Writing a historic western with broad appeal

By Nora Vasconcelos

Headshot_Charli_MillsCharli Mills loves riding horses the same as she loves writing stories. As she describes herself, she is “a born buckaroo, wrangling words”, and currently she is building a literary community at Carrot Ranch with weekly Flash Fiction Challenges open to all writers.

“Like most passionate writers, I’ve been writing since I was young. My 7th-grade teacher assigned writing stories (using the week’s spelling words) and I was hooked. It wasn’t until I was almost 30 before I went to college and earned a BA in literary writing.”, Charli remembers.

“Back in the 1990s, if you seriously wanted to write fiction you either had to be connected, brilliant or pursuing an MFA. With three children to raise, I turned to a career in marketing communications which allowed me to develop my freelance writing. Yet, I yearned for fiction. I’m a storyteller at heart. I dabbled with writers groups and contests and started numerous novels that fizzled before completion. When life took an unexpected hard turn, I decided it was time to finish at least one novel.” (Her first novel, “Miracle of Ducks” is currently seeking representation)

Over two decades, Charli’s worked in freelancing, publications, sales, marketing, editing and speaking. Her work has been published in magazines, anthologies, books and online. In 2012 she moved back west to follow stories and sunsets, working on her writing. As part of her motivation to finish her manuscripts, Charli decided to be part of the National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo).

“In 2012 I used NaNoWriMo to complete all the gaps I had in my book in progress. After numerous revisions and professional edits, my 2012 manuscript is ready to seek a publishing home. In 2013 I wondered if I could write a first draft in 30 days from start to finish. I did. That manuscript needs more work, research and revision but it is material I wouldn’t have without NaNoWriMo. This year, I developed an idea from writing flash. I researched all summer and wrote weekly flash fiction to blend the history with my characters and ideas. In October I made my first-ever research trip! NaNoWriMo 2014 was a chance to pull it all together.

Rock Creek Mock-Up

– Once you committed yourself to this challenge, how difficult was it for you to keep going with it?
I’m the sort of person who perseveres. Even when I’m feeling low or lost, I keep pecking at the keys until I find my way. This book industry can be discouraging to emerging authors. That’s another reason why I appreciate NaNoWriMo; it is a challenge that helps me focus on my commitment and not the distractors. Every year, I improve. Every year, I meet other writers that have something to share with me. It keeps me going the rest of the year when I have to work on revision.

– Which was the toughest part of achieving your goal and how did you managed to cope with the difficult times?
This year was particularly difficult because I’ve focused more on fiction than freelancing which is a financial balance that can easily become a struggle. When my husband lost his job, I had a choice: continue, or stop and pick up some clients. I continued on while also putting out feelers for possible gigs. Mentally this was taxing for me and I felt near hopeless at the beginning of the month. I had also committed to encouraging others during this process, and I kept to it even when it was tough. The reward was the encouragement other writers gave in return.

– What is your manuscript about?
Rock Creek” is the story of one of the west’s most disputed historic gunfights. In July of 1861 James Butler Hickok (not yet known as “Wild Bill”) gunned down the notorious McCanles Gang at a Pony Express relay station in Rock Creek, Nebraska Territory. There was no gang, but historians continue to argue why the shooting of three men took place.

My book explores and fictionalizes the women of Rock Creek in order to understand what happened that day. It looks at a surface event through the deeper gaze of these women that history has overlooked. I hope it surprises historians and offers fresh insight. “Rock Creek” is an historic western with broad appeal.

– Your book involves some traveling experiences, can you give me more details about them?
Rock Creek Station is now an historic state park. The fact that Wild Bill Hickok lived there and shot three men has spared the station from demise. Following an historic photograph from 1860 and an archaeological dig in the 1980s, the park has rebuilt both the west and east stations.

I really wanted to see the physical recreation and understand the positions each of my characters had taken in real life. I wanted to see the place as they saw it and absorb the feeling of the story by standing in the existing wagon ruts. I found a rental suite in Fairbury, which is the nearest town since I was taking family along with me on this journey.

My daughter and I both flew into Kansas City. She is a radio journalist and brought along her recording equipment to tell the story of discovery. We talked with locals, visited the library and found David McCanles’s grave. I cried when I discovered his wife was buried next to him. She is one of my characters and I feel her pain. Not only did she lose her husband and raise their five children as a widow on the frontier, but she lost her connections to family back home in North Carolina because of the Civil War. It’s a deeper story when you listen to the women.

The trip allowed me to experience the lonely expanse of the prairie first-hand, and enjoy a bottle of Nebraska wine!

– Now that the NaNoWriMo challenge has ended for this year, what’s next for you and for your manuscript?

I’m finishing up the first draft that will be 75,000 words or more. Then I’ll re-plot the scenes to make sure I have a solid three-act structure. Next I’ll list new research questions for historians, museum experts and a select few beta-readers who will help refine the historical accuracy. That will result in a better-informed revision.

After that, I’ll pass it off to my editor for an initial assessment. Next I’ll revise for readability and then I’ll send it off to my editor for copy-edits. I have a few specific publishers to explore. Because I’ve learned so much about this event, place, people and time, I’m also planning to promote the book by writing freelance articles for special interest magazines. However, I would love to travel one more time! My story begins in North Carolina and I’d love to complete the research there in person.

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French food, language, and culture… all in one book.

By Nora Vasconcelos

book cover

Traveling around France is usually a dream full of images of lively cities, bakeries getting warm bread out of the oven, a café located in the heart of Paris, and a table served with assorted cheeses and a glass of wine.

But frequently, it’s also a dream of comunicating in French with all people and being able to order in that language all those delicious dishes at a restaurant, as well as being able to go to the supermarket to buy all the necessary products required to prepare a typical meal.

Thanks to The Farm to Table French Phrasebook, by Victoria Mas, this dream can come true for anyone who wants to know better the French cuisine, its country and its culture.

“I wanted to write a book in which readers could not only learn about french cuisine, but apprehend it from a cultural context. Understanding what the french eat is inseparable from how they eat. Learning about food habits is one of the best ways to learn about the food itself. Moreover, I thought it was necessary for readers to be able to master useful phrases and words in french so that they don’t feel lost when traveling abroad or decide to try a french cooking book.”, says Victoria.

Victoria Mas

– How did you decide which French expressions, foods and drinks would be included in this book?

I researched what were the most significant dishes and drinks in France in order to give a broad overview of french cuisine. However, I didn’t want to simply name a general list of food- I wanted readers to really approach the subject from a french point of view, and discover which food are typical on a day-to-day basis. I therefore talk extensively about bread, cheese and wine for instance, because indeed the french consume them almost everyday.

Regarding expressions, I looked for the most helpful phrases one might need either to express themselves or understand what is being said – whether it is at a restaurant, a bakery or the farmer’s market.

– Given that the Holiday season is around the corner, which would you say are the most popular French expressions, dishes and traditions around Christmas time and New Year’s?

Readers will find a whole section in the book dedicated to holidays, notably Christmas and New Year’s Eve. For Christmas Eve, the French enjoy a traditional turkey, along with a unique frozen dessert named la bûche (yule log).

As for New Year’s Eve, oysters by the dozens with a glass of champagne are typically consumed.

And here we can see some of the most common expressions of the holiday season:

French ExpressionsOK

It’s worth mantioning that France has more than 300 types of cheese, and produces some 6,024 million of bottles of wine a year.

French Wine Regions
French Wine Regions

The Farm to Table French Phrasebook, recently published by Ulysses Press, also contains a guide to the French Kitchen and several recipes of some of the most popular dishes originated in France.

So that, when this journey on paper ends, the readers will have enjoyed a culinary insight into “what, how and why the French eat”, and perhaps, as Veronica says in her book, they may have become “a little bit French” themselves.”

Bon appétit!

*Images courtesy of Ulysses Press

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Weekly Photo: Yellow

By Nora Vasconcelos

Yellow by NVS

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Weekly Photo: Twinkle

By Nora Vasconcelos

Twinkle by NVS

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Enjoying the process of writing

By Nora Vasconcelos

Ian

“I think Artificial needed the time it has taken me to write it, to understand where the characters were going, and what journey the book would take me on.”

One of the most amazing things about internet is the way it connects us to the rest of the world, giving us the chance, not only to learn most of what happens everywhere immediately, but also, to achieve goals that for some time they might have seem difficult to reach.

That is the case of the international online challenge that every November thousands of writers around the world take. Thanks to the initiative National Novel Writing Month, better known as NaNoWriMo, many manuscripts are completed in one month, from which, published and unpublished books give a sense of completion and success to those who dedicate their days and nights in order for them to make their dreams come true.

Last November, I met Ian Robinson, a writer from Hertfordshire, England, who lives with his wife and family, as well as with a multitude of pets. At that time he had just started with the NaNoWriMo challenge and I found very interesting how this project became the incentive he needed to complete an old manuscript.

Ian spent most of his early years living abroad, and worked in the public sector for 27 years until retiring this year, then he launched his own business, Bladeshunner Ltd.

A little more than one month has passed since the beginning of our conversations about his writing aims, and now, that he’s achieve his goal, he’s been very nice and has shared with me some of his experiences while working on his manuscript:

How was it that you decided to be part of the NaNoWriMo challenge?

I used it as an opportunity to complete my first novel rather than starting a new one. My novel, Artificial, had been with me for over thirteen years and I was half way through, so I decided it was time to finish what I had set out to complete. I had also had the privilege of meeting other writers and authors who have provided advice and encouragement.

Once you committed yourself to this challenge, how difficult was it to go on with it?

I think writing is as tough as we wish to make it. Personally, I try and enjoy the process, and if that means a book takes years to complete, then so be it.

I don’t believe in forcing myself to write a certain number of words each day. The discipline of writing each day I found to be the most beneficial thing. It makes you routined and gifts you the space to do what you enjoy. I reached the 50,000 word limit simply because I wrote more on some days than others.

I think Artificial needed the time it has taken me to write it, to understand where the characters were going, and what journey the book would take me on. After all, there are plenty of things in life we have to do that we would rather not, so why make writing one of them!

Which was the toughest part of achieving your goal, and how did you manage to cope with the difficult times?

The toughest part was giving myself the time to write, giving myself permission to write, that was the biggest challenge. My writing times were when the kids were all in bed, then I wrote. Having my family’s support during the process was a major help.

What is your manuscript about?
Artificial is about following one man through a year of his life. The main character is a man called Arthur Wint, an unassuming type of guy who is in his late thirties, living at home with his mother.

The book is set in the mid-eighties, just before the Miners strike in the UK, and is set within the county of Nottingham. Arthur is a gardener by trade and he works for an eccentric retired Psychiatrist. From his interactions with her and others, we see how his life evolves. The book is a mixture of humour, life, music and crime!

What was your inspiration for this novel?

In the beginning it was to present my wife with a book I had written, as she collects first editions, particularly the first thousand Penguin books. This still is my purpose, but in addition I also wanted to write a book that a reader would find entertaining and thought provoking. I intend when published to donate 10% of year-end sales to the Muscular Dystrophy Charity.

In my spare time, when not with the family, I enjoy music, play drums, I’m an ambassador for the Muscular Dystrophy campaign, and play wheelchair basketball with The London Titans.

Now that you’ve completed your manuscript, what’s next?

I have three other novels I outlined when I first started Artificial. I kept the notes and will look at one of these to resurrect it and continue with it whilst editing this one, and looking for a publisher. But as in life, where next?.. is always an open and unknown area.

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