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A Change in the Winds

I have blogged about my book club before, but for those not familiar, every two weeks I invite a select group of people over to my house. I cook them dinner and we read two chapters from my novel out loud. After each chapter, they discuss, ask questions and I take notes. The feedback is absolutely invaluable, and has made my novel so much richer then it would have been had I written it in a vacuum. However, I have noticed a shift in the atmosphere at book club lately.

Last night we read chapters 38-39 of 48. In other words, we are coming up on the end. As this novel takes place during the American Civil War, I think it’s safe to say without spoiling anything that not all of the characters survive to the end of the book. It would be a rather odd story if no one died over the course of a war. That being said, ten chapters ago I was getting comments like, “I really like this character.” Or, “Oh! I love when this character is in a chapter.” Now that we’re nine chapters from the end of the book, I’m getting comments like, “You realize that you have to bring this character back, right?” Or, “You better not kill this character. If you do, I’m done.”

Secondary Character

Now I would expect these kind of reactions about my main characters. However, what is taking me aback, is that I’m getting these threats about my secondary characters. It cracks my shit up! And also makes me feel all warm and fuzzy inside that people actually care about the secondary characters, but mostly it cracks me up. It is so cool to see which characters are making an impression, and which ones have become an integral part of the story being told. Not to mention, it provides one hell of a blaring neon sign that says, “Hey! Don’t forget to wrap up this storyline!”

Which is helpful, because in the first incarnation of this novel, my character Mary kind of faded into the background never to be seen again. I caught that misstep on my own, but I’ve been paranoid ever since that I’m going to forget about a character. Then after all of this work, all anybody will talk about is wondering what happened to so-and-so. After last night, that paranoia is gone. There is no way that Book Club is going to let me get away with that. Thank you friends, keep the threats coming.

Character vs Damsel in Distress

I had a great conversation with a fellow writer last night and one of the things that we discussed was the difference between a character in distress and a damsel in distress, and how, as a feminist and I am sick and tired of women always being damsels in distress. I have no qualms with a female character being in distress, or any character for that matter, distress is the cornerstone of drama. My issue comes when the female characters turn into damsels.

The specific scene that we were discussing was of five characters, four men and one woman, who were surrounded with the enemy closing in. Characters in distress, awesome! One of the men gets singled out and beaten. He ineffectually tries to defend himself, and one of the other male characters tries to help him, but they both wind up injured. To subdue a third man, who is rather large, the enemy tazes him, and again one of the men ineffectually tries to go to his aid. A lot of distress, a lot of drama, perfect! But you notice, so far the woman has done nothing, until it is decided that the men will be killed on the spot and the main bad guy is going to take the woman home with him, you all know why. Finally, our woman does something . . . she screams out for the men to help her. She knows, can see, that all four of them are thoroughly subdued and injured and have no way of helping her, yet she cries out to them. Instant damsel.


Throughout all of the previous action, which includes all four of the men being struck and injured, not a single one of them calls out for help. They try to fight to back, and I’m sure would have gladly accepted help, but none of them expect someone to help them, much less call out for help. Whereas the second the woman is grabbed – not struck, not injured, grabbed – her first instinct is to call out to four wounded men to come save her. WHAT?!?!?!? No! She just went from the fifth member of an outlaw gang, where she is purportedly a contributing member, to a damsel in distress.

Yes, characters need to be in distress, but I am fed up with male characters in distress “taking it like a man” while the female characters transform into damsels. It is only after the woman has been successfully dragged away – it does say that she is “fighting back” – that we discover she had a switchblade on her the whole time! WHAT?!?!?!?! Long story short she isn’t able to do anything profound with the blade and winds up being saved by a man. Classic damsel in distress. I’m tired of seeing it, and I told my friend just that as it was her book that we were discussing.

Now I’m not expecting every woman to be Xena the Warrior Princess and take out every threat that comes around like a badass. Although that is fun to see. All I want to see is women who try to help themselves instead of immediately turning to men to save them. The four men mentioned above, had to be saved by somebody else. It happens, there’s nothing wrong with that. But fight back and fight dirty if necessary, and from my experience* ladies, it is always necessary to fight dirty when up against a man. Even if he is your size or smaller, the odds that his upper body is physically stronger than yours is practically guaranteed. It’s just the way we are built. But if some guy is intending to make me his sex slave I can guarantee you the only way that he’s going to be able to drag/carry me away is if I’m unconscious or completely bound. If he’s got a gun on me, I’m going to fight back even more viciously. It’s really hard to hit a moving target, especially one that just kicked your knee out and is attempting to gouge out your eye.


As authors and storytellers we need to show that women can do more than cry out for help. Women can help, or at least try, to help themselves. Will they get hurt? Most definitely. Will they still need to be saved sometimes anyway? Yes. Will some of them still wind up captured or dead? Yes. But it is about time that this notion of the damsel in distress went away. Literature and entertainment is completely saturated with this character. Let’s create a new one, shall we?


*My experience consists of several self-defense classes and hundreds of hours of stunt training in a variety of weapons. I have never encountered a man who couldn’t at least match my upper body strength. To come out on top, you have to fight dirty, but if you’re in a situation requiring you to fight, he deserves it!

More than Black and White

Years ago, when I first started to have the beginning glimmers of what is now my novel; I knew that I wanted to have a bad guy like Col. Tavington from “The Patriot.”  You know, he’s the one that orders that the church be burned with all of the inhabitants of the town inside.  He is nasty, ruthless and shows no remorse.  He’s a bad guy that you love to hate.  In fact when he dies at the end, you can’t help but cheer on Mel Gibson for exacting his revenge against this loathsome man.

Fast forward to present day, and I have just recently re-watched “The Patriot.”  Only this time, I wasn’t nearly as impressed by Col. Tavington.  Yes, I found him just as nasty. Yes I still think that he is well deserving of “bad guy” status. But I didn’t find him nearly as interesting as I had years ago, because he is very one-sided.  He does these horrible things out of ambition.  The only remorse or regret we see is when Cornwallis tells him that he probably won’t get rewarded because he methods are so inhumane.  As an audience we never get to see any other side of him.  Which means that after subsequent viewings the intrigue of this character wears off.  He is a quintessential bad guy who does bad things and we accept that he does them because he is obviously evil through and through.

Boo! Hiss!

Boo! Hiss!

Yawn!  Now I realize that this is a movie, so they don’t have time to delve into the complexities of his character.  However, I have come to expect more from my bad guys.  My character Captain Henry was originally based off of Tavington, but I am happy to say that even I have trouble seeing the resemblance now.  Captain Henry does some horrible things, but we get to see other facets of his character as well.  He shows remorse for some of the things that he does, and he shows absolutely no remorse for some of the other things that he does.  He’s complicated, and I love that about his character.

When I first started writing, if anybody had asked me to name the protagonist and antagonist I would have very easily said Kady and Captain Henry.  Now I’m not so sure.  Kady is definitely my protagonist, that one is easy.  But I don’t know about Captain Henry any more.  He does bad things, but does that make him a bad guy?  Does that make him the antagonist of the story when there are other characters vying for the position? I don’t know.  I feel like as the author I should know, but then part of me thinks that it doesn’t really matter.  It’s my job to tell the story.  Let someone else figure out the labels.

I do know one thing though.  Captain Henry is not black and white.  Hopefully none of my characters are, but him in particular – lots of grey!

Rebecca’s Poetry

As I mentioned yesterday, one of the character’s in my book is a poet.  Rebecca is an invalid, and as such is not eligible for marriage so she lives with her sister in Richmond, VA.  Unable to work, or be a contributing member of the household Rebecca escapes into the poetry that she writes.  It isn’t until Kady recruits her as part of her spy network for the north, that Rebecca realizes that she does actually have worth and can be useful despite her limitations.  Here’s one of her poems:

My country she is crying, but there is no one left to hear.

All her sons are off to war you see, against the brothers they hold dear.

The fathers all argue that where they stand is right.

The mothers all roll bandages to wrap the wounds good and tight.

The daughters we are left to mourn, the passing of the day: waiting, simply waiting as we look out across the bay.

My country she is crying, deep rivers of blood red tears.

My country she is crying, but there is no one left to hear.

Letting Go

One of my characters in my novel is a poet and has gotten me into a poetry sort of mood.  So here’s a poem for you.  This is one of mine, not one of hers . . . although I guess technically hers are mine . . .


Letting go . . .

Of what is right, of what is wrong

Of what is normal, of what is planned

Letting go . . .

Of expectations and anticipations

Of familial plans and childhood hopes

Letting go . . .

Of what should have been, what will never be

Letting go . . .

Of regrets and

Letting go . . .

To learn from mistakes, to see the good

To grow stronger, to improve

Letting go . . .

To revel in the moment, to embrace the now

To forget past pains, to let the future worry about itself

Letting go . . .

To finally hold on

Playing Favorites

I find myself struggling with one of my characters.  He’s one of my main characters, but for the most part I’ve been avoiding writing him as much as possible.  Because quite frankly, I don’t like him.  There, I said it, I do not like him.  I feel like I’m that parent that very clearly has a favorite amongst their kids, but I can’t help it.  I just don’t like the guy!  So I avoid him, and I’m getting to the point that I can’t avoid him for much longer.

He’s so cocky, and arrogant.  He’s one of those guys that doesn’t really have to work for things, they just fall into his lap.  Things have a way of working out for him even when he doesn’t deserve it, especially when he doesn’t deserve it.  So I find myself throwing things at him to mess with him.  I chop off his leg . . . he gets a wife out of the deal.  Damn it!  His wife proves to be a far superior spy . . . he takes credit.  Double damn it!  It’s like no matter what I do to this guy he pops back on top and it annoys the crap out of me!

At this point, I think I’m almost afraid to write him, because I really don’t think I can hide the fact that I don’t like him.  I’ve never had this experience with a character.  I have never vehemently disliked a character to the point that I not only wish him harm, I cause him harm.  Unfortunately, the story will out, so he always winds up fine.  I already know how it ends and he’s in the end, so I can’t kill him off.  Triple damn it!

Although I guess there are worse things than hating a character.  I could feel ambivalent toward him and that would make one hell of a boring character.  So I’ll grit my teeth and let him play out his part of the story and I’ll take my consolation from Henry.  Him I like.  Huh, I don’t know that I’ve ever put this together before, but I like my Confederate officer.  It’s my Union officer that I don’t like.  Interesting . . .

All of the Other Things

So I realized that my original intention for this blog was so that I could chronicle the creative process of writing my novel.  Of which I have not been doing at all.  Instead, for the most part, I’ve been writing about anything and everything except about my novel.  But then it occurred to me, that I actually am chronicling my creative process, because this is pretty much how my creative process goes.

I’ll glance at my computer, and then go make some coffee.  Then do the dishes, or go walk the dogs.  Then I’ll turn on the computer, and start thinking about something else entirely.  Maybe write about that, or whatever it is I’m thinking about will lead me to start pondering life in general.  Then I’ll take a shower, play with the dogs.  Go do some grocery shopping.  And as I’m choosing produce it will occur to me:


Yes!  Because of what Henry does to Emma, she’s driven to the edge, which leads her to meet the guy in that place where she does the thing.


Then I finish my grocery shopping, go home.  Make some food, do some dishes, watch some Criminal Minds.  Go to bed.  Wake up.  Go to work.  Then I’ll be doing some filing in the file room and:


Oh!  Because of the thing that Emma does in the place with that guy, she winds up invited to the party where she meets Kady.  And because she meets Kady, she figures out her revenge.


Which gets me to thinking about something else, so I write about it, and go about my business, all the while these little epiphanies that I have kick around in my head building off of each other, growing and connecting to form one cohesive storyline.  I get the structure and it’s pieced together slowly in my head.  You see, I don’t write in chronological order.  I tried, I tried really hard.  My type A personality really loathed the idea of writing any other way, but I couldn’t do it.  I have to write whatever is at the forefront of my brain.  I have to write whatever is in the queue first; so that it isn’t lost as I work on whatever is second and third in line.  So I surrendered to doing it out of order and it seems to be working for me.  I wrote my last chapter long before I’d ever written my first.  I know where my characters are going. I know what happens to them.  It’s their journey that is being revealed to me piece by piece and like the movie “Memento” it all fits together . . . eventually.

But sometimes I have to write the other things first, because those are important too.  So I guess that’s what this blog has become.  A place for the immediate thoughts crowding my headspace that so desperately need an outlet so that everything else can move up in the queue.  My repository for everything that cut in line and wound up in front of my characters.

Oh, and my epiphanies are much more detailed than that, but the thing that Emma does to the guy in the place is pretty good, and I don’t want to ruin the surprise.

The Wrong Question

I have been struggling lately, and have struggled before, with why I write.  Who wants to read it? Why does what I have to say matter?  This is probably why the majority of what I have written has never been read, and I’m not fishing for compliments or validation here.  Anybody that has “gone fishing” before knows that all of the praise in the world doesn’t make a bit of difference if you don’t already believe what they’re saying yourself.  That’s the funny thing about praise.  Those who need it can’t hear it, and those who don’t need it, can.  I’ve always pondered this but never shared the question with others, until today.  Today I posited this question to my friend Stacey, who hands down has read more of my writing than any other person.  She’s my sounding board for my novel, she’s my confidant, she is brilliant and beautiful and talented and one of my best friends.  Her response to me, was to share an epiphany that she had recently had herself – maybe you can’t find the answer, because you’re asking the wrong question.  What does your writing mean to you?  How does writing make you feel?  When all is said and done, isn’t that what really matters?

Cue my brain exploding.

But in a good way.  What does writing mean to me? I write because I always have, it’s always been the best way to express myself.  I write because it is a part of me, the best part of me.  I write because if I didn’t the thoughts and stories and imagery would get so backed up and piled up in my head that I wouldn’t be able to see straight for the commotion.  I write because sitting in a dimly lit corner with a notebook and pen, or a blinking cursor, makes me happier and gives me more fulfillment than anything else.  Yes, a blank page terrifies me, but it is also my best friend because there is always more blankness to be filled.  There is always more room for another story, another character, another thought.  There is no feeling in the world like putting pen to paper and letting a world unfold before you.  Like letting a character loose in that world to live their life.  I don’t care how much thinking I do before hand, how much outlining I do, I never know where a character is going to go or what they’re going to say until the pen hits the page.  Sometimes they’re predictable, but sometimes they surprise me.  Captain Henry breaks my heart.  I want to like him, I want him to be a good man so badly it hurts, but he does bad, bad things.  And every time he does my heart breaks all over again.  He does good things too, but the lady of justice stands sentinel in my heart weighing his deeds, and I have no idea which way the scales will tip when the story is finished.  I hope they tip to the good, but I don’t know.  I don’t know that he does either, we’ll have to wait and see.  Maybe I just have to like him despite the bad things that he does, accept him with all of his faults.  I talk about Henry like he’s a real person, because to me he is real.

This is why I write. Good, bad or indifferent, I write because it makes me happy.  Writing completes me.  That’s the answer.

Meet Emma!

Have you ever met someone whose greatest motivation comes from someone telling them that they can’t do something?  If you have, then you’re familiar with Emma.  Emma is my firecracker, she’s my wild card.  Despite the fact that her father was working closely with the Union, until her entire family is killed by a rogue Confederate officer, she ultimately aligns herself and begins spying for the Confederacy.  She is rash and quick to act.  Which sometimes works out quite well for her, and sometimes it really doesn’t!  Regardless, she adapts, she bounces back.

There is really something achingly beautiful about watching someone that no matter what you throw at them, they come back for more.  They take what they’re given, learn from it, grow from it and become better for the lesson.  Sometimes it takes a couple of rounds before the lesson is learned, but they keep coming back for more.  From the outside it can be painful to watch as someone takes beating after beating after beating, but it’s not up to us to ease their way.  They’re too stubborn.  They have to learn on their own, even if it means constantly repairing the breaks until they resemble a stained glass window.

I love stained glass windows.  Where else can you find something that is considered gorgeous, breathtaking art work, composed entirely of broken pieces welded together?  If those same mosaics were instead painted, or constructed from a solid pane of glass, some of the beauty would be lost because the beauty lies in the breaks.  It is prettier broken.  I feel like people are the same.  Each fall, each hurt is a story and that tell-tale scar is our body’s way of proclaiming to the world that we got back up and kept moving.  We kept living, and we like the windows are prettier broken.

Emma falls down and breaks a lot.  But she gets back up.

Meet Anna!

Blog readers meet Anna, Anna my blog readers.  That is all.


Just kidding!  Anna is one of my favorite characters, and she is as tough as nails.  She is strong, quick on her feet and a spy for the Union.  When she was a teenager her father, an exporter in the north, wanted to secure a business deal with a tobacco plantation owner in Virginia so, to sweeten the deal, he threw in his daughter’s hand in marriage.  Thus Anna was packed off to Virginia and wed to a man she’d never met as soon as her father’s contract was signed.

She never adjusts to the Southern way of life, and despises the fact that her one offspring is a daughter whom is raised as a quintessential Southern Belle.  So when the Civil War breaks out and her husband is named a Confederate officer, Anna jumps at the chance to spy for the Union, her true home.  Among other tactics, Anna uses her husband’s social standing to hold afternoon parties where women gather to chat and play parlor games.  Only she invites other operatives so they can pass intelligence.

Anybody want to play a fun game of memory?  You remember that game.  The first person says A is for Apple.  Then the second person repeats A is for Apple and then adds B is for bear, etc around the circle until somebody gets the order wrong.  Well with a predetermined set of signals – placement of a kerchief, where hands are held, etc – C is for Confederate, G is for Grant and S is for Shiloh translates into the Confederates are planning an attack on General Grant at Shiloh.  Adds a whole new dimension to that game now doesn’t it!

However, Anna’s biggest challenge comes when her daughter, Kady, discovers that she is a spy.  Instead of running to her father to tattle, Kady tells Anna that she wants to be a spy too.  Initially Anna rebukes her, but circumstances arise that require Kady’s assistance so Anna is forced to bring her into the fold.  So in the midst of her espionage activities, Anna must also reconcile her fractured relationship with the daughter that she never wanted in the first place.