was heart wrenched over the ending to the series itself) the FOUR outtakes / POVs from Veronica Roth.  More Indie-ish examples (from our very own Soul Mate Publishing authors) would be Aven Ellis’s free shorts that she’s posts on her blog every so often from Connectivity and Anna Bloom’s Ben Chambers POV shorts from her Uni Files series.

It’s a tricky business, these outtakes.  For instance, if you’re writing from one person’s POV and then you give your readers another point of view, maybe they will be disappointed.  Maybe the voice you give that character isn’t what they expected.

My point . . .

dealing with the deadThis week, I wrote a short prequel type Finnley Pierce POV to Cursed be the Wicked, titled “Dealing with the Dead” and posted it for free on Wattpad.  I personally feel like it can only enhance the readers experience with this story.  To give them an insight to how Finn was dealing with her “assignment” from Maggie Shaw. How her day went leading up to the two of them meeting face to face.  How she was feeling about her abilities at that point in the story.

The fact that I wrote Cursed entirely from one person’s POV – Coop’s – meant that I couldn’t give much away to the reader in terms of how Finn’s mind works.  This short was a fun way for me to explore that on paper so to speak, and to be able to show readers how everything came about.

The problem? Now I’ve spun off additional ideas for other outtakes to Cursed.  I guess I’m simply not done telling Coop and Finn’s story, maybe even Maggie’s. *winks*

I also guess I’m kinda glad it’s not over just yet. : )

What are your thoughts on outtakes / pasttakes / futuretakes / undertakings?  Alternate POVs?

Love them?  Hate them?  Write them?

Tell me.

Jo xoxo 3


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Truths I’ve been told.

We’ve all heard rules about how to be novelists: “No head-hopping.” Nora Roberts is known for head-hopping around her cast of characters so if you do it you’re a copy cat.

cabin 004

My former writing office.

Then there are the non-rules that start circulating as truths:

“I’ve been told publishers and readers don’t like prologues.” If it is a True Prologue and works for the story, and is integral with the story, use it. At least in the first draft, you can always change the second draft. Whatever gets the story going for the writer is primary. Polishing it for readers is a different skill.

“New Adult is the new Chick Lit and has to be in 1st person.” New Adult is evolving but I have heard that it is not college girls having sex. Effective 1st person POV means the story is being presented by an unreliable narrator and how much narration do you want during unreliable sex?

“Women seldom make it as novelists because they let their family come first.” This was actually said by a prominent story coach to a room full of women. He even qualified this with often heard family-issue excuses as to why our novel isn’t done. This is a personal choice but those that put their career before family may become successful novelists but they can also be labeled as workaholics or egomaniacs.

“Never volunteer for your local writer organization.” This was the advice of a literary agent with decades in the industry, promoting her advice book on how to avoid rejections. However, she was presenting this to local writers groups who were paying her expenses and speaker fee, and wouldn’t exist without volunteers. Know your audience. She qualified this advice that the amount of time spent volunteering was better served writing. Without volunteer run writers groups there is no network of writers to learn their craft or their business. (Or learn about good vs. lousy agents!)

“Every writer wants a cabin in the woods.” Not this writer and it’s because I have it behind my home, and I set it up as an awesome writer sanctuary, and I used it for ten years but not for writing, only the business of writing. I’m a kitchen table gal. My day-job is now in a tiny house with three dogs and a baby, in a lively neighborhood. I love being in the middle of chaos and that’s what gets my juices going. The writer needs to know-thyself and find your space. After using that cabin in the woods for a decade I realized I was more productive at the college cafeteria, during lunch.

Every truth has multiple Points-Of View. Know Thyself. Know your audience. Be true to the story. The truth is unreliable when related to novelists as we are all professional liars.

What truths or rules have you learned to be invalid? Please share as there are probably enough for a Mythbusting the Novelist Mystique book…

Posted in Terri Tells All! | 6 Comments