Diversity in Fiction: Crafting Characters Respectfully

I’m not one to go seeking out hot-button issues, but the truth is when we don’t address underlying, systemic problems of all the ‘isms’ in our culture (from government programs, to housing applications, to writing fiction–) they continue to hold power over and harm other human beings. So, I’m discussing today how we, as writers, can be not only sensitive to the characters we create but the effects of their existence on our world. After all, stereotypes exist because we fail to see them in all the subtle ways they permeate our lives. As ethical and compassionate people, we should work towards burning down those untruths as much as possible, even in our own work.

I’m not going to stand on a soap box and preach without starting with myself. I’ve probably, in my ignorant and un-learned past, created characters that simplified the complexities of a human into certain traits. I’ve tried not to. I tried to craft my characters as strong, independent and powerful, more tuned to their personalities than their physical traits. But there were still subtle things, I wasn’t even aware of at the time, that filtered from my limited white experience. As I look into rewriting this character, I am constantly questioning how I can do better.

We all should. We owe it to the character, to the reader (and to the world) to examine our writing and go forward with an eye to our own hidden (and not so hidden) biases or ideas.

The best advice I can give you is to strip yourself of any cloak of magnanimous “equality”. Start by reading some real, hard to stomach, but necessary soul-exploring books on the complexities of race and gender equality, the reason systemic problems exist, and how we can best eradicate them. Talk to people from every background, attend classes, lectures, and forums, open discussions of others’ experiences. Do it with an open heart, and a willingness to accept your part in the system. Have the dedication to do something about it.

When we are invested in writing characters different from ourselves (race, gender, religion, sexuality, age etc) one of the best things we can do is RESEARCH. In the expansiveness of the Internet, so much good information, written by diverse voices, can be found. The ones most important (and really the only viable ones) are those written in their own voice, about their own experience.

I also encourage you to talk to as many other people of all walks of life as you can. (And not just to research for your work…do it for the benefit of your humanity and compassion.) While I DO NOT advocate for you turning your ‘one black friend’ into your go-to for all questions about a diverse, varied and culturally rich part of our world (it’s not their job or duty to educate you), don’t shy away from respectful and honest conversations that come up, especially when they happen from immersing yourself in different situations and events from a standpoint of open mindedness and learning.

Above all, when you are writing diverse characters DON’T, for the love of god, assume that by describing their skin color/religion/orientation that you’ve described their character in total. DON’T stereotype them. DON’T include diverse characters just for the sake of checking off a box.

DO make them unique to their upbringing, their experience, and their situation. DO describe all of your characters equally and in rich and expansive ways.

I’ve always believed that good storytelling is universal. And in our connected and dynamic world, it would be a shame to only write one kind of person. But care for your characters and the people they may or may not represent. Here are some good resources that may help:

Good luck and don’t be afraid. Just be respectful, compassionate, and educated.

Begin Again

So here we are, at the precipice of a new year and probably, in some part, still reeling from the last two. I recall, vaguely, that at this time last year I was filled with hope that things were about to get better. Then, events in the first week of the year reminded me that the calendar rolling over didn’t wipe the slate clean on the world’s troubles. It’s just a date. Not a miracle.

The only comfort I had, and still have, as we again sit at the top of 2022, is that I have control over at least one thing in the world, and that’s how I live in it. So no matter where you are, in physical or mental space, take an opportunity to day to think about what you would do if you could begin again. The date may be arbitrary, but the idea is sound.

Everything you’ve lived through up to this point has prepared you for the challenges ahead. Everything that you’ve seen, learned, failed at, succeeded at, has built in you a resilience for the journey ahead. So while we shouldn’t dwell on our pasts (whether it be to regret–terrible thing, or to relive glory days–also unhelpful) we should remember the value they have given us. Every experience, hardship, joy, failure, and triumph has added to your soul-resume and will give you what you need for this next year. I believe that whatever it is you set your sights on, whether its finishing a book, starting a new job, getting out of an abusive relationship, or giving yourself more grace, you will find success. But don’t just throw vague intentions out. Make a map.

Now how detailed you want to get depends on your level of focus, your own acknowledgement for order, and what works for you. I like to start with a general goal list, break it down by quarter, month, and week, and hang it up where I can see it. So when I find myself caught up in pitbull puppy videos, its looming over me, reminding me to focus.

That’s a shit-ton of bullets…*sigh*

At the beginning of the year, it looks daunting. So I have to remind myself, even if it’s on paper, it’s still fluid. Just because it’s all there, listed out, doesn’t mean it all gets done today. Like any journey, goals are a series of steps, one after another.

This year, I’ll be trying a few different things, and I only squawk about them here as a measure of accountability.

In the spring (March-ish) I’ll be releasing my Western Romance Series and planning some tour dates in my home state of Wyoming to promote it. This will include book signings, readings, and Q and A sessions. I’m aspiring to submit short stories, poetry, and flash fiction to at least 100 different publications (aiming for 100 rejections but my hope is they aren’t ALL rejected). In May, I’m hoping to finish up a collaboration with a local press for my Sci/Fi novella “Saturn Rising”. The blog will continue with weekly writing advice, poetry, guest blogs, and a special series on local charities, the work they’re doing, and how we can help keep them running. This year’s Anthology is not yet themed but I’m shifting over to include short stories, essays, and excerpts. Stay tuned for more details. This year, winning entries will be published and receive a monetary prize.

I’ve got my first co-authoring project in the works (a fun romp and homage to my love of 80’s pop culture) and will be working on my next series (I’m getting all Urban fantasy this time).

Outside of writing, I’ll be teaching a few more classes, continue advancing towards my next degree (Sensei Sarah has a nice ring to it), reading more, I’ll climb a few more 14ers, and work this old body into more flexibility through yoga. It all feels like a lot, but days are made of minutes and you can do a lot in those minutes….once you choose to begin.

Good luck out there. Come back and visit to keep updated on the anthology submissions and so we can check in with each other on our new starts. Above all, let’s just be better people this year. The best versions of ourselves we can be.

Poetry 12-09-2021

What Am I Made Of

The ghosts of hearts unfairly broken 
haunt me relentlessly
my own among their wreckage
and the ones still alive 
they kick down, through the floorboards of my brain
and reverberate
in the pit of my stomach

Ghosts of lovers
who loved me too much
those I rolled eyes at, 
and turned away from, 
to crawl for miles on bloodied knees
and claw at the departing feet
of those who did not love me enough.

Ghosts of the friends I picked apart
like the vulture's beak to carrion
and become angry when they
no longer fed me

Ghosts of friends who disappeared
into the ether of life
and forgot they were 
my solid ground

I think I'm made up of ghosts 
all vapor and energy
nothingness roaming
empty of touch
devoid of breath
but heavy,
oh so heavy
in soul.

NANOWRIMO Week Four: The Final Countdown

Good morning!

For those of you who’ve been following me through the month of November, this marks the final installment of surviving NANOWRIMO (National Novel Writing Month). I’ve been flowing with a life-stages theme, and had intended to title this week “Retirement” but the thing with NANO is that only some of us will spend the last week resting and reaping the rewards of a month packed with hours of dedication to your project. A lot of us will find this final week to be the last, desperate attempt to finish.

So this brief post is for those who are struggling through the last four to five days to make up those words, or at least push to do what they can.

I hope, more than anything, and even above the lofty goal of 50,000 words, that you are still trying. That you haven’t given up. That you have built a habit of writing so that you don’t feel complete in your day unless you’ve spent at least some time on your work.

Because, that’s the whole point. This month is more about teaching us to prioritize our lives to include our writing first (or at least at the top of the to-do list) and to know that we CAN accomplish great things when we give it the time and love it needs. It’s more about building the habit of writing than it is about reaching the specific goal.

So often in our lives we self-limit. So often we are told it can’t be done, we can’t, the work is too great, the effort pointless. So often we are told that struggle won’t be worth the outcome. But those voices and those opinions fail to factor in that it is not just the outcome that is rewarding. The end result is not all we are working for. Its the journey in getting there.

When we challenge ourselves, the bigger reward lies in the struggle. New ventures, hard and thankless work, and lofty goals teach us how to plan, how to plot, how to push ahead when we simply don’t feel like it or when others around us question or scoff at the ideas before us. Challenges shine a light on how amazing and resilient we are so that, no matter the outcome, we learn what we are capable of. And once we know what we are capable of, the bonds of doubt weaken and we begin to believe that if we can write a novel in a month, we can edit it, publish it, write another, and another, and another. And if we can write a book we can take a class, or teach a class. We can climb a mountain, we can travel across the world. We can do anything we set our minds to.

We can.

You can.

You’ve only got a few days left in this month and I BELIEVE THAT YOU CAN do anything you’ve set out to do. You are amazing. You are imperfectly perfect and there’s no one in the world who can finish this month the way you will.

Deep breath, writer. Don’t let the home stretch scare you. Let the struggle instead be your gift and one which you are grateful to work through. You can. You will.

NANOWRIMO Week Three: The Midlife Crisis

Hey there writer.

I know I don’t have to thank you for being here with me because if you are akin to me, you’re looking for any excuse to change up the monotony of this novel-writing month and escape that mad-dash. Perhaps you’re feeling like this story you’ve been pouring your heart and soul into for what seems like years is starting to stale. Things are getting drab. The plot line is petering out. The characters have run out of things to say.

This is the dreaded, dead-ended doldrum, (say that one a few times fast) of week 3. And it can often feel like middle age in its sunken sails, stagnant air, and the questioning of the choices that brought you here.

Photo by Johannes Plenio on Pexels.com

With only days left in this crazy adventure, you may feel like you just don’t want to go on. That perhaps it would be easier to abandon your project all together and take a hot little novella out for a spin. Maybe start seeing some poetry on the side. Perhaps dabble in a little erotica?

While I encourage some dabbling (especially in erotica) I would argue that all of those exploratory practices can be done right in your own work in progress. So you’re bored, so you don’t know what the characters will say to one another…I urge you to start a new chapter, in the same document, where your characters take a jump off of the tracks and do something completely unexpected. Put them in a different time, put them in a different dynamic…hell, switch their genders and see what happens. Write a poem that serves as a synopsis to the story, first from one character’s perspective, and then from another’s. All of this play might help unlock the paths your novel needs to get going again. Think of it as putting some wind in those sails. A little spice in between the pages.

And all of those words you put down, even if they may be edited out later, still count as words towards your 50,000. Let’s be honest, at this point in the process, any word count is better than none.

It’s normal to feel a bit discouraged and bogged down in week 3, but what you’re building is worth hanging on to. It’s worth the investment of time and thought in this, the darkest, dreaded, dead-ended doldrums.

Hang in there kid. Go get freaky with your WIP and spice things up to see you through to the end.

Next week, look for the final, and highly inspirational installment of my NANOWRIMO survival guide.

NANOWRIMO Week Two: Here Comes a Writer With a Baby Carriage

Hello! Thanks for taking the time to catch up with the blog in the middle of one of your (hopefully) busiest writing months. At this point your mind set is probably so swayed to creating that reading outside of your work in progress is a lot like talking to another adult after being seeped in toddler-speak non-stop all week.

I know that your time is precious so I’ll keep it short and sweet. (Like me, ya’ll)

The second week of NANOWRIMO is all about elaborating on, fleshing out, and developing your baby. Last week we talked about the excitement of new love, the honeymoon stage of writing, if you will. This week is about the baby you’ve made and what that means for not just your writing, but your life for the next seven to ten days.

I know a lot of you are parents, and though it may have been awhile since you’ve spent the midnight hours rocking teary-eyed cherub back to sleep, chances are you remember the sacrifice of time and autonomy for the good of the future. This week is not much different for the NANOWRIMO process. You are starting to see the commitment involved and how the expectations you may have had in the beginning are often dashed by the realities.

Because children don’t always behave the way you think they will. Characters show unexpected traits and say things that throw your dynamic out of whack like dropping the f-bomb at Christmas dinner with Grandma, or asking you for “boob!” loudly in a store.

Settings and plot lines stall with the same debilitating frustration as trying to get a two-year-old into shoes because you’re late for the doctor appointment and you haven’t showered in three days, and you ate cold, leftover mac n cheese for breakfast and you’re not sure if that’s their diaper that smells or the dog…

Keeping on top of the little fires that come up isn’t easy but I encourage you to set a flexible schedule (it works with kids; it works with writing). Give yourself two hours ideally but really whatever you have is fine. Leave half for just writing. Leave the other half to fix plot holes, develop your character’s personalities and backgrounds, build on your story arc, and brainstorm solutions for things that are cropping up as you pour ever more work into the novel. Look at it like doing the groundwork of, feeding, changing, and burping for half of it, and the other half cuddling, coloring, singing, and playing.

A well rounded “story” is equal parts meeting the basic needs and getting to play in the creation of it.

Good luck out there. Nap when it naps, grab a shower while your computer backs up. Drink some coffee and prep for the long nights. Remember the bigger picture. Novels and babies are investments in the future. The work, and love, and committed care you invest now will lead to rewarding results in both your story, your characters, and your craft.

Oh…and get a decent meal. You can’t run on PB&J crusts and half eaten apples forever.

NANOWRIMO Week One: The Honeymoon

Ah, yes, the glorious stage of excitement and foreplay. The thrill of fleshing out your characters, and having them say clever things to one another, and building beautiful worlds with soft hues and brilliant sunsets. It’s champagne and butterflies, it’s rainbows and 3 hour love-making sessions with your laptop (please, God, not literally…the keys are hard enough to keep clean with just my coffee and pastry habit).

The words come easy, the beginning is new and exciting, the chemistry is just right. Possibly you’ve been planning this novel for awhile, maybe you even used October to plan it out and things are running smoothly and in great gushes of inspiration and excitement. (I think ‘gushes’ might be just as bad as ‘moist’ for cringe-worthy words).

OR

You’re stuck in front of your blank page and wondering why in God’s name you agreed to this. The stress of completing such a herculean task is causing every neuron to march around your addled brain with tiny little picket signs protesting the ridiculous workload before they even endure it.

You’re thinking of giving up. It feels as though you agreed to do this on a brash weekend in Vegas and you might have done so under the influence of alcohol and you really don’t know this book that well and what will your parents say and… is it too late for an annulment?

In the first case: Congratulations, keep going! If you have the stamina and inspiration to do so, front load these first couple of weeks so you can have a few days to ride if you need to recover. (I can’t help but hear Sheriff Bart’s voice in my head “Man, them schnitzengrubens will wipe you out!” Come on, people…Blazing Saddles)

In the second case: Don’t give up just yet. So she/he’s a gamble and you may have rushed into things. It’s normal to be nervous. It’s normal to feel like there’s nowhere to go. But you’re a writer. And writer’s do best when they stop questioning the end product and just write. See where that impromptu spouse will lead you, let it play out for a few days and enjoy the crazy weird ride that you’re on.

The secret to NANOWRIMO is to not overthink it. Because that’s when you start looking for all the imperfections and plot holes that send you into editing mode and canceling out any forward movement you have.

If you’re having trouble with getting your word count every day here’s some tips that have helped me:

  1. Break it up into smaller sections. A little in the morning, a little at lunch, some at night. Carry the laptop or notebook with you and write a few lines whenever you have a chance
  2. Keep your characters in your head with you at all times. How would they react to what you’re doing? What would they say to each other in the grocery store line? Let them talk to each other while you’re doing the dishes or in that third useless meeting of the day (come on, we all know at least 2/3rds of all meetings are just wastes of time that allow one person to hear themselves talk).
  3. Strike when the fire is hot. If you are on a roll, do everything in your power to keep writing…then in the middle of a paragraph or even a sentence–stop. Yeah, you read that right. Stop. It will frustrate you and keep your mind on what will happen next until you pick it back up. Foreplay people…there’s nothing like a little flirtatious teasing to make the next interlude all the more passionate.
  4. DO NOT be discouraged if you have a short day. Every word counts and a 400 word day is still 400 words. Like running or training, or anything really–great things are accomplished not always in leaps and bounds but by small progressive steps forward.
  5. Rest your fingers and your brain. Take breaks, sleep well, eat well, exercise, and get away from it throughout the day. Burnout probably happens most in the first couple of weeks when our inspiration gets ahead of our ability to keep at it with the same frantic pace.

Okay. That’s all I’ve got for this week.

Remember, comment below with how it’s going or send me quick email with any frustrations or elations you have and I’ll enter you to win a goodie basket with some books and writer self-care stuff that will help keep you going into this crazy month.

Good skill, Writer.

On Challenging Ourselves: National Novel Writing Month and Why It Matters

Good morning readers and writers. I’ve collaborated with the amazing folks at Masticadores to bring you a short series on what we affectionately call NaNoWriMo here in the States. National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo) is a world-wide, month-long challenge to help writers of all ages, genres, and abilities finish the first draft of novel (50,000 words) in one month (30 days).

Looking at those numbers, especially as a beginning writer, feels daunting, I know. But, having participated for 8 years, including 6 novels published (and soon to be published) I can tell you; it is possible.

Now listen, I’m not a full-time writer. I’m a mom and a teacher. I’ve got a household, and pets, a garden, and other writerly obligations to fulfill, so I understand the idea of committing to this kind of word count can feel impossible. In this intro, I’ll break down the basics, and by the end I hope you’ll look at this challenge as something you can’t wait to start.

Breaking it down:

  1. If you want to get all math-y, 50,000 words in 30 days is only 1667 words a day and you don’t have to write them consecutively. 330 in the morning, 560 on a lunch break, 780 in the evening, and you’re there. OR, 5000 over the weekend and smatterings throughout the week as you have time. THE MOST IMPORTANT POINT IS TO KEEP WRITING. One of the purposes of this challenge is to make you realize how much available time you actually do have to write, when you make it a priority.
  • This isn’t about the final product, i.e. DON’T WASTE YOUR TIME EDITING! One of the major killers of first drafts and time is self-editing. JUST WRITE. Don’t worry if it’s not perfect, don’t worry if it’s down-right shit, just put the words on paper. Editing will come later, but you can’t edit what you haven’t written. So, write first…save the editing for December.
  • Use the resources at the website: National Novel Writing Month. You can set up your own dashboard, upload ideas, picture boards, short excerpts, possible titles and even inspirational playlists for each project. On the website you’ll find links to local events, helpful tips and blogs, ways to connect with other writers (buddies!), all kinds of support and help, and badges to keep you inspired along the way. ALSO: you can log your words per day and check on your progress (honestly one of the best tools for me. Nothing like a swanky bar graph to get a girl all excited to blow the curve, you know what I mean?)
  • If you don’t make the 50,000 words, there isn’t some Squid-Games pit that will open up and swallow you whole, but you will have made progress and learned a bit about your writing habits. If you do succeed in that word-count, you’ll receive free goodies to help in the next steps of editing, cover design, and self-publishing if you choose that route.
  • If you aren’t a novelist, don’t count this challenge out. At your author page/dashboard, you can select if you want to participate in the traditional challenge (50,000 words in 30 days) OR create a challenge of your own. It can be a collection of short stories or poetry. I’ve had friends and collogues use the challenge to get through final edits of their current novels or for drafting a complex series. The point is that you use the 30 days to build a habit of putting your writing first.
  • Lastly, as this blog is coming out in October, you will have plenty of time to prepare, especially if you’re a plotter/mapper. The weeks leading up to November 1st are a great time to outline your novel, create character boards, and get excited about telling your story.

For every week in November, I’ll be running one short blog (Wednesday or Saturday?) on this website to offer you inspiration for the week ahead. If you like the challenge, please support the cause by donating or picking up some sweet swag on their website. NaNoWriMo offers support and programs free for young writers to grow their skills, and for those disadvantaged or formally overlooked writers whose voices deserve to be heard.

I hope you’ll sign up. I hope you’ll find the time to invest in your book and yourself. I’m always open to any questions or thoughts on the matter, so hit me up at my website www.thebeautifulstuf.blog, through the contact page.

Thanks, and Happy Writing!

Westbury Falls (Episode 2)

What’s a blogger to do when she’s in the throes of final edits, soon-to-be-publications, and running out of guest posts? She throws you another section of fluff from her weird-ass time-traveling/faerie-mischief/Austen-esque novel. You’re–welcome?

Here’s the first installment, iff you need to catch up: (https://thebeautifulstuff.blog/2021/08/26/a-little-excerpt-westbury-falls/)

And now: Part Deux (edited for length)

Westbury Falls (continued)

Lily was playing a game with herself; a game wherein every time she opened her eyes, she made rationalized odds as to whether or not she’d wake up in her own bed, or at the very least, a hospital, and that the good Dr. Blackwell would retreat back into her subconsciousness’ fantasyland.

This time, she thought, it’s gotta be at least sixty-percent. Her eyes, would flutter open to a blurry vision of a room. She knew that the head trauma must have been real as it was the only consistent thing she could feel when she awoke. When the fog cleared and she was again staring at the red velvet curtains of the ostentatious bed, or the worried and rounded face of one of the older women who had found her, she would close her eyes, and try again.

Occasionally she would wake to the deep blue eyes of the doctor (if that was in fact what he was) and she would stare into them, convinced reality couldn’t create such a stunning man. He would smile, sometimes. Looked concerned others. Brush her hair from her face, murmur that she was all right, and not to fret. Lily closed her eyes, fall back asleep, and tumbled into dreams. Dreams plagued with the vast swirling dark, with the sound of a voice somewhere in the shadows calling her. Sometimes it sounded like her mother, sometimes it sounded like her own voice echoing back. Sometimes it whispered the word Lily, and Angel, and Darling.

The most shocking moment came when she woke to the sight of the concerned face of her brother. Though still blurry, she thought for sure that this was the moment that she’d finally woken up in her own time.

“Will, thank God,” she whispered and moved to sit up. But as her vision sharpened, his face was changed. As though it was her brother with strange differences. A freckle on his cheek that hadn’t been there before. A slightly narrower nose, not like their father’s. Dark hair, like hers.

“Lillian my dear. Thank goodness, I’ve been terribly worried! You haven’t called me by such a pet name in years since we were but babes at our mother’s skirts,” the man said and solidified in Lillian’s mind that this was not her brother. Will wouldn’t worry about her. He rarely worried about anything. If he did find some ounce of concern for her well-being, he certainly would not admit to it. Her Will would have been shaking his head and laughing at how stupid she’d been. Calling her names. Name.

“Of course you’re Will,” she said, befuddled and grasping at her bandaged head. Suddenly, warm fingers were there, capturing her wrist and reading her pulse, She looked to see the fair doctor, keeping his eyes demurely turned away and studying her stats with a detached and professional manner. He cleared his throat.

“It is common for people who have sustained severe trauma to the head to revert back to childlike tendencies,” he said calmly to Will who nodded in understanding.

“I am not reverting! That’s Will! My brother—at least, at least I think it is—” she laid down once more.

“Fitzwilliam,” Will reminded her and for a stark moment Lillian was jostled awake by the name.

“Fitzwilliam,” she said softly. Her brain sorted out the card in a deck of a thousand and remembered the diaries and family journals her mother had carried in acid free packaging all the way from America. The diaries of Fitzwilliam Darcy Byrne and his wife. The truncated one from his sister Lillian (for whom she was named) that only accounted up until her untimely death from a drowning accident.

They’d spend most of a month traveling across the country in search of their ancestral story. And Fitzwilliam held a key role in all of it. It was his diaries that gave the most detailed accounts of their family history. How their mother had passed away, and they had moved to live with their aunt and uncle, Colonel Mayfield at Westbury Manor. How his beloved sister had drowned shortly after being married to—the names and stories blurred in her tired head and she wavered.

Lillian groaned and put a hand to her forehead. The possibility that seemed lost in all the fog, made her feel sick to her stomach. It simply couldn’t be true.

“Lillian, dear, what is it, how can we help?” Fitzwilliam said desperately and took her cold hand in his. Lillian peered out with one eye at him. Nope, not her brother. But if the drawings and paintings she’d seen could be believed, he was Lillian Louisa Byrne’s. This couldn’t be real; what kind of sick head game had the injury brought upon her?

“May I—“? She began but lost her breath.

“Yes, anything, Miss Byrne,” The doctor said from her other side.

“May I please—” she stopped to word it correctly. “Trouble you for a looking glass so that I may see the extent of the damage?”

“Miss Byrne, it is quite a disturbing wound and I would not wish to distress you further—” he argued.

“I am quite well enough to handle the sight,” she said stubbornly and glared at him. “Or are you afraid your stitching is subpar?” The grating insult seemed to take Dr. Blackwell back, and Fitzwilliam laughed beside her.

“Lily! Such terrible manners! I apologize Dr. Blackwell, she is indeed not herself.”

The doctor smiled at her and shook his head. As if her rudeness was a ruse he saw through and thought it quite charming that she should put up such a brave front in the face of such trauma.

“It is quite all right. I was not referring to my impeccable work, I was referring to the bruising and alteration of her rather plain appearance. I’ll allow you to decide if that is for the better or worse,” he retorted. Lillian gasped.

“You—” she began and the doctor chuckled. Fitzwilliam at first looked horrified but then laughed himself.

“He is indeed a match to your wit and most dark mood, sister.”

“My lady,” the doctor smiled and handed her a silver handled mirror from the vanity table beside the bed. It seemed, in all of her time, suffering through her mother’s obsession of the history and cultural norms of the era, that she would not think a true gentleman, especially a man of such esteem as a doctor to be so brash or rude. But perhaps the Austen’s and Bronte’s of the time were not so unlike the romantic idiots of the modern world, who tended to sugar coat the affections and behaviors of the opposite sex. She snatched the mirror away from him with a glare.

She wasn’t really interested in what the stitches looked like or the bruising. What she really wanted to see was if the image she held a reflection of was in fact hers, or was her great, great, great times seven grand aunt’s. The glass was milky and dusted, and for a moment Lillian feared that her vision had been impacted by the fall. She had gotten far too used to the modern world’s minor conveniences. Like mirrors. Cameras with their fancy filters and effects. The face that stared back at her seemed to share in her shock, the raised eyebrows and puckered mouth mimicking what she knew her muscles were doing. But it was not entirely her face.

The similarities were impeccable actually, but she was sure her eyes were not so deep a blue and she was missing a scar on her chin from a fall off a bike at the age of twelve. But the biggest difference by far was that, at the time of her tumble in 2019, her hair had been a short pixie cut and tinged with blue dye. Now it fell in long and loose raven curls all the way down to past her shoulders and mid back. She touched it in fascination, so soft and thick. Hair that hadn’t ever been dyed or blown out, or all the hundreds of other tortuous things the modern woman did to herself in the name of fashionable trends.

“My hair,” she said softly. Matthew watched her with some curiosity. She didn’t appear to even look at the wound but had spent the last few moments studying her own face as if it were the first time she’d ever done so.

“Do not fear, my darling, I’m sure the ladies can help you right it again when you are feeling much better. You mustn’t think it’s unbecoming, you are, after all convalescing.” Fitzwilliam said to her astonishment, thinking her upset for the state of it, wild and free.

“I actually prefer it—” Dr. Blackwell said before silencing the thought.

“Down and wild from days in bed?” Lily asked with a scowl. The words stopped his movement and Matthew stared at her for an uncomfortable moment in a way that suggested he was imagining days in bed with her. Matthew cleared his throat. Fitzwilliam cleared his throat.

“Yes, well, we can see to it that someone comes this afternoon to help you, if you wish,” her brother offered. “Perhaps Miss Darlingwood might be available. She has been much concerned with your absence and has asked after your health repeatedly.”

Lillian closed her eyes and the mirror fell to the bed beside her, still stuck in her hand. More people she supposedly knew, more people that knew her as someone she was not. She sighed and felt tears sting the corners of her eyes. What in the hell had happened? Could this be a dream? It did not feel like one.

“I—” she sniffed and opened her eyes. “It does not matter. But what I would greatly like, is to get up and—walk.”

“It is not recommended Miss Byrne,” Dr. Blackwell said immediately and looked into her glassy eyes. “If you should fall again—”

“I will be careful,” she said. He gave her a disbelieving stare. “I assure you Dr. Blackwell, I am quite well enough to stand on my own.”

“Oh? Will you be as careful as when you ‘decide’ to take the stairs eight at a time?”

Fitzwilliam burst out in a beautiful, room-lighting laugh and in it, Lillian found the comfort of her own brother’s laughter. She scowled at him in the same fashion she would her Will.

“It wasn’t the preferred method but it got me there with some haste,” she countered and jutted her chin at the doctor in defiance. He looked down at her pretty pink pout and his eyes softened, his smile grew. Both men chuckled.

“If it were up to judgement on your spirit alone, I would think you are healed all but in the severity of the cut,” his warm fingers went up to delicately touch the healing wound. She shied away until the contact of them against her skin seemed to draw the whole room into focus once more and she leaned in.

“You may walk,” he said and pulled back. “In short increments and only when accompanied by someone else.”

“Oh, well—” she scoffed and sat back against her pillows, still pouting. “Thank you for your professional permission.” Both men raised their eyebrows at her tone. Matthew leaned in to Fitzwilliam.

“Is she always this obstinate?” he whispered though not so quietly that she wouldn’t be assured to hear him.

“No, usually moreso. She must be tired,” Fitzwilliam nodded looking directly at Lillian.

“Oh you!” she took a small pillow and threw it at her brother, connecting it squarely in his buttoned up chest. Lillian studied the coat briefly, and the doctor’s clothes in turn. If this was a joke, if it was not real, then her imagination had made every detail impeccable. Right down to the brocade pattern of her bed sheets and the golden buttons on Fitzwilliam’s coat. Her new brother laughed.

“I shall send someone to help you bathe and dress,” he said softly and came closer to gently press a kiss to her forehead. Dr. Blackwell watched and Lillian swore he had the look of jealousy on his face, as though he wished he could leave her with such warmth.

“I can do it myse—”

“Please, Miss Byrne,” the Doctor interjected. “I know you are quite ready to be healed and understand your frustrations, but waves of dizziness can catch one unaware after such a wound. Be you a strapping and grown man or a—” he stopped, unsure if the next words were sanctioned or proper. “Delicate young woman.”

“I am not delicate—”

“So you keep insisting. Please—” he sighed with frustration and gathered his own navy blue coat from the chair beside the bed. Lillian wondered how long he’d been there, with her, beside her bed, no doubt sleeping in the chair in order to be close to her in the hours of her need. She had seen him in quite a few of the moments she’d opened her eyes. “I ask that you take the opportunity to allow others to help you.”

Lillian Byrne wasn’t good at letting people help her. She didn’t want to rely on other people. When her father had abandoned them at the tender age of eight, she’d learned that women couldn’t count on anyone but themselves to make sure they survived and thrived in life. And here she was, stuck in an era where women had little choice but to be taken care of by men. She, herself, was even supposedly engaged to be married. And where was her unwanted fiancé?

In the present moment she didn’t care. She just wanted to leave the confines of the bed and get her body moving. Maybe then her brain could sort out what had transpired from the moment she’d fallen and why she didn’t seem to be able to wake from this dream.

“Will you return to walk with me?” she asked suddenly, and then felt a hot flash light her cheeks. She knew from the research and books she’d been inundated with by her mother, that it was not proper for her, an unmarried or even promised young lady to ask an unmarried man. But the fact remained that Matthew Blackwell was the one person she was most familiar with. He’d been with her since she’d found herself in this strange and impossible set of circumstances. He was the most known to her. Fitzwilliam raised his eyebrows and looked at the young doctor in anticipation of his answer at such a strange and forward question.

“I—I must go and see to business I’ve been kept from these last three days.”
            “Three days—“? Lillian began to ask, had it been that long? Her mother would be so worried!

“My father is expecting me as soon as my business here is concluded as I have much to catch up on in his clinic and with our…personal affairs. I’m sure that your brother, Miss Darlingwood, or Colonel Mayfield would be more than happy to accompany you.” He said softly and donned his coat.

“You’ve been here for three days?” she reiterated the question as if reminding him.

“Quite so! He’s a credit to his profession,” Fitzwilliam jumped back into the conversation. “The good doctor even slept in the chair by your bedside in the event you should need anything at any time of day or night.”

Lillian blushed and looked up at the doctor who avoided her liquid blue eyes with deliberate effort while he adjusted his collar.

Going Back to School: How Writers Benefit from Classes, Conferences, and Trainings

It’s that time of year again, when the cold crisp air settles around and the light grows softer. The mornings are get-ups and lunch packing and full backpacks. The wind rustles drying leaves and the echo of everything Pumpkin Spice descends. Fall. Probably my favorite season (minus the Pumpkin Spiced everything). Fall signals the slowing down of the bustling summer, a cooling off (we hope), and a getting ready for the winter ahead. It also reminds us of new opportunities to learn, to gain intellectual ground, and to prepare for the prime writing months coming up.

There are plenty of ways to keep your skills sharp as a writer. Last spring, I covered the conference season and this post will be similar in that I’m going to give you some online resources for improving your writing skill, developing a business or marketing plan, and helping to boost your creativity. Just like conferences, a writer can easily blow their budget by trying to train themselves into success. My goal is to offer you a spectrum of options with the caveat that classes can show you how to write better, give you pointers on the business side of things and offer marketing advice, inspire new ideas, and improve your editing. About the only thing they can’t do is write your book for you.

The Long Haul:

MFA/MA Programs: These programs (Master of Fine Arts and Master of Arts) are advanced, graduate degrees that can help to help your overall exposure to the big picture of writing (MA tends to focus more on Literature and less on writing, MFA can be broken down into Creative Writing, Journalism, Linguistics, etc). In these programs you will learn pretty much everything, from plot and structure, to dialogue and character development, to grammar and editing. It will take two years at least, and the cost averages out to about $38,000, not counting room and board. You’ll read an enormous amount of material. You’ll probably complete a novel or collection as part of your Thesis. Not a horrible way to go, but studies are showing that the cost of MFA programs are often not paid back in employment afterwards so–carefully think through that one.

Online Writing Courses:

A number of reputable online courses and classes are now offered through various writing groups, professional/successful authors, and university departments. The courses are less intensive than a MFA and can often be done at your convenience. They cost a lot less (some are even free) and you can often pick and chose the ones that will benefit you the most. Here’s a small list courtesy of softwaretestinghelp.com:

  1. Wesleyan University Creative Writing Specialization
  2. Gotham Writers Online Writing Classes
  3. Reedsy Learning Courses
  4. Udemy Creative Writing Courses
  5. edX Creative Writing Courses
  6. FutureLearn Creative Arts and Media Writing Courses
  7. OpenLearn Creative Writing
  8. SkillShare Online Creative Writing Classes
  9. Emory Continuing Education Creative Writing
  10. Universal Class
  11. Writers.com Online Writing Courses
  12. Masterclass Creative Writing Classes

Conferences, Seminars, Retreats

Feel free to refer back to my older post on conference (you can find it here: https://thebeautifulstuff.blog/2021/04/01/a-word-or-several-about-writing-conferences/)

For this area of your continuing education I’ll ask that you explore seminars (mini conferences, or a series of five or more classes on one topic, like Novel Writing) and retreats in your area. I’m sure there are beautiful, far-flung retreats in tropical islands that are also available, but with travel restrictions, lack of funds, and a busy life outside of writing, those may not always be attainable, so do a little research closer to home. Some of my favorite retreats and seminars have been offered through Northern Colorado Writers at a very fair cost and are conveniently located. It also helps my sense of altruism to know I’m funneling my money into a local organization that turns around and helps other writers in my area.

Retreats tend to fall into two categories, those with classes/seminars and free-write time, and those with simply free-writing time, punctuated with social hours. You may wonder how effective three or four days, stuck in a lodge, with nothing but time spent writing can be as beneficial as say, a whole weekend of conference classes. Well, young writer, let me elaborate.

Classes, conferences and seminars are excellent resources for enhancing your writing and helping you learn technique as well as opening up your mind to the business side of things–just like I mentioned above. And, just like I mentioned above, they can’t write a book for you. Only you and time can do that. As a mother of two busy kids, with a couple of side gigs, and a whole household to run–I don’t always have time to write. Somedays I’m lucky to get 20 minutes in. So to have four days, uninterrupted by children, husbands, dogs, laundry, volunteering, teaching, or grocery shopping, cleaning, and yard work, just focused on my writing is priceless. I’ve finished novels in that time. I’ve written four months of blog posts and edited entire series. I’ve barreled through plot holes that I thought I could never find solutions to.

The truth is, when there’s nothing else to pull your procrastination strings, you can get some shit done. PLUS, its immensely helpful to be surrounded by other writers while they’re “in the zone”. There is an inexplicable energy that catches you up when you’re surrounded by other souls and brains focused on their art and passion. Plus there’s usually some socializing/decompression hours at the end of the day to give yourself respite.

Okay–that seemed like a lot of info and I don’t want to bore you to tears. Check out some of the ideas above this week for taking yourself back to school. When we invest in our writing, it becomes less the pipe dream, and more of an attainable goal. Good luck out there, writers. Keep me posted on your progress or if you’ve found some great retreats, classes, and resources yourself!