The Real (Fake) Lives of Authors

I’m a big fan of those feature stories that circulate on writer blogs and The Huffington Post about what famous authors wore. Or the ones about where they lived. Or the ones about the superstitions they had. All the while, as I gaze at the artfully photographed author posing as if in mid-thought, I’m aware of a small jealousy.  I know these things are fabricated for mass consumption. I really know it, and yet I still feel, because they had a better desk or cooler shoes, they had a leg up on the ladder of success.

The ones I remember most are the photos of great-looking authors who later went on to commit suicide. I don’t know about you, but I’m drawn to  studying the demise of celebrity authors–so tragic, so mesmerizing.

I think the real problem is photography. It captures just a moment–a perfect moment. The unreal moment when an author becomes famous. Even for the biggest writers the moments are only small things that happen for a few hours now and again.

It’s why reading about what authors do when not writing is so interesting. Are they really human? Are they witty all the time? Are they jerks to family? I know the answers but still need reassurance.

This weekend THE HOUSE ON TENAFLY ROAD about a dysfunctional family in the post-Civil War era received this review:

“*****I started this book without bothering to check the length. Had I done that, I may have changed my mind. So many of those books are full of pages that say nothing – or the same thing.

This is not one of those books. This is a piece of art – a story that flows from one page to the next, one year to the next, with absolute beauty. It was painful at times, full of raw emotion, but so beautifully, wonderfully written.

Well done!”

I was elated and grateful, of course.

But then we had to shoot one of our goats.

Yes, my favorite milking doe Kate who loved peanuts and affection has spent the last year barely hanging on. The vet hinted last year that she should be culled as a weak link in our herd, but I adored her and spent the winter injecting her with all sorts of remedies that didn’t work. In the thick of blizzards I was in the dark barn running my fingers over Kate’s rib cage looking for some fat to stick a needle in twice day.

When spring came on we thought we saw some hope, but then there was none. We researched the most painless, least stress inducing way to put her down: gun to the back of the head while she ate. I milked her one last time (we needed the milk for other goat kids) and brushed her–she liked that–and then I brought her into the big fenced in area to graze until my husband came home from work.

I did what everyone does in the movies–I took that one long look back at her and she at me. A little while later I heard the gunshot and that was it.

The next day my husband and I got into a two day fight about hummus–the stuff you put on crackers. When we spoke to each other again it was about the fact that one of our registered bucks turned out not to be a purebred Nubian. We had foolishly assumed he was and paid a purebred price a few years back but he was just an American Nubian (a step down in breeding circles). A customer of ours knew the breeder and pointed out our mistake  after I had advertised and sold a few babies as purebreds! I had to call everyone to apologize and offer to take back the babies or keep them for the $50 deposits they had given me. Luckily everyone was fine with getting great animals for a great price, but still I was mortified.

One of the babies was born with entroption (when eyelids turn under). I spoke with the vet and she assured me it was an easy fix and I could come by the next day and she’d walk me through the procedure. Instead I sat on her porch with a knocked-out baby goat on my lap as the vet with a tiny scalpel sliced off skin. The eyelid was HUGE like the vet had never seen. BTW, both of us humans were in a weird mix of farm clothes and pajamas since we thought we would only be injecting the lid with a tiny bit of penicillin.

I could also go on about our Golden Retriever whose face blew up after having eaten a bee this week, but the goat stories and last week’s post on the trials and tribulations of adoption are enough.

It’s raining again today. I’m beginning to wonder if there is such a thing as weather manipulation. Photos of famous authors (and not so famous ones) are manipulated. The perfect turtleneck sweater, the relaxed sitting on the porch look, the deep in thought at typewriter pose . . . all fabricated, idealized versions of lives. Lives where writing is the obsession maybe but lives with a lot of mess. My life is no messier than others–it’s actually quite good despite goat shootings and bee stings.

I think for today I’ll luxuriate in a good review, knowing that for a brief few moments I took someone’s mind to another place.

MORE FUN LINKS:

WHAT WRITERS WEAR

WHAT WRITERS WEAR WHEN THEY WRITE AT HOME

THE CLOTHES BEHIND THE BOOKS

How to Write Believable Female Protagonists (and why we have such a hard time liking them)

Can we be honest? About 1/2 of the reading public has just moved on at the phrase “female protagonist.”  Since “women continue to read circles around men, especially in fiction and literature: 64 percent of ladies read at least one book in 2012 (and 56 percent read at least one literary book), compared to only 45 percent of men (only 37 percent read at least one literary book) why do we shy away from reading about women  when most of us fiction readers are WOMEN? SEE STUDY

We tend to see men as doing and women as feeling, yet in the study sited above even when names were switched and men  were  feeling and women  doing, readers felt they related to whomever was named Jack, not Jill.

As a novelist who writes about men and women who do AND feel I wonder why even I feel more ambivalent about female protagonists in my writing. Despite the study above my gut says there’s 5 things going on here as illustrated through my characters:

WEAKNESS: Katherine Weldon  and her husband both carry with them burdens of childhood trauma, yet John Weldon’s weakness (morphine addiction) takes center stage. Katherine is blamed for somehow standing out and being subjected to a violent sexual encounter. I don’t believe we live in a rape culture, but I do believe that rape is so horrifying to most moral beings that until very recently people would rather read about a trip on a raft down a river (as a small aside: statistically, more men than women are raped each year–mostly in prison).  In our modern age we don’t like butting up against a biological truth that, in general, women are weaker physically and at times more emotional. Sue me, but the ladies in SEX IN THE CITY and GIRLS are someone’s fantasy.  If you want to write about women realistically you have to accept the fact that it’s probably going to get pretty messy.

LOVE DRIVE: Keep in mind that I blog what I ponder, fully aware that I don’t have all the answers here. Mostly just more questions: Why do women want to be men?

Thankful Crenshaw does not have a man’s sex drive. She has a love drive. She is driven by an overactive desire for deep love. I know women like this (I may be a woman like this). A woman like this is not flippant about sexual encounters. I knew one young woman who was flippant until her boyfriend deserted her at the abortion clinic.

Real women can compete with men on many levels, but unlike men, they have a harder time compartmentalizing. A sex drive fits easily into a box. A love drive spills all over the place.

Women carrying heavy machine guns, kick boxing in tight spandex and yukking it up at the bar later (wearing lipstick) just don’t sit well with me. Men doing the same thing minus the spandex and lipstick entertain me greatly.

JEALOUSY: Men seem to use jealousy to drive themselves forward. Women tend …to … destroy each other. Thankful is beautiful. She’s used her beauty as power and sadly misused it as well. Miss Peckham arrives with her modern ideas and her contempt for women like Thankful and feathers fly. It’s not a pretty picture. This is not men cock-fighting. This is women and pecking orders. This is blood and guts in a way we don’t want to see it.  I wonder also if we as  women readers don’t really want to see a  successful woman to make us feel bad about ourselves. We want men with machine guns again or women pretending to be men.

IRRATIONAL FEARS: This does not mean women shouldn’t have their hands anywhere near the nuclear bomb button. What it means is that women unleash deep irrational fears in both men and women. The ability of women to have children is kind of weird. Even cavemen were awed. Awe is scary. Women access emotions and splatter them about when least expected. Men scatter. Other women sometimes scatter, too.

Men do a better job hiding the messy stuff behind action. Or maybe those compartments they have come in real handy. Be prepared as a writer to be shocked by your female characters. Wow, suddenly Katherine uses food as an outlet for freedom? Who would have guessed it.

RELATIONSHIP VS ACTION: A female character who isn’t concerned with relationships over action seems really alien to me. As a wife, mother, sister and friend I find it hard to imagine not sacrificing the limelight to another. In real life most women I know struggle at times with this. When writing about Lucy McCullough I walked a fine line. Somehow she managed to not only be strong and quietly heroic, but also generous and self-sacrificing. It’s probably why I have a love/hate relationship with her.

SO WHAT DO YOU THINK? Do we love men more or are we afraid of women?

WHY DO WOMEN READ MORE NOVELS?

THE HARRY POTTER EFFECT

29 AWESOME BOOKS WITH FEMALE PROTAGONISTS

THE TENAFLY ROAD SERIES

 

Top 5 Reasons Not to Write a Fiction Series (or get married)

IMG_4177Ah, the first heady, rose-tinted days of marrying yourself to . . . a series. Commitment-phobic writers have already run to greener fields and there you are left with a few scribbled notes, a racing heart and a hazy idea that all will be well in . . . ten years.

Maybe you race through writing and can get more out of life and characters in ten minutes on your lunch break than the rest of us do in years. Maybe flings are your thing or serial monogamy, but for me long-term commitment is crucial, scary,  time consuming, but how I’m hard-wired to write.

Today I’ll confess the pitfalls of my seemingly happy marriage to The House on Tenafly Road Series which started as an idea for a novella fling about destroying Native American culture but quickly turned into a 19th century love story between a morphine-addicted soldier and a fragile girl-next-door type which then morphed into a lifetime commitment to the Crenshaw and Weldon families.

Many writers struggle with what to do after happily-ever-after stories. I live in the less than blissful world often hidden behind wedding rings, cute kids and a nice house.  The Weldons and Crenshaws have a ton of skeletons, passions and flaws. Basically they keep me getting up each morning.

So here are my reasons for not doing what I live to do:

IMG_4078Loyalty: the act of binding yourself (intellectually or emotionally) to a course of action.

This is where the trouble begins. You think you want the fling, but you can’t get your mind off the what ifs. What if this character gets married? What if this character hides their addiction? What if Buck Crenshaw was secretly abused by his mother as a child? What do survivors look like? How does Thankful Crenshaw let her own beauty bewitch and punish her?

It’s dreadfully like adopting a kid with reactive attachment disorder who has decided she loves living with you. You can’t send her back, can you?

There are times when the horrifying thought pops into your head: What if only I love Buck and Thankful Crenshaw? When marrying don’t we sometimes wonder if other people think our mate handsome? We want immediate reassurances that don’t often come.

I have one 80-year-old lady at church who begs for the next installments of my series and has written that Buck Crenshaw is her favorite dysfunctional character despite the scene where he watched his brother brutalize a prostitute and did nothing about it.  I cherish this woman and hope she doesn’t die anytime soon (although she says she’s ready for heaven).

Loss: the amount by which the cost of a business exceeds its revenue  OR: the experience of losing a loved one.

Both. You must make peace with both, and the sooner the better. The cost as a writer is in lost time with family, years and years of silence before your book is in print, cynical or condescending questions about your “career” as a writer (isn’t she really just a stay-at -home mother? Bet she didn’t even go to college). I did–and why do I care what the insurance salesman thinks, anyway?

And then there’s the COLOSSAL loss. The unexpected twist in the series that leads to the death of one of your favorite characters to write about. As in life, those you spend the most time with leave the biggest holes in your heart when they are called home (I like to believe I will meet them on the other side some day).

typewriterEvery time you go over your books for editing you must experience the grief yet again. Each time is sadder because the person seems that much further away from you. Every fiber of you misses them for weeks and it clouds your real-life encounters even on sunny spring days. Where’s the grief counselor on such days?

Length(y): diffuse, long, prolix, tedious, verbose, wordy

I ain’t gonna read a book that heavy, some say. The series writer must listen to his own muse. People who don’t like long books or marriages aren’t your problem–unless you’re a first time novelist looking to be traditionally published. I have a few kind notes from editors and agents who warned me of the danger in writing long books. I tried to please them at my own expense but discovered I preferred to write the books I wanted to read instead and have never looked back (and yes, I still thoroughly enjoy reading my own books :)).

Long shot: A venture that offers a great reward if successful but has very little chance of success.

Seriously. Life is a long shot. There are so many things that can go wrong every day. Focusing on this will make you crazy. I have experience here. Trust me. My family is slightly off-put when I tell them I pray that I may live until I finish writing my series. Sometimes I wonder about that advice thrown around that says something like: “You won’t be thinking about _________ on your deathbed.

I bet I will be thinking about my series as the lights go out (unless I’ve finished writing the series and then I’ll be thinking about how I could have marketed the series better).

Admittedly I am at peace with the family members I love in “real” life so if I died tomorrow I’d have no regrets about them.

Love:

1. A strong feeling of affection and concern toward another person, as that arising from kinship or close friendship.
2. A strong feeling of affection and concern for another person accompanied by sexual attraction.
The danger here is that real life pales so greatly before the world you’ve created and spent years in. You’ve watched that willow tree planted in your prequel fill out and reach maturity. You’ve saved a visually impaired baby from Indians, married her off and then . . . you have to scrub the floor because you forgot to feed the dog and she has an upset empty stomach.
That addict in your first book is so much more attractive than the one in your living room. The shadows of imagination cast real darkness on less than stellar mates.
If you’ve managed to stick with the series for years and have wiped the tears from many a character’s eye after a good cry you must one day reckon with leaving this family behind, closing the series, possibly finding a new family when you thought this family was forever.
There is nothing pleasant about finishing writing a series when you’ve grown up with your characters. When you’ve found life and love and laughter with them. Nothing good about it at all.
SEE THE SERIES HERE: ADRIENNEMORRIS.COM
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Top 5 Reasons to Write a Series

 

desk 2Three minutes into sobbing over the ending of my first very long book, a new curiosity arrived about one minor character who pushed William Weldon from a hayloft in childhood. Now as I edit the final chapters of what has become a four book series (THE HOUSE on TENAFLY ROAD being a prequel to the series) I want to celebrate the joys of writing (and reading) multiple books about your characters.

I set out to write one small novella ten years ago, but life took hold of my muse and carried me along through at least 2,200 pages (and more lost to editing) of a series I never imagined when first dipping my foot in the pond.

I offer no hard and fast rules because my natural tendency is to resist such man-made limitations and trends. When I began it was to entertain myself. Quite early on I realized that the books I adored were often quite different from the ones I admired. Adoration has kept me going all of these years later.

LOVE: When a writer falls in love with a character the love is forever. The sad and lost John Weldon swept me through a thousand pages of addiction and the underlying terror of being found truly worthless. As a loving creator I set Weldon up with everything he needed to see his value, but being lost comes with a blindness to certain realities. I believed at the close of the book that my final gift to him was a glimmer of hope in a marriage he’d worked so hard to destroy, but my muse gave him a good and troubled son with a love interest in Thankful Crenshaw. I had to know what would become of them!

LAYERS: A series allows for unmasking the layers of a character or a whole town of characters. A chance remark on page two of a book sprouts a whole series of future events. In WEARY of RUNNING, the first in THE TENAFLY ROAD SERIES, a young girl stands up for Buck Crenshaw. Born with troubled eyes she hears the truth in Buck’s voice though no one else does. This small act of kindness hints at Lucy’s sudden emergence as the series heroine she will grow into in the last two novels. Life isn’t chocolate and vanilla. Some readers prefer easy answers, but in a series the writer can play with nuance, growth and regression. When Thankful Crenshaw makes her first bad decision with Lieutenant Fahy the reader knows it won’t be her last. There is a risk here for series writers. Will the reader follow lost characters for long? Will they love them enough to stand by and watch (and cringe) at the way these people seek love and redemption? The risk is well worth it if the author is being true to her muse. Critics be damned.

LAUGHTER: Gallows humor is my cup of tea. It’s not for everyone. “Only kidding” is a family mantra when so often outsiders look askance at the way we joke. The House on Tenafly Road can be a tough read for some. Can one really make addiction funny? Sometimes it is. As the characters grew and I grew to love them more I allowed for more fun and faster pacing. The House on Tenafly Road stands alone as historical fiction while The Tenafly Road Series is more an American period drama. We laugh best with people we know really well–and cry all the more bitterly when these people hurt themselves. William, Buck and Thankful carry a whole lot of hurt, but they make me laugh (especially when I forget what I’ve written and come back to something as if for the first time).

LOSS: Loss and love. The stuff of life. There is something so edifying when you kill off a character. Let me explain. To have a well-loved character die with a Victorian sense of dignity feels like doing what’s right by your kin. The author is the ultimate funeral planner, the writer of letters found tucked in the cubicle of a roll-top desk in the study. The laurel wreaths are hung and mirrors covered to prevent lost spirits. Oh, the many ways to explore grief as time passes! What does it say about Buck or William? How does it change Thankful?

LIFE: A day in the life of a character is sometimes all an author needs to make a novel. I’m not that author. I devour whole lives. I want the beginning, middle and end. I want a prologue and an epilogue. I want growth and maturity, death and rebirth. In writing a series, especially an epic family saga, I’ve lived so many lives in the last ten years. When the series is over (though ideas float around about a new direction in writing) I will be satisfied that I’ve lived life well. Before writing a series I couldn’t honestly say that.

 

And now a note for the READER of my books: Realize that life is a slow burn with sudden temporary gusts to enliven the fire. Yes, THE HOUSE on TENAFLY ROAD is a bit heavy and long, but (in my opinion) worth the buildup. And yes, there are terribly many mistakes made by Buck and friends in THE TENAFLY ROAD SERIES but if we take the blinders off we see so much of ourselves in the house fires and dampened reversals. I do believe that endings can be happy and well worth the wait. In the meantime there’s love, loss and laughter. I hope you enjoy the layers and the lives of the (fictional?) people I adore.

And now for the WRITER a quote by Thomas Merton to hearten you on your journey:

“Many poets never succeed in being themselves. They never get around to being the particular poet they are intended to be by God. They never become the person or artist who is called for by all of the circumstances of their individual lives. They waste their years in vain efforts to be some other poet. They wear out their minds and bodies in a hopeless endeavor to have somebody else’s experiences or write somebody else’s poems.”

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The Seven Virtues in Writing

girl with girls
Virtuous Girl? (Courtesy Pinterest)

How our culture hates a goody-goody! I think we hate virtuous people almost more than we hate child traffickers. Or so it seems.

As I write MY HISTORICAL FAMILY SAGA it’s easy to hate the virtuous because it almost feels as if there’s nothing to say about them. I sometimes imagine a virtuous person having no struggles, and this, I know, is unfair. My tendency is to focus on the lost and sinful elements of characters and heap tons of sympathy upon them while the virtuous remain alone in their human toil.

The virtuous, we think, are bland like vegetables to the person inclined toward sweets. Yet broccoli can be a tasty thing when put in the hands of a good cook. And so it is with virtue. Those of us who struggle to attain even a modicum of humility realize the great difficulty involved in becoming virtuous. There is a faith necessary here. One must believe that life, and the characters you write will become even better with a sprinkling of virtue.

When a person wakes up each morning expecting a do-nut (that in one half hour will make them feel sick to their stomach) they find it hard to believe that a warm glass of lemon water and some protein will will produce better results.

Anti-heroes intrigue me, but the characters who challenge me to take a hard look at myself and my icing covered flaws annoy. More than annoy, they tempt me to run from them. A virtuous person (albeit with some flaws) causes me to contemplate my own place in the race of life. Sometimes that’s not enjoyable.

The anti-hero understands our hidden parts, asks us to wallow a while in the shallow comfort of self-pity and despair, but the virtuous character asks us to stretch ourselves in uncomfortable ways with only scant promise of success (or that elusive thing called joy).

The further along this racecourse of life the more I’m ready to tackle the virtuous in writing with admiration instead of suspicion and jealousy. Buck Crenshaw as he grows through each of my novels is moving out of his anti-hero costume into something more compelling and rare: a man who (timidly at first) is drawn to the good race. Yet Buck is a clumsy runner and always will be.

Surprises sometimes come in the shape of a mate. Around the final bend Buck is brought to his knees, but along comes a virtuous friend. I can’t wait to see what Buck does with her.

So here’s the question, readers and writers: who’s your favorite virtuous character in fiction (or in life)?  I’m dying to know.

Humility – Humility is the virtue that counters pride. As pride leads to other sin, true humility clears a path for holiness. Pride is a sin based on undue and inappropriate appreciation of one’s self worth. Conversely, the virtue of humility is about modest behavior, selflessness and the giving of respect.

Liberality – Liberality, or generosity, is the virtue that is counter to greed – the sin of immoderate desire for earthly things. The virtue of liberality is focused not merely on the appropriate concern regarding one’s earthly things, but furthermore on generosity and a willingness to give, freely and without request for commendation.

Chastity – Chastity is the counter-virtue to the sin of lust. Chastity embraces moral wholesomeness and purity, and in both thought and action treats God’s gift of sexuality with due reverence and respect.

Meekness – Meekness, or patience, is the virtue that counters the sin of unjust anger, also called wrath or rage. Where the sin of wrath is about quick temper and unnecessary vengeance, the virtue of meekness focuses on patiently seeking appropriate resolution to conflicts, and on the ability to forgive and show mercy.

Temperance – The virtue of temperance or abstinence counters the sin of gluttony. To be gluttonous is to over-indulge. On the opposite hand, the virtue of temperance is centered on self-control and moderation.

Kindness – Kindness, or brotherly love or love for one’s neighbor, is the virtue which counters the sin of envy. Envy, in contradiction to God’s law of love, is manifest in a person’s sorrow and distress over the good fortune of another person. Conversely, kindness and brotherly love is manifest in the unprejudiced, compassionate and charitable concern for others.

Diligence – Diligence, or persistence, is the virtue which acts as a counter to the sin of sloth. Sloth, as a capital sin, refers to laziness in matters of Faith. Diligence in matters of the spiritual combat laziness and this virtue is manifest in appropriately zealous attitudes toward living and sharing the Faith.

Excerpted from: AQUINAS AND MORE

Who Else Hates Genre Labels?

The White Cockade by Edward Martin
The White Cockade by Edward Martin

LITERARY FICTION FOR PEOPLE WHO HATE LITERARY FICTION

“There is a stereotype of literary fiction shared by both science fiction readers and non-science fiction readers: that academically-sanctioned, “serious” contemporary fiction is all about dull middle-class people having affairs, and that the writers of this fiction do such things as use a couple hundred pages to describe events that could quite easily be described in a paragraph.”

WHY THE HATE FOR ROMANCE?

An interesting thread on romance in fantasy writing:

“But for people who want verisimilitude and detailed characterizations, romance is going to be there. Real people deal with romance in their actual lives. It’s a huge part of being human.

Romance doesn’t mean the book is plot-less or spends all its time dealing with vampire-werewolf three-ways. Badly written romance means the book is plot-less or spends all its time dealing with vampire-werewolf three-ways.” unconundrum

THE EMPTINESS OF LITERARY FICTION

“The stereotype is not just about elevating certain works of fiction, but overdetermining their value.”

13 STRUGGLES OF BEING A ROMANTIC WHO HATES ROMANCE (this one doesn’t have much to do with books. Just a fun read.

“(And yes, you cried deeply at The Notebook, and hated yourself for every minute of it.)”

 

WHAT FICTION DO YOU HATE? or LOVE?

How To Build a Website and Keep Your Sanity.

A few weeks ago my husband challenged me to build an author website from scratch like JK ROWLING has (:)). I scoffed at first, but the idea grew on me.

I love doing research–about people. Researching things like hosting sites, CSS, cache tools and such is more like watching videos of tooth extraction before going to the dentist. The compatibility of plugins kept me up nights. Every time I opened my admin page I was certain the site was going to crash or worse still . . . LOCK ME OUT!!

I didn’t eat for fear that if I left the computer to itself for 10 minutes it would find a way to be hacked. I called my daughter and husband more times than I like to admit for reassurance. I received an error code 500 or something one day early on and almost gave up the whole thing, but I have my pride. Tons of it. My husband asked if I’d tried rebooting the computer. It worked because in the end I found out the problem wasn’t on my end (whatever that means).

There’s a front and a back to a website. On wordpress.com I just merrily write posts.

Suddenly I was insecure about SECURITY . . . and bots! Malicious bots!

SITE SPEED and FADE-INS for animation made coherent (and patient) conversation with family members close to impossible.

My husband suggested I needed time in the barn or maybe someplace where they do acupuncture or healing prayer, but I ignored him.

Finally one day he announced I was going for a therapeutic massage from the straw bale house guy down the road.

How could I turn it down?

It occurred to me then that I was allowing a stupid machine to rob my sanity. It hasn’t helped that the weather has kept me mostly indoors–by myself. I like being a crazed hermit, but no one else seems quite as pleased with me.

Yet, do I really like being a hermit?

On the massage table I realized I was an ingrate (not a brand new revelation). Seriously,  would it really be the worst thing if my site crashed? We probably could call in a professional to look things over. I do back ups (yes, I know what those are). I could just swallow my pride, maybe.

So here’s how not to go insane:

Take deep breaths and remember that having a website is a luxury and supposed to be fun. Yes, fun.

Learning new skills can be scary, but think big picture. There’s a lot more to life than websites. People have even survived crashing their sites. Deep breaths again.

Spending some time with cute animals (and the occasionally funny person) seems like the last thing you have time for, but like all good medicine IT MUST BE DONE.

Eat.

Simple, right?

So here’s my new AUTHOR WEBSITE. I think I love it, but I’m still afraid to visit the admin and find I’ve crashed.

ADRIENNE MORRIS.COM

 

AND a few other great sites that helped me along the way:

THE CREATIVE PENN

Joanna Penn is like that best friend who actually isn’t competitive because , well, she doesn’t really know you. Her advice is always presented in a friendly and informative way (and she has tons of great posts and interesting guests on her blog).

WP BEGINNER

Yes, the theme for me is that help sites have to be helpful AND easy. They also shouldn’t make you feel incredibly stupid. WP Beginner is one of my other best friends. It’s a one way street: I take, take take. 🙂

DIVI BUILDER

(at Elegant Themes) The guys who do the video tutorials have these really calm voices that got me through a few tough days. DIVI guys, I love you!

There you go.

Anyone else try building a website? I’d love to hear how you did (and visit your writer sites so leave a link).

 

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The Seven Deadly Sins and How to Use Them in Your Writing Life

019The number seven symbolizes perfection. Yet in writing it’s far better to dabble in the deadly seven.

Those cardinal sins we relish observing in others from our lofty, virtuous towers are the stuff of conflict and story.

Historical fiction writers have a host of real-life historical villains, but while sins are seen as relative these days, the following list is still quite helpful for the stuck writer.

Lust – to have an intense desire or need.

Some of us lust after five star reviews, don’t we? But let’s talk character. A morphine addict’s addiction is only one extreme example of the many lusts mortals grapple with or go for. John Weldon hides his addiction for over 700 pages. Some don’t like such long books. They lust after other things, but I need to dig deep into my characters. It’s why I write.

Gluttony – excess in eating and drinking.

Gluttony is one I rarely see used in fiction. Yes, we have the drunks who are often (but not always) seen as comic or tragic and unable to help themselves. How does gluttony move a story forward? If someone overeats aren’t they only hurting themselves? Do stolen cookies and late-night binges affect other family members? I wonder if acceptance and tolerance help the person in the grips of gluttony. For a brief period of time my character Katherine becomes a glutton. Some might say she was a glutton for punishment. What turns a person toward gluttony?
Greed – excessive or reprehensible acquisitiveness.

There’s a pattern here, isn’t there? Humanity is quite full of selfishness. This sin is one of my lesser frailties (I have enormous heaps of some of the others) but oh how fun it is to write about Buck Crenshaw’s greedy brother. Greed can be hidden in characters, too. Buck is greedy for control. He thinks he’s generous, and he is, but he’s often fooled by his lust for acceptance and desire for emotional safety.
Laziness – disinclined to activity or exertion: not energetic or vigorous.

Laziness is often a sign of deep fear and fatalism. Why bother starting something when it’s going to fail anyway? Lazy characters rarely become main characters because they don’t do much. Yet their passivity can lead to exciting tragedy, failed marriages and melancholy regrets.
Wrath – strong vengeful anger or indignation.

Wrath is the stuff of writing! We all love a good fight and the clever and biting remark that tears the seams from a book. We decry war in real life, but a book without war, even a war raging in our character’s heart, often doesn’t get to the heart of life. Families in conflict. That’s my thing. It’s what I love. Writing historical family saga novels makes me want to get up in the morning.
Envy– painful or resentful awareness of an advantage enjoyed by another joined with a desire to possess the same advantage.

In writing family saga fiction envious siblings are gold. The Crenshaw family in The Tenafly Road Series would not exist without parents who motivate their children by setting them upon each other. The painful part is loving a friend or family member yet envying their success. Brutal–and great for writing.

Pride – quality or state of being proud – inordinate self esteem.

And here we get to the bottom of it. PRIDE. This one word is at the heart of great fiction and our sorry little lives as humans. I say this lovingly because as a writer I relish misplaced pride. We think of characters with pride as the braggarts, but they come in the mousy little men and women too who spend far too much time thinking of how inadequate they are.

 

The seven deadly sins are really just different versions of self-obsession. Self-obsession is what novels are all about. We read to see how we (as in humans) do and see and feel things. We are obsessed with our species. I am. It’s a big love/hate fest living with and writing about people. The sins (and the virtues) keep life interesting and writers writing.

How to Write a Big House Novel: Learn from the Irish

courtesy Sisters of Science
Lillian Bland

Here’s a belated bit of Irish:

CASTLE RACKRENT, a short novel by Maria Edgeworth published in 1800, is often regarded as the first historical novel, the first regional novel in English, the first Anglo-Irish novel, the first Big House novel and the first saga novel.

POWER AND PRIVILEGE IN THE BIG HOUSES OF IRELAND (Fantastic pictures of landed gentry in Ireland).

LILLIAN BLAND: Anglo-Irish journalist and aviator who, in 1910–11, became one of the first women in the world to design, build, and fly an aircraft.