Historical accuracy can be worth a little extra browsing

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Placitas, New Mexico

Most experts on writing recommend that we not spend an inordinate amount of time browsing the Internet, and I agree. It can be such a time suck. I’ve gone on many a bunny trail and watched my precious writing time slip away while I was engrossed in learning, for example, whether blackthorn or Irish oak makes the best and most authentic shillelagh. 

Yesterday, while I was putting together my research materials on a setting for my first novel, I came across some crucial and previously undiscovered information. It came in a roundabout way while frittering away my time browsing through obscure historical references and centuries-old land grants.

My first novel is going to be paranormal historical fiction, set in early 1820s New Mexico. The climactic scene was going to take place in Placitas, a small town nestled in the hills at the base of the Sandia Mountains, not far from Bernalillo. 

I thought I’d done “due diligence” on my research, having even strolled the actual streets through Google Earth, until I “stumbled” across the crucial and vital fact that in the 1820s, Placitas was called San Jose de Las Huertas, or Las Huertas for short. Not Placitas. Yikes! 

On the plus side, my guesses about vineyards and complex irrigation systems in the area were confirmed, so even though I just “made that up,” it turns out to have been true all along.

Readers of historical fiction, along with readers of science fiction, can be very alert to glaring inaccuracies, and are reputedly vocal in their criticism of writers who haven’t done their homework. With reviews so easily accessible on Amazon/Kindle and elsewhere, a criticism like that could hurt book sales, even if the story itself is pretty awesome. 

I’m writing paranormal fiction, but I want SOME of the facts to check out, and having the right name of the town seems pretty crucial. So I figure God (or at least the Internet Faerie) wanted me to dodge that particular hate e-mail or nasty review.

But I still don’t know what I’m going to do with the original, historic spelling of “Alburquerque.” No way is my spell checker, much less an editor, going to let that slide.

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Moctezuma’s Revenge: One-Sentence Summary for my first book in The Inquisitor Series

ImageToday I’m polishing Steps 1 and 2 in the process of writing my first novel. The book, Moctezuma’s Revenge, will be the third story in the six-part Inquisitor series, following the paranormal adventures of Father Inquisitor Aidan McGrath as he seeks to defend and strengthen the faith and faithful in the Rio Grande Valley of New Mexico, 1820-1851.

This is my One-Sentence Summary:

 August, 1826, Bernalillo, New Mexico. Father Inquisitor Aidan McGrath’s mission to protect the faith and the faithful in the Rio Grande Valley is put to the test when he encounters a prosperous settlement’s secretive religious sect and uncovers a murderous conspiracy to revive a bloody, pagan religion and its ravenous, demonic entity. 

I’m following a writing plan that incorporates the Pyramid on Point method developed by Jess Lourey, and a handful of other sources, and I feel very encouraged that this time I’m going to finish a first draft (after several false starts dating back to 1997!)

So, back to it!

Report on Rocky Mountain Fiction Writers workshop

Here’s a re-post from my PlaywrightPriest blog, which went up June 9.

I’m including it here because it’s more appropriate to this new web site, and also because of a resource recommended at the workshop that has proved invaluable. I’ll describe that fantastic resource in an upcoming post.

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Today I attended a Rocky Mountain Fiction Writer’s workshop entitled “Write More in Less Time,”  presented by local mystery writer Liesa Malik. What an amazing, inspiring workshop it was!

A year and a half ago I decided to “re-tool” my playwright brain to include fiction writing. TheRocky Mountain Fiction Writers  is an amazingly supportive organization, offering workshops, newsletters, contests, retreats and more. This month’s program was held at Belmar Library and the two hours went by in the blink of an eye.

Malik split the program into two halves. The first addressed the area of building self-esteem and confidence as a writer, because “a confident writer is a better, faster, and more productive writer.” She filled the program with short, sweet writing exercises which directly addressed our own writing process. One of her most surprising suggestions was, rather than “Write WHAT you know,” try writing “WHO you know.” This automatically links character and emotion to your project, and gives you living resources from which to draw information and material.

Another invaluable perspective Malik provided was the importance of assessing “where you are” in the process, and envisioning “where you are going.” Then it’s a matter of creating a plan, a bridge to take you from one to the other. A detailed plan, but a life-giving one.

The “Time Management” second half of the workshop emphasized the value of making and following a plan, using a timer. I felt as though I had been struck by a lightning bolt of goodness when she showed how having a plan calms a person, reduces fear and anxiety, and breaks the project down into manageable chunks. Wow! Duh, but wow!

Malik energetically and eagerly shared numerous methods, techniques, concepts and resources along with a bibliography for us to take home.

Other suggestions, such as setting goals, giving yourself deadlines, and treating your time as valuable and irreplaceable currency were things I’d heard before, but really struck home this time.

All in all, I feel reinvigorated and reassured that fiction writing is something I really can do, and I am confident that by implementing these techniques, along with the Pyramid On Point method I learned in an all-day RMFW workshop last month, that I will really, actually be able to produce a completed first draft in the near future. Once I get over that hump, the sky is the limit!

Thank you, Liesa Malik and Rocky Mountain Fiction Writers!

Rest in Peace, Fr. Andrew Greeley

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Fr. Andrew Greeley

Fr. Andrew Greeley, Roman Catholic priest, sociologist and author of 50 books, died May 29. Though I didn’t agree with all of his opinions or his politics, he was an inspiration to me.

I enjoyed reading Fr. Greeley’s Bishop Blackie mystery novels, and especially appreciated the  non-sensational way he depicted encounters with the supernatural.

The Priestly Sins was a harrowing account of how powerful institutions, whether ecclesial, corporate or political,  seek to utterly discredit and destroy legitimately honest whistleblowers.

But most of all, Fr. Greeley’s career convinced me that it is possible, even beneficial, to be a faithful priest AND a fiction writer.

In a 1992 interview with the Chicago Tribune, Fr. Greeley said, “I’m a priest, pure and simple…. The other things I do — sociological research, my newspaper columns, the novels I write — are just my way of being a priest.”

Thank you, Fr. Greeley. You set the bar high for the rest of us.

I pray that, like Johann Sebastian Bach, and by implication Fr. Greeley, I will be able to write “Soli Deo Gloria–Glory to God alone” on all my works, secular and religious.