As we welcome autumn/fall with its brilliant colour metamorphosis across the landscape, we begin to think of cooler weather and a new space to write. We transition from writing on the deck, in a beach house, or a lakeside cabin to a cozier study or quiet room with a view or flickering fireplace. The seasons affect our mood and in turn our writing. These seasonal changes can also add to our content.
If we are on the cusp of a new project, we can use the crisp mornings and evenings to walk in nature and percolate ideas. We can watch the flames dance in a fire-pit or the leaves dancing on the wind or crunching beneath our feet. Why not take day trips to a wine festival, a corn maze, a pumpkin farm, immerse yourself in the season and its special harvest of smells and sights.
Let your imagination experience this new season and bring your idea to life. Ask yourself what your new project’s genre might be.
Is it an autumnal romance?
A spooky horror?
A ghost story?
A contemporary ‘change’ of scene narrative?
If you are in the midst of a project use nature as an example and lose any extraneous content, edit with the thought that the project will be renewed, fresh and improved. It is a reorganization, much like changing your clothing to suit the cooler weather. The autumn/fall scenery can inspire more descriptive language – colour, scents, mood and more.
With the change to autumn/fall, we can utilize the season to promote a book that reflects it. For me, I begin to think about my little monster, Rumble, and his Halloween adventure. I will be looking at a specific promotion for this children’s picture book.
When we write a story, as the author, we are within the narrative – it’s characters, setting, backstory and genre format. We can become too close to the action and reveal our plot too early or make it too obvious. Here are a few tips to help entice your reader and keep them guessing, because if you can foresee a plot twist so can the reader. We have to think up options and/or steer the event in another direction to avoid being obvious.
One way is to use subtle misdirection, such as:
Red herrings – false clues or misleading information to steer readers in the wrong direction.
Dead ends – not writing the obvious outcome your readers thought was coming.
Misguided attention – Bury hints or clues where the reader is redirected to another scene, or dialogue and misses a cleverly dropped hint.
2. Foreshadowing is an excellent vehicle for adding subtle hints for a twist to come. These can be as part of a characters actions, or non-action, a secondary character’s dialogue or even disguising a plot twist within a plot twist. The twist, however, must be believable and necessary and also makes sense within the narrative.
3. Use a subplot that misdirects your reader.
It can feed into the plot line, or not – that is your choice.
Interact or intertwine your subplot in an unexpected or unusual way.
You can make the subplot more important to the overall story, than initially appears.
It can also distract from the main plot.
Depending on your genre you can use the ‘no-one is safe’ mentality to add tension and ‘what if’s’.
Other misdirection techniques include:
Killing off an important character.
A character discovers a plot twist organically.
Elevate a minor character.
Your big reveal instigates a twist ending.
Remember to keep up the momentum after the big reveal so that the reader will continue reading to find out the ultimate conclusion of your narrative. If you are struggling there are plot twist generators on the internet, you can use them or manufacture your own from the ideas.
How have you kept a reader guessing? Care to share?
Which book plot twist surprised you the most?
Here is a list of the more famous literary plot twists.
Were your core beliefs the reason you began writing historical fiction?
In a way, yes. I was an English and History major in college and had a hard time finding information about influential women. I was appalled that even noble and royal women were rarely named while historians wrote tomes about the deeds and misdeeds of their brothers, husbands, and fathers. I initially felt compelled to give voice to women who had been marginalized, let alone completely overlooked. When I came across the African proverb, “Until the lion learns to write, every story will glorify the hunter,” I knew I must write novels about significant women based on strong historical evidence which had been supressed.
Did you grow up in an atmosphere of individual empowerment or did life experiences propel you in that direction?
My childhood was anything but empowering. I was terrified of my psychotic, authoritarian father, and ashamed of my mother, who did not stand up for herself, but instead fell headfirst into a bottle of whiskey to cope with her life. And yet, I always knew my mother and sister loved me unconditionally, something that sustained me through the trauma that was both my youth and the Sixties in general.
Despite her own demons, my mother managed to raise my sister and me to be strong, independent women. I learned from her example and vowed early on to never subjugate myself to another’s will, whether that of a person, a government, or a religion. When I met my husband, I realized he valued my independence. He encouraged me to be empowered and a freethinker. We’ve been married for 44 years and are still equal partners striving to become more self-aware. My husband tells people, “No one yells at Donna … twice.”
Where did the link to Celtic Tradition come from?
My mother was Irish and never felt quite at home with Christian dogma. She raised me in the “old ways,” which she learned from her grandmother. We celebrated the Celtic Wheel of the Year. As I child I loved the freedom to run in the fields and lay under a tree as my form of worship. I was taught that all things have a lifeforce, whether that be rock, tree, river, ocean, animal, or human. The earth-based spirituality practiced by the Celts felt natural and liberating. I gave Christianity a try in my early teens but found the basis of original sin constricting and repressive. As I grew older, I embraced my mother’s tradition and researched the “old ways” through books, retreats, and eventually leading my own quarter day celebrations.
Do you feel women’s wisdom is supressed in modern culture?
There is a resurgence of respect for women’s wisdom in many parts of the world. If we look back 200 years, or even 100 years, women who expressed wisdom were shunned, if not murdered. Even in fairy tales, the wise old woman, the woman who knows herbs and healing and speaks with the forest animals, is always a haggard, old, evil witch, that preys on children and the unwary; someone to be scorned. With women in the forefront, late 19th and early 20th century occult spirituality led by Madame Blavatsky’s Theosophical Society and Annie Horniman’s Order of the Golden Dawn, women began to openly reclaim their personal power.
With the “women’s rights” movement of the early 1970s, and courageous leaders like Gloria Steinem, women began to publicly claim their inner wisdom and outer proficiency.
What we see from a historical perspective, is that anytime women advance in society it is through their own leadership and determination. The #MeToo movement is a great example of women joining together to bring about change. I’m speaking in broad terms of empowerment, but respect for women in all aspects of their lives, including women’s wisdom, cannot be separated from women’s empowerment.
While most of the world still suppresses women’s wisdom, there are pockets of light where women are honored. The Maiden, Mother, Crone aspects of women are certainly making gains, even though the perceived roles of women as Temptress, Whore, Witch, persist.
How did growing up in the 1960s affect your personality?
The Sixties were remarkable. Young people felt anything and everything was possible if we wanted it badly enough. The sixties stereotypical “free-love” culture received most of the press, but it was the larger desire to embrace “free-thinking” that motivated my generation. Definitely me. Conforming, following rules, becoming our parents with their warped sense of patriarchal rule, was anathema. My generation believed that if we united, we could affect change—and we united as had rarely been seen. My mother always encouraged me to think for myself. She encouraged me to question authority, even hers, and when given an answer, question that too!
As I grew older, went to college, started teaching high school English, I found that I could carry my values from the Sixties with me into the “adult” world, use them to help others find their own uniqueness, their own authenticity. The Sixties concepts of freedom of thought, freedom of action, freedom to live as one wanted, were tempered by another guiding star from my mother: Do no harm.
I continue to question authority, laws, regulations, first impressions, and the nature of people who enter and leave my life. I value unique qualities in people and depend on my inner sense to form, and break, my own opinions.
You wear many hats – memoirist, fiction author, journalist, activist, and teacher. Do these roles contribute to your writing?
Everything a writer does, or doesn’t do, influences what they write. I’ve found that even the agonizing writer’s-block is there for a reason: To shine a spotlight on what is blocked or hiding in one’s life at that moment. The many hats I’ve worn lend me varied perspectives about people’s actions and motivations.
I started writing the first book in my historical fiction series, The Last Magdalene, before I wrote House of the Moon: Surviving the Sixties. I realized my fascination with women marginalized throughout history was partially because I too had been marginalized and silenced; that my generation arose to claim our voice, to make certain we were not ignored. Writing my memoir was both traumatic and liberating. When I found I was able to write an unvarnished version of my teen years, it became imperative that I do the same for other women. I went back to square one and wrote The Last Magdalene from a deeper level of comprehension.
I find that the common thread in everything I do is to be authentic and to allow myself to change perspectives as I learn more about “life, the universe, and everything”—to quote one of my favorite authors, Douglas Adams.
From where do you gather your research? (Library, archives, internet etc.)
I use every means available but find physical books and research papers especially gratifying. I also like to travel to locations in order soak up the ambiance, feel the sun or rain, hear the sounds, touch the stones, eat the food, and immerse myself in the history of any given place. I even went back to my childhood home in Covina, California and walked around my high school while writing House of the Moon.
My research for The Last Magdalene includes studying with a Hebraic scholar, Shana Laxx, from Haifa University, to better understand women’s place and participation in ancient Judea. The primary written sources for my series, The Magdalene Chronicles, are from my personal library and include works by several Roman and Egyptian historians, Josephus, Elaine Pagels, and multiple translations of both the Torah and New Testament. I find reading various renditions of history to be illuminating, and helps me to see differences in various editions, and more importantly what one translator left out, or added.
I do refer to the internet but am skeptical about fast and easy searches. I end up going down the rabbit hole for hours on end trying to source information, and often end up back in my personal library, or emailing university professors who are always helpful and eager to aid in my research.
What surprising things did you learn from writing your books?
How much I don’t know!
I’m also continually surprised at how interconnected people are, even when there are no physical ties that bind. But above all other surprises, the reach of the written word is what continues. Books have been a major source of inspiration throughout my life. Maya Angelou, Alan Ginsberg, Hunter Thompson, Marion Zimmer-Bradley, Sharon Kay Penman, and so many other authors and poets have shaped my perspectives, given me both hope and despair. When someone contacts me to say my writing has impacted their lives, I’m hugely surprised and gratified.
Every person can make a difference, but it takes courage and authenticity. Don’t doubt your abilities or your insights. To quote Oscar Wilde, “Be yourself. Everybody else is already taken.”
Donna Conrad is an award-winning author, journalist, activist, and teacher. Her core values revolve around the concept of individual empowerment, a sustaining ideal running through the books she writes. Her writing interests are varied and include articles for fine-art periodicals, memoir/narrative non-fiction, as well as historical, flash, and paranormal fiction. She teaches all of the above at writers’ conferences.
Her first published book “House of the Moon: Surviving the Sixties,” has received rave reviews.
Donna’s life is as varied as her writing. She embraces change as an exciting adventure. She has studied writing with the likes of Alan Ginsberg, Lawrence Ferlinghetti, and Jack Whyte. She has also been mentored by Donald Maass, whom she worked with privately on her upcoming four-book historical fiction series, “The Magdalene Chronicles.” Book One, The Last Magdalene, is scheduled for publication April 2022.
She lives in the Pacific Northwest with her husband and their five cats. When she’s not writing, you can find Donna cruising the back roads in her black-on-black Miata MX-5, Maya – named for one of her favorite poets, Maya Angelou.
Her memoir, House of the Moon; Surviving the Sixties has received critical acclaim. The first of her four-book historical fiction series, The Last Magdalene, is scheduled for publication April 2022.
I have been writing since 1987. I started as a journalist, went to college in my 40s, and continued to write after that. My first book, “A River of Stones” was published in 2002.
You write in multiple genres – do you start with the genre and then the story or the other way around?
The genre usually. For my most recent book, I knew what the genre was going to be pretty close to getting it going. I have written mystery, YA fiction, middle reader, nonfiction, a picture book, Christian fiction, Christian Historical Fiction and science/fantasy, so you can imagine what my mind is like.
Which do you find the most challenging to write – fiction or non-fiction?
That depends on the research. When there’s a lot of research, the time it takes to finish a book is lengthened. The easiest books for me to write are those that mostly come from my head. If the book is based on where I live or a place where I’ve vacationed, the challenge is lessened.
Where did the ideas for the Brianne James Mystery & Susan Cramer Mystery Series’ come from?
I really wanted to tackle a mystery, and so I thought how it would be if I was a detective, having no training and no experience in the field. This is Susan Cramer. She loves a great mystery but she really has no idea – especially in the beginning – how to solve the crime. I am like that. The ideas after that came from my ‘strange’ mind. I am always asking what if questions. What if someone died in an old hotel and everyone thought You were the murderer? What if you were on a cruise ship and an old man died at your feet?
Do you have a favorite character and why?
I would have to say Brianne James. She is the daughter to Susan. And she has a little more of her wits about her. She is tough, too.
Were the series planned ahead or did the character’s dictate a continuation?
The series was not planned ahead. “Scrambled” was a one book wonder in the beginning. I wrote it because I was attending college and I needed money for school. I received a $500 scholarship from Mystery Writers of America after sending in my first chapter – a chapter I wrote for one of my college classes.
What is your writing process?
Get up. Sit down. And write. I treat my writing like I would a profession because it is. Writing is NOT my hobby. Yes, I love it, but I write because I have to. I go through multiple drafts and revisions before I call something finished. A have a part-time job as an aide at an elementary school, and two businesses – we publish too over here, [Idea Creations Press] and run a non-profit [Trees For Keeps], so I keep myself pretty busy.
Do you have a favorite place to write?
Our family just returned from a vacation to Bryce Canyon, Utah. It is a beautiful place. Every morning I would sit out on the porch and write. I loved it. At home I have my office. It’s not as peaceful as an early morning in the canyon, but I love having a work space just for writing.
Does your own life experience play a part in your characterizations?
This question makes me smile. Yes. There is a lot of me in my books. The goofy girl. The question asker. The mystery maker. The searcher.
Where can readers find you?
I love it when readers find me at my blog and learn something new about writing, marketing, or publishing. http://www.ariverofstones.com. I also have a fun Author’s Amazon page here.
Kathryn is a lover of words and a bearer of mood swings. When she is feeling the need to inspire, she writes a Christian fiction book. If a mystery is waiting to be uncovered, she finds it. If something otherworldly is finding its way through her fingertips, she travels to it.
Kathryn has been a reader since she was a young child. Although she took classes in writing as a teen, it wasn’t something she really thought would become her career until she was married. And even then, it took a few more years for something worthy enough to publish to manifest itself.
Kathryn’s first book was published in 2002. Since then, many other books have found their way out of her head depending on the sort of day she is having. Kathryn is a journalist, a teacher, a mentor, an editor, a publisher, and a marketer.
Her greatest joy, other than writing her next book, is meeting with readers and authors who enjoy the craft of writing as much as she does.
My current read is My Ghosts by Mary Swan, the book I found in a small bookstore while traveling. I am enjoying the author’s style and get a real sense of the main protagonist and her plight. It is of particular interest to me as I too emigrated. Getting to know the customs, language and manner of another country is a remarkable journey for anyone. The novel character’s are from Scotland and travel to Toronto, Canada, while I was from England and came to Edmonton, Canada. You might think that there could be no language differences, but you would be wrong. For example, in England the front of a car is a bonnet but in Canada a hood, or the rear is a boot but here a trunk. I know a sidewalk as a pavement and a wrench as a spanner. This last item puzzled my Canadian work colleagues, when I first asked for one, but when I described it, I was informed the item was indeed a wrench not a spanner.
Languages are a combination of settlers and native inhabitants own language, which is assimilated into common use over generations. Accents are closely related to specific areas, where the majority of inhabitants are from a common location that influences dialect development. This can be from invasions, an influx of settlers or workers to the area and in modern times the use of slang has become incorporated. Another influence is class, where an upper class person will speak differently from a lower class person. It is the influence of their peers that affects their accent.
While writing a story, a writer has to be conscious of the dialect of an area they are writing about or indeed the origins of the character. I find no problem in writing English dialects and accents as I have known them for most of my life. However, as I write my Canadian detective series, I am conscious of word usage and slang. I have to check with my author friends as to the names of certain things. Once example is I use dado rail in a paragraph, but no-one knew what it was until I described it. Then it was clear the word I needed to use was chair rail.
Some author’s have a ‘key’ at the back of their fiction books, most commonly found in fantasy stories. However, I am sure that most readers can understand the ‘new’ words due their context within a sentence or paragraph and the repeated use. Obviously, we are used to a glossary in a non-fiction book, whil ewe study a subject.
Have you read a book with noticeable language differences to your own?
Did you find it easy to read or puzzling?
Was there a glossary at the back of the book? Did it hinder your reading or help?