Why I Kissed Blackbeard Goodbye

Here’s a plot twist I never saw coming.

During the 2015 MAFWI conference, I attended a workshop led by Jim Rada, an author who hails from Pennsylvania. He stressed the importance of research when writing historical novels. This is also important, however, when writing any works that mentions a real person, trademark, or other type of brand.

I knew this would mean quite a bit of rewriting for HAUNTED WOMEN OF THE APPALACHIANS, my collection of 13 strange and inspired by true stories, but surely I’d be smart enough not to let it happen again. Right? Absolutely!

It was more like absolutely not. It started when I read How to Use Brand Names in Your Fiction (Just Like TFIOS), a guest blog article written by Kathryn Goldman on the Better Novel Project blog.

Imagine my dismay at realizing the way I displayed Blackbeard in my book could bring up some serious issues. The fictional character based on the real person didn’t show in the best light. There was only one thing to do.

I kissed Blackbeard goodbye.

Then I went in an exploration into the past to find a new pirate. Hours later, when complaining about the dilemma to my husband, he asked, “Why don’t you just make up a pirate?”

Excited, I returned to my research. Because I’m only about 1/3 of the way into my book, I don’t need to rip it out and start over. And because my new pirate is a fictional female with a sweet back story, I won’t feel obligated to force my plot to follow someone else’s facts.

I’m more excited about my book every day, and can’t wait to share the final product with you all.

Confirmation in Unlikely Places

After attending the Mid-Atlantic Fiction Writers conference in August, 2015, I was on my way to take possession of a rescued crested gecko when I got the idea to write a cozy mystery that would delve into some of Blackbeard’s history.

I’m about 2/3 of the way into the book and the worst thing happened. I lost focus. For a few weeks my book stayed closed. The pages began gathering dust. Terrible thoughts entered my head, like: Should I scrap what I have and rewrite everything in limited first-person point of view?

In case you’re wondering, I posed that to my fellow Mountain Scribes (my writing group) at our First Annual Christmas Party and the answer was a resounding, “No!”

Then two wonderful things happened. The first was that I confessed my fears to my friend David. He quoted lines from a NaNoWriMo Pep Talk by Neil Gaiman. Knowing that Neil Gaiman suffers from these same qualms actually made me feel a lot better.

The second thing happened when I was randomly looking at bits of analytical information from the Becky Muth Author Page on Facebook. When trying to decipher who in the world (literally, places like Nigeria and Las Vegas and Australia, even!) liked my page, I saw this:

There you have it. One of my fans speaks pirate. If knowing that Neil Gaiman suffers from “I’m not good enough”-itis wasn’t enough, then having a fan who speaks pirate is more than plenty. Whoever you are, you pirate-speaking-fan of mine, than you. I so needed this.

Are you a writer who found confirmation in unlikely places? Do you feel like your train of thought derailed around Chapter 8 and you’re not sure how to get back on track? Let me hear about it in the comments section. I’d love to talk about this with you!

MAFWI 2015 PART 3 – Why You Never Really Say Adieu

During the first full weekend in August, I attended the annual Mid-Atlantic Fiction Writers Institute conference. This article reviews the last day of the event.

After a failed wake-up call from the front lobby, I grabbed a couple of strips of bacon from the hotel’s complimentary breakfast area. Fortunately I’d packed everything up the night before as the first event on the final day was scheduled early in the morning and we wouldn’t have a chance to get back to the hotel before checkout time.

Don’t Be Afraid to Change Your Mind

Although we missed the opening remarks from the MAFWI representative, each person in our group made it to their respective breakout sessions. I originally planned to attend the following breakout session:

Demons, Angels, Ghosts, and Monsters: The Fantastic World of Paranormal Fiction
The breakout session offered insight from three presenters, including:

I got as far as the front door of the building, turned around, and took a seat on the half-wall spanning the length of the sidewalk. The previous day’s conversation with Jim Rada kept coming back to me. In the next building over, he was leading a different breakout session:

Pirates, Gunfighters and Jack the Ripper: How to Write Historical Fiction

At the time I was on the cusp of finishing the final chapter of my book, HAUNTED WOMEN OF THE APPALACHIANS, a collection of 13 fictional short stories inspired by actual folklore. I soon made up my mind, and five minutes after the class started, I entered the historical fiction breakout session and took a seat in the back.

Over the next 90-ish minutes I learned so much. It answered questions like:

  • What is a historical novel?
  • Is historical fiction right for you?
  • Is it history or historical fiction?

More importantly, I got to ask Jim Rada questions I had about my book. He offered some great advice that helped me get the final chapter into the hands of my editor before a final deadline that marked the beginning of her autumn sabbatical. I shudder to think what might have happened if I hadn’t attended this session.

Wrapping Up the End of a Great Weekend

After the morning breakout sessions, we congregated in the auditorium again for a panel discussion titled Marketing, Branding, and Social Media, Oh My! with:

Following the panel, we visited with authors, both the ones offering book signings and the ones just mingling around. Everyone in our group connected to new people, whether it was a presenter or another attendee.

And that wraps up my weekend at #MAFWI15. I loved every minute of it, and cannot wait to attend my next conference. Thanks to everyone who made this a fabulous weekend!

This is the final installment in a three-part series. If you missed the first two articles, then you can find them here:

MAFWI 2015 PART 1 – Why Attend Writing Conferences

MAFWI 2015 PART 2 – Why It’s Okay to Sit Out a Session

MAFWI 2015 PART 2 – Why It’s Okay to Sit Out a Session

During the first full weekend in August I attended the 2015 Mid-Atlantic Fiction Writing Institute conference at Hagerstown Community College featuring Keynote Speaker Tess Gerritsen. It was a fabulous choice of first-ever writing conference and I’m so glad I went. You can read more about it in last week’s blog post titled MAFWI 2015 PART 1 – Why Attend Writing Conferences.

On the second day of the conference, the schedule was:

  • Keynote Speaker – Tess Gerritsen, “I’ve Got a Great Idea for a Book…Or Do I?”
    Maybe you think you have the perfect premise for a novel. But is it, really? How do you recognize when you’ve got an idea that will translate into a killer plot? Join international bestselling author Tess Gerritsen as she shares her experience and insights.
  • Morning Breakout Sessions– Why Every Writer Should Collaborate– The Importance and Purpose of Dialogue
    Social Media Basics: How to Get a Grip on Your Social Media Campaigns
    Writing Emergency Room Scenarios
  • Lunch
    Lunch was a buffet-style meal of salad ingredients including grilled chicken, a wide range of non-alcoholic drink choices, and a few dessert items, like watermelon and cookies
  • Panel Discussion
    The Details of the Dream: Worldbuilding for Writers of Fiction, Fantasy, and Everything in Between
  • Afternoon Breakout Sessions
    – Jumping into the Self-Publishing Pool
    – The Prince and the Pauper: The Real Deal Behind an Ideal Publisher-Author Relationship
    – Why Character Consequence and Reaction are Necessary for Conflict and Tension
    – Deviant Diagnosis: Creating Characters with Psychological Conditions
    -So You Want to Write a Thriller
  • Dinner
  • Open Mic
As with any event, there were parts I loved and also parts I did not like at all. Let’s get the negative out of the way first.
Even though I understand the reason for it, the morning keynote building (which had the auditorium) and the lunch session building (which had the cafeteria) were spread out across campus. The emergency room themed session was also in the lunch building, due to having a room with some of the medical equipment being discussed.
The walk sucked. It was partly my fault. I’m not athletic. It was a hot day out. I wore a dark-colored shirt. Going toward the lunch building, I took my time and plenty of breaks. All in all it took about half an hour. (Did I mention plenty of breaks?)
On the way back it was all uphill. I left ahead of my friends but they quickly caught and passed me. Fortunately one of them offered to give me a ride in their vehicle, or I might still be making that walk right now.
Everything I Loved about Day Two
There may not be enough room in this article for me to list everything I loved.
  • Tess Gerritsen is not only a gifted author, but also a gifted speaker. I could have listened to her the entire day.
  • Because I skipped the morning breakout session and found a seat in the empty cafeteria just over an hour early, I was able to chat with both Jim Rada and Robert Bidinotto. This was a real boon, as it led to me switching breakout sessions for the following morning. (More on that in next week’s article!)
  • During the in-between times the conference staff offered plenty of bottled water, granola bars, and other snacks. The bottled water was a real plus, and I for one really appreciated it.
  • The afternoon breakout session with Nik Korpon regarding analyzing characters who suffer from (and revel in) various psychological conditions. We talked about fictional characters in a wide range of media types, from Norman Bates to Walter White.
Get Your Work Out There Any Way You Can
Wrapping up the end of the evening was the Open Mic event. I surprised the other members of my group (and myself) by volunteering to read a short story. It was something I submitted to Morning Rain Publishing‘s contest, the 2014 Freaky Flash Award. Because the story, titled The Funeral Home is No Place For a Child, won first place, I thought I probably couldn’t go wrong.
The entire time I stood in front of my peers of writers, it was a struggle. I could hear my voice shaking. Was I talking too fast? Were my words comprehensible? Where others had printed copies or a laptop handy, I’d copied and pasted the story from MRP’s website into an email on my laptop minutes before the start of the event and then read it via the minuscule screen on my phone.
And then I was finished. With a big sigh of relief, I returned to my seat just glad it was over, never to be spoken of again. Except it was. A few people came up to me after the open mic and said how much they really enjoyed they story – especially the twist at the end. The next morning, even more attendees — and even a couple of the presenters — stopped to compliment me on the story.
And I’ll wrap up my MAFWI 2015 review next week, rounding out my thoughts about the final day.

MAFWI 2015 PART 1 – Why Attend Writing Conferences

I always loved the idea of going to a conference or convention and this year I finally took the opportunity to attend the Mid-Atlantic Fiction Writing Institute’s annual conference, formerly known as the Nora Roberts Writing Institute at Hagerstown Community College.

Along with panel discussions, #MAFWI15 offered breakout sessions and workshops. These mini-events held themes ranging from how to write scenes that take place in the emergency room to tips for self-publishing. When I saw that a friend from my writing group was on one of the panels, I jumped at the chance to attend.

After treating my husband to his birthday lunch, I abandoned him and met up with members of our local writing group, The Mountain Scribes. The group, which is invitation only and limited to less than a dozen members, meets bi-weekly but this was the first time several of us would attend an event of this size.

#MAFWI15 Kickoff

I met up with Julie at the hotel. Like myself, Julie is also a professional blogger who dabbles in literary fiction. Soon after, we were joined by MK Rath, an urban fantasy author from our local, invitation-only writing group. 

After dinner and drinks, because nothing cures my anxiety like a frozen, salted margarita, we attended the meet-and-greet where we touched base with fellow Mountain Scribe Alicia Drumgoole (aka Agnes Jayne), who was a presenter at the conference. Alicia introduced us to her childhood friend and fellow author, Kendra Leigh Castle. The discussion was light and fun, and the perfect way to kick off the evening.

Attend All the Panel Discussions

From the meet and greet we transitioned into a banquet room for a panel discussion. If you have never attended one then I highly recommend it. Panel discussions offer multiple, sometimes diverse viewpoints on a topic. During one of the discussions a question I asked received four different answers, all of which had information I could use.

This particular panel discussion covered the topic of Getting Started and featured the following people:

Just like you can’t tell a book by its cover, you also can’t tell an author by their book jacket photo. No two authors in that panel answered any question exactly alike. If their answers were similar as to their process for writing their book, then they had different ways for getting inspired or editing.

Wrapping Up the Evening

Perhaps the best part of the night came after the panel. Alicia had given a shout out to The Mountain Scribes while boasting the merits of belonging to a writing group. Once the panel broke up, Julie, MK and I headed over to let Alicia know how much we enjoyed the discussion. Other writers hedged about, some being more talkative than others.

I’m not sure who said it during the evening, but they captured the feeling spot on with the comment: These are my people, my people who understand me and get it. The group eventually fizzled out and we returned to our respective hotel rooms with a 7:00 A.M. wake up call for the next day.

Tune in next week to read Part 2 of this article!