Course Correcting Your Marketing Plan for Authors

course correcting blog

Both of my jobs are “high feedback” situations. As many of you already know, I work seasonally as a Zoo Educator, teaching kids of all ages about animals. There is no end to the feedback I get from my management and co-workers. All with the hope to improve my performance. As a writer, I get tons of feedback as well – from reviews, mentors, my critique group…just to name a few. So, what do you do when this feedback calls for a course correction?

listenAlways Listen. It is important to take in the advice. This is another perspective on your work. And, hopefully, as we are all adults, this person is looking out for your best interest. They are wanting you to succeed and improve. Another set of eyes or ears on your work can only benefit you.

Respect. Even if you don’t agree with the feedback, I would advise you to be respectful. Even if the person is not published or is newer to the field than you are, it doesn’t mean their opinion is not valid. I would challenge you to consider what they have to say. Is there any merit to it? There may be. Maybe not. But let’s be careful to not be defensive. You never grow and improve that way.

considerConsider the Advice. Take some time to consider what the other person is saying. Seriously consider it. Especially if they are asking you to make a big change. You may initially balk at it, but there may be a good reason for the big change or maybe there may be smaller changes that can be made to improve your craft.

What does all of this amount to? Well…there is a story here. I was recently at a writers conference. And I had the opportunity to meet with a mentor. I had planned on doing a mock pitch to get feedback, but when she sat down, she started asking me questions about where I was in my career. Through those questions, she discovered what I already knew – that I was kind of weak in the area of marketing myself.

Well, why was that? I’ll share with you. I blog, tweet, and post to writers for the most part. But my audience (that I write for) is not necessarily writers. That is not really the audience I am hoping to attract. So, there is a problem. Not that it’s wrong for me to encourage other writers, but I need to also reach out to my target audience. So, I need to consider what that will entail and rethink my whole marketing strategy.

It’s generally a good thing to re-evaluate your marketing strategy periodically anyway. What is working? Why is that working? What isn’t working? What can you do to fix that?

What about you? Ever get advice that made you re-evaluate something you were doing?

“Off to War” – Chapter Three, Scene 3 & 4

OffToWar_Medium

“Off to War”

Chapter Three

Scene 3

Troop movement outside the thin fabric walls of the tent awakened Elizabeth. They would have risen before dawn in order to practice maneuvers. If she strained her ears, she could hear the artillery unit doing the same thing, loading cannons to prepare for battle. Would it be today? Would the men head to the front lines today?

Making slow movements, she sat up and stretched. Looking over, she saw that Melanie still slumbered. Elizabeth was not so blessed to be such a deep sleeper. Sarah and Lily, of course, were already gone, their mats made up.

Elizabeth begrudgingly moved out of the tent and toward the women’s common area. How she longed for those cozy mornings when her vanity was but a few steps away from her warm bed and she could freshen up in the privacy of her own bedchambers! But she had become accustomed to this new level of modesty, walking about in her nightshift, nodding to the women she passed on the way to the common area.

Once she arrived, she gathered some water to pour into the simple bowl. She splashed some water onto her face, hoping to liven her features and waken her senses. Rinsing her hands as well, she then dumped the water so the bowl would be ready for the next woman who came by.

She was more alert on the trip back to the tent, but not always in better spirits. It was still too early and she was still in naught but her nightclothes. Upon returning to the tent, she made her way over to her bag and pulled out yet another simple frock she had acquired from the maid servant in her parents’ home. Time to get ready for another day.

Home. Ah. Just thinking of her parents’ home brought back memories that seemed thousands of miles away. It had been quite an adjustment for her to be wakened by troops or a bugle blowing. At home, she was roused from sleep by a maid coming into her room to open the curtains and help prepare her for the day. She was then helped into her attire and her hair was done for her. Next it was downstairs to a hot breakfast that was prepared by the family cook. Elizabeth could almost smell the aromas of the numerous pastries and breakfast meats that she could indulge in each and every day. Then her day would be filled with hobbies and the things she wanted to do, not the menial tasks that filled her days here. Yes, she had taken that life for granted. When she had made the decision to leave, she had known she would be leaving all of that behind, but she had neglected to realize what an adjustment it would be.

Once she was dressed and her hair pinned, she shook Melanie.

“Time to rise and shine,” she said in her brightest voice.

A groan was the only response she got.

“See you at breakfast?” Elizabeth said, it was not truly a question.

Melanie waved from under her blanket. That meant ‘yes, but get out of my face or you’ll regret it’. Her new friend was not a morning person.

Elizabeth grabbed her papers and charcoal and stepped out of the tent. She wouldn’t have a lot of time to herself. Breakfast would start soon and then they would be on to the tasks of the day.

Moving a little ways outside of the camp and up the hill to give herself a bird’s-eye view, she found a spot to settle. This little patch of grass was far enough away from the sentry’s post to not give him grief, but far enough up the hill to still have a good view of the camp. So, she plopped down and, without ceremony, began to sketch. She had not the chance to capture these morning maneuvers and now was a prime opportunity.

This had become a favorite spot for her as she could see the whole camp from her vantage point. There were the family tents, the mens’ tents, her tent, the hospital, the place the women did laundry and cooked whenever they had something to cook. On one side of the camp, the soldiers were marching in lines and on the other, the artillery unit worked with the cannons. Though the camp already buzzed with activity, she tried to capture it all on paper.

Elizabeth could never have imagined this place would affect her so, but she had already begun to form relationships with so many of the people she came in contact with. If anything happened to any of them it would devastate her. Yes, Melanie had indeed been right in what she had said. War changed people. This war was already changing this girl who had been born to privilege and never faced any real hardship in her life.

Looking with an artist’s eyes, Elizabeth’s gaze swept over the camp again as she put the finishing touches on her sketch. Two figures walking on the outskirts of the camp caught her attention. They looked in her direction and waved. She responded in kind. Seconds later, she realized it was John and Dr. Smith. And they were headed straight for her!

Searching for some place to hide, she came up short. There was no where to go. And they had already spotted her. Elizabeth swallowed hard. So this was it. John would finally discover her. It would only be seconds now until they were close enough. She braced herself for his reaction as the two men came ever closer. Any moment her features would be clear enough that he would know.

Boom! The sound of cannon fire filled the air. Elizabeth hit the ground, covering her ears. Had the troops set off a cannon by accident? As she sat back up, she saw that John and Dr. Smith were crouched down, looking around, perhaps wondering the same thing. A glance over at the artillery unit told her that they were just as confused.

From her perch on the hillside, she saw a scout flying toward camp from the south. His form appeared out of the forest line moments after the cannon fire. Spotting the scout as well, the two doctors ran toward the camp. Elizabeth followed suit.

The camp was in utter chaos. Elizabeth tried to make her way to her station to get some information from her direct report, but there were too many people moving here and there. The troops were all moving in one direction, like a wave. It was difficult to push against them. At last, she spotted Melanie.

“Mel!” She called out, “Mel!”

Melanie jerked her head in Elizabeth’s direction and grabbed for her hand. Together they pushed through the crowd and found a space next to a tent where they were out of the rush of people.

“What’s going on?” Elizabeth panted with effort.

“It’s the Confederates. They’re here!”

Elizabeth’s heart stopped. What would happen to them all? To John?

“The troops are marching out to meet them,” Melanie continued.

Elizabeth nodded, feeling numb. “What can we do?” Her voice shook.

“Pray. Pray and get to your station!” Melanie squeezed Elizabeth’s hand once more before heading back out into the throngs of people.

Elizabeth was surprised how level-headed Melanie was in the face of crisis. And though Elizabeth was on laundry duty this morning, the last thing anyone would need, she did as Melanie had said and headed for her post.

 

“Off to War”

Chapter Three

Scene 4

The Moore family was seated around their dinner table. From the outside looking in, one might never know this was a family torn apart by the war, a family missing two of its members as they gathered together for this special family time. But Henry Moore knew differently. Their presence was indeed missed by each member present. And their empty chairs served as reminders of their absence. Still, those there reveled in the closeness they shared. And they put on brave faces for the others in their company. It was in the final stretches of the meal when, as Martha Moore watched, her husband produced a letter from his pocket.

“Who’s it from, Father?” Susan asked, wide-eyed.

Martha’s heart stopped and her eyes met her husband’s.

“It’s from Jacob,” he said as he was able to pull himself from his wife’s gaze.

“Please, do read it, Father!” Susan all but jumped up and down in her chair.

“You know how we do things,” he admonished her. “We’ll read it in the parlor once everyone is done with dinner.”

“Let’s go then,” Susan begged, pushing her plate away from herself.

“I’m finished.” Martha laid her napkin on the table.

“Me too!” Susan followed suit, setting her napkin next to her plate. She looked up at her father with wide, expectant eyes, willing him to say he was finished so they might retire to the parlor.

He waited a handful of seconds, eyeing Susan and Martha’s expressions. “Alright, then,” he said at long last, laying his own napkin down, signaling the end of dinner. “To the parlor, then.”

Henry led them to the small family room where they huddled in their spots around the fireplace. He took a seat to the left of the massive structure, Susan took a spot on the floor near his feet, and Martha sat nearby on the sofa, picking at her cross-stitch. Taking the letter back out of his pocket, he opened it and began to read.

“Dear Mother, Father, and Susan, I hope this letter finds you well. I miss you all. We settled in our camp and I’m trying to get the hang of things. I’m learning all kinds of stuff. There are definitely things that Benjamin failed to mention in his letters, but I understand. He just didn’t think it was interesting enough to mention. Like how we get up every day before dawn. That’s boring stuff. But it’s important, I guess, since we do it every day.

“We spend most of our time doing things to keep us from getting fat and lazy. But no one here cooks as well as you, Mother, so I don’t think anyone is going to get fat. Don’t worry, though, I’m eating well enough. I have met some people here and am making friends. I rode the train down here with one of our camp doctors named John. He gave me some good advice about life. My tent mate’s name is Phillip. He’s a couple of years older than me. We get along just fine, but he doesn’t talk much.

“Well, I’d better head out to lunch before it’s all gone. I’ll write again soon. Love, Jacob. P.S. I am eager to hear about Benjamin.”

“Well that was nice that he became acquainted with one of the doctors,” Martha said, working her cross-stitch, moving furiously with her fingers.

And Henry understood. She’d rather not allow her mind to wander to those places every mother’s mind must go to when receiving a letter from the front. Would this be the last letter?

“I wonder what he eats there,” Susan said, looking up at her father.

“It’s not as good as what you get to eat,” Henry said, patting her on the head.

“But is it yucky food or just a bad cook?” Susan’s brow furrowed.

“I think they get rations for the most part,” Henry sighed, looking back over the letter.

“Rations?” Susan tested the word.

Henry nodded, “An allotted amount of food. Crackers, pork, and coffee, stuff like that.”

“Coffee?” she blanched at that. “Jacob doesn’t drink coffee!”

“Chances are he will when he comes back.”

Susan looked at her father, eyebrow quirked.

“Susan, there may be other things that will have changed about Jacob and even Benjamin when they come home.” His voice softened. He’d rather not say more than he already had.

“Like what?”

She was so innocent to the goings on of war. Too innocent.

“Oh, I don’t know,” Henry forced himself to continue the conversation with Susan. “It’s just something I want you to know.” He prayed that would be enough for her.

Susan shrugged it off, “Okay, Father. Will you read the letter again?”

“Of course. ‘Dear Mother, Father, and Susan…’”

“In the Weeds”: When You Find Yourself Over-Committed and Overwhelmed

in the weeds graphic

Once upon a time, I was a server. Now that can be a stressful job. And it’s the right now kind of stress. That night-before-a-big-test, can’t put it off intense stress. I don’t miss it. In that industry, when you are overwhelmed and have too much happening that you just can’t keep up, you say you are “in the weeds”. That’s a cue to the others around you that you’d appreciate any and all assistance they can offer you. Do other professions have similar phrases for this state of being? I don’t know. If they have such a term for a writer/stay-at-home mom, that’s me this week. I’ve got “too many irons in the fire” and “too much on my plate”. Don’t get me wrong, I thrive on being busy and having a full schedule, but there is definitely a line there full and over-committed. So, what’s a person to do?

balance beamThink about your “beam“. I’ve written before about Jen Hatmaker’s gymnastics beam illustration. How you have the things you commit to “on the beam” and the things you delegate away or eliminate from your life “off the beam”. Well, let’s take a look at the beam first. Are there things you’ve allowed on the beam that shouldn’t be there in the first place? If so, let’s do what we can to remove them, either from the list altogether or from your list and onto someone else’s.

Delegate well. So, we’ve cleaned off the things that shouldn’t have ever been on your beam. Now look and see if anything on your beam can be delegated. There are others in your life that can take on things and do them very well. If you are anything like me, you feel responsible for the things on your beam and you want to keep a hold on them so you can make sure they are done properly. But you have to trust your village as well. By “village”, I mean your people, your circle, your family and friends. Can your spouse handle some of the kid stuff? Can a friend at church take on your duties there for one or two Sundays or on a more permanent basis?

organizeThe “TO DO” List is Your Friend. Make a list of everything you have to do in the next week, month, however long. Just get it all down on paper. No matter how scary it is. Break the bigger tasks down into its smaller steps. Then prioritize this list. Now, get out your calendar. Mark in your set appointments and fill in the to do list items, starting with the higher priority stuff. Plan on just 2-3 items per day. Don’t overwhelm yourself. If you get more done, that’s fabulous! But set yourself up for success and be realistic with your expectations on what is possible to get done. Especially if you are like me and you have a family and house to care for as well. Or a full time job on top of these other things.

Protect Your Routines. I have an autistic son. So, I know all too well how important routine is. For myself, I find it very helpful to have somewhat of a night ritual where I go over my schedule and to do list for the next day, so I have some idea of what’s happening. I also do better when I keep a consistent morning routine (mine involves coffee, looking over my to do list again, and a time of quiet reflection and prayer). It just sets the right tempo for my day, a better mindset for myself, and an overall calmer me.

goalsKeep Your Eye On the Prize. Have goals. Life goals. Weekly goals that feed into those life goals. Know that you are contributing to something lasting and something that matters to you. Keep your goals written out and posted where you can see them often. Let them motivate you.

Again, I don’t have all of the answers. And perhaps the best advice of all is to guard your time on the front end. Your time is valuable and you are the gate-keeper. If there isn’t now, there will be others clamoring for a piece of you from multiple angles. The best word you can learn is “no”. It is not wrong or selfish to use that word. It is wisdom to know when you must.

Any other tips for helping someone “in the weeds”?

“Off to War” – Chapter 3, Scenes 1 & 2

OffToWar_Medium

“Off to War”

Chapter 3 – Battle

Scene 1

It didn’t take long for the other women to find out that Elizabeth didn’t know much about cooking or laundering or more than basic stitching. They all found this rather curious, Melanie reported to her, but they appreciated her willingness to learn. And they seemed pleased with how quickly she picked things up. By the end of the first week, she was performing all of the basic tasks with surprising proficiency, even if she was slower than the other women. Everyone became most impressed with her drawing skills. In her free time in the afternoons, she would draw portraits or scenes of the camp.

Melanie continued to feed Elizabeth a running commentary on the men in the unit: who was available, who was married, who was cute, who was plain, who was ‘husband material’, who wasn’t anything special. Elizabeth’s suspicions had been laid to rest. She was certain Melanie would go home with a fiancé.

Elizabeth and Melanie seldom saw their tent mates as the nurses’ time was taken up at the hospital, setting it up to receive casualties, only returning to the tent to sleep. Even then, Sarah wasn’t much of a conversationalist. Not even at the behest of the ever-chatty Melanie could they get more than rudimentary pleasantries out of her. Was she shy or tired or just not interested in concerning herself with making new friends? Lily, on the other hand, would engage in simple conversation, but was always more interested in hearing about Melanie or Elizabeth than talking about herself.

Everyone became more and more certain their unit would find themselves in combat soon. After getting to know some of the soldiers, it broke Elizabeth’s heart to think that some of them would leave the camp and not return. At least John would be safe. The doctors would stay in the hospital to receive the sick and wounded. They would remain a safe distance from the fighting. Still, that was of little comfort.

“What do you think, Elizabeth?” Melanie asked. They were in their tent, preparing for bed.

Elizabeth hadn’t been paying attention as Melanie went through her evening litany of the men she had encountered that day.

“I’m sorry, what?” Her face warmed in spite of herself.

“I met the young doctor. What was his name? John. He’s handsome. I may have found my match,” came Melanie’s gleeful voice.

Elizabeth dropped her apron. Her John? Was Melanie talking about her John?

“He has a girl back home,” Sarah piped up, startling Melanie. But she recovered well.

“Is that so?” Melanie fingered the edge of her pillow.

“Yes,” Lily said, settling herself onto her mat. “I hear they’re engaged.”

“Well, he didn’t marry her before joining up. That says something. War changes people. Maybe I still have a chance. After all, I’m here and she’s not,” Melanie met Lily’s gaze as she eased herself onto her own mat.

Elizabeth drifted back off into her own thoughts. War changes people. Was that true? Did war change people? Would it change her? Would it change John? Would it change the fact that they loved each other? Surely not. What they had was so deep, so real. Elizabeth could not, would not accept that the war could change that. Melanie didn’t know what she was saying. She didn’t know John.

“What do you think, Elizabeth?” Melanie interjected into her thoughts.

Elizabeth had missed Melanie’s question again.

“I think it’s time to get some shut eye,” was all Elizabeth could manage to say.

“I agree!” Lily said, her voice quite loud.

Melanie’s eyebrows furrowed and her bottom lip protruded as she crossed her arms.

Sarah leaned over and turned out the lantern, plunging the four women into darkness.

“Melanie,” Elizabeth said, as she slid down onto her thin bed, her voice gentle. “I think you need to realize that one day soon some of these men are going into battle and they’re not coming back.”

“I know that,” she said, her voice quiet and soft.

“Then why plan futures with so many of them?”

“Because it keeps me from thinking that way, that there’s a time clock on their lives.”

Elizabeth had to almost hold her breath to hear Melanie speak, her voice was so quiet.

“I don’t want to treat them that way. I don’t want to think about them like that.”

Elizabeth glanced in her direction in the dark, but was only able to see her silhouetted in the night. This was a deeper side to Melanie. Elizabeth never could have guessed that there was something more behind all of this boy craze.

“I’m sorry,” Elizabeth whispered. “I didn’t realize…”

“I know,” Melanie said into the darkness. “It’s all right. Let’s just get some sleep.”

“All right.” Elizabeth lay down on her pillow and listened to the gentle breathing sounds of the women in her company. But her thoughts were on John and on what Melanie had said about war changing people. And it kept her awake long into the night.

 

“Off to War”

Chapter 3 – Battle

Scene 2

Another early rise for the troops. Jacob sighed as he sat up and moved his legs to wake his limbs. This was definitely something Benjamin did not write about. They had been rising well before dawn these last few days. Yawning and stretching, he pulled on his uniform pants first, then his uniform jacket. He had to report soon.

His tent mate was already dressing as well. It wasn’t long before they were both regulation, gun in hand, and ready to go. Making their way outside of their tent, they reported to the command post, taking their places in the line up.

All of the soldiers stood at attention while the captain walked up and down the line, inspecting the troops. Jacob held his breath as the man passed by. On occasion, the captain would find what he considered a sloppy appearance and yell at the soldier. For the most part, they were a ship-shape unit, if not by nature, by fear of this particular commander. Their captain had a reputation for remembering anyone who dared show up sloppy. Thus far, Jacob had escaped that nightmare.

After inspection, they were released to breakfast. On occasion, the women would make a warm breakfast for them, but that all depended on what foodstuffs were available. This morning, it was the hard tack bread rations and some bacon, which had been cooked.

Jacob ate his food, all the while thinking about his mother’s flapjacks and maple syrup she often fed him if he had a test that day or needed cheering up. He appreciated the women who had given up so much to come stay at the camp and cook for the soldiers, but they could not compare to his mother’s home cooking. Especially the blonde girl they called Elizabeth. Whenever she had been cooking, he could hear the other men groaning. It just wasn’t her strong suit.

Forcing down the last of the hard tack, Jacob saw the captain signal the troops to line up for their early morning run. After a quick breakfast each day, they would line up again for maneuvers. This could mean any number of things physical. They would run for some length of time every morning. Sometimes they would have obstacle courses of sorts where they would have to crawl with their muskets in hand or climb with them. There were days they had exercises where they practiced hand to hand combat with their bayonets. And there was his least favorite – taking apart their muskets and putting them back together.

Even now, Jacob moved toward the front of the line for their morning run. One of the faster men in the camp, he could keep up his speed throughout the duration of the run. The captain counted them off and they started moving.

Though the never dared breathe a word of it, he found the morning run invigorating. He enjoyed the fresh air, the scenery, and, though he was sure most of the men did not find the run enjoyable, the camaraderie was something to be appreciated.

So they were off, out into the field. Jacob allowed his mind to wander during the run when, before he knew it, a couple of other soldiers began shouting at him from behind.

“Hey, you trying to make us look bad?”

“Yeah! What’s in your head?”

“Show off!”

“You’re just jealous,” Jacob yelled back with a slight grin on his face. That would bug them. After all, it was the same heckling every morning. A handful of them would get together after morning drills and chide each other. It almost seemed like everyone had a certain thing the others would tease about. They ribbed Frank about how he always had a piece left over during musket drills. George would be razzed about his poor time on ground drills. And they hassled Jacob about his running.

“What are you doing? Running from the front lines?” They tried to make him mad, but it wasn’t working. Jacob turned his head for a second, eyeing which ones managed to keep up with him.

“No, I’m leading a rag tag group of misfits,” he howled back, wanting to show them they weren’t getting to him. A hand landed on his shoulder. He glanced back. One of them had gotten close enough to touch him.

“So, one of you can actually run!”

Jacob feinted left and right, dodging this other soldier who tried to grab him. It brought back memories of he and Benjamin playing in the back yard when they were boys. He hurled out taunts. The guy behind him started to pant and lose his gain. Slowing down a bit, Jacob turned while still jogging.

“What now? Can’t keep it up, Old Man?” He laughed. The troops seemed as if they were chasing him.

Old Man sprinted faster.

Jacob’s eyes widened and he realized that Old Man just might get him. He turned back around and picked up the pace. Right as he did so, he hit a dip in the path. His feet stumbled, and Jacob hit the ground hard.

Old Man was so close behind him that he crashed into Jacob as well. They both lost their breath, the wind knocked out of them.

The captain was soon on the scene. “What is wrong with you two? Moore, Johnson!”

Jacob was just then catching his breath and pulling himself to his feet. He took the fall relatively unscathed. Old Man didn’t look too good though. When he got up, his ankle seemed twisted.

“Moore, you get Johnson back to the infirmary. Move out!”

Jacob extended a hand to help the man. “What’s your name?”

“Daniel. Daniel Johnson.” The man said, grimacing as he attempted to put weight on the injured ankle.

“Well, Daniel, congratulations on figuring a way out of morning drills.” Jacob offered the young man a smile. “I just hope the captain doesn’t clean your clock for it later.”

Daniel chuckled, leaning on Jacob while they limped back to the hospital. Once there, it wasn’t long before the doctor had wrapped Daniel’s ankle and told him to take it easy for the next few days. As the doctor walked away, Jacob decided to get one more jab in.

“See, I knew there was a way to slow you down!”

Daniel gave him a cross look and Jacob knew he had made a lifelong friend.

“Off to War” COVER REVEAL!!

cover revealIt’s that time again! I have decided to self publish one of my novels and Cora Graphics has been hard at work on the cover.

I want to thank the people in my life who make so many allowances for me and my craziness. My friends and family are so good to me, so patient and loving. You know who you are.

My husband is my tireless supporter and hero. He is my number one encourager and does whatever he can to further my goals and my career. To say I love that man would be an understatement.

My beta readers are awesome. They keep me honest and real. They not only help me with the words on the page, but give me feedback (often instantly) on cover concepts and details really anything I need help with. Y’all are the best.

And, of course, I am grateful for Cora Graphics. She is so talented and just amazing to work with!

So, without further ado…here is the cover (click on the “PLAY” button):

 

Off to War – Chapter 2, Scene 9

Off to War Cover 1

Off to War

Chapter 2, Scene 9

The next morning, Elizabeth awoke to the sound of a bugle blasting. Time to rise and shine. As promised, a pair of soldier’s boots were by her mat. Sitting up, she was tempted to remove the dressings and examine her blisters. It would be best to leave them alone for a day or two and let them heal. So, instead, she slid her stockings over the bandages and, with great care, worked her feet into the boots. They were a perfect fit with the bulky bandages. She silently thanked the kind doctor.

“They work for you?” Melanie yawned as she sat up.

“Yes,” Elizabeth said, lacing them. “They’re perfect.

Melanie moved over to the tent flap and looked out. “It is too early for all this activity.”

“I think we’re going to have to get used to that,” Elizabeth said. She tested her weight on her feet. Grimacing, she noted the slight pain that shot through her feet, but she could manage.

“I think you’re right.” Melanie stretched her arms.

A quick look over to where Sarah and Lily’s mats should have been told Elizabeth that the two women had already risen and packed up. Her best guess was that they were helping the other nurses catalog and pack the medical supplies onto the wagon.

“Let’s get these mats rolled up and this tent packed. How hard could it be?” Melanie said, her voice confident.

But Elizabeth was skeptical.

As it turned out, it was, as she feared, quite difficult. They’d had a lot of help from Sarah and Lilly setting up the tent. And now they were left to their own devices trying to get it down in an orderly fashion. They made a bigger mess of it than they intended to before a kind soldier, Denny, who happened to be passing by, offered to help show them how to fold it. With Denny’s help, it was done in short order. They thanked Denny, who moved on to the next task without further ado.

Melanie watched him go and Elizabeth wondered if perhaps part of her volunteerism was spurred by her desire to find a husband.

“He’s good-looking. Don’t you think?” she asked, an eyebrow raised.

“Yeah, but I’m a little more concerned with getting our packs together.” Elizabeth said, hoping to pull Melanie back to the task at hand.

“You’re no fun.” Melanie grabbed for her packs.

“That’s fine. You can be enough fun for the both of us.” Elizabeth offered her a smile as she picked up her load. She stifled a grunt under the added weight.

Melanie made a face, but did as she was directed, gathering her things to carry in one spot.

And then Elizabeth spotted him for the first time since leaving home. John. He was several feet away, examining boxes in the back of a wagon. Everything seemed to slow down as if she watched him in slow motion. She thought to turn away, but he was so concentrated on his work she doubted he would look in her direction.

Elizabeth reveled in the sight of him as if it had been years since she had seen him, not a mere two days. His dark hair, dark to match his eyes, was less kept than she was used to seeing it. Strong, capable hands moved over the boxes and packs with ease, checking and securing everything. Was it just her imagination or was his skin more tanned? Long ago she had memorized the curves of his face, but here she stood studying them anew.

“Look who’s all moon struck now?” Melanie’s voice interrupted her thoughts. “Who’s caught your eye?” She looked off in the direction Elizabeth had been staring.

At the same moment, John must have sensed he was being watched. He turned his head in her direction. Without thinking, Elizabeth threw herself down on the ground.

When she looked up, she caught the confused eyes of her companion.

“What has gotten into you?” Melanie asked, concerned.

“I, um…I thought I saw a bee.”

“A bee? I didn’t see a bee.”

Elizabeth returned to her feet. She glanced at where John had just been. He was no where in sight.

“My mistake,” she said as she brushed at her skirt.

“Who were you looking at?” Melanie pried, eyes narrowing.

“No one.” Elizabeth attempted to side step Melanie, but it was no use.

“Come on, Elizabeth. You were burning holes into someone with that stare. You can’t lie to me. Remember, we are kindred spirits.”

“I just thought I might have recognized someone from back home.” Elizabeth busied herself with her packs.

“An old beau?” Melanie stood right behind Elizabeth, her voice rising. She was not going to let this go.

“Something like that,” Elizabeth tried to sound dismissive.

“I feel a good story coming.”

“I assure you it’s nothing of the kind,” Elizabeth said, turning to face her.

“I’m up for a dull story. Anything to break up this trip.” Melanie pleaded, sticking out her bottom lip.

“All right.” Elizabeth rolled her eyes. “I’ll tell you all about it.”

So Elizabeth wove a fabricated tale of a beau that never existed for Melanie’s amusement. She used some of the details of her and John’s story, but most of the story was good old fashioned tales. It seemed to entertain Melanie for the portion of the trip she could stretch it out. Melanie rewarded her with a story of one of her beaus. However, Elizabeth believed this recounting to be the truth and it proved to be quite intriguing. And a little disturbing. Melanie was quite a girl.

By midday, they arrived at the place where they were to set up camp. This would be their base for the coming weeks. The camp would be situated on the edge of a field, backing up to a forest. To the north, there was a sloped hill from which one could overlook the camp. And to the south, there were rolling slopes for several yards before being cut off by the forest line. Not far into the woods was a stream with fresh water as they needed it. And the tree line wrapped around to provide some cover for the camp while the field offered ample ideal sites for tents. A sentry post was set up on the hill top. It seemed to be quite a happy situation for their camp.

As much as Elizabeth and Melanie were determined to learn more about how to put up the tent, Sarah and Lily were half done by the time they found their campsite. Today, however, after Elizabeth and Melanie laid out their mats, they congregated with the other women to set up a makeshift kitchen and laundry. By the time that was done, Elizabeth was ready to head back to her tent and lay down, but Melanie stopped her.

“Not just yet, Bright Eyes, now we serve supper to the menfolk.”

It was all Elizabeth could do to not give in then and there. But she remembered why she was here and somehow found the strength to make it through dinner service. Then she stumbled to her tent and collapsed in a heap on her mat. The day was over.

Writing Critique Group: Do’s and Don’t’s

critique group

One of the highlights of my week is my writing critique group. I enjoy getting together with like-minded people, sharing my work and theirs, and giving each other feedback as well as encouragement. It gives me a place to bring my work in progress and have others put their eyes (and ears) on it so that I can get some good pointers.

Now that this group has been running for a while, a few things have stuck out to me as definite strengths and potential pitfalls. Some from what I see in my own group, some from horror stories I have heard. So, if you are looking for a group or wanting to establish a critique group, let me give you some pointers.

DO: Have a published author in your midst

This is not absolutely necessary, but it is helpful. Otherwise, you might end up in a situation where it is the blind leading the blind. At the very least, the group’s leader (or wrangler, if you will), needs to be investing in learning the craft through writers conferences and books. A published author knows firsthand what editors and publishers are looking for in a manuscript. The author (published) is learned on craft and probably already investing in continuing education.

DON’T: Push others down

I understand that this, surprisingly, can be one of the major downfalls of a critique group – members of the group, whether intentionally or subconsciously (I hope the latter) pushing the top talent in the group “down”. Being unnecessarily harsh with these bright rising stars may make someone feel good for a moment, but it will destroy the group in the end. And the damage it does to the members is unimaginable. Yes, we need to critique each other, but it needs to be done with a heart that seeks to better the other person and their work, not to take them down a notch. It just has to be done with the right intent.

DO: Be honest

On the flip side, it is so important that you bring your honesty to the other person’s page. No one in the group will grow if we all sit around and tell each other how wonderful we all are. There is a place for accolades, but the reason people join these groups is to have other critical (and hopefully kind) eyes on their work. To better their work. To better them as writers.

DON’T: Be afraid to share your work

And so you can see how important it is for you to be brave and bring your work, to share your art with the other members of the group. With any luck, you’ve found a group like mine that will share feedback seasoned with encouragement. If you get the sense that others are there to BE critical, it’s not you, that is probably not the group for you. Feedback may not always be easy to hear and there may be times you want to cry from honest feedback (this is the work of your heart after all), but it should be delivered with some sense that they understand that very thing. That this is near and dear to you, that it’s not easy to hear, but that, just like stinging antiseptic, it must be done to help you get better.

In the end, that’s what it’s all about – honing your craft and becoming a better writer. So, walk into your writing critique group with that mindset. Yes, the encouragement and praise is great, but if that’s all you get, you’ll never grow. And isn’t that our goal anyway?

Anyone have any other thoughts on do’s or don’t’s that I didn’t mention?

Off to War – Chapter 2, Scenes 7 & 8

Off to War Cover 1Off to War

Chapter 2 – Scene 7

Dr. William Smith tracked down a spare pair of boots that would suit Elizabeth and had them sent to her tent. He then headed back toward his own tent, deep in thought about the young woman whose acquaintance he had just made. How many others were there like her in the camp? In the war? The wives of working class men would often come along with their husbands to assist in the war effort. But women of the upper class found other ways to contribute, ways that did not involve getting their hands dirty. Yet, here she was, her hands red and raw from carrying the packs today. Those hands had likely been smooth and free from callouses until today. One thing was for certain – this war would change her.

Arriving at his tent, he entered, nodding to Dr. Taylor as he did so.

“Nothing needing a second pair of hands, I hope.” John looked up from inventorying some of the supplies in their medical kits. There wasn’t much chance anything had gotten lost between their itemization at the train and here, perhaps Dr. Taylor just liked to know where everything was.

William offered his colleague a smile as he moved toward his cot. “No, only some bad blisters needing to be lanced.”

“That was quite a walk today. Someone have improper footwear?” John asked, his focus now back on his work.

William nodded, sitting. “One of the women.”

“Seems about right.”

“I wouldn’t be so quick to judge this young woman.” William yawned and stretched. His body was worn from the walking of the day and sleep would be good.

“What do you mean?” John looked up from his ledger.

William’s eyes settled on John, trying to wager how much to share. How much could he trust the man? Soon enough, he reasoned, they’d be putting their lives in each other’s hands. Might as well start trusting him now. “She is a woman from a privileged life. From an upper class home.”

“What is she doing here?” John jerked upright from his crouched position.

“Choosing to serve her country.” William responded, his voice even.

“We have to tell the commanding officer,” John said, his voice rushed. “Her parents couldn’t be aware that she…”

William shook his head, and spoke in a firm voice. “No matter her circumstances at home or how she got here, I’m doing nothing of the sort. I respect what she’s doing. It’s rather brave, don’t you think?” Though tired, William tried to be patient with John’s knee-jerk response. He was young. And he still saw things in black and white.

“But she has no idea the hardships she’ll endure out here while…” John started to argue.

“It’s her choice to face them.”

John fell silent, shrugging his shoulders. After some moments, he refocused on his work and left William in peace. Perhaps John was so adamant because he thought of his own sister or fiancé out here facing such adversity and danger. William hoped that this woman’s family and friends would be able to make peace with her decision. Someday.

 

Chapter 2 – Scene 8

The doorbell rang at the Thompson residence. Charlotte Taylor was admitted to the house, her coat was taken, and she was escorted to the parlor. Once she entered the parlor, Charlotte rushed over to her friend and embraced her.

Abigail welcomed her dear friend’s hug, fighting fresh tears.

When they broke apart, Abigail led Charlotte to a couch.

“Oh, Abigail, I scarcely know what to say!” Charlotte confessed, eyebrows furrowed.

“It’s alright. I don’t know what to say myself,” she sniffled, dabbing at her eyes with her handkerchief.

“Elizabeth gave no indication she was planning anything like this?” Charlotte asked the obvious question. But it needed to be asked.

Abigail shook her head. “We knew, of course, that she was unhappy with John’s leaving.”

“As did we all,” Charlotte added, laying a hand on Abigail’s arm for support.

“But who could have imagined this?” Abigail cried.

“Who indeed, dear friend? And what is to be done?” Charlotte’s eyes widened.

“Nothing,” Abigail said, near tears. “Thomas says there is nothing that can be done now that she is gone.”

Charlotte hung her head. She pulled herself to her feet, taking some steps away from Abigail. “I must confess, friend, I feel as if I am partially to blame. My son…”

“No! I won’t hear of it,” Abigail said, her voice firm. “Elizabeth is head strong all on her own.”

Relieved that her friend was not blaming her in the slightest for having any part of Elizabeth’s flight, Charlotte turned back toward her friend and took a deep breath before continuing. “Do you think John knows?”

“Her letter didn’t say, but I find it doubtful.” Abigail’s eyes held Charlotte’s

“I, too, doubt it. It’s unimaginable that he would have let her go through with it.” Charlotte moved across the room again. This time toward the window that overlooked the front of the house.

“That is what I told Thomas,” Abigail said, unwavering.

Turning to face her friend, Charlotte said, “I imagine once he discovers her, he will send her right back home to you. He doesn’t want her in harm’s way any more than you do.”

“I know, dear friend. Your son is a good man and he loves my Elizabeth a great deal.”

Silence fell between them for some moments. Charlotte’s attention was drawn out of the front window toward a young couple walking by. That should have been John and Elizabeth on an afternoon stroll, on their way home to announce their engagement even.

“I know we haven’t spoken of it, but I was surprised they did not make plans to marry before he went off to war,” Charlotte wondered out loud.

“I admit, I was as well. But I think we’re all relieved they didn’t add the stress and emotion of a wedding to the mix, but it was what I expected when John first made it known he had enlisted.” Now focused on something else, Abigail’s voice was not so charged with emotion.

“I wonder which of them convinced the other to wait.”

“It is a mystery with those two,” Abigail sighed.

“Everything always is with them.” Charlotte turned back toward Abigail.

“Indeed,” Abigail said, looking into her friend’s eyes.

As Charlotte watched, Abigail’s eyes filled with emotion again. Charlotte rejoined her on the sofa, laying a hand on her shoulder. She waited for her friend to speak.

“I now know what torment you have been going through, knowing your child is off to war.”

Charlotte nodded, swallowing hard.

“And I understand your obsession with the war effort,” Abigail added, meeting her friend’s eyes again.

“It’s a way to stay connected to him,” Charlotte confirmed.

Abigail nodded her understanding. “Do you think you could use another hand to write letters? Or another person to collect donations?”

“Of course!” Charlotte said, excited at the prospect of her friend working alongside her. “We’ll be happy to have you!”

“Good. Because as long as she’s out there, I want her to have everything that she needs.”

Off to War – Chapter 2, Scenes 5 & 6

Off to War Cover 1

Off to War

Chapter Two (Shipping Out)

Scene 5

Dearest Father and Mother,

By the time you read this letter, I’ll be far away…

Abigail’s heart froze in her chest as she read those few words. Her maidservant moved to make another curl in her hair, but Abigail waved the woman off. What should she do? Continue reading or wait for her husband? Waiting for Thomas seemed by far the wiser thing to do. He would be able to keep a level head. Yes, he would know what to do.

Moments later, he appeared at the doorway, his features twisted in concern. Abigail couldn’t form the words, so she held the note out to him with a shaking hand.

He read the first few lines and looked up at her, eyes wide.

“Out loud,” she managed, her mouth dry.

Excusing the servants, he closed the door behind them and then sat on the edge of the bed nearby.

“Dearest Father and Mother, By the time you read this letter, I’ll be far away. I am sorry to have to do this in a letter. It’s not fair to either of you. Please forgive me. But I could not risk that you would stop me. What I am about to do is too important.

“I can no longer imagine continuing on here while John is at war, risking his life every day. The thought that I would wake each day not knowing where he is or if he is even alive is too much. I have to find a way to be with him. So, I am joining the women who follow the camps. This is the only way. Do not worry so, Mother, I will be away from the fighting. And I will write often. I love you both. Elizabeth.”

Abigail’s face fell onto her arms on the vanity. “My girl!”

Thomas stood and closed the distance to his wife, placing a hand on her back. “There, there.”

“You must go after her, Thomas. You must bring her home!”

“You know that’s not possible. The train left last night and for where I do not know. She is beyond our reach.”

“No,” Abigail insisted. When John first made it known he had enlisted, Abigail had sympathized with what she imagined Charlotte to be going through. Now she knew all too well the emotions that had coursed through Charlotte on that day.

Thomas’s arms surrounded her, holding her while tears poured forth. But in the midst of it all, Abigail felt moisture on her husband’s face. And she knew, he felt it too. Their daughter had gone off to war.

 

Off to War

Chapter Two (Shipping Out)

Scene 6

Just as Louisa had said, the next day proved to be arduous and every bit as long as she had promised. The train took them as far south as Charleston. From there, they walked for miles upon miles before they set up camp for the night. It couldn’t come soon enough for Elizabeth.

While she considered herself to be in excellent physical condition, young and capable, only a few hours in, her feet hurt. No doubt she had blisters from her impractical shoes. Why hadn’t she thought to exchange those when she bartered for plainer dresses? Her lack of foresight left her with no choice but to suffer.

For the sake of the women, the unit commander did pause from time to time for a break. However, the infrequent stops weren’t quite long enough for Elizabeth’s poor blistered feet. Finally, as evening neared, the unit came to stop and set up camp for the night.

Elizabeth and Melanie had been assigned a tent together with two nurses. Once the tent was miraculously assembled, due for the most part to their tent mates, Sarah and Lily, the girls went to setting out their sleeping mats. The tent only had room for their four sleeping mats to squeeze in, but they were thankful for beds and shelter all the same.

After her mat was set up, Elizabeth fairly collapsed on the padding. She wanted to lay there for the remainder of the day, but that would not be possible. Forcing herself into a sitting position, she pulled one foot close to herself and tried, with great difficulty, to take the shoe off.

“You’re over there grunting and whimpering about something. What’s the matter?” Melanie teased.

“It’s these shoes,” Elizabeth moaned. “I can’t seem to get them off.”

“Let me help.” Melanie came over to take a closer look.

Elizabeth’s face warmed. How was it that she couldn’t even get her shoes off by herself?

“Where did you get such fancy shoes?” Melanie asked, awestruck.

“It’s a long story,” Elizabeth looked away, hoping to dissuade Melanie from further questions.

“But, they…”

“It’s not important,” she snapped, a bit louder than she meant to. “I didn’t mean that. I’m just in a lot of pain. Please,” she begged her new friend. “Help me.”

Melanie untied the shoes and freed the laces all the way down, then worked at loosening the leather. Then she tugged at the shoes with great care. It still took some effort due to Elizabeth’s swollen feet. But after several seconds, Melanie managed to get them off.

Melanie’s breath caught.

“What is it?” Elizabeth worried about what Melanie might have found.

“These blisters. My goodness, Elizabeth! You need to see the doctor about this.”

Looking over her knees, Elizabeth caught sight of her lumpy feet even through her foot dressings.

“No, I’ll be fine.” The words rushed out. A doctor did need to look at her feet and tend to the blisters, but the last thing she needed was for John to find out she was here.

“Let’s take off your stockings,” Melanie countered. Without waiting for consent, she removed Elizabeth’s stockings. Then the angry, red, water-filled blisters on her heels and the pads of her feet were plain to see.

Elizabeth, grimacing, reached out to touch one, but drew back.

One of the nurses had walked back to the tent for something and Melanie beckoned her over to where Elizabeth sat. “Sarah, I am trying to convince Elizabeth that the doctor needs to take a look at her feet. What do you think?

She glanced at Elizabeth’s feet and made a small sound. Then she made her way back into the thick of camp before Elizabeth could protest. Sarah would certainly return in short order with a doctor.

Elizabeth fell back on the cot, throwing an arm over her face. Her well-laid plan was over before it had begun. All of this…for nothing. John would be here in a matter of moments and he would send her back home.

Two sets of footsteps crunched in the grassy area nearby. A whisk of a breeze flew through as the tent flap opened. Still, Elizabeth refused to look up into John’s face.

“What seems to be the problem here?” a male voice said, but it wasn’t John.

Jerking back to her sitting position, Elizabeth sought with her eyes to confirm what her ears had heard. The kind blue eyes she stared into were decidedly not John’s. Had she gotten the wrong unit?

“I have, um, that is…there are some, um…I’ve got blisters,” she managed.

“Is that all?” The man watched her, smiling, and a little laugh escaped from deep in his throat. He was older than John, but not quite her father’s age. And he seemed rather amused at her tongue-tied state. Getting down on one knee, he examined her feet.

“I’m Dr. Smith. We’ll be seeing a lot of each other. There are two other doctors in the unit – Dr. Taylor and Dr. Rhodes. You’ll meet both of them in time.” As he spoke, he began to examine her blisters. “And I’m afraid I’m going to have to lance these.”

Elizabeth nodded. She had known as much to be true.

“Sarah,” he called over to the nurse who stood behind him. “I need some clean bandages and a sterile needle.”

She moved off to fetch his supplies and he let his eyes wander around their tent. Salt and pepper eyebrows went up when he spotted her shoes not far away. When he met her eyes again, it became clear. He knew she was playacting, that she was from an upper class home.

“I hope you have other shoes for the journey tomorrow. There will be more walking and I can’t guarantee it will be any easier in those. In fact, I doubt your swollen feet will fit back into them.”

Elizabeth shook her head, looking down. She hadn’t planned well at all. And now she was terribly embarrassed.

“No matter,” Dr. Smith said, his voice kind and gentle. “I’m sure we can find a spare pair of soldier’s boots. You’ll need a larger size shoe with the bandages on anyway.”

Elizabeth nodded, meeting his gaze.

They both turned as Sarah shuffled back toward the tent with the things Dr. Smith had requested.

Taking the needle in one hand, he clamped a hand around Elizabeth’s ankle. “You shouldn’t feel much, Miss. But even if you do, you must remain as still as you can.”

Nodding, Elizabeth braced herself. But, true to his word, she didn’t feel much of the pin pricks. Then he cleaned them and began wrapping her feet.

“I’ll find you some suitable boots,” he said, as he tied off the last bandage. “I need you to stay off your feet the rest of the evening, understand?”

“Yes, Dr. Smith.”

He stood, turning to leave.

“Dr. Smith,” she called after him.

He turned back toward her.

“Thank you,” she said in a meek voice.

“Of course. Anything for a woman so brave she would leave all behind to join this ragtag bunch.”

Elizabeth nodded. They understood each other. He would not disclose her identity to anyone.

As he left the tent, she lay back on her mat and stretched out her tired legs so she could rest her bandaged feet on her folded jacket. The bed mat, a far cry from the down feather pillows and soft mattress she had back home, was little more than a thick blanket on the ground. Even so, after the exhaustion of the day, it wasn’t long before she slept.

Preparing for a 10K: Getting Ready for a Write-a-thon!

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10K days have become a rare treat for me. Funny that I would call them a treat. 10K days are a lot of hard work. You have to push through boundaries and keep writing no matter how much you want to stop. You have set that goal and decide that nothing will stand in your way. Except, maybe you…and perhaps a lack of proper preparation. So, let’s take some time to set ourselves up for success.

organizeHave Your Work Planned Out. What I mean by this, is to know what you’re going to be working on. Which scenes you will be targeting. If you are a planner/outliner, gather those things together. If you’re a pantser (“fly by the seat of your pants writer”), have at least a general idea of what you’re going to be working on and put your “seatbelt” on.

beta readerDo Your Research. A 10K day is not the time to be sidetracked or bogged down by research. And we all know that research can lead to rabbit trail upon rabbit trail. So have that all squared away before-hand. This is one reason why it’s helpful to have a general idea what parts of the story you’ll be working on, so you know what research you must have done. If you typically research the whole novel before you write a word, you’re golden. But, if you are like me, and research lends itself to story/writing, which sparks new ideas and new avenues to research, leading to more story/writing…then I’m talking to you.

Check Your Environment Blog Post (1)Take Care of the Essentials. Have you’re meals at least thought out as well. If you have young kiddos that are going to be home, what are the plans for them? What are the plans for your school-aged kids when they get home? I would take care of these things. Don’t just assume you’ll be done with your 10K words by the time school is out. That is an admirable goal, but it may not happen. Get a pizza or plan on your spouse making dinner…really set the day aside for yourself so you won’t feel more rushed than you have to be.

cropped-webpage-background.jpgSet Up Your Writing Space. Do this the evening before. Remove the clutter and distractions from your space. Have everything set up to make your work more conducive. If you struggle with being pulled by social media or the internet, research some of the apps that block those things while you write. Speaking of social media, do your posting the day before, so you won’t be worrying about it that day. (Unless you want to post updates on your word count so your friends can celebrate with you and cheer you on.)

These are the big things, in my opinion, that need to be attended to in order to be ready for your 10K day. All in all, you want to set yourself up for success. And create a lower stress environment. Get up early, have breakfast, and get to work! But have fun. This is about you, your goal, and your craft. Are there other things you can think of that are helpful to do in preparation?