Meeting Your Heroes


It’s not everyday you get to meet one of your heroes. I got one of those rare opportunities Monday night. Mary Doria Russell visited Quail Ridge Books in Raleigh, NC to talk about her new novel Epitaph. I was glad to be one of a crowd of people who came out to hear her speak.

If you are unfamiliar with Mary Doria Russell, she is awesome. Her first novel, The Sparrow (and its sequel, Children of Men) captured many people’s imaginations. It is the story of a group of Jesuits and scientists who follow a song into space in search of other inhabited planets. It is science fiction with a punch. I loved those books when I first read them in the early 90’s and still reread them today. Mary went on to write about Jews in WWII Italy, the middle east after WWI, and now has released her second book set in Texas at the end of the 19th century. I never thought I would love books about Doc Holliday and Wyatt Earp, but I do. Doc was great and I’m sure Epitaph will be too.

Anyway, what I wanted to discuss here was Mary’s slightly unconventional author event style. I’ve been to many, many author events and have a handful of them myself now, and they usually go the same way – the author talks about themselves a little, they read from their latest book a little, and they talk about the inspiration for the book, then take a few questions. Mary didn’t do any of the usual self-deprecating, aww-shucks kind of things. She spoke for twenty minutes or so about the people she writes about and the historical research she did. She didn’t read from the book at all. She spoke with authority and humor in a way that made the audience feel a personal connection to her, yet also made it very plain that she knows her stuff backwards and forwards and upside down. This sense of authority really came out during the question and answer portion of the event. Some one in the audience asked a question about how she did the research for her two books set on another planet. Mary then spoke about how she used her training in anthropology and biology to imagine sentient beings that did not evolve from an ape-like creature. It was fascinating to hear her talk about how she arrived at the beings in The Sparrow from her research. It was also refreshing to see her not laugh off the question with a self-deprecating comment like ‘I just made them up.’

I enjoyed the author event because I am a complete book nerd and love to meet the authors of the books I read, but I was also inspired. A large chunk of an author’s life is taken up by the minutia of editing and marketing. We don’t get to talk about the big ideas behind our words very often. It’s easy to doubt the importance and weight of what we do all day.  It was inspiring to listen to someone so obviously confident in what they are doing and not apologizing for being good at it.

That is why it’s good to have real life heroes and try to meet them whenever possible.

How I Found The Write Path collection now available


You may remember a few months back, I contributed to a project where I was asked to give advice to a younger version of myself regarding my writing career. Well, the project is complete. Carrie Butler and PK Hrezo did a wonderful job putting the collection together and I am honored to be included in its pages.

Here is what Carrie said about the project. –

Hey there, fellow writer!
Here’s the lowdown on this project: To celebrate my third blogoversary, I decided to pay it forward by inviting the writing/blogging community to help those just starting on their publishing journey. Why? Because it’s one of the most crucial periods in a writer’s life—full of nerves and hope we refuse to acknowledge. We’ve all been there.
That’s why over sixty of us have written letters to our past selves, candidly sharing things we don’t always discuss in public. The hope is that those of you who haven’t published will learn from our experiences. And those of you who have published? Well, you just might realize you’re not alone.
Let’s keep this going. 🙂
– Carrie Butler
P.S. I’d like to give a shout-out to my friend and fellow compiler, P.K. Hrezo. She really helped rally support for this project!
Please share this project with your writing friends. It is filled with great advice.

Where to pick up your copy of this free compilation:

► Amazon Kindle (US)
Barnes & Noble Nook
Amazon Kindle (UK)
Amazon Kindle (AU)

Researching the tornado of June 9, 1953

I am in the planning stages of a rather long book about the life of a house. The story takes place in the fictitious town of Quinsigamond, MA. Anyone who knows the area will easy recognize it as take on my hometown of Shrewsbury, MA. I am changing some of the topography and making the town smaller to serve the novel’s purposes. Shrewsbury is far too large and industrious for my uses.

Damage at Assumption College (now Quinsigamond Community College) Picture credit: Worcester Historical Museum

Right now, I am working on two fronts – planning out the plot and doing research on the four historical periods covered in the manuscript. One of the major events in the book will be the hurricane of June 9, 1953. My parents were kids at the time so I grew up being told stories of the destruction they witnessed in the area.  94 people were killed and over 1200 people were injured. It was a capricious storm. For instance, the detached garage of the house I grew up in was destroyed, but the house itself was unharmed.

I came across the picture shown here and realized that the building that was damaged is next to the building I took a class in when I was a senior in high school. Many beautiful building were destroyed or damaged. The house in my book will survive the storm, but will never be the same. The research has been fascinating and I frequently have to remind myself that I don’t need to know everything about that day, just enough to understand what people were feeling. Did anything happen in your hometown that you have researched? What did you learn?

If you’d like to know more about the events of June 9, 1953, Edgar B. Herwick III recently did a wonderful piece on the hurricane for WGBH. I encourage you to take a listen.

5 Favorite Apps

Today is favorite app day on the Wordcount Blogathon. These are my five favorite apps. I’m looking forward to reading about your favorite electronic helpers.

Scrivener – I can’t praise this program enough. It has features you didn’t know you needed until you started using program. I rarely use WORD for anything anymore. At the beginning of a project, the outline view and notecards view help me get the structure of a story down. Once I start writing, each scene gets its own text file, then the scenes can be grouped into chapters. As the writing process proceeds, I can move scenes around and rearrange the chapters simply by dragging them up and down the left side of the screen. Editing is easy with the snapshot feature. And finally, Scrivener makes formatting the text as an ebook or print manuscript was relatively easy. It’s great.
Evernote – Evernote is a powerful application with myriad uses across platforms. You set up general topic notebooks, then organize your notes, photos, websites, and voice memos by notebook. The cloud feature is what I find most valuable. I have Evernote on my Mac, my iPhone, and my iPad so I can file things to my notebooks wherever I come across them. As a writer, I use it to keep track of research and ideas. It has replaced my old habit of scribbling on the backs of receipts and envelopes.

Dropbox -Every writer needs Dropbox (or something like it) because you must back-up your work. Dropbox is a cloud based storage service. They will give you 2 GB of storage with a free account, and you can get more by referring people or paying for a larger account. With a Dropbox account,  if your computer blows up or your office floods, you won’t lose the manuscript you’ve been working on. You can also use your account to port files between your devices and share things like pictures with your friends and family.

Documents – I try to be paperless when I go to critique group. Printing out 100 pages every other week uses far too much toner and paper. That is where the free Documents app comes in. I can add my comments to a WORD file, save it to Dropbox, then view it on my iPad using Documents. The app allows you to view Office files, photos, and PDF’s. You can also annotate and highlight PDF’s. It’s a great way to take your comments with you.

Tiki-Toki – I recently discovered this timeline app. Scrivener has an excellent outline feature that was more than adequate for my first two books. The book I am conceiving now has five main character, each with their own story arc. I needed something more powerful. Tiki-Toki allows me to color code each character’s timeline, have overlapping story arcs, and  see all the separate timelines on one timeline. I’m still learning how to use this site to its fullest but I think it will be useful.