I’ve been thinking a lot about mountains. Specifically ancient mountains, like the Appalachians that run from Georgia to Nova Scotia in North America, and the Highlands in Scotland. Why, you may ask, am I thinking about mountains? It’s a reasonable question.
Well, for one thing, I live in South Jersey, Land of the Flat. Unless you count sand dunes, which I don’t. I go to amazing places, with astonishing scenery…which I suppose if you think about it is no one’s fault but my own. And then I come back to Flat. Depressing. I need mountains. Even a rolling hill would be nice.
So let’s look at these mountains I crave so much. Not the Rockies…they’re too lofty, too sharp, too young. I’m talking about the hills I grew up with in Western Pennsylvania, the Highlands I run to every chance I get. Because they’re the same mountains. Yep–thousands of miles away, across the pond, lie the very same mountains we have in the United States.
Here’s the proof:
On the left are the Appalachian Mountains in Virgina. On the right Cairngorms National Park, Scottish Highlands.
And here’s the history, from Alastair MacGregor, Aubrey’s wanderer from The Comyn’s Curse:
“Scotland use t’ be attached to yer own North America, way back before people came to the world. Then it broke off and meandered for a few million years, endin’ up attached tae Europe for a while.” He nodded at her. “Aye, but then the people came, and Scotland made the smart decision to break off with the mainland and go off north by herself. I think they were tryin’ to break off from England, even then, but those people were hard t’get rid of!” He wheezed like an old bellows at his own humor.
“So, you see, the hills in yer country and the highlands in Scotland are the same mountains. When the Highlanders got kicked off their land at th’ time o’ th’ clearances, a lot of ‘em emigrated to America and Canada. When they saw those mountains over there, they felt a connection t’ their home, and they put down new roots.”
To be precise, Scotland was once part of a supercontinent called Pangaea, which existed during the late Paleozoic and early Mesozoic eras. It began to break apart about 335 million years ago, and Scotland drifted away carrying her share of the mountains.
So it’s very true that we live in a small world. Millions of years after Scotland left for Europe, Scots emigrated to the New World, saw mountains that reminded them of home, and put down new roots–never knowing they were back in their own beloved Highlands.
Around the Site
I’ve added a new widget, with the patient help of the WordPress Happiness Engineers. Below the Guest Author Spotlight you will find an image that looks like (hopefully) shelves of old documents, titled Archives. Click on that image–go ahead, click on it, nothing bad will happen, I promise–and a list of the last ten blog posts will pop up. Of course you can read all the posts I’ve ever written by scrolling down this page forever, but this is just another refinement to save time and energy. I’m impressed–I hope you are.
Romance Kills, by Stephanie Colbert, Schulyer Pulliam, Rebecka Jäger
Three private investigators meet in colorful, eccentric New Orleans and join forces as they try to stop a sadistic killer, whose victims all die after being stabbed through the heart. Why romance novelists? Has the killer been hurt by someone he loved? It’s a race against time…
They must stop this madman before he strikes again! But are they willing to risk their own lives to do so? A must read by three of the best authors in the Write Practice.
I’ve received the first edit for The Piper’s Warning, and there’s not much I have to change! I agree completely with the suggestions that have been made, and they were relatively easy to fix, not demanding ejection of whole scenes or reworking characters’ personalities. So I’m content. And soon I’ll be able to share the cover of the second Highland Spirits book with you!
Leave ’em Laughing
In the spirit of mountains, I leave you with this…
Before this writing journey, I thought a twit was one of those Monty Python village idiots that gambol about falling all over themselves. Little did I know that, thanks to DartFrog and marketing expert extraodinaire Suanne Laqueur (yes, I’m blaming you for this, Suanne!) I would become a full-fledged twit.
I was always afraid of Twitter. I had friends who tweeted, but the thought of putting my thoughts out there for total strangers to see and comment on was terrifying. But I’m no quitter, so I made myself a Twitter account and started following a few people. Celebrities, my colleague who tweeted, and my brother. Guess which two followed me back?
And I never, ever tweeted, not even to those two. I mean, what if Donald Trump found me on there and called me nasty names? Augggh, the horror!
Then along came Suanne, who told me an author needs Twitter. She grabbed me by the throat and threw me into the Twitterverse (kicking and screaming).
And I felt like an astronaut who has set foot on a brand new planet. I made a new account, a profile with my website and all those other social media sites I had added to my pedigree, and dogged my brother for details on how to tweet properly. Thanks, Joel.
In my journey, I discovered that if you follow other authors, they’ll gladly follow you back. They’ll offer you their books and inquire about yours. They’ll retweet your launch information so that hundreds of people see your book.
A word of advice: don’t follow celebrities, unless you went to high school with them and they remember you fondly. They won’t follow you back. (Of course you might like to see that your favorite author is tweeting constantly when you wish she would work on her next book so you could read it before you die. She doesn’t care what you think. Okay, rant over.)
I discovered theme-based sites that offered writers the opportunity to share their words in 280 characters (it used to be 144, we’re evolving). Sites like #1linewed, where you can share a snippet of a WIP that is based on a theme or prompt. #vss365 means “Very short story every single day of the year”, and also gives a prompt. There are many–I’ve offered a link below to more.
And the gifs! Twitter is a paradise for people who think they’re funny, like me. I use a gif (you all text, you know what a gif is) for nearly every tweet, and I promise you I’m not the only twit who’s impressed.
That’s the good stuff. But of course, no social media site is without its issues. I was told to follow everyone who followed me. Don’t, and this is why:
I began to get DM, or direct messages, like private messages on Facebook. They all started out innocently with “Hi.” Well, that’s nice, isn’t it? Then they’d follow with “I saw your profile picture, and you’re beautiful. “I think we could be best friends.” And my all-time favorite: “I’ve been a widower for twelve years and I feel a connection.” I’m a bit slow, but they began to feel creepy. I didn’t want to hurt anybody’s feelings, though. Until I did.
I found out, from another author, that most of these “people” are bots, or robot callers who just troll for information. Some of them are just creeps. I was told to watch for profiles that said “single with a lot of love to give.” Well duh, that one I figured out on my own. But here’s a key message that may help another new twit: watch for names (handles, if you will) that end in eight digits. They’re very often bots. Not always, of course. They’re generated by Twitter automatically. I looked back at my original Twitter account, and–what do you know?–it had eight numbers as part of the handle! But nearly every single DM creeper had those eight numbers, so it’s a thing.
I started paying attention, and a miracle happened. I stopped getting creepy DM’s almost completely! The sun came out again and all was well in my corner of the Twitterverse.
I still have a long way to go toward being a graduate twit, but I’m getting there. And if anyone wants to share or ask questions with the understanding that I might not have a clue how to help, feel free to comment or email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Around the Site
Check out August’s Author in the Spotlight, Evie Haskell. She is currently putting the finishing touches on her soon-to-be-released novel, Harbinger. Here’s a review from her own website: “Fun read! Wonderful tech mystery that threads its way from today’s corporate world through nature to a multiverse presence.” – Nancy Allen
For the Spotlight, Evie has shared a wonderful short story that will be featured in an anthology this fall. You may be the first non-beta humans to read it!
Links for Writers
Our links today are all appropriately Twitter-related:
I’m back in the workshop! The Write Practice writer’s workshop is where I got my start with The Comyn’s Curse, and now I’m workshopping The Healer’s Legacy, the last book in the Highland Spirits series.
The unselfish writers in the workshop gave me the courage to press on toward publication, celebrated the book when it came out, and bought and reviewed it. Along the way they became dear friends. I owe them so much, so this is a shoutout to my fellow WP authors. You know who you are! And if you’re just getting started, check out The Write Practice writing community. It might make all the difference for you too.
Leave ‘Em Laughing
To carry on the theme for this newsletter, here’s your bit of humor. Have a great day!
I’ve decided to come clean. If you haven’t figured it out by now by the frequency of my posts, I am rather lazy. Anyone who actually has the joy of knowing me already knew that, but some of you are new friends and colleagues, and I like to be transparent about these things.
Having said that, I’m not really lazy about writing. I just don’t like to be held to a timetable, to be told when to write. But I know that regular blogging is essential for an author, and so I am…sigh…going to attempt a regular (cringe) newsletter of sorts. I’ve already designed the cover image, which was an exercise in creativity as well as an excuse to avoid anything meaningful…but no more stalling…here we go.
Nova Scotia (aka “Where’s Comyn?”)
I’ve spent the past week in Nova Scotia, Cape Breton Island to be exact–the land where my MacKinnon ancestors came ashore in the New World. The Scots looked around, saw that there was no pub and no whisky, and promptly decided to build a distillary (I’ve always thought that ‘prompt’ is one of those useful words that can mean whatever the user wants it to mean…in this case it means two hundred years later.) They then meandered up and down the road, finding the Cabot Trail already in place (‘already’ is another of those useful words) and creating beautiful havens such as Baddeck, where we stayed.
Now, remember how I told you that marketing is essential for a writer? If I didn’t, I should have. And marketing is another thing lazy people hate, but I’m no quitter. So I decided to make it fun. I brought along a copy of my first published novel, The Comyn’s Curse, and forced total strangers to play a game I devised and featured on Facebook. I called it “Find Comyn”, (Waldo would understand, and may be readying a lawsuit for all I know.) I cajoled my traveling partners and everyone who found him or herself in the correct position to take part in my shenanigans. Here’s one of the adventures:
The Comyn’s Curse is hidden somewhere on the shelves of this wonderful library in the home we rented. Where’s Comyn?
I went nowhere without the book, always on the lookout for a new place to hide it. Sometimes it was easy to spot, others not so much. People got into the game on Facebook. The cashier at the Alexander Graham Bell gift shop, who had to hold the book and pretend to be reading, actually got into the spirit and said she would be buying it. So marketing works–who knew?
Around the Site
Please push that little widget at the bottom right on the home page–the one with the spooky eyes in a book–and visit my Author’s Spotlight where you can meet Margherita Crystal Lotus. This talented artist writes magical children’s stories and sprinkles them with confections like this:
As a member of The Write Practice writers’ community, she can often be found giving of herself to help her fellow authors in the workshop.
The Inevitable Fate of E & J: Book 1, by Johanna Randle
Elizabeth and Jimmy, once childhood friends but now barely acquaintances, find themselves drawn inexplicably to each other; dreaming the same dreams of past lives together, falling into love.
Love is Messy (Finding You Again Book 1, by Callie Sutcliffe
Bridget has it all — an amazing husband who would do anything for her. But then tragedy shatters her marriage and leaves her floundering, and she runs away to Asbury Hills, a small-town that changes everything.
Last post, I told you all about the second novel in the Highland Spirits series, The Piper’s Warning. I’m now almost finished with a prologue and five chapters of the third and final novel in the series, The Healer’s Legacy, and things are heating up. More on that later. Now I want to tell you about a grand anthology that will be coming out very soon, featuring a big group of writer friends including little ole me. The theme is Discovery, and features a boatload of talent all banding together to put some of their best work in one volume! No title yet, but we’re very close on that. My submission to this amazing effort is called “Love Bites”, and is rated horror/humor, or fantasy/funny, or…well, you’ll just have to see. I’ll keep you up to date right here.
Leave ’em Laughing
Last but not least, I leave you with a joke.
So what do you think? Please let me know in the comments if you like the format, or if you have suggestions on things you’d like to have included or could do without. Be kind but be honest. Also I’d love to know how you liked the book suggestions, or if you found any of the links helpful for your own writing journey. If you’re not a writer, I hope you enjoy the humor!
The Piper’s Warning–Book 2 in The Highland Spirits series, is in the hands of the publisher and should be out by November–just in time for Christmas!
The story of Aubrey’s friend Kate Bianchi, The Piper’s Warning once again mixes Scottish legend with modern love, loss and intrigue. A disaster at home finds Kate running to Scotland much as her friend once did, searching for new meaning in a life gone horribly wrong. Into the mix comes the seventeenth century love story of the Dunebrae piper and his soulmate, and a sacrifice that has doomed them both for centuries. Woven into the tale is the history and drama that permeates the Scottish Highlands. New characters join old friends from The Comyn’s Curse in this new tale of romance laced with murder, intrigue, and the greed of men.
Quotes from The Piper’s Warning:
His eyes met hers, and in them he saw the love that had grown between them over the months of his capture, the love that would sustain him as he went into the dark.
“I’ve only seen the one ghost, so I’m no expert. But I think they stay behind because they have unfinished business, something they have to set right before they can move on. Someone they loved, maybe, who needs their help.”
“For serious killing,” he told her, his green eyes narrowing, “you’d want to be using a Scottish dagger, or a dirk. It’s about eleven or twelve inches long, easy to conceal, very lethal.”
Kate could feel his heart beating a frenzied rhythm in time with hers, could see his wide green eyes staring in shock. The perfect hair was falling onto his forehead, making him look like a small, frightened boy.
Jack assumed an appalled expression. “There is only one way to drink whisky,” he told her, enunciating his words carefully. His eyes were green lasers. “Neat. You do not. Put. Stuff. in whisky. Ruins it.” He shook his head in dismay at her ignorance.
In truth they had no future. She would be sold to the highest bidder, and he—he must watch for his clan and warn them that the enemy awaited them…As they lay in the cave safe in each other’s arms, their lovemaking was all the sweeter for its hopelessness.
Catherine of Aragon gave birth to a baby girl, who would become Mary I of England.
Saint Thomas More, Renaissance man and unfortunate councillor to Henry VIII, was just beginning his political career.
Bad popes and worse kings led to the sea change in history known as the Reformation.
And in a little plot of land in the New World, in a forest that would one day become the city of Salem, New Jersey, the Salem Oak Tree was getting ready to celebrate its one hundredth birthday.
Long before Europeans dreamed of the New World, the Salem Oak Tree watched over the untamed wilderness that would give birth to a new country. It grew and flourished in the plot of land that would someday become, ironically, a graveyard, calm and serene in its majesty. Named the largest white oak in New Jersey, it stood for nearly six hundred years, an iconic symbol of pride and accomplishment that only nature can carry off.
But nature, without a backward look, can also wave her wand and take away as quickly as she gives, and on a peaceful evening in June, 2019, she called the tree home. The Salem Oak, slowly dying from the inside for one hundred years, felt the weight of its history and bent to the force of time, toppling over almost gracefully to lie still on the grass of the Quaker graveyard it had watched over for so long.
Nature, however, is never without a plan. Behind the Salem Oak, hidden in its shadow before The Fall, stands another oak, nearly as grand. The heir to the crown, the next Salem Oak Tree, poised to carry on the history and grandeur for hundreds more years. It gives hope to those who stand at the wall of the graveyard and stare at the remains of their city’s greatest citizen, a feeling that life will carry on.
A member of the Quaker Church who tended the tree gave me a sprig of leaves from one of its branches. I will press a leaf into a book and it, too, will serve as a reminder. Those of us who love history know that the wheel of time is ever turning, and life renews itself endlessly while we spend our short moments watching its splendor.
Look at the face of that author girl there…just look at it! That is a happy face. That woman is standing next to her publisher at BookCon 2019 in New York City, grinning like a loon with her marketing expert, and signing copies of her first published novel, The Comyn’s Curse. Her friends and family are here, and she is surrounded by people who think books rock. It doesn’t get much better, in my humble opinion.
Never in my wildest dreams did I envision this day…that I would be standing in an exhibit booth signing my little heart out, telling total strangers about the book I had written and published. Never!
So how did this happen? How did I get here with this huge grin on my face?
It’s been a long journey, and there are many people to thank for its more than miraculous ending. They deserve to be called out.
To begin at the beginning, I joined The Write Practice in the spring of 2018, with the vague idea of perhaps someday writing something that someone else might actually like to read. Probably not, but maybe. (That’s how writers think–I am not unique. We can be a mass of insecurities, believe you me!)
I took a course. Courses are fine, nobody sees your writing outside of the group. You cannot fail.
That seemed okay, so I kept on.
I entered a writing contest. I entered a writing contest. There was a possibility of massive failure! Instead I received wondrous critiques from my colleagues, felt very good about my first short story, submitted it with painstaking detail to the contest folk, and…I did not win. Anything. No honorable mention, no short list. Devastation.
I licked my wounds and kept going. Because another thing you need to know about beginning writers is that secretly, we all know that our writing is absolutely awesome. The Next Big Thing. And the comeuppance is painful. but we do not quit. We are writers.
I took another course. It was called 100 Day Book Challenge, and it promised to give me everything I needed to write a novel in 100 days. You see, what you do when you have not won a contest with your first short story is, you write a complete novel. If you don’t get the logic of that, I cannot deal with you.
I didn’t complete the course in 100 days. I was a few weeks short of my goal, but during those 100 days an astonishing thing had happened. I had written most of a novel. The Comyn’s Curse had been critiqued by my wonderful Write Practice colleagues, and a lot of it actually made sense. So I edited it, and ripped it apart, and rewrote huge sections, and then I did an incredible thing…I submitted it to an editor. Yep, a real, live editor, someone who edits for a living…from New York Book editors. A stranger who would not say nice things because she knew me and wanted me to feel good. And she liked it!
Okay, she also suggested some key changes to make it sing. I’ve heard the horror stories about editors who tell you to get rid of key characters who are secretly your favorites, or insist that you delete huge sections of your best (you think) pieces of prose, thereby making mincemeat out of your incredible work. Stephen King haunted me at night, crooning “Kill your darlings, kill your darlings…” and having Stephen King in your head is not recommended for the faint of heart, let me tell you! But I did it. And I survived. And the book was oh so much better for it.
So now I had a book, but nowhere to go with it. What to do next? So I did what every reasonable person on the planet does when stymied—I hit the internet. I researched publishers, both traditional and self-publishing, and I found the next most important link to the success of my venture – ALLi, the Alliance of Independent Authors.
ALLi is a watchdog group which vets people in the industry–publishers, cover designers, editors, anyone involved in the world of independent publishing. The key to understanding ALLi is simple: green = good, red = bad. And through ALLi I found DartFrog. Very, very green.
DartFrog Books is a hybrid publisher, a unique publishing platform which helps a writer who wants to self-publish. I did not want to self-publish. There is absolutely nothing wrong with self-publishing, I just didn’t want to do it. I wanted MacMillan or Simon and Schuster to call me out of the blue and say “We hear you have written The Next Big Thing, and we want to give you lots of money and make you rich.” But I am not a total idiot, I knew better and I didn’t want to wait till the cows come home.
DartFrog Books, however, and its CEO and founder Gordon McClellan, know that authors like me are out there, and they offer something else: a chance to BE published. That’s what I said, be published. If the work is good enough, book store quality they call it, they will take on the publishing load, do an edit, a cover, take care of the ISBN and all those pesky details that writers don’t want to deal with. It’s called DartFrog Plus. And this next part gets its own line…
They accepted my book.
They worked with me, and hooked me up with Suanne Laqueur, a delightful marketing expert who is also the author of several award-winning romance series and a real person who cares. Really cares.
To get back to the grinning author in the pictures…
Along with all the other stuff my package with DartFrogPlus included a signing slot at BookCon, 2019, at the Javits Center in NYC. It was incredible. Here were all these people, total strangers united by one simple code: they read, and they loved books. I signed my name over 250 times in a two-hour period, talked to hundreds of lovely people who were interested in The Comyn’s Curse, and came away with a new feeling of family.
So without further ado, here are the groups and people who are getting a shout out today, in order of appearance in my writing life:
My family and friends: they belong at the beginning, middle and end of the journey. They read the book and posted wonderful testimonials all over social media, trekked to New York to support me, and told me I was not only a wonderful mother and friend but a marvelous author. I mean, can you ask for anything more? They are truly amazing.
If any of the information or links I’ve shared here help another author who has written The Next Best Thing and is standing at the cliff top wondering…what next?…I will be extremely gratified, and please let me know so I can pat myself on the back.
For some reason, this spread on my publisher’s website fills me with wonder. That’s my book there, I keep telling myself. My book, that I wrote. That’s my name on the cover. Those are my thoughts, dreams, fears and joys folded into its pages. Does it ever get old? I hope not. If you’re a writer and want to know more about DartFrogPlus, visit their site:
When I started out to write fiction, I knew it all. After all, I had graduated with a BA in English, thank you very much, and therefore I knew lots of things. I knew that life is run by rules, and there are no exceptions to these rules.
Forrest Gump, one of the world’s great philosophers, knew this. He followed nature’s rules, didn’t he? When he got tired, he slept. When he got hungry, he ate. When he had to go, you know, he went. And he was happy.
It’s no different in English. I knew the rules, and I was proud of them.
Always use a semicolon to separate two complete clauses. There is no deviating from this rule.
Always allow two spaces after said semicolon, or a period, or a colon. Again, it’s the rule, dammit—no deviation.
A sentence must have a subject and a predicate. Every first grader knows this, duh. Anything else is a fragment, and against the rules of English and perhaps World Law.
All characters—ALL CHARACTERS!—in a story must use correct grammatical structure when speaking. Contractions are the devil. (All right, even I knew that one was probably kind of stupid, and I may even have made it up, but it was a rule.)
The point of view of each character must be explored in depth, even if multiple characters are thinking things at the same time. That’s the way life is.
Don’t put ideas into your reader’s head. If a character is angry, tell them he’s angry. Don’t spend valuable sentences describing how he looks or acts, that’s just confusing. For example, how much better to say “John was angry”, than “A flush worked its way up John’s face and his eyes flashed sparks.” I mean really. Maybe he’s just sick.
And then I joined The Write Practice and began meeting people who threw around words like “head-hopping”, and “show, don’t tell”. They told me I was using too many semi-colons (was that even possible?) and that it was much more interesting to let the reader figure out how John was feeling than just to tell him. Sacrilege!
But my new-found friends were writers, and like Forrest Gump they knew something I didn’t.
Life is like a box of chocolates. There’s no rule that says you have to like them all, or that they all have to be the same. And after a bit of huffing and puffing on my part I began to notice things. Like, my stories were a bit stilted and formal. My characters all sounded the same. No one cared if John was angry. I didn’t care if John was angry. So many thoughts revolving around in people’s heads were making my readers’ heads swim. Semi-colons were cropping up in my writing like dandelions.
And something happened. A feeling of lethargy began to work its way into my mind as I read my own work, and I wanted nothing more than to put the story down and take a nap. Translation: I was bored. With myself. (See what I did there? That was a fragment, and the world survived.)
This journey from first short story to published novel has taken its toll on my BA. I’ve learned that if a character lives in a trailer in rural Alabama and has no formal education, he’s not likely to say “I do not believe that you are correct, John.” If he did, a flush would rise in John’s face and he’d yell, “Hey, you messin’ with me?”
I’ve learned that a character should probably keep his thoughts to himself until it’s his turn to have a point of view.
I’ve learned that understanding the craft of writing takes a lifetime.
I’ve learned that I’m free to make mistakes, and fix them, and make some more. The world will not fall apart if my sentences are not grammatically correct, and many times they shouldn’t be.
Like young Forrest, I’ve shed my grammar brace and now I’m running full speed into my writing future. A flush is rising into my face and my eyes are flashing. A grin is spreading across my features as I contemplate the possibilities inherent in the art of writing fiction.
Writing is like a box of chocolates. You never know what you’re going to get. And that’s just fine. Thanks, Forrest.
Writing fiction with paranormal elements can be tricky, especially in a modern setting. You want your readers to suspend their disbelief and just go with the story. You don’t want them to roll their eyes because the concept of your paranormal world is too far-fetched. Today we’re talking with paranormal romance writer M MacKinnon to get her take on writing paranormal fiction.
(An interview with Sarah Gribble of The Write Practice)
Paranormal elements in a story should be necessary and seem natural within the confines of the setting and plot. The paranormal should fit in because it feels right and makes sense for the plot of the story, not because you’re trying to jump on a popular trend.
Paranormal fiction is a genre I fell in love with at a young age, so I was super excited to talk with this month’s interviewee to discuss how she developed her paranormal romance series, The Highland Spirits Series.
M MacKinnon is the author of The Comyn’s Curse, a paranormal romance set in Scotland. She began her writing career with Downton Abbey fanfiction. Eventually, she found The Write Practice and completed the first draft of her novel in our 100 Day Book course last year. The Comyn’s Curse is out in select bookstores and online merchants as of today.
You can get in touch with M MacKinnon via her website (where she offers a free short story for signing up for her email list), Facebook, or Twitter.
Now let’s dive into MacKinnon’s paranormal world!
Congratulations on the release of your first novel, The Comyn’s Curse! Tell me a little about the book and the series it opens.
I had no idea what paranormal romance is. After my first stay (a month) in Inverness, Scotland, I came home with a driving urge to write something about the magic of the Scottish Highlands. I did some research on legends and found the legend of the handless ghost who is said to haunt Rait Castle, near Nairn.
Something about the one paragraph synopsis (it was all I could find anywhere) called to me, and I became quite irate on behalf of the ghost. She had no name and in some tales wasn’t even a woman! So I decided to write her story, give her a name and a romance, and draw a parallel between the woman who had lived and died in 1442 and a fictional American girl from New Jersey, who is her descendant.
The book is my love affair with Scotland, its history and mysteries.
Part way through the plotting of The Comyn’s Curse, I knew that there would have to be more—the story just had to continue. So I decided to make it a trilogy and dedicate the next two novels to Aubrey’s two best friends who had supported her through her travails.
The second features her friend Kate, a police detective, and the third is about her friend Colleen, a nurse. Each will have a real legend from the past, each will involve the girls traveling to Scotland and finding love in the Highlands, and each will have a mystery and danger beyond the ghost story. The Piper’s Warning, Kate’s story, is in second-draft phase, and The Healer’s Legacy, Colleen’s tale, is plotted and about three chapters in.
I’m glad I made the decision, because I love my characters, including my ghosts, and I want to do right by them.
The novel takes place primarily in Scotland. I know you visited the country to do research. Can you talk about your research process a bit?
I really didn’t start my research until I came home, because the idea for the story didn’t come until then, but I was able to incorporate a lot of information gleaned as a tourist and quite a bit from the books I bought while there. I’m a huge history nut, and I tend to haunt bookstores (See what I did there?)
My research on Rait, a ruined hall castle outside Nairn, came about first through a Facebook group called “Save Rait Castle”. When we went back last August for our second visit, I went first to the members of that group, who are passionate about the preservation of what’s left of the castle, and asked if anyone would be willing to guide my husband and me on a pilgrimage to the castle.
We met a wonderful Scottish gentleman named Victor Cameron, who has an acknowledgement in the book, got to know him, and spent an amazing day touring the castle I had written about for almost four months! A truly emotional experience. In fact, I stood in the doorway of the castle and cried.
If you couldn’t’t have visited, how would you have gone about researching?
I would have had to rely on the library and my bookstores, as well as social media sites like the one I found. I probably wouldn’t have written a book based in Scotland, though, if I hadn’t been there to experience its magic.
The Comyn’s Curse is a paranormal romance novel that has a backdrop containing real places and current events. Ho do you weave paranormal elements into a modern story? What techniques do you use to walk that fine line between a reader’s suspended disbelief and being too far-fetched?
Well, I knew I needed to have a modern romance in order to make the story click, and I wanted to make the life (or afterlife) of my ghost a bit more pleasant than history did. So I decided to create a parallel between the two main characters in the book, with Aubrey, my protagonist, unknowingly being the descendant of the Rait Castle ghost. The curse was created in order to give a reason for the ghost to be hanging around, with Aubrey being the solution she has sought for almost seven hundred years.
I had both my modern protagonist and her ultimate love interest come together in a purely normal way, but then find the each was descended from one of the lovers of the past. The paths of both couples intersected at key points in the book.
What made you decide to include paranormal elements in this story? Did you want to go in that direction from the start?
Yes, the story started with the real legend of the ghost with no hands. I couldn’t find any more than a paragraph on her, anywhere, but something about her fate called to me and I felt I had to give her a better story than she had received in that one paragraph.
Even the castle is forgotten by many Scots who live very near it; they’d never heard of Rait Castle in the bookstore at the local Inverness mall! It just seemed wrong. I’ve righted history, and I think the ghost is very grateful.
Do you like to stay within paranormal canon, or make up your own ‘rules’ for your paranormal elements?
Well, funny you should ask! The first (and only!) time I pitched the book was to a young agent who told me that she didn’t think my book was paranormal romance at all, and she should know because she dealt primarily with that genre.
I was fairly devastated because I suddenly felt “genre-less,” but other authors told me to stick with my own thoughts on my own story, and fortunately I did. I was somewhat relieved to see in the Kirkus review that my work was a “pleasing cross-genre novel” that had “something for everyone.” It explained a lot.
That’s tough to hear that from an agent. Did you think of cutting the paranormal elements to make it “fit” better in a genre?
No, I was never going to give up my ghost! I just felt that it was my fault that I hadn’t sold the concept in a pitch which lasted five minutes. The whole idea of trying to sell a book which includes history, romance, ghosts, and conspiracy in a few minutes was daunting, and frankly, I thought it was ridiculous.
What I did think about was how to find the genre in which the story fit best, and as I said to that agent, “well, it has ghosts, and romance, doesn’t it? How can that not be paranormal?”
She had no answer, which was fine with me.
Is there anything about writing the paranormal that was more difficult than sticking to reality?
No, since the paranormal part of the story was actually real history, that was the easiest part. Making it fit the modern era was a bit more difficult, but as soon as I met Aubrey, my protagonist, everything fell into place. It just seemed right.
You also have some espionage and mystery thrown in there. Can you talk about your plotting process?
I decided fairly early in the plotting that I would have not only the parallel stories of the past and present romances, but a mystery as well, because . . . well, I love mysteries. So I researched Brexit and invented a villain who was conspiring to undermine the new surge toward a second referendum for Scottish independence in the wake of Brexit.
I decided to structure the novel into “books” or parts, each beginning with a short piece from 1442, then two modern chapters, a modern “conspiracy” chapter from the POV [point of view] of the antagonist, and then two more modern chapters. The three stories parallel each other until the end, when they all come together in a climactic series of events.
What’s one thing you’ve struggled with in your writing and how did you overcome it?
I think the main struggles have been with the mechanics faced by beginning authors, such as head-hopping, show don’t tell, and over-use of proper English. (I was an English major, and the idea of not using semicolons when two independent clauses are put together was very difficult to overcome at first!)
I also tend to edit as I go, rather than just writing and then going back to it later, which can cause thesaurus headaches and insomnia as I lie there rewriting in the darkness, but I’m not sure that’s such a bad thing. I suspect it’s just my style.
Any other advice you’d like to give aspiring writers out there?
Any chance you have to join a writer’s group like The Write Practice, any courses like 100 Day Book or NaNoWriMo, DO IT! Don’t let anyone tell you that you don’t have it in you, or that your story shouldn’t be told. Find a good editor and be accepting of his/her advice—there’s a reason they’re in that business.
My most fervent advice is to find other authors and share, critique and allow yourself to be critiqued. The more you help others with their writing, the more they’ll invest in yours, and everybody wins! I’ve made some amazing friends doing this, and I don’t think I’d be looking at the launch of my first novel in a three book series without them.
What’s next for you?
After the launch of The Comyn’s Curse, I’ll refine and submit The Piper’s Warning, probably this summer. While that is going on I’ll dive back in head first to The Healer’s Legacy.
I have a YA fantasy novel, Slither, which is five chapters in and waiting patiently on the shelf for this Scottish stuff to be finished (I haven’t the heart to tell those characters that it may never be finished), and I fully intend to get back to that at some point.
I do think that fantasy and paranormal romance are my forte, but I’ll be staying in that genre, but I love mystery and may someday write a thriller too. Who knows? It’s part of the joy of writing, isn’t it?
Sarah Gribble is the best-selling author of dozens of short stories that explore uncomfortable situations, basic fears, and the general awe and fascination of the unknown. She’s currently cooking up more ways to freak you out and working on a novel.
The Comyn’s Curse, first novel in the Highland Spirits series, is now out and available on Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and in select bookstores. I want to thank my publisher, DartFrogPlus, for bringing my dream to fruition.
Aubrey’s story would not have been possible without the unfailing help of my editor, Megan McKeever of New York Book Editors https://nybookeditors.com, or the tireless work of DartFrog.
As a part of the DartFrog commitment, I met an amazing marketing expert who has become a friend. Suanne Laqueur led me through the maze of Facebook author pages, mail campaigns, and Book Funnel accounts, explaining with incredible patience what had been a foreign language before.
I would be remiss if I did not give credit to an amazing group of writers and beta readers at The Write Practice: https://thewritepractice.com. Without their support and sincere editing help, the book might never have happened.
You can find the early reviews and more information on how to get a copy of The Comyn’s Curse on the front page of this website.