Researching a Contemporary Novel in a Foreign Setting

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I am thrilled to have Author Norma Gail as my guest today. After reading her novel Land of My Dreams I fell in love with Scotland. She’s agreed to share how she did her research to make her setting so believable. By the way, Land of My Dreams just received the Bookvana Award. Way to go Norma. I’ve got my notebook out and my pen is ready.

LoMD Bookvana cover

Accuracy is a challenge faced by every writer, no matter what your genre. A contemporary setting can be just as challenging as a historical one. When I decided to set my debut novel, Land of My Dreams, in Scotland, there was quite a learning curve. During a two-week vacation, I barely glimpsed the top of the ben (mountain) when it came to understanding the language and culture necessary to portray Scottish life with accuracy.

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Photo provided by Norma. Sheep farm in Scotland.

 

More than just the northern part of Great Britain, Scotland is a unique and unusual place. Everyone knows about kilts, bagpipes, and castles, but little else. I’m from New Mexico, and as one of my main characters remarks, “Scotland and New Mexico are as different as water and dust.” So what can you do when your setting is unfamiliar? The internet is wonderful, but some things are hard to understand if you haven’t been there.

If you can travel to your setting, stay in small hotels, get out among people, and make opportunities to talk with them. Develop the art of observing small details. Take photos of everything, but also make notes about things that strike you as different, food, architecture, speech, and music are easy. I created a file of over 400 photos, some from our trip, but most from various websites about the area around Fort William, and Loch Garry. I set it up as a screensaver on my laptop. Now, whenever I walk through the room, I catch a glimpse of scenes that trigger thoughts of what might take place in such a setting. Watch YouTube videos where people describe the countryside or talk about some local event.

A selection of pictures Norma took of Scotland for her research.

A Scottish accent either confuses the daylights out of Americans or makes them swoon. I love their unique English, peppered with Scots, a Germanic language, and Scottish Gaelic, a native Celtic language. Fun words such as bubbly jock for turkey, tattyboggle for scarecrow, and clishamaclaver for chatter or idle talk make me giggle. Pesty insects are wee beasties, and they might refer to a disturbance to as a stramash or kerfuffle. The first time we ordered water with a meal, the waiter asked if we preferred “still or sparkling”.

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Highland Games

Scots might be among the toughest people on earth, plans continuing in spite of the weather. While we layered shirts, sweaters, and rain jackets for the Highland Games, children sported shorts and sleeveless shirts. A dapper, elderly couple, him in his kilt and her in a tartan skirt, eating ice cream cones in the chilly weather, declared it a “Lovely day!” It was August, after all.

Determined to eat what the Scots eat, I ordered their national dish, haggis, a “pudding” made from the heart, lungs, and liver of sheep, minced fine and mixed with spices and oats. Imagine this mixture, resembling dark, coarse sawdust, sewn into the stomach of a sheep and boiled. It wasn’t bad. We ate in small local restaurants so we got a real sense of local flavor.

I have a playlist of Scottish music on my phone. Yes, I love bagpipes, but much is traditional and some is contemporary. I listen as I drive and remember the images that spring to mind. I read Scottish news from time to time. It’s necessary to know what kinds of issues affect the lives of your characters, like the recent referendum on Scottish independence and Brexit.

I met Scottish editor through ACFW who combs through my manuscripts to make certain things are accurate. She suggests words, customs, or a change of scene that might work better.118 D&N Old Town Weaving Co 5x7(1)

The time you spend creating your story world is never wasted. Above all, strive for accuracy. Readers will never go for a book that doesn’t ring true to life and believable.

© Copyright Norma Gail Holtman, June 12, 2017

 

Thanks for the great information, Norma.

Here’s how to follow Norma:

www.normagail.org      

https://www.facebook.com/AuthorNormaGai

http://pinterest.com/normagailth/boards/

https://www.goodreads.com/author/show/7874459

https://twitter.com/Norma_Gail

https://www.instagram.com/normagailwrites/

Amazon: http://www.amazon.com/Land-My-Dreams-Norma-Gail/dp/1941103170

Do you have any questions for Norma about research? Post in the comments.

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Author Gail Kittleson: From Haphazard to Determined

Today I welcome Gail Kittleson to Jubilee Writer. I love hearing how other novelists got there start. Especially those who are in their jubilee years like me. Let’s get started.

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Tell my readers a little about your writing journey.

To be honest, uphill and haphazard describe the first decades of my writing journey. Without the self-confidence or sense of direction to apply myself to writing full-time, my journey barely existed at times. And yet, when I tried, I did experience some success—a few poems published in magazines, some short non-fiction books for current-issues classes, and a few professional teaching articles … even a co-written workbook for ESL learners.

But sporadic success wasn’t enough to motivate me to faithful attendance at my computer. About 15 years ago, I participated in a university writing retreat, and my journey’s adjectives switched. Now, determined and exciting are more accurate.

Somewhere along the way—maybe about a year ago, I finally became comfortable calling myself an author. Before that, it seemed too audacious to believe I really AM living my lifelong dream.

What is your latest published project.

With Each New Dawn, my third WWII novel, and the second in the Women of The Heartland series, took me deep into the heart of London during the relentless Nazi attacks. Researching this era parallels attempts to totally understand ourselves and the people around us—an endless saga. Click here to buy. 61gD-uoWs4L

 

How do you research for your books?

It’s a good thing I thrive on seeking information and connecting the dots. That’s what my research entails—studying timelines of the war and figuring out where certain situations or battles fit into my characters’ lives. First, I read textbooks. I’m quite old-fashioned about this, and a textbook account far outshines anything I find online. But if I do discover some tidbit online, it’s so fun to read more about it.

I also enjoy speaking with individuals who experienced the war. They’re becoming rare these days, but recently I met a woman who actually worked in her local rationing office. Talk about thrilling … somebody else in the group ran home to get their stash of little red “coins” given out as change when a rationing coupon was worth more than the purchased item.

And then another individual said, “I’ll be right back.” She returned with one of the missiles manufactured in a nearby factory. This, I’d say, is the most delightful type of research!

What inspired you to write With Each New Dawn?

The steadfast attitudes and actions of the Greatest Generation inspired me to write this book. People made-do with what was handed them, and that happened to be a very nasty war. They sacrificed time, talents, finances, and their husbands, sons, and daughters for the war effort. I focus on how women contributed, in a vast amount of roles. I don’t necessarily choose the most glamorous or exciting jobs—for example, one of my heroines works hard on the family farm, one becomes a grease monkey in her father’s shop when her brother is drafted, and one works at the Hormel plant, making SPAM for the troops.

Nothing glamorous about any of those jobs, but they’re taken straight from everyday women’s lives.

When did you realize your calling to create words on paper to share with the world?

This vocation came to me in adolescence, as clear as could be. If I could go back in time and give advice to that fearful girl, I’d say, “Use your gift—whatever it takes, use it!” Not that I didn’t want to use it—I did, passionately. But my fears blocked me for many, many years.

What is your favorite genre to read for fun?

Believe it or not, I read WWII fiction for fun. Let’s just say I have a one-track mind, and I can’t get enough of learning about the Greatest Generation. Right now I have two books going, and one I’m about to start. This never gets old!

Favorite verse…

So many verses have instructed me throughout life, but the poignant promise in Isaiah 63:9 has touched me over and over. In all their affliction He was afflicted, And the angel of His presence saved them; In His love and in His mercy He redeemed them, And He lifted them and carried them all the days of old.

Our Creator doesn’t just stand by when we’re distressed—he embraces our troubles. My heroine in With Each New Dawn discovers more about this very present God during her worst times.

Bio:

A late, bloomer, Gail Kittleson writes from her northern Iowa home. After instructing English as a Second Language and expository writing, she published a memoir, and now focuses on women’s historical fiction. She also facilitates writing workshops/retreats.

She and her husband enjoy their grandchildren and in winter, Arizona’s Mogollon Rim Country. You can count on Gail’s heroines to ask honest questions, act with integrity, grow in faith, and face hardships with spunk.

Connect with Gail :

http://www.gailkittleson.com/
http://www.facebook.com/GailKittlesonAuthor

http://amazon.com/author/gailkittleson

http://www.twitter.com/GailGkittleson @GailGkittleson

What fun finding out about Gail.

Readers, leave in the comments what was the most interesting or inspiring thing you read.

 

 

 

Interview with Catherine Ulrich Brakefield

Catherine BrakefieldToday I’m excited to welcome Catherine Ulrich Brakefield to Jubilee Writer. She has a new novel I had the opportunity to preview. Swept into Destiny is a wonderful Civil War era novel. It releases May 16th.  I loved the Irish immigrant hero Ben so much because of my own Irish immigrant ancestors. Cathy did some wonderful research to bring this story to life. So, I asked her to come and share about her story.

Cathy, thanks for coming.

My first question is why the Irish? It’s not often we see them in forefront of Civil War fiction.

Swept into Destiny is a work of fiction; however, the story was inspired by my grandmother and mother.

My grandmother was of Irish, English decent with a little of Scottish peppered in for good measure and a hint of Cherokee Indian. Through my grandmother I learned about what the Irish immigrant endured. My grandmother’s ancestors were slave owners way back when, but it was my mother who told me that the Irish did the life-threatening work so the slaves’ lives would not be sacrificed.

Thinking about it, this is understandable. Slaves were expensive and Irish immigrants were a dime a dozen during the 1840s and ’50s!

How much research did you do before writing your novel?

I really began my research in 2005, after my children went off to school and Gran went to live with Jesus. Gran lived with our family for twelve years. I had written down tablets of information and at that time just for my children.  I then asked my mother about certain events, and she encouraged me to write a book.  I decided to write a historical romance and that’s when I began my book research.

You had a few historical characters interact with Ben and Maggie. Tell us why you chose each one and how it added to your story.

Lincoln is my favorite. His dogmatic pursuit for the common man, and not caring what the color of his skin wasn’t popular during the 1850s. But Lincoln stood his ground.  Of course, there was John Brown who had his method of helping the Negro. General Grant, my respect grew the more I researched him. I realized his determination to keep the United States together was his sole objective. And he showed so much of the caring side of his character in his actions at Appomattox. I had to put in George Armstrong Custer, he being from Michigan and the fact that he laid claim to an Irish marching song for his cavalry regiment. Sherman never got better with research in my estimation, but worse. Dr. Isaac Anderson, or Mr. Greatheart as he was often called, had just gone to be with Jesus when Swept into Destiny opens; however, I did find ways of showing his influence on the people of Maryville.

God moves in mysterious ways. I met my husband on a 747 going on a vacation to Hawaii, he was stationed in Oahu in Naval Intelligence and was originally from Birmingham, Alabama. Well, to make a long story short, we ended up marrying.

Through my husband, I learned more about the South that you can’t find in history books. Their southern hospitality, charm, Christian values, and loyalties. Some people didn’t have a true perspective about Lincoln or Grant. I learned that not all southerners wanted to secede from the Union, but joined the Confederacy because of loyalty to the southern cause.

I loved the addition of singing to the Union camp scenes. Where did you find the lyrics for your Irish songs?

My grandmother knew a few songs and in 2000 my husband and I went to Ireland for foxhunting. I gleaned a lot of information about these fun-loving and fearless people. Wow! They can really foxhunt. I have a picture of one Irishman jumping over a stone wall right onto a road! I bought books, and asked questions, and did a whole lot of listening and writing.

Then I accompanied my father with the remnants of his World War II regiment to Gettysburg. Well, what did I see, but a Celtic Cross that stood 19’ dedicated to the Irish Brigade. In my author’s note in the back of Swept into Destiny I explain more about the cross.

Can you share a bit about your story?

One brave decision leads to serious consequences. Maggie is secretly educating the slaves at Spirit Wind Manor. But the manor’s serenity is soon threatened by abolitionist John Brown. A new republic looms on the horizon and with Abraham Lincoln’s presidency, her countrymen’s anger escalates as secession spreads across the southern states. With the fires of civil war glowing on the horizon, Maggie is swept into its embers realizing she is in love with the manor’s hardworking, handsome Irishman Ben McConnell. Ben joins the Union Army and Maggie is forced to call him her enemy. An unexpected chain of events leads her into choosing where her loyalties lie. Conscience and consequence—did she care more for Ben or for her beloved South? As the battle between North and South rages, Maggie is torn. Was Ben right? Had this Irish immigrant perceived the truth of what God had predestined for America?

When I finished the book, it felt like there should be a sequel. Is a sequel planned?

Yes! I am excited to say this is the first book of a four-book series, inspired by my grandmother and mother. We will follow the generations beginning in the Antebellum Era, into the Spanish-American War, onto World War I, the Great Depression and World War II.

What motivates you to write?

I write to spread the truth about our Christian-American heritage. I hope to write America’s story one truth at a time.  Americans need to know that this nation is founded upon Christian principles, values, and as the Battle Hymn of the Republic so bravely says, “His truth is marching on … Glory, glory, hallelujah!”

Share your favorite writing tip?

Pray for God’s guidance and for Him to be the orchestrater of your words. Then write, write, write, from your heart and give the glory to Jesus!

What writer has had the biggest influence on you?

As a young girl, Louise May Alcott began my love for books. Jane Austen’s books gave me my love for the poetic language of words. I know the readers now like easier reads with less poetic and less scenery description. However, these books had the greatest influence and my inspiration in my writing.

Thank you so much for dropping by. Before you go can you tell us a bit about upcoming novels?

My next novel is Into Destiny’s Whirlwind and you get a glimpse of the first chapter with your purchase of Swept into Destiny. Into Destiny’s Whirlwind begins in 1898, just before the Spanish American War begins. Each book will have Book Club Discussions Questions for more in-depth study into the historical significance of the times.

More about Catherine

Catherine says, “My readers inspire my writing. She is the author of three faith-based historical romances; The Wind of Destiny, Wilted  Dandelions, and the first of a four book Destiny series, Swept into Destiny scheduled for release on May 16, 2017. She has also written two pictorial history books: Images of America: The Lapeer Area, and Images of America: Eastern Lapeer County.

She enjoys swimming and horseback riding and lives in Addison Township, Michigan, with her husband, Edward, and their Arabian horses. Now that her children are grown and married, she and Edward are the blessed recipients of two handsome grandsons and a lovely granddaughter!

See www.CatherineUlrichBrakefield.com for more information

Her author Facebook page is www.facebook.com/CatherineUlrichBrakefield To purchase Wilted Dandelions and Swept into Destiny and for book promotions visit www.CrossRiverMedia.com

We are having a drawing for Swept into Destiny. One lucky reader will receive a paperback copy after it releases on May 18th. So I am running this giveaway until the 18th. That’s 7 days to allow more people  a chance to comment below. Tell us why you’d like a copy of Swept into Destiny. Share this blog on your social media for a second entry. Just leave another message that you spread the word.

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Click here to preorder on Amazon

Picturing your Character: The Dog Hero

The last two post have been about finding pictures to help envision my characters. I posted several pictures to help me create a compost of both Dan and Isabella. There is one more important character I needed to get a clearer picture of his appearance. My hero Dan Sweeney’s service dog. He has a dog to keep his panic attacks away and assist him when he falls. Service dogs detect symptoms before they occur and can be trained to do a number of tasks for their master. My heroine Isabella is afraid of dogs. So this creates an interesting dilemma. I wanted to choose a breed I love that is intelligent and gentle but he needed to be misunderstood. Looking at me as I typed my story was Kreeper, my son’s well-behaved, well-trained gentle Razor Edge bully pit. He is one of 265 breeds of pit bull. When he is trying to persuade you to feed him your popcorn, his pleading looks can melt your heart. But he can be alert and stand between you an impending danger. He thinks he’s a lapdog and often takes up the whole couch to snuggle next to any of the family. But I wanted Brutus to be kind of a mystery breed so I chose his heritage to be 50% German shepherd. They can be service dogs or guard dogs and are often used by the police. I wanted a macho dog for my wounded warrior. Some of you may not care for either breed. This is fine with Brutus because he’ll win you over as he does Isabella. Again I went online to find pictures to create my composite. I found pictures of both breeds.

Shepherds

Pit Bulls

When I googled Shepherd pit mixes I got these adorable creatures.

Brutus has Kreeper’s temperament and like all service dogs had been well-trained to work with his master. He is attentive to him first and foremost. For those who question my choice google the top ten vicious dogs. Dachshunds and Chihuahua are number one and two with larger breeds further down the list. Along with my son’s pit we have a dachshund living here, as well. The little one is more likely to have aggressive behavior toward a stranger entering our home. The large dog may injury you with the enthusiastic wagging of his tail.

When I envisioned Dan’s service dog I saw our pit bull and knew his bred was getting a bad rap so why not go against the norm of a golden retriever or a lab. A well-trained dog no matter the breed is a wonderful pet and companion. By making him a mix breed we concealed his negative identity until after our heroine discovers how loving he is. Fiction heroes need time to woo their readers even the furry variety.

What is your favorite breed of dog to read about?

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