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If you read my blog, you’re aware I’m reading the Outlander series. Time traveler Claire meets Jamie the Scottish Highlander in the 1700s.  I’ve also read other historical novels with a Scotsman as a lead character for comparison.

Here are the things I’ve learned about these men.

They always wear their plaid. It involves much draping around the body with a brooch as a finishing touch. Taking it off is much easier. Just loosen the pin and the entire outfit falls to the floor. Very convenient.

Speaking of convenience, the plaid can be used as a sleeping bag and even wrap up two people for warmth and comfort. Also, since the kilt is made a certain way, when nature calls just lift the skirt. (P.S. No underwear.)

The men love to say “verra” a lot. I think you can figure out it means very. The word pops up a lot as I read. I sometimes find myself slipping and using the word when I speak.

The Scots are either dark-haired, handsome and strong or red-haired, handsome and strong. What’s not to like?

They speak Gaelic. I’ve tried to phonetically sound it out as I read but finally stumble over the words until I, hopefully, get to the translation. The women in the book are usually English so they have no idea what their man is saying. They usually think it’s something quite romantic or complimentary. He could be telling her, “I’m going out to shoot a deer and I’ll be back in time for supper. After that you can help me skin and prepare the animal.”She nods, smiles and fawns all over him because it sounds so wonderful. He leaves thinking he has a pretty awesome wife.

The men end up using their dirk in some way. Now, it’s not what you’re thinking. A dirk is a knife they carry at all times. It may be used when fighting to defend oneself or kill food for dinner. It comes in verra handy.

So how could you not love a Scotsman? He is a perfect heroic figure for a romance novel or a historical book. And as you can see, I’ve learned a lot. Reading can take you so many places. I’ve enjoyed meeting-and loving-these Scotsmen.

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I was contacted by an author after he saw my series about traveling to the places you write about. He said he had recently been to Finland, and since I am of Swedish descent, it piqued my interest. The Finns and Swedes are neighbors. Below I am sharing his very interesting piece, not just about the country, but the people.

This past May of the year 2015, I took a week long trip to Finland. In the process, I saw the capital, Helsinki, and a few other small locales. It was my first time ever in a Nordic country, and indeed my first time ever with boots on the ground in Europe proper. But I–an American of questionable heritage who can scarcely speak a word of Finnish, and can barely get by in Swedish–never felt out of place or overwhelmed.

Two jokes may explain the reasons for this:

  • An introverted Finn looks at his shoes when he’s talking to you. An extroverted Finn looks at yours.
  • Timo and Jaako agree to go fishing on a lake. They begin at dawn, and at dusk, over twelve hours later, they remain entirely unsuccessful. Timo says, “They aren’t biting very much today, are they?” Jaako glares at him and says, “Did we come here to fish or to talk?”
Clearly, Finns are often thought of as shy or socially awkward. I believe that this is a mistake. Finns are reserved, certainly, and shy to open up to strangers, or indeed friends and family. But I never perceived anyone to be uncertain of themselves or hesitant to speak when the time was right.
Or perhaps it’s my own bias. Several years ago, I went on a car trip that lasted some six hours, and when it finished, I was asked by my companions why I was so angry, as I had said nothing for the duration of the trip. The truth was that I wasn’t angry, nor was I sad or upset in any fashion. I simply didn’t see a particular reason or opportunity to talk.
These are certainly rare traits for Americans, and they are among the reasons why I have always taken a longer time than most to fit in among new social groups and settings. But in Finland, I felt that I understood everything and everyone the moment I saw them. The clean quiet streets, the restaurants that opened in the late afternoon for dinner and then closed before it was too late at night, the endless forests and lakes, the people who waited in lines with several yards of space between them, the endless bike trails and the preference for public transport over private vehicles.
Until November of 2014, I never seriously thought that I would make it to Finland. But then an opportunity to visit with a friend who had lived there for some years showed itself, and I jumped on it. I ended up traveling solo, but I wouldn’t trade the experience for almost anything in the world.

My first ever published piece, Maaselkä, takes place in once Finnish, now Russian territory, and I wrote it long before I ever took the possibility of traveling to Finland seriously. But looking back on the way I wrote that piece, I think I got the Finnish experience right. The Finns are quiet people, reserved even, and their landscape is one of harsh winters and endless sprawling lakes and hills. But there is real beauty in Finland, and real brutality too, lurking just beneath the surface, and it doesn’t take much effort to be immersed in it.

I don’t know when or indeed if I will return to Finland again. But the truth seems to be that the Finnish feeling has been part of me for as long as I can remember. To continue to write horrors like Maaselkä, I don’t need to go anywhere, or do anything. All I need to do is to draw from that which is apparently an inextricable part of who I am.

           Signed:

           Alex Ross
         Find it here:  Maaselka
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Today I am hosting fellow Fire and Ice author,Martha Deeringer. Nothing warms my heart more than to see other teachers find their inner writer! Martha  tells us about the setting that inspired her to write, Speak of the Tiger.

Here is what she has to say:

Nothing makes a book come alive for me like the feeling that I’m there with the characters in a real place that I can see, touch, hear and smell. So when I’m planning a book, I choose a location that speaks to me.  I want to make it come to life for my readers like it did for me.

When I wrote Speak of the Tiger, this was simplicity itself. During my teaching career, I accompanied busloads of sixth graders to the famous YO Ranch near Mountain Home, Texas every year for a three day leadership course where we hiked, camped out under the stars, rode the ranch’s famous horses, swayed in the tops of trees on a ropes course and got close-up experience with exotic wildlife.

The setting of Speak of the Tiger is nearly as important to the story as the characters. Without an intimate knowledge of the YO Ranch it wouldn’t have been the same book; the dust, the Texas heat, the shallow river and the spines of the prickly pear are an integral part of the story.

My next book, Orphans’ Inn,  (out in October) is historical fiction, and while I can’t go back to see the setting in the 1840s, visiting the modern location (Austin, Texas) and studying historic photos of the area have made it easier to get inside the head of the main character, Charity Bullock, an orphan who travels across the Texas plains to Austin to live with a great-uncle whom she has never met.

I’ve also written many history articles for magazines, and have found the same truths in these shorter stories. Writing about the US Camel Corps at Ft. Lancaster wouldn’t be the same without visiting the Caprock canyons of west Texas.  To make settings come alive—go there!

Martha Deeringer Find it here at Amazon – Speak of the Tiger

and at Fire and Ice Young Adult books – Speak of the Tiger

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Settings. They need to be included in a story. Without them it’s hard to picture what’s going on. For me, it’s one of the hardest things to do, describe a place. Does it help if you’ve been there? I have been to some of the places I’ve written about and it does help. You get a different perspective. You smell the smells. Walk the land. It  becomes up close and personal.

Not to say you have to go to every place you want to use in your book. The internet is a great place for an overwhelming amount of pictures and information.

I reached out to other authors and asked their views. I wanted to feature people who have been to the place where their book takes place. Last week I had Mysti Parker tell us about her journey. Today I want to introduce you to another author friend, Jody Vitek. She will tell us about her book and how she got the idea for her setting. Read on:

Thanks for inviting me, Nancy. I love to travel, but that doesn’t mean I get to do it often. My family and I usually stay in Minnesota. I’ve been fortunate enough to travel within the fifty United States, and venture to Cancun, Mexico when I was a nanny. It was when my friend took me on a vacation to Siesta Key, Florida that I was inspired to write the novel that would become my debut release, Florida Heat.

The white sandy beach, warm sunshine, and the aqua blue waters of the Gulf of Mexico were the setting. Witnessing offshore powerboat racing for the first time, gave me the action and danger element for the hero, Trent Randall. A beachside, yellow house was the perfect home for my heroine, Maggie Carlisle. My friend and I visited the local shops and restaurants, which I used a few in my book, as well as share their website links on my website for the book.

I don’t always write in a location I’ve visited, but am more comfortable sticking with where I am familiar. When my readers asked what happened with the secondary characters in Florida Heat, I decided to write their story, Texas Two Step. The book is set in Dallas, Texas—I’ve never been to Dallas or Texas. Making up places is fun, but I’d rather travel and visit the location I’m going to write about. Unfortunately, that doesn’t mean I’m going to be able to visit.

Jody VitekFind Jody’s book here – Amazon – Florida Heat

Satin Romance: Florida Heat

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As a writer, I think it helps to have been to the places you write about. I wrote about the Grand Canyon and New York City in my series. I’d been to both places. Research is a big part of any book. The more you do, the more it helps the book come alive.

Add in history and you’ve got your work cut out for you. As you know, if you follow my blog, I’m reading the Outlander series. The author had to do a massive amount of research. She started with Scotland and the Highlander uprising and ended in North America pre-Revolutionary War. And that’s only in the four books I’ve read. I’m sure there’s more to come.

Since I like to read historical fiction and am considering writing one myself, I just had to invite my author friend, Mysti Parker, to guest blog today. She has recently released a historical romance novel. She has visited the places she wrote about and it’s an interesting journey. Love the cover, Mysti!

Travelling for Research

By Mysti Parker

I’ve never been what you’d call a history buff, but I had to become one when I wrote A Time for Everything. The idea came to me in 2010, and I began a very rough draft. I decided that I really should see these places where the story was to take place. That’s what researchers do, right? We took a trip to middle Tennessee, just the husband and I (always nice to be alone) and spent a weekend touring Franklin, Nashville, Brentwood, and Lebanon. These four towns all played parts in the story. But what I found in them truly fueled the fire of the book’s plot.

Middle Tennessee, like much of Kentucky where I live, is a beautiful symphony of rolling hills, green meadows, small farms and cozy communities nestled in quiet valleys. But during the Civil War, this area was anything but idyllic. Take Franklin, for instance. One of the bloodiest battles of the war swept through the town on November 30, 1864, leaving behind a trail of bullet-riddled soldiers, houses, and even civilian casualties.

Today, this horrific period in history is commemorated with historical sites that offer tours. We visited many of these, including the Lotz House, where German immigrant and master woodworker Johann Lotz and family had to evacuate before the battle reached their home. They sought shelter along with a couple dozen neighbors in basement of the Carter house across the street. In this beautiful historic home turned museum, you can still see the bullet holes in the original woodwork.

Just a short drive out of town is Carnton Plantation, where the McGavock family’s home became a field hospital. If you ever get a chance to visit, make sure to take the tour. It’s a fascinating and enlightening story of just how bad things could be when a battle is literally raging at your doorstep. In the home, you can still see the blood stains on the wooden floors upstairs. Here, you’ll see the window where a field surgeon tossed out amputated limbs. Arms, legs, hands, and feet of these unfortunate men supposedly formed a pile as high as the smokehouse.

The story of Carrie McGavock, however, was the most compelling. Once the war was over, and bodies buried hastily in shallow graves across the countryside, she decided to dedicate a parcel of their land as a Confederate cemetery. She began the arduous task of identifying these men when possible, and relocating their bodies to a proper, marked resting place. Her story inspired Robert Hicks to write Widow of the South, which I bought in the Carnton Plantation gift shop.

That book, along with several others like the real-life diary of a Confederate widow, A Woman’s Civil War by Cornelia Peake McDonald, helped me fill in the gaps of Portia’s story. Accounts of the Tennessee men who fought for both sides, and walking the ground they lived and died upon, helped bring Beau to life.

I think I could have written A Time for Everything without ever having stepped foot into Tennessee, but it wouldn’t have been the same book. Without touring the places firsthand and hearing such memorable and personal accounts, I don’t believe the story would have felt real enough. But I’ll let you readers decide that for yourself.

Profile Pic 2015 150x226  Buy her book here.           A Time for Everything  

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Get it down. Take chances. It may be bad, but it’s the only way you can do anything really good.
– William Faulkner

Taking chances.  How many times do you begin something then give up? Mr. Faulkner was right. It may be bad.  But you have a starting point. It can be improved upon, fixed, tweaked, torn apart and redone. That sounds a lot like writing a novel.  And since he was an author, I’m sure that’s what he meant in the quote.

If you feel your first draft is your best, you’re wrong. It’s just the beginning. When you finish your book, the feeling of euphoria envelops you. You deserve to feel that way. You are done. You’ve accomplished a mighty task.

Now walk away. Don’t do anything to this manuscript. Wait a week or two. Then start to read it again. Hopefully you’ll realize it’s just a first draft, a stepping stone to something better.

When I first started writing, I felt as if my book needed to be sent out into the world immediately.  After looking back on some of that work—Ugh! I can’t believe I felt that way. I now read my story at least three times before I have anyone look at it. That can take time, and in this day and age, a lot of us don’t have the patience for that. But if you want something to be good, I think patience needs to be added to your list.

Take chances.

Scary? Yep.

Exhilarating? Sometimes.

Unsure? Always.

But if you don’t take that first step, you’ll never know. You know the old saying, “Today is the first day of the rest of your life”. So go ahead. Take that chance. You may be one day closer to something good.

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I just finished the third book of the Outlander series, Voyager. I can’t stop thinking about these books and am holding back on buying the next one. There’s a lot to absorb in these novels. The first in the series was 560 pages, but Voyager was over 1,000.

The author tends to go into quite a bit of detail. In fact, I could use less details. Get on with the story! I’ve learned a lot of history, too. Mostly about the failed attempt of the Scottish Highlanders trying to regain the throne for Bonny Prince Charles in the 1740’s.

The book is a time travel novel, too. Clair Randall accidentally steps through one of the stones at an ancient stone circle while visiting Scotland with her husband. It takes her back to 1743 where she meets husband #2, Jamie. There is too much story to sum up in a few sentences, so I won’t try.

If you’re not a reader and think the story line is interesting, Starz has turned the books into a series. My husband has watched and liked it. Although, be forewarned, I had to skip over some scenes in the book and knew I couldn’t watch during the series. There are highly mature themes of a sexual nature in these books–Outlander especially.

The story of Jamie and Clair continues on for eight books. I thought I could stop after book one. But the need to read the next kept gnawing at the back of my mind. The characters stayed with me. Such a good lesson for writers. Shouldn’t all good books do that?

So tell me, what are you reading today?

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“Every secret of a writer’s soul, every experience of his life, every quality of his mind, is written large in his works.”
—Virginia Woolf

Virginia was right. Every author has written a part of themselves into their books. Think about it. If a writer doesn’t share a part of him or herself, like a singer or an actor, the audience doesn’t connect.

How much do you put in your writing? Are you willing to admit a certain character is based on your life? Are some of the scenes based on reality?

I admit some characters are part of me. How could they not be? Others are based on people I know. When it comes to dramatic moments, I may have embellished the stories to make them more exciting for the book.

During a book club meeting, some readers brought up a concern in one of my books. They found it hard to believe that my main character continued to do a certain action over and over again. They felt she should’ve learned her lesson and wised up.

Funny, that storyline came from the real world. Mine. I did that same thing. Over and over. Teens are still learning their way and make different choices than their adult counterparts. Some good. Some not. They tend to believe their peers when they say they will change or listen to their lies as if they were telling the truth.

The readers’ reactions to my answer were looks of surprise. The discussion topic changed. We talked about how we all can relate to poor choices as teens and how you learn and grow throughout life.

Life experiences. They’re part of every author’s story. I think most writers can easily share them in their books.

Secrets of the soul. That’s pretty heavy. I don’t know if I dug that deep yet. But it might make a pretty interesting book.

If you plan on being a writer, listen to Virginia. Look inside yourself. You may be surprised by the stories you find there.

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Memorial Day is not to be confused with Veterans Day. Today is for remembering those who died while serving this country’s armed forces. Veterans Day celebrates all who serve and served in the armed forces.

My dad didn’t die in the war, but he passed away at an early age. Every Memorial Day reminds me to make a visit to the cemetery. When we arrive, seeing all the flags by the gravestones make me proud and sad at the same time.

Dad was very patriotic. Whenever the Star Spangled Banner played on TV, he’d stand and salute or place his hand over his heart. He was a veteran of World War II, serving in Wales and England with a medical unit. His twin brother saw action in Europe. He belonged to the American Legion and had a special licence plate–one I remember to this day–AL1005. When we didn’t finish our dinner, he’d say, “Children in Europe are starving.” My sister and I would giggle, but knew he was quite serious.

So Dad, on this day, I want to tell you, you’re remembered. You were a good father. You served your country. You were patriotic. Thank you for setting the example. And hopefully you can see the salute I give you on this special day.

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Nancy Pennick wrote the young adult series, Waiting for Dusk, and is now working on her exciting new series, 29.

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