Cara Langston

Historical Fiction Novelist. Reader. Traveler. Coffee Addict.


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The Balinese Honeymoon: Part 4

One of my New Year’s resolutions was to finish the reviews for my honeymoon to Bali in November 2013. So here we go with Part 4 so I can check it off my to-do list. Also, we’re going to the Maldives next month and I don’t want a backlog when it comes time to sharing photos on here!

You can view my previous posts here:

Part 1 – Cathay Pacific First Class LAX to HKG
Part 2 – The Maya Ubud Resort & Spa
Part 3 – W Resort & Hotel Seminyak

After a glorious week in Ubud and Seminyak, we journeyed to the Ayana Resort & Spa perched on the cliffs above Jimbaran Bay. While the Maya in Ubud had its isolated jungle charm and the W in Seminyak had its lively atmosphere, the Ayana was by far the most luxurious. The property used to belong to Ritz-Carlton. I’ve never been to a Ritz-Carlton so you’ll get no comparisons from me on that.

We arrived mid-afternoon and had to wait about three hours before we could check in. So we had some lunch in the Club lounge, changed into swimsuits and lounged by the pool, and two hours later the room was still not made up. We were given the option to immediately be taken to a normal Club room (as booked) or we could wait an extra hour for a two-room suite upgrade. We obviously chose to wait for the suite.

I don’t have much more to say on the hotel. The views were beautiful, the food was delicious, and the Rock Bar was amazing. I’ll let the photos speak for me.

Ayana Jimbaran

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Writing Weaknesses & Editing Checklist

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I have favorite words and phrases I tend to use over and over again–a recent overused description involves a lump growing in my character’s throat when she’s feeling emotional. And then there are weird grammar rules I can never remember while I’m writing–is it backwards or backward when you’re writing as an American?

So about a year and a half ago, when I was editing Battle Hymns, I started a checklist in Evernote called “Writing Weaknesses” that includes grammar rules, some of my writing quirks, and other things to look for while I’m editing. Since I’m in the midst of the complicated process of editing my WIP, I figured I’d share my list with the hope that it will help others who are in the same stages of editing/writing as me.

Cara’s Writing Weaknesses & Editing Checklist:

  • Overuse of “that” between clauses
  • Check dialogue tags that aren’t “said”–warned, admitted, insisted, and suggested are NOT dialogue tags!
  • Too many sentences start with “But” or “Before”
  • “Smirk” does not mean what I think it means
  • Avoid “going to” instead of “will”
  • Avoid “at which” instead of “where”
  • Too much detail into minutia, such as walking down hallways, dressing, etc. And per my copy editor: “We don’t need an accounting of every move they make to get from point A to point B.”
  • Don’t reach out a hand to do something–just do it!
  • “Good-bye” is always hyphenated; “Good-night” is hyphenated when used as a noun or adjective; Use “good night” for a parting used at night; “Goodnight” is always incorrect
  • American English typically drops the s on toward, backward, and forward. Afterwards is the exception to this rule.
  • Check for overuse of useless words, including: about, just, really, started, began, all, again, very, that, so, then, rather, some, only, almost, like, close, even, somehow, sort, pretty, well, back, up, down, anyway, real, already, own, over, ever, be able to, still, bit, -ly
  • Check for emotional telling (v. showing) words, including: anger, angry, relieved, relief, felt, despair, anxious, doubt, fear, nervous, panic, scared, shock, upset, worry, worried, uncertain, excited, excitement, confident, sure, certain, happy, glad, mirth, joy, elated, elation, pleased, satisfied, concern, depressed, dread, sorrow, distress, hope

A list of weaknesses can vary from writer to writer. These are some of mine. What are yours?

P.S. Happy new year!


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WIP Update!

I FINISHED MY FIRST DRAFT YESTERDAY!

I went into the weekend with four chapters partially written. On Saturday, I finished the first two pretty easily. And then on Sunday, with only two chapters and ~2,000 words left, a weird (or not so weird) thing happened: I didn’t want to finish my first draft.

For the past 13 months, I’ve pushed off certain problems with the story. “Cara, don’t worry about it now. This is a first draft. You can figure it out later.” And now later has arrived. It’s terrifying.

I procrastinated. I did four loads of laundry, finished my Christmas shopping, wrapped all the gifts and put them under the tree. But eventually I forced myself back in front of my laptop because I needed to finish the first draft over the weekend, before the holidays and before my parents come into town for a full week (no writing will get done then). So with great reluctance I eked out the final two chapters.

Now what?

  1. Second draft, focusing on inconsistencies, plot changes, and expanding emotion/description. I’ll also take a first pass at going through my writing weaknesses checklist
  2. Send second draft to my fabulous beta reader and hope she doesn’t think it’s awful
  3. Think about themes, etc.
  4. Re-write blurb
  5. Try writing a synopsis (there’s a first time for everything)
  6. See what my beta reader says and make any necessary adjustments

I’ll stop the list there. If I get too far ahead of myself, I may have a panic attack.

Happy holidays to those celebrating!

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Early 20th Century Anachronisms

It is a truth universally acknowledged that writing can be a pain in the ass. Sure, it’s rewarding and sometimes the thought, “I can get some writing done today,” is the only thing that gets me out of bed in the morning. But writing as a whole can be very difficult. I don’t think anyone would disagree with me on that. And if you’re writing historical fiction, add another layer of complexity, because in addition to developing your characters, creating a thrilling plot, making it unpredictable and original, you also have to veer away from anachronisms.

I have two novels, one set in 1941-1943 and one in 1925, and I’ll venture to say that the early 20th century is both one of the easiest and most difficult periods to write about. It’s easy in that it’s modern, there’s a plethora of information, and you can still find first-hand accounts on the time period. But it can also be the most difficult because you begin to assume modernity as you write.  I find myself assuming various everyday terminology/products existed, when in fact they didn’t.

Catching anachronisms in my work is the primary reason I have such a weird Google search history. So what if I’m looking at the Wikipedia page for popsicles? I need to know when they existed!

People who lived before 1950 had telephones, escalators, automobiles, cameras, and boxes of Kraft Macaroni & Cheese! But do you know what they didn’t have?

  • Teenagers – Though the word technically existed in the 1940s, it wasn’t widely used until the 1950. Think bobbysoxers and Gidget. Before that, they were known as adolescents or youths. [Insert “The New Girl” Schmidt meme here]
  • Rosemary – Do you want your pre-1950 character to be an avid gardener? Why wouldn’t she have the most awesome herb garden ever, with sage and rosemary and thyme? I can think of some delicious recipes she can make! I just discovered this last week and it really made me angry, but although the herbs were widely used in colonial times, they completely lost their popularity until a resurgence the 1960s. In fact, if you look at any cookbooks from the 1920s, there are almost no spices in the recipes. The horror!
  • Sunscreen – In the 21st century, sunscreen has become part of our daily routine, at least for those of us young women who want to avoid wrinkles for as long as possible. But sunscreen wasn’t invented until the 1920s, and even though there were some commercial brands sold during World War II and the late 1940s, usage didn’t become widespread until much later.
  • Girlfriends & boyfriends – As much as I loathe this term as an adult, it’s an apt description for youthful romantic partners. But like “teenager” it wasn’t really used much until the 1950s. Before that, you have to use words like “beau” which almost feels too old-fashioned (picture Gone With The Wind) for the 1940s.
  • Markers – The felt-tipped writing utensil used by children and adults everywhere to draw mustaches on photographs was originally patented in 1910. But they weren’t commonplace until the late 1950s. Alas, my 1925 character cannot mark out words in a document using a marker; she has to use a fountain pen, which seems like really messy work.
  • Fleece – People from an older generation might know this, but for those of born in the 1980s, fleece has always existed! It’s ingrained in our being! But it turns out the synthetic material that makes a lot of our robes, slippers, and scarves wasn’t invented until 1979. Don’t let your 1940s character wear a fleece robe, like I tried to do in a first draft somewhere.

I’m sure there are plenty of others, but these are the six I’ve found during my writing endeavors that I could easily recall. Maybe I’ll update with more as I discover them!

This is an example of an anachronism

Prime example


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WIP Wednesday: 11/26/14

Happy Thanksgiving Eve to my fellow Americans, and Happy Wednesday to everyone else!

Including today's date means I need to post today

It’s been three weeks since my last WIP Wednesday post. I meant to post on Nov. 12th and then on Nov. 19th but I kept pushing it off, telling myself that I hadn’t made enough progress on my writing to warrant an update. What can I say? I’m a fantastic procrastinator! So I got into work this morning (I’m one of very few who haven’t taken the day off) and sketched a turkey with today’s date. I will write and post an update today . . . because I don’t want to redraw that turkey and let this one go to waste. Now for the update:

I have FINALLY hit my stride on finishing the first draft of this novel. I have 7 more chapters to finish, but the remainder is starting to seem manageable and not overwhelming. For example, I know how the story will end and I think I’ve managed to create enough tension throughout the last part to drive the plot home. There are still, however, some loose ends I’ll have to figure out before I can call the first draft complete, like figuring out what the hell I want to do for an epilogue. I briefly considered ending it without an epilogue in an attempt to be edgy or something. Then I remembered that if I were the reader, I’d be really pissed off without some sort of closure. There are also some subplots I haven’t fleshed out enough, but I’ll leave those for the 2nd draft.

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The graph above depicts my writing progress over the past month, the line being the cumulative word count and the bars each day’s addition. Have I mentioned I’m an Excel dork yet? I think I have.

With the upcoming holiday, I’m hoping to have the time and inspiration to add to this even more. No Black Friday shopping for me–I’ll be writing! There’s also no incentive grand enough to force me into that craziness . . .


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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.

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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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