Guest Blogging

Just a real quick update!

I’m going to start doing some guest posts over at the AuthorCulture blog. The kind folks have invited me to join them permanently, but I’m not sure yet if that’s something I can maintain, so for the next three or four months, I’ve agreed to do some guest blogging. My first post is today! So go check it out. 🙂 

Also, I probably mentioned it before, but I did a guest post last month at K.M. Weiland’s blog, Helping Writers Become Authors. My post was about how to keep writing in the midst of adversity. I kind of have a bit of experience in that area.

I’m hoping to branch out with my guest blogging in the next several months, so if anyone has any suggestions I should inquire at who are open to self-published/hybrid, mystery, or science fiction authors, please leave a note in the comments! 

Until next time…

Structuring Your Novel: A Review

As a “pantser” writer, me and structure/outlining don’t necessarily go together naturally. Oil and water, we are.

However, every writer should continue to learn about her craft, and that’s where K.M. Weiland‘s new book, Structuring Your Novel, comes into play. I was absolutely delighted, I must say, when K.M. asked me to be an early reader, as I was for her last nonfiction book, Outlining Your Novel. Even so, being in a bit of a hectic time of life, I’m getting to the actual reviewing a bit late. But, that old adage is true: better late than never.

Being a pantser means I don’t usually pay attention to structure, whether it’s outlining or otherwise. I’ve only actually ever used an outline with success once, and that was for NaNoWriMo back in 2009. Yet, K.M.’s previous non-fiction book left me thinking, and while I’m still not an outliner, I can honestly say I recognize the merits of outlining, and when I’m stuck, will sit down and outline the next few chapters to get me going again.

I approached Structuring in much the same way. I’m a pantser: what can this book do for me?

Well, a lot, I’ll say that. Not so much a “how to” book, more a “these are the qualities of a strong book” book, Structuring Your Novel uses examples from familiar books and movies to describe fundamentally how all successful stories are arranged, what readers and viewers expect. Surprisingly enough, if you’ve read enough quality books or watched solid movies, you probably intuitively know a lot about story structure. But, K.M. lays it out perfunctorily so you can understand why you need to do XYZ by a set point in the story, for instance, having all your major characters introduced by the first plot point, around the 25% mark in your story.

What I learned most: I don’t have to outline my novels, but I should sit down and at least figure out if my drafts are in line with what typically happens in a book. Is my first plot point too early? Too late? What can I do to adjust its timing?

Additionally, I really enjoyed the second and third parts: Part Two is on Scene Structure, and Part Three is a short piece on Sentence Structure. Some of “Scene Structure” will be familiar if you’ve been following K.M.’s blog, Helping Writers Become Authors, but it’s nice to have the refresher in an easy-to-snag spot on my Kindle. Sentence Structure really is a crash course in many do’s and don’t’s common in early novels: repetitiveness, ambiguity, pompous words, etc.

Who needs this book: Every fiction writer who wants to get a better handle on the elements of storytelling, outliner and pantser alike. While newbies especially would benefit, those of us who are old-hands at story (whether published or not) can use the refresher, and gain new insights into how to tell a superb story. Maybe we will realize we need to move some bodies around in our stories because of Structuring. (That’s a little murder mystery writer humor!)

Structuring Your Novel is available through Amazon.com (and other booksellers) for $2.99 for Kindle presently, however, the list price is $12.75. Paperbacks cost $10.42, also at the same list price. Whichever version you pick up, it is well worth the cost. Getting a solid grasp on structure–even if you’re a pantser like me–will help make you a better writer, and in the end, isn’t that what all of us writers want?

Until next time,

Homecoming

I must apologize first off for my lapse in the last two weeks of posts. I got caught up in preparations for my trip, then forgot to finish and post the one post I had started! Argh! Hopefully, I won’t have such a lapse again. Anyway, I’m back, and that’s the important part. Now, if I can just get my PCs to cooperate with me…

Today is my post for the ChristianWriters.com blog chain… and as is apt having just come off my vacation, I’m writing it today… that’s how much I’m behind! The topic is “Coming Home”.

I haven’t had the benefit of even looking at anyone else’s posts, so I have no idea where everyone has taken this.

But, I had a literal coming home experience last week, so I’ll talk about that.

First, I should tell you that I have a love/hate relationship with traveling. I like being away from home, but I hate the inconveniences of being away–being in an unfamiliar area (so I don’t sleep as well), having my kids way off schedule, and not having any time (or inclination) to write or read. The worst of these is usually having to sleep in a hotel (or even in a relative’s home.) The mattress never feels right, and the surroundings are such that I sleep very lightly, awaking to every little sound, even if it’s one that normally wouldn’t bug me at home.

Chasm Falls, Rocky Mountain National Park

The drive home last week was lengthy. We were in NE Wyoming with family, and we left their home at 8:45 AM Mountain Time. TMOTH and I have done this drive in 12ish hours before, so I had hoped we’d be home by midnight (allowing for extra breaks.) By the time we’d been on the road for ten hours, we’d stopped 8 times. Yeesh.

It seemed the miles came slowly, driving across four states in order to get home. Stopping for the night wasn’t an option: TMOTH had to be at work the next morning. When we stopped to pick up my dog from Grandma, it was 12:30 AM Central, and we had one more hour to go.

Getting home was great. I was so relieved when we pulled up. Even when we walked in and found the place smelled like the garbage can we’d forgotten to take out when we left. (Poopy diapers left for 8 days don’t smell that great–let me tell you!) I was just so relieved to be home, to be able to drop into my own bed.

There were a lot of reasons to be relieved to be home. Our car had actually made it! In Colorado, we were climbing Pike’s Peak, and the car was acting very strange. We had to stop because our toddler, who is potty training, needed to use the bathroom. While we were doing this, we left the car running (hubby was afraid to shut it off) and it was sputtering and just not acting right. With our little boy in the car (asleep) and hubby off utilizing the men’s room, my daughter and I were standing outside, taking pictures and the car just died! That’s a little scary, when you’re halfway up a mountain, and you don’t know how you’re going to get back down.

Fortunately, TMOTH is a mechanic by trade. He recognized what the car was doing, and determined that we had to let the engine cool down. We ended up making it to the summit, but the next day was spent in Denver, locating parts to replace a part of the engine.

What a way to spend a vacation!

So you can see why I was most relieved on our home coming. Things could get back to normal. Our car wasn’t in perilous danger due to altitude. And I could sleep in my own bed.

At least I had a break from writing–and I’d recently just finished writing “Cora’s Song” before leaving. On the way home, I figured out my laptop’s fan had gone dead. Which definitely puts a damper on the whole writing thing. But, I’d at least gotten a preliminary read of K.M. Weiland’s new “Outline Your Novel” done. I’ll be doing a review here in a few weeks once it’s officially released. I’ll say this: I’m actively outlining again. This is a good thing.

I know this is a pretty disjointed post, and I apologize. Hopefully you can make sense of my version of Coming Home.

Until next time,

Why It’s Important to Read Other Blogs

Due to couple of technical glitches on my end of things, this post apparently didn’t run on Monday as I’d intended. Enjoy!

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If you’re like me, you watch your fair share of crime dramas on TV. I love Bones, Castle, and NCIS immensely.

But, if I’m not careful, I can allow them to color what I interpret as correct where police procedure is concerned.

This is why it’s important that I–and you as a writer–read non-fiction, whether in blog form or in book form.

I love Lee Lofland’s book, Police Procedure and Investigation, and his blog, The Graveyard Shift. With Castle in particular, he blogs about what the writers/actors did wrong where police procedure is concerned, and praises them when they get it correct. By reading this blog, I learn a lot, and that colors my view of other shows when I watch them. TMOTH is probably getting a little tired of hearing me go “They wouldn’t really do that in real life” or Oh, boy, I can’t wait to see what Lee Lofland has to say about that tomorrow.”

The same holds true for reading blogs by writers and agents. Lately, with having a little one in and out of the hospital, and being a busy mom, I don’t have a lot of time to read lengthy books on the topic of writing. Truth be told, since I got my Kindle a couple months ago, I haven’t cracked open a real book other than review copies for Christian Children’s Book Review. So, for the writer in me, blogs are the best way to stay current with my craft.

I almost always try to stay up with three blogs a week: AuthorCulture, Wordplay, and Rants & Ramblings. If I have time, I usually like to check in with several others, but these are the ones I’ll read while eating breakfast or lunch, or if I have a quick ten minutes where the kids are being good.

Sure, the four I’ve mentioned today are probably not the most comprehensive, although I feel they’re pretty good. Heck, Rants & Ramblings has been on the Writer’s Digest list of best sites for writers several years in a row. But, the important thing for me is that I stay connected. If I were to say “Chuck it. I’ve got too many irons in the fire. I’ll pick my writing back up when the baby’s better,” I’d lose my grip on the market, on what’s good writing, on my passion for doing what I want to do.

By staying active on the blogs, I’m also keeping my name out there. I don’t comment on every post, but I comment frequently enough. And that, as a writer desiring to be published, is an important thing.

So, you tell me: What blogs do you make sure you read frequently? Maybe I’ll have to add a few more to my “must read” list.

Until next time,

Write What You DON’T Know

My writing friend K.M. Weiland recently asked on Twitter what the worst piece of writing advice you’ve ever received is.

I had a prompt response:

Write what you know.

While this piece of advice is common in writer’s circles, I’d have to say my stories would be pretty boring if I wrote about what I know. Who really wants to read about a stay-at-home mom nursing her infant son or trying to figure out how to get hand lotion out of her two-year-old’s curly locks? Sounds pretty boring to me–and I’ve done both of these in the last 24 hours.

I write mystery and science fiction. Have I ever stumbled over a dead body? As long as you don’t count the funerals I’ve gone to, no. Have I ever solved a crime? No. Have I ever flown in space? Okay, that one could get a varied response based on who you ask–some may say I’m a space cadet. Technically, the answer is no. (Not that I wouldn’t if offered!)

I’ve done all these things while writing, yet I have no personal knowledge of any of them.

Research is the answer. Even a romance book requires some research. Unless a writer was raised in an Amish or closed community, how else are they going to know how to write so-called “bonnet romances”? Research. If I need to know the difference between a Glock G26 and a Saturday Night Special, what do I do? Research.

My point is that instead of “writing what we know,” the creative use of research allows us as writers to fill in the blanks that we don’t know, sometimes with mundane, but most of the time with interesting facts we’ve discovered. It gives us a chance to get it right: talking to a homicide detective about how they solve a crime, for instance.

My local writing buddy, Juliet Kincaid, taught a lesson at a Sisters in Crime meeting a few years ago. I wish she had that lesson online so I could share it with you, but it basically shared some creative places to do your research. She writes primarily historical mysteries, so she makes good use of librarians–I would never have thought of asking a librarian before her talk!

For more on research, I highly recommend this post by K.M. Weiland.

So, going back to K.M.’s question, what’s the worst piece of writing advice you’ve ever received?

Until next time,

P.S. K.M. Weiland covered this topic as well yesterday her blog. Check it out here.

What Can the Movies Teach Us About Setting

Often times setting is so integral to a story that it becomes a character in itself. Fantasy, science fiction, and historical stories all demand detailed and precise settings. Most mysteries will demand at least one scene set in a police station or morgue. Many thrillers and suspense stories have found great success by confining their boundaries to an airplane, island, or small town.

Setting is an inherent and vital part of all stories. Without a setting that immediately grounds him in the characters’ world, a reader is going to find himself floundering… and the author is, more than likely, going to find himself out of a job. Finding the right descriptive words to bring to life the Wyoming plains, a river in Syria, or the bombed-out streets of war-torn London, requires an excellent grip on the English language, a clear vision of color and space, and a vivid imagination.

In provoking the immediacy of setting, movies have a decided advantage over the lowly novelist. After all, a movie director hardly requires pages of evocative description when he has the ability to simply inundate his viewer with a minute’s worth of color and light and spectacle. In that regard, novelists are at a certain disadvantage compared to their brethren of the silver screen.

But there is one way in which all authors of fiction can share in the cinematographic grounding of setting. And that is in what I term “throwaway settings.” All stories, be they on the written page or the movie screen, possess two kinds of setting: the concrete and the “throwaway.”

Concrete scenes are those that demand a particular kind of setting. Allow me to use three movies as an example. In the 2005 movie Pride & Prejudice, the scene in which Elizabeth Bennett and Fitzwilliam Darcy are reunited after Lizzie’s refusal of his first proposal, could have taken place in no other setting than the sumptuous grounds of Darcy’s Pemberley estate. The Patriot (2000), which took place during the American Revolution, featured innumerable battle scenes that, to be true to historicity, could have taken place nowhere but South Carolina. Likewise, the majority of The Last of the Mohicans, which takes place during the French siege of the English Ft. William Henry, could not conceivably have been set elsewhere.

In these same movies, however, we find many throwaway scenes—scenes that do not demand a particular setting. For instance, the scene in Pride & Prejudice in which Elizabeth refuses Darcy’s proposal could have taken place almost anywhere. In Jane Austen’s book, upon which the movie is based, the scene is acted out in a drawing room. At first glance, nothing can be said against this choice of setting: it’s sensible and realistic. But how much better was the setting chosen by the director of the movie—the opulent monument, in a lush landscape, to which Elizabeth runs to escape the rain? Jane Austen’s original drawing room setting may have gotten across the scene’s point, but the movie’s version explored so many deeper levels of tension and beauty, simply by changing the setting.

In The Patriot, the hero, a militia captain, must select a hidden base camp, from which he can harass the enemy and then melt back into hiding. The writer and director of the movie could easily have gotten away with parking the camp in the middle of a forest. Instead, they chose to set it in a graveyard-cum-swamp, with the headstones lurking half-submerged in the water. In conveying tone, the swamp was far more effective than a simple forest setting could ever have been.

Finally, the splendid sense of setting we find throughout The Last of Mohicans is nowhere more evident than during the prolonged escape scene, in which the heroes launch their empty canoes over a waterfall, then seek a hiding place in the caverns behind the water. Not only does the idea work marvelously in the plot itself, it also manages to submerge the viewer in a mysterious world of mist, water, and shadow, thereby bringing an entirely new and exceptional tone to the scene.

The simple use of setting in all three of these movies proves how easy it is to transform a scene with a few keystrokes. In fact, as authors we are able to make these changes with far greater ease than that of movie producers and directors, who must hunt out strange and interesting locales.

The next time you sit down to write a scene with a throwaway setting—a scene in which the setting is not inherent—stop and think. Could you bring a new level to your scene by adding an interesting or unexpected setting? Changing the setting could add depth to your scene, heighten the tension, and even lead to story angles you never suspected were present. Consider your settings carefully, even those that initially seem unimportant. You never know when you may find an unexpected gem!

K.M. Weiland writes historical and speculative fiction from her home in the sandhills of western Nebraska. She is the author of the historical western A Man Called Outlaw and the recently released medieval epic Behold the Dawn. She blogs at Wordplay: Helping Writers Become Authors and AuthorCulture.

My Favorite Resources

I thought today I’d share with you some of my favorite places on the web that have really made me think about my writing and how to improve it. While this list is nowhere near comprehensive, I hope the sampling provides you with some new places to visit frequently.

Agent/Editor Blogs

The Rejectionist — This isn’t an agent/editor blog per se, however this person is an assistant to what I suspect is a major NY agent. His/her rants are quite comical at times, but usually right on the mark, especially if they share any quotes from queries they’ve received. This person does seem to be mildly obsessed with Gollum from The Lord of the Rings, and will occasionally go into spurts of talking like him. (One of the categories that they regularly post in is We hates it precioussss.)

Evil Editor — I haven’t quite cracked the nut on this one yet. It seems most of the time, the posts break down a persons plot and explains why it won’t work. Other times, it’s a query letter. A few comics are spread throughout. Regardless, I usually get some nugget from reading the posts.

Query Shark — In my opinion, this is one of the best teaching tools for wannabe published writers. As she receives worthy queries, Janet Reid critiques submitted queries and explains why they don’t work–or why they do and why she’d request additional chapters. If you want to put your query through the ringer, though, be sure to read EVERYTHING that’s been posted, or you’ll quickly be rejected! And, read the rules, too. It gets you into good practice for when you start submitting your work.

Miss Snark’s First Victim — If you’re not familiar with Miss Snark, and admittedly, I’m not, you may find the title of this blog a bit odd. However, when you get into the meat of this blog, you’ll find it very helpful–I have. Once a month, this blog hosts a ‘mystery guest’, which is a literary agent. You’re invited to submit the first 250 words +/- of your completed, polished novel if you fit the requirements. Then everyone can critique your work–including the mystery agent. At the end, the agent is revealed, and s/he selects a few works they want to see more of, so you have an opportunity if you’re one of the lucky few to pitch your book. If you don’t get picked, you still get some good advice. I put Homebody through the paces there in November.

Rachelle Gardner — Okay, I’ll admit it. At the moment, I think Rachelle Gardner is my dream agent. Of all the agent blogs I follow, and the agents I follow on Twitter, I think she’s probably one of the classiest. Reading her blog posts, you can really tell that she truly cares about the people she represents, and respects authors in general (not that other agents don’t). Her blog is always helpful and thought provoking. Now if I can just craft or edit a book that she may be interested in! Homebody and Cora’s Song are too rough around the edges, and I think Beyond Dead, once it’s edited, will contain too many sci-fi elements. *sigh*

Author Blogs

K.M. Weiland’s Wordplay — K.M. has become a good cyber-friend, so I may be a little biased, but I truly think her blog Wordplay is fabulous. Each Sunday, she posts on a topic pertinent to becoming a better writer. Regardless of the topic, she makes you think, even if you don’t think the topic is applicable to your particular style of writing. Her companion podcast is also superb, and you can find it (and subscribe!) on iTunes, or listen to it on her site. She’s also begun a new Wednesday feature with a video podcast.

AuthorCulture — Along with Linda Yezak and Lynnette Bonner, K.M. Weiland also writes for AuthorCulture. These three ladies always have something interesting to say, and frequently use examples from their own projects. At the end of the month, they share a roundup of resources they’ve uncovered over the month that may help you, and you sure don’t want to miss Fabulously Fun Fridays at AuthorCulture–it’s like a box of chocolates; you never know what you’ll get!

777 Peppermint Place — Linda Yezak, pre-published author, shares about personal goings-on, but most often about her writing life. Whether it’s regarding her adventures of rewriting her book, finding an agent, or mulling over her diet, her posts are always fun.

The Graveyard Shift — Non-fiction author and former cop Lee Lofland’s blog is always informative, especially if you’re writing crime fiction. He reviews episodes of ABC’s Castle, detailing why things wouldn’t work from a cop’s perspective, but also details topics pertinent to those writing crime fiction, or are even just curious about how things work. His book, Police Procedure & Investigation was published through Writer’s Digest Books, and is extremely helpful. He also is a member of a Yahoo! group on writing crime fiction, crimescenewriter.

Miscellaneous Blogs

The Character Therapist — Writer and Licensed Therapist Jeannie Campbell has one of the most unique blogs for writers out there. She posts twice a week, Tuesdays and Thursdays. Every Tuesday, she selects a character sketch or outline from her readers and puts the characters on the couch, so to speak. She takes your premise as a guide, then tells you from a psychological point of view why your characters would or wouldn’t work. She’ll also give you ideas to tweak your characters to bring them in line with what would be acceptable behavior if they’re way out of line. Thursdays, Jeannie tends to go through various psychological maladies and how you could use them in your writing. Like Query Shark, be sure to read the rules, though there aren’t as many and they aren’t as strict as The Shark.

Twitter

Some may say that Twitter isn’t worth the time, however I’ve found that I learn a lot from following agents and authors on Twitter. Some of the time it’s just a nodding, ‘I’m going to file that away’. Other times, it’s an aghast open mouth thinking ‘what where they thinking?’ (These are usually from seeing something marked #queryquotes — a very good search to save!)

Since time is running short, here’s just my top 10. You can find more by following me, @righter1 and either my list ‘Important Folks’ or ‘Agents’.

@RachelleGardner
@Agentgame
@WolfsonLiterary (she may not have started #queryquotes, but I think she’s the queen now!)
@WritersDigest
@BostonBookGirl
@LeeLofland
@KMWeiland
@pprmint777
@Brandilyn
@Bradfordlit

So, I’ve shared mine. How about you? What are some of the resources you couldn’t live without online?

Until next time,

Author Interview: K.M. Weiland, Part 2

Welcome back to our interview with author K.M. Weiland! Be sure to check out her new release, Behold the Dawn!

And without further ado, here’s the second installment of our interview.

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Liberty Speidel: Do you have any rituals when you write?

K.M. Weiland: Yes, I’m actually very ritualistic. My normal pre-writing routine goes something like this: pray, scribble in my writing journal, outlining the scene I’m writing and addressing any possible stumbling blocks; read an article on the craft; proofread what I wrote the day before; glance over my notes from the character interviews I wrote in the outlining stage; and watch a thematically related music video on YouTube. Oh, and I eat craisins!

LS: What are your next projects?

KMW: I continue to edit my fantasy Dreamers Come, preparing it for publication. And I’m currently outlining another historical called The Deepest Breath, set during World War I in such far-flung settings as London, France, and Kenya. A writing buddy and I are also having fun with a story that answers the question, “What would happen if Robin Hood met Sleeping Beauty?”

LS: Do you have a trusted friend(s) who looks over your first (or second or third) draft for you?

KMW: I’m fussy about letting anyone read my work before I finish the first draft. Somehow, letting someone see or have any input on a story before it’s “finished” takes away some of the magic. However, once my first draft is completed, I have two very reliable critters, Linda Yezak and Adrie Ashford, who get to mark up all my mistakes. I rely on other people as well, but these two always get first whack at anything I write.

LS: How do you determine when a story is ‘done’ and you’re ready to send it off to the publisher?

KMW: For whatever reason, I inevitably find that it takes me the time to complete a whole new project before I’m able to look at Project #1 with objectivity. So once I’ve finished a story, I toss the manuscript into the closet and let it sit there for the next couple years, while I’m working on something new. I’ll pull it out to edit it occasionally and run it past test readers. But not until Project #2 is safely finished will I pull the first one out and start buckling down to the task of discovering its worth as a publishable piece of work.

LS: Growing up, did you always know you wanted to be a writer?

KMW: I started writing when I was twelve because I didn’t want to
forget the stories I told myself. But I never really considered it as a calling until much later. For most of my childhood and teen years, I was certain I wanted to train horses and barrel race.

LS: Who have been the person or persons who have influenced you most along your path?

KMW: Writing has always been a deep inner calling. I don’t think I could have helped but follow it, even if no had ever encouraged me. But my father was probably my most constructive guide. And, of course, everyone who ever took the time to encourage me is responsible for pushing me one step farther down the writing path.

LS: Which author(s) do you admire most and why?

KMW: Patrick O’Brian, Orson Scott Card, and Kristen Heitzmann top the list, for various reasons. O’Brian for his magic combination of subtlety, realism, and research. He’s one of those few and special authors who writes so seamlessly that you can’t even see through the cracks to discern his methods. Card gets props for his themes, his grit, and his fantastic afterwords, in which he explains his process in more depth than I usually dare to hope for. And Heitzmann continues to blow me way with her detailed prose. She’s a master of the “telling detail.”

LS: Is your family supportive of your writing career?

KMW: None of them are writers, or even necessarily readers of fiction, which makes me all the more blessed that they’ve never faltered in their support of my work. Even when they don’t understand all my crazy quirks, they still put up with me, love me, encourage me.


LS: When you’re not writing, what do you enjoy doing?

KMW: You mean not writing is an option? I love being outside, taking walks with my black Lab, reading, horseback riding…

LS: What’s the best piece of writing advice anyone’s ever given you?

KMW: It’s not specific to writing and it wasn’t specifically aimed at me, but a Frank Wilczek quote jumps to mind: “If you don’t make mistakes, you’re not working on hard enough problems.”

LS: What kind of advice would you offer to new writers?

KMW: First and foremost: Just write! I see so many people wanting to put the cart before the horse. But revising, marketing, soliciting agents… practicing your autograph—none of that matters if you’re not consistently putting words on paper. I always encourage people to put aside a set amount of time (even if it’s only fifteen minutes) every day for their writing. And once you’ve set it aside, stick to it! What makes good writers isn’t talent so much as perseverance.

Thank you again for sharing with Word Wanderings! For all my readers, be sure to order a copy of K.M.’s books, Behold the Dawn and A Man Called Outlaw! I’m sure you’ll enjoy both reads.

Until next time,

Author Interview: K.M. Weiland, Part 1

Today, I’m very pleased to welcome my good online-writing buddy, K.M. Weiland. I frequently link to K.M.’s blogsite, Wordplay, so she’s not a stranger to Word Wanderings. Please join me in welcoming her! We’ll be having a two-part interview, and trust me, you won’t want to miss any of it, so be sure to come back on the 14th for the second part! First, we’ll be discussing her latest release, Behold the Dawn.

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Liberty Speidel: Thank you for visiting Word Wanderings today, K.M. It’s a joy to have you here! First off, please share a little bit about Behold the Dawn.

K.M. Weiland: Behold is an epic story of war, revenge, unexpected love, and the haunting secrets of a knight’s past. I think it has a little something for everyone, especially those who enjoy gritty medieval stories.

LS: Can you elaborate a bit on the characters?

KMW: The protagonist, a knight named Marcus Annan, is a sixteen-year veteran of the tourneys. After partaking in a tragic internecine war at an abbey where he was paying penance for the accidental deaths of his sister-in-law and her unborn twins, he retreats to the one thing he knew best: warfare. For the last sixteen years, right up until the story opens, he’s been on the run from his past, trying to blot it out in the violence and glory of the tourney fields. Along the way he becomes one of the most famous and feared tourneyers in Europe.

He’s a man who walks his own solitary path, and his only companion is a smart-mouthed, headstrong Scottish lad named Peregrine Marek, who became indentured to Annan after Annan saved him from prison and paid off a shopkeeper from whom Marek had been stealing. Marek was one of those characters that just popped off the page. He became a perfect foil for Annan’s grumpiness. I had lots of fun with their dialogue exchanges!

On his journey to and through the Holy Land, Annan also encounters a mysterious monk named the Baptist, who has both reform and revenge on the brain; Lady Mairead of Keaton, who is entrusted to Annan’s care after the death of her husband, one of Annan’s only friends; a Knight Templar named Warin, torn between his conscience and his duty; a very nasty Norman named Hugh de Guerrant; and Bishop Roderic of Devonshire, who was the abbot at the monastery Annan ran from sixteen years earlier.

LS: You set Behold the Dawn during the Third Crusade. What made you decide to set a book during this time frame?

KMW: Any story gets better when you put swords in it! Actually, the story was inspired by William Marshall, who is known as “the greatest knight who ever lived.” What originally caught my attention was his participation in the tourneys—the huge mock battles that were the predecessors of the slightly more civilized jousting tournaments. Tourneys originated in late 11th-century France as a form of heavy cavalry training and quickly evolved into a dangerous and hugely popular sport. It was surprisingly gladiatorial. I was intrigued by the violence and its effect on the men who participated. As I delved deeper into my research, I realized the Third Crusade would be at the story’s heart, since it would no doubt have attracted many of these tourneyers because of the Church’s promised of absolution to anyone who fought as a Crusader.

LS: Did you find it difficult to write a tourney scene? How did you go about trying to make it as authentic as possible?

KMW: I loved writing the tourney scenes, and I dearly wish I could have stuck more of them into the story. The book opens in the middle of a tournament in southern Italy, so I got to dive right into the strange world of the tourneyer. I researched tactics, setting, and such. I find it all so fascinating that it was hard to rein myself in!

LS: In doing research, what was one of or a few of the more surprising things you learned about this era?

KMW: I’m deeply fascinated by medieval history, so I found pretty much everything I discovered interesting. Perhaps what stuck with me most, however, was the general spiritual degradation of the period. Christianity, as a whole, was in one of the most benighted states in its history. Ignorance and superstition reigned among the people, while corruption and confusion undermined the Church. It was a very dark time, really.

LS: The history of the church in this area is also fascinating to me: to know where it came from to see it fall to the point it did. Do you have a favored resource or two you’d like to recommend for others interested in learning more about the era?

KMW: I highly recommend Jonathan Sumption’s The Age of Pilgrimage. Also Ermengard of Narbonne and the World of the Troubadours by Fredric Cheyette, The Crusades by Zoé Oldenbourg, The Story of Christianity by Justo L. González, and The Mediaeval Mind by Henry Osborn Taylor.

LS: Was there any point while you were writing this book that you really felt it wasn’t going to come together? If so, how did you handle this quandary?

KMW: Oh, yes! I think I have this feeling in every story I write. The first fifty pages are always murder. I struggled with my beginning chapters for quite a while on this one, fiddling with story elements, throwing things out, only to drag them back in. I wish I had a magic pill for this, but the only solution I’ve found is simply to keep writing. Eventually, I always work my way out of the rut, and things start falling together.

LS: Do you budget your writing time? If so, how so?

KMW: I set aside two hours a day, five days a week for my fiction writing. It’s something I’m very religious about maintaining. If I don’t force myself to write every day, then nobody else is going to do it for me. I truly believe in the importance of regular writing. You have to treat it as a job and make a point of showing up on time every day. The really neat thing about this is that once you get in the habit of writing at a specific time every day, your brain accustoms itself to being creative—and procrastination and writer’s block are beaten before they even get out of the gates most days!

LS: How much research do you put into your books before you begin to write them?

KMW: Unlike many authors, I’m very regimented in the way I approach each story. I start by spending several months (or however long it takes) sketching my rough ideas, answering my “what if” questions, and filling plot holes as best I can. Then I interview my POV characters. Then I write an in-depth outline (usually at least one notebook’s worth). By that time, the story has pretty much taken shape, and I know what questions I’m going to need to answer in my research. I collect all the material I find and spend the next three months reading, taking notes, and filing my findings.

LS: You’re primarily a historical novelist. So far, do you have a favorite era?

KMW: I’m admittedly a bit of a Mexican jumping bean when it comes to subject matter. I have so many things I want to explore that I have no intention of boxing myself into a particular genre or era. So far I’ve written about the 19th century Wyoming Territory (A Man Called Outlaw), the Third Crusade (Behold the Dawn), and a fantasy novel with a contemporary setting (Dreamers Come, yet to be published). But, all that said, I do have to admit to a special fondness for the Middle Ages. Its strange juxtaposition of nonchalant brutality and fairy-tale romance fascinates me endlessly. I’m sure I’ll write at least one more medieval story before I’m through!

LS: How about an era you would like to set a story in?

KMW: Asking me that is like turning a kid loose in a candy shop and telling him to pick just one sweet! However, I do have some tentative story ideas set, respectively in the early 20th century during the Dawn of Aviation, a contemporary time-travel fantasy, and a superhero story set roundabout the Regency era.

Thank you, K.M., for sharing today! Be sure to come back next week on the 14th for the second installment of our interview.

Until next time,