Frequently Asked Question: What do you love about the genre you write in most often?

insecure2bwriters2bsupport2bgroup2bbadgeOnce again this month, the question comes from the Insecure Writers’ Support Group.

Maybe it’s a cheat, but I’ve actually answered this one in a previous FAQ post.  Still, I’m happy to answer again.  Quote from the linked article:

I think what draws me most to historical fiction is the glimpse into how people lived in other eras. I have always found that fascinating. Social mores, fashions, even food! I recently completed a course on royal food and feasting from the Tudor to Victorian eras.

I enjoy the process of researching a story, and I love the richness of detail that comes from doing that work. I’m one of those rare birds who treats research as a treasure hunt rather than a chore; the hardest thing I experience is limiting how much research I do, because it is far too easy to go down a rabbit hole and never do any writing!



Blogmas: Christmas Tag

I saw this come across on several other blogs and thought it would be fun to play.  Here goes!

Via The Enthusiast Blog

Use one noise to describe how excited you are for Christmas.

Do you open any presents on Christmas Eve?

When I was growing up, the tradition for many years was to open gifts on Christmas Eve, with one gift from Santa Claus on Christmas morning.  When I was around 12, this changed to opening all gifts on Christmas morning.  Nowadays, my husband and I tend to give practical gifts or experiences (like theatre tickets) to each other, so there are no rules.  Sometimes the practical gifts are needed before Christmas.

What holiday traditions are you looking forward to most this year?

We try to go see Christmas lights in one of the fancier neighborhoods each year, or to attend a Christmas theatrical.  This year, my health has been such that we skipped the theatrical we regularly attend because I was under the weather.  Our local ballet company’s “Nutcracker” is still on the agenda.

Is your Christmas tree real or fake?

This year, we decided not to put up a tree.  We have two adolescent cats, brought in from the streets, who are very active … and who used to climb trees outside.  I think you know why we didn’t put one up this year. 🙂

What is your favorite Christmas film?

For a full-length film, “A Christmas Story.”  For a TV program, “Rudolph the Red-nosed Reindeer.”

Where do you usually spend your holiday?

At home.

What is your favorite Christmas song?

What is your all-time favorite holiday food/sweet treat?

Mincemeat pie.  I am the only one in my family (either growing up or now) who likes it, and so it seldom appears on the menu.

Be honest: do you like giving gifts or receiving gifts better?


What is your favorite thing about Christmas?

The music, whether secular or religious.

When do you start getting excited for Christmas?

Around Thanksgiving.  I drag out my music and start playing it in the car long before other people are interested in listening to it.

What is the best Christmas gift you’ve ever received?

A chemistry set and a microscope, the same year.  My dad belonged to the carpenter’s union when I was a child in Oregon.  Wet weather meant that carpenters were often out of work around the holidays, so the union put on a huge party every year.  Each child could choose a gift from a vast array on the table.

I planned to be a veterinarian when I grew up, so there were two things I had asked for: a  microscope, and a chemistry set.  When I saw the chemistry set on the stage that year, I proudly selected it.  Unbeknownst to me, my folks had purchased me a good quality, functional microscope as well.

I think I was in the sixth grade.

me with thunderboltPrior to that, the award would have gone to my precious Thunderbolt, my bouncy horse.  I think I was four years old.

What is the worst present you’ve ever received?

My mother sent me the ugliest ski sweater in the known universe about 20 years ago.  Before I even describe it, I need to tell you that I don’t ski.  The sweater was bright turquoise at the bottom and ivory at the yoke, with purple snowflakes right across the bosom, and purple fringe around the base of the turtleneck.  My mother doesn’t do gag gifts; she apparently thought I would love this very heavy sweater (I live in California).

I opened the box and looked at the sweater in absolute horror.  I told my husband, “Well, it certainly looks warm.”  I never even tried it on.  I put it in a drawer, and subsequently donated it to charity.

It was years before I ‘fessed up to my mother what I had done with her holiday gift … which she didn’t even remember sending me, but agreed through gales of hysterical laughter that the sweater sounded awful and no, she didn’t know what she was thinking at the time.

As a kid, did a sibling ever receive a present that you wished was for you?

713YKxkg2eL._SL1468_My brother got a toy called “Speak & Spell” one year.  He was entirely disinterested in it, so I got to play with it a lot.

What would be your dream place to visit for the holiday season?

I would love to spend the holidays in either Paris or New Orleans.

Most memorable Holiday moment?

At my age, it’s hard to pick just one.  I guess it would be the times I sang, either solo or with a chorus, to bring holiday music to others … and there have been several of those.

Do you make New Years resolutions? Do you stick to them?

I don’t make them anymore, because they always fall apart.

What makes the holidays special for you?

I think that people are just a little more kind to one another.

What’s the best part about Christmas for you?

You know, that’s an interesting question.  We’re working on making new traditions in our home that are meaningful to us, instead of just doing the same old things … some of which stopped being fun a long time ago.  I think that opportunity for renewal is great.

You have been granted one Christmas wish…what will it be?

For everyone to have a home, good health, and enough to eat.

Remembering John Lennon, with Bonus Track

Today is the 37th anniversary of John Lennon’s murder. I thought it would be appropriate to re-share last year’s blog. Thanks.

Sharon E. Cathcart

john_lennon_portrait Photo by Jack Mitchell, via Wikimedia Commons.  Licensed for non-commercial use.

There are certain moments in our lives that stand out keenly in our memories.  For me, one of those was learning that John Lennon had been murdered.  I was a high school senior, performing in “Fiddler on the Roof.”  I had a quick-change to do in the wings, because I was not only a villager but also Grandma Tzeitel.  I was in the middle of it when my best friend came in from the wings; she had ushered for the show and had gone home because it was snowing … but turned around when she heard the news on the radio.  She had to tell me; we were both life-long fans of the Beatles.  I was putting on the gold lace overskirt, shawl, and cap that turned me into the grandmother in Tevye’s dream sequence, and I remember the…

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Blast from the Past: What Time Is It?

A text-only version of this post originally appeared in my GoodReads blog on June 22, 2009.  Enjoy!

Via Open ClipArt

For today’s entry, I want to focus on the importance of timelines. As a historical fiction author, I find that it’s important to know what happens when.

Timelines matter for more than just world events, of course. You want to make sure you know where your characters fall into the scheme of things as well. If your character is four years old in 1895, she can’t very well be 5 years old in 1902, for example.

Timelines are crucial for continuity. I’m working on the second book of a trilogy, and the main character from my first book will be in all three of them. I need to know how old Claire will be during the events that I’ve planned for the third book so that I can figure out realistically what actions she can take. In other words, I can’t have a 79-year-old lady doing the same kinds of things she did at 29 in many cases. It’s just not reasonable.

One author friend keeps a notebook with her timeline written in it, as well as various details about what is in a given room, etc., so that her continuity is flawless from chapter to chapter. I’m not nearly that formalized, but that’s what works for her.

How do you keep track of time for your stories? Please feel free to share your comments.

Blast from the Past: Building Relationships with Fans

icon-calendarA text-only version of this article appeared in my GoodReads blog on March 25, 2011.  The lessons still apply today — despite changes to Facebook’s algorithms and Operation eBook Drop coming to an end.

If I had a subtitle, it would be: Or, Some Things I Learned Along the Way

The other day, I dropped someone from my personal Facebook page. She’s a professional author whom I knew casually from another website, and she sent me a friend request — which I accepted.

Given the way that authors tend to network, I’m sure you’re wondering why I dropped her.

One hundred percent of her posts were billboarding about where to buy her books, sent via Tweetdeck. I started to feel as though the only reason she’d invited me to be her Facebook friend was so that she would make a sale!

There are lots of ways to rock on Facebook (in fact, I took a class by that name from Molly Burke, Queen of Confidence). The main thing comes down to building relationships. So, I’m going to share some things I learned from Molly — and some I learned from trial and error — when it comes to developing relationships with your fans/readers.

1. Keep your personal Facebook and your fan page separate — and don’t post identical material in both places. Invite all of your personal friends to join your fan page, sure … but make certain you aren’t spamming folks with duplicate information. The same thing goes for your personal blog and your professional blog.

2. The audience for Twitter is different from the audience for Facebook — or your blog. The good thing about Twitter is that each tweet has its own searchable URL. I admit that I was a reluctant adopter, but I have found Twitter to be a useful plank in my platform.

3. Keep things engaging. Readers already know that you’d like them to buy your book; they don’t need constant commercials. The theory goes that the ratio of content: billboarding should be approximately 9:1. So, what can you do?

I developed regular features for my fan page. In 2010, I had Facts From My Fiction (information about historical people, places or events that were discussed in my novel), Food From My Fiction (documented period recipes) and Saturday Night Musicale (a video or recording, usually a classical piece, pertinent to a writing project).

This year, I switched it up. I have Location, Location, Location, where I share information about a place discussed in one of my books. Every Friday, I ask what people are reading over the weekend. Saturday Night Musicale occasionally turns into Saturday Night Sing-Along when I provide music and lyrics.

In between, I provide quotes of the day, links to blog posts like this one — and sometimes I let people know where to get my books.

4. Give things away. Yep — give it away. I have two free eBooks and I give the others away periodically. I participate in a couple of annual promotions, like “Read an eBook Week,” and I also give eBooks to deployed service members via Operation eBook Drop. When it comes to the promotions, I’ve learned by trial and error that it’s best to give books for free. It drives your work up the bestseller list, which gets it more attention from new readers.

I’ve also given away paperbacks in contests, donated them to charity auctions and more. It’s definitely worth the goodwill to have freebies out there.

One of Molly’s excellent suggestions is to have a freebie that people get in exchange for joining your mailing list. Well worth considering.

I say all of that to say this: you need to develop a relationship with your readers that is about more than their pocketbooks. Keep them engaged and interested, and they’ll keep coming back.