Tuesday, May 31, 2016
By Kristy McCaffrey
Writing is an inherently private endeavor, despite any support group an author might have. As such, it can be exceedingly difficult to gain perspective on one’s own work. And while the input of other writer’s opinions should be sought, along with editorial advice, the feedback can sometimes prove to be confusing. As such, we must learn to be our own best guides in our writing life. Reviewing books and judging writing contests can offer a unique avenue to improving your own writing.
For two years I worked on the book review team for Women’s Adventure magazine. Book solicitations were forwarded to us and we were each allowed to choose (or not choose) any of the selections. And while most of the books submitted (via authors, publishers, and publicists) were adventurous memoirs, we also received fiction books and even a few romances. This selection process showed me several things: each reviewer (there were four of us) had her own personal likes and dislikes, the presentation of a review query was so very important (explain your book and why we would want to read it but keep it short, and include relevant links to a website, book page, etc.—don’t make a reviewer hunt for them), and finally there’s an element of serendipity to getting your book read and reviewed.
Some books I requested I dove into and loved immediately. Some books, while well-written, didn’t contain subject matter terribly interesting to me, but by reading a little every day I could reach the end. Then there were other books, ones that I’d requested but once they arrived I couldn’t seem to muster up any enthusiasm to read. There were also a few that, once begun, were badly written. I always gave a book at least three chapters before giving up. But if I couldn’t in good conscience recommend a story, I would pass on the review. Issues with these books ranged from rambling, incoherent chapters with bad transitions to shallow storylines (adventure memoirs require a certain amount of digging deep emotionally) to too much telling and not letting the story simply unfold. Sometimes an author would interject with a 20/20 vision of hindsight from page one and never stop, which can be a huge impediment in narration (and, to be honest, is annoying to read).
Book reviewing helped me understand how my own writing might be lacking in both presentation and depth. It also expanded my reading repertoire and this can have a profound impact on your own writing curiosities.
Judging a writing contest is a wonderful way to give back to the community in which you make a living (or hope to). Many authors are asked to judge unpublished writers and I’ve always done my best to offer constructive feedback and not just return a scoresheet with a number on it. But what really opened my eyes about the subjectivity of writing was judging a published writer’s contest. In each instance, I was given polished and excellent works. It was a huge challenge to score such a contest, because there was very little to critique. It really came down to my own attachment to the story and the characters. I really felt bad for the stories that didn’t win because in most instances, they all deserved to win. So, if your books aren’t claiming awards, it may have nothing to do with the quality or your abilities as a writer but everything to do with how your tale connected with the reader/judge.
By reviewing and judging other writers, critical skills can be sharpened, serving as a catalyst to improve writing skills even if one is a seasoned author. It can help you identify what styles and tropes resonate, and which ones don’t. Even better, you’ll understand where your work falls along the writing spectrum.
Monday, May 30, 2016
|examples of Frozen Charlotte dolls|
|this little one is just creepy|
Believed to have their origins in a poem and folk ballad that was first printed in 1843 in The Rover, a Maine newspaper. The poem and ballad can be seen as a cautionary tale of the price of vanity, because in the ballad, young Charlotte is cautioned by her mother to wrap up in a blanket before a cold sleigh ride to a New Year’s Eve ball. Charlotte is more concerned with her party dress being wrinkled. There is some debate if the ballad was based on an actual event. (The poem is printed at the end of this blog post.) There are even some frozen Charlotte dolls which come in a tiny coffin. That's just too creepy for me.
|one of the more elaborate dolls|
Frozen Charlotte dolls were on the Western frontier, as many have been found in old homestead sites and even more have been passed down through the generations.
Arguably, and based on local lore, there is another place these little dolls continue to appear and that is in the king cakes connected with Mardi Gras. Originally, a single bean was baked into the cake and the person who found the bean in his or her piece of cake became the king or queen of the next ball, creating a series of balls that would culminate with the final grand event on Mardi Gras evening. Over the years, the practice spread beyond Mardi Gras royalty. The person who received the prize — which instead of a bean could be a nut, a coin or even a ring — would be king or queen for the day and in charge of hosting the next party or supplying the next king cake, a tradition that remains today.
However, in the 1940s, McKenzie's Bakery owner Donald Entringer baked and sold king cakes to locals. One day, a traveling salesman visited the baker and had an overabundance of little porcelain dolls he hoped to sell. Entringer bought the dolls to hide in the king cakes and a new tradition was born.
|plastic baby getting ready to hide in a king cake prior to baking|
For what’s worth, I am the proud owner of a baby from a king cake. That plastic baby has an honored spot in my tack box and so far, it seems to be bringing me pretty good luck this year.
by Seba Smith
Now, Charlotte lived on the mountainside,
In a bleak and dreary spot;
There was no house for miles around,
Except her father's cot.
And yet on many a wintry night,
Young swains were gathered there;
For her father kept a social board,
And she was very fair.
One New Year's Eve as the sun went down,
Far looked her wishful eye
Out from the frosty window pane
As merry sleighs went by.
In a village fifteen miles away,
Was to be a ball that night;
And though the air was heavy and cold,
Her heart was warm and light.
How brightly beamed her laughing eye,
As a well-known voice was heard;
And driving up to the cottage door,
Her lover's sleigh appeared.
"O, daughter dear," her mother cried,
"This blanket 'round you fold;
It is a dreadful night tonight,
You'll catch your death of cold."
"O, nay! O, nay!" young Charlotte cried,
And she laughed like a gypsy queen;
"To ride in blankets muffled up,
I never would be seen.
"My silken cloak is quite enough,
You know 'tis lined throughout;
Besides I have my silken scarf,
To twine my neck about."
Her bonnet and her gloves were on,
She stepped into the sleigh;
Rode swiftly down the mountain side,
And o'er the hills away.
With muffled face and silent lips,
Five miles at length were passed;
When Charles with few and shivering words,
The silence broke at last.
"Such a dreadful night I never saw,
The reins I scarce can hold."
Fair Charlotte shivering faintly said,
"I am exceeding cold."
He cracked his whip, he urged his steed
Much faster than before;
And thus five other dreary miles
In silence were passed o'er.
Said Charles, "How fast the shivering ice
Is gathering on my brow."
And Charlotte still more faintly said,
"I'm growing warmer now."
So on they rode through frosty air
And glittering cold starlight,
Until at last the village lamps
And the ballroom came in sight.
They reached the door and Charles sprang out,
He reached his hand for her;
She sat there like a monument,
That has no power to stir.
He called her once, he called her twice,
She answered not a word;
He asked her for her hand again,
And still she never stirred.
He took her hand in his - O, God!
'Twas cold and hard as stone;
He tore the mantle from her face,
Cold stars upon it shone.
Then quickly to the glowing hall,
Her lifeless form he bore;
Fair Charlotte's eyes were closed in death,
Her voice was heard no more.
And there he sat down by her side,
While bitter tears did flow;
And cried, "My own, my charming bride,
You never more will know."
He twined his arms around her neck,
He kissed her marble brow;
His thoughts flew back to where she said,
"I'm growing warmer now."
He carried her back to the sleigh,
And with her he rode home;
And when he reached the cottage door,
O, how her parents mourned.
Her parents mourned for many a year,
And Charles wept in the gloom;
Till at last her lover died of grief,
And they both lie in one tomb.
Tuesday, May 24, 2016
Perhaps I shouldn't love it as much as I do, but there are few things I enjoy as much as attending a good rodeo.
A few weeks ago, Captain Cavedweller and I spent a few days in Pendleton, Oregon, attending the world famous Pendleton Round-Up. The first Pendleton Round-Up was held in the early 1900s and has a long, rich history.
I snap bunches of photos so I can pull them up and study the details when I'm working on a story.
Of course, one of the other things I love about the experience, is the rodeo. Since I write a lot about cowboys in general and rodeos in particular, it provides an opportunity for me to capture hundreds of images I can later use for research purposes.
(And for fun!)
Even if this is at a modern-day rodeo, I could easily use this photo to describe a scene of someone riding a bronc in any time frame.
Shanna creates character-driven romances with realistic heroes and heroines. Her historical westerns have been described as “reminiscent of the era captured by Bonanza and The Virginian” while her contemporary works have been called “laugh-out-loud funny, and a little heart-pumping sexy without being explicit in any way.”
She is a member of Western Writers of America, Women Writing the West, and Romance Writers of America.
Find Shanna’s books at:
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Monday, May 23, 2016
I just had a heart-attack. Okay, not really, but it certainly felt like I did when I clicked on the icon for Microsoft Word and got an error message that said Office wasn’t available on my computer.
Moment of utter panic, heart pounding its way right into the back of my throat…and then like any one with a lick of common sense would do, I cussed out the computer. Oh, that’s not really common sense, is it? After I called my poor lap top everything but an artificial intelligence, I shut it down, rebooted, and voila! There was Word again, and all the other Office programs.
The whole time the computer was shutting down and the rebooting, I was whispering a mantra of “Be there. You have to be there. Where could you have gone?”
Sometimes, I hate Microsoft. Other times, I really, really hate Microsoft. This was one of those really, really hate moments. But, it’s all good now. I’m able to write this blog post, I’ll get it scheduled to go live, and then I can go back to writing my latest WIP.
Stop freaking me out, Microsoft!
Thursday, May 19, 2016
The subject of prostitution in the Old West produces a lively conversation that can be intriguing as well as educational. However gritty and dangerous prostitution was, the act was often viewed as a healthy and integral part of life. As more and more male settlers, prospectors, cowboys and speculators ventured West, the need for female companionship ballooned. In lonely mining camps, men sometimes paid just to view female garments, on or off the woman. Many of the few but brave, or perhaps desperate, women who made their way from the East looked for riches in the skin trade. Almost every mining camp, boomtown and whistle-stop housed at least one or two soiled doves, if not an entire, roaring red-light district. This contributed greatly to town economies via business licenses, fees, and fines.
The financial welfare of prostitutes depended on where they worked. Those living above bars or in seedy brothels rarely made enough money to retire and often ended their lives by suicide, overdoses or illness. Gonorrhea, syphilis, and Chlamydia, potentially fatal maladies, ran rampant during in the 1800s. According to reports from an Idaho hospital, one out of every seven patients suffered from venereal disease. Botched abortions and murder rounded out the number of women who died working as soiled doves.
Madams, who had more control over their businesses, fared better, but not by much. On the other hand, Mattie Silks of Denver once netted $38,000 running a bordello for three months in Dawson City, Alaska. But when she died in 1929, her assets amounted to no more than a few thousand dollars.
Despite their black reputations, some whores proved to be, indeed, fallen angels. During her years as a madam, Laura Evens of Salida, Colorado, sheltered abused wives and secretly paid the wages of men recovering from injuries on the job. Still, these women suffered blatant hypocrisy at the hands of local government.
Towns demanded red light ladies pay monthly fines, fees, and taxes, even as authorities staged raids and arrests. In 1908, officials in Salt Lake City, Utah, hired Dora Topham, the leading madam of Ogden to operate a “legal” red-light district. Appealed with the idea, Topham oversaw construction of the “Stockade,” a high-walled city block housing several cribs, six parlor homes, a dance hall, saloons, a cigar store and a small jail cell. Up to 150 women could work the Stockade at a time. The project failed for several reasons; the lack of cooperation from local prostitutes unwilling to sell out and move to the Stockade; employees who felt stifled by the stringent regulations; and customers hesitant to be seen entering the premises. Plus, the government continued to stage raids to appease county, state and federal laws. In 1911, Topham was accused of working as a madam by the same officials who hired her to do so.
Prices for services:
By a Chinese, black or American Indian girl, in Tombstone, Arizona, circa 1880 - $.25
By a Mexican prostitute in Tombstone, same era - $.50
By a French girl in Tombstone, same era - $.75
Service to soldiers at Fort Whipple, Arizona - $1
Visit to plush parlor house in Tombstone, same era - $10
Service lasting an entire night in a Tombstone bordello - $30
Number of customers some women saw in an average payday at the mines – 70
Weekly salary of a prostitute in Tombstone during the 1800s - $150
All night stay at Old Homestead in Cripple Creek, Colorado in 1890s - $250
Estate of Madam Mary “Mother Gleim” of Missoula, Montana at time of her death in 1914 - $148,000
To read more about soiled doves in the Old West, check out Amazon.com
Charlene Raddon is an award-winning, multi-published author of historical romance set in the American West. She is also a cover artist.You can find her at: