Confessions of a Chronic Underwriter

Be honest with me: How many of you thought I put the word “underwear” instead of “underwriter” in the title? I won’t blame you one bit! But the title is completely, utterly, unequivocally true. About two years ago my uncle, who’s a published children’s author, picked up on it when he read through one of my very early drafts for a shelved projected titled For One Night at the Winter Garden. “Your sentences are too long,” he said. “Does that detail really need to be in there?”

He didn’t use the words “you’re an underwriter,” but he recognized the signs that I was trying too hard.

When you try too hard, you put more detail (whether by choice or subconsciously) into a scene where it’s not needed. It often shows up in the form of sharing too much backstory or sharing, say, historical details out of context (if you’re writing historical fiction, that is!). Personally, it was overcompensation because I hadn’t fully developed any of my characters. For One Night was all scene and setting driven rather than main character centered.

I’m grateful for For One Night. Not only did it teach me when and where to include details, the project also showed me two years ago that I wasn’t ready to take on Project Firedamp. I needed to be patient with myself. So I blogged, researched my novel’s era and read UP on craft. My chronic underwriting is still there, but I’m more aware of the choices a writer’s mind needs to make because I focused on what needed to be fixed within myself.

WRITE TIP: Is there something keeping you from being the best writer you can be? What is it? Is it something your beta readers have pointed out in their notes for you? Don’t be afraid to take a hard look inside and the TIME to fix it. Life is a never ending learning journey. Be patient with yourself and don’t be tempted by shortcuts.

Patience and perseverance have a magical effect before which difficulties disappear and obstacles vanish.

John Quincy Adams

Eight Things I’ve Already Researched by Jan 8th

The new year’s just begun but I didn’t take a break from researching at all. In fact, since removing one of my villains late last year, my work level increased ten fold as other characters rose to the challenge. With this change came the need for deeper character development, and the need for more research. No “histfic” writer would be worth their salt if they didn’t dive deep into their chosen time period. As such, I’ve already researched at eight new things that may (or may not) affect the story or my characters in some fashion.

  1. German confections
  2. Secret orders that really existed (or did they?)
  3. Small town populations of Southwestern Pennsylvania in the 1890s
  4. How to candy almonds
  5. Merchant supply lines
  6. A history of American currency
  7. Known allergens in the 1890s
  8. How to create character arcs

With historical fiction, one always seems to take two steps forward and three steps back. And even though my genre is historical fiction, I’d still like things to have accuracy. This way, I’ll know the kind of world my MCs could’ve come from, and the world the’ll end up in at journey’s end. Whether you write historical fiction or another genre, what have you learned so far in 2020?


My Seven Writing Goals for 2020

2019, for me anyway, was a rather directionless year. Every time I tried to set a schedule, or curb my procrastinator nature, my laziness grew by leaps and bounds. Yes, you read that right. I am a lazy writer. And I don’t want to be.

2020. Not only do those numbers roll right off the tongue, they begin a new decade. My overall goal for the decade is to become a published author (dear God…if I do it within the next ten years I’ll be 44. Excuse me as I have a pre-mid life crisis). I digress.

They say that having seven items on a to do list is a magic, accomplish-able number. I kept trying to think of an eighth, but I decided to stick with seven. Do any of them look similar to your own goals? We shall see! Let’s start with finishing Project Firedamp:

1. Finish Project Firedamp
I recently read somewhere that it can take ten years (or MORE) to finish a writing project. Oh my! I officially began my journey in 2016. So, going into 2020, this will be my fourth year of dramatizing, character building (and killing, ha), outlining and researching. I think that world building for fantasy, sci fi and historical stories are the hardest of all the genres.

It took J.R.R. Tolkein twelve years to complete The Lord of the Rings. Whether you prefer the book over the films and vise versa, you can still see why his story resonates with so many people. I think that every writer strives to create worlds as realistic as Middle Earth.

My story isn’t as fantastical as Aragorn fighting with a horde of cursed, dead soldiers, but one of my other goals within the “Finish Project Firedamp” umbrella is to increase my skill in that department.

2. Tour more historical sites
As my story takes place in the 1890s, I’ve got some fantastic, real locations around my own hometown to explore. The problem is, I haven’t properly explored them as an adult.

When my sister and I were kids, our parents would take us on “Destination Unknowns.” Sometimes they were to historical places around the city of Pittsburgh, sometimes to a Pirates baseball game at Three Rivers Stadium (now demolished and replaced with Heinz Field and PNC Park. See? I can’t help but offer information like that!) At the time we’d get annoyed because we weren’t told where we were going.

If we were told, it’d defeat the “unknown” part, right?

Eventually, Dad stopped taking us on those ventures, but we’d still tour museums, Mt. Washington in South Dakota, etc. when we went on vacation. Here’s something I never told my dad – I think all those “Destination Unknowns” planted this historical adventure seed inside me as a child. It’s waited years to sprout. Now’s the time.

Now Dad’s retired, and my sister’s kids are a bit older. I think it’s time for Destination Unknowns to return!

3. Bring more story themed decor into my home
Although Project Firedamp is set during the Victorian Era, I can’t seem to bring myself to go all ham on decorating my home with the Victorians’ style. Throughout my research journey, it seems like they appreciated clutter, deep jeweled colors with gilded elements, dark polished wood and floral patters enhanced with lace.

As much as I want my writing environment to reflect that setup, my minimalist-centered brain won’t allow it. So I’ve settled on shabby chic; the cheaper(?) cousin to true Victorian style. I can live vicariously through the upper class Victorian ladies in Project Firedamp, and incorporate Victorian-on-a-budget in real life.

4. Visit the Library of Congress for a day
I have family down in Maryland, so it’s entirely plausible that I can spend a weekend exploring the famed, marbled grandeur that is the Library of Congress. During the initial stages of Project Firedamp research, I ran into several road blocks when it came to certain places. When my local libraries had very little on a subject, I discovered the Ask a Librarian link on the website for the LoC.

Let me tell you – they’ve got some fantastic researchers working there! Depending on the demand, and if there isn’t a government shut down happening, they’ll send you multiple links, documents, and titles of books they think will be helpful for your project. Sometimes it ends up going nowhere, but there’ve been times when I’ll open a link and it’s information solves EVERYthing.

So not only do I want to spend a day in those same stacks, I want to see if there’s some crazy book on the upper levels that will point me towards a national treasure.

5. Build a paper organizer
This may seem like a silly goal, but I really want to custom build a paper organizer for my office. Between crafting and writing, I’ve got a LOT of paper. The problem with pre-built ones is, not only are they super expensive, but they come in standard sizes that won’t work in the space I have.

Enter in my job at a home improvement store!

Granted, I don’t get a discount, but I also don’t need super expensive materials to complete the project. Earlier this year I built the table I’m typing on, and put together nearly every piece of IKEA furniture I own (not without at least a LITTLE bit of help along the way). At least, with my organizer, I can specify measurements and cater it to my needs as a creator.

Or it could just, you know, downgrade into this:

6. Write in Tennessee (aka go on vacation)
This one’s pretty self explanatory, albeit a pretty important hope of mine for 2020. I don’t go on vacation as often as I’d like (because priorities), but every few years my family and I trek down to Tennessee and spend a week tucked away in a cozy cabin surrounded by the Great Smoky Mountains.

If you’re a forest person like I am, and that sounds AMAZING, because it is.

Picture writing in a screen-enclosed porch (to keep out the mosquitoes of course, a couple snacks, and the Tennessee summer. If I ever won the lottery (that I never play), I’d buy a cabin in Tennessee and summer there just to write every year.

A girl can dream, right?

7. Hand copy a novel
This may seem like an odd goal; hear me out. If you’ve spent any time online, deep in the trenches of the #writingcommunity tag, I’m sure you’ve seen tweets from folks who do this type of thing. I always thought it odd as well, until I thought more on it.

As someone who knows she has trouble with grammar, hand copying a novel, or even just a few chapters, can help. One of my biggest problems is I’m personally drawn to longer sentences and words used in the Victorian style. However, that form of writing just isn’t widely accepted in the modern age and I’d greatly limit my audience if I went that route.

The challenge with this goal: choosing WHICH novel to work from. I have a couple in mind (none of them are The Lord of the Rings), from a few favorite authors. Maybe I’ll finally figure out why I love them so much!


Do any of my writer goals for 2020 reflect your own? What are your goals? Are you further along in the journey than I? Share some of your thoughts in the comments below and let’s complete some writing goals by this time next year, or even sooner!

Good luck!


How Removing One Villain Solved Everything

I’m one of those people who learn lessons the hard way. It’s a stubborn streak I inherited from three of my grandparents. As much as I love them – thanks guys. Some cycles are harder to break than others. This can be applied to characters you create for stories as well. You fall in love with them, paint them in your mind, and think about them as you work your 9 to 5 job or cook dinner for the kids. But what happens when a character says goodbye? Not you. The character.

Work on THE FIREDAMP CHRONICLES began nearly four years ago. I thought this particular character was, well, brilliant. His storied, embattled past, who his ancestors were and mannerisms. Little did I know my most thought-about character held back the entire story. My own personal villain.

I cried. Literally, not figuratively. I’ve got the “receipts” to prove it. Please excuse the typos – I’m only human!

Emotion is something I don’t oft post online in any manner. However, November 19th, 2019 called for it. I didn’t realize, until today, just how much he was holding everything back. I suppose that’s the very definition of a villain, isn’t it? They’re nefarious, whisper self doubt in your ear, and can be quite ridiculous in the things they choose to latch on to. For years he had me wound so tightly ‘round his finger I couldn’t see potential in other’s stories. So I’ll end this post on a high note. Here’s an embed of the pros of leaving my original villain behind. And maybe, just maybe, he’ll make an appearance in future stories!


My Top Ten Victorian Slang Words

Writing historical fiction isn’t easy. There are so many decisions I have to make to prevent myself from overdoing it with language and writing style. Do I try to match it with the time period? Do I use modern slang? How far into 1800s etymology do I really want to go? Research has been key in helping me make these choices and every once in a while I stumble across a gem of an article I couldn’t pass up blogging about. Today I came across a list of 56 Delightful Victorian Slang Terms – some crazier than others – and I’d like to share just ten of my favorites.

Side note: This blog post wasn’t easy to write as there are so many amazing choices!

ARFARFAN’ARF

It took everything in me to not bust out laughing in the middle of Panera reading this one and it’s following definition (according to the article above, “A figure of speech used to describe drunken men. “He’s very arf’arf’an’arf,” Forrester writes, “meaning he has had many ‘arfs,’” or half-pints of booze.”

BATTY-FANG

Sooo many thoughts came to my mind at the description for this phrase, but I’ll refrain from adding in that commentary! This will be enough: “Low London phrase meaning “to thrash thoroughly,” possibly from the French battre a fin.”

BRICKY

I’m honestly not sure if this term is meant as a compliment or an insult. I can tell you that I am not bricky at all. “Brave or fearless. “Adroit after the manner of a brick,” Forrester writes, “said even of the other sex, ‘What a bricky girl she is.'”

BUTTER UPON BACON

I think I definitely need to start using this more often. “Extravagance. Too much extravagance. “Are you going to put lace over the feather, isn’t that rather butter upon bacon?”

DOING THE BEAR

This phrase would not go over well in the twenty-first century (ie too many innuendos which is why I found it so funny). It simply means, “courting that involves hugging.”

GAS-PIPES

While gas lighting and systems were invented in the Victorian era, that’s not what this is referring to. And it’s yet another term I snorted at in a public place, “A term for especially tight pants.”

MAD AS HOPS

Also known as “excitable.” I’m definitely going to start saying this at work!

PARISH PICK-AXE

I certainly have a parish pick-axe. Also known as a “prominent nose.” Though why they use the term “parish” I don’t think I’ll ever know.

SHAKE A FLANNIN

“Why say you’re going to fight when you could say you’re going to shake a flannin instead?” And I wholeheartedly agree with this statement and explanation!

SKILAMALINK

I’m not sure I even know how to say this word, but I wonder if this is where the writers for the Muppet Treasure Island film got the idea for “boomshakalaka.” Eh, probably not. But it’s a fun thought! It means, “Secret, shady, doubtful.”


And there you have it! My top ten favorite Victorian slang terms. A few of them make sense for use in modern times but many of them are a bit out there. Of course this is all in good fun in 2019! Stop on by the main list on Mental Floss’ article to learn more fun terms! Happy writing!


Why Historical Fiction Matters (to me)

Cliches. There are so many cliches that come to mind when you’re trying to figure out how to start a blog post about writing (in general). It falls under that “nothing new under the sun” mantra.

It’s like comparing every scifi show or book you read to the “Big Three” of the genre – Star Trek, Star Wars and Dr. Who. If you’re a long time reader of this blog or my Twitter, you already know that I’m more than a bit dorky.

My dork levels in science fiction aside, I’ve come to realize a new passion in my own writing journey – researching Pennsylvania history. Have you ever watched those shows on the Discovery or History Channels and wonder why they interview experts on seemingly crazy topics?

It’s because this world is HUGE. That might be a common sensical statement, but how can a historian possibly know EVERYTHING, unless they’ve got an incredibly high IQ? That’s definitely not me. And I know “sensical” isn’t even a word.

So when I got the idea for The Firedamp Chronicle series I knew right away that research would be involved. Intense research. To run the risk of including a cliche here, “In order to write history, you need to know history.” I’m paraphrasing that, of course, but I didn’t even feel qualified to write any of it until I knew about it. So here are three reasons why writing historical fiction matters to me personally.

To Not Forget

On September 11, 2001, the world witness horrific loss of life during the attacks on the World Trade Towers, the United States Pentagon, those on Ground Zero and those on the affected flights. I was in my 9th Grade Physical Science class when it happened. In high school. My dad can count with his fingers how many events in history he remembers. Things like the assassination of JFK, when the Berlin Wall Fell and when the Challenger Explosion happened.

There are many who will never know them like those who saw them unfold their eyes. That’s why I choose to learn more about my own State’s history (ahem…Commonwealth…but that’s just a Pennsylvanian technicality). Which leads to the next point:

To Learn Something New

There is nothing new in the world except the history you do not know.

Harry S. Truman

Libraries. They’re fantastic places, right? You can check out anything you want and no one will judge. And, depending on the size of your library, they usually have a rather sizable non-fiction department. Section 975. That’s where I found myself for three years in Pennsylvanian history. I emailed the research team at the Library of Congress for tiny details and I borrowed books from institutions outside the Allegheny County system.

Because I was learning things about my own city, county and state I never knew existed.

The more I learned the more I realized how watered down the courses I took in grade school and college really were. Sure, I learned new things there, but you can easily spend a whole semester on a topic like “Christmas Traditions from Around the World” and still just graze the surface.

If you’re going to write about history, KNOW that history. Know it inside and out. Backwards and forwards. All the way through. That way, when you’re asked about why you chose specific events or a specific time period, you’ll be able to satisfy their curiosity.

To Hone Research Skills

Call me OCD if you like, but I love going down the rabbit hole of research. As I mentioned earlier, I learned to utilizes resources I never even knew existed before beginning this journey.

In high school I was never a concise writer. To this day I have to work long and hard to get a sentence write. (I’m going to leave that because that’s such a Freudian Slip! I totally meant to use the word “right”).

Not only have I been researching countless people, events, the origins of objects and the like, I’ve also been *attempting* to reteach myself the English language. I’m sure my fallacies are evident in this blog post but I’m working on them. Just like I’m learning to hone my research skills to keep myself focused on the subject and not irrelevant things.

So there you have it. Three reasons why I write historical fiction. There are more but that would make this post far too long and you may/may not lose interest!

Do you write? What genre? Why did you choose it? Knowing the answers to these questions will guide you through your own writing journey. I wish you luck as you find your niche, your drive and success!


3 Pros for Outlining

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!


The Order of Things

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


some Thoughts on Working Titles

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.