Some of you know that I am big into manifestation – the idea that you can change things or create the life of your dreams by acting and thinking as though what you want has already happened. You have to work for it, of course–nothing is going to come to you if you just sit around and wait. This is the idea behind The Secret, the writings of Wayne Dyer and countless other life coaches and self help gurus. Your opinion may vary, but I really think there is something to it.
I’ve been practicing manifestation techniques for years–probably over a decade, I’m not sure. It started with a vision board, which I wasn’t too sure would work, but slowly, it did. One example: I had dreamed about Ireland one night (and drinking beer at a pub through chocolate straws with Jon Bon Jovi–don’t ask, I don’t know either) so I put photos of Dublin on my vision board; several months later I was invited to a spend a week there for my job (which is not international, so it was quite a shock). Then I started reading more and became more intentional in my thoughts. The first thing I was ever conscious of manifesting was my first Book of the Year award in early 2016. I visualized it until the cows came home and I was still shocked when I won.
All of this to give you background for my newest project. I’ve been listening to podcasts by life coach Tonya Leigh for about a year or so now. She’s all about changing your life (elevating it) by changing your mindset–in essence, manifestation. A few weeks ago I got the chance to do a week-long online workshop with her called Think Like an Editor. The whole week was geared around pretending you are the editor of the magazine of your life. Without giving away her secrets (take the workshop if she ever offers it again; it is SO worth it), she guides you through coming up with a title, cover photo and headlines for your magazine that are based on your dreams.
I liked what we did so much that I mocked up my cover on Canva. We had such a wonderfully strong female community for the week on Facebook that I decided to try Tonya’s School of Self-Image for a month (I’m waiting for money to come in that will allow me to sign up for a year). While I was working on some other things last night, I got the idea to actually make the magazine. (Could also have been influenced by recently watching the Vogue documentary, The September Issue) By this I mean write the articles as though they’ve already happened, use stock photos, even put in ads for things I intend to buy someday. I may even break it into sections. Who knows. And it will grow as I do.
I’ll post the whole thing online somewhere when I’m done with it and tell you a little about what each thing means, etc. Right now it is a fun side project for when my job and two end-of-year book deadlines get to be too much. Plus it keeps me focused on my dreams, rather than my stress.
Here’s the story behind the cover: My headline was actually supposed to be “sexy confidence” based on the directions of the workshop, but I changed it. The reason That Girl is the headline is its the title of a song by a band I LOVED in my early 20s that encapsulates how I want to feel. And the image shows the wealth, success and elegance that goes with it. (That image is also on my current vision board. I’m pretending it is downtown Chicago, even though it is clearly NYC.)
Several years ago I came across the name Virginia Minor when researching my historical novel, Madame Presidentess, which is about Victoria Woodhull, the first woman to run for President in the U.S. in 1872. Because Virginia wasn’t who I was writing about at the time, I noted her as an interesting figure (she is the one from whom Victoria got the idea that the 14th amendment already gave women the right to vote) and moved on.
But Virginia wouldn’t let me go. I kept thinking about her and wondering how a woman could come up with such an intelligent and unorthodox theory during a time when college-level education was reserved for men (and a few rich women.) I started researching her and found a few profiles and the more I learned the more I wanted to know. But there was no biography for her.
Well, in 2023 there will be!
I am so thrilled to be sharing her “forgotten” story with the world. The biography is really a dual biography of her and her husband, Francis, because they were “partners in crime” on the subject of suffrage–and equal in all things (which was unusual for their time). However, there is far more information available on Virginia, but I was able to reconstruct a good portion of Francis’ career as a lawyer, as well as his suffrage work.
One of the reasons this book is so important to me is that the way we’re taught about the Suffrage Movement in school is that is was pretty much taken care of by Susan B. Anthony, Elizabeth Cady Stanton and a handful of other women. But that is far from the truth. The movement was actually progressed by thousands of women of all races and class levels. Writing them back into history is so important to a fuller understanding of the movement and its repercussions to us today.
America’s Forgotten Suffragists is a cradle to grave biography because it is the first one ever written about Virginia and Francis. Among the things you’ll learn about them:
Their early lives, education, courtship and wedding.
Virginia’s work during the Civil War in the health department and Francis’ work as a war claims agent.
Virginia’s founding of the Woman’s Suffrage Association of Missouri two years before Susan B. Anthony and Lucy Stone formed their national organizations.
How Virginia and Francis came up with the New Departure (the 14th amendment theory) and argued it through the court system all the way to the Supreme Court.
Virginia’s tax revolts (refusing to pay her taxes until women get the vote)
Her work with Susan B. Anthony to campaign for women’s suffrage in Nebraska
Virgina’s unorthodox funeral and will.
Posthumous honors for both
And if you want a little preview, you can visit virgniaminor.com, which is the companion website to the book.
If you had told me four years ago that I would write and publish a biography, I would have told you you were crazy. I didn’t think I was a good enough writer for non-fiction much less that I had research skills to write a biography from scratch. But when an idea seizes you and doesn’t let go, you follow. And this one gave me two amazing people who now feel like grandparents (a few times great) to me. I hope they will to everyone who reads about them, too.
UPDATE: My Instagram is locked out too since FB owns them. Lovely.
To say I am not a happy camper today is an understatement. I woke up to a message on Facebook saying that my account has been disabled. This means I can’t use my profile, page or messenger.
After verifying this was real, I tried to follow the recovery steps, which because Facebook is such a caring company, consist of three forms that don’t let you explain, provide much information, or really do anything. One wants a copy of your driver’s license or other ID, which makes me feel squicky, but I tried to submit it anyway. (What good it would do since I write under a pen name is questionable. It may even raise FB’s red flags that I don’t represent my true self – but we’ll fight that fight if we have to.)
Anyway, I couldn’t submit any of the recovery forms. Apparently, some hacker submitted fake “identity” information for me. This is what pops up when I try:
God only knows what they got on my “behalf.” Um, I’m almost 42, you morons. And if it was due to something else that someone reported, I don’t know what it is.
I am posting this here because Facebook is my most active social media and I obviously have no way of letting people know what is going on. So if anything weird or gross or whatever has been on my account, please know that I didn’t do it. And if you get any FB requests from me until I tell you this is resolved, please don’t accept them.
I realize FB uses bots and stuff like that instead of employing real people and that any one of my friends or a hacker could have reported me for something stupid. And that really disappoints and angers me. I don’t post inappropriate things, yet hate groups and people who post porn and violent stuff are left to tiptoe through the tulips.
Libby Hawker, I can hear you now, “This is why I left Facebook.” And you aren’t wrong. But I’ve worked for years to build my friend and fanbase and I really don’t want to lose it especially since I dislike Twitter with the vehemence of a thousand suns and Insta isn’t the same.
I noticed yesterday that someone had been trying to access my website and this may or may not be related. I’ve changed all of my passwords on my website and on social and am posting notices on all of my social media accounts. There is nothing else I can do but wait.
If some of you can post this on FB so that people know what is going on, I’d appreciate it. Maybe FB will pay attention if we raise a ruckus, but I doubt it because people more famous than me have fought this battle.
I have no idea how long this is going to last. Let’s just hope I don’t lose the account I’ve worked so hard to cultivate and really enjoy using.
I am over-the-moon excited! I’m finally a hybrid author! This has been a long time coming and I am so excited to write these books. Here’s a little more about them:
Sex and the City: A Cultural History This book will provide cultural context and analysis of the famous show, both how it affected cultural as it aired and also how it looks now 20+ years later. Some topics include:
Looking at what it means to relate to each of the girls (ala, Are you a Carrie? A Samantha? A Miranda? A Charlotte?)
What the men in the show illustrate about masculinity and what that means about the kind of men women are attracted to.
Issues like diversity or lack thereof, treatment of sex and sexuality, LGBTQIA portrayal.
How the show made New York a character, built brands, influenced fashion and reflected third wave feminism.
And a lot more!
I have an end of year deadline, so hopefully the book will come out around the time the reboot, And Just Like That, airs.
Fierce Females in Television: A Cultural History
This book will briefly discuss the nature of physically strong women on TV from the 1950s-1980s, but will focus specifically on the 1990s to today because that is when we saw a major ramp up in the portrayal of these kinds of women.
Shows covered include: Xena: Warrior Princess (1995-2001), Buffy the Vampire Slayer (1997-2003), Charmed (1998-2006), Alias (2001-2006), Nikita (2010-2013), Agent Carter (2015-2016), Jessica Jones (2015-2019), Game of Thrones (2011-2019), and Homeland (2011-2020).
Some of the topics include:
An analysis of the main female characters on each show.
The meaning of female strength and friendships/family.
The influence of third- and fourth-wave feminism on the shows and their characters.
Treatment of sex and diversity.
The role of redemption narratives and change in female lives.
This book will be out sometime in 2023/24.
Between these, the League of Women Voters book (due Oct. 4) and at least one work of historical fiction, you know what my next few months and even my 2022 will look like!
Two weeks ago at the Historical Novel Society conference, I participated in a brief lecture from my dear friend Kris Waldherr on how writers can use the tarot to help plan their books. It not only re-invigorated me in my study of tarot and inspired me to create my own deck, it reminded me I wrote a series of two articles about it a while back for Novelists’ Inc. that I have never shared here.
If you’re new to the tarot, head on over to my main blog for an introduction to the cards, how they work and what they mean, then come back to learn how to use them in your writing.
Before you read, you might like to find a quiet place where you can be alone with your thoughts and really think about what each card is trying tell you. Have a notebook and pen, or your computer handy so you can jot down ideas as they come to you. Some people choose to lay out a special cloth (usually a solid color) on which to place the cards because it helps focus the mind. If you are religious, you might want to ask your guardian angel or the muses or whatever god(s) you believe in to guide your reading, but that is totally optional.
To begin, take a deep breath and close your eyes. Think about your question. If you are using your reading to build out your plot from the beginning, you might ask a question like “What is the framework of this book?” or “Show me how this plot should progress.” If you’re trying the work through a block, think about it as specifically as you can, something like “what happens to X character next?” or “How does X get out of [name the jam you put them in].” If you are building a character you could start with “Show me X’s progression throughout the book.” Keep repeating your question in your mind over and over as you shuffle the deck. You’ll know when to stop. Sometimes you will feel a card get hot or cold or your fingers will tingle. Other times, you just know to stop. Sometimes nothing at all happens and you just get tired of shuffling. Trust your instincts; there are no wrong answer. Once you feel ready, draw your first card from the top of the deck.
Because of their unique symbolism, you can always do readings using only the major or minor arcana cards if you want to. But I have found that using both major and minor arcana (which is the standard practice) gives you a more complete picture. There are three basic types of spreads, which I’ll explain from the easiest to the most complex.
One Card Spreads
This involves drawing a single card and is the fastest and easiest, It allows you to be very focused in your question and answer, but it also provides you with the least amount of information because you don’t have the influence of surrounding cards. But if you are in a hurry or just need a prompt to get you going, one is all you need. Potential uses:
Getting to know your characters – Draw a card for each major character in your plot. This will tell you a lot about them, since we each have a card that best symbolizes who we are. (Mine is Strength.) This is best determined over time through multiple readings when the same card keeps showing up over and over again, but can also be done with a single reading.
I recently did this for a book I was plotting. It is biographical historical fiction set in WWII Poland and the card I drew was the Knight of Wands . This card symbolizes someone clever, with a strong sense of humor who is good with words and has sound instincts and a gift for seeing things others may have missed. This describes my heroine (who was a real person) to a tee. Because of this card, I learned what key aspects of her personality to focus on when writing.
Get to know the overall “vibe” of your book. A single card can also tell you about the theme(s) of your book. As I was writing this article, I pulled a card for my latest project, another biographical historical, this one set the colonial United States. My card was The Five of Wands I was immediately struck by the image, which shows five people fighting with staves, because while my book written in a single first-person POV, there are multiple competing timelines and storylines to keep straight, so much so that I needed to make a chart.
The meaning of the card is competition and being obsessed with material things or as the book that came with the deck puts it “keeping up with the Joneses.” That is certainly relevant because there are many men competing for the affection of my heroine. She also a very well-to-do woman who was known historically for her lavish parties and spending that, combined with her husband’s gambling, eventually drove them deep into debt. The card can also mean a clash of ideas and principles and hurting others by giving mixed messages. My main character is in love with her sisters’ husband and both are tempted to have an affair. Much of their relationship takes place via letter and because of both, they often wonder what the other really feels.
(While I was writing this, I accidently knocked the next card off the top of the deck. It was The Lovers which is what I was expecting the main card for the book to be because it is essentially a story of forbidden love. Always pay attention when cards fall out of the deck as you shuffle or otherwise make themselves known—it happens for a reason.
Find the answer to a plot problem or writer’s block. All you have to do here is ask what the problem is. Pay close attention to what the card symbolizes. It may tell you where you’ve gone wrong in plotting in another part of the book, directly answer your question, or even tell you about something in yourself that is causing the block (such as being overworked and needing to take a break).
Three Card Spreads
There are many variations on three-card spreads, but the most common is past-present-future, which can be used for both plots and characters.
If you write to a three-act structure, you could use this spread to learn about the themes of each act.
You could take each of your major characters and do a past-present-future spread to learn about their backstory, where they are when the book begins, and how they change as the novel progresses.
For character arcs, think about one card as being where the character is now, the second as where they want to be, and the third how to get there.
If you are experiencing a writing problem, you can have one card symbolize the nature of the problem, one the cause, and one the solution. Similarly, you can have the cards stand for what the character wants/what will help them, what is standing in their way, and how to overcome it.
We’ve all heard about MRUs (motivation reaction units), right? One card can be your character’s thought/feeling, one their reaction, and the third, what he or she is going to say or do in response.
If you are mulling over the relationship between characters you could have one card stand for each character and the third for their relationship. Or you could use one for what brought them together, one for what pulls them apart, and the third for the resolution. (This one is particularly good for romance novels and romantic plotlines.)
You could seriously go on forever with these. There’s a long list of three-card spreads online here.
The Celtic Cross Spread
This is the classic tarot spread, the one you’ve seen in every TV show and movie with a fortune teller and the one you will see if you go visit one in real life. This is because it is the most comprehensive. I’m going to explain it first, and then show you a few ways to use it.
The Celtic Cross spread involves 10 or 11 cards. Some people choose to designate one card that is set off to the side to symbolize the question or the person asking the question. If you choose to do this, you will draw that card first after you have finished shuffling the deck. Then draw the cards from the top of the deck and lay them out according to the pattern above.
Once you’ve done that. Take a look at the overall spread. Is your gut telling you anything? Does the spread feel inherently happy or sad, positive or negative? Does anything immediately jump out at you? It can take some time to develop the ability to get the “feel” for a spread, so don’t worry if you don’t come up with anything right away.
Next, take a look at each card individually. Write down your impressions of each one. I did a reading for my colonial American book while writing this using the question “show me what I need to know about X book” and I’ll give you my cards as well as an example.
My overall impression is that this is a positive reading with five major arcana cards (which is a lot) and no dominant suit (two swords and two pentacles, which neutralize each other’s negative and positive elements). It’s going to be an interesting reading.
Relationship to the Present Situation. Queen of Swords – An impressive, trailblazing woman of courage and intelligence who will not be held down by convention. This is my main character very clearly summed up.
Positive Forces in Your Favor. The Chariot – Triumph, balance, holding opposing views in equal tension. Enjoying life. This describes my character’s approach to life pretty well, though she’s more known for extravagance than balance.
Message from Your Higher Self – Queen of Pentacles – Female strength and success in business and with money. A caring woman concerned with the lives of those around her. Again, you have to trust me that this fits my character very well.
Subconscious/Underlying Themes/Emotional – The Priestess – Inspiration and advice from a woman who is wise and mature. Can also represent isolation. That last part is interesting to me because my heroine spends most of the book in another country than the rest of her family. Her best friend could easily be represented by the priestess and would provide calm to her boundless energy.
The Past – The Fool – Setting off on a journey unaware of an uncaring of the consequences; innocence and foolishness. My character married very young and regrets it almost immediately when her husband turns out not to be who she though he was (quite literally) and she falls in love with someone else, but can’t have him because she is already married.
Relationship with Others – The Two of Cups – The minor arcana card most like The Lovers. Represents relationships, attraction, engagement/marriage and emotional bonds. Perfect for describing the forbidden love she experiences for most of her life.
Psychological States/Forces That Can Affect the Outcome – The Six of Swords. Ugh, the swords. Movement, alignment of heart and mind, a declaration of love, focus and follow-through with unpredictable results. Funny that this one depicts a journey across water because my character travels back and forth between America and Europe a lot. Again, I see shades of the forbidden romance in this card, especially since it comes right between the Two of Cups and The Sun
Environment/Unseen Forces – The Sun – Triumph, bounty, enjoying life. It is interesting that the book that comes with this deck mentions “summer love” in connection to this card. If my two historical people ever actually consummated their affair, it would have been a particular summer while his wife was away.
Hopes and Fears – The Magician – A man of creativity, power and strong voice who is eloquent and charming. This could be my hero and describe what my heroine sees in him. This card can also mean someone who is manipulative and at times untrue, which applies to her fears about him just being a flirt and not really loving her since she is already married. (Which is something historians haven’t even figured out.)
Outcome – The King of Pentacles – A proud, self-assured young man of status and wealth, a supportive husband who recognizes the value of culture. This card could represent either her husband or her lover. Her husband is proud and wealthy, but he is not exactly supportive, while her lover is. I see this as the outcome she wants; her ideal man. Unfortunately, he does not exist and history does not bear out a happy ending for her or her lover. However, as a writer, I see this as an opportunity to really amp up the tragedy of the ending. Outcomes are even more powerful when the hero and heroine don’t get what they want because readers have been rooting for them the entire book and now will mourn with them as well.
Finally, look at the cards in groups of three or four. Do they affect each other or change the meaning of surrounding cards? Make notes of anything that notice. Again, it may take time to learn this part. In my example, as you can see from the explanations above, the first four cards agree with each other and strengthen one another in a description of my heroine. In the same way, cards six through nine all play on the same theme of forbidden love. Taken together, these influenced my interpretation of the Outcome card.
Of course, everything is subject to interpretation; I may read a spread totally differently than you do, which is why some people don’t put any stock in tarot readings. And that is fine. I’m only here to advise you on how you can use them as a tool in your writing; whether or not you believe they will work for you is a personal decision.
Once you get comfortable with your cards you can also make up your own spreads to fit your questions. They can be circular, triangle, any shape that works for what you need. You could even take the major archetypes and draw a card for each one or take your favorite plot arc or character arc tool (I’m a fan of Michael Hauge’s “Six Stage Plot Structure” and Larry Brooks’ Four Part Structure) and make up a spread to fit it. The sky is the limit.
I hope this series of articles has given you a new tool in your writing toolbox. If you are familiar with other systems of divination like runes, wisdom sticks, or even astrology or dowsing with a pendulum, you can employ those as well. They all tap into your subconscious mind in a similar manner. Best of luck!
Whether you are waiting to pick up your child, need something to help you drift off to sleep or just have a few minutes to kill, sometimes having a short read on your phone or tablet is handy.
And I have a new historical story for you. My debut novella, Consequences, was just published yesterday. It’s only 35 pages and takes less than an hour to read. I don’t normally write shorter than book length, but this was a story just begging to be told. Here’s the summary:
Famous for her hospitality, Venerable Catherine McAuley only ever turned away one woman who came to her for help, and that decision haunted her for the rest of her life.
This is that servant’s story.
Dublin – 1824. When a fellow maid is forced to temporarily vacate her position under scandalous circumstances, Margaret finds herself in an elevated position under the watchful eye of their master, the infamous Lord Montague. He believes in total obedience from those in his employ and when she dares to fight back, Margaret is left with no choice but to flee or face his wrath. Desperate, she seeks out a pious spinster named Catherine McAuley who is known for her charity to the poor. The decisions both women make upon meeting will irrevocably change the course of both their lives, as well as everyone in their orbit.
Based on a true story, this heart-pounding historical tale will leave you wondering just how much has really changed in the last two hundred years.
I first heard the story of Catherine and the unnamed servant girl about 15 years ago. It struck me as so out of character for Catherine, who is on the path to sainthood in the Catholic Church, that it stayed with me. (They say it haunted Catherine as well.) I’d find myself every so often trying to figure out why this generous woman would have said no to someone so clearly in need. (The servant’s exact circumstances, identity and Catherine’s motivations are all lost to history.) When an opportunity to write this story for an anthology (which never materialized) came up a few years ago, I couldn’t pass it up. But instead of telling Catherine’s side of the story, I decided to create one for the forgotten servant.
I purposefully released the story on International Domestic Workers Day (June 16) to help draw attention to the fact that most domestic workers have little to no legal rights in the United States even today. They are often paid in cash far below the legal minimum wage, get no paid time off or benefits, cannot unionize and are routinely subject to slave-like conditions, physical and sexual abuse, and even human trafficking. I was fortunate enough to get an op-ed in The Hill about this very subject, if you want to learn more and find out what you can do.
Ill treatment of domestic servants has a long, dark history. Read Consequences, then read the op-ed. It’s frightening how little has changed.
I hope that by sharing Margaret’s story (that’s what I named the girl), you will be entertained, but also a little more informed than you were before. That is what I believe the purpose of historical fiction is: it tells a great story, but it also teaches at the same time. And it is one of the reasons I love this genre.
Yes. Breathe first. But second, pay attention. (10 points to Ravenclaw for each one of you who knows that song reference – you have excellent taste in music.)
My brain is stuck in the 1990s lately because I’m working on two book proposals that have to do with female characters on TV in the late 90s and early 00s. I mention this because I found the opportunity on a Facebook group for ghostwriters that I’m a part of. If I hadn’t been paying attention to my feed, it would have passed me by. But because I did, I have the opportunity to pitch two books now and have three others in mind, which could do wonders for my career.
My point is that opportunities are everywhere if you pay attention. A friend of mine was on the Today show about a year ago and now she is in Forbes, just because she was able to pitch her story to the right person at the right time. Another of my friends was a finalist for the Penn Faulkner Award in Fiction this year because he dared to enter even though he isn’t well known and his publisher is small. A paper that I gave at a history conference is being turned into an article for a magazine, which wouldn’t have happened if I hadn’t applied to the conference to speak even though I’m not an official historian.
Tips for finding opportunities:
Pay attention to the news (and sports, entertainment, whatever your writing fits best with) and keep an eye out for events and other things you can tie into or get involved with.
Set up Google alerts for the subjects/keywords of your books so you can monitor what is going on.
Join HARO (help a reporter out) and don’t be shy answering queries related to your expertise. I’ve gotten some great press coverage that way.
Join writing groups on social media and investigate opportunities that appeal to you.
Actively seek out groups that are similar to your subject and/or places your readers hang out. You never know what may catch your eye.
Be brave! Don’t ever think you aren’t good enough, well known enough, etc. There is no such thing. You can’t win if you don’t play!
Keep an open mind. Once you start looking, you’ll see opportunities everywhere.
In addition, inspiration is everywhere if you pay attention.
I follow a lot of people (writers and otherwise) whose careers I want to imitate. From looking at their websites, analyzing their newsletters and social media activity, I think about what I can model in my own life. There are a lot of things I don’t have the budget/time to do (yet) but sometimes there are scaled back versions I can do right now.
Ideas for finding inspiration:
Follow blogs, newsletters, other communications on people and subjects you care about.
Join groups on social media that discuss these topics and issues.
Become involved (online for now, but in person once COVID is over) in groups of people who are passionate about the same things you are.
Read and watch movies/TV widely. It could be one little word or scene that triggers something in your mind.
If you are a visual person like me, frequent Instagram and Pinterest for images that inspire you. Save them and look back every so often to see if anything strikes you.
Take time to refill your well. Walk in nature. Go to a museum or other place that inspires you. (I personally like New Age stores – they rebalance my energy. Oddly enough, Whole Foods does as well.)
Take time to dream. Imagine your perfect life. Sketch out what you can do to get there. Make a vision board. I am a firm believer that when you think about things, they happen.
It’s easy to sleepwalk through life – especially now during the pandemic when we’ve been worn down by so much strangeness – but that isn’t going to benefit you or anyone else. Even if you don’t have the energy to do anything right now (I’ve experienced burnout, so I know what that is like), keep a list of ideas/opportunities to address at a later date. Future you will thank present you.
I had a hard time trying come up with something to write about today, so I’m just going with what is on my mind. I’ve been thinking a lot lately about whether it is better to be a specialist in your writing or a generalist. There are some writers who only write in one or two closely related genres. In the realm of historical fiction, there are many writers who specialize in a certain time period or location.
I don’t do any of those things. While I write primarily in historical fiction (and historical fantasy), I also write non-fiction and contemporary women’s fiction/romance. Within historical, I don’t have just one time period, but will write in any period/location where I find a story of a strong woman that needs to be told.
I’m currently editing my first chapter for an academic book. I’ve recently branched out into poetry and am considering giving essay a whirl as well. I also run several blogs for various interests that I don’t have time to tend to as well as I want.
What is wrong with trying new things, you ask? Nothing. But…okay…did any of you watch the TV show JAG? The captain’s girlfriend/wife (I don’t remember) was one of those people who thought she could do anything and everything, but in reality was terrible at a lot the things she thought she was good at (I specifically recall her thinking she was this great singer and she was actually terrible). That is who I fear becoming.
I have this terrible fear that my poetry sucks and everyone is afraid to tell me. I’m scared that I’ll try to write essays only to find I have nothing to say or that I’m too scared of being attacked if I do take a stand on something.
Yet the same time, I’m curious about so much: different forms of writing, different genres (I have a gothic historical and several contemporary books I want to write, in addition to all the historical and non-fiction ones on my list), all kinds of subjects.
I understand the appeal of sticking to one thing and being an expert in that, but I’m the kind of person who wants to be an expert in whatever story I choose to tell. So, instead of being one on 19th century America or post-Roman Britain, I’m one on Victoria Woodhull, Virginia Minor and modern versions of Guinevere. (I don’t claim expertise back past 1980 with her character, though I have written about it.)
I guess that goes along with an unending desire to learn. I’m one recommendation letter away from finishing my application to get a certificate in Gender and Women’s Studies from Loyola University in Chicago (online program). Those credits will carry over when I can move and get my MA in the same program, along with an MA/PhD in American History. When that is done my credentials will be ridiculous alphabet soup: BA, BS, MA (that is today), MA, MA, PhD.
So why does it surprise me that I want to go from novelist and biographer to add on poet and essayist and whatever else comes along in the future?
I guess some people are meant to find their niche and stay there, while others do many things. I do know that strong women will always be a connective tissue in everything I do. That’s my passion, my jam and what I believe I am meant to share with the world, in whatever format the message takes. That’s why it is also my brand.
What about you? As fellow writers/readers do you think it is wiser to develop a specialty or dabble in whatever you want and see what sticks?
March is Women’s History Month. As longtime readers of this blog know, women’s history is my jam, so I felt like I couldn’t let this month’s post go by without talking about it. But I want to come at it from a slightly different angle than I have before. I apologize right now if this post sounds self-serving but this is my soapbox as of late.
I’ve set myself up on a hard path as an author because I write about people no one has ever heard of. People are naturally leery of what they don’t know or understand and thus less likely to take a chance on a book whose subject they don’t already recognize. And that can be a depressing prospect when you’re trying to write a book while balancing everything else in life. However, I am committed to sticking to my mission of shedding light on the stories of unknown women.
As we are all aware, history has been written, by and large, by white men. And it has been reduced to a handful of “marquee names,” leaving out even the influence of many important white men, not to mention women and people of color. That is a tremendous loss for us and for what we believe to be true about our nation. Yes, George Washington, Abe Lincoln, Susan B. Anthony, Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Harriet Tubman are important. But much like Hollywood and its never-ending love of sequels and reboots, if we don’t contribute something new to history (or in my case historical fiction), we won’t ever learn anything new, just keep hashing the same old points over and over. Without a variety of perspectives in our history, we are looking back on a false, or at best incomplete, record.
History is anything but homogeneous, so our books about it should reflect diversity. Where are the stories of the women who supported the great men we read so much about? Where are the overlooked and uncredited women? (Hidden Figures was a great start, but there are so many more.) What about the LGBTQIA women who risked their lives by being who they were in an intolerant nation? Where are the stories of the strong women who survived natural disasters, poor harvests and plague (1918 Spanish Flu, anyone?) to go on to either do great things or just lead quiet lives? I’ve learned through my research that there are so many amazing stories that we don’t learn about in school and readers deserve the chance to know about them, too.
Every now and then an untold story breaks out. As Hamilton has shown us, there were other key men fighting for America’s independence and shaping the new nation, just as there were other people fighting for abolition, women’s suffrage and conducting the Underground Railroad. It is wonderful that we have our idols to look up to, but we shouldn’t limit our learning to just their stories. When that happens, we miss out on the rich tapestry that made our history happen. Just as it hasn’t been one person or even a council of people who have helped us get to what I hope is the end of the COVID-19 pandemic, not a single person made any other event in history happen. Thousands of people, many of them women and people of color, contributed to abolition. But we only remember the loudest handful of voices. What about everyone who supported those four or five icons or those whose stories are tread over completely in favor of the well-known names?
I believe in widening our history, not narrowing it down. I want everyone to know about the 15-year-old girl named Claudette Colvin, who refused to move to the back of the bus, months before Rosa Parks got the glory for doing the exact same thing. I want people to be riveted by the story of Ida Tarbell, the journalist who created modern investigative journalism in the early 1900s with an expose on Standard Oil, even though Julius Chambers and Nellie Bly are often credited with that feat. (I love me some Nellie Bly, don’t get me wrong, but her methods were different than Ida’s, whose are much closer to the ones still used today.) And I want people to read the stories of women of color–Black, Asian, Native American– and the spouses (gay and straight) who contributed to the women’s suffrage movement. Those stories alone would go a long way toward giving us a more complete picture of our history, of who we can and should admire and what we can do in our own lives to change the course of history.
But it is difficult to make people change. It’s easier and less risk to reach for a book about a person or from an author you already know and love. I do it just as much as the next reader. As an author, the only thing I can tell myself is to just keep going. Flood the market with as many books about unknowns as I can. And should that mean I will have to keep self-publishing and accept that I won’t ever be rich from my writing, so be it. But I can also hope that, not unlike Hamilton, one of my unknowns will take off and change everything.
Hey readers, did you miss me? I missed all of you. I can catch you up on the last six months pretty quickly. I’ve been working (a lot. this is an interesting time to work in health care marketing) and writing (a lot. two books at once actually).
I’ve been thinking about getting back into writing poetry for a few months now. It all started when I was doing research for a future book and reading Lana del Rey’s poetry book “Violet Bent Backwards Over the Grass.” (My book will be a modern adaptation of a classic with a soundtrack entirely of Lana’s music. She is the PERFECT muse for this story.) Her poetry hit me so hard that I was like “Dude, I want to do that!” (I say “Dude” a lot.)
Now, I wrote poetry as a kid (which you may remember from a previous post) and also as an angsty teen. But then for some reason I stopped. I went through a period where I was like “Who reads poetry anymore?” which I’ve come to find out was my brain’s way of saying “I’m intimidated by it and am afraid I can’t understand it.” This despite the fact that I was an English major.
Enter Amanda Gorman on Inauguration Day. Lord, that woman is a genius. That is all there is to it. I want to bow down to her Wayne’s World style. (I am so a child of the 80s and 90s.) USA Today is even speculating that because of her we may be in a renaissance of poetry and I hope they are right.
So, lots of motivation to start writing. But my problem was I felt paralyzed. I would pick up a pen and try to write (for some reason I feel like poetry needs to be hand-written first) and my mind would freeze, go totally blank. I think I was putting too much pressure on myself to produce something publishable. I asked my Facebook friends for advice and they said to just let go and write for myself, something private that expresses my emotions or opinions about something.
After a while, I loosened up. I finally wrote my first poem in 24 years the other day. I’m not ready to share it because it’s pretty personal, but I want to share them eventually. Right now I seem to be using poetry to work through some unresolved issues from my past, but then again, so did Rupi Kaur and look what it did for her. (I was not expecting Milk & Honey to be so dark!) I think that may be what gives poetry it’s power to touch readers and it’s staying power as well. It, to me at least, is so much more personal than prose, though I know that can be as well.
Today I’m going to start posting some poems on Instagram, so I’d like to share the first one here with you. I don’t want to bias your reading, but it has deeper meaning than its surface value.
I am finding that I have no idea how to judge whether a poem that I write is good or bad. Anyone have any tips for that?
P.S. – In case you are wondering about the title of this post, it’s based on a song by Gary Numan. But I know the cover by Gravity Kills.