Research It | Item 1: The Pen

September. Leaves are changing color, Fall fever is in the air, and students are returning to school. That means raking yards (yuck), pumpkin spiced everything a bit too early, and an influx of new school and office supplies to make every writer’s heart skip a beat.

If you’re a frequent visitor of my blog you know that I am a writer. An published one, mind you (not yet anyway), but I love finding a good notebook or new favorite pen just as much as anyone else.  Here’s a crazy question: what did people use before the almighty pen? As my one character’s profession deals with using this type of tool, I absolutely had to research it.

What? Research a basic tool? You bet!

Now I know what you must be thinking; It’s 2018. We use computers. You know, electronics? Cell phones. Touch screen tablets and styluses. Why would we need to know that? If you’re writing a modern day novel or non-fiction then sure, use all the modern tech and emoji references you want. What if your book, like mine, takes place in 1864? 1743? 1902? 44 B.C..? You really can’t use tech in those centuries unless you’re dealing with time travelers, portals, and space ships.

I find history fascinating. I’m not a classically historian and I haven’t been certified with signed and sealed stamps of approval hanging on my walls. But writing a historical novel series requires you to know things, everything really, about your chosen time period. So, in this first Research It post, I’ll be discussing and a very important tool that was used even before the invention of the typewriter itself. I doubt it’ll be brief (TL;DR status maybe?), and I’ll give credit to my sources of course. Without further adieu, let’s jump right into this madness, shall we?

Item 1: The Pen. I said PENS. #allthepens
Get your mind out of the gutter, dang it!
nor am I referencing the Pittsburgh Penguins

Which came first? The chicken or the egg? That can be amended to this version: Which came first? The graphite pencil or the pen? Now there is an entire website dedicated to the history of the pencil. I’m not kidding – it’s called I guess everyone has their own specialty, right? But that’s not what this particular section is about. Oh no. This is just as specialized as Enough with the thin sarcasm. Moving on with life!

Fun fact: Harry Potter author J.K. Rowling recently posted this on her Twitter. My own confession: When I was in China in 2008 I wanted to buy all the adorable pens and pencils they had over there. But I guess I’m more practical…?

Typically, when I think of old style pens, my mind always jumps to the fountain pen. Those fancy, gold tipped things that every highly paid executive has sticking out of their lapel. I may be romanticizing that a bit. But what came before the fountain pen? And what came before that? Now I could just link the Wikipedia page here and just be done with it, but what fun would that be? Who wants to click out to a million little pages when it can all be here in one spot? So here’s the general order of things with some overlap of what was used depending on the development level of geographical regions:

  1. Reed and quill pens. c.3000 B.C. – 1700s. Their materials depended on what the writer had at their disposal to use. The type of ink was also determined by what they had to make it with. (Could ink be my next topic of discussion? I digress.) These, I think, are mostly self-explanatory. The tip of the reed or quill was whittled down into a point and dipped into the ink. I imagine they used a lot of ink – some things can be very porous and probably used more ink. Unless, perhaps, it was made of wood.
  2. Metal nib pens, aka dip pens. c.79 A.D. – 1822.  Usher in the Iron Age, where smelting and brewing and mixing of metals gave inventors the opportunity to create new tools. Including pointed metal nibs. These were typically fastened to another thing so the scribe could have a better grip on things. Nibs have been found all over the world in varying designs and their use continued into the 18th century without much change. That is, until the 1600s.
  3. Reservoir pens are not the same as fountain pens. c.1636 – 1827. Terminology doesn’t always do a new invention justice, as the German who developed an ink-holding pen still called parts of it “quills.” One of the earliest patents came in 1636 with more to follow as the designs were perfected and produced. The reservoir pen reigned supreme until the 1820s when a French student invented the newest writing implement.
  4. Ballpoint pens. c.1888 & beyond. A mere 60 years later came the official patent filing of the ballpoint pen. This device is the brainchild of a man named John J. Loud, followed by László and George Bíró,  Juan Jorge Meyne, Slavoljub Eduard Penkala and Yukio Horie with their variations in later decades.

For further details not touched upon here, please visit this Wiki page for all the juicy detailsStill gotta give credit, even to a Wikipage!

The rest is, well, history! I figured I would take it nice and easy for this first entry since it’s where I am in the first draft of my novella. How do you like this new series? Was it at least a little bit informative? Light with a dash of humor, or just plain stupid? Let me know in the comments below what you think!

Also, let me know what you’d like to learn about next:

  1. Notebooks
  2. Typewriters
  3. Ink
  4. Maps

Forward we write!

3 Pros to Outlining Your Novel

Stardate 96257.95

There are many things within the authoring world that confuse me, but there’s even more that just makes sense. What might be a necessity for one writer might not even be on the radar for another and vice versa.

I didn’t even know about outlining until a year into my research process. I don’t remember whose Twitter account it was that eventually led me to KM Weiland’s but I came to appreciate her tips and guides and blogs. THEN I discovered that she was a published writer herself with several self-help books on the process – she isn’t just fiction. She’s non-fiction as well.

The more I went through her blog, Helping Writers Become Authors, the more I realized that I really was lacking direction. All I had was the idea, but no idea on how to get from point a to b to c and so on without just abandoning my story all together. From past experience I knew that was my biggest downfall and this time around I want to be published more than ever.

Some, more experienced writers are able to function without the outline structure. They’re the more free-spirited type of writer. The more artsy who has notes and post-its and every inch of their wall or notebook covered from top to bottom with random ideas. Then there’s me. I can’t do that. I need to have a clean work space, I need to be organized, and I need to know exactly where I’m going.

That’s why the outline concept appealed to me from the very beginning, so down below I will be pointing out more pros than cons on the method. I’m sure it’s been discussed on countless other blogs before, but these are just based on my own observations as I’m slowly working through my series.

  1. Some publishers request a copy of your outline.
    It wasn’t until I started looking through that Writer’s Guide book to publishers did I realize that some of those folks actually want a full copy of the outline for your work. I think I saw it pop up more for fiction publishers than non-fiction, but if you already have an outline started and your interested in submitting to a specific place, you don’t have to go back to the beginning of your novel and convert it into outline form. It’s already done and saves you several hours’ (or days, depending on how long your story is) of work. All you may need to do is format it if the publisher requests it and you’re all set!
  2. Even though you may deviate from your outline during the writing process you can always have multiple drafts of the outline.
    While I mentioned I don’t like having multiple notes and post-its earlier in this blog, I don’t shy away from writing in the margins of my physical copies. You should see the first two pages of the first draft of my overall outline – it’s a hot mess of reminders, tips and updates. I’m already working on adding things to my outline that I didn’t have in there before, like certain things a character does or an important subtle hint on what’s coming. I’ll just have to remind myself to print out a new copy once all is said and done and save that version as THE version so I don’t accidentally send a publisher the disjointed original.
  3. Gives you a guide from beginning to end.
    There really isn’t much that needs to be expanded upon with that statement. It says it all right there. An outline’s main purpose is to help guide you all the way through your story from, well, beginning to end [or lack thereof if you’re having a procrastination day!] I felt nearly completely lost without mine. Some days I still feel a bit lost because, let’s face it, I’m creating my own world for someone else to enjoy and that’s a lot of pressure!

Whether you outline or not, whether you fully read this blog post or not, I suspect that we’re all heading towards the same goal of becoming a published author for the first time or you already are and you’re just preparing for your next release. Regardless of your methodology, you need to find what works best for your pacing. Having an outline has helped give me a sense of direction and some sense completion. If you are a new writer I strongly suggest having a read of KM Weiland’s helpful series available on Amazon. (She has no idea I’m plugging this so I swear this isn’t an #ad or anything like that. I just think they’re incredibly useful!)

So don’t worry if you have a day of complete distraction and procrastination. Even seasoned authors have them! Just keep pressing on!

#WQOTD: On Racism in Literature

Stardate 96178.85

With racism still present in modern society, there will always be that one person who will use a slur without a second thought. They think that it’s right because it’s what they’ve been brought up using. But when it comes to literature, there is a distinct choice between using something derogatory and using nothing at all.

This is where my current dilemma comes into play. One of my main characters is Irish, another set of characters is German. America saw a huge influx of immigration from both these groups during the 1800s as more workers were needed to bring about the American Industrial Revolution and they were willing to do the jobs that many American citizens were not.

Racism over from the Old World – Europe, the Middle East, etc. That racism didn’t disappear overnight just by being in a new country. In fact, if anything, it got worse as they vied for jobs and land. While they were a freer people than those on plantations in the South they were still discriminated against just as they were in the British Isles. In the late 1800s there was a movement in the States against the Irish Catholic population.

Jobs for the Irish were just as hard to come by, if not harder, in the New World as in their native land. But still in numbers they came. The Great Famine pushed them out of their own country until the American Great Depression in the 1920s. Whenever they tried to get a job in places other than hard labor they were met with the “Irish Need Not Apply” sign at the door, in the ad or were flat out told no by the employer in person. It also would be historically accurate that they would constantly hear racial slurs directed towards them just for their nationality.

Which brings me to this question: How do you use something that’s historically accurate – like a certain word or words – without sacrificing the integrity of your own beliefs or story line? I have Irish blood in me and I have German blood. I’m a mutt; your typical European mix inheriting the identities of multiple nationalities. I think that’s why I wanted to write something from this time period – we all come from somewhere. We all should learn history. But how much history is to much history?

How do you use something that’s historically accurate – like a certain word or words – without sacrificing the integrity of your own beliefs or story line?

Do I conduct a poll? Do I try to figure out which name is “less bad” and only use that? Do I write several versions of the same scene to figure out the best route? Do I not use it at all? As someone who has experienced zero discrimination, all opportunities have been what I created for myself. I’ve never felt uncomfortable because of my gender, my religion or my nationality; I don’t know what the flip side feels like. And this is why I’m questioning rather than moving ahead with the word choice.

I’ve never felt uncomfortable because of my gender, my religion or my nationality; I don’t know what the flip side feels like. And this is why I’m questioning rather than moving ahead with the word choice.

The word is only one small part of the overall story but the themes are still there. The character grows immensely as an individual and that one incident is one of the catalysts for that change. They overcome it and eventually find love. Still, my nerves are coming into play with that one particular scene; while I do use light language throughout the stories I’m not as worried about that as I am with this. I would rather question it now than get my novel black listed before it gets any further and I have to scrap it.

So I’m open to suggestions. If you want to know the scenario a bit more to be able to further advise or give more input, message me. I’m an open book. I’m legitimately both curious and cautious…

The True Order of Things vs. the Fictional Order of Things

Stardate 95650.99

I am writing an historical adventure novel. At one point in time I dreamt of it being a fantastical one as well but when I realized I was biting off more than I could chew for a first novel I downgraded it to purely historical.

Another problem arose: should it be true to the historical timeline or is it okay to take the creative license and put things slightly out of order to work for the story line? Does one sacrifice actual history in order to move a story along or do they choose different events to spur the characters onward?

Last week I asked my uncle to look at my novel outline and get his opinion on it. He’s been publishing children’s books for over twenty years and many of the children in the family have books dedicated to them because of him. So I trust his eye and knowledge of the system. Of course he’s been in the system for years and things have changed a bit since he’s started but he did make a good point. He said;

Am I right in remembering that there was going to be some fantasy element in the story? Or is it now more of an adventure based on historical events? If that is the case, then you might find people raising questions if things are out of historical order. Readers can be very fussy. And social media hasn’t made that any better.

Read More

The Complex Nature of Working Titles and Accidental Fan Fictions

Stardate 95587.96

Working titles are just that: working titles. When I first started this journey into this novel (that’s going on two years now), I was convinced I wanted to name it Carrick. In Pittsburgh history, Carrick is a historic neighborhood founded in the 1700s and was not given the name Carrick until the 1853 when it officially became a borough at the request of Dr. John O’Brien. In the 1920s it officially became part of Pittsburgh suburbia and is the location of the historical Wigman house. The Wigman family may make a brief appearance in this novel, but who knows!

As I dove deeper into my research I came across mining terminology, and one such combustible item stuck in my mind. I don’t want to mention it here for fear that A: someone else would like the term or B: there’s already a book with the same title.

Not only did I end up with two working titles, I gained two separate story lines as well. Let me tell you – that confused me even more! It wasn’t until I was halfway through the first chapter of the second version that I realized I was fully basing it off one of my new favorite shows, When Calls the Heart, where the town begins life as, surprise surprise, a coal town. My mind’s eye was picturing their town houses, their families, and their geography. Several problems arose: Pennsylvania isn’t Canada. Pennsylvania didn’t have Mounties and Canada didn’t have canals. I was basically writing a glorified fan fiction.

That’s part of the danger right there: letting your mind become distracted from your original goal and allowing your fan fiction-writing past over influence your own novel. The first half of my writing “career” was mostly in the form of Star Trek and Supernatural fan fiction novellas – many of which I never finished – and I refuse to let myself get sucked back in. They were what helped shape my decision to actually write a full fledged novel. I’ll admit it right now: I’m scared. Scared of never actually writing it. Scared of the rejection letters. Scared of not having the funds to have a really good editor or someone having faith in the story to want to edit it in the first place. I’m not seasoned like many of my favorite authors who are able to crank out stories because it’s their second nature. They know their characters inside and out. I’m still just treading water, waiting to do that butterfly meter race and win with a published book.

Step one: Have confidence in myself.
Step two: Complete my outline.
Step three: Be brave enough to find someone to critique it.

When you write you pour a bit of yourself into each and every story. It’s like putting your heart on your sleeve and I haven’t had great results with that before. But this time. With this novel – regardless of if the name Carrick sticks or not – I will complete it.

Locations Locations Locations

Stardate 94488.22
#WQOTD: Writing Question of the Day

Question: How many locations do I really want to attempt to squeeze into my historical novel? There are so many in one State alone that it is difficult to narrow it down. All of them have potential and fit into my time frame.

Answer: Outline. Outline outline outline. I believe I have passed the point in my research where it is time to hash out the chain of events necessary to get me from Location A to B to C. Remember:

Exposition – Rising Action – Climax – Falling Action – Resolution