Catherine McGrew Jaime

Author, Historian, Lifelong Learner, Teacher, World Traveler

Celebrating “Retirement”

Changing Directions – Again

As happens so often, I have changed directions on this week’s blog post. Hopefully, my previously planned topic will appear in a future post, but not this week.  Almost exactly a year ago, I wrote a post, Celebrating 35 years of Homeschooling, 40 years of Parenting, 60 years of Life, on my other blog, at www.CreativeLearningConnection.com. I did not expect that I would be writing a follow up post here on my author’s blog, but that’s exactly what I’m now doing.

Last Year’s Surprise

Last year’s post came as a result of a video my children surprised me with for my 60th birthday.  The video was unexpected, to say the least, and was an amazing blessing as my children shared some of their favorite memories of growing up with me. (They were kind enough to leave out any unpleasant memories they may have.)

This Year’s Surprise

I would really have thought they couldn’t top that surprise/blessing. But they managed. This year, on the Saturday before Mother’s Day, when I thought a dozen of us were going out to an early Mother’s Day luncheon, I found myself at our church surrounded by a very large group (about 50, by my best count) of family, friends, students, and former students, to celebrate my “retirement.” The brainchild of one of my children, “Saying Thank You to Catherine Jaime” was like the previous year’s video on steroids.

My daughter had managed to interview dozens and dozens of people I had interacted with during the last three plus decades as  I homeschooled, taught class after class, and coached team after team of mock trial students. As I watched the audio/visual presentation she had so carefully put together, I was brought to (happy) tears yet again.

The Upcoming Reunion

And the timing could not have been better. In less than a month I will be attending my husband’s 40th reunion at MIT. (I attended MIT also, but my 40th isn’t until next year.) I have been to numerous reunions over the past 40 years and have always enjoyed getting together with our friends there. But, sometimes, I have to work hard to make sure I’m not falling prey to second thoughts on how I’ve spent the last (fill in the blank, depending on the reunion) years.

Following A Different Path

I didn’t follow the same career path as the vast majority of my college classmates, choosing instead to primarily stay home and raise/homeschool my children. Of course, as our little party on Saturday showed, my version of staying home and raising my children probably didn’t look like most other people’s version for several reasons:

  1. I did LOTS of writing during that time.
  2. I did LOTS of traveling (with and without my children).
  3. And I taught LOTS of other people’s kids while I was at it.

Traveling More and Writing More

In fact, last year when I was closing down my homeschool resource center, Creative Learning Connection, I often heard the “What will you do now?” question. I usually answered: “Travel more and write more.” People that knew me well often questioned how I could do more of either, but I have!

So, just like the last 40 years of my life didn’t fit most people’s expectations, it’s likely that my future years (how ever many God blesses me with) will not look much like that of most of my peers (but why should I start now!).

Retired Government Club Advisor

I have officially passed on the mantle of Government Club Advisor/Coach/Mentor to family members for next fall. (Scheduling two cruises for that time of year sort of forced the issue.) And I’m more or less retired from teaching classes now (though I’m not sure the students who will be at my house in a couple of days for Shakespeare will believe that).

Favorite Memories

But I’ll settle for the fact that I’m semi-retired for now. And as I move into this somewhat new phase, I will be looking back on Saturday’s event with great pleasure. In fact, the real fun of watching and listening to the presentation was seeing how many people gave similar answers on how I had impacted their lives – most had to do with travel, or Mock Trial, or both, with some general homeschool encouragement and Shakespeare thrown in there for good measure. And considering my favorite memories of the last 40 years revolve around pretty much those same things, it was cool to hear others sharing my sentiment.

I think the saying in the little plaque I received as a gift, says it well, “I’m not retired. I’m just getting started.”

Now, off to help at a homeschool graduation, and then back to trying to finish that Michelangelo book I’ve been trying to write since the beginning of March!

Happy traveling and learning.

Cathy

Making and Revising Goals

I’ve been a big goal setter for as long as I can remember.  In fact, “To Do Lists” are some of my favorite things. (Though sometimes they only seem like space holders for the ever-increasing number of tasks that seem to go onto those lists faster than they come off.)

I try to keep in mind that my goals are not written in stone – whatever I plan to do has to be tempered by what life throws at me.  One of my mantras from my days of homeschooling is “Plan, but be flexible.” That applies to almost everything I tackle, but in particular to my life as an independently published author.

But if I want to consider myself a full-time author, and I do, then I have to make sure my writing doesn’t get pushed aside by less important things. So, like so many others, I spend much time trying to find the balance. Another one of my mantras!

So, as the first four months of 2018 are coming to an end, I thought I should go back and look at the goals I made earlier this year and see if I am on track, or if I’ve been flexing a bit too much!

In early March, in the blog post, “Dealing with the Winter Blues,” I had given myself a few goals, including

  • Getting back into my swimming class and starting to swim laps again. I am happy to report that I have not only gone back to swimming four days a week, I’ve added Saturdays and Sundays to several weeks. Last Thursday I celebrated my 61st birthday by swimming a half mile again. (First time since last October.)
  • I wanted to get at least 31,000 words written on my Michelangelo novel. I did accomplish that goal – in fact I wrote at least 1,000 words per day for every day in March and the first several days of April.
  • I wanted to start using Scrivener. As I mentioned in the “Writing with Scrivener” post, that actually went better than I had expected. To say that I am now a HUGE fan of Scrivener would be an understatement.

Sadly, April’s goals were not met quite as well.  In my blog post, “My Nine Tips for Novice Novel Writers” I wrote that by the end of April (as in, today!) I hoped to be far enough along on my Michelangelo novel that it was ready to be sent out to Beta Readers for feedback. Alas, I have not quite met that goal. I’m close, but my best guess is that I’m at least two weeks from that spot. (Which shouldn’t sink my desire to get my next three Leonardo da Vinci novels written by this time next year, but I’m quickly using up the margin that I had built into that goal.)

But, that’s where the flexibility comes in. As we move into May, I cannot get angry with myself for missing that goal. I can only revise the goal and move forward. So, new goals: Hopefully, by the end of May, my sixth da Vinci novel will be published. It is so close! And Michelangelo will be in the hands of my initial readers.  If I haven’t started da Vinci #7 by the end of May, I hope to be lined up and ready to begin it no later than the beginning of June.

So that’s how I end this month. Old, unmet goals have been revised, and new ones are being made.

Happy reading and writing!

Cathy

Four More Travel Tips

As someone who travels often, I am always on the lookout for travel tips  that will make the travel portion of my life just a little bit easier.  In 2017, with the exception of October, I managed to go out of town at least once every month for the entire year.  (And that exception  was only because I gave up several travel opportunities that month in order to  intentionally spend a month at home.)

I said before I retired that I envisioned retirement to involve LOTS more travel and writing – and so far that’s exactly what “retirement” has been like for me. So it should come as no surprise that 2018 is shaping up to be another year with frequent trips. And since I spend a lot of time traveling, that means I also spend a lot of time preparing for those travels.

In a previous blog post, Tips for Packing Light and Traveling Smart, I shared some of my favorite travel tips (including using packing  cubes, packing light, and choosing a good carry on). Today I would like to share several other tips which you may find useful in your travels.

1. Trip Specific Items

With so much time spent traveling, I own a lot of things specifically for traveling – the packing cubes I mentioned in the last post, the travel  size extension cords, and a variety of European plug adapters, to name just a few. I certainly don’t want to have to go looking for those every time I need to pack. So, most of my travel specific items reside in specific drawers in my dresser. (I started with one drawer and have slowly made it up to  having three of my six dresser drawers now designated to those travel items.) It’s very easy to find those things every time I need them and I make a special point of returning them after every trip.

I need an extension cord so often that one of those actually resides in the case for my CPAP machine – always ready to go, without my even thinking about it. (It resides there permanently along with a travel sleep mask.)

2. Pre-Packing

The second thing that has meant alot in keeping my stress level down with all the packing I do is a systematic amount of pre-packing. I have a conveniently placed horizontal surface in my room that I actually manage to keep fairly cleared off between trips. That surface becomes my collecting place for items that are joining me on my next trip. Depending on the  length of the upcoming trip, at some point anywhere between two days and two weeks in advance (the longer the upcoming trip, the earlier I start), I make sure my horizontal surface is cleared of anything that has found it’s way there “temporarily.” And I start collecting items there that I know I’ll be packing, but don’t need between now and then. Maybe a book I’m taking to read, or my travel hat, or some other particular item.

Well in advance of a trip I try to pack the supplements and prescriptions I’ll be taking along (one of the most critical things to NOT forget on any trip). My first vacation out of the country, about ten years ago, resulted in a $100 mistake when I had to have a family member express mail my forgotten blood pressure medicine to Panama. I can easily replace almost anything else I might forget, but those  items are critical – so the sooner they have been prepacked the better.

I usually find myself doing laundry a few days before a trip and the clean clothes that I’m going to pack from those loads go straight onto my pre-packing surface. The more decisions I can make in advance, the happier I am.

3. Using Packing Lists

Speaking of decisions, I cannot even imagine preparing for my constant trips without my ever present packing lists. I have a generic list that I have been tweaking over the last many years. For most major trips, that generic list gets copied and then modified to fit that particular, upcoming trip. If I’m I’m traveling in January, I seldom need to include any capris. If June or July, I may only need a pair of jeans. For cruises, I generally pack my preferred “dressy skirt and blouse,” and for almost any other trip, it’s just some version of casual.  Because I always prefer to pack light, even the amounts don’t change much – maybe I’m only taking four tops on an upcoming four day trip instead of my usual five – but the basics are fairly standard from trip to trip.

By now I’ve packed and repacked my suitcase often enough that I can do most of it without the list, but I still find it’s a good idea to confirm that I’ve not forgotten something important. (Like the pair of pjs that were among the very last things to be packed on a recent trip to Texas!)

4. Dealing with Last Minute Stuff

In spite of my constant travels and my preference to do things in advance as much as possible, there are always things I have to do at the last minute. Things like packing the CPAP machine, and charging the electronics one last time, generally have to be done the day before or the day of departure. Because of that and my amazing ability to forget more things these days than I remember – I almost always have a list (often connected to an alarm) for the “last minute stuff” I have to pack and to do. As long as I can remember to check the list, things are generally in good shape!

I hope these suggestions are helpful. Feel free to share anything important I’ve left out of this post and the last one with travel tips.

Happy traveling!

Cathy

My Nine Tips for Novice Novel Writers

My Tips for Novel Writers Start With

  1. Write about something/someone you are interested in
  2. Set goals
  3. Write daily
  4. Plan to go back and revise often
  5. Repeat until you’re happy with the length and the story
  6. Have multiple people read and give you feed back
  7. Revise as necessary
  8. Get your book published
  9. Celebrate and plan to start the next novel soon.

And Here’s How That Looks For Me Right Now:

My Novels

I write short novels that are family friendly and tend to emphasis the historical part of historical fiction. They are based on the types of books I like to read and often have difficulty finding. As opposed to many authors of historical fiction, I work my stories around what really happened, not the other way around.

Typical Main Character – Leonardo da Vinci

I’ve been writing novels on Leonardo da Vinci for a number of years now, and hope to finish the series by the 500 year anniversary of his death (Spring 2019, so time is not on my side!) My sixth novel is currently in steps six (being read by several beta readers) and seven (being revised based on their feedback), and at the beginning of March I moved on to my next novel. I’m taking a quick break from Leonardo to write one novel on Michelangelo (at the request of a dear friend), and then I’m back to the da Vinci series. I’m currently in the midst of step 3 (writing daily), and will need to get on to step 4 (revising) fairly quickly.

New Character – Michelangelo

I shared last month that I was hoping to end March with at least 31,000 words written towards my new Michelangelo novel. I am happy to report that I made and exceeded that goal – ending the month with 36,000 words in my rough draft. And as of today, I have written at least 1,000 words per day for 33 days and counting, even while on vacation for almost a week of that time.

Writing Through Travels

I wasn’t sure if I would be able to keep it up while I was traveling and visiting with family, but I did. In fact, I found that my two travel days were two of my most productive days of the entire month.  Those two days made me very appreciative that I am happy to write both on and off the computer. (Something that many other authors have told me is often not the case.)

Writing With or Without My Laptop

I find that I enjoy writing on the laptop, since I can see my word count as I work, and I don’t have to “waste” time typing something I’ve already written. But I also find plenty of times when it just isn’t convenient to write on the laptop, and then I’m just as at ease with a good pen and a notebook (or a legal pad, or, when I’m desperate and unprepared, even scratch paper).

Flying Home

I flew to Texas on a Thursday and found myself in a small seat with even less elbow room. (Is it my imagination or do the seats and the spaces around them just keep getting smaller on these airplanes?) There was just no easy way to pull out the computer, even as small as my laptop is. So, instead, I brought out my handy notebook and spent most of the hour long flight to Charlotte working on Michelangelo. The gentleman next to me slept most of the flight and I’m fairly certain paid no attention to what I was doing.

When I got to my gate, I had plenty of time before the next flight, and the seating area was still fairly uncrowded. So I was able to spread out a little, and type up what I had written on my way to North Carolina. By the time we boarded my second flight, I had typed up over 1,300 words. Since I had written so much, I allowed myself the pleasure of reading a new book on my phone. (The newest book in one of my favorite series had been released that morning, and I had been holding off starting it until I had my own writing done for the day.)

My Goal – 1,000 Words/Day

Most days that I was with family I managed to get my 1,000 words knocked out fairly early in the morning, so that I didn’t have to worry about when I would fit it in. (In fact, during the entire month of March, I only remember one day that I was heading towards bed without having started that day’s writing –  I sat in my recliner that evening and knocked out my 1,000 words before I actually went to bed.)

My travel day to return home from Texas was supposed to be a shorter day of travel, since I was switching planes in Dallas this time, rather than in Charlotte, North Carolina. I had thought I would be boarding the first place at 9:00 am, be home by 3:00 pm, and in between there, surely find time to write at least 1,000 words.

Weather Delays

But, alas, the airlines and the weather had other ideas. I awoke to a text message saying my flight had been cancelled and they would contact me with details on a replacement itinerary sometime later that day. Eventually I got the email saying I was now booked on a 6:00 pm flight and scheduled to be home slightly before 11:00 pm.

So, with my plans for the day turned upside down, I decided to spend the extra hours of time in Texas to do some additional research. I had spent all of February doing research on Michelangelo, and that had brought me this far. But I was in need of more information on a variety of things, including how he actually went about sculpting his masterpieces. It was a good day of research and by the time I left for the airport at 4:00 that afternoon I felt like I had learned much more about my subject. But, as of yet, I had done no actually writing for the day.

One Delay After Another

The first flight from Austin was delayed, and then delayed again. When we finally took off, on the very short flight from Austin to Dallas I found myself next to a young woman who was very distraught at the fact that she had already missed one flight that day, and now was probably going to miss her flight out of Dallas. Needless to say, I didn’t get any writing done while I sat next to her.

Fortunately I had originally been scheduled to have almost a two hour layover in Dallas, so even with our tardy departure, I arrived at my gate 20 minutes before we were due to start loading. That wasn’t going to be enough time to write my entire 1,000 words, but I could at least get started. I began writing quickly, feeling the information I had gleaned from the earlier research bubbling up inside me, wanting to be added to my story.

The 20 minutes turned into 30 and then into 40. I think by time we finally boarded I had actually been sitting and writing for almost an hour. Because I had kept thinking I would be loading soon, I had once again written my words long hand instead of typing them out.

Finally Flying Home

This time our flight was over two hours. I found myself next to another young lady, this one was heading home, and was scared to death as we got tossed around by the bad weather we were flying through. I spent much of the first portion of the flight helping her keep calm. When she finally fell into a fitful sleep, I took out my notebook and continued my writing. We arrived home that evening after midnight, so I didn’t type of that travel day’s words until the following day, when I discovered that I had written 2,000 words between the airport and the airplane. A good day’s work indeed.

Revisions

In writing my past novels, I’ve usually done a lot of the revision as I’ve gone along, and I had certainly thought I would do that with this novel. But I’m enjoying using Scrivener for the first time, and so far have been focused almost exclusively on the writing portions. My current plan is to wrap up writing the rough draft of this novel sometime in the next couple of weeks. At that point I will print the entire thing and do some hardcore editing. (I prefer to do serious editing on paper, and my new laptop won’t talk to my old printer, so that is part of the motivation to just wait and do a lot of editing at once.

My Goal for the Next Twelve Months

I hope to have the story to step 5 (happy with the story and the length) and ready to get feedback on (step 6) at least by the end of April. At that point I will have approximately 12 months to write 3 more books on Leonardo, and will have to keep this pace going. It should prove to be a busy (and hopefully, productive) year!

Happy reading and writing!

Cathy

 

Writing with Scrivener

Being a new convert to writing with Scrivener, I thought I would share a little of my journey to getting here and my new excitement in using it.  I’ve been writing for a very long – more than twenty-five years in fact. Along the way I’ve gone through a couple of different desktops and a variety of laptops and netbooks. In fact I just bought my third laptop in three years (sad, I know) and can think of at least five I owned before this one (though I’m very likely forgetting at least one in there somewhere). Here’s hoping this one will last longer than the last several!

I bought this book before I got the program. It’s somewhat useful, but experimenting has served me well!

A History of Using Microsoft Word

But through all the different computers I’ve used there has been one constant – I wrote with a word processor. And for at least twenty years of the last twenty-five, that word processor has been Microsoft Word.  Every time I bought a new computer, getting Microsoft Office installed was one of the first things I had to accomplish. (I did try Open Office once, but I admit that was an epic fail for me. I think if I would have started with it, it might have been fine, but I had been using Word for so long I just couldn’t make the transition easily enough, and I quickly went back to what I knew.)

Transitioning to Scrivener

Now, at long last, I have branched out a little. It’s not that I’ve gotten rid of Word or have any plans to get rid of it. I’m writing this blog post on Word in fact. But I am now more than two weeks into writing my next novel – and it has almost all been done on Scrivener. I would have started it on Scrivener, but I started writing on March 1, and my new computer didn’t arrive until March 5, so I had to start on Word. (There was absolutely NO memory space on my old laptop, so downloading a new program there had been out of the question.)

I had been hearing about Scrivener for a while, mostly from other authors who were using it. When it first started coming up in such conversations, I kept wondering what the fuss was all about. I had written dozens (no, make that hundreds) of books in Word just fine. So why did I need to learn a new program? I just couldn’t see the advantage – and I’m stubborn that way!

The Word Count Tracker is a small but nice feature.

A Steep Learning Curve?

It sounded like it might be a useful tool, though it also sounded like it had a steep learning curve, and that was the part that particularly concerned me. It already feels like my head is spinning with the other things I’m trying to keep up with, could I really handle learning a complicated program? And did I really need to?

But, then a local writer friend of mine got Scrivener, and she was telling me more about it. At that time I was just a week or so away from starting my next novel, and I thought, okay, why not? Maybe I should just give it a try. I had nothing to lose – Scrivener has a thirty day free trial period. And, if I liked it, it only costs $45.

So, once the new computer arrived, Scrivener was probably the second program I installed. (I still had to start with Microsoft Office, since I use Excel for my budgeting AND I had started my novel in Word the previous week.)

To Tutorial or Not to Tutorial?

When I got the new program installed, I did make my way through part of the tutorial that came with it. But I think after 15 minutes or so, I was bored and I wanted to get started actually USING it.  So I set up my first project. (That was easy, I just had to find the pull down tab for “New Project.”)

In the past, I had always written my books in one long Word file, but knowing that I was going to transition to Scrivener, I had actually made five different files for my new book on Michelangelo, a new one for each “chapter” I was working on. The first thing I had to figure out was how to import those files into my project. That did take me a bit to get right, but I persevered, and within ten minutes or so, I was up and running.

My Various Files After 18 Days of Writing

Steep Learning Curve or Intuitive?

As I said before, I had heard A LOT about the steep learning curve for Scrivener. And I will be the first to admit that I am not using it to anywhere near its capacity. But as far as just getting started with it, I have to say that I found it very intuitive. In fact, I could not figure out why this had scared me so much.

So, now every day, I open up Scrivener and figure out where I want to start writing. I absolutely love the fact that I can work in these different small sections (more or less the equivalent of chapters, but I don’t have to make that decision yet).  I can reorder them so easily, I can see what I have going on, leave markers for sections I want to come back to, and on and on. Those options alone would make using Scrivener the right path for me!

This is one of the views of the “subdocuments” that is very useful from time to time.

Fun with Scrivener

I always start writing my stories more or less in a linear fashion, but it seems that more and more often I have to move things around (oh, that really happened before this, not after, that type of thing), or skip things (I know I want something here, but I have no idea what it will be), etc. I’ve done all of those when writing in Word, but never as easily as Scrivener makes it.

More Fun to Come

I’ve heard from others that assembling the final book (paperback or ebook) will be easier in Scrivener, too. I’m not even to the half-way point of writing the rough draft of this novel, so I won’t be experiencing that aspect until later this spring. But I’m looking forward to trying that too. In the meantime, I’m very excited to have jumped on the Scrivener bandwagon, and I can’t wait to see where we go from here.

Happy writing!

(And thanks, Jennifer, for giving me the final nudge towards this extremely useful program.)

Cathy

Dealing with the Winter Blues

Explanations or Excuses?

(And does it really matter?)

I hadn’t meant to go almost two months between blog posts. But much of the last two months have not gone the way I thought they would. (Testimony to the idea that we can make our plans, but ultimately God is in control.)  I started the year thinking I would be having knee surgery on the 8th of January. Instead, in having lab work done for the surgery, I discovered that I had Diabetes. The past two months have included seven doctors’ visits, three trips to labs for blood work, and a surgery for a brand new issue that crept up in the midst of all this. So the past two months have primarily been about making the adjustments needed as a Diabetic, and recovery from all the various-related health issues. Which, needless to say, hasn’t meant much writing or traveling.

Improvements – Finally!

By the end of February my blood sugars were more or less stabilized where they needed to be, and my energy was slowly returning. During the difficult winter months of health-focused days, I did manage to finish the rough draft for novel #6 in the da Vinci series (hopefully it will be available to readers later this spring) and I took one small trip – returning to Montgomery with students for my last official event as a Youth in Government adviser. (For more on that trip, see last week’s Creative Learning Connection post here.)

Moving Forward

I also spent as much of February as I could manage doing research for my next book. I really need to get started on book 7 in the da Vinci series, but I’m taking a slight detour first – and writing one on Michelangelo next. A dear friend of mine from church has been waiting for me to write this book for some time. So here I go, at last. It’s not a completely different direction from da Vinci – Michelangelo even had bit parts in my last several da Vinci novels. But I have had to learn quite a bit more to write an entire book from his perspective. I still can’t say that Michelangelo has surpassed Leonardo as my favorite artist, but I have certainly come to appreciate more of his work through all this research. I think writing this book should actually be fun. Starting March 1 my goal is to write at least 1,000 words/ day towards that book – as of day 5 I’ve written more than 5,000 words. I’m still working out what directions parts of the story are going, but it’s definitely moving along!

March Goals

If March goes more like I’ve planned than January and February did, I might accomplish the following goals:

*Get back into my swimming class and start swimming laps again (after a two month absence)

*Write at least 31,000 words on the Michelangelo book (about ¾ of the goal total – what can I say, I write short novels)

*Start using Scrivener and get past at least the first part of the learning curve for it. (The new laptop arrived today, and Scrivener was the second program I downloaded onto it. So far so good.)

*Make some plans for several of the trips I’ve got scheduled for later this year.

But whether those goals are met are not, I’m sure it will be an exciting month!

Keeping on!

Cathy

Do Books Ever Go Out of Style?

As an avid reader and writer of non-fiction and historical fiction I do LOTS of research. Of course, these days I do much of that research on the internet, but I have found again and again that books are still the best way to go so many times. While  I am a big fan of ebooks and audio books for their convenience and portability, I find them of only limited use for my research. (It’s not uncommon for me to listen to a book, decide it’s going to be useful to me, and then order a paperback copy of it, so that I can underline and highlight it.)

Trying to Shrink the Library

As a result, my personal library contains thousands of titles. Before I retired from homeschooling our family library actually contained as many as 7,000 books. As my homeschooling was coming to an end, I tried to reduce the collection to just the books that I wanted to have around for my own enjoyment and education. Consequently, I think I’ve reduced it to somewhere between 4,000 and 5,000 books.

A Monumental Task

Almost a month ago my oldest daughter, my youngest son, and I took on the project of changing out the shelves in the library from the built-in ones to matching bookcases. Today, after way too many hours of work, the final shelves went onto the new bookcases, and the process of re-shelving my book collection came closer to completion. (I would love to say that all of the 100+ boxes of books have been emptied, but we’re not quite that far along!)

Don’t worry – the empty spaces will be filled before we’re done!

How Would You Use Seven Bookcases?

As we were coming close to the end I had one of those “wow” moments. Early on in this process I had spent a couple of hours deciding the best way to utilize my seven new bookcases. I came up with the categories for each bookcase – Science/Bible, Government/Economics, Shakespeare/Writing/Education, Leonardo da Vinci/Art, World History, and last, but certainly not least, two bookcases for American History. (It’s not that American History is more important than World – I just happen to have more topics that I’ve studied within American History: the American Revolution, Presidents, Lewis and Clark, the Civil War, and Civil Rights, just to name some of them.)

My Favorite Topics – For Reading and Writing

Obviously, the fact that I could fill almost twenty linear feet with books on each of these main subjects gives an indication of where my interests lie. But it wasn’t until this weekend, when we were working on the American History shelves that it dawned on me – I have written one or more books on every one of those major subjects, as well as on the majority of the American History topics I’ve collected.

I guess that shouldn’t be a real surprise – I own books on these topics because they fascinate me. And that’s typically how I chose the topics for my writing projects. If I ever run out of book ideas on my “to do list” all I have to do is walk into my library and soak in some of the ideas that fill these shelves. It shouldn’t take long to find another interesting spark.

Happy reading, writing, and learning!

Cathy

A Christmas Carol: 19th Century Writing and Publishing

Enjoying “A Christmas Carol” with Family

Christmas at our house just isn’t complete without a fairly large dose of Scrooge, the Cratchits, and the various ghosts that accompany them. In fact, we consider it necessary to watch/listen to several versions of A Christmas Carol throughout the month of December. Some our favorites include: the version with George C. Scott, Patrick Stewart’s version, the Muppets Christmas Carol, Henry Winkler in An American Christmas Carol, and the Focus on the Family audio version.

“The Man Who Invented Christmas”

So, it should come as no surprise that I find the story behind Dickens writing his 28,000 word novella to be fascinating. For those of you who haven’t seen it (and you really should), The Man Who Invented Christmas depicts Charles Dickens as he struggles to write A Christmas Carol. (And while we really can’t credit Dickens with “inventing” Christmas, he was instrumental in solidifying many Christmas traditions.)

Dickens’ Process for Writing his Novella

The movie fascinated me from another perspective – watching the process (albeit a fictionalized version of it) of Dickens writing his famous story. Much of the movie involves him having conversations with his characters as he works through the story he is trying to write. I have only written historical fiction at this point, so I don’t have the same opportunity to make up an entire cast of fictional characters – but it was fun to watch the process he was going through, deciding who would be in his story, what their character traits would be, and even what he would call them.

And in other scenes he sits at his desk with multiple pages of his handwritten story laid out in front of him, scratching things out, adding things in. Even though much of my writing is done on a laptop these days, I do follow some of Dickens’ process. I often use a notebook or a legal pad to sketch out ideas when I’m away from my computer. And I often have pages spread out in front of me as I try to figure out where I’m going with certain aspects of my story. And while my pages are usually printed on a laser printer before I get to the editing stage we saw Charles performing, I make the same kind of additions and deletions that he was doing.

Dickens and Self-Publishing

One of my favorite aspects of the movie is that Charles Dickens, a well-known popular author of his day on both sides of the Atlantic – basically had to self-publish this Christmas story when he first wrote it. And not the inexpensive, print on demand self-publishing that I’ve been doing for the last seven years, but a much more expensive, almost “vanity-style” publishing that predated print on demand, where the author picks up the tab for getting his story in print.

Now Dickens did have an advantage over most of us, with one or more bookstores that were willing to take pre-orders on his new book, and to sell it in the store once it was printed. So, he wasn’t spending all that out of pocket money so that he could have a garage full of books that he was then trying to sell, a book or two at a time, as he found the buyers.

Our Process versus His Process

Sadly, that’s not quite the situation most self-published authors find themselves in today. I just finished the rough draft of my most recent novel (#6 in the da Vinci series). Now I send it off to beta readers who will give me feedback on everything from what doesn’t work in the story, to typos or grammatical mistakes.

In a few weeks, maybe I’ll have received all that feedback and have made the changes and corrections that need to be made. Meanwhile I’ll hire someone to design the cover. Dickens hired an illustrator who took care of the inside pictures, but at least from the movie, it looks like Dickens himself planned out his cover – much simpler than covers of today – but he wasn’t in need of the same type of “grab the readers” type of cover that authors generally need today to be noticed by potential readers in an increasingly crowded market.

The Dickens’ Masterpiece

But, regardless, Charles Dickens went from story idea to printed book in six weeks, spent the money along the way to hire an illustrator and the first printing of his book – which proceeded to sell out in the first five days. The book would continue through countless printings, later be translated into numerous languages, and has not been out of print since its original 1843 printing. And more than 150 years later, we are still watching, reading, or listening to Dicken’s little Christmas tale.

“God bless us everyone.”

Cathy

My Da Vinci Deadline Looms

The writing continues as I press ahead to finish the rough draft of my next da Vinci novel. As I mentioned in a post in mid-October,  my new goal for finishing this rough draft is the end of November. I’m not quite at the end of the story, or at the end of the month, so the race is on.

Enjoying the Research

As always, it is easy to get caught up in the research. Learning new things about Leonardo and the era and areas in which he lived is always fascinating to me.

This particular novel covers the period in time when he is back and forth between Florence and Milan several times. Those are both cities that I have entire books set in, since in earlier periods of his life, he spent many years at a time in each of them.

Needless to say, I’ve already studied Renaissance Florence and Renaissance Milan quite a bit.  But that never stops me from further studying.

Renaissance Milan

Map of 16th Century Milan

Some of the things I learned recently about Milan:

  • It was larger and richer than Florence during the Reniassance.
  • It was the gateway between the Italian peninsula and Northern Europe, particularly France and Germany.
  • Milanese armorers were so important to Milan that they had special privileges, much like the glassmakers of Venice.
  • It was the first region in western Europe to build navigable canals

Renaissance Florence

Map of 15th Century Florence

Florence on the other hand had these qualities at that time:

  • A large industrial city with much trade and manufacturing
  • The guilds there were particularly important, and each had their own officers and their own churches.
  • The top 7 guilds there were: bankers, druggists, furriers, notaries, silk weavers, and wool merchants.
  • In fact, the quality of wool in Florence was the highest in Europe.
  • Other important guilds in Florence included: bakers, blacksmiths, carpenters, innkeepers, grocers, and shoemakers (and 8 others).
  • Florence spent much of this time period (actually from 1498 – 1509) fighting their neighbors, the Pisans.
  • The oldest bridge across the Arno River, the Ponte Vecchio, was crowded with shops, including butchers and tanners.

Leonardo, our Renaissance Man

And, of course, I’ve continued learning about Leonardo’s life during this time period. Some of the following may or may not make it into this novel, but they were interesting tidbits, nonetheless.

  • When Leonardo left Florence in the summer of 1506 with his battle painting incomplete, the Signoria (City Fathers) required him to leave 150 florins – money he would lose if he didn’t return from Milan by the end of the three months they were giving him.
  • In July 1507 King Louis referred to Leonardo as “our dear and good friend, our painter and engineer.”
  • Sometime in 1507 Leonardo started his painting, the St. Anne Madonna, and he completed it sometime in 1508.

Preview from the Draft Below

For any who are interested, I’ve included a preview from the current version of my story, where Leonardo gets the message that he needs to leave Florence and head to Milan.

Happy writing and reading!

Cathy

As Leonardo took the message the servant stood straight again. “I have been instructed to wait for a response. I actually bring you two messages that are somewhat connected to each other. The first is that the friars at the Chapel of the Franciscan Brotherhood are unhappy about an altarpiece that you did for them with the de Predis brothers. They are requesting that Governor d’Amboise require you to come back to Milan and complete the altarpiece to their satisfaction.”

The servant stopped, looking for a response from Leonardo. But Leonardo merely stood there, considering the implications of this message. The altarpiece in question had been his first commission in Milan. A commission that went back more than twenty years. He had not thought about the Madonna of the Rocks in years. But he had completed that painting. Why were the friars bringing up it after so long?

Leonardo thought about the money the three artists had been promised for completing the altarpiece. Now that he stopped to think about it, he wasn’t sure whether they had ever been paid in full. He had started working for the Duke of Milan soon after they had completed the altarpiece and he had left the final financial details with the brothers. Suddenly Leonardo realized that the French servant was standing silently in front of him, as if waiting for Leonardo’s full attention to deliver the rest of his message.

“I’m sorry,” Leonardo mumbled. “I was thinking about the altarpiece. Did you say there was a second part to your message?”

The servant smiled and continued, “Governor d’Amboise requests your presence at his Milanese court.”

35 Great Writing Quotes

Two weeks ago, I wrote a blog post with quotes about traveling and warned that more  might follow. And sure enough, here I am today with more quotes. This week they are all about writing. And you may notice that almost every one of these is from authors. I think you will admit that there are some great writing quotes here, for both writers and readers. I hope you enjoy them as much as I did:

  • “If you want to change the world, pick up your pen and write.”   Martin Luther (1483 – 1546)
  • “The most valuable of all talents is that of never using two words when one will do.”  Thomas Jefferson (1743 – 1826)
  • “There are books of which the backs and covers are by far the best parts.”  Charles Dickens (1812 – 1870)
  • “How vain it is to sit down to write when you have not stood up to live.”  Henry David Thoreau (1817 – 1862)
  • “The difference between the almost right word and the right word is really a large matter. ’Tis the difference between the lightning bug and the lightning.”  Mark Twain (1835 – 1910)
  • “My task, which I am trying to achieve is, by the power of the written word, to make you hear, to make you feel–it is, before all, to make you see.”  Joseph Conrad (1857 – 1924)
  • “Don’t tell me the moon is shining; show me the glint of light on broken glass.”  Anton Chekhov (1860 – 1904)
  •  “There is something delicious about writing the first words of a story. You never quite know where they’ll take you.”  Beatrix Potter (1866 – 1943)
  •  “A good novel tells us the truth about its hero; but a bad novel tells us the truth about its author.  G. K. Chesterton (1874 – 1936)
  • “Learn the rules like a pro, so you can break them like an artist.”  Pablo Picasso (1881 – 1973)
  • “Don’t bend; don’t water it down; don’t try to make it logical; don’t edit your own soul according to the fashion. Rather, follow your most intense obsessions mercilessly.”  Frank Kafka (1883 – 1924)
  • “The best time for planning a book is while you’re doing the dishes.”  Agatha Christie (1890 – 1976)
  •  “Cut out all these exclamation points. An exclamation point is like laughing at your own joke.”  F. Scott Fitzgerald (1896 – 1940)
  • “Read, read, read. Read everything — trash, classics, good and bad, and see how they do it. Just like a carpenter who works as an apprentice and studies the master. Read! You’ll absorb it. Then write. If it’s good, you’ll find out. If it’s not, throw it out of the window.”  William Faulkner (1897 – 1962)
  •  “There is nothing to writing. All you do is sit down at a typewriter and bleed.”  Ernest Hemingway (1899 – 1961)
  • “My aim is to put down on paper what I see and what I feel in the best and simplest way.”  Ernest Hemingway (1899 – 1961)
  • “The hard part about writing a novel is finishing it.”  Ernest Hemingway (1899 – 1961)
  • “All that I hope to say in books, all that I ever hope to say, is that I love the world.”  E. B. White (1899 – 1985)
  • “Ideas are like rabbits. You get a couple and learn how to handle them, and pretty soon you have a dozen.”  John Steinbeck (1902 – 1968)
  • “A story has no beginning or end: arbitrarily one chooses that moment of experience from which to look back or from which to look ahead.”  Graham Greene (1904 – 1991)
  • “A person is a fool to become a writer. His only compensation is absolute freedom. He has no master except his own soul, and that, I am sure, is why he does it.”  Roald Dahl (1916 – 1990)
  • “You have to write the book that wants to be written. And if the book will be too difficult for grown-ups, then you write it for children.”  Madeleine L’Engle (1918 – 2007)
  •  “There is no real ending. It’s just the place where you stop the story.”  Frank Herbert (1920 – 1986)
  •  “Your intuition knows what to write, so get out of the way.”  Ray Bradbury (1920 – 2012)
  •  “You must write every single day of your life… You must lurk in libraries and climb the stacks like ladders to sniff books like perfumes and wear books like hats upon your crazy heads… may you be in love every day for the next 20,000 days. And out of that love, remake a world.”  Ray Bradbury (1920 – 2012)
  • “The true alchemists do not change lead into gold; they change the world into words.” William H. Gass (1924 – )
  •  “There is no greater agony than bearing an untold story inside you.”  Maya Angelou (1928 – 2014)
  • “If there’s a book that you want to read, but it hasn’t been written yet, then you must write it.”  Toni Morrison (1931 – )
  • “Perhaps I write for no one. Perhaps for the same person children are writing for when they scrawl their names in the snow.”  Margaret Atwood (1939 – )
  • “Start writing, no matter what. The water does not flow until the faucet is turned on.” Louis L’Amour (1942 – )
  • “If you don’t have time to read, you don’t have the time (or the tools) to write. Simple as that.” Stephen King (1947 – )
  •  “The scariest moment is always just before you start.” Stephen King (1947 – )
  •  “If you want to be a writer, you must do two things above all others: read a lot and write a lot.” Stephen King (1947 – )
  •  “Description begins in the writer’s imagination, but should finish in the reader’s.” Stephen King (1947 – )
  •  “I love deadlines. I love the whooshing noise they make as they go by.” Douglas Adams (1952 – 2001)

Again, I hope some of these quotes got you thinking!

Happy writing and reading!

Cathy

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