Outlander—Who Knew?

Only millions of fans around the world, that’s who.

Outlander is one of those books I’ve been meaning to get to for years—I mean really, years. My interest was renewed since there has been so much hoopla over the Starz series, but since I don’t get Starz I haven’t been able to watch yet. I finally bought an ebook version for my Kindle two summers ago, but still it sat. It was one of those covers I kept looking at, but I’ve been reading a lot of nonfiction lately and Outlander was a next time…next time…book for me.

I finally finished reading Outlander two days ago, and now I could kick myself for waiting so long to read it. I already have book number two downloaded onto my Kindle. The funny thing about Outlander is that so many of my Loving Husband Trilogy readers have asked if I’ve read Diana Gabaldon’s books, and a few asked if the Outlander series served as an inspiration for my own James and his beloved Sarah. Obviously, no, Outlander wasn’t an inspiration for the Loving Husband Trilogy since I’ve only just read the first in Gabaldon’s engrossing series.

There’s no need for a detailed synopsis of Outlander here since there are so many around. For those of you who aren’t familiar with the story, 20th century inhabitant Claire Randall time travels to 18th century Scotland where she meets mighty hunky Jamie Fraser. The two certainly have their fair share of obstacles as they fall in love. Claire is torn as she has to decide between her life (and her husband) from the 20th century and Jamie. Don’t let this short description fool you. It’s a lengthy story with plenty of plot twists.

Having read the book, now I can see why readers have asked if Outlander was an inspiration for the Loving Husband Trilogy. I can see why both series would appeal to the same readers. Both are stories about a love that spans centuries. Both feature a James (yes, in the Loving Husband Trilogy Sarah calls him Jamie). My James’ last name is Wentworth, the prison in Outlander—a silly point but one I thought I’d make anyway. Both are historical fiction, though the Loving Husband books go back and forth between present day Salem, Massachusetts and their historical periods—the Salem Witch Trials, the Trail of Tears, and the Japanese-American internments, respectively. Outlander is an actual time travel novel, as in Claire travels from the 20th century back to the 18th century. Her Dear & Loving Husband isn’t really a time travel novel, although Sarah certainly experiences time travel-like elements. Fans know what I mean. There’s the psychic reading in both stories–Claire has her tea leaves read, which gives her some glimpse of her future, and Sarah has her palm read by Olivia Phillips, everyone’s favorite motherly witch, which gives Sarah a glimpse of her future. Claire suffers at the hands of those who will brand her a witch, as does Sarah, or should I say Elizabeth. There certainly are differences. My James is more an intellectual than a warrior, though he has his moments, and if he’s not exactly human, well, no one’s perfect. I do think my James would look pretty damn good in a kilt, but I digress… If I didn’t know better, I would have sworn that I had read Outlander before writing Her Dear & Loving Husband.

I remember when I was a kid and I would get totally lost in the many books I read. I lived on the prairie with Laura Ingalls Wilder and I sat on that farm alongside Wilbur and Charlotte. The older I’ve grown, the more difficult it has become to become totally lost in a book in that way. Outlander is the first book in years where I felt as though I was totally escaping my real world while reading. Simply as an historical novel it’s worth five stars for the way it sweeps you into 18th century Scotland. Gabaldon weaves Claire and Jamie’s story through twists and turns like a master writer. If you love historical fiction, you will love Outlander, and, I’m sure, the subsequent books. If you love a good love story thrown in, all the better.

Book One in the Outlander series down, seven more to go!

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My Summer Reading List

There’s always something special about summer reading. Of course I read during the school year, but with everything I have to do for my teaching and coursework there isn’t as much time to read for pleasure as I’d like.

Normally, I read a lot of fiction, mainly historical fiction (surprised, right?), but this summer I was bitten by the Hamilton: An American Musical bug like so many of you. Not only have I listened to the soundtrack more times than I can count (I’m pretty sure at this point I could perform all the roles in the show), but more than loving the rhythmic music and the eloquent lyrics, listening to Hamilton reminds me of the days when I taught U.S. History. I remember glossing over Alexander Hamilton in the American Revolution lessons saying, “Oh yeah, that’s the guy who was shot and killed by Aaron Burr” and not thinking much more of him than that. Man, was I wrong about Hamilton. He was one interesting dude. My interest in Hamilton the musical reignited my interest in early American history, so most of my reading this summer has been biography driven.

Here’s my reading list this summer so far:

Alexander HamiltonIn keeping with my American Revolution theme, I’ve read the Alexander Hamilton biography by Ron Chernow as well as Chernow’s biography Washington: A Life. Here’s the interesting thing: George Washington, the first president, the father of his country, was not the most endearing person in the world, at least not to me. He was a great man, Washington, and the fact that we even have a United States is due in large part to Washington’s leadership. Still, Alexander Hamilton, even with his fiery temperament (or because of his fiery temperament) is the more interesting man. But I’m still glad I read the Washington biography. Chernow made me rethink George Washingtoneverything I thought I knew about George Washington, which is a good thing. Too often we just accept the stories we hear about our leaders without taking the time to read for ourselves and form our own judgments.

Another biography I’ve read this summer is Walter Isaacson’s Benjamin Franklin: An American Life. I have to say I’m kind of digging on Benjamin Franklin right now. He wasn’t perfect—no one is—but I have to say he’s my favorite Benjamin Franklinfounding father. If all he ever did was make his discoveries about electricity, that alone would be enough for us to know his name. He was stubborn, determined, gregarious, but most of all he was damn funny, which scores points with me every time.

Never whereI haven’t been reading much fiction this summer, which is unusual for me, but the one novel I have read is Neverwhere by Neil Gaiman. I had read Gaiman’s The Ocean at the End of the Lane last year and really enjoyed the story’s magical realism, and I’m so glad I tried Neverwhere. You can call Neverwhere a Harry Potter for adults with the invisible underground stations and parallel lives in different dimensions, but that would be too simplistic to explain this quirky dark fairy tale. I already have Gaiman’s American Gods downloaded onto my Kindle.
I’ve also read Goddesses Goddesses Never AgeNever Age by Dr. Christiane Northrup. The book is a positive look at aging as it talks about staying active, being healthy, and not believing that your body has to break down just because you pass a certain birthday. The older I get, the more I appreciate that message.

I still have a few more weeks of summer so I can fit in a few more books!

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The Book in Your Head Versus the Book Your Readers Read

Since February 9, When It Rained at Hembry Castle has sold over 1000 copies. Thank you! I’m sure there are other authors who can sell that many in a day, but I think those are pretty snazzy numbers.

After the release of my new book, I had an interesting conversation with a fellow author about what happens when you put a book out into the world. As writers, we spend hours, weeks, years living with a story, and then one day we have to set the story free. But what happens when other people (also known as readers) begin to read that story?

images-1I have a friend who is struggling with this issue while she’s getting ready to release her first novel, a venture into Steampunk complete with Victorianisms and fancy-pants machinery. The fear that nearly paralyzes her is the worry over bad reviews. I’ve tried to explain to her that it’s all part of the game. Every book gets bad reviews. I want you to check your favorite book’s Amazon page. I’ll wait. While you’re looking, you’re likely to see some bad reviews there.

I had a few things to say about negative reviews here. Focus on the people who like what you do, I say. They’re the ones who will look forward to your new releases. And if you really can’t handle book reviews, you can always do what I do—not read them. I kid you not. I don’t read negative reviews of my own books. My mother tried to catch me out once when I was talking about a movie review I had read. “I thought you said you don’t read reviews,” she said. What I said, I explained, is I don’t read my own reviews. I read other people’s reviews all the time.

The discussion with my friend about book reviews led into another conversation about the book writers think they’re writing versus the book the readers read. Think of it this way—when we’re writing a story, we know what we intend to do, why the pieces of the puzzle are set out the way they are, why this character says one thing when she means another. But when readers read, they’re not in our heads, they’re in their heads. Which is just as well. My head is crowded enough with only me in there. Readers have their own experiences, their own likes and dislikes, their own tastes. In the end, it doesn’t matter what I intended when I was crafting the story. To the readers, it only matters what happens when they engage with the story.

UnknownNext, my friend asked how to write a novel that will appeal to everyone. The answer is you can’t. I mean, really, you can’t. I see articles all over Pinterest and Twitter with headlines like “10 Steps to an International Bestseller” or “How to Make Everyone Love Your Book” or “I Don’t Suck at Writing Anymore, and Now You Won’t Either” (for a fee, of course). Here’s the secret that’s not really a secret: you have to write something that could only come from you. I love this quote from Barbara Kingsolver because it explains the point far better than I ever could (yes, I found it on Pinterest): “Close the door. Write with no one looking over your shoulder. Don’t try to figure out what other people want to hear from you; figure out what you have to say. It’s the only thing you have to offer.” How true.

When we write, we figure out what we have to say and we say it the very best way we know how. And if what people read is different than what we thought we were writing? As Toni Morrison once said to Oprah Winfrey, “That is called reading.” Readers are going to bring their own perspectives to the page. They’re going to see the characters and the events through their lens, not yours. And you know what? It’s all good. Many times readers see our stories in a completely different light than we intended, and often they see possibilities the writers never considered.

Here’s a case in point, and one close to my heart because it involves Hembry Castle. When I began writing Hembry in 2014, I had just come off the success of the Loving Husband Trilogy and I thought Hembry would be a great way to go back to writing a love story that readers would cheer for. Edward Ellis and Daphne Meriwether were always the focus for me as I was writing the novel. Yes, Daphne has to figure out how to live in this Downton Abbey-like world, but all along I saw When It Rained at Hembry Castle as a great love story. And here’s what happened…

Before I continue I should say that, while I don’t read reviews of my own books, I do read every email that comes my way. Readers who emailed me about Hembry weren’t gushing over Edward and Daphne. They were asking about Richard, Daphne’s uncle, the 9th Earl of Staton. In the reader’s mind (at least those who contacted me), Richard was the center of attention. He is the Earl of Staton, after all. But I was intrigued by their questions about Richard when to me Edward and Daphne are the stars of the show. Is it wrong for readers to focus on Richard? Of course not. But realizing that readers were not necessarily reading the book I thought I had written was a huge revelation to me and a continuing source of fascination.

Over the years, I’ve learned to keep my focus on writing the best stories I know how before sending those stories off into the world with my blessings. Everything else is beyond my control—even how readers respond to the books I’ve written. If, as writers, we can learn to make peace with that, then there will be much more smooth sailing ahead.