Tag Archives: Be still my heart

Writers, Embrace Your Humble Beginning

Ever since The Runaway Courtesan was well received on FictionPress, a seed of arrogance was planted in me. Ever since an agent took interest in my work, my arrogance puffed up. But now…the needle of reality has pierced my ballooning head.

I am now deflating.

I have a second revise & resubmit request from Agent#1 that I’ve put on hold, because my brain and heart is not prepared for the upheaval I plan on putting TRC through. I have a partial in the hands of a superbly busy agent. I have query letters in the inbox of four other agents, awaiting a response for weeks now. And I just received an “Unfortunately-after-careful-consideration-we-have-decided-to-pass-on-this-project” today.

Nothing is turning out as I imagined.

I dreamt of a quick progress from one point to the next. I imagined that one of the agents would contact me, offering representation because she was totally in love with my work. I fantasized that within this year we would be so fortunate as to land a publishing contract for my manuscript.

However, week by week, my assurance weakened, my fantasy crumbled under the weight of reality. As I watched my other writer friends begin querying, receiving partial and full requests, getting represented, getting published, my confidence began to shake.

Then, as I saw the others writers moving on ahead of me, as if we were in a race and I was falling behind, I began to examine myself. I asked myself: Why do I want to get published? I thought and thought about this and realized that I was envious because I wanted to take pride in something. This wasn’t why I started writing at all. I started because I wanted to reach out to other readers.

I’ve finally come to terms with this struggle of mine. It’s a change that has occurred slowly. If I am rejected, I will not be crushed. If I am falling back in the “race” to publication, I will try not to envy. This is why:

There is a time for everything,
and a season for every activity under heaven:

a time to be born and a time to die,
a time to plant and a time to uproot,
a time to kill and a time to heal,
a time to tear down and a time to build,
a time to weep and a time to laugh,
a time to mourn and a time to dance,
a time to scatter stones and a time to gather them,
a time to embrace and a time to refrain,
a time to search and a time to give up,
a time to keep and a time to throw away,
a time to tear and a time to mend,
a time to be silent and a time to speak,
a time to love and a time to hate,
a time for war and a time for peace.

Ecclesiastes 3:1-15

And, if I might add:

a time to revise and a time to query,
a time to publish and a time to develop your craft

Each time I am rejected by an agent, I want to step back from my default mode (wallowing in self-pity) and tell myself that perhaps it isn’t my time to get published. I’ll use this time to develop my craft, because it is the story I want to tell, and if my story is not good enough…then why rush myself to share it?

~

My Facebook status: I’m going to stop querying for TRC now. Publishing is not a race. I’ll take my sweet time. Thank God I have another ms to work on

@ Mandy Kellett Goff: I read somewhere that on average, it takes 10 years to publish a first book. So if it is a race, it’s a very, very long one =).

@ June Hur: That actually makes me feel much better–the fact that it takes 10 yrs on average to publish. Being unable to find an agent, I was starting to feel like a “failure”. But I guess those folks who get agents and get published within a year or two are the lucky oddballs!

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Filed under Editing, Querying, The Runaway Courtesan, Writing

Teaser: Be Still, My Heart

Here is another excerpt from Be Still, My Heart (yes, I’m adding in the comma now). I’m more than halfway through the first draft. Right now, if I don’t go astray from my plot outline, I have about six-ish more chapters to write before I can type the words: THE END. The thing is, it’s the six most dark and emotional chapters. So this will be a challenge.

If you don’t have time to read the excerpt, skim down and read my thoughts on themes in stories. I’ve always wondered how writers moulded their story around a theme of their choice, or whether it just emerged as they wrote on. So I’ve written my take on this question.

~

BE STILL, MY HEART
Excerpt from Chapter Eight.
Henrietta and Lord Carlyle at a
dinner party

Being a poor relation, it was her duty to be invisible to the party, so Henrietta retreated to the far corner of the room and pulled up a chair by the window. Sitting back in her seat, she watched everyone around her. She half wished she could join the card game. What would it feel like to laugh, gossip, and be so carefree? For the several years after her father’s death, she had neglected her social life, for she‘d always been with her mother, keeping the recluse company, feeling guilty each time she left her—for she was all her mother had, after all. Then, after her death, living with Rosaline had not given her any further opportunity.

Henrietta was cut short from her train of thoughts when a gentleman called out: “Here at last, Carlyle!” She glanced up. Her heart slammed against her chest when her eyes clashed with a pair of green eyes. Quickly, she dropped her gaze and stared at her hands. Looking at him—she felt as if she’d been caught committing a crime. However, driven by curiosity, she watched him from beneath her lowered lashes, as he moved towards the table where whist was being played. And then he paused. His hesitation spanned so many seconds that someone asked if he was going to join the game.

If you will excuse me,” came his lowered voice, as he bowed out from their company, and began walking towards her. Her hand became clammy with anxiety. Her confusion only accumulated when the Earl pulled out a chair and drew it right next to her. And there he sat down. Henrietta could not help but frown as she peered up at him. His muscles were tense, his face expressionless, as he stared out the window.

Why are you alone?” he asked.

For an odd reason, she found his question very humiliating. “Why should you care?”

You’re right,” he murmured. “Why should I care indeed.”

I hope you know that you’re not doing a very good job at ignoring me.”

He glanced warily at her. “I beg your pardon?”

You have been ignoring me all evening. Why the sudden attentiveness? If it is out of pity, you may take your leave, for I was enjoying myself without you.”

I came to apologize,” he said stiffly.

She tilted her chin up. “Very well. I am ready for it.” When he only stared at her, momentarily at a loss for words, she arched a brow at him. “Well? Where is my apology?”

The hard lines of his face softened. “Miss Wilson, I pray you might forgive my behaviour,” he murmured, as a smile played at the corner of his lips. “Though I intended to ignore you for the rest of this evening, when I saw you all by your lonesome self, hiding away in this corner, I realized how brutish it was of me to withhold myself from your company.”

Henrietta didn’t know whether to be offended or amused. “That is not a gentlemanly apology.”

Is it not?” His smile only lasted a moment longer before it faded away, along with that charming facade she’d come to learn was a mask, leaving a solemn looking man. He flicked a glance at the party before looking straight at her. Henrietta’s cheeks burned under his intent stare.

I avoided you, Miss Wilson, so that I might avoid seeing your judgement of me. I am sure that the day you saw me last has led to my downfall from your good opinion. You said so yourself.”

His unexpected honesty chased away the insolence that had earlier clipped her voice. “My opinion is never etched in stone,” she said warmly. “One act of kindness wipes away the thousand wrongs made against me.”

His eyes drifted away as he muttered, “That is an admirable trait, Miss Wilson. But there are accompanying disadvantages. It allows for others to trample over you, because they know you are forgiving, and thus do not fear the consequence of their mistreatment.”

But whose heart is at peace at the end of the day? The one who forgave or the one who added to his number of rivals? I assure you that the peace I feel in forgiving another makes up for the thousands of times I’ve been trampled over.”

He looked at her strangely. “Have you no pride?”

And what right have I to any pride? My father once said to me that our life is but a dot in the span of history. Yet we labour to obtain glory for that one speck. Instead, he says, our mind must transcend this worldly perspective, and view ourselves as vessels of the Lord—”

You say all this, and yet, I wonder at you meaning any of it.”

Her smile faltered.

Just as I said to you once before, I think you are living this all in your head. But when reality arrives, when your dignity has been crushed to the point where you cannot even lift your chin, could you look at that man and forgive him?”

His words gave her pause. The first thought that crossed her mind was whether the Earl had his father in mind as he spoke these words. The second was that she had no recollection of ever being crushed. Wounded perhaps, but not destroyed. Yet, in all the instances when she had been wronged, her grudge against the inflicter had never hardened into hatred. With time, she had always forgotten their offence. So, surely, if such a day arrived—she would be able to forgive?

Why does my lady hesitate?” Lord Carlyle whispered, his dark eyes upon her.

I suppose you must wait and see then,” Henrietta finally answered. “Wait until such a crisis strikes me and see whether I am able to act upon my words. Until then, you may doubt me all you wish.”

His voice was deep, but gentle, as he said, “I sincerely hope such a day will never arrive. But, should it come, I shall remind you of your words—and encourage you to stick by them.”

She smiled at him. “I would be very grateful if you would…” Her heart stirred with a strange emotion. She looked away, disturbed. Why, of all the people, was it always the Earl she had such conversations with? With others, she rarely spoke past the superficial matters of life. They never seemed interested in what she had to say. Or she could never seem to find to right words to express her thoughts. She tended to be a flower whose petals closed back into an ugly green bud. And yet, with Lord Carlyle, she could feel herself blooming.

~

When James says to Henrietta: “…But when reality arrives, when your dignity has been crushed to the point where you cannot even lift your chin, could you look at that man and forgive him?” my sister (the only person I let read my first draft) asked me if this was foreshadowing what was to come… My response was: Possibly.

Forgiveness is a reoccurring theme in both my books. It’s not that I purposely make it that way…it just…appears in my writing all the time. I wondered at this, and realized: if my life were turned into a book, love and forgiveness would be its most major theme. The climatic moment of my life (speaketh the 21-year-old who still hasn’t even reached the meridian of her life) was comprised of a tearful apology, answered by a forgiving embrace, which changed a heart hardened by years of contempt into one softened by love. And this event is what inspired a big chunk of BSMH.

What is a reoccurring theme in your book(s)?

During the earlier years, I would try to force a theme into my story, because I thought that was the way to go. But I found that you can’t let the story flow out from your heart when you’re constantly trying to force it to mold into/and compliment a certain theme. I truly believe now that a theme emerges in your writing because writing is a subconscious act. What is most important in your life, what has impacted you the most, what you value the most, is would brims over in your writing and becomes most prominent. And, voila, there you have it: The Theme.

~

Reading: Ramona by Helen Hunt Jackson

A moving love story with grand melodramatic touches, Ramona was linked with Uncle Tom’s Cabin as one of the great ethical novels of the 19th century. A bestseller in 1884, Ramona was both a political and literary success and will continue to move modern readers with its sympathetic characters and its depiction of the Native American’s struggle in the early West.

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Filed under Be Still My Heart (retitled: Fall of the Sparrows), Writing

The Pillars of the Earth REVIEW & Character Development

Set in 12th-century England, the narrative concerns the building of a cathedral in the fictional town of Kingsbridge. The ambitions of three men merge, conflict and collide through 40 years of social and political upheaval as internal church politics affect the progress of the cathedral and the fortunes of the protagonists.

-Publisher’s Weekly

It was past 2 a.m. when I finally read the last page of Ken Follett’s massive novel, The Pillars of the Earth. The moment I shut the book and put it aside, my definition of EPIC had forever been redefined. Don’t let the size of the book daunt you as it did me at first. Reading PotE has been a beyond great experience. Despite some obvious slips into modernism, the story transported me back some hundreds of years ago to a time where injustice governed, where greedy nobles reigned, and where peasants lived in constant fear and oppression. I went through quite a roller-coaster of emotions while reading this great medieval epic: I cried, I laughed, I fumed. What I loved best about this book was how the lives of very believable characters were woven so beautifully, so stunningly, into a complicated work of art.

Through this book, I learned several lessons. I learned of humility and compassion through Prior Philip. I learned of determination through Arianna: she built her life once more when it was in shambles; she searched for her lover throughout Christendom. And Jack, oh Jack—I watched him grow from a wild boy to a brave young man who ended up stealing my heart. I love this book to bits.

As a writer, I learned what it meant by “real, breathing characters”. Follett’s PotE is one of the few books (well, there were many, but only few remain in my memory) in which the characters came to life for me. They were so real that by the end of the book, I felt as if I knew them in reality, as if they were my acquaintances.

So, as a writer, I wondered to myself: what makes a character “real”? Answer: Character development. Throughout the 1000+ pages, gradually, bit by bit, Follett reveals to us the vices and virtues in each major character. Their personality isn’t shown to us in an information dump, but through their reaction to/and how they deal with a certain situation. No one character is perfect. And no one character is the same by the end of the story. Growth and change is what defines us human beings. And Follett adds depth to their characterization by incorporating this truth. The protagonists and antagonists, by the end of the story, have been altered and moulded according to the life situations they are thrust into.

What brings characters alive for you guys? What is the first book with GREAT character development that pops into your mind?

~

I’m following the eight-hour long T.V. adaptation of Pillars of the Earth. This Friday the fifth episode will be airing. Maybe it’s because I read the book first, but I find that the story is moving so quickly, allowing for little of the development I adored in the novel. But, then again, it’s impossible to fit the whole story into a miniseries. With this fact taken into consideration, I think it’s worth-while to watch. Especially because Eddie Redmayne is playing Jack (He was Angel in Tess of D’Ubervilles).

P.S. I’ve received some truly lovely graphics for Be Still My Heart. If you’d like to send me a design of your own, feel free to do so! You can send it to me at june.hur@hotmail.com. I will be using all the graphics submitted to me 🙂

By Katherine (Blog: November’s Autumn)

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By Kelly H.

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By Sharon K.

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Filed under Be Still My Heart (retitled: Fall of the Sparrows), Book & Film, Writing

Writing Is Hard

Noelle, lucky duck, went to the long-awaited Romance Writers of America Conference and while I was following her exciting days there, I discovered people tweeting about Nora Roberts’ keyspeech. 

Writing: “it’s supposed to be hard”, and that “hard is what makes it special”, so “ride the hard”.

Be Still My Heart (excerpt) is becoming very difficult to write. If I recall correctly, the first draft of The Runaway Courtesan was so much easier to complete, perhaps because it was straight romance (albeit the revisions I had to put this story through was pretty tough). But BSMH, on the other hand, is part romance and part family drama. And I’m in a rut with both aspects of the story.

The Romance: In the eight years I’ve been writing for, I’ve finished a few manuscripts that I’ve put in the drawer, knowing it’s not publishable material. So I’ve written more than one historical romance. But never have I experienced something this strange, where the characters I created decide for themselves that they don’t suit. My two main characters, Henrietta and James, are supposed to fall in love, and yet they seem determined to remain friends. I can’t seem to view them as potential lovers.

However, Amanda and Lucas in TRC sizzled when in each others presence—they clicked so well in my mind; they belonged together. Because they suited each other so well, I had no trouble writing their story. It was a joy to ride along their emotional rollarcoaster.

This whole issue of romance in BSMH, I blame on Henrietta. She’s all too chummy with James that the thought of them even kissing puts me into a writer’s block. They’re intimate in the sense of a brother and sister, but not that of a man and woman.

The Family drama: This aspect of the story is pretty dark, filled with contempt and rivalry, and I’m finding difficulty pacing it. I need to pace all the angsty events just right so that it allows for some subtlety, but if I have too much occur at once, it borders into melodrama. But in order to pace I need to write linking scenes that aren’t too thrilling to write. There was also legal aspects in this family drama that required information I couldn’t find until I discovered a few passages in Vanity Fair that offered some great insight about the process behind stripping a son of his inheritance (oup, gave a bit of the story away).

Writing a family drama also steps out of my comfort zone. I’m used to focusing mainly on the two main characters and breezing through the lives of the minor characters (it’s usually in the revisions that I give the secondary characters more attention). But this is a family drama where my focus must be divided among a whole range of characters—a bitter Duke who is dying, the son with revenge on his heart, a greedy nephew planning a conspiracy, and a girl who becomes the candlelight in their darkened world.

I’ve finished the first half of the story, which wasn’t so hard. It’s the last part of my story that I’m struggling with. I have pages and pages of plotting. The direction this story will take is so darn difficult that I don’t know if I’ll be able to execute it properly. Will I succeed? Or will I give up on this story halfway from exhaustion? We’ll see, my friends.

~

Could anyone design a thumbnail/banner for Be Still My Heart?
I’ll use all submitted to me for each post (june.hur@hotmail.com) regarding this novel.

Summary: While Henrietta Wilson, a penniless young woman, might not be able to change the course of civilization, her unwavering devotion to the wealthy and powerful Lord Carlyle does not go unmarked in his life’s history. Ever since she kept him from falling into the self-dug pit of destruction, she became the keeper of his heart.

 

By sarah

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Filed under Be Still My Heart (retitled: Fall of the Sparrows), Writing

Teaser Tuesday: Be Still My Heart

Here’s the song that inspired the following excerpt of my new historical romance, Be Still My Heart. BSMH is part romance, part family drama, set in the sweeping landscape of Devon.

Here’s a brief summary:  While Henrietta Wilson, a penniless young woman, might not be able to change the course of civilization, her unwavering devotion to the wealthy and powerful Lord Carlyle does not go unmarked in his life’s history. Ever since she kept him from falling into the self-dug pit of destruction, she became the keeper of his heart.

Enjoy the read! And please forgive the grammatical errors and such you might come across. This is the first draft after all. But feel free to point out the errors, or whatever else you think should be improved.

BE STILL MY HEART

Excerpt from Chapter Two
(Henrietta & Carlyle’s second encounter)

Henrietta barely slept that night, or the next night, infuriated by her uncle’s constant mentioning of the brutish Lord Blackmore. He seemed determined to arrange their marriage. She thrashed about her cold bed and yelled into her pillow. Was there no escape from this fate? There was only two answers she could think of. She could become a governess—yet she’d heard such horrible stories about a governess’ life that involved cruel treatment on the part of employers and their families. Or she could stoop even lower to become a seamstress—trapping herself in a little room, sitting all day, pricking her fingers and straining her eyes to mend dresses. To imprison oneself in either occupations was surely no better than getting married?

Every road seemed to lead to a dead end.

Never had Henrietta felt such overwhelming frustration. She had no control over her own life. By six-thirty in the next morning, she flung off her bed cover, and dressed herself as best as she could without help. The servants, already up and about by this hour, were not surprised to see Henrietta marching out of the house wearing her sturdy half boots. The stable boy certainly did not look scandalized as he saddled Henrietta’s horse and helped her onto her seat. She had been going out often before daybreak since she’d come to live with her relatives at Cheswick Hall three years ago.

But Uncle always forbade her going out so early, unaccompanied. No amount of explanation on her part could make him understand. Her words had no weight to him, or to anyone else for that matter, when she carried with her the status of a poor relation, a charity case. By the time Henrietta rode into the forest, angry tears stung in her eyes, and her stubborn self refused to let them flow. When one dared to dribble down her cheek, she dashed the droplet away.

Arriving at the location she had begun to sketch a few days ago, she jumped down from the horse, tethered its reign to a branch and sat down on a log. The icy air bit at her skin. She wrapped the shawl more closely around her self. It was colder than it should be for an early autumn morn. She hoped it would not be so cold as the winter past, when the Thames had frozen over between London Bridge and Blackfriars.

Tilting her head up, she stared at the birds flitting from the branches arched highly over her like a dome. The longer she stared, the more her anger eased, leaving but a faint throb in her chest. She felt at home among the of birds, surrounded by the calm air rich with the scent of dew. The early morning was the only time she had to herself. For once the sun rose high in the sky, she would become once more the pawn to her uncle’s political career, and the companion to a cousin who constantly complained about the ennui of country life.

Closing her eyes, Henrietta took in a deep breath, then exhaled, forming a white cloud of mist in the air.

The sound of nature never failed to calm her. As the chorus of twittering flooded her senses, so did the verses she always repeated to herself in times of distress: I would have lost heart, unless I had believed that I would see the goodness of the Lord in the land of the living. Wait on the Lord, be of good courage, and he shall strengthen your heart; wait, I say, on the Lord. Yes, she thought, I will wait and take courage. Whatever her future had in store for her, she had to trust that he was in control, that he had great plans for her. Worrying would not add another hour to her life. A moment or two passed before she felt her hope restored.

She picked up a pencil and began sketching the scenery before her. Drawing allowed her to be fully immersed in the beauty of the moment. It allowed her to forget the distress of life, the ugliness of reality. Her pencil paused now and then, so she might observe the birds that were so near her, unaware of her presence. She had always found it so fascinating that these small creatures always sang at the exact same hour. How did they know when the hand struck five in the morning? There was never any obvious indication, for the sun would not have risen by then, and everything would be so still. It had been the question she’d lay before her mother countless times. The answer had always been: the birds chirp to praise their Lord and the beauty he created…

Henrietta looked up from her sketchpad and frowned.

From the distance, she heard the faint sound of hounds barking. She went still and strained her ears. The barking grew louder by the second. And soon she heard the clotting of horse hooves. While the scenery was especially beautiful in autumn, what vexed her was that autumn was also when the gentries took to fox hunting.

Gathering up her sketchpad and pencil, she shoved it into her bag, and made way over to her horse. The last thing she wanted was to be seen alone. She was about to untie the reign when she caught sight, through the thicket of leaves and branches and tree trunks, a pack of hounds running alongside their master, mounted on a white steed. Who could it be?

Picking up her skirt, she left her horse tethered, and trudged forward to have a better look. She discovered that just behind the horseman was another rider. Before she could make out their features, her muscles tensed. One of the hunters’ rifle was aimed straight at her. She took a slow and cautious step back. Right then, a fox moved swiftly past her. So startled at feeling its fur brush up against her leg, she stumbled back, tripped over a root, and toppled to the ground.

A gunshot ripped sharply through the silence.

Henrietta turned her gaze upwards and watched the birds fly off the branches. Slowly the axis of her vision began to tilt: The sky dotted with birds, to the horizon, to the redness staining her sleeves. Her lips parted, stunned by the sharp pain searing through her. A little sob escaped her as she curled up into a ball.

Her ears, pressed against the soil, vibrated as horse hooves clashed against the ground, nearing her. Oh God, oh God, was all she could think. Was she dying? She could feel her whole body trembling from pain, fear and shock. Then, just before her vision blacked out, she saw a pair of Hessian boots.

Saints above,” came a deep, shaken voice somewhere high above her, “you shot down a woman, not the blasted fox, Carlyle!”

~

My friend Flora sent me the poem by Christina Rossetti called ‘Mirage’ because it reminded her of BSMH. I read it and decided to use it as the epilogue for my book. Though it was written a few years after 1814, which is when my story takes place, my friend explained: I think you might be able to get away with using the poem, if it was published at any point during your characters’ lifetime. I have done so with a number of epigraphs for MB, suggesting she is looking back from a later period in her life. I know Daphne du Maurier, in ‘The Loving Spirit’, uses epigraphs by Emily Brontë throughout the book, even though these poems had not been published in the time period in which the first half of the book is set, and none of the characters in that part read poetry. She chose the poet simply because the ring of the lines suited the spirit of her story.

“The hope I dreamed of was a dream,
Was but a dream; and now I wake
Exceeding comfortless, and worn, and old,
For a dream’s sake. 

I hang my harp upon a tree,
A weeping willow in a lake;
I hang my silenced harp there, wrung and snapt
For a dream’s sake. 

Lie still, lie still, my breaking heart;
My silent heart, lie still and break:
Life, and the world, and mine own self, are changed
For a dream’s sake.”

P.S. Please be sure to check out the article my dear guest blogger Ollin wrote about coming up with the ideas for your story!

P.S.S. I had two historical fic/romance authors go through my first chapter. *Face Palm* So many grammatical and stylistic issues needed to be corrected. I really, really hope Agent#3 will be able to look past the many errors. [A big handshake to Rowenna and Noelle].

P.S.S.S.S Pillars of the Earth is  AWESOMEEEEEE. Reading this book has convinced me that I must take a full year course on the medieval times at school. Napoleon and the Industrial Revolution can wait until next year.

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Filed under Be Still My Heart (retitled: Fall of the Sparrows), Writing