Wednesday, October 7, 2015

The Obstacle Course of the Writer's Life

Hey gang, while I tooled around South Carolina, I got to stay at the home of my writer buddy Ane Mulligan . . . and does she have some writerly advice for you! Sit back and enjoy some of Ane's wisdom. And make sure to check out her new ghost story at the end.

The obstacle course writers face has several stations. But first, you have to get in shape to even begin. So, flex those fingers, bring your typing up to speed, read lots of books, and when you’re sure you want to be an Author, then you start the obstacle Course.

The Tunnel Crawl
This is the place to start: in the tunnel to learning the basics. Don’t be tempted to crawl out too soon. What you’re doing by studying the guidelines of good writing, is exercising the memory muscle of craft. You’re building a good foundation. If you don’t learn the basic “rules” of good writing, how will you ever know when avoid the Stutter-step Tires*?

The Low Hurdles
Reading writing how-to books can be daunting. Some are downright boring. But others are eye-popping great. These are simply the low hurdles you need to jump. You’ll get the training you need to move on to the high hurdles.

*The Stutter-step Tires
Did you ever have a critique partner put the acronym RUE beside a sentence? Resist the Urge to Explain? I call these the stutter-steps. You’ve learned to show instead of tell, but then you don’t trust the reader to get it, so you tell it after showing it. Overcome this obstacle, because it will slow you down on your way to being published.

The High Hurdles
You’ve finally mastered the tunnel crawl and learned the craft. You’ve polished it and now avoid the stutter-steps. Now comes the high hurdle of editing. You’ve read your manuscript at least twenty times until you’re sick of it. Now you have to print it out and read it again???!! Yep. Told you it was a HIGH hurdle. Get going. You’ll thank me at the High Wall of submission.

The High Wall 
To leap this wall, you have to submit your work. Pry it out of your sweaty little hands and send it to an agent. If you’ve gone through the obstacle course, your manuscript is noes hinging like a new penny. It’s worthy of sunglasses. So submit it. And while it’s out on submission trail, start your next manuscript.

One final warning. The obstacle course contains Interruption Hill. And it’s often combined with the Sand Bag Carry. Slogging up that hill carrying sand bags of guilt, all the while trying to ignore the sideline voices of waiting chores isn’t easy. You have to practice it. But hey, your teenagers perfected selective hearing. You can too! The dishes will still be in the sink, and after all, paper plates can be a novelty. And I’ve told y’all before that dust bunnies are an endangered species. Let them propagate. Make PITA proud.
a short ghost story

The Mackeys and the Halberts have been feuding for generations, but on one can remember why.

When Savannah met Jackson, she fell in love before she knew his last name. Now engaged, they have to end the feud so they can get married with each family's blessing. But if no one knows why the feud started, how can they end it? Savannah is sure the answer is hidden somewhere within the old—and haunted—Mackey mansion, now turned museum.

MICHELLE HERE: Just breaking in to say I've read this story and it's a HEAP of fun! Perfect time of year to read a ghost story, and don't worry . . . it's not scary. It's just a sweet, sweet read you won't want to miss!

About Ane Mulligan

Author Ane Mulligan
While a floppy straw hat is her favorite, novelist Ane Mulligan has worn many including pro-family lobbyist, drama director, playwright, humor columnist, and novelist. She firmly believes coffee and chocolate are two of the four major food groups. Ane writes her Southern-fried fiction in Sugar Hill, GA, where she resides with her artist husband and chef son. Her debut novel, Chapel Springs Revival, was an Amazon bestseller. Chapel Springs Survival releases in Dec 2015, and Home to Chapel Springs, in May 2016. You can find Ane on her Southern-fried Fiction website, Google+, Facebook, Goodreads, Twitter, and Pinterest.

Tuesday, October 6, 2015

Keowee and Table Rock . . . Two Gems of South Carolina

post by Michelle Griep
Indian Princess Screams Like a Banshee.
With a belly dragging the ground from too much banana pudding, what better way for me to finish a southern trip than to hike off all those calories at a few of South Carolina's finest?


This area of upstate South Carolina is the lovely countryside that my hero travels in with his heroine to visit the Cherokee lower town of Keowee. I've read a lot about this land, past and present, and must say that it lived up to my expectations on our 3 hour hike today.

But one thing I didn't count on was the spiders.

Now don't get me wrong. Usually I can mash up a spider like nobody's business and not even bat an eyelash. But sweet mercy! They grow 'em big down here. Like the web I ran into today. Literally. And the spider at the center of it was freaking enormous. Like the dude should purchase license plates because someone could drive this sucker with a CDL. If there were any bears anywhere within a twenty mile radius, my scream scared the bejeebers out of them.
Lake Keowee, former site of the Cherokee Lower Town.

Takeaway value for my book: give my heroine a run-in with a spider


Whew. No spiders here, folks. Just plenty of beauty. I'm talking waterfall, after waterfall, after waterfall. We did the shorter hike -- Carrick Creek -- but it took us nearly as long as Keowee because we stopped to take pictures like idiot tourists.

Takeaway value for my book: after all my heroine's hardships, she can finally stop and smell the roses, er, woodlands . . . this place smells heavenly!
One of the bajillion waterfalls at Table Rock.
I must admit that at both places it kind of creeped me out to have to sign in a ton of information just in case we got lost, eaten by wild animals, met with a tragic selfie end by falling off a cliff backwards, or twisted an ankle and couldn't crawl our way back. Thankfully none of that happened.

And that wraps up our little off the leash romp to South Carolina. It was a great research trip. Of all the places I went, I have to say that the Cherokee Museum, Ninety Six, and hiking at Keowee (despite the spiders) were my top 3 sites.

Monday, October 5, 2015

Dear South Carolina

post by Michelle Griep
Lake Crawford dam at King's Mountain.
Dear South Carolina,

Really? Do you really have to close a visitors' center just because it's a little windy outside? Yeah, I know Charleston got hammered and Columbia is flooded and y'all are a little busy, but sheesh. King's Mountain is like on the opposite side of the state, practically North Carolina.

But at least you had the state park open . . . which made for some pretty sweet hiking. The replica 1820's yeoman farm was a nice touch and the chickens super cute.
Hiking the Catawba Nation trails.

Also, thank you for the education. I used to think that Catawba was a sparkly kind of grape juice I buy for Thanksgiving and Easter. I had no idea it's also a people group. The Catawba Nation Reservation is a little tricky to find but oh so worth the trouble. Lovely trails along the Catawba River and the smell of kicked up leaves in the woodlands is spicy woodsy deliciousness.

Speaking of deliciousness, shall we talk BBQ? South Carolina, your BBQ is awesome with a side of sauce. Literally. And dang if I didn't pack any stretchy pants. Grr. Next time give me a heads up on the weight gain.

There is so much history in this area that my six days here are not going to be enough. You should up your advertising game, SC, and let the rest of the world know that you're a destination worth the trip.

That is all,
your faithful friend,

Sunday, October 4, 2015

Hiking in a Hurricane

post by Michelle Griep
Hurricane Joaquin, I spit in your general direction. Stupid weather. Apparently things get cancelled in South Carolina when a little rain gets in the way. Okay, so it's a freaking lot of rain, but still I'm a little mopey the Revolutionary War reenactment at King's Mountain got cancelled.

That didn't stop us though, and bonus, I can check off experiencing a hurricane on my list of things to do.

First stop today was the Cherokee Museum in Walhalla. It's a little town with an even littler museum but we spent over an hour and a half talking with a few of the founders, Luther Lyle and Hugh Lambert. I learned a ton about the Cherokee culture. Definitely worth the visit.
The Cherokee Museum

Then we tooled over to Oconee Station, a 1792 stone building used originally as a military outpost and a place where settlers could run to when threatened by Indians. But that's not all that's there. Even older is the Station Falls. We hiked it in the torrential rain. Was it worth the soggy hike? You betcha. In hindsight, though, it probably wasn't a brilliant idea to cross a river when flash flood alerts are everywhere. 

That earned us a bowl of soup in a nearby local restaurant. I'm not sure, but I think I ate okra. Anyone? Can you identify? And apparently cornbread is the go to side dish because it comes with every meal.
What is this?

Since our later walk at King's Mountain got scrapped, we hung out in downtown Greenville for awhile. Lo and behold, they've got some falls too, right smack in the middle of downtown . . . a much easier hike than the one in the afternoon.

One other observation . . . southerners take seriously the decoration of graves. There are flowers galore at every cemetery we pass.

Stay tuned. More tomorrow, rain or not.

Saturday, October 3, 2015

A Yankee in the South

post by Michelle Griep
Treasures found on a hike in Camden.

Day two of the research trip is in the can. The weather is making me feel right at home: cold and rainy. Actually, it was warmer in Minneapolis today than it was in South Carolina. Even so, I would not be stopped. Here are a few random insights into southern culture from a cold northerner . . .

- People really do "set" on the porch around here. I keep looking to see Andy Griffith out strumming his guitar.

- There are a LOT of abandoned houses and storefronts with vines and undergrowth squeezing the life from them.

- I've never been called sugar, honey, baby, and ma'am so much in my life -- especially not at a Burger King.

- Can we all just stop and give a big round of applause for banana pudding?

On today's dockett were two Revolutionary War sites. Despite the drizzly weather, we worked them both into our schedule.
Tiny houses were trendy back then too.


I had no idea this living history site was the place used to film The Patriot. I chose to visit simply because it had some sweet historical replicas of log cabins. They look like the original tiny houses but when you step inside, wowzer. Much more spacious than I imagined. We mostly hung out with the blacksmith, learning all about rifles and muskets

The Battlefield of Camden.

Site #2 CAMDEN

You don't have to be a huge military buff to visit this place because the tour guide is well-versed on way more than that. But yes, if you are into the Revolutionary War, then this is a must see. This is the place the Brits took over and used to supply their entire Southern campaign.

It doesn't look like you'd expect a battle"field" to look. It's in the woods, mostly because, well, that's where they fought, eh?

Stay tuned . . . the adventure continues tomorrow. Too bad the national weather service is predicting record rains and there are flash flood warnings galore.

Friday, October 2, 2015

What a Research Trip Looks Like

post by Michelle Griep
Playing the Patriot at Ninety Six, South Carolina
Writers make up lots of things all the time, but honestly, it helps if you can visit the area you're writing about. That's why I'm currently tromping around the backcountry of South Carolina. Today I hiked historic Ninety Six. That's a town, not a number. Yeah, goofy butt name, but sweet mercy! Such history! And here's where my trip all began . . .

Two years ago I pitched a story to an editor about an English woman coming to the colonies as an indentured servant. All my stories to this point had been set in England. It's what I know. But at the time, Americana stories were all the rage and what publishers were snapping up. So I figured I'd bring a Brit over here and still get my taste of England a wilder setting.
No Cherokees, just spiders and snakes.

It sold. Whoda thunk?

That's when I started cramming. I picked up books on the Carolina frontier during the 1770's and read like crazy. I started writing the story with the bits of information I'd picked up. But I figured I'd better pack up my northern derriere and hustle down south to really experience what my heroine would. I've only been here a day, but I've already learned 3 very important facts . . .

#1. There are apparently venomous snakes around here. I didn't happen to see any or you'd have heard the scream tear around the world.

#2. The dirt here is red. Like really. Not kidding. Shouldn't dirt be black?

Orange lichen . . . weird!
# 3. Walking through the woods you run into spider webs. These suckers are everywhere. I didn't see the spiders but the webs are like dental floss dipped in super glue and they stick to everything.

When I get home and get back to work on my story, I'll weave in the dirt and the spider webs. Not sure if I can toss in a snake. They creep me out too much.

So, writers, if you want to add real-life touches to your stories, I highly recommend you visit the areas you're writing about. It's not always possible, but venomous snakes and spiders aside, it's worth it if you can pony up the cash.

Thursday, October 1, 2015

Hot Headed Heroes

post by Michelle Griep
Rage. Everyone blows a gasket now and then . . . or at least feels like it. Like today when I flew Frontier Airlines. No wonder I scored such a sweet deal because they charge for extras. Lest you misunderstand, I'm not talking some frivolous perk like a cashmere blankie to snuggle up with in your seat. Nope. I'm talking the dang freaking seat itself.

Here's how it works on Frontier (though they don't tell you this up front) -- you choose where to sit, and each seating zone is a different price. The cheapest is $11 and goes up to $25. Sitting on the toilet or the captain's lap isn't an option. I checked. I already paid for the flight, so remind me again why I must pay to park my royal heinie? That ticked me off.

Oh yeah, and my carry on? That will be $30. As in extra. As in these cheap seats just got real expensive. I'm surprised I didn't have to run my credit card to open the restroom door. Frontier Airlines just lost a customer. Sheesh.

But anger can be constructive, especially to a writer. It helps create real characters because characters need to feel and express anger as well as real people. Everyone expects the villain to grump and growl and stomp around, but heroes must roar now and then as well.



The best and most obvious reason for a hero to snarl is when the little guy is getting beaten to a pulp by a bully. That's when a hero can shine by getting all indignant, swooping in, and dishing it right back to the bully.

This doesn't have to be used in only violent situations. An injustice can be a legal matter, a matter of the heart, or simply righting some wrong.


Who isn't frustrated with their own shortcomings? Your hero needs to have flaws, and those flaws need to annoy him. In the long run, he can either overcome them or adapt, but while those flaws are present, he needs to be irritated by them. Think about it . . . what kind of hero is content to be less than perfect?


Not every hero is born with a cape, pearly white teeth, and so much gold he can buy a ticket on an airline other than Frontier (yes, I'm still bitter). It's okay for a hero to be angry about his lot in life because that gives him the motivation to change his situation. Or he could also accept that lot. Either way gives you a great character arc.

Note, however, that you don't have to inflame your hero over all these situations. In fact, don't. Be judicious. Readers don't love a hothead. But do go ahead and have your hero get annoyed with things now and then to make him more believable.

Disclaimer: To those of my lovely readers who may happen to work for Frontier, don't worry. I still love you.
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