Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Juggling - a lifetime skill

Many of my writer friends are younger than I am. That means they juggle a job, home and family obligations before they can sit down and write. Their writing time is precious to them because they have to carve it out of a staggering menu of Things That Must Be Done. 

Up until a few months ago, I was still working. Working at home, not in an office, but working nevertheless. If I wasn't at my computer I was attending a meeting or an open house for a new business or taking photos at a festival or parade and then  processing them into a slide show. (In case you are wondering, my partner and I created an on-line magazine that largely catered to business news in the comunity, and managed websites for businesses and organizations.)

I thought after I "retired" I would have plenty of time for my writing. It turns out I was prematurely optimistic. I have just as many obligations as before with some added on. Added on by my own willingness to volunteer, I must admit.

My husband suggested that I cut down on my activities. I won't, and here's why:

They keep me connected to the community and my church. I love being around people and feeling like I am part of something bigger than myself.

They keep me connected to friends and family. E-mail, snail-mail, Facebook: a little time each day checking in on the folks I love.

They give me a chance to "pay back" for the many advantages I have been given. This is important. If I don't help those looking for a better life, it's like ignoring all the people who helped me along the way. And smacks of arrogant ingratitude.

They keep me grounded. Most people don't care that I wrote a book or two. They just want me to help in the ktichen at a hot dog fundraiser or take minutes at a meeting. 

 I like being busy and involved. And yes, I can still carve out time to write. So my advice to these young writers is not to complain about having to schedule because it's a skill you will find helpful, if not necessary, when the babies are grown and the day job is a memory. Books aren't written in ivory towers. They are written from and in spite of a full involvement in life.

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

The Daily Life of Your Historical Characters

Please welcome Karen MacMurray today. Even if you don't plan to write a historical novel, you might be interested to find out where and how your favorite author gets his or her information to make the richly detailed novels you love to read.


This article is for those of you who want to write a historical novel based in another time and perhaps on another continent. To include information about the clothing, customs, events of the day and other tidbits brings your novel to life and creates an atmosphere around which you can craft a more realistic work. If you have ever read a Lee Child’s book you know the author had to have been in the military and he had experience of being in fights.

Let’s start close to home. Your public library has paid databases that you can access such as Heritage Quest. Their PERSI records have information on people and places which include pictures. The Library of Congress is a great source for old newspapers, manuscripts, diaries and photographs. If you look in a newspaper from 1836 you will see advertisements showing clothing and numerous articles about news events and prominent people. You can type in Google “free newspaper archives” and read newspapers from all over the US . If you are interested in courtship in America the Virginia Romance Writers website has links to costumes, etiquette, hairstyles, and courting behavior. Cindy Vallar at  has a treasure chest of information on everything from the daily life of sailors, cowboys, pirates and more.

England and Europe are favorite countries for authors to base their novel. Google “Vision of Britain” and you will find manuscripts from travel writers dating from 1066, pictures and illustrations of villages and cities. One of my favorite websites is Odin’s Castle. There you can find information on not only England and Europe but ancient cultures, Asia and of course the United States. You can find out about daily life for many time periods: Regency, Middle Ages, Medieval etc.

The Victorian Times at specializes in everything during this time including customs, clothing, fashion, shoes, courtship and flirting rituals. The Central New York Romance Writers also have a lot of links to this time period. has historical picture galleries showing. I also found the Luminarion: Anthology of English Literature has a lot more than literature at Reading about women’s occupations during Chaucer’s time as well as medicines was fascinating stuff. Weid’s links to the middle ages goes into children of the time as well as clothing, occupations, cooking and more. Check it out at links to the Middle Ages.

Karen MacMurray is a retired librarian and author. Check out her newest blog at

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Stories from N.C. wine country

The summer is drawing to an end, the days are hot and the nights are cool. It's perfect weather to take a mini-vacation, and fall is the perfect time to visit the N.C. wine country. So we did. I expected to have a good time with my husband, and my sister and brother-in-law who came down from Pennsylvania to join us. Turned out I got more than I expected.

We broke the trip down into two day-trips, one in the Yadkin valley area, and one in the Albemarle area. We enjoyed the scenery, expecially when our travels took us to a cool mountain top overlooking a vineyard spilling down into the valley below. We enjoyed tasting (just sips!) of different wines and comparing one to another. I ended up with a  collection of glasses and a collection of something I hadn't looked for: stories.

People love to talk about their work--in many cases, their passion--and so after asking few questions we sat back and listened.

One woman told of almost losing the family farm before they switched from growing tobacco to growing grapes. Now three generations work there.

Another couple met in middle age, both divorcees, and honeymooned in France. They came back with a dream of having their own vineyard, and combined their second marriage with a second career.

Some traveled to France or Italy to learn their craft. Some apprenticed themselves to other vintners in the area. Some took classes at N.C. State University.

Some make their wines from tested formulas. Others treat wine making as an art and confess that trial and error is their best teacher.

In addition to people, we met a variety of freindly and courteous dog assistants, and in one case, llamas -- who weren't all that friendly.

I  came away with three bottles of wine that probably won't last out the month, and memories of some very special people that will last a lifetime.