Cara Langston

Historical Fiction Novelist. Reader. Traveler. Coffee Addict.


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Writing, working, and paying the bills

I woke up on Sunday morning to an extraordinarily dreary day in North Texas. It was rainy with highs in the mid-30s–it snowed later that night! But on Sunday morning, as per usual, our dogs woke me up at 7:00 AM and I trudged out of bed to let them out into the yard. Then I made myself a cup of coffee and settled onto the couch with my MacBook. I checked Facebook, Twitter, and Gmail–no new notifications or emails. Then, lo and behold, I noticed I had a new email in my Spam inbox. Instead of the usual Viagra or Nigerian inheritance emails, I noticed this one looked pretty legitimate, with a subject entitled, “Blog idea for National Novel Writing Month.” I decided to open it.

If you’ve read my blog, you already know why I’m not participating in NaNoWriMo this year. But in honor of the month, Webucator is asking authors about their writing careers, and I thought it was a good prompt for someone who doesn’t update their blog very often. I was especially drawn to it because it delves into whether or not writing pays the bills, and in my case, it doesn’t but I wish it could.

What were your goals when you started writing?

I started writing my first novel six years ago with the goal to write a book I wanted to read. I didn’t have any thoughts on publishing, though I finally self-published it five months ago. I just wanted to get it out of my brain and into the Microsoft Word document. That’s why it took five whole years to write.

What are your goals now?

I’m currently writing the first draft of my second novel. I have a self-imposed deadline to finish the first draft by January 1st. Beyond that, I think I may try to traditionally publish this one, so a stretch goal is to successfully query this book and get an agent. That stresses me out just thinking about it!

What pays the bills now?

Certainly not writing. I work full-time for a healthcare startup company in corporate strategy. My role has a pretty large scope, but boiling it down to basics, I make a lot of PowerPoint presentations and Excel models. It’s a well-paying career in a lucrative field. That’s why it’s difficult to consider dropping it all to write full-time. I don’t know if I’ll be able to do it.

Assuming writing doesn’t pay the bills, what motivates you to keep writing?

I write for myself. It gives me a hobby outside of my job and my husband. It helps with my anxiety because if I start feeling stressed about my own life, I can focus on the lives of my fictional characters and make theirs even more stressful. It also gives me a creative outlet.

And optionally, what advice would you give young authors hoping to make a career out of writing?

I don’t think I can give any advice until I figure it out myself :)


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WIP Wednesday: 11/5/14

I’ve decided to start blogging my writing progress because–well, why the hell not? I have nothing else to blog about. I fear blogging about my writing may be too boring for the average reader, but it’s better than not blogging at all, right? Even if no one reads this or cares, perhaps it will keep me accountable on my WIP.

I’m about 55,000 words into the first draft of THE GLASSMAKER’S WIFE. I started writing this story almost 1 year ago (I remember because it was right after I returned from my honeymoon). That’s a long time to write only 55,000 words. But as I often have to remind myself when I start to feel like a lackluster author, quality over quantity. I’d rather slowly write something I love than crank out three first drafts a year.

So here’s my progress for the past week (plus a couple days):

Monday: 1 word. I added “bricked” to a description of the house.
Tuesday: 401 words, despite writing for over 3 hours. This chapter is giving me problems.
Wednesday: 138 words
Thursday: 49 words
Friday: 295 words
Saturday:
26 words
Sunday:
441 words, but I did finish my problem chapter! We can move on to a slightly more exciting chapter now.
Monday: 0 words. Productive day at work.
Tuesday: 1,547 words. Finally hit my stride and finished another chapter!

I’ve become obsessed with tracking my word count in Excel, as you can see below. I personally think it’s a nice visual representation of my progress. It also shows me which chapters I’m actively working on (in blue) and provides a forecasted word count based on my average chapter length. That’s the Excel nerd in me.

WordCountTracking2

And because I should start doing this, here’s an excerpt from the WIP. Remember, it’s only a first draft!

Out of spite, Eva slid the green dress from its hanger in her wardrobe. If Arthur wanted her to wear something nicer, she’d wear the dress from their honeymoon.

She changed into the frock. It fit her now, at twenty-five, the same as it had when she was seventeen. By 1925, the style was considered old-fashioned with its high neckline, full sleeves, and a skirt that fell to her ankles. But Arthur disapproved of the new fashions of the twenties—the lack of sleeves, the low backs, and the baring of shins. She wasn’t sure if it was the fashion he disapproved of most, or the type of women who wore them.


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50,000 words in 30 days? No thanks . . .

Today is the first day of November and with that comes NaNoWriMo. I must admit I didn’t know what this “word” stood for until two years ago, when I created my author Twitter account and followed many NaNoWriMo-ers. Before that, it just sounded like some hipster thing that I never had time to look up.

I’m sure anyone reading this blog will be familiar with the term, but if you are not (Mom, if you’re reading this), it stands for National Novel Writing Month. Writers, aspiring or professional, pledge to write 50,000 words in 30 days, the goal being that by December 1, you should have written the majority of a first draft.

Am I participating in NaNoWriMo? Absolutely not.

Take, for example, my current work-in-progress novel, tentatively titled THE GLASSMAKER’S WIFE. As of this second, I have written 53,541 words. How long has it taken me? About 351 days from the beginning of my brainstorm until now.

NaNoWriMo sounds like a fun challenge; I simply believe my current writing process is unsuited for it. As much as I try to write my first draft as quickly as possible, under the premise that all first drafts are shit and I shouldn’t worry about inconsistencies right now, I’m too much of a perfectionist. I deleted 8,000 words in one sitting because my character’s personality changed and the chapters didn’t work anymore. Once I finish a chapter, I go back and edit. If I change a character’s history, I find every description or dialogue in previous chapters and fix it accordingly. It’s a slow process, but it works for me, especially now while I have no obligation to anyone but myself.

I do, however, wish all NaNoWriMo participants the best of luck! Maybe one day I’ll jump in. :)

 


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The Balinese Honeymoon: Part 3

This is a very belated blog post. I started writing it in February. Then we moved and life got in the way . . . But given that I was here exactly one year ago (happy first anniversary to us), I figure it’s time to finish it.

This blog post is preceded by Part 1, where I described our first class flight to Hong Kong, and Part 2, where I described our visit to Ubud and complained about the broken air conditioning at our hotel.

Our second stop on the once-in-a-lifetime honeymoon to Bali was Seminyak.

Seminyak is on the southwest coast of Bali and is a popular destination for tourists with high-end shopping, dining, and clubbing (though we do none of that). We stayed at the W Retreat & Spa, which was located right on the beach. I’ve never stayed a W Hotel before, even in the States, though I was warned that it was very trendy and for a younger crowd. But my husband and I (in our mid-twenties to early-thirties) are a young crowd, so it catered well to us.

We chose an ocean-facing room on the third floor, and it was fantastic. Perhaps the reason I loved it so much was that the air conditioning worked perfectly, just as it would in the U.S. But even beyond that, it was perfect. We arrived before the official check-in time so we had to wait an hour or two for our room. When we did finally arrive, the room was prepared for a honeymoon couple with build-your-own martinis and a “heart” on the bed. The balcony had a seating area and looked over the pools and the ocean just beyond.

Our room, decorate for the honeymoon

Our room, decorated for the honeymoon

Honeymoon martinis

Honeymoon martinis

Day view from balcony

Day view from balcony

Sunset view from balcony

Sunset view from balcony

Because my husband still had a nasty cold, we spent the majority of our time at the resort, laying by the pool and soaking up the sun. The resort is wildly popular with Australians, and I think I could fake a pretty good Australian accent after a couple days there.

We did eventually venture outside the resort. We thought about visiting one of the markets but it was very hot and my husband wasn’t feeling up for it. We meandered down some road right in the middle of a shopping area. I bought a cotton printed dress and a hat (and probably overpaid for both, though still cheap for U.S. standards). We ate at some casual restaurant with outdoor seating. You’ll have to forgive me for not remembering the name. I remember we were typical Americans though and had burgers and beer.

Another night we walked down the beach about a mile to Ku De Ta. We hadn’t made reservations, but they were able to seat us pretty quickly. It does get crowded at sunset, though, so get there early.

Sunset dinner at Ku De Ta

Sunset dinner at Ku De Ta

The pool & Indian Ocean

The pool & Indian Ocean

Greatest pools in the world

Greatest pools in the world

The W was my favorite hotel by far, even though our next one was very luxurious. Maybe it’s because I fell in love with their air conditioning? It was just fabulous, and I would return in a heartbeat.

My next post (should I choose to post in the next 8 months) will cover our time at the Ayana in Jimbaran.


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Q&A with Pittsburgh Historical Fiction Examiner

Kayla Posner was kind enough to reach out and ask me to answer several historical-fiction-related questions for the Pittsburgh Historical Fiction Examiner. A ton of authors have answered a similar survey, but it still made me feel pretty legitimate. :)

Link to full article here.

Cara Langston, author of “Battle Hymns” answers 10 questions about her favorite time period in history, her favorite figures from history, and the age old question of coffee or tea.

1. If you could go back in time and be any figure from history, who would it be?

Amelia Earhart. She traveled to so many places and did so many exciting things! Plus, my husband has turned me into a bit of an aviation geek. But can I stop being her just before she disappears?

2. What year in history would you have liked to live in?

As much as I love the idea of experiencing Colonial America or Regency England, I am fully aware of how terrible life usually was for women back then, so I’m going to choose a more modern time. I’d pick the late 1910s in America and be a suffragette!

3. You’re having a dinner party and you can invite 5 people from history, who would they be?

Amelia Earhart, Eleanor Roosevelt, Abraham Lincoln, Queen Victoria, and the Duchess of Cambridge (she’s a historical person in the making).

4. What castle from the past or present would you like to live in?

Neuschwanstein. I’ve never been to Germany, but the surrounding mountains look gorgeous in photos.

5. Two fellow historical fiction authors you’d like to go on a history themed tour of the world with?

Diana Gabaldon (I read all 8 “Outlander” books this summer, so that story is still at the front of my thoughts) and, for my love of the English monarchy, Philippa Gregory. She must know almost everything after writing so many books!

6. Who was more dashing and interesting, King Henry VIII of England or King Louis XIV of France?

I have to admit I’m not very familiar with King Louis XIV of France… I had to Google him to remember which Louis he was! So he’s obviously not my answer. I suppose King Henry VIII of England, then, if only because I enjoyed watching Jonathan Rhys Meyers’ character in “The Tudors.”

7. Which of the six wives of King Henry VIII is your favorite?

Anne of Cleves, because I can trace my genealogy back to the Von Kleves, and I have to support my 14th great grand aunt!

8. English monarchy or French monarchy?

English monarchy. I haven’t read enough about the French monarchy. Maybe I should start!

9. What three novels could you read over and over?

“Les Miserables”,” Gone With The Wind”, and “Night”.

10. Tea or coffee when writing?

Both! Coffee in the morning, tea in the afternoon, and while we’re at it, red wine in the evenings.


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Failing at Building an Author Platform

Upon beginning my publishing journey, I read a lot of articles on how to succeed in self-publishing. There are vast quantities of tips on the Internet, but one of the most popular ones is this: Build an author platform.

That sounds easy, right? We live in the age of social media. Almost everyone has a Facebook, Twitter, blog, Instagram, Foursquare, Snapchat, Pinterest, LinkedIn, and/or that dreaded app Facebook made us download to read our friends’  messages. It’s easy to create an account. It’s much more difficult, however, to connect.

I’m pretty sure I’m terrible at building an author platform. I rarely update this blog. I spend a lot of time on Twitter, but mostly reading others’ tweets rather than tweeting myself. I haven’t posted anything on my Facebook author page in almost 2 months. I loathe posting links to my books because it feels so impersonal and I hate it when that’s all other authors do on social media.

Despite this, I have learned some things and compiled a short list of Do’s and Don’ts.

TWITTER

  • DO follow other authors and readers. If you haven’t published anything or don’t have NYT Bestseller (like most of us), not many people will follow you just because. You will have to earn their follow by following them first. It’s a very quid pro quo relationship. Is it petty? Sure, but that’s how it works.
  • DO make Twitter lists. Do you know what happens when you follow 1,000 people? You can’t keep track of conversations. Twitter has a very nice feature where you can add users to a list that narrows down whose tweets you see. I have a private list called “Interact”. Despite the fact that I follow 600+ people, this list only has ~20. They are friends I’ve made on Twitter, authors who seem similar to me, and the Outlander account, because I’m addicted (that’s another post).
  • DON’T only tweet out your book links. There are some people who tweet the same link every 3 minutes, all day long. It’s obnoxious, and I really doubt it increases your sales all that much. It just makes me want to unfollow you and never consider reading your book.

FACEBOOK

  • DON’T spend a ton of time on Facebook unless you’ve had some incredible success with that platform. Facebook wants you to pay to reach your audience, and unless you have an unlimited budget, you’ll end up reaching maybe 5% of however many people “liked” your page. I use Facebook all the time for personal use, but for an author platform, it really sucks.

I feel like I should have more suggestions, but as I said above, I don’t think I’m any good at this. This post is actually the result of two glasses of red wine, boredom, and the nagging feeling of “I should really post something else on my blog.” I’m going to return to the first draft of my next novel now (I’m at 37K words!), but before I do, a meme for you:

2211293_orig


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Genealogy Fun!

One of my favorite hobbies in recent years has been discovering my genealogy. I’m an European mutt, my father’s side being mainly Italian, Polish, German, and Swiss, while my mother’s side is mainly German and English.

When I began my research, I thought my father’s side would be more interesting; after all, only my father’s family every discussed their ancestry. They were the ones with the weird European names (my own maiden name included) and the ones whose ancestors had emigrated from Sicily, Poznan, and Vienna during the peak immigration period from 1900-1920. Those are the names I was able to find on my visits to Ellis Island. But the problems with Eastern European records is that they disappear. The furthest I could go back was to several Swiss ancestors who were born in the 1770s.

So it was actually my mother’s side of the family that opened up the treasure trove of history. It took some time to gather enough information for the little green leaves to pop up on Ancestry.com. I never knew much about my mother’s side of the family. Unlike on my father’s side, I never met my grandparents’ siblings or their families. I vaguely knew my maternal grandfather was from a German family in the Ohio area. The only thing I knew about my maternal grandmother was that she was related to Abraham Lincoln (that has been proven untrue and is merely family folklore).

It turns out, though, my maternal grandmother is the link to the majority of my most interesting ancestors, including:

  • A shared ancestor with the British royal family, Ralph de Neville, 1st Earl of Westmorland (his daughter Cecily was mother to King Edward IV and King Richard III; Cecily’s brother is my 21st great grandfather)
  • John Carrington, a carpenter hanged for witchcraft in 1650 Connecticut (my 11th great grandfather)
  • Mayflower passenger Edward Fuller (my 13th great grandfather)
  • Anne of Cleves (my 14th great grand aunt)

I’ve cast a wide net in my family tree (it includes 2661 people at present), but though I know some names, birth dates, and death dates, I have come to realize that maybe my research would be better spent digging deeper into their lives. So that’s what I’ll spend my time doing, now that I’ve re-upped my Ancestry.com subscription for a month.

But without further ado, here are some of the more interesting photos I’ve found in my research. Warning: Old photos can be pretty creepy.

Wilhelmina Koch (1832-1897, 3rd great grandmother)

Wilhelmina Koch (1832-1897)

Nancy Harrell and Benjamin Weeks (c. 1880)

Nancy Harrell and Benjamin Weeks (c. 1880)

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Adam Brozovich and Petra Tomic (c. 1910-20)

I also need to work on my husband’s family tree. I thought his might be easy considering he’s English, and at least in my experience, the English records have been the easiest to find. But no such luck. He has too many ancestors with generic names.

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