Wednesday, March 26, 2014


by Kathy Cannon Wiechman

Writing historical fiction means doing a ton of research. And I love researching! I find historical facts, places, and events against which to set my fictional story.

My recently completed novel, LIKE A RIVER, will be published soon by Boyds Mills/Highlights Press. It’s a Civil War story with a few elements the average reader might not be familiar with. It’s also a story about hardship. And triumph. And people.

My research included stops in six states. I visited dozens of intriguing sites and met numerous helpful people. I learned to load and fire a muzzleloader. I talked to experts and read stacks and stacks of books. I learned a lot of facts.
Kathy firing a muzzleloader.

There were “ah ha!” moments that helped mold my story line. And interesting facts that gave me a new perspective on lives lived 150 years ago.

Many of them will not be in the novel. Some of them were things I needed to learn to get a feel for the place and time I was writing about.
Confederate prisoner-of-war camp at Andersonville.
30,000 soldiers were crammed into an area designed to accommodate 10,000.
Swagger Writers will participate in the A to Z blog challenge during the month of April. I plan to use my portion of alphabet letters to share some of the facts behind the fiction in my book. I hope you’ll revisit this blog next month to read about them.

Wednesday, March 19, 2014


by Kathy Cannon Wiechman

I recently finished “final” revisions of my MG historical fiction novel LIKE A RIVER, and am working on a new novel. Revisions are my favorite part of the process.

Beginning a new novel is tougher. Developing characters, plotting out a storyline, researching real settings and creating fictional ones, and writing scenes are like building a house from scratch.

Civil war soldiers crossing the Ohio River from Cincinnati, Ohio to Covington, Kentucky.
Revising is like turning that house into a home. The characters need to be fleshed out more, and their motives clearly portrayed. Sometimes a character needs to be eliminated, which can cause other parts of the plot to unravel. The plot’s holes need to be patched, and the settings’ details need to be refined. New scenes need to be added, others deleted. It’s work, but it’s work done on an existing structure.

Before I sent LIKE A RIVER to my editor, I revised it several times—thoroughly. It was finally to a point where I was happy with it. Or so I thought.

The editor took it to the editorial committee and they “loved it.” I was sent a list of revisions to make. That list made me see my story through a new set of eyes. And, as I revised, I saw the novel getting better.
When I was about halfway through those revisions, my editor sent a few suggestions from another member of the editorial committee, so I went back to the beginning and revised some more. I didn’t mind, because people were excited about my story and I could see it improving.
Post-Civil War sinking of the S.S. Sultana. America's Titanic?
Those revisions were sent off, and I was offered a contract. Yay!!! (Much happy dancing and celebrating done.) After I signed the contract, I was sent a list of suggestions for final revisions. If you haven’t been through this process, it’s extremely helpful. I get so close to my work that I don’t always see weaknesses that others can. Parts of the novel were “too quiet.” I needed to ramp up the tension.

I toiled and tinkered and finished those revisions and made a few other alterations. I made the “last” change on a Friday morning. I emailed my editor to tell her I would proofread it over the weekend and send it the following week. It was still two weeks before the deadline in my contract.

But the proofreading didn’t go as planned. I found words and sentences and paragraphs that I knew could be better. I spotted places that I was no longer completely happy with. This book is going to be published, and the form it takes will depend on what changes I chose to make. It took me a full week to get it to a point I was happy with. I sent it off eight days before my deadline.
Child soldier in the Civil War.
The final work received a “good job” from my editor, who is sending it to copy editing. I am sure I will hear from the copy editor somewhere down the road about some final tweaks.

But now I work on this new novel. I am back to that stage of building a house from scratch. I’m glad to have that difficult new work to focus on. If I didn’t, I’d think about LIKE A RIVER, and I am certain I would think of more changes I could make. As human beings, we can never achieve perfection. We try to get as close as we can, but we have to reach a point of letting go.

I remind myself that three sets of revisions ago, an editorial committee loved it. I know I could tinker with it forever, but it’s time to set it out into the world for readers to make up their own minds. Hopefully, they will find it a smooth read that doesn’t show all the work that went into it.

Jane Yolen once told me that when each of her books is published, she holds the book, maybe even smells it, but she never, ever reads it. If she did, she would likely want to revise it some more.
It’s time to let LIKE A RIVER flow.

Monday, March 10, 2014

Wormfest: Are you hungry?

by Kim Van Sickler

Today is the Wormfest blogfest, hosted by Stephen TrempL. Diane Wolfe, and Alex J. Cavanaugh.

The rules: 
Name one thing where science advances mankind, and one where technology with unforeseen consequences will go too far and set mankind back. (And they can be the same thing.) Example: De-Extinction, or bringing back extinction species through back breeding, genetic engineering, and cloning. With all the breakthrough discoveries mankind is on the cusp of, are we playing God? 

My choice: packaged foods

Isn't it great that we aren't utterly dependent on growing everything we eat anymore! So what if there is a potato famine! We'll just eat something else. We can eat something fast and sometimes even semi-nutritious, and get on with our lives. One of my favorite breakfasts before I hit the gym for a morning workout is Greek yogurt and an energy bar. Yum. 

Low-quality processed foods are generally cheaper than fresh foods, but many are pumped full of chemicals and ingredients that aren't good for you: trans fats, sugar, salt...the list goes on and on. Some people eat far too much of it (not to mention the close cousin: fast food) and their heath takes a beating in the form of high blood pressure, diabetes, obesity, heart problems, etc., etc. You could eat packaged foods all day long: Pop Tarts for breakfast, Hot Pockets and canned pears, washed down with a fruit punch for lunch, Cheese Whiz and crackers for a snack, Dinty Moore Beef Stew chased with a Coke for dinner and Twinkies for dessert. Uh. Yuck.

It's too easy for some people (can you say college students?) to go the quick, easy, and cheaper route, when we all REALLY know that for the best energy level, mental acuity, and overall health benefits, you've GOT to eat fresh, unprocessed food too!

Wednesday, March 5, 2014

Mount Vacillation

by Kim Van Sickler

This post is part of the first-Wednesday-of-the-month IWSG. Read more about it here.

Rather than focus on writing my break-out novel, I've been vacillating. Maybe that's what happens once you've written four novels that you feel should be somewhere besides your computer hard drive by now. (Okay two of them shouldn't be, but two should be.)
I've actually had a bit of fun writing a slew of short stories lately. In January, I wrote two short stories for the Highlights Magazine fiction contest AND an adult story for the Chicago Tribune's Nelson Algren short story contest. In February I wrote two adult short stories for Glimmer Train while I sat by my Mom's hospital bedside. Now that it's March, I've started revising my MG historical fiction novel and am determined to finish it before the month is out.

And I've been reading a lot so far in 2014: Robinson Crusoe, Steering Toward Normal, Before You Break, Tenth of December, Boy in the Twilight: Stories of the Hidden China, Tampa, and Divergent.

But all of this literary activity can't quite fool me into forgetting that it's time to start writing a new book. Either that, or dust off one of my earlier attempts and basically re-write it. I've been waiting for that little spark to show me the way. So far, no spark. I'm going to have to light my own fire.

Do you ever have trouble deciding which book you want to spend the next [insert appropriate number of months here] creating, nursing, mulling, dreaming?