Apologies & Salutations

Seems I kind of went dark there for a bit. Sorry about that. Summer ate my lunch.

I have this kind of endless optimism around summer. I believe every year that this will be the year that I get so much done during June, July, and August. And every year, as August winds down, I look up from my summer haze and question my own sanity.

There are camps and parties and meetings and church activities and college sign-ups (new this year) and play dates and park meetings and library visits and vacations and family visits and drive me here and can we go and I need this for that activity and after approximately 32 gajillion hours in the car it’s almost September.

We started our new school year today. Middle is in 11th grade <eek!> and Little started 5th. I’m almost out of the elementary years, y’all! I feel so old. Oldest starts college on Monday. Funny how that’s not what makes me feel old.

Anyway, some sense of schedule and normalcy has returned to Casa Quinn and I expect to be back to regular blogging now. Thanks for not quitting me during my unplanned summer hiatus and I’ve already made a note to post in May 2019 that I’ll probably be gone again.

2018 – The First Third in Review

This last weekend things came to a head for me. Mr. Quinn ran his longest triathlon to date and that took basically all weekend between prep, packing, planning, laundry, driving, volunteering, and so on. I had three zero word days in a row and on Sunday night when I sat down to try and write at 6:47 p.m. after having been up since 4 a.m. I just cried. I opened Scrivener and I cried.

I wanted to make goal so bad. I wanted to write something. Anything. I wanted words to count so I could make the goal for April. I wanted to make the goal for the first time in 2018.

I didn’t. Mr. Quinn, also exhausted beyond words, reached over and gently closed the laptop. He turned on something on TV and told me to go to sleep.

I did. And I slept for 12 hours straight. It was glorious.

On Monday morning I had a meeting with my staff. In case you’re wondering that’s my agent (me), the CFO (me), the CEO (me), the marketing team (me), the cover artist (also me), and my therapists (the dogs). Yeah, I did some hard thinking about whether this plan was working.

I posted before about Wayne Stinett’s process of writing, editing, and planning production. I committed to trying it alongside the 365 writing challenge I was also participating in.

I had intended to step back and evaluate the process and tracking at the end of March (first quarter), but got busy and forgot, so I moved it to the end of April – the first third of the year.

The Stats

As of April 30th:

I have written 105,438 words.

That’s a lot for me! I am really very proud of the amount of writing I’ve done this year. For comparison, I had written 48,290 words by the end of April 2017. I’ve more than doubled my output year over year!

However, you’ll notice (because I’m going to do the math for you) that my average per day isn’t what I had initially planned. I had set a goal of 1,200 words per day and managed to hit about 879 words per day in reality. If I had stayed on goal I would have had 144,000 words.

The biggest obstacle I had to attain that goal is that it’s 365 days, meaning the idea is to write on the weekends and holidays and vacations. Never take a day off.

That hasn’t worked for me, and it likely never will. I am busy on the weekends, volunteering and spending time with my family. I thought I’d be able to tuck writing into little spaces on weekends and keep my goal pace, but it’s just too much. There were a lot of zeros on the weekends.

And those zeros and never making the goal for the month started to wear on me. It’s not a good thing to constantly feel behind and like you just can’t succeed.

Going Forward

It’s May 1st, so we’re starting the second third of 2018. After taking a hard look at my reality I had a decision to make. I could try to meet the weekly goal of 8,400 words per week in 5 days – or 1,680 words per day – or I could lower my overall goal.

After I looked at my average daily output (879 words) I decided that setting a goal of nearly double that five days a week was probably only going to set me up for more failure. Wayne Stinett does 1,000 words a day as his goal and it seems to be working for him. Five thousand words a week is the advice of the pro, so who am I to argue?

Starting today, that’s my goal. It feels achievable and I even went in and reworked my production calendar with the new word counts. Yes, it takes longer to write a book at these lower word counts, but I would rather take a little longer and keep a schedule that leads to feelings of success.

I also want to not feel guilty for taking off weekends or taking a vacation from writing (my job) every now and then.  If for no other reason than my mental health.

I’m looking forward to coming back and reporting on this at the end of August. Thanks for coming along on this adventure with me!

On Business | April 2018

Starting a new (semi) regular column here about the business of writing and publishing. I’m by no means an expert at either, but if anything I stumble across or into is helpful, well, then it’s worth it.

As always, I use affiliate links which sends a few pennies my way if you click and shop on Amazon.

I released The Star of Time into Kindle Unlimited on January 2, 2018.

First Quarter Results

Paperback Sales: 1

KU Reads: 1,524 pages (4 full reads)

Payment: $8.80

Y’all. People read my book. They read it and in most cases read all the way through. In one instance, they stopped about 100 pages in and I know this because it was in the UK store. So, I looked, and that’s where my characters start really talking about liberty and King George and they’re, you know, in favor of liberty for the colonies. I guess the poor person reading figured they weren’t going to win here. Heh.

Anyway, I could get really down about all this, but I’m not. It’s the first time I’ve ever been paid for my writing, and $8 is a start.

Second Quarter Plans

I’ll be releasing The Star of Fire during the second quarter, most likely, also into KU, since that’s where the readers seem to be (for now). Honestly, I’m not sure what’s going on in KU. It’s well-established that the system is broken, but the question remains, what is Amazon’s plan (if any) for fixing it?

Until I have more information there, I will tentatively be staying in KU.

I’m also head-down-working on The Star of Storms. New setting, new time period, new characters. What could go wrong? (Pro tip: everything.)

There’s a solid 20,000+ words written so far and I am well on my way to winning Camp NaNoWriMo this month.

Also, I’m adjusting my master plan. I’ve been mulling over the ending of The Star of Fire and it just hasn’t been sitting right. So, I’m pushing that pub date back so I can get it fixed after I have a sit-down with the Beta feedback. (Speaking of Beta readers – if you’re interested, use the contact link at the top of the page and I’ll add you to the list!)

All in all, things are progressing and I’m really still very happy to be in this game. Now, I’ll be taking my $8 and buying a cup of coffee. 🙂

 

 

Quinning | April 2018

I think I mentioned that March would be light on the blog. I wasn’t kidding. 😉

I know that I’ve heard other writers talk about self-doubt and imposter syndrome. I haven’t heard anyone discuss what I often experience – each book as a different sort of humbling.

I was so proud when I finished my first book. Hitting “publish” and seeing it go live on Amazon? Amazing.

I remember thinking that I finally had a good handle on story and on what it takes to write a book and bring it to press.

Then I sat down to write book two. Humbled.

The story was tight. I plotted it. I followed the character’s lead. I did everything right, but man, I felt like it took longer than it should have.

I finally put a bow on book two. I had a schedule and a plan, my friend. And then Mr. Quinn expressed his displeasure at being left out as an alpha reader and I had to adjust (more on that in a minute).

Last month I sat down to write book three and I was gutted. Humbled again.

See, every book in this series deals with a natural disaster. Book three is especially striking to me because the disaster was natural but the hubris wasn’t. But the initial plot felt like it followed the same formula of book two and that’s not what I want.

I want to be able to tell the story of the disaster with humanity while also keeping the series of events fresh. So there’s a new challenge!

I think I might have it nailed down, and Mr. Quinn is reading book two.

March Goals

  • My production schedule actually calls for this The Star of Storms to be done on May 4th, but we’ve had a couple of conflicts come up that are going to put me away from my computer for several days during that time. It’s going to be a test of my ability to hold a schedule, that’s for sure. There will be some writing ahead and probably some wailing and gnashing of teeth as well. Check back in a month.

Much wailing and gnashing of teeth. I called it. Reworking the plot made the deadline tighter, but still in the realm of achievable. I’ll be putting my head down for the rest of April and may come screaming into a stop on May 4th. Still, I can edit a mass of words in a knot. I can’t edit an empty page.

  • Work on the romance. Back-burner, but hope to get some more words in on this one if I can.

Not at this time. I’ve looked at my production schedule and may get to revisit this over the summer. We’ll see.

April Goals

Finish Book three.

That’s it.

As to publishing book two, I am thinking through some stuff. I’ll be back with a post on that in a couple of days because I think my initial plan won’t work. Stay tuned.

Quinning | March 2018

Time to wrap up February and lay out the battle plan for March.

February 2018

  • Finish edit of Star of Fire – I finished my edit notes months ago (color me embarrassed) but still have to go through and make the actual edits. I also have to write at least three new scenes and add an entire secondary plot. So, no biggie. 😮 I’ve already booked a spot with the editor for March and I’d love to have this to him by 3/1. Head down and get to work time I suppose.

Done. Didn’t finish by 3/1, but that was a self-imposed goal. Instead, I wrapped it up on 3/2 and sent it off for beta reading. Hoping for those notes back on Monday and then time to make changes and send it out for edits. Still on track for an April release.

  • In the course of scrapping my sweet Christmas romance, I had a brainstorm for a different book. I can’t help it! So I went ahead and started it. It’s a secondary project now and only gets work when/if I have time after working on SOF. Thankfully it avoids all the pitfalls I discovered with the first book and seems to be holding up better. If nothing else, it’s good practice for writing out of my home genre!

Sad story. Editing and writing don’t mix well for me. If I progressed in one I stalled on the other. So, the romance got shoved firmly to the back burner. I am crossing my fingers that I can work on it and The Star of Storms at the same time, maybe one in the morning and one in the evening, but the reality is that Storms takes priority. 

  • Sketch plot for book three – The Star of Storms. That’s right – that’s the title! I have the major plot points in my head, I just need to get them down on paper and start filling in the little twists and turns and figure out the motivations for the not-so-tiny cast of characters. Very exciting stuff! If all goes to plan (which it won’t, just sayin’) I should start drafting this book on 3/1. Fingers crossed!

I have a sketched-in plot, but not much more. I prefer to work with a beefier plot outline, so I am taking a few days to build that up, then I’ll be jumping into the story with both feet. 

Not writing related, but still goals for February:

  • My parents are going to be moving in temporarily. They’re building a tiny house, but aren’t quite ready to retire and my Dad was laid off work. So they’re in this weird holding pattern and don’t want to make a house payment on one salary. We’re returning the favor – we lived with them for a year while we built our house. Anyway, all that to say, I need to declutter and make some space. It’s amazing the debris that can build up in just 5 years.

Filled the recycle bin and trash can and took two loads to the charity resale shop. Still chipping away at this, hitting the clutter zones mostly on weekends when I feel okay taking time away from writing and schooling the little people. 

  • Get tax stuff together for the accountant. I stopped doing our taxes years ago (actually, I put my foot down and told Mr. Quinn that it was getting too complicated and I didn’t want to be responsible for a major mistake). I just need to make sure all the papers are present and accounted for so I can drop them off. My writing won’t affect our taxes for 2017, so there’s that. 2018 will be a different story!

This is D.O.N.E. Dropped off the paperwork last week! Yay!


 

March 2018

March is all about writing.

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  • My production schedule actually calls for this The Star of Storms to be done on May 4th, but we’ve had a couple of conflicts come up that are going to put me away from my computer for several days during that time. It’s going to be a test of my ability to hold a schedule, that’s for sure. There will be some writing ahead and probably some wailing and gnashing of teeth as well. Check back in a month.
  • Work on the romance. Back-burner, but hope to get some more words in on this one if I can.

That’s it! Like I said, all about the writing this month!

What Phoebe Saw in 1871 Chicago

The best thing about the research for a historical novel is finding out that you’ve finally entered the age of photography.

Man, pictures really do tell a story and while each picture may not really be worth a thousand words, they’re pretty close. I know it helped me as I was looking around to really picture what late 19th century Chicago looked like.

Phoebe, who has never been out of Alexandria and surrounding areas before landing in 1776 Baltimore, really has no information about Chicago, except that it exists and a vague recollection that it burned at some point. For her, it was a minor blip on the historical timeline. For the people that lived there, it was the greatest disaster ever known.

 

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South Water Wholesale District – Late 1860’s

The streets were muddy, but notice the wooden sidewalks (and actually I think that some of the streets were stone and/or wood even if this one was not), and the wooden buildings. Even the brick facades were all wood inside. And the summer of 1871 was brutally dry.

 

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Washington Street, looking west from Wabash

 

This one’s a little earlier – still dirt streets and wooden sidewalks. A couple blocks west of here, you’d find Al Smith’s Gambling house and a block further you’d be near the top of Gambler’s Row (on South Clark). On the left, just out of frame, you’d have found the First National Bank.

 

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Field, Leiter, & Co. – 1871

 

Field, Leiter, and Co. was located on Randolph between Wabash and State Street. This was the new building, complete with gas lamps inside and a state-of-the-art elevator powered by steam. I think this was one of, if not the most beautiful building in Chicago.

 

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The Palmer Hotel – 1871

 

The Palmer Hotel, located on Monroe and State Streets, was a wedding gift from Potter Palmer to his new wife, Bertha Honoré. It opened September 26, 1871. It burned to the ground 13 days later.

 

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Rush Street Bridge – 1869

 

The bridges in Chicago were (are) an engineering marvel. They would open for 10 minutes every hour to allow river traffic to pass. Sometimes (a lot) the ships would block the bridge, keeping it open longer, much to the irritation of people trying to cross.

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And finally, Old St. Patrick’s Church. I’ve only ever driven past this church, but it’s a goal to go visit it in particular someday. It plays a rather central role in my book and I have fallen in love with it all over again. Phoebe certainly loved it and the people there.

While not all of these places play an important role in the story I’m trying to tell, the pictures did help me to set the stage in a manner of speaking. Chicago in 1871 was a bustling post-war city, full of life and opportunity. And disaster loomed.

 

Winding Down February

I got an email newsletter from Elise Blaha-Cripe yesterday. I love her stuff. She has a great eye for color and craft and her attitude of “just get it done” is something I am trying hard to adopt, knowing that you can only edit words that have been written. Anyway, in her email, she mentioned that it felt like January lasted 7 weeks and February zoomed by. And I identified strongly with this. I know at least once in January I woke up in the middle of the night in a cold sweat fully believing that it was mid-April and I had missed all my deadlines. And now, on the last day of February, I feel like it was just February 4th yesterday. What kind of crazy time-warp is this??

I am winding down the self-edit of The Star of Fire, book two in The Star of Time Series. I have a chapter to go and then I need to drop in some little morsels before I can send this on to beta and editing. Come hell or high water, it will be done by Friday and off to beta.

This is a book that I wish I had written like I laid out in the self-editing post. It really could have benefitted from that kind of writing and I am excited to try it out with the next book scheduled for plotting and writing in March. Will report back.

Completely unrelated, but necessary note: As spring approaches (apologies to anyone who may not see spring for a few more weeks or months – remember this when I complain that it is eleventy million degrees here later this summer) I may be more scarce. We have tractor repairs to do, mowing to start and a bunch of new fruit trees to plant and get situated. We’ve had almost two solid weeks of rain and I shudder to think about what the yard will look like once it is dry enough to mow.

Another, sort of related, yet unnecessary note: In the email referenced above Elise said that she is writing a book on productivity and can I say that I am insanely excited for this book to come out (2019, I think)? She gets more done in a day than I sometimes get done in a week and I’m just … well, I could use the help, I think. Besides that, I love reading about productivity and the fact that she’s got kids and a successful business means a lot. It’s different when you balance those two and a lot of books I’ve come across feel like they’ve been written in a kind of childless vacuum where the only life priority is work. And that doesn’t, well, work for me.

 

Sun Baked Second City

1871 Chicago had to be a fascinating place. A cross between the wild west and high society New York.

Railroads brought new people, livestock, and goods in constantly. The stockyards were full of cattle, pigs, chickens. The smell had to be ferocious, especially in the summer, when high temperatures were in the 90s, cooking manure and waste, trash and people. New arrivals were warned – handbooks in various languages passed around – to avoid scams and con artists. Undoubtedly many still fell prey.

The river had just been turned to flow south into the canal. An engineering marvel. The hope was that it would carry the sewage away from Lake Michigan – the main source of the city’s drinking water. Cholera and other water-borne disease had been a real problem, as you can probably imagine. Hospitals couldn’t handle the sick, the youngest bearing the brunt of fatalities.

The gap between the wealthy and poor ever expanding. The upper crust lived on Prairie Avenue and the Gold Coast (which was just gaining a foothold). Their street was lit with well-maintained gas lamps. Their houses were surrounded by gardens and fences. They had carriage houses and staff. Parties and nights at the opera. They worried about fashion – gray and violet were the colors of the season along with the ever fashionable black. Their homes and businesses heavily insured against disaster.

The poor lived to the north. They lived in little wooden houses packed tightly against each other. Multiple buildings on each lot. Piles of wood and trash in the yard, animals in a barn if you could afford them. Wash hanging out in the open. Nobody cared about the color of their clothes, they were worried about their next meal. Insurance a foreign concept.

The whole city was slowly rising from the mud. Seriously. The city decided that the flooding in winter and spring was unacceptable, so they raised street level about three feet. This required large buildings to be raised on jacks and new basement areas to be built. The Chicago Underground? It’s a real thing that exists because of this raising of the city. St. Patrick’s Church basement was being constructed when the fire broke out, the church on jacks and stone being stacked beneath the building.

All the hustle and bustle. Kids going to school, men off to the stockyards or to the downtown area to work in groceries, dry goods stores, and other shops. Heading to the roundhouse, to the factories. Women heading to work, too. Cleaning, teaching, volunteering, nursing.

Saloons didn’t quite outnumber the churches, but they were plentiful. They dotted the streets in vice districts – Hell’s Half-Acre, Gambler’s Row, Hairtrigger Block. And the brothels? Abundant. Lou Harper’s Mansion, Carrie Watson’s, the infamous Under the Willow (just shut down upon the proprietor’s retirement to the country where he lived as an upstanding citizen aided certainly by his fortune).

The wooden streets where wagons and horses rumbled by. The sidewalks, also wooden, host to crowds of pedestrians. The river, dirty and undrinkable. Ships forcing the bridges to stay open longer than they should, making it near impossible to get across the river. The crowds and traffic, bucking against the delay. They built a tunnel to alleviate congestion, but who knows how effective it really was. The wooden buildings, packed together – houses and warehouses, factories and tenements, all together. Zoning wasn’t a thing.

Children roamed the streets in packs like dogs. They learned to pickpocket and survive. Some were organized by the less caring adults who saw an opportunity. Others were put in orphanages where their lot may not have been much better.

All of this. All the people and animals and houses and buildings and streets and sidewalks baking and baking under an unforgiving sun with no rain in sight.

The fire department was understaffed and underequipped. Some of the wagons had been in service since the dawn of the department – 10 years. Worn hoses, old wagons, not enough men and horses and a record number of fires in the last year. $3.5 million in damages. They asked for more money, better equipment, more fire watchers. The city was low on funds. Not enough in the budget, the city replied. So they patched their hoses. Kept the wagons working. Bought a few more horses. But the city expanded. And the fire department spread even thinner.

Still, the sun baked the city.

October rolls around and it should get cooler, but it doesn’t. The sweat and the stink and the heat and still no sign of rain. Every bit of moisture has been wrung from the city. Fires are a constant threat. Carelessness is the leading cause, but arson is a problem, too. A warehouse here, a house there. The fire watch is expanded. The first shift used to start at 9:30. Now it starts at sundown. They search the horizon for any sign and send crews to fight the blazes that erupt.

A regular Saturday night, until fire dots the sky on the west side of the river. The fire department races into action, wagons, horses, and men working together to bring the destruction under control. Hours roll by. Crowds gather in the streets to watch the spectacle. Saturday night entertainment. Daniel Quirk owns the saloon across the street. He passes out free liquor in exchange for onlookers wetting down his building. The home across the street burns, its occupant perishing, refusing to leave their lives fortune. The city holds its breath, wondering if the brave firefighters can beat the raging beast back this time. It is noon on Sunday before the fire is out. Exhausted firefighters drag wasted hoses and beaten wagons back to stations for repair and rest. Quirk’s saloon is saved.

The fire is all anyone can talk about. They feel as though they dodged a bullet. If the firefighters hadn’t gotten it under control, why, the entire western side of the city might have been destroyed. People meet to worship and take their Sabbath day of rest. They pray for their city. They pray for rain.

It’s nine hours later. The city winds down (most of it anyway, some of it was surely just getting started). Tomorrow is a work day. A school day. Gas lanterns are lit on Prairie Avenue. Children are tucked into bed. Women finish their chores. Men smoke a pipe, a cigar, a hand-rolled cigarette. On a little-cared-about street in a little-cared-about neighborhood, history remembers a cow kicking over a lantern. Or so the story goes.