Monday, March 2, 2015

Beings of the Mind

The beings of the mind are not of clay;
Essentially immortal, they create
And multiply in us a brighter ray
And more beloved existence.
~ Byron, Childe Harold's Pilgrimage, Canto IV, verse V

Today Wanderlust Creek and Other Stories is finally out  in the world on its own. And yet even after all these months of editing and preparing and pre-orders, I'm having a bit of a hard time believing it myself. I spent so much time with the characters of these stories—"Wanderlust Creek" in particular, since it took such a long time to come to fruition—living inside my head, known only to me, that it's hard to adjust to the fact that they're actually out there on a printed page for anyone to read. I still feel the same way about Left-Hand Kelly sometimes: "Is that really published?" The feeling is definitely stronger for stories and characters that you've lived with for a long time, as opposed to those written quickly, and those two were among the most slowly brewed.

One does grow fond of one's own creations, and oddly protective of them—don't just believe me; Jane Austen wrote of her Elizabeth Bennet, "How I shall be able to tolerate those who do not like her at least, I do not know." I suppose there are some who can take a merely detached interest in their characters, but I'm not one of them. I'm no hand at writing up character profiles and quizzes for my blog as some people can do so entertainingly (partly because I can't seem to do it properly without involving plot spoilers), but by the time I get to the end of a story, I really feel that I know these people I've invented, and am close to them in that peculiar relationship of author to character.

I've been re-reading Anne of Green Gables for the first time in years, and appreciating its joys all over again with grown-up eyes—among them, the delights of  Anne's dream friends and imaginary conversations, which are so close to what happens in the early stages of creating a story. And yet there's a difference between simply amusing oneself with fancies, and deliberately turning them into something that is put out into the world to be, as Anne puts it, "laughed at or wondered over." A writer may be first and foremost a dreamer who loves to play in the land of the imagination, but they're also someone with the impulse to take these fancies further and see them find full expression in written stories, which are eventually to be shared with other people. So for me at least, there's always a little bit of inner conflict between those two feelings. Still, the instinct to write a story and share it always wins out, however much shy nail-biting I may do on release day.

Saturday, February 28, 2015

Published short fiction: "Revolt"

A few days before Christmas I accidentally wrote a short story. I say "accidentally" because I hadn't planned it at all. I'm always playing with little bits of scenes and characters in my head, most of which eventually admit they haven't the substance to go any further and fade away. A few more promising concepts get scribbled in notebooks for future use. But on this particular morning, the words and images of a short, intense scene were striking me so clearly that I decided I had to write it down right away. So I did what I practically never do: I said "Just give me fifteen minutes to get this down," shut myself in my bedroom, and typed half the story straight to the computer.

On another day I finished it, and after the holidays I edited it. I briefly considered putting it into Wanderlust Creek and Other Stories, but decided against it—the length and tone didn't really fit with the rest of the collection. So I decided I'd submit it to an ezine. This past week it was accepted, and now you can read it at The Western Online!

Click here to read "Revolt"

Thursday, February 26, 2015

Cover Reveal: Pendragon's Heir by Suzannah Rowntree

Blanche Pendragon enjoys her undemanding life as the ward of an eccentric nobleman in 1900 England. It's been years since she even wondered what happened to her long lost parents, but then a gift on the night of her eighteenth birthday reveals a heritage more dangerous and awe-inspiring than she ever dreamed of—or wanted. Soon Blanche is flung into a world of wayfaring immortals, daring knights, and deadly combats, with a murderous witch-queen on her trail and the future of a kingdom at stake. As the legendary King Arthur Pendragon and his warriors face enemies without and treachery within, Blanche discovers a secret that could destroy the whole realm of Logres. Even if the kingdom could be saved, is she the one to do it? Or is someone else the Pendragon's Heir?

Pendragon's Heir, if you recall, made my list of top ten favorite books read in 2014 after I had the privilege of reading an advance copy. Today I'm happy to help reveal the splendid cover art! The novel releases on March 26th, 2015, and in the meantime you can add it to-read on Goodreads, and enter the Rafflecopter giveaway below for a chance to win an advance e-copy. And don't forget to stop by Suzannah's blog at Vintage Novels to find out more, and to get a sneak peek at the illustrations that will be in the book! 

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Monday, February 23, 2015

Winter Winds

First, news. For the final week of pre-orders—that is, from today through the official release date of March 2nd—the ebook edition of Wanderlust Creek and Other Stories is on sale for 99 cents. So if you've been planning to buy the ebook, now's your chance. Let's see how far up the Western lists we can push it on release day! Also, if your taste runs to hard copies, the paperback edition is available a bit early at both CreateSpace and Amazon.
~ * ~

The most notable feature of life lately has been cold. For several weeks we've been blanketed with two feet or more of snow. I love snow as ardently as so many people most unaccountably detest it, so you won't find me complaining about that. I welcome each additional inch with glee. In addition to the snow, though, we've seen temperatures spending most of their time in the single digits, with periodic plunges into double-digit negatives for variety. We've taken to calling a temperature of about 25 degrees "mild," and anything above 30 would practically be a heat wave. Unless you head outside well fortified with multiple pairs of socks, thick gloves and a good scarf, your hands, feet and face begin hurting within a few minutes. There have even been a couple of extreme mornings when our German Shepherd, Bär, who positively thrives on ice and snow, has come in from a brief trip outside limping because the cold hurt the pads of her feet.

It is on days like these that I am very happy to be self-employed. It's such a blessing to be able to sit down with my notebooks at the kitchen table, with a vase of bright carnations left over from Valentine's Day to add a splash of cheer to the room, and wide windows in front of me through which I can watch energetic whizzing chickadees and flocks of cardinals brighter than the carnations busy at the bird feeder, and a file of deer in their thick brown winter coats stealing quietly through the woods. Or to settle in with my laptop near the woodstove, with perhaps a cup of hot tea to hand, and work on editing or coordinate a book launch while the blustering wind whips clouds of powdery snow against the windows. With blessings like these, winter is no hardship.

What matter how the north-wind raved?
Blow high, blow low, not all its snow
Could quench our hearth-fire's ruddy glow.
~ John Greenleaf Whittier, "Snow-Bound"

Friday, February 20, 2015

Soundtrack For a Story: One of Ours

As mentioned in a couple recent posts, and chattered volubly about on Twitter, I have taken a quick break from One of Ours to write The Silent Hour, the next Mrs. Meade mystery. It's been going more swiftly and enjoyably than anything I've written in a while, and I hope to finish it in a week or so. I do not intend to let One of Ours slide so far back on the proverbial back burner that it can't be conveniently retrieved.

One thing I've struggled with in the rewrite is banishing the ghosts of the original vision I had for the story—a vision that's changed somewhat with several re-outlinings. It's difficult to shake off the one-dimensional characters and inaccurate visualizations of setting that fixed themselves in my mind as I wrote that first draft several years ago. Has anyone else fought that battle with rewrites?

At any rate, to keep in the mood, I thought I'd share my inspiration playlist for this novel. It's a post-Civil War story, but the ghosts of the war loom almost as large over certain of its characters as my first draft does over me, so you'll see that reflected in the music:

  • The Private History of a Campaign That Failed by William Perry. It's a shame that only four short tracks have been released from this obscure little TV-movie soundtrack (found on this album), because it simply is the score to One of Ours. The music matches up just perfectly with characters, moments, moods.

  • A few tracks by the Capitol Symphony Orchestra: "Dixie," "Turkey in the Straw" and "Mighty Like a Rose"—the first for obvious reasons, the second because it helps with a scene involving a lively Virginia Reel, and the last (even though it's anachronistic for the time period of the story) because somehow it just fits as a love theme.

  • The "Largo" from Dvorak's Symphony No. 9 ("From the New World"). I've loved this piece for years, and just recently came to realize that its haunting, sweet, but regretful theme suited elements of this novel perfectly too.

  • A few tracks from The Searchers soundtrack by Max Steiner that feature the Civil War tune "Lorena": "Locket for Debbie," "Ethan and Aaron" and "Debbie Refuses to Leave." (I admit to trimming that MP3; the Indian attack music at the end just didn't fit.)

  • A couple from The Horse Soldiers soundtrack by David Buttolph: "Lorena" and "Deep River/Lorena." (Notice a theme here?)

  • "Trouble Ahead/Torrey's Death/Taking Torrey Home" from Shane by Victor Young. I needed something suitably dramatic and ominous and Western-themed, and it has those hints of "Dixie" throughout to make it fit even better.

Monday, February 16, 2015

Weekday Odds and Ends

Mrs. Meade and I are up to our ears in solving a murder at present, so today's post is a roundup of various fun and interesting things I've come across in the last few weeks, for your entertainment:
  • This is pretty amazing. A 19th-century building in Bucharest, Romania, has been transformed into a gorgeous six-story bookstore.

  • I liked this poem by James McAuley, on inspiration for the Christian artist, shared by Suzannah at Vintage Novels.

  • Here's a great resource for authors of American historical fiction: a thick book of marriage laws and statistics from 1867 to 1906. It's available to read free on Google Books, and I've had occasion to use it for reference already.

  • Over at Buddies in the Saddle, Ron Scheer shares two posts of magazine advertisements from 1907, which are a fascinating peek into the life of the period.

  • Looking for a song on YouTube, I came across this 1937 movie clip featuring Benny Goodman and his orchestra—with Harry James on trumpet and Gene Krupa on drums! That's pretty cool. And Goodman's clarinet-playing is pretty amazing, too; I've never heard anybody go that high before.

  • Hamlette at The Edge of the Precipice is going to be hosting a read-along of Louisa May Alcott's Little Women this March. Little Women is one of the old favorites I've been thinking of re-reading for some time, so this sounds like the perfect opportunity!
Now if you'll excuse me, I have another suspect to interrogate...

Friday, February 13, 2015

Corral Nocturne Valentine's Day Sale

Amazon | Smashwords | Kobo

Looking for a short and sweet historical romance to read over Valentine's Day? Corral Nocturne is on sale for 99¢ all this weekend! The sale will run from today through Sunday the 15th, at all the ebook retailers linked above. Smashwords customers, use coupon code FS56X to get the sale price.

Not familiar with Corral Nocturne? Watch the book trailer, and check out the Pinterest board:

Follow Elisabeth Grace's board Novella: Corral Nocturne on Pinterest.

See what readers have said:

"A truly sweet Western romance novella, with a few cleverly added nods at the fairy tale of Cinderella, but remaining very much its own tender tale." ~ Amber Stokes, author of The Heart's Spring series

"Foley knows her stuff and writes it effortlessly...her gentle me the beauty of the West and the tenacity of its people...If you enjoy a quiet, gentle romance by the rose-purple light of a prairie dusk, read Corral Nocturne." ~ Rachel Heffington, author of Fly Away Home

Monday, February 9, 2015

February Snippets

January was of course mostly occupied by getting Wanderlust Creek and Other Stories edited, formatted and proofread, but I did manage to chip out a few pages in the rewrite of One of Ours. Last week, though, I found myself very stuck and very unenthusiastic—entering that dangerous stage where I begin wondering if I'm wasting my time on a blasted book that's no good in the first place, etc. I wanted badly to write something new instead of rewriting or editing, and especially to use plain old pen and paper instead of a computer (proofreading and pre-pub work makes you really sick of computers). So, since I had been thinking I shouldn't let the Mrs. Meade Mysteries languish too long without a new entry, and since I had a complete outline for the next story sitting waiting in a notebook, I impulsively grabbed the notebook in question, a new blank one, and a pen, and sat down to write The Silent Hour. So far it seems to be just what the doctor ordered. If I can finish the first draft in a few weeks, that'll give me a nice vacation from One of Ours which will hopefully restore my better opinions of it.

Anyhow, here 's a few snippets from both projects:

"If it wasn't that I felt I had a duty to attend I wouldn't go at all," muttered Grandpa—which threat did not frighten any of his grandchildren in the least.

There had been no bitterness or anger in the boy's confession, only mild complaint mingled with a little guilt at even feeling that way.
Minute by minute the colors were changing, so that already she could not remember what the sky had looked like just a moment before. She stood with her face to the wind and watched the clouds move, disclosing new shapes and layers as the wind built them up and melted them away, clouds darker at the top now as the sun grew lower and brighter at the very edge of the sky. And presently she saw the black shape of a horse and rider, at first small and far away, approaching on the road out of the sunset. They came on until she could hear the jingling of the mare's bits and see the red-gold light from the sinking sun on the burnished dark brown of her coat.
~ One of Ours
~ * ~
Across from him Jim was sitting bent forward with his elbows on his knees, kneading his hands together, and every now and then glancing into the fire with a little half-hidden smile as he tried to think how you put together the words to explain about something so special.

"Your arithmetic is acceptable, Andrew, but your logic is flawed," said Mrs. Meade.

Mrs. Meade's curiosity never led her into excesses of rushing about trying to discover things faster than everyone else. She knew that if an occurrence was really interesting, the details would come—or else they would remain strangely absent, which usually signified something even more interesting.
~ The Silent Hour: A Mrs. Meade Mystery

Friday, February 6, 2015

Spreading the Word: A Primer for Fans

Back in November I wrote about decisions I'd made to give up book-marketing efforts I found counter-productive or simply a waste of time. That doesn't mean I've given up marketing altogether; I've been doing a lot of thinking about what simple, commonsense methods I could apply to simply make more readers aware of my books' existence. I've been asking around for advice, and when I asked my brother what he thought, his answer led me to some ideas from an interesting source. My brother is a big fan of the British boys' choir Libera, and he told me about some of the methods they're employing to promote their latest music video and albums. Now, I've heard comparisons drawn between the ebook industry and the music industry before—so why not take note of ideas used successfully in promoting music, and apply them to our ebook publishing?

What struck me most about Libera's methods of promotion is that they're all based around involving their fans. There's nothing better than having your fans involved in helping promote something, and all of these methods, adapted to the medium, could easily work for books as well as music. So here's a few easy ways that readers can help spread the word about their favorite books:

1. Tell a friend. My brother told me that Libera has asked fans to help promote their upcoming music video by showing it to ten people, and asking those people to each show it to ten more—which ought to mean exponential exposure! Telling a friend is the simplest thing you can do, and one of the most effective. Word-of-mouth has been proven to be one of the top ways people discover books. So if you've enjoyed a book, tell somebody about it! It doesn't even have to be ten people, though of course that would be great. Tell your blog readers or your Twitter followers if you've got them, but I'll bet an enthusiastic personal recommendation to somebody carries even more weight.

2. Give as gifts. Libera encourages fans to give their CDs as gifts—hopefully making more fans out of the recipients! And this is perfect for books too. If you know somebody who loves to read, you can't do any better than give them a book as a gift. (Here's where my habit of exploring all the corners of my genre might finally work in my favor: you could probably find something for readers of all different tastes in my oeuvre.)

3. Show it off. Some enthusiastic Libera fans like to play their music at work, where others can hear it. Now, this doesn't exactly apply to books...but you could surely bring a book along to work to read on your lunch hour, and in the meantime leave it on the desk where someone just might spot it and ask you about it. Read a good book in the waiting-room at the dentist's office, and if anyone looks up from their smartphone long enough to notice, they might just be intrigued by the cover and Google it.

~ * ~
The practical application? Yes, there's a practical application. If you've read one of my books and liked it enough to recommend it to a friend, how about telling a friend or two that Corral Nocturne is going to be on sale for Valentine's Day? From February 13th through 15th you'll be able to get the ebook for just 99¢. You can share this little banner around on Twitter, Pinterest, etc. if you like, and if you know someone who likes fairytale retellings or historical romance, pass the word—because what better occasion than Valentine's Day to read a nice little romance?

Tuesday, February 3, 2015

Early Efforts: Casey's Cow

I actually began writing Westerns quite early in life. One of my surviving childhood manuscripts, titled Casey's Cow, could probably be termed my first. I don't recall exactly how old I was when I wrote it, but based on the age of the heroine, and the fact that I remember typing it on our big old Gateway desktop computer, I'm guessing I was around ten. This was the era when—likely influenced by a diet of American Girl books—I was convinced that fictional ten-year-old girls could save the day in any situation. The first lines ran thus:
It was sunrise at Lenisor Ranch. The sun cast a golden glow over the corrals and stables. The big white house was nearly hidden by trees, but some of the sun’s magic reached the glittering glass windowpanes. And now in the distance noises. Hundreds of hooves trampling. And cows bawling.

Ten-year-old Casey Lenisor, still half asleep, rolled over in bed. Suddenly she was wide awake. She ran to the window and peered into the distance. Yes! Her uncle’s cattle drive was returning!
I was also evidently convinced that short sentences equaled drama. Much drama.

Reading back over Casey's Cow in recent years, I was actually rather surprised by the decent command of language I had at age ten. Reading Dickens at a young age must have helped. There aren't any laughably terrible spelling or grammar errors; it's the plot and characters, and more particularly the author's calm assumption that it's all perfectly realistic, that make the manuscript hilarious.

Anyhow, Casey lived on her uncle's Montana ranch along with her mother and younger siblings; her father, for reasons unfathomable, was off driving stagecoaches for the Butterfield Overland Mail Company. ("I wish I could stay to help Dan brand the new calves, but I must go," he had said.) Over the course of the four chapters that are extant—I think that's as far as I got—Casey acquired a pet calf named Vermilion, which of course she roped and branded herself; befriended a (very) young cowboy from her uncle's outfit; fended off the attack of a panther; and wished for something unusual to happen. In the fourth chapter the bank was robbed, evidently fulfilling her wish.
“The bank?” exclaimed Casey in disbelief. The bank, indeed! The building in question was built of strong logs, and to Casey’s mind, impenetrable (except when you walked in the door).
The manuscript ends with Casey heading off to find the architect who designed the bank to ask him whether there was a secret passage. As nearly as I can recall, the remainder of the story was intended to be occupied by detective work, and would end with Casey solving the mystery of the bank robbery, assisted in some important way at the climax by her calf.

Did I mention it was also meant to be the first in a series? There's fragments of a few other stories in my folder of childhood efforts, and Casey's Cow, in spite of its unfinished state, included an optimistic list of future titles (Casey's Journey, Casey Earns Her Way, Casey Back East, Casey at Sea, and so forth).

I suppose in the long run, we may be glad that the rest of Casey's Cow is lost to history. It does have its positives, of course: it shows me how much I've learned in the fifteen years since. For instance, that cattle drives don't return to the home ranch, with newborn calves in tow; and that maple trees are not a notable feature of the Montana landscape. And it's good for an occasional hearty laugh.

Friday, January 30, 2015

To Diversify

I've learned something small but helpful since New Year's. As much as I love my writing, if I focus repeatedly and exclusively on it every day, I can get stressed and burned out much faster. For a while last year I'd pushed all other hobbies on one side, feeling they took up too much time—but after having the free time to dabble in other things during the Christmas holidays, I've realized the benefit they can be. We all know the value of taking a little break from writing, but what about using that time to explore something else?

So I've allowed myself to take those bits of time to indulge other hobbies: crocheting, a bit of painting, some baking now and then; copying a song into a different key. It isn't that I'm particularly good at all of these things—I've yet to venture painting anything more ambitious than tiny illustrations for a book of quotes, and I play piano like Elizabeth Bennet: "a little, and very ill." It's about not getting creative tunnel vision. It's fun, and less stressful, to think about something entirely non-writing-related for an hour, to exercise a different corner of your brain. (Less stressful because it's creativity without deadlines, too). Diversifying your hobbies makes you feel you're living a more well-rounded existence; busying your mind with other kinds of creativity can keep writing from swallowing it whole.

It can be awfully encouraging, too, when you're hopelessly stuck in a story, to see and feel some other type of creative craft or art take shape in your hands—to have the satisfaction of seeing that finished row of lacy stitches or a pie sitting on the counter. It reminds you that you can create, that you can actually finish a project. And hopefully that encouragement will translate back into renewed energy for your writing when you pick up your pen again. 

Tuesday, January 27, 2015

Available for pre-order: Wanderlust Creek and Other Stories

Ebook $2.99
Pre-order now!

Six short stories exploring the joys, heartaches and laughter of life against the backdrop of the Old West. In “Single-Handed,” a gunfighter’s courage comes in doubt when he refuses to explain to his friends the real reason he backed down from a fight. The capable proprietress of the busiest eating-house in town handles a day of disasters large and small in the light-hearted “The Rush at Mattie Arnold’s,” while in “Room Service,” a hotel night clerk finds himself in on odd position after he allows an exhausted traveler to stay in a reserved room. And in the title story, the novella-length “Wanderlust Creek,” a young rancher and his wife struggle to hold onto their land and their dreams in the face of adversity from weather, enemies—and even doubts of each other.

Well, here we are! Here's the cover for Wanderlust Creek and Other Stories, designed by J. Simmons. The ebook is now available for pre-order at Amazon, and will be released at other ebook retailers and in paperback on March 2nd.

There's a bit of a funny story behind this cover. As I mentioned in a previous post, the story "Wanderlust Creek" has been in the works for several years, and I always knew it would be the keynote story of another collection. So I kept my eye out for a picture that would evoke the story, and occasionally (while suffering from writer's block, no doubt) searched stock-photo sites for something similar to what I had in mind. It turned out to be much harder than I thought. I just couldn't find anything. Well, one day as I was searching, my sister came and looked over my shoulder and I explained what I was doing. Then I saw one that looked about right...sunset, water in the foreground..."There's one," I said hopefully, and then added, "Oh, wait, it has elephants in it."

Well, eventually, as you can see, I did find the perfect picture. But that's become a kind of running joke between us when discussing a good photo: "At least it doesn't have elephants in it."