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21 Jul
2016

Help Me Choose the Title

I am excited to be finalizing my manuscript for publication. But I can’t decide on the final title. Would you be willing to help? I have listed four of the finalists below. I would be so grateful for your help.

Book Titles, Bev Scott

Which title do you like best?

Let me know which title is most likely to attract your attention if you were looking for a book to read. You might have other ideas or combinations, which is fine, too.  Let me know your choices and your thoughts in the Comments section of the blog.  Thank you!

Here is the synopsis to give you context for the title.

Synopsis

The story is told from the perspective of the two key protagonists, Will and Sarah.

In 1878, Will is on the run after killing a man in a bar room gunfight. He escapes the Texas Rangers by joining a cattle drive headed to Dodge City, as the cook. He struggles with the dilemma of saving his life or attempting to return to his pregnant wife and five children. Just when he thinks he might be able to return home, he is confronted by a bounty hunter who captures him and plans to return him to Forth Worth, Texas to be hanged. Will is freed by his trail boss and a buddy from the cattle drive. He finds himself “riding the owl hoot trail” in Kansas as a wanted man.

Will finds refuge on an isolated homestead with Peggy, a widow and her daughter, Margaret Ann. He helps her with the livestock, building a corral and a “real” house while he hides out from the law. He struggles with his responsibility to return to his wife and family and his increasing attraction to Peggy. When Will learns that his wife and children may have perished in a tornado, he gives in to his desire for Peggy, only to find that he is too afraid to take on the responsibility Peggy asks. He abruptly abandons Peggy and finds himself on the dodge from the law again when he meets an itinerant preacher named John who saves his life. John recognizes Will’s guilt and challenges him to grow up and be a man. When Will struggles with his culpability in abandoning the women in his life, he turns to John who guides him to find redemption. Will decides to homestead in Wyoming ready to settle down with a good woman.

In 1911, Sarah, a widow with five children struggles to find the inner strength to overcome betrayal, loneliness, fears, and self-doubt. Her husband, Sam, thirty years her senior, died with a curious and defiant declaration, “I won’t answer!” Despite poverty and a crippling illness, she is determined to keep her family together, leave New Mexico, and return to Nebraska to be near her parents and siblings.

Horses, great PlainsDuring the perilous journey home, Sarah must face her fears as a woman traveling without the protective company of a man, confront her son’s sometimes reckless attempts to be the man of the house, and cope with real dangers which threaten their lives. Still grieving from the loss of her husband, she ventures into unknown territory desperate to find help for her sick infant daughter and then learns of the death of her beloved father.

When Sarah returns to Nebraska, she receives staggering news which complicates her efforts to support her children. She is shocked, angry and emotionally devastated. Since she is attempting to establish herself in the community as a teacher, she believes she must keep her husband’s betrayal a secret even from her own family.

Title Choices for You!

Again, here are the titles I’m considering for the book. Let me know what you think in the Comments below. Which of the following seems to fit the story line best? Do you have any other thoughts, ideas or critiques of the title choices that could help me? Or do you have an completely different title you might want to suggest?

I’m all ears!

A. Trust, Betrayal and Forgiveness: A Western Tale

B. A Family Secret: Trust, Betrayal and Forgiveness

C. “I Won’t Answer!” A Secret from the American West

D. Trust, Betrayal and Forgiveness: She Kept the Secret

13 Jul
2016

“Killing My Darlings?!”

old cemetery headstoneAdvice, often passed along to novice writers, includes that we have to learn to “kill our darlings.” This advice has been attributed to many famous authors such as Falkner, Wilde and King. As writers, we can become very attached to what we consider a brilliant piece of writing, a scene or a character description in earlier drafts, that no longer fits or is not appropriate for the story as it has evolved. Recently, as I worked through needed manuscript revisions and feedback from “early readers” and my editor, I came to the realization that I needed to “kill one of my darlings”. Let me share with you an excerpt from the original story which takes place in Texas in 1878:

 

Susanna

Will stepped up to the door of the tiny house off the noisy main street in Fort Worth… The door opened, he saw the flash of welcome in Susanna’s deep green eyes as a smile spread over her face. He gathered her up to carry her inside, kicking the door shut behind him. With her arms around his neck, he buried his face in her copper hair breathing deeply the sweet fragrance that always seemed to float around her. She giggled as he carried her to the back room depositing her on the bed. He began fumbling to unbutton her dress with one hand while he dropped his overalls with the other. His withered finger didn’t help.
“Let me help you.” She laughed as she finished the buttons and dropped her dress revealing her smooth unblemished skin the shade of Colorado alabaster.
Afterward, he felt more relaxed as he teased her, “I bet you let all the cowboys who come along into your bed like this?” 
Susanna lowered her eyes guiltily and then burst into the laughter that sounded like bells ringing. “You shouldn’t care. You’ll go back to your wife in a few days anyway. You can visit again the next time you’re in town.” 

I resisted this act of murder for a long time, despite advice that I should “kill this darling.” I liked Susanna’s independence.

As a beautiful woman living on her own, Susanna was used to adoration from the cowboys who came into town. Most of them would never settle down to get married. Besides, she liked her own freedom and independence. Of course, the stuffy, nose-in-the-air women in town whispered about her. But, she didn’t care. Their opinions didn’t matter to her. Their lives were controlled by weak men who tried to act powerfully by ordering their wives around. She didn’t want to cater to the demands of such a man every day.  

“Killing” Susanna

This story continues when a former lover/patron of Susanna’s barges into her house, Will gets involved in a gunfight, Susanna is killed and the Texas Rangers are looking for Will. I thought the story helped explain Will’s later behavior as he runs from the law. However, the more I thought about it, the more I realized that instead of explaining Will’s later behavior, this story only made him more puzzling and really didn’t explain his character at all. I did need to “kill my darling”, dump Susanna and do a major re-write.

But what would be better? The other problem was that “killing” this story meant that something needed to replace it. It is easier to delete than to create. I finally had an idea and as it unfolded, I was excited. When I finished writing, I realized I had a much better story. I needed to overcome my resistance and “kill my darlings” to write a better story.

The Revision

Here is the opening of the revised story:

The hay was tickling his nose but Will didn’t dare sneeze or even move. The voices and footsteps were coming toward theGhost town, Old West scene stables. Will held his breath and wished his pounding heart wasn’t so loud. His throat was dry, his body tense.
“I thought I saw him run this way.” One voice sounded tentative.
The second voice responded chuckling, “Didn’t expect a hay-shoveler to be that fast with a gun.”
“Well, no-one’s going to miss Graham too much, not even his wife. He was a mean SOB,” the first voice spoke again.
A third voice spoke up, “Yea, that’s true but that sod buster did kill him. Maybe he’s not really a sodbuster. Bein’ a Texas Ranger, I…”
“Hey, looking for someone?” He had heard that voice before. Will tried to place it. 
Then the third voice answered, “Yeah, mister, we’re looking for a sod buster in overalls and a vest. Bushwacked a man in the saloon. Have you seen him?”
Will’s breath caught in his throat. Did this guy see him dive into the hay? Who was he anyway? Would he turn him in? He was worried and listened intently. 

As a writer, have you had to dump a favorite passage of your own? Have you had to “kill your darlings”? Or as a reader, do you wish that a writer had deleted a section that didn’t add to the plot or make any sense?

6 Jul
2016
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Book Review: “Bodie” by Anne Sweazy-Kulju

Book review: Bodie, by Anne Sweazy-Kulju

Reviewed by Bev Scott

The story of Bodie, an abandoned mining town in the California desert, knits together the violent and mysterious events of 1879 and two Oregon sisters in 1993. The sisters, who share the same vivid dream set in Bodie, seek professional guidance from an academic therapist-hypnotist to understand their dream. This meeting triggers a series of events: clandestine meetings in Washington, DC, murder, and the suspense-filled tracking of the sisters by a hired killer in the abandoned town of Bodie. Interwoven in the story of the sisters is the psychic or intuitive ability of one of the sisters and her daughter.

The descriptions are vivid with convincing characters and active dialogue. Bodie is an engrossing story which moves at a good pace. The historical background of Bodie is well researched and provides intriguing twists to the story. However, I found it somewhat confusing to switch back and forth in chapters with different characters, settings and times. The author’s approach to the story does seem to require this chapter switching. Perhaps it would be helpful to readers like me who get confused if the chapter headings (which give dates and location) more clearly and boldly announced the new context.

Despite these issues, I thoroughly enjoyed this book. The complexities of the plot provide an absorbing read.

A complimentary copy of the book Bodie was provided to me by the author with no obligations.

Author website: Anne Sweazy-Kulju.

28 Jun
2016

Why Do You Write?

I have been asked recently why I am writing especially since I am retired and I am not building a career.  Here are my thoughts in answering that question.

I was standing in the Heritage Center in Dodge City, Kansas looking foWhy Do You Write? by Bev Scottr clues about the life of my grandfather before he met my grandmother.  We had also been to Weatherford, Texas where he lived with his first wife.

I had been on a search to find information about my mysterious grandfather for several years.   Although I had easily been able to find information on my grandmother’s family, I had reached dead ends in my search for information about my grandfather.  The documents in the National Archives had been an exciting find and had provided clues I wanted to explore further. (See my blogs on my genealogical search)

But I found nothing.  I could not fill in the gaps in the intriguing family story that many friends and family had encouraged me to document.  Could I write the story as fiction using the facts I had uncovered and creatively fill in the missing pieces?  I lacked confidence that I could be creative and write fiction since my previous writing experience had been non-fiction.

After taking a couple fiction writing workshops which built my confidence, I decided to try writing a historical novel inspired by the lives of my grandparents.  It has now been almost five years since I visited the library in Dodge City.  As I reflect back, I discover how much I have enjoyed the experience.

I loved the research and learning the historical details of longhorn cattle drives from Texas to Dodge City. To my surprise, I have treasured my alone-time, writing and the opportunity to imagine the life of my grandfather in 1878 or my grandmother in 1911.  I am excited when the words flow and I have written a description that creates a vivid picture of a character or the surroundings.  Working out the plot brought days of frustration and then delight in resolving the arc of the story.  I thrill when someone tells me they like my writing style.  And there is nothing like the satisfaction and exhilaration of completing a final draft.

Why Do You Write, By Bev ScottI not only needed to learn about writing fiction but as I have described in a previous blog, I needed to learn about building an “author’s platform”, the following of friends and colleagues interested in one’s writing.  Recognizing the importance of marketing and promotion, I reluctantly plunged more fully into social media.  I have increased my knowledge of publishing as I explored the options of self-publishing.  In fact, my forays into learning…learning to write fiction, book promotion on social media and choosing a publisher…have also brought new friends and colleagues into my life.  It turns out becoming a writer doesn’t have to be a totally lonely existence.

I’ve discovered that I write because I want to tell the story, because I found rewards in writing, because I found opportunities to learn new skills and knowledge and because I met new friends.

14 Jun
2016

In Honor of My Father

Henry Clay Scott

Henry Clay Scott, 2 years old

I share these memories of my father, Henry Clay Scott, who died almost 50 years ago.  I am also very aware of him and his life since I am writing a novel inspired by the lives of his parents and their children, “Trust, Betrayal and Forgiveness.”

A white-out blizzard roared on the prairie plunging the temperature to below zero.  Clay, as he was called, put the last piece of wood in the wood burning stove.  Although he was a young boy, he saw himself as “the man of the house”.  He prepared to bundle up to go to the barn to look for some other fuel to burn.

His mother, crippled from rheumatoid arthritis stopped him.  “I can’t let you go out in this storm.  With the white-out, you could get disoriented, lose your way and freeze to death.   Let’s wait and see if it lets up.”.

But the blizzard didn’t let up and the white-out thickened.  The temperature in their small two-room house dropped without any heat.  The outside temperature plummeted to an estimated thirty below zero and the wind howled and blustered through the cracks.  My father, his sister and mother were bundled in several layers of clothes and wrapped in blankets but it was not enough.

My grandmother came to a difficult decision.  She believed it was the only choice she had to save them all from freezing to death.  They burned her books to stay warm.  This must have been a painful decision for a woman who was a school teacher and highly valued education.

This is just one of the stories I heard about the sacrifice, deprivation and poverty that shadowed my father in his childhood.  Clay was the fourth son of Ellen and Harvey Depew (HD) Scott, born in 1907 in Dewey County, Oklahoma.  H.D. was thirty years older than Ellen and died in 1911 leaving her with five children including an infant girl born just months before.

Before his father died, Clay had rheumatic fever.  He had barely survived and was so weak he couldn’t stand or walk.  His older brothers doted on him and carried him everywhere.  Their fondness for my father was evident to me when I was growing up even though I knew nothing about this childhood experience.

The older brothers left home early to work and begin their own families.  My father and his younger sister worked too, scrimped and saved, and ultimately managed to get college educations.  My grandmother had given to my father her love of learning and belief in the value of education.  I knew when I was as young as four years old, that I too would go to college one day.  A nickel from my fifteen cent allowance was required to go into my college fund.

Henry Clay Scott

Henry Clay Scott, as a young man

My father was a terrific role model always reading and learning.  He saved articles for me to read, taught me the Latin names of plants when I was five and always answered my questions with another question or “What do you think?” He believed in respecting and accepting all people.  He taught me, “You don’t have to like what someone does, but you must respect who they are as a human being.”

Clay was frugal but not stingy.  He and my mother taught me to appreciate and be grateful for my life and to give back as generously as I could.  The poverty and sacrifice of his early life influenced his actions throughout his life.  He didn’t like waste.  He was sure to get the last drop, eat the last crust of bread or chew every shred of chicken off the bones.  He was friendly and humble with a delightful sense of humor.  He was very handsome with black wavy hair.  When he was courting my blond, blue-eyed mother, her friends called him the “dark prince.”

After I graduated from high school, he suffered from heart disease.  He sold his business and went back to school to get a Master’s degree to teach.  He died in 1967 at the young age of sixty. He was teaching college students to appreciate the amazing wonders of the natural world just as he did for me as a little girl.

His love and guidance will always be with me.  And, I miss him.   Happy Father’s Day!

What are your memories of your father? 

 

8 Jun
2016
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Book Review: “The Girl from Krakow” by Alex Rosenberg

The Girl From Krakow: Book Review

Reviewed by Bev Scott

This is a story of passion, maternal instincts and subterfuge during World War II in Poland. Rita, a young Jewish woman searching for a more exciting life is studying law in Krakow when she meets Urs in his last year of medical school. Despite her initial resistance, she marries him but finds his stiff and routine approach to sex unsatisfying to her. She meets and launches what later becomes a passionate affair with Dr. Tadeusz, the second main protagonist, who is deceptive with a tendency to delude and fabricate stories to meet his own needs. When Rita’s husband discovers their weekly trysts under the guise of infertility treatments, he attempts suicide. The affair is ended and Rita reconciles with Urs to maintain appearances. When she discovers she is indeed pregnant, he is relieved as he counts back and realizes the child is his.

Germany has put an end to Poland, controlling the east while the Soviets have marched into the west. Urs now working for a Soviet government clinic is soon ordered to leave for conscription in the Soviet army. Rita and her young son are left behind. She rents out a room to Eric, a young man she finds interesting and attractive . A work permit at a factory allows him connections to help get Rita’s son sent with a Polish resistance courier to deliver her son to her parents. Unfortunately, when she learns that the courier is arrested by the Nazis, it is doubtful her son was delivered to her parents. But she never gives up believing that he somehow survives. Eric’s connection allows her to obtain false identity papers and escape to Warsaw to begin looking for her son. With German looks, ability to speak flawless German as well as Polish and her daring courage, she takes many chances in her search for him. Meanwhile, we learn that the disingenuous Dr. Romero with his Spanish disguise is hiding out in Moscow, taking risks of his own.

The well-researched historical context of this book offers the opportunity for an engaging story about the personal pain and emotional challenges brought by the brutality of the Nazi invasion of Poland. However, some aspects of the book are confusing or distracting such as the story flipping between the setting for two main protagonists Rita and Dr. Romero. I was also troubled by a lack of character development for Dr. Romero and I questioned the believability of Rita’s character especially her risky sexual behavior. Despite these concerns, I enjoyed the book and found the story engrossing.

Author:  Alex Rosenberg

1 Jun
2016

Self-Promotion, Writing and Social Media

Social Media and Writers

“I want to write.  The last thing I want to do is market my book!”

My own feelings about marketing were similar when I got serious about writing a novel inspired by my grandparents.  In fact, I frequently had avoided marketing during my former consulting career.  Self-promotion does not come easily for many of us who are consultants or writers.

But, in 2014 I attended the San Francisco Writer’s Conference.  I realized how naïve those words are for a writer who wants to publish in today’s topsy-turvy market.  I also better understood why the second edition of my non-fiction book, published by a trade press, had not been promoted by the publisher as heavily as the first edition.

Writer’s Platform

What I learned at that Conference and in subsequent writing conferences and workshops, is that writers must market and promote their own work if they want to sell their books.  Writers need a “platform” composed of friends, colleagues and contacts who “like” or follow them.  To build that platform, writers must join two or more social media platforms such as Facebook, Twitter, Linked-In, Pinterest, Instagram, Google + or Goodreads.  They must also build a website and send out blogs.

Yes, you are right.  Building a platform takes time.  Frances Caballo, who has specialized and written books about social media for writers, declares that authors need to spend only thirty minutes a day posting on social media.  However, I have found that it takes a much larger time investment to learn the rules and practices of the specific platform, craft my profile and get comfortable in using it.  The effort to reach followers and build a platform must not be too flagrant, too frequent or too frustrating to your “followers”.   But what does that mean?

It means an author/writer should spend about 80 percent of her communication with her “followers” giving interesting tidbits, advice, suggestions, information and links that her readers might like or enjoy.  The other 20 percent of her communication on social media, she can write some tasteful self-promotion of her work.

Thirty Minutes?  Really?

Building a platform takes time from writing her book.  It means spending time writing a blog or finding content to post or link on social media.  It is time figuring out why the photo she wanted to post turned sideways.  It means spending some of those thirty minutes commenting and engaging with her followers.  And, there is no guarantee that engaging in all this social media will actually build a platform of followers interested in her writing.  There is only hope.

Another recommendation from the Writer’s Conference was to begin building the writer’s platform long before the book is due to be released…Two years?  At least one.  And the six months before publication when she is busy doing final edits, choosing a cover design and finalizing a publisher, she must really step up building that platform.

Publishing in Six Months

I am hoping to publish this year, in the next six months.  So, I am stepping up my social media efforts.  And I want to spend some of the twenty percent of my communication with you to boldly ask you to:  Like my Facebook page; sign up on my website to receive updates about my book in your in-box;  share my postings on your own social media; and tell your friends.

Thank you!

Turning on Your Creative Brain

Our brain is complicated.  It is not as simple as right brain and left brain.  Neuroscience has studied what part of our brain lights up when we exercise our organizational/executive functions.

Ocean gaze, creativity

This author argues that we should pay attention to when it does not light up, for example when we daydream or relax.  For creative thinking, we need some time when we shut down our organization and executive thinking such as in the shower where many of us have experienced our most creative thinking.

As a writer, I am acutely aware of how important it is to turn off the chatter in my brain about dates, tasks and emails.  I find I do some of my most creative time is when I first wake up in the morning.  My mind is unfocused, unorganized and empty.

This article also offers some tips to help us be more creative in any work we are doing.  What are you doing to support your creativity?

Turning on Your Creative Brain

My Grandfather, a Cowboy?

Harvey D Scott photoMy paternal grandfather was an absent figure when I was growing up.  He wasn’t just absent; he didn’t exist.  My father didn’t know anything about him; my grandmother just dismissed any questions by changing the subject.  So, I assumed he didn’t exist.

During a trip to Washington DC, I visited the National Archives and uncovered the family secret that had humiliated my grandmother and been hidden from the rest of our family. I have written in previous blogs about the resulting genealogical journey to document H. D. Scott’s life. Unable to find all the details of the story, especially what happened to him between the time he abandoned his first family and married my grandmother, I decided to fictionalize the story.

Creating Sam

I have created the fictional character, Sam, in my story based on two clues about H.D.’s life between 1878 and 1891.  He “worked cattle” with an “outfit from Dodge City, Kansas”.  Sam escapes the Texas Rangers by becoming a cowboy and joining a cattle drive going north to Dodge City.   The years 1878-1879 are the peak of the cattle drives in the midst of the cowboy era.

Developing Sam’s character in some ways was easier because I had no preconception of my grandfather.  I knew he was thirty years older than my grandmother, but I didn’t find out if he was tough, distant and cold or warm, affectionate and funny. But, as a child, I knew my grandmother. What man would she have married?  I wrestled with the contradictions of my image of the man she would marry and the facts I had uncovered. My image of a man who abandoned his pregnant wife and five children didn’t seem like the kind of person she would choose to marry.

Cowboys

Given the era, the location and the clues, I had uncovered, I began to explore and learn about cowboys as a possible Cowboy Silhouettemodel for my grandfather. Today, we identify the cowboy with the West and the time of the cattle drives. However, history tells us that men worked cattle in Massachusetts, Florida, Alabama, Georgia.  But it was the men, one-fourth of whom were black, driving the longhorn cattle from Texas north, who became the folklore heroes we think of as cowboys. They spent long dusty days driving thousands of cattle across empty plains for hundred’s of miles. It was a dangerous life. They faced animals who were easily startled into a stampede, drought, lightning and thunderstorms, rattlesnakes, Indians, and outlaws. They ate grub from the cook wagon, slept on the ground and lived a lonely, spare existence.

Cowboys as folk heroes can be handsome, mysterious, courageous and charismatic. In fact, we have hundreds of stories in novels, movies, radio, and television that have charmed and fascinated us.  Consider Roy Rogers, Gene Autry, the Lone Ranger or Gunsmoke’s Matt Dillon among many other cowboy personalities. The lore and lure of the Western way of life draw many “dudes” today to wear Western wear, reserve weeks at guest ranches in Wyoming, Colorado, and Montana and attend rodeo’s, and Wild West shows displaying the skill and fearlessness of the cowboy.

As a person who I grew up in Montana with a family who live today’s Western way of life in Wyoming and Colorado, it was easy for me to imagine my character, Sam as a cowboy…Handsome, charming, independent, mysterious and attractive to my grandmother.

I have been engaged and challenged as I created Sam’s character. I am excited to be nearing the end with the hope of publishing the story this year.

Do you have cowboy heroes or favorite books or programs? What is your image of a cowboy?

Does Western lore bore you or lure you?

 

10 May
2016
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Book Review: “Behind Palace Walls” by Erin Chase

Behind Palace Walls by Erin Chase

Reviewed by Bev Scott

Sheshamun, the adopted daughter of peasants, unexpectedly finds herself recommended to the Pharaoh’s harem. Finding life in the harem unlike her dream of living a royal life, and forbidden to see her parents, she escapes from the palace. Of course she is found and brought back to be sentenced by the Pharaoh to a slave camp, escaping a death sentence with the intervention of the Royal Wife. This experience provides the opportunity for Sheshamun to mature, gain confidence in herself and find support from the friends she makes. Sheshamun’s story kept me engaged as the author provides mystery, suspense and romance through the historical lens of ancient Egypt.

I have long enjoyed fiction about ancient Egypt and this was no exception. In contrast to other authors, Erin Chase provides us a glimpse not only into the luxuries of royal living but we also see the humble life of peasants and the spare existence of those condemned to the slave camp. It is a long book, however. I would encourage the author to reduce the length, as well as more closely follow advice offered by C.J. Lakin in her blog “Live, Write, Thrive”. Reduce the narrative description which is not necessary to move the story forward.

Author website: Erin Chase

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