How to Finish Your Novel In 6 Excruciatingly Easy Steps

Typing

My first novel began during a NaNoWriMo while I was living in Rome. I talked about that writing adventure with best-selling author Diane Capri in an interview on her blog Diane Capri Reveals yesterday. Because that first novel began in a frenzy, I have high hopes for this second one, having just completed a 50,000 word draft in the last 30 days…

Someone asked me once if I had always written stories. The truth is: no. Sadly, no. I became interested in constructing fiction—writing it—only a few years ago, when I looked around my bookshelves and saw that fiction is what I read, what I have always read. Oh, I round out my to-be-read pile with a good non-fiction account here and there, but my love of reading has always been about a good story. And, again truthfully, I am no journalist. I can construct a decent feature article, but my heart isn’t really in it. I only achieve that elusive “flow” when I write fiction.

As I said to Diane, it was Rome that really inspired me to write fiction. There was so much to look at, so many stories: An embracing couple in the gardens of the Villa Borghese—what was their story? A lovely woman, with rings on every finger and Fendi pumps on her feet, striding down the Corso with a frown on her face—what was her story? A beautiful man, speaking with animation, and many gestures, into his cell phone—what was his story? And because I didn’t really know these people’s stories, I made them up. And then I wrote them down. Fiction.

Of course Rome has been inspiring writers for thousands of years. It’s part of the charm. As Tacitus said, “All things atrocious and shameless flock from all parts to Rome.” What a wonderland of ideas, of marvels to observe, and people to enjoy. I miss it. But the good part is, I have my published novel The Vendetta to remind me of Rome. Cool, huh?

So, since I have done it once, here are my tips to for writing and finishing a novel:

1. Find a topic you are passionate about. Even if you don’t write historical novels, you are still going to have to do at least a little research on setting and character occupations. Even if your characters live where you live and do what you do, they are not going to be you exactly. If you start out on page 1 with a topic/setting/occupation that doesn’t hold your interest, you will regret it on page 62. Trust me.dustbunny1

2. Write. This is where NaNoWriMo comes in handy. I find that self imposed deadlines are not nearly as effective as ones that have the guilt of social pressure attached (and/or if you are cursed lucky enough to have a publishing contract, monetary pressure too). 50,000 words in 30 days is doable. 1667 words per day. For 30 days. Sounds simple. And it is, mostly. But beware what must drop by the wayside as you pursue this goal. These are pictures of actual dust bunnies under my (unmade) bed. I am thinking of naming them. Any suggestions since Flopsy and Mopsy are already taken?dustbunny2

3. Rewrite. My favorite part. The rewrite can take many more months than the actual drafting. Find a system that works for you. Some suggestions: The Weekend Novelist Rewrites the Novel by Robert J. Ray and Manuscript Makeover by Elizabeth Lyon

4. Send out for comments. You should have at least one, ideally three, readers you can send a rough draft to for their comments. This is not a line edit but an attempt to capture their impressions of the overall flow. Are they confused anywhere? Did the story drag in places? What did they really like about the story?

5. Rewrite some more. After comments you may have to rewrite the thing again. By this time you will be sick of this story and these characters. But persevere, the book will get better with each draft.

6. Let it go and start something new. The truth is, you will never feel like your novel is really DONE done. Whether you hide your manuscript under the bed or you send it out into the world to be rejected, or published, or rejected AND published, at some point you will need to let it go. It is finished. Find that new thing/setting/character that fires your passions, write about it, then rinse and repeat.

Do you have any tips for writing or getting something done that you always wanted to do? I am thinking of getting a robotic vacuum, but then the bunnies would get eaten. Suggestions?

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So Many Books…My Review of The Lucky One

Nicholas Sparks, The Lucky One (Grand Central, reprint, 1 Mar 2012)

I have taken a while to post my review of The Lucky One because I wanted to think about my reaction to the book. And when I got ready to write about it I thought, “Jeez, who am I to criticize Nicholas Sparks, an author who single-handedly boosted the opening of the movie based on his book with a social media campaign, and who has legions of fans who buy everything he writes.” Then I remembered that books are like wine and art: it’s all about what you like, not what’s popular, necessarily. So here goes…

Full disclosure right off the bat: I was NOT previously a fan of Nicholas Sparks. An author who writes love stories but eschews happily ever after endings will not generally get my vote. And that, I acknowledge, is entirely a personal preference. I offer full disclosure because although I watched the movie (first) and then read the book (because I did like the movie), I admit I was looking for flaws the whole time I was reading. And I think when you are looking for flaws in a book you generally find them. In the end, I found much to like about this book and almost an equal amount to dislike, overall leaving me slightly dissatisfied. Below I attempt to lay out what it was about the book that left me with that feeling.

THE THINGS I LIKED:

Good use of literary device to tell backstory.

Yummy hero—maybe too yummy (and also maybe colored by my mental image of Zac Ephron with his shirt off).

Finely drawn setting in North Carolina (a true strength of Mr. Sparks).

The dog.

THINGS I DIDN’T LIKE:

The heroine in the book (but not in the movie) was weak, wishy-washy, and downright high-schoolish at times.

Stilted dialog between hero and heroine.

Unsatisfying love scenes.

I will explain all, but must warn of SPOILERS. If you want to read the book or see the movie without my humble opinions coloring your experience, or knowing the ending, or if racy scenes bother you, DO NOT READ ON.

The Lucky One is about Logan Thibault, a Marine who finds a photograph of a young woman while out on a run during a deployment to Iraq. When no one claims the picture after a several days, he ends up keeping it. In the course of his duties over three combat tours, he survives attacks and explosions where others die, and he starts to get a reputation for lucky escapes—all tied to when he started carrying the picture around. He doesn’t really believe the hype about the picture, though, until he is out on a fishing trip after he has left the Marine Corps and his best friend ends up dying in a freak boating accident that Logan, once again, survives. This last straw pushes him to find the woman in the picture.

Logan walks from Colorado to North Carolina with his dog, Zeus, in search of the woman in the photo. Sparks uses that device of to deliver the bulk of the backstory on his main character, which works well because the reader can “remember” along with Logan while he’s doing all that walking. The story before the story, in this case, is crucial to the reader’s understanding of Logan’s motivation for just showing up on the heroine’s doorstep one day, and why he doesn’t tell her about the picture. Logan himself is an appealing hero: cool under fire, thoughtful, good-looking, strong, good with dogs and children, plays piano well, and is worthy of love according to Beth Green, the heroine. His only flaw, really—and it’s a big one—is that he fails to tell Beth right away why he came looking for her.

Sparks is at his best when describing setting and background. His explanation of the duties and thought processes of an active duty Marine, and his description of the small North Carolina town where Logan finds Beth are both real and immediate. He puts you there, in that place, and takes his time setting the scene so the events can play out on that stage.

Zeus, the dog. Great name for a German shepherd. Logan obtains the dog before his trip to North Carolina precisely because there is a German shepherd standing with Beth in the “lucky” picture. Ben, Beth’s son, falls in love with Zeus, and it is Zeus who saves Ben from the river in the final crisis, thus tying the photograph—and Logan’s presence in Beth’s life—directly to the life of her son Ben. I found that connection very cool; the movie was not able to do that aspect justice.

Beth has almost as much of the story as Logan, but I found Beth’s character harder to relate to. Her backstory: after getting pregnant in high school, she marries Keith Clayton, the baby’s father, but quickly calls it quits on the marriage after Ben arrives. Since her parents died in a car accident when she was a child, she now lives with her grandmother, who owns a kennel. Beth also teaches second grade at the elementary school. Beth’s ex, Keith, is the villain in the story and the scion of the most influential family in the area. He is slightly creepy, more than a little sociopathic, and very used to getting what he wants. Beth regularly has qualms about Keith concerning their custody arrangement and his treatment of their son and herself, but does nothing about the situation except worry and complain to her grandmother. The most unforgivable action for me as a reader on Beth’s part was, during the final crisis, when she stands on the river bank and more or less wrings her hands while her ex-husband (Keith) and her lover (Logan) and her lover’s dog (Zeus) all try to save Ben who is in imminent danger of drowning.

WORST scene/line (IMO):

Unfortunately for the love story in this book, the dialog between Logan and Beth is often wooden and juvenile—unconnected to the essence of these characters as we have come to know them—as in this sample from their first real date:

“I might have asked you out, but I’m going to make you drive.”

“And here I thought I was going out with a liberated woman,” he protested.

“I am a liberated woman. But you’ll drive. And pick up the check.”

He laughed…

Zeus seemed confused about what was happening and [Beth] heard him whining again.

“He sounds sad.”

“He probably is. We’re seldom apart.”

“Mean man,” she scolded him.

He smiled at her playful tone as he slipped the car into reverse.

BEST scene/line (IMO):

As I state above, Sparks is at his best in his description of the setting, rolling it in with action and Logan’s internal thoughts:

…he headed east on Route 54, walking on the grassy shoulder, staying well off the road. He’d learned in his travels never to trust drivers. Zeus trailed behind, panting heavily. He stopped and gave Zeus some water, the last in the bottle.

Businesses lined either side of the highway. A mattress shop, a place that did auto body repairs, a nursery, a Quick-N-Go that sold gas and stale food in plastic wrappers, and two ramshackle farmhouses that seemed out of place, as if the modern world had sprouted up around them.

Writing tip #5 (see previous posts here and here for tips 1-4): Do not distance the reader when writing about SEX AND INTIMACY. This was the deal breaker for me in this book. Since Sparks doesn’t go with the closed door entirely, why not play out the sex in scene instead of summary? After offering up personal details about themselves at the end of a magical date, Logan and Beth make love but the action is confined to this paragraph:

They took their time making love. Thibault moved above her, wanting it to last forever, while whispering his love for her. He felt her body quiver with pleasure again and again. Afterward, she remained curled beneath his arm, her body coiled in contentment. They talked and laughed and nuzzled, and after making love a second time, he lay beside her, staring into her eyes before running a gentle finger along her cheek. He felt the words rise up inside him, words he had never imagined himself saying to anyone.

“I love you, Elizabeth,” he whispered, knowing they were true in every way.

Maybe this is, again, personal preference on my part, but why not SHOW how much Logan loves Beth with his ACTIONS as they make love? TELLING us this way for me makes the scene conclude with sentimentality instead of deep emotion. Compare the above scene with a comparable paragraph from Lisa Kleypas’s Dream Lake (The lovemaking SCENE lasts for nine pages BTW; these paragraphs are toward the end.):

He settled deeper, every movement careful and easy. She moaned as she felt her body yielding to the steady pressure.

“Am I hurting you?” she heard him whisper.

She shook her head blindly. The sensation was overpowering, but he was so gentle, filling her slowly, letting her take him by degrees. And all the while he brushed kisses against her mouth and throat, whispering that she was sweet, soft, beautiful, that nothing had ever felt this good, nothing ever would again…

He began to rock against her, a lascivious friction that prodded and rubbed and caressed. The pleasure was shattering. She stiffened, her legs spreading as she was thrown into a blinding climax. His thrusts lengthened, centering straight and deep, and then Alex shuddered, and held her as if the world were about to end.

Whew! Blush worthy, I know, but Kleypas SHOWS the reader how much Alex cares for Zoe through his every action from his gentleness to his patience to his climax. And he never says the words, “I love you.” But we know. Which one is more powerful? Which one does the main job of the novelist—to elicit emotion in the reader—better?

What do you think? Is Nicholas Sparks one of your favorite authors? Do you like sex in books to be off the page or on?

www.marines.mil photo credits to Lance Corporal Ali Azimi and Corporal Marco Mancha

My Summer Reading Orgy Continued

Continuing my review of the books I read this summer (and there really were a lot of them 🙂 ) with Lisa Kleypas’s recent series.

Lisa Kleypas, Rainshadow Road, St. Martin’s Griffin (28 Feb 2012), Dream Lake, St. Martin’s Griffin (7 Aug 2012)

Lisa Kleypas is an author at the top of the romance game with the awards and bestseller status to show it, and though I have only read a couple of her historical romances, I am fond of her contemporary series. Interestingly, Rainshadow Road and Dream Lake have been packaged and (to my observation) marketed as women’s fiction (trade paperback size, discussion group questions in the back, soft cover art with lovely women depicted). But these books are romances, IMO, where the male main character point of view is perhaps even stronger than the female main character point of view, and sexual tension drives the plot and much of the pace of the books. The covers could just as easily show men in tool belts with ripped abs! (Thanks to Tamera Lynn Kraft at Word Sharpeners for her genre definitions.)

Rainshadow Road and Dream Lake are set in yet another a small town, again in Washington State (I am sensing a publishing trend here), but this one is a real place. I have actually been to Friday Harbor on a very romantic date with the man who is now my husband. We took off into a sparkling blue sky from Whidbey Island in a Navy T-34 airplane. The seats in a T-34 are front and back, and the pilot maneuvers with a stick, like in most fighter aircraft. Cool date, right? Anyway, we swooped through the San Juan Islands with the sun reflecting on the water and—after a perfect landing at the little airport near Friday Harbor—we tied down the plane and walked into town to get a bite to eat. Interestingly, neither of us remembers where we ate or what, but we do remember how cool we thought the town was. I’m thinking we must have held hands at least! 😉

These two books are a continuation of a series Kleypas started with Christmas Eve at Friday Harbor, which I also read, but it has been a while (2010). The books follow the lives of the three Nolan brothers (another publishing trend—love comes in threes?), natives of Friday Harbor, who have to change their lives when their sister dies in a car crash and they become her six-year-old daughter’s guardians.

My favorite of the three is Dream Lake. Kleypas is a master of the dark hero, and in Alex Nolan she has created a man who is a heavy drinker with seemingly no redeeming qualities other than his skill at carpentry. Oh, and he’s haunted by a ghost too. He finds redemption and a taste of heaven in the unlikely Zoe Hoffman, a chef for a local bed and breakfast who needs Alex’s help to renovate a cottage for her grandmother who has been diagnosed with vascular dementia.

Favorite line/scene: There are several in this book for me because I love a bad boy hero, but the way Zoe lures Alex with her special talent for preparing food is magical. If I had to choose…Alex decides to sober up and his first morning after giving up booze is rough. Zoe saves him with some strong, sweet coffee and a bit of breakfast strata…

“Sometimes,” she said, “my cooking has a kind of…effect…on people.”

The back of his neck prickled, not unpleasantly. “What kind of effect?”

“I don’t let myself think about it too much. I don’t want to ruin it. But sometimes it seems to make people feel better in a sort of…magical way.” Her smile turned rueful at the edges. “I’m sure you don’t believe in things like that.”

“I’m surprisingly open-minded,” Alex said, conscious of the ghost wandering back into the kitchen.

Writing tip #3—Don’t be afraid to insert FAIRY TALE, MAGICAL, AND PARANORMAL ELEMENTS in your stories. Lisa Kleypas uses all these things to enhance her characters’ connections and also deepen their troubles. Remember Hamlet? It’s fiction after all, which means we get to make it up.

Writing tip #4—What is your character’s SPECIAL SKILL? This time I don’t mean your characters actions but what is your character acknowledged to be good at that ties him or her to the rest of the characters and the plot? Lisa Kleypas is very good at this. In Dream Lake, Alex needs nourishment (body and soul), and Zoe is a wonderful chef. Zoe needs someone to renovate her cottage for her aging grandmother, and Alex is a contractor and master carpenter. In Christmas Eve at Friday Harbor, Mark Nolan becomes the guardian of his sister’s traumatized little daughter, and Maggie Collins owns the toy store in town. Widowed Maggie needs to regain connection with the town, and Mark is the town’s coffee shop owner who roasts his own beans.

Do the differences in storytelling and packaging in the romance and women’s fiction genres (or any genre, for that matter) affect your reading choices? Which do you prefer? Do you like when authors infuse their works with magical elements or ghosts? What is YOUR special skill?

Next blog: my thoughts on The Lucky One by Nicholas Sparks. Romance or love story?

What I Did On My Summer Vacation…From Writing

I am back on the blog after an unintentional hiatus this summer. I didn’t actually intend to take a writing vacation (either here or on various works-in-progress) from June until after Labor Day. It just sort of happened. The lack of a set schedule, the demands of children out of school, and the call of the beach all conspired so that I wrote not one word of useful prose for weeks (okay, months). This caused me some discomfort, for what writer is truly content when not writing? But I assuaged my guilt and grumpiness with an orgy of reading, which I will share with you below.

What follows is a bibliographic representation of my reading summer, both from the perspective of a writer and the perspective of a reader. I chose books somewhat at random, but all were well within the parameter of “entertaining” versus “scholarly.” These were the chocolate ice cream cones of the summer’s literary possibilities instead of the broccoli and kale (not that I don’t like broccoli and kale…but you get the drift).
So, in no particular order…

Jill Shalvis, Lucky in Love (Grand Central, 22 May 2012), At Last (Grand Central, 26 June 2012), and Forever and a Day (Grand Central, 31 July 2012)

Shalvis is one of my favorite romance writers. She cleverly released three books this summer, setting up a trio of women to each find love with a hunky man in their fictional Lucky Harbor, a quirky small town in Washington state. I found all three books to be a fun, sexy, and heartwarming combination of worthy characters and intriguing situations, but my favorite was At Last. The middle book in the trio features laid back forest ranger Matt Bower and snarky tough girl Amy Michaels. I do have a soft spot for forest rangers.

Favorite scene/line: Matt has to administer first aid after Amy gets a nasty scratch on her behind after falling down a ravine in the middle of the night. Matt gets a reluctant Amy to drop trou so he can clean the wound but his subsequent reaction to her lovely form is priceless. An excerpt:

“I thought you said you did this a lot.”

“Yeah. I do. But apparently not with anyone I’m wildly attracted to.”

This caused certain reactions in her body that were best not experienced in mixed company. “It’s just panties,” she finally whispered.

“And they’re really great panties,” Matt agreed. “But it’s not the panties, Amy. It’s you.”

Writing tip #1—What do your characters DO? Don’t be afraid to let men be men and women be women. In a romance, a yummy hero who thinks like a guy makes the journey worthwhile. Shalvis’s male characters are MEN. They have manly jobs and do manly things, to include failing to communicate with the heroine at critical moments and occasionally acting all over-protective and alpha, which only makes them more appealing and real. We women are hard-wired to like this. Trust me.

Susan Wiggs, Fireside (Mira, reprint, 26 June 2012), Marrying Daisy Bellamy (Mira, 25 January 2011), The You I Never Knew (Grand Central, reissue, 1 March 2011)

I picked up Fireside at the drugstore when waiting for my daughter’s antibiotic, prescribed for a bad case of swimmer’s ear. I had never read a Susan Wiggs book before, despite her regular appearance on the best-seller and romance favorites lists. It made me wonder if that’s a typical way for a reader to be introduced to a new (to her) writer—in a drugstore/airport/Wal-mart/grocery checkout? In any case, with her larger cast of characters, Wiggs’s books venture away from a classic romance set-up and more into women’s fiction, but the line is very subtle indeed. In Fireside and The You I Never Knew, Wiggs pulled me in with a finely wrought setting (again a small town) and background (baseball and ranching, respectively); and wonderful secondary characters, particularly teen-aged Cody in The You I Never Knew and Daisy Bellamy in Fireside. And apparently I am not the only reader who clamored for Daisy to have a book of her own, according to Wiggs’s website. Marrying Daisy Bellamy was the breakout of the three for me because it was about what happens when you achieve your heart’s desire, and it is suddenly and tragically taken away. In other words, a test of character.

Favorite scene/line: Daisy is a wedding photographer, and the weddings she takes pictures of bring out little nuggets of wisdom throughout the book. This woven theme gives the book continuity, even through flashbacks, and setting and POV changes. These nuggets are really the author’s worldview, but the reader sees them (lyrical and heartfelt) from the eyes of the point of view characters. A sample:

The flaws were what made a wedding special and memorable…Every event, no matter how carefully planned, had its imperfections…

These were the things that made life interesting. As a single mother, Daisy had learned to appreciate the unplanned. Some of her life’s sweetest moments came when she least expected them—the clutch of her son’s tiny hands, anchoring her to earth with a power greater than gravity. Some of the most awful moments too—a train pulling out of the station, leaving her behind, along with her dreams—but she tried not to dwell on that.

Writing tip #2—What is your character’s HEART’S DESIRE? Show us and then don’t let her have it right away, or let her have it but take it away later. Wiggs introduced Daisy and the two men who love her, Julian and Logan, in earlier books, but in Marrying Daisy Bellamy, she presents Daisy with the one thing she wants most in the world. Will she get it? We are rooting for her because we know the stakes for Daisy, but we don’t want it to be too easy either.

To be continued…

Yeah, I really did do a lot of reading. Stay tuned for my thoughts on books I read this summer by Lisa Kleypas, Jo Beverley, Pamela Morsi, and Nicholas Sparks.

What about you? Did you read anything good this summer? Maybe something involving 50 shades…? Did any of your goals get sidetracked by the summer routine? What did YOU do this summer?

Lucky 7 Writing Share! Yipes.

Tagged with the Lucky 7 meme (what is a meme, exactly?), by Myndi Shafer AND Emma Burcart, I scrolled through the WIP, only to find out I don’t actually have a page 77–haven’t progressed past page 56. So below you will find 7 paragraphs from page 14, multiples of 7 still count, right? I have really enjoyed the snippets of people’s works-in-progress. Now to tag some other writers…

Here are the rules.

1. Go to page 77 of your current MS/WIP
2. Go to line 7
3. Copy down the next 7 lines, sentences, or paragraphs, and post them as they’re written.
4. Tag 7 authors, and let them know.

Here’s my bit from the WIP I have titled TAYLOR’S BARGAIN:

“So, what do I have to do with your bride-to-be dumping you? You said this wasn’t just a catch up on old times session.” She fiddled with her silverware, lining it up precisely with the bottom of the bread plate.

“I have a…ah…proposal to make.” He took a small sip of water, and she noticed his long, strong fingers.

Her gaze snapped to Alex’s face. “To me?”

“Yes. Taylor, will you marry me?”

Her foolish, foolish heart skipped its next beat, and its next. The racket in the restaurant fell away, and it was just the two of them in a cone of utter silence, where she could hear the thump thump of her heart beat. “Marry you?”

“Well, really it’s just an engagement. Or a fake engagement actually. I need a fiancee to hook this big investor I’ve been scouting for weeks. He’s very conservative and he’d expressed his pleasure that I was getting married soon.”

Her fists clenched in her lap. “Well, I don’t think it’s going to make your case when you show up with another bride entirely.”

Tagging seven more authors to share (sorry if you’ve already been tagged, you can share twice!). Come on, you know you want to… 🙂

Susie Lindau

The Journal Pulp

Shannyn Schroeder

Jillian Dodd

Louise Behiel

Ted Strutz

Pat O’Dea Rosen

Let’s see ’em, writers! Don’t be shy now.

Slainte: Flash Fiction– “Queenstown”

Moira clutched her mother’s hand as they weaved through ropes and piles of steamer trunks on the dock, wrinkling her nose at the scent of fish and brackish water. Men and women stood in groups, while porters pushed urgently through the crowd with luggage and bags, and seagulls wheeled and cried overhead. A young paperboy, about her size, called out his wares, a pile of fresh newsprint over his arm. Steam hissed at irregular intervals, and acrid coal-fired engines thrummed a steady beat Moira could feel deep in her chest.

“Will they have green grass in America then, Mum?”

Her mother glanced down at her but answered in that voice that said she wasn’t really listening. “Of a certainty, Moira. They have everything that’s green ‘n’ good in America. Not to mention yer Dad’s there waitin’ for us.”

Moira nodded, but a stab in her tummy that wasn’t breakfast porridge sent tears to her eyes. She squeezed Mum’s hand tighter.

“There it is,” said Mum.

Moira looked through the crowd, and her heart fell into her new high button shoes when she saw the ugly little boat. “Is that what is taking us to America?”

Her mother laughed, a clear trill that caused the men nearest them to look over at her. “Lord no, little Moira. That’s only the tender. Our ship is too great to moor here in Queenstown, so they’re sending us out on this boat called the America. Y’see?”

Moira nodded, but she didn’t really see at all why they’d had to leave Cork and Grandmum and Auntie Dierdre and her Cousins Louisa and Molly. She bit her lip, knowing Mum wouldn’t like it if she cried.

After a very long time indeed, Mum and Moira went aboard the ugly boat and it pulled away from the pier, but Moira eyes were droopy and the chuff-chuff of the tender’s steam engine soon lulled her to sleep.

“Wake up, sleepy girl. We’re comin’ up on the ship.” Mum picked her up and pointed into the distance. “There she is, sweetest! That’s our ship! That’s the ship that will take us to New York City and yer Dad.”

It truly was the most enormous ship Moira had ever seen, making all the others in in Cork Harbor seem like toys from her cousins’ toy box. For the first time since Mum had told her they were going to America, excitement bubbled up in Moira’s chest. She hugged her Mum close. As they passed by the stern, Moira read out loud the letters picked out in white on the black hull: T-I-T-A-N-I-C.

* * *

113 passengers embarked on the Titanic at Queenstown (now called Cobh), Ireland on 11 April 1912, many of them Irish immigrants with Third Class tickets. The Titanic itself had been built in Belfast, and its designer Thomas Andrews was an Irishman. Two thirds of the steerage passengers perished after the Titanic struck an iceberg on 14 April. In all only 712 of the 2,225 passengers and crew survived.

A picture of Cobh, County Cork, Ireland looking from the Cathedral out into Cork Harbor.

Irish immigration facts: Between 1846 and 1900 approximately 2,873,000 Irish came to America. Almost as many Irish women as men immigrated. Unlike other national groups, many women of Ireland came by themselves to live here.

For more information on the Irish on the Titanic, see The Irish on the Titanic post by Edward T. O’Donnell.

For pictures of the Titanic on its maiden (and only!) voyage, see TitanicPhotographs.

Did any of your relatives make the boat trip to America? Another what if of history…if the Titanic had had only 500 more feet of warning, it could have missed the iceberg entirely.

Flash Fiction: Snail Mail Valentine

In honor of my favorite holiday and beacause it’s my birthday–a romantic story about a love letter…

Paige clicked off the TV just as the late-night host closed out his show. She stood, stretched, and couldn’t hold back a jaw-cracking yawn. Her bunny slippers scuffed along the tile floor of her apartment as she padded into the dark kitchen. She rinsed the dregs of white chocolate mocha from her mug, staring at the green clock numbers on the microwave. Okay, now it was 12:02. On Valentine’s Day weekend. And she was home alone, waiting for Isaiah Jones to pick up and dial.

Wubby, her fluffy Persian cat, jumped up on the counter and “mrowed” an inquiry.

“Not to worry, Wubby. He’ll call.” Paige smoothed a hand over the Wubster’s soft grey fur. “He said he would in his last letter.”

She carried Wubby back into the living room, glaring at her cell phone. She’d already scrolled through the calls oh, about a million times, just in case some mystery of tiny little electronics had turned her phone off without her knowing. She rolled her eyes.

Isaiah’s letters drew her gaze, and she sprawled on the couch next to them. The bold, dark slash of the t’s in his handwriting reminded her of his bold, dark eyes. The loopy g’s she associated with his easy grin. And his words made her hot. She fanned her cheeks, grinning.

She’d been exchanging snail mail with Isaiah, a Navy man on deployment, for the past six months. She wrinkled her nose. The idea was too 1940s, too fraught with frustration for her. But brief emails hadn’t been right. Too public and too impersonal. And what he’d had to say in his letters had not been old-fashioned at all.

She traced a finger over his signature on one of the pages. She’d memorized every letter he’d written—every word—even though she’d had trouble with words as long as she could remember. But for Isaiah she’d made a real effort. His first letter had been friendly. The second one interesting and funny. The third one, though…  She took a little breath. The third one knocked her socks off. She’d only wanted more and more, no matter how long it took her to absorb every nuance and turn of phrase.

She’d carefully typed out an email to him after reading that third letter: “Got your last letter. Send more. Now.”

Dear Paige,

I love how your dancing has made you firm. You step out of the car, and I see the cut of muscle in your calf. You arch toward me, and I see the sleek shape of your abs. All those hours of practice, the dedication it took to hone your body so you could move it like you do. But at the same time your skin is soft. It feels like, well, like the hood of my car after I’ve waxed it. And I can imagine the power underneath…

He’d started the fantasy about his car and asked her to finish it in a letter to him, but she’d procrastinated. Time had gone by, she hadn’t written the letter, and Isaiah hadn’t called. And now she was terrified that her dyslexia had cost her—again.

***

“Happy Valentine’s Day, Paige.” Isaiah’s deep, raspy voice threaded through her dream. “Paige. Wake up, sleepy girl.”

She blinked her eyes open, not quite believing—“Isaiah. What are you doing here?” She sat up, heart pounding.

He smiled—a slash of white in his tanned face—and reached out to pet Wubby, who was curled against Paige’s knee, purring. “I’m here to spend Valentine’s Day with my best girl.”

Paige pushed her hair back. “Your best girl?”

He looked up at her, serious now. “My only girl. Paige, I can’t stop thinking about you. I’ve missed you so much. Why didn’t you write back?”

Tears welled in her eyes. “I’m sorry. I wanted to, but…well…I try, but the words tend to slip off the page and land in a puddle.”

“A puddle?”

She nodded, still not meeting his eyes. “That’s the way I’ve always thought about my dyslexia.” She picked at a loose thread on the front of her robe. “I’m not trying to make excuses. I just…I couldn’t say what I wanted to, it wouldn’t come out right. And your letters were so perfect I—”

His warm fingers nudged her chin up, and her eyes met his. “Why didn’t you just tell me?”

She shrugged, unable to speak. His warm thumb wiped across her cheek. Then he hauled her into his arms, onto his lap. She resisted the urge to bury her face in his chest and howl. He was here; she didn’t have any reason to cry now.

She wrapped her arms around Isaiah’s strong neck and declared Valentine’s Day her new favorite holiday.