<![CDATA[Rachel Tolman Terry - Blog]]>Fri, 09 Mar 2018 13:20:40 -0800Weebly<![CDATA[Using Frame Stories in Fiction]]>Tue, 09 Jan 2018 03:17:46 GMThttp://racheltolmanterry.com/blog/using-frame-stories-in-fiction
​​Recently, the kids and I read a few of The Canterbury Tales. We talked about the idea of frame stories. The Princess Bride is a good example of a frame story. There’s the whole narrative about Buttercup and Wesley, but there’s the outside story of the grandfather visiting his grandson while he’s sick. In The Canterbury Tales, there are a whole bunch of stories told within the frame story of a group of diverse people going together on a pilgrimage.
It’s an interesting literary device, and I’ve been thinking about how I can use it in my own writing. Now I’m reading Dostoyevsky’s The Idiot, and he seems to take the frame story to a more sophisticated level.
The first couple hundred pages of the book cover about 16 hours, but there are so many stories told in conversations that the content seems to cover years (and in some ways, it actually does).
I’m working on the sequel to Six Floors from Somewhere, and I’ve been thinking about ways to use frame stories to introduce some back story. For example, our good friend Harriet hasn’t always been a little old lady. Maybe a little frame story could help us not only to understand Harriet a little better but also to introduce some variety.
Some well-known frame stories:
  • Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein
  • Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness
  • Citizen Kane
  • Dostoyevsky’s The Brothers Karamazov
  • Lots of Shakespeare: A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Hamlet, Love’s Labour’s Lost
  • Boccacio’s Decameron
From these examples, it seems there are many ways to structure frame stories. You can have one character telling a story to another character, like in Heart of Darkness and The Canterbury Tales. You could let one story be a dream. A story could be contained within a document, such as a letter or a journal entry. You could even “nest” stories within each other, similar to the strategy used in the film Inception.
Frame stories are interesting literary devices, both for the readers and for the writers. Have you tried using them in your own writing?
<![CDATA[New Release! Six Floors from Somewhere Now Available]]>Wed, 08 Nov 2017 20:04:29 GMThttp://racheltolmanterry.com/blog/new-release-six-floors-from-somewhere-now-availablePictureSix Floors from Somewhere, available in paperback and ebook formats
Have you met Megan McCoy?

The pint-sized protagonist of Six Floors from Somewhere is ready to take on the Big Apple in her quest to become a literary agent. Fresh from Kansas, Megan McCoy is about to begin an internship at the Beverly Fox Literary Agency.

She has prepared for this step for years, and now she has one shot to make her dreams come true. 

Can she overcome the obstacles that seem intent on keeping her from her dream? The diva roommate? The problems at work? The formidable competition? The awkward love triangle?

Get your copy of Six Floors from Somewhere at one of the following retailers:

Rakuten Kobo
Barnes and Noble

<![CDATA[Mildred D. Taylor and Creating Fiction from the Family Tree]]>Wed, 11 Oct 2017 20:45:29 GMThttp://racheltolmanterry.com/blog/mildred-d-taylor-and-creating-fiction-from-the-family-tree
By any measure, Mildred D. Taylor is a successful author. Her nine novels have earned her a slew of impressive awards such as the Newbery Medal, Coretta Scott King Award, NSK Neustadt Prize for Children’s Literature, Outstanding Book of the Year Citation from The New York Times, Notable Book Citation from the American Library Association, and much more.

She published her first book, Song of the Trees, in 1975, and her last, The Land, was published in 2001. What’s unusual about Taylor’s books is that all nine of them make up a single series, and the series is based on her own family history.

Born in Jackson, Mississippi, but raised in Ohio, Taylor visited her extended family in Mississippi every summer. Because she spent each school year far away from her roots, she likely saw her family in a different light than all of her cousins did. Although she was part of the family, her own experiences were different, and this perception probably gave her an interesting and curious perspective.

Taylor grew up in the newly-integrated town of Toledo, Ohio, and at school she was the only black child in her class. Her opportunities for learning were great, and she earned an English degree at the University of Toledo and went on to earn a Master of Arts degree at the University of Colorado.

After leaving Colorado, Taylor moved to Los Angeles, where she wrote novel after novel about the Logan family from rural Mississippi. Though she had traveled far and wide and lived in Ohio and Colorado and then California, Taylor continued to write vividly about the place of her roots. Aside from her vacations to visit, she only lived in Mississippi for the first three months of her life.

What is it about family history that has such a pull on our hearts and souls? And how can authors tap into that richness with their writing?

All of us have deep roots, whether or not we have taken the time to learn about our families’ histories. And oftentimes, these stories are not fully fleshed out. Maybe we’ve heard a story about how great-grandpa Frank flew an airplane in World War II, but that’s all we know. We don’t know if he left a girlfriend back home or lost his best friend in the war or anything else. This leaves plenty of room for imagination, longing, healing, and adventure.

Some authors feel squeamish about using family for inspiration, but as we see with Mildred D. Taylor’s novels, writing can be cathartic. It can be a way to make sense of tragedy or to find triumph in trials.

You don’t have to explain how much of a story relates directly to your family and how much is fiction. In fact, in many cases, authors probably don’t know where family legend ends and newly-created fiction begins. Characters can be made up, names can be changed, and stories can even be transported to new settings. But setting, it seems, can be one of the richest gifts of family history.

Taylor’s Logan family series has so much to offer to its readers. The family relationships are solid and healthy. The plots are riveting. The themes and conflicts are realistic and applicable to events happening in the world in 2017.

Tolman Hall will be releasing a literature study unit for one of the books in this series, Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry before the end of 2017. Consider including this unit study in your students’ literature curriculum this year.
<![CDATA[Wattpad Supplemental Videos]]>Wed, 27 Sep 2017 17:37:55 GMThttp://racheltolmanterry.com/blog/wattpad-supplemental-videosOne thing I love about historical fiction is that it makes me want to go learn more about history. Since discovering Wattpad, I realized that I can provide a little history right there with each chapter. So I started making short videos to explain a little of the history right there and then. I figure that pretty much everyone has 3 minutes to listen to or watch a video if they're interested in a little more. 

It's so fun to watch the reading world change with technology. There are so many ways to communicate now, and the multimedia possibilities are fun to explore.

The following video accompanies Chapter 2 of Noble Ladies' Orphanage. Here's the link to the text: https://www.wattpad.com/464711961-the-noble-ladies%27-orphanage-chapter-2
<![CDATA[Hello, WattPad!]]>Fri, 08 Sep 2017 21:26:23 GMThttp://racheltolmanterry.com/blog/hello-wattpadPicture
I heard about WattPad on a podcast I was listening to recently, and then a couple of days later one of my favorite teenagers told me that she reads on WattPad all the time. So I checked it out, and I think it's a fantastic development.

In fact, I like it so much that I'm publishing a novel on it. Well, maybe "publish" is a strong word. The Noble Ladies' Orphanage is still in draft form, but I'm hoping to get it out there and maybe get some feedback on characters, storyline, etc.

This is a fun story for me. It's set in Moravia in the 17th century. When I was 17, I spent some time as an exchange student in Bratislava. It's a beautiful part of the world with interesting history and architecture. I bought some coffee table books of photographs while I was there, and one of the books contains a photo of a building in Brno that was originally used as an orphanage for a select group of young women in the 17th century. I was intrigued, so I learned what I could about it and then filled up the rest with characters and intrigue of my own.

That's the background for Noble Ladies' Orphanage. I'm hoping to create some videos to go along with some of the chapters. When I read historical fiction, I like to learn a little more about "what's true," and I think a multimedia platform like WattPad will lend itself well to that.

At this point, I've published two chapters, and the third is ready to go. Please take a look! Let me know what you like and what you don't. I appreciate feedback and will respond to comments. 

Take me to The Noble Ladies' Orphanage

<![CDATA[Velma Wallis & Two Old Women]]>Wed, 02 Aug 2017 18:22:12 GMThttp://racheltolmanterry.com/blog/velma-wallis-two-old-women Picture
One of thirteen children, Velma Wallis was born in a remote Alaskan village near Fort Yukon, accessible only by dogsled, snowmobile, airplane, or riverboat. Her father passed away when she was just 13 years old, and she stopped going to school so she could help her mother raise the rest of her family. 

At some point in her adolescence, Velma decided to go live by herself in a small cabin in the wilderness. Her father had built the cabin, which was located about 12 miles outside her village, and he used it for hunting and trapping. 

While living at the cabin, Velma learned all kinds of skills, including fishing, hunting, and trapping. Her mother joined her for a summer and taught her more of the traditional survival skills her Gwich'in Athabascan ancestors had perfected.

​These skills, along with her experiences in the cabin, found their way into her first book, Two Old Women

Wallis always loved stories, both in the books that she read and in the stories her mother would tell her. In fact, Two Old Women comes from a legend her mother shared. It's about two old women (75 and 80 years old) who are left behind by their tribe when they can no longer contribute to the group's welfare.

Although Wallis never finished high school (she received her GED), her brother recognized her talent and encouraged her to write Two Old Women. He also helped her to get it published, and his instincts were right. Two Old Women became the most popular book of its kind in the history of Alaska, selling more than 1.5 million copies. Sadly, Wallis' brother died of AIDS years ago, but his encouragement lives on. Wallis recently published another, different kind of story, Raising Ourselves, which confronts the alcoholism and cultural struggles faced by many residents of rural Alaska. 

In an interview in Frontiersman, Velma Wallis said, "Even though I put myself out there for a lot of criticism...I had to do it. Number one because I had to heal, I had to find a way out of this darkness that descended upon me after my brother died." Her courage has helped other Native Alaskans to deal with their own experiences as well.

Wallis believes that alcoholism is a crippling disease that has caused immense struggles for her community, and she's interested in the growing interest she sees in ancestry and the traditional lifestyle of the Gwich'in. Her writing, both in addressing current problems and highlighting the strengths of the Gwich'in cultural traditions, help both herself and others to heal and move forward.

In addition to Two Old Women and Raising Ourselves, Wallis has also written another book based on Athabaskan legend, Bird Girl and the Man who Followed the Sun.

Tolman Hall has produced a literature unit study for Two Old Women that addresses themes of independence, forgiveness, and respect for the elderly. It's appropriate for grades 5-10 and includes vocabulary lists, reading comprehension quizzes, essay prompts, and a variety of cross-subject projects.

For more information about Velma Wallis and her writing, check out the following articles:

"'Two Old Women' Author Publishes Memoir" by Eowyn LeMay Ivey
Kirkus Review of Two Old Women
"From One Young Woman to Two Old Women" by Caroline Williams


Get your copy of Tolman Hall's Two Old Women literature study guide in paperback at Amazon or in ebook format from the following sellers:

​Barnes & Noble

<![CDATA[Do We Need Old-Fashioned, Book-Length Reading?]]>Wed, 26 Jul 2017 18:29:58 GMThttp://racheltolmanterry.com/blog/do-we-need-old-fashioned-book-length-reading
It’s funny. Even for writers of books, the digital age has taken its toll on old-fashioned, book-length reading, and I really believe the toll can be significant.

With Twitter notifications, emails coming and going, and websites to update (in theory), it seems hard to settle down with a long book and slowly turn the pages. I find myself listening to e-books on my phone more often than I sit down and make my eyes scan the letters that create sentences and paragraphs and entire threads of narrative.

Listening to books has its appeal. I can listen to books while I walk the dog or fold a load of laundry or weed the garden. It’s multi-tasking at its best. Strange things happen to my brain, however. For instance, I’ve been listening to a wonderful book by Sara Tuvel Bernstein, The Seamstress, and as I think back to certain parts of the book, I simultaneously remember where I was and what I was doing when I listened to those parts. I was driving on 40th Street when I read about the American soldiers carrying Seren's 40-pound body to the hospital, and I was weeding my kitchen garden (specifically, I was pulling purslane out from around the bok choy) when I read about Seren's teacher’s wife brushing her hair on the way to the academic competition in Bucharest. Are these associations distracting my brain from making more meaningful connections?

Anyway, I’m also reading a paperback right now, Anne Tyler’s Breathing Lessons. I’m enjoying this book immensely as well, but I feel like it’s sinking deeper than The Seamstress, and maybe it’s because I can’t pull weeds as I read. Maybe it’s because my eyes see the letters and have to process the letters into words. Maybe it’s partially because I invest more when I focus all of my brain power on one task at a time.

It’s time to make a change. While I won’t stop listening to e-books while I fold laundry and weed the garden, I plan to always have an old-fashioned, book-length work at my fingertips because I don’t like the trend I’m seeing.

And I have evidence of the trend. See, I’ve kept a spreadsheet of everything I’ve read since 1996. Compulsive? Yes. I’ve tracked dates, titles, authors, dates published, category, rating, and page numbers. My memory is terrible, so the spreadsheet helps me to look up titles and authors when I’m recommending books to friends. It helps me to see my interests over time. And now it helps me to see that I need to step up my game. The evidence is clear. Here are total page numbers per year.

1996: 12717
1997: 11813
1998: 11127
1999: 10710
2000: 12539
2001: 10879
2002: 12195
2003: 7411
2004: 7247
2005: 7460
2006: 7517
2007: 5552
2008: 6753
2009: 8762
2010: 9531
2011: 11106
2012: 8149
2013: 9485
2014: 7368
2015: 3619
2016: 6963
2017 (first half): 5980

Yikes, 2015 was awful (it was the year I ran for school board), but you can see the downward general trend. This year is looking up, and I’m hoping to keep it that way. Life is richer when reading is a priority, and I feel that my writing is better and my reasoning is fairer and more measured when I have the thoughts of greater minds bouncing around in my head.

Does old-fashioned, book-length reading help if you stick to one genre? I think so, although I like to vary it as much as I can. For instance, here are some of the authors on my spreadsheet for the first half of 2017: Lois Lowry, Sophocles, Ayn Rand, Lisa Graff, Sarah Wilson, Ernest Hemingway, Andrea Di Robilant, Aristophanes, Anne Tyler, Patrice Kindl, Dan Brown, Shonda Rhimes, Robert Massie, David McCullough, Pearl Buck, and Khaled Hosseini. When I think of the privilege it is to read the intimate thoughts of people as interesting and thoughtful as these, I feel immense gratitude. What would life be like without reading?

They say you’re more likely to achieve a goal when you write it down, so here’s my goal: 12,000 pages by the end of 2017. Hold me to it.
<![CDATA[Learning Scrivener]]>Mon, 05 Jun 2017 14:47:12 GMThttp://racheltolmanterry.com/blog/learning-scrivenerI've seen posts and reviews about Scrivener for years. People said things like, "This software has changed the way I write!" And I would think to myself, "That's great! But I've been using Word for a long, long time. I know how to use it. It drives me crazy sometimes, but I don't want to spend time learning new software when that time could be spent writing."

Nonetheless, I tried a free Scrivener trial recently. It looks and feels different. It's a little slow on my computer, but so is RootsMagic. I've been approaching Scrivener hesitantly, dipping my toe in to see if it's too cold or too hot or just right. 

I think I like it.

I like the way you can write in chunks and then move those chunks around. I like the unassuming courier font that is unconcerned with formatting during the draft phase. I like having my research files available right there on the screen where I'm writing so I don't have to come up with some complicated file system on Google Docs or somewhere else.

Scrivener has a learning curve, and I'm still very much in learning mode. I'm using it as I write a non-fiction book, but I'm thinking it will be even savvier for fiction. 

For the time being, I'm continuing to write my content marketing stuff in Google Docs. It's easier to share the files and folders with clients, and the shareable comments are gold for this type of work. But for book-length work, I think I'll continue learning Scrivener. 

Who out there is using Scrivener? And what are you using it for?
<![CDATA[´╗┐Lessons in Description from Hemingway's A Moveable Feast]]>Fri, 24 Mar 2017 00:00:47 GMThttp://racheltolmanterry.com/blog/lessons-in-description-from-hemingways-a-moveable-feast
I'm not sure why it took me so long to finish reading Ernest Hemingway's A Moveable Feast. Maybe it's because there's no real plot, or maybe it's because Hemingway himself doesn't seem to get too excited about anything. But even though it moves along like a lazy river, it's fascinating for readers and writers. And here's why.

Ernest Hemingway and his wife Hadley lived in Paris in the 1920s with their young son Bumby. They were poor, but their lives were as rich as any artist or writer could hope for. They regularly spent time with some of the best known writers of the 20th century, and Hemingway's observations of them are mesmerizing. Using descriptions of people in the book (below), see how Hemingway uses metaphors, sounds, imagery, and creative adjectives to paint pictures of his friends.

On Gertrude Stein:
"Miss Stein was very big but not tall and was heavily built like a peasant woman. She had beautiful eyes and a strong German-Jewish face that also could have been Friulano and she reminded me of a northern Italian peasant woman with her clothes, her mobile face and her lovely, thick, alive immigrant hair which she wore put up in the same way she had probably worn it in college."

​"In the three or four years that we were good friends I cannot remember Gertrude Stein ever speaking well of any writer who had not written favorably about her work or done something to advance her career except for Ronald Firbank and, later, Scott Fitzgerald."
Gertrude Stein
Sylvia Beach
On Sylvia Beach (owner of the rental library of Shakespeare & Company:
​"Sylvia had a lively, sharply sculpted face, brown eyes that were as alive as a small animal's and as gay as a young girl's, and wavy brown hair that was brushed back from her fine forehead and cut thick below her ears and at the line of the collar of the brown velvet jacket she wore. She had pretty legs and she was kind, cheerful and interested, and loved to make jokes and gossip. No one that I ever knew was nicer to me."

On Ford Madox Ford:

​"It was Ford Madox Ford, as he called himself then, and he was breathing heavily through a heavy, stained mustache and holding himself as upright as an ambulatory, well clothed, up-ended hogshead
Ford Madox Ford
Ezra Pound
On Ezra Pound:
"Ezra was kinder and more Christian about people than I was. His own writing, when he would hit it right, was so perfect, and he was so sincere in his mistakes and so enamored of his errors, and so kind to people that I always thought of him as a sort of saint. He was also irascible but so perhaps have been many saints."

On Ernest Walsh:
Ernest Walsh was dark, intense, faultlessly Irish, poetic and clearly marked for death as a character is marked for death in a motion picture. He was talking to Ezra and I talked with the girls who asked me if I had read Mr. Walsh's poems. I had not and one of them brought out a green-covered copy of Harriet Monroe's Poetry, A Magazine of Verse and showed me poems by Walsh in it."
Ernest Walsh
Scott Fitzgerald
On Scott Fitzgerald:
Scott was a man then who looked like a boy with a face between handsome and pretty. He had very fair wavy hair, a high forehead, excited and friendly eyes and a delicate long-lipped Irish mouth that, on a girl, would have been the mouth of a beauty. His chin was well built and he had good ears and a handsome, almost beautiful unmarked nose. This should not have added up to a pretty face, but that came from the coloring, the very fair hair and the mouth. The mouth worried you until you knew him and then it worried you more."

On Dunc Chaplin (baseball player):
"I had not followed Princeton baseball and had never heard of Dunc Chaplin but he was extraordinarily nice, unworried, relaxed and friendly and I much preferred him to Scott."
Dunc Chaplin
Zelda Fitzgerald
On Zelda Fitzgerald:
Zelda had hawk's eyes and a thin mouth and deep-south manners and accent. Watching her face you could see her mind leave the table and go to the night's party and return with her eyes blank as a cat's and then pleased, and the pleasure would show along the thin line of her lips and then be gone."
Ernest, Hadley, and Bumby Hemingway
On Hadley and Bumby:
"She was smiling, the sun on her lovely face tanned by the snow and sun, beautifully built, her hair red gold in the sun, grown out all winter awkwardly and beautifully, and Mr. Bumby standing with her, blond and chunky and with winter cheeks looking like a good Vorarlberg boy."
As you can see, Hemingway's powers of observation are immense. He wrote A Moveable Feast in the late 50s, just before his tragic death. That means there were 30-40 years between these actual experiences and when he turned them into a book. You would never guess from the vividness of the descriptions that the encounters hadn't happened five minutes ago.

Did he keep a journal or notes of all of these encounters and then go back and use them later? Did his imagination play on them for years until the people became caricatures of their real selves?

It doesn't really matter. Reading such descriptions make you see the world differently and respect words for their inherent power. Thanks, Hem (as his friends would say).
<![CDATA[Writing in the Age of Distraction]]>Wed, 08 Mar 2017 16:26:26 GMThttp://racheltolmanterry.com/blog/writing-in-the-age-of-distraction
I’m writing this blog post directly into Google Docs, which means I’m connected to the Internet. Which means that with a pop of my index finger, I can access pretty much anything under the sun: the news in Australia, the latest episode of Poldark, almost any song ever written (on Spotify), shopping with 2-day shipping (Amazon Prime), and information about what my cousin ate for breakfast (Facebook).

This is no way to write. Writing requires focus. It requires a direct connection between the logical thoughts in your head and the transference of those thoughts into a physical form that can be read by someone at a future time, even if that future time is in about 14 seconds. It’s magical if you think about it. I think about something in my mind, my brain tells my fingers what to type, I upload the finished product to my blog, and you, my friend, read it. I don’t know where (or when) you are, but we probably have a lot in common. But the only way we’re going to communicate, is if I avoid distractions.

Here’s the thing: we all have important things to communicate, and we have the means for communicating them. But because we’re using the internet for writing, we get so distracted that our writing isn’t as good as it could be. Instead of doing the hard work of revising, we scan our favorite food blogs. Instead of creating a real editorial schedule and sticking to it, we observe the political fights of our relatives on Facebook--and maybe throw a comment in here or there.

What can we do to produce quality writing in the age of distraction?

As you can tell from the very real and detailed examples I’ve included in the kinds of distractions out there, this is a problem for me. But I’m working on it.

The following are some strategies I have used or am currently using to continue to produce articles, blog posts, ebooks, and books in the age of distraction:

Use Your Distractions as Motivation
Have you ever tried this? After I write 500 words, I can read the news for 15 minutes. After I finish the long chapter that’s causing me problems, I’ll watch an episode of Boys Over Flowers (I take full responsibility for your addiction if I’m the reason you start watching Korean TV dramas). Using your distractions as motivation (okay, bribes) can be helpful to your productivity if you can be disciplined enough to abide by your own rules.

Use Paper for Outlining
Outlining requires real concentration for me, and for some reason I concentrate better with paper in front of me. Once I have a solid outline, it’s easier to sit down and pound out the flesh. But the bones--well, they need me to step away from the distractions completely.

For fiction, I like to get a big piece of paper and draw out the arc of the plot with a line. I write details about the plot along the line, showing where the peaks and valleys should occur. This is really hard to do on a computer, but it’s downright invigorating on paper. Give it a try sometime, and let me know how it goes.

Find a Writing Buddy
Making a commitment to someone else is often more powerful than making a commitment to yourself (as sad as that is). If you have a writing friend, consider helping each other to set and reach goals. Here’s an example:
Rachel: Okay, Joann, I’m going to finish 2,500 words of this story by Friday. What are you going to do?

Joann: I’m going to finish Chapter 9 and find a good image for the cover by Friday.

Rachel: Good idea. If you finish all that, I’ll make you my famous gluten-free brownies.

Joann: Okay. If you don’t finish your 2,500 words, I’ll put pop-its under your toilet seat.

That would be pretty effective. You can see how some people work better with food bribes and others work better from threats of bathroom terrorism. Finding your motivation is key. ;)

Keep a Writing Log
Nurses write down everything they do for their patients. Teachers create lesson plans and enter grades. Police officers write reports of how many speeding tickets they write. They can look back at the end of their workday and see what they accomplished. Writers can do this too!

Consider keeping a log of what you’ve accomplished. It can help you to see how much you’re really doing and motivate you to do more (and leave your distractions pining for your attention all alone on Twitter).
Here’s an example:

March 7, 2017
Ghostwrote blog post: 646 words
Worked on cover art for Six Flights: 25 minutes
Created Canva image for website: 20 minutes
Wrote copy for Tolman Hall guide: 415 words

Hey! I actually did something with that 3 hours!

If you keep your log handy, it can be the motivation you need to keep you away from the news or whatever else ails you.

What are your best strategies for writing in the age of distraction? Please share. I need all the help I can get.