Lower Your Standards

You heard it here first, folks–writing is a joy, and it’s a pain. There are plenty of days when any little distraction will pull me away, and I’ll go gladly. It’s easy to become overwhelmed by all the noise out there on the internets, for example. (Here I am, blowing another harmonica right now, right here!) It’s too easy to fall down rabbit-holes, follow rainbows or stare at shiny things. Blink-blink.

I work at home. Do you? Then you know, too, the other things that hang around the house: laundry, the vacuum-cleaner, kids, pets, the phone, stuff. Sometimes it’s awfully hard (laundry) to sit (email) still (cooking!) and (stuff!) write. What keeps us going?

One thing that helps me carry on with my writing is the option to unplug the router.  It’s a free country, I’m not required to have my wi-fi firing. There isn’t any law about it. Still, it seems sort of subversive. The router is downstairs. So I simply sneak down there, and unplug the blinking thing from the wall. (I’m not fake-swearing – routers have little green and yellow blinking lights, right?) Then I go back up to my writing room. It’s enough of a gesture to quiet my impulse to browse. If this unplugging trick stops tricking me, I’ll try that “freedom” app, the one that shuts it down and punishes you if you even think about facebook.

What about inspiration? Two blogs (among many, I suspect, but I can’t read them all—see “unplug router,” above) are consistently excellent— Marion Dane Bauer’s and Avi’s. I’m grateful to these authors for sharing the wisdom gained from decades of writing experience and hard work. I, for one among many, am listening. I’m moved by their generosity – moved to cry (really, and often), to chuckle, to nod in agreement or new understanding or fellowship. And I’m reminded to sit in my chair and do the work. Oh, and if you don’t read CYNSATIONS, you’re missing out on a whole heap of valuable information and celebration.

Speaking of celebration: a new book sale is quite helpful in the motivation department. Yay! It’s okay to crow a little, even though your mother told you it isn’t polite. Cock-a-doodle-doo.

Helpful software: Last weekend at a local SCBWI program, I learned about using Scrivener. (Thanks, Kiersi Burkhart!) There’s so! much! Scrivener! can! do! and I’ve used it before and liked it, but now I’m inspired to use MORE of what the software offers.

What about Stimulants? Sure! Some coffee, some tea, a slice of cake. My tomato-shaped kitchen timer could be considered a stimulant—all that ticking! Lists. Goals. Friends. Students. Books!

Books? I know, who can keep up with all the wonderful books being published, but like most writers I know, I read like it’s going out of style. (It isn’t going out of style. Not ever.)

Is Getting Out of the House a “good idea”? Yes! I’m told it is. Mainly I go to the library, the bookstore, the grocery store, and my very part-time job. Typically I walk or run or ride my bike on these excursions because I live in the kind of wonderful neighborhood where that’s possible. Which leads me to…

Exercise: Something—a walk, a run, a ride— every day—is a must for me. I’ve never written so much, so relentlessly, so happily or so well as the time I upped the stakes on my regular running habit and trained to run a marathon. The discipline necessary for one pursuit helped with the other. My body and mind hummed companiably. My husband was doing a lot of childcare and cooking, because I was out running for three hours at a pop, and writing in many of the other hours. Life was good.

Life is good:  I agree. I love life. Writing is life.

That sounds pretty dramatic. You’re right, there’s a lot of life going on that isn’t, strictly speaking, writing, but—I think you know what I mean. It’s a way, one way–your way, too?– to experience life more fully.

And don’t forget what the poet William Stafford used to say to his students when they hit a bump in the writing road. Lower your standards, and keep going.

What about you? What’s been keeping you writing, lately?

 

Susan Hill Long is the author of Whistle in the Dark, a Publishers Weekly Best Book of 2013, and Maggie, coming from Knopf in 2016.

Historical TV Series Addictions!

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We seem to be experiencing a golden age of historical TV series. During any month of the year, historical dramas involving fabulous costumes and settings jump off of our TV (or computer) screens in vivid colorblood, scandal, anachronisms, and all. They may not all be steeped in historical accuracy, but they do celebrate, criticize, and embrace the past . . . as good historical entertainment ought to do.

This week we Corsets, Cutlasses, & Candlesticks members enjoyed an entertaining conversation about our favorite historical TV series. We’re presenting our picks of beloved programs below, and we ask you to please join in on the conversion in the comments section.

To which historical TV series are you most addicted?

TVPoster_CopperRENEE COLLINS: I’ve become obsessed with Copper lately. Very cool show!

LAURA GOLDEN: I don’t watch much television, so I’m not always up-to-date on the latest shows, but I do love Downton Abbey. How can one not? And if I could count the fantasy/fairy tale flashbacks in Once Upon A Time as historical, I adore that show, too. ;-)

TVPoster_RipperStreetSHARON BIGGS WALLER: I really love BBC America’s Ripper Street, which is set in the Victorian era shortly after the Jack the Ripper murders and features a London Metropolitan police inspector. I like to watch it with my husband, who is a former Metropolitan mounted police constable, because he explains some of the history to me. I’m also obsessed with the BBC farm history series. They’ve done the Edwardian Farm, the Victorian Farm, Wartime Farm, and recently the Tudor Monastery Farm. It’s about archeologists who recreate Britain’s farming past. You can watch these on YouTube. For a farmer girl and history geek like me, they are fascinating and inspiring.

JESSICA SPOTSWOOD: I’m another Downton Abbey fan! I love the upstairs/downstairs thing.

TVPoster_VikingsELIZABETH MAY: OMG Vikings. VIKINGS. Beautiful landscape shots, excellent cast, and incredibly addicting. It’s a gorgeous show.

CAT WINTERS: I’m addicted to Downton AbbeyMr Selfridge, Call the Midwife, Mad Men, Copper, and Boardwalk Empire. The one that makes me laugh and bawl the most is Call the Midwife. If we’re also counting 1980s-inspired sitcoms, I’ll throw The Goldbergs in there, too.

TVPoster_CalltheMidwifeSUSAN HILL LONG: I second Call the Midwife. Surprisingly wonderful!!

KATHERINE LONGSHORE: I’m a huge Downton Abbey fan, tooupstairs/downstairs, gorgeous costumes, stunning locations and Maggie Smith. Big win. Call the Midwife inspires me with every episode. Chummy is my favorite. :) I love the British version of Life on Mars (if you consider the 80s historical!) and am looking forward to getting a chance to see Peaky Blinders, about a group of gangsters in Birmingham after World War I.

TVPoster_HorribleHistories2J. ANDERSON COATS: I don’t watch a lot of TV either, but mine would be Horrible Histories. Hands down. I love Downton Abbey and Call the Midwife, too. Apparently I’m gonna have to squeeze in Peaky Blinders too.

TVPoster_SleepyHollowJENNIFER MCGOWAN: Sleepy Hollow was my fav historical show this year. :) just… so much win. :)

All rightyour turn now. What are your historical TV series addictions?

A 17th Century Game of Thrones

“When you play the game of thrones, you win or you die. There is no middle ground.”

I know this quote is taken from an entirely different context, but it could easily be applied to England in the 17th Century. It was a century of civil war and treasonous plots, rule by a Protector (who ruled like a king), the Restoration, a mostly bloodless coup in the shape of the Glorious Revolution, the rise of numerous religious factions (including our American Pilgrims) and the attempt at one of the world’s first communes. It was violent, bloodthirsty, socially both forward-thinking and obscenely backward, fashionably extravagant and desperately impoverished.

I keep telling myself that one day, when I have read more, when I understand more, when I get my head around all the ins and outs, I would love to write a novel set during this period.

378px-James_I,_VI_by_John_de_Critz,_c.1606.James VI of Scotland inherited the English throne from Queen Elizabeth in 1603, to become James I of England, Scotland and Ireland. Two years later, Guy Fawkes and his cohorts launched the Gunpowder Plot, which would have killed James had it succeeded. I’d love to write a story around the Plot, but could never improve on Equivocation, a play by Bill Cain. Brilliant.

When James’s son Charles inherited the throne, he set in motion the events that became the English Civil Wars and the Protectorate, making a name of a till-then obscure gentleman named Oliver Cromwell (the great, great grandnephew of Thomas Cromwell, one of Henry VIII’s advisers). Cromwell was a tactician, military leader (some say dictator), and the instigator of near-genocidal measures in Ireland. He was one of several who signed Charles I’s death warrant, making poor Charles the first (and only) English king to be executed (though we all know a few queens who have met the same fate).

I would love—dearly love—to set a book during the insanity that was the English Civil Wars. Brother against brother, Parliament against the Royalists, women taking action for both sides. Beheadings, pitched battles, intrigue—it’s all here. Talk about a game of thrones.

473px-Nell_gwyn_peter_lely_c_1675Then there’s the Restoration, when the Stuarts returned triumphant to the throne in the shape of Charles II, who had no legitimate children, but acknowledged a dozen by his many mistresses. I’ve always thought Nell Gwyn (one of those mistresses) would be a fun character to write about, but then again, so have many others.

Charles was succeeded by his brother, James, who had two daughters before he converted to Catholicism, which set the entire country in an uproar. His eldest daughter, Mary, and her husband—a Dutch Protestant—took control of the throne and gave name to the College of William and Mary in Virginia (amongst other things).

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My interest of this latter half of the century has always been with James’s younger daughter, Anne. She didn’t inherit the throne until 1702, but her earlier life is what fascinates me the most. She had an intense friendship with Sarah Jennings, who later became Sarah Churchill (sound familiar? Winston Churchill is one of her descendants), the Duchess of Marlborough. I’d love to find a way to explore their teenage friendship, with the hope of casting light on the arguments and reconciliations that would follow for the next several decades.
I’ve never seen the HBO series Game of Thrones, nor have I read Martin’s books. (I think I would need several weeks with no interruptions or distractions!) I understand that the storylines are vastly different, but I like the idea that the 1600s in England were a game of thrones themselves. Fascinating characters, layers upon layers of subplots, tons of angst and more than a little bad behavior.

I just need to get my research on.

STAR CURSED Paperback Release!

Book 2 in my Cahill Witch Chronicles series, STAR CURSED, is out in paperback today!

With the Brotherhood persecuting witches Star Cursedlike never before, a divided Sisterhood desperately needs Cate to come into her Prophesied powers. And after Cate’s friend Sachi is arrested for using magic, a war-thirsty Sister offers to help her find answers—if Cate is willing to endanger everyone she loves.

Cate doesn’t want to be a weapon, and she doesn’t want to involve her friends and Finn in the Sisterhood’s schemes. But when Maura and Tess join the Sisterhood, Maura makes it clear that she’ll do whatever it takes to lead the witches to victory. Even if it means sacrifices. Even if it means overthrowing Cate. Even if it means all-out war.

In the highly anticipated sequel to Born Wicked, the Cahill Witch Chronicles continue Cate, Maura and Tess’s quest to find love, protect family, and explore their magic against all odds in an alternate history of New England.

“A riveting paranormal-historical fiction adventure whose outcome readers will absolutely refuse to accept without a sequel.”
   —Booklist

“Genuinely surprising…Page-turning intrigue makes this a strong sequel.”
   —Kirkus

From April at Good Books and Good WineStar Cursed dials all of the emotional reactions up a notch and left me simultaneously cursing Spotswood and praising Spotswood…I don’t often get the chance to read about such strong sibling relationships in fantasy​…​I ​don’t really know if Spotswood meant for it to be so female-empowered and so anti-patriarchy, but either way that is my impression and y’all I fist pumped like the dork I am because I love subversion.​​ (Note: I did! And this review made me so happy!​!!)

​Rachel at Fiktshun gives SC a 6-star off-the-menu rating: ​While I anticipated the author’s gorgeous writing, her lovable characters and the amazing world she created, she still managed to surprise me with her sequel. STAR CURSED is so much more suspenseful than its predecessor, there is quite a bit of action packed into the story, the betrayal goes so much deeper, the plot is far more complex. And the ending… shocking, heartbreaking, torturous to the nth degree.

You can read more reviews or add it to your Goodreads shelf here.

Spring in the Edwardian Era and the Oxford Cambridge Boat Race

After one of the harshest winters in history, we have finally arrived at spring. For Americans, the spring is ushered in by baseball—spring training, Little League tryouts, and the first game of the season. For Edwardians, especially the middle and upper classes, spring was heralded by one of the biggest sporting events in England: The Oxford and Cambridge Boat Race, which took place, and still takes place, on the last weekend of March or the first weekend of April.

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The race remains an annual event between the Cambridge University Boat Club (light blue) and the Oxford University Boat Club (dark blue). The Race began in 1829, and has been held every year since 1856, apart from during World War I and World War II. Today the event draws a quarter of a million spectators who view the race from the riverbank at Putney, Hammersmith, Barnes, or Chiswick. And there are millions more viewing the spectacle on television.

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The two teams race in eight-oared rowing boats, which is steered by a cox. The course begins in Putney and finishes four miles and 374 yards later at Mortlake.
After a flip of a 1829 sovereign coin, the crews row upstream on the Tideway (the tidal part of the River Thames), which includes the Thames Estuary, Thames Gateway, and the Pool of London. The course record stands at 16 minutes and 19 seconds, which was set by Cambridge in 1998. This year, celebrating its 160th year, Oxford won, which brings the overall standings to Oxford at 78 wins and Cambridge at 81 wins.

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I have always been intrigued by the tradition and national passion of the Boat Race and when I was thinking about a talent for Edmund Carrick-Humphries, Vicky’s fiancé in A MAD, WICKED FOLLY, I knew he had to be a rower, and a good one. Good enough to row for Oxford. And good enough to help break Cambridge’s three-year winning streak. And of course Edmund looked very dashing and swoony in his dark blue uniform.

Just as dashing as these guys, I’m sure!

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