Sherlock Holmes – A History

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My husband and I are fan’s of Sherlock in any form and are delighted to help celebrate his birthday. Many happy returns!

Sherlocks Home


6th January 1854 has long been held by Holmesians as the birth date of the Great Detective. Happy birthday, Sherlock Holmes! You don’t look a day over 260. To celebrate the occasion, we’re running through a timeline of Holmes’ incredible long life, from the birth of his creator Arthur Conan Doyle to today, where he stands as one of the most-beloved fictional characters ever.

1859: Arthur Ignatius Conan Doyle is born in Edinburgh, Scotland.

1877: Now a medical student, Doyle first meets Dr Joseph Bell, renowned for his amazing powers of observation. He later admitted that Bell was the primary inspiration for Holmes.

1887: The first Sherlock Holmes novel, A Study in Scarlet, is published.

1891: ‘A Scandal In Bohemia’, the first Sherlock Holmes short story, is published in The Strand Magazine. More so than the previous two novels, this properly makes Holmes and Watson household names.

1893: Wanting…

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My NaNoWriMo Start: Stay Calm

And it begins. In considering NaNoWriMo this year, take P.H. Solomon’s advice. Write. Stop. Rescue lost dogs. Kiss your kids. Live your life.

Archer's Aim

NanowrimoSo I got started writing a novel for NaNoWriMo yesterday. The White Arrow is underway! It exciting to have the third book of The Bow of Hart Saga in progress . How did I do, well look over to my sidebar and you’ll see that I wrote almost 1,800 words on the first day!

But that was not without some challenges from the start. I got up later than I wanted and we had an unexpected visitor for much of the day in the form of a dog wandering our busy street. We got a call about a German Shepherd being loose in the area since we have 2 and someone though it might be ours. We thought it was someone else’s but it wasn’t. So we took the dog and set out finding the owners. It turns out this young dog is a serial escape artist and eventually got…

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The Rudog Absurdity

rudogResearch. Fascinating, isn’t it? History, biography, geography, language, clothing, I could go on and on. In fact, I do go on and on. Sometimes I use up so much of my time researching that I lose the sense of my story; I follow link after link to site after site and take pages of notes on the cultures of our world that are paralleled in my new one.

It’s funny, I said as much to my husband last night and he smiled and replied, “Don’t forget, you’re not a historian, you’re a story-teller.”

My newly retired husband, my left-brained, linear thinker, brilliant manager, non-writer husband practically knocked me off my feet. Or at least off of my writer high-horse.

After he watched me pick up my jaw from the floor he lifted his latest copy of Medieval History magazine. “There’s an interview in here with Bernard Cornwell, the author of The Last Kingdom. When people asked him why his story isn’t perfectly historically accurate, that was his answer.”

My only response could be: “Of course. That is exactly right.”

Tell the story. Tell my story. Tell my characters’ stories. That is the essence of good writing. Be focused on serving the story, not on details like what shoes they wear or how the Greek islands influenced city-state development. In my tale, I must tell Matthias’ story. Simon’s story. The story of a broken child and a broken world and how he copes.

That is not to say that research is not important. It is. It’s vital that you understand the world your characters live in. That you know about their daily habits, family structure, means of transportation. That you understand it so well that you have no reason to spend pages and pages of your story on those things. Certainly Matthias understands how to go about life in his home of Iconia. He understands the religion, the culture, the language, the assumptions and expectations. It’s change that rocks him.

In preparation for next month’s NaNoWriMo, I’m closely and carefully re-reading Orson Scott Card’s How to Write Science Fiction and Fantasy. His take on world-building is intriguing. And humbling. He speaks of idea nets which catch up all of his thoughts/ideas/hints about his fantasy world. About understanding the cost of magic, the evolution of culture, the need to make rules for your world that can underlay your story so solidly that they never have to be listed outright.

And he talks about the art and science of writing alien/foreign/utterly new languages. That’s where my ‘rudog’ comes in.

In my second draft of my novel, I inserted a scene where Matthias talks about how the sheep are reacting with terror. He’s supposed to feed them – that’s his morning chore – but they are being weird. As if, I say, a rudog is chasing them. Because, you know, Matthias’ world is our world, just a little sideways, with alternate history/geography. So, words would change. Some a lot. Some a little. Rudog. Get it?

My daughter, one of my extremely valued first readers, simply looked at me with one raised eyebrow. “Really? Rudog? You couldn’t just say wild dog? Because this is stupid.”

Ouch. But, fine, I changed it. Grudgingly. And then, surprise, surprise, in reading O. S. Card’s book, I find this:

“Nothing is more tacky than to have a bunch of foreign-sounding words thrown into a story for no better reason than to have something that sounds foreign. James Blish called such needlessly coined words ‘shmeerps.’ If it looks like a rabbit and acts like a rabbit, calling it a shmeerp doesn’t make it alien.”

“If mugubasala means bread, then say bread! Only use the made-up stuff when it is used for a concept for which there is no English word. If your viewpoint character thinks that mugubasala is nothing but bread, then later discovers that it is prepared through a special process that releases a drug from the native grain, and that drug turns out to be the source of the telepathic power that the natives are suspected of having, then you are fully justified in calling the bread mugubasala. It really is different, and deserved the added importance that a foreign name bestows.”

After I chuckled about the fact that Card must be a Stargate fan (Cassa! It’s addictive space corn!) I had to sit back and re-think my use of language. There are still some foreign words and phrases in Matthias’ world, but they are based on real Earth languages. This is where research shouldn’t be stinted – I must make the effort to use these foreign (to me) words and phrases correctly.

So, no more rudogs for me. No more half-hearted attempts to suddenly insert weirdness in the form of bizarre words. Bread is bread. Rabbits are rabbits. And wild dogs are wild dogs. No more panic about getting my twist on history exactly right. I mean, how could it be? It’s alternate history. If, at some point in the future I am blessed enough to have a best-selling book made into a TV show like Mr. Cornwell, and people care enough to ask me about my world-building and lack of historical accuracy, I’ll probably be so excited that I’ll be much less succinct and powerful in my reply than he was. Heck, I’ll be grinning. Dancing.

Why? Because I’m a story-teller. And other people would now be my story-readers and –sharers. And how exciting would that be?

NaNoWriMo Preparation with Scrivener Pt. 2: Try These 6 Organizing Tips

Fantastic advice by writer P.H. Solomon on preparing for next month’s NaNoWriMo with Scrivener. Right now is a great time to organize your mind and your project so that, when Nov 1st rolls around, you can start the important thing: WRITING!

Archer's Aim

Scriv New ProjectScrivener is a powerful writing tool. I write about it weekly with tips and usage ideas. To read more of my posts click the Scrivener tag or category at the end of the page.

As I wrote last week, I’m preparing for NaNoWriMo and suggested some features of Scrivener to think about using during next month’s writing scramble. But what should you be doing to prepare with Scrivener. Here are some tips to getting started:

1. Go ahead and create your project. If you haven’t created one, just click on File and then on New Project. Choose Fiction on the left and then Novel. Browse to the folder where you are going to save your book project and then give it a name. Why create the project now? Simple. You should use the project to work on your most, if not all, of your preparation. How will you do that?…

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5 Talking Points of the SFC

1. The SFC, the strong female character must be, first and foremost, a strong character. Gender aside, she must be interesting. Intelligent, courageous, and likeable. Sympathetic but not simpering. Give her darkness, yes. Give her stupid decisions and a weakness for liquor or fighting or pride, but give this character life. A heart. We want to be her. We want to know her. We are inspired by her. A unique being who carries the weight of the story, the plot, the universe on her shoulders.

This character is not a fill-in until the right man comes along. She is absolutely necessary to the story you are telling, and she is interesting enough for the reader/viewer to want to take this journey with her, to see where it will lead. To see how she is changed by her world, her trials, and her attempts at happiness. Man or woman, this main character must be compelling because the character is written that way, not because of gender

For a writer, developing our characters is difficult. It is painstaking and mind-numbing. It is joyful and uplifting when we feel like we get it right, when the character breathes and lives and acts almost without our pencil touching the paper. And it is heartbreaking when we get it wrong; when she lies there flat on the page, mumbling about sparkly vampire boys and the green-skinned man that got away.

2. A strong female character must be female. Note, this is a necessary parallel and partner to number 1. However female-ness is defined in your universe, you will find her. Notice I did not say “ladylikeness” or “properness” or “femininity.” I’m talking about women being different from men. Genetically. Intellectually. Motivationally. Similarities, yes. Parallels, yes. Shared goals and talents and desires, yes, yes, and yes.

Look around you. Look at the men and women you know. Now look closer. She does not think, talk, walk, move, eat, act or interact like a man. Her silences are not man’s silences. Her words may be the same words, but they are put together in her way.  And here’s where some of the problems occur: the strong, female character cannot ever be a cardboard cut-out with boobs and a cape. If, gender forgotten, her entire backstory, motivations, movements, and methods would fit into Superman’s suit (with a little modification), then she is not a strong character, she is a token female.

Can she break through stereotypes? Can a woman become a fighter in a world of washerwomen? Can a princess turn into a knight? Can she become the slayer of monsters rather than the damsel in distress? Well, of course. But, if she is written well, the princess is still a woman and a knight, and unashamed. Do we really want our women to become men? Why?

BTW, we’re hoping our strong male characters are busy breaking stereotypes and all that over in their stories, too.

3. She is strong. Mentally, physically, emotionally, or spiritually or some combination of them. She is not perfect because that would be boring.  Maybe she’s a fighter. Maybe she’s a wizard. Maybe she’s a hacker or an engineer, or believe it or not, a wife and mom. Something in her life has forged her spirit, has given her the wisdom or talent or mindset to take up the hero’s task, to strap on the sword or the book, to jump on the horse or in the minivan and DO IT. DO the THING.

That means this character is not “completed” by the men around her. She does not base her every wish, desire, goal, and purpose on her relationships. She has relationships. She has friends. She saves them or they save her. Sometimes she has to stand up to her “friends,” to walk away from them, to get the job done. And, sometimes, she loses them, too. To death, to anger, to change. And she’ll mourn. And cry. And grow. And go on.

She’ll survive. Because there is a greater calling that has its grip on her soul.

4. Emotions do not make her weak. This is something I’d like to drum into the heads of those who are writing male characters as well. If your character is a hero, a fighter, a righter of wrongs, you are allowed to paint them with more emotions than the standard two: anger and bitterness. And, you are also permitted to give them more motivations than vengeance and survival. People have emotions. They laugh, they cry, they punch you in the face. We each are equipped with the whole kit and kaboodle of the feels. Use them wisely.

Because, we are not Spock.

No woman (or man) can go into a battle without discipline and control. No professional athlete will allow emotions to blot out all of her training. But control and emotional emptiness are not the same thing. Tears do not weaken us when they are honest and spontaneous. Laughter doesn’t turn us into giggling Bieber fans. While we like our female heroes snarky and sarcastic, there is plenty of room for the women who are forthright and loving.

Two examples:

Willow Rosenberg. Sweet, funny, self-deprecating Willow is a total bad-ass with magic. She can flay a human with a thought or empower a whole bunch of slayer-wannabees. But she’s also loving. Caring. She gets hurt and she cries. She makes mistakes. She owns them, mourns them, and goes on. She is strong.

Winifred “Fred” Burkle. A graduate student in physics, Fred is sucked into an interdimensional portal and must survive on her own in Pylea for years. She’s enslaved. Beaten. But she survives. And, in her weakness, she saves the hero and his friends and gives them a way of escape. Fred is smart. She’s nervous. She gets excited and has self-confidence issues. She cries. But, in the last season, when Fred absorbs the soul of a godlike female and becomes uber-powerful, ridiculously strong, she becomes so much less interesting.

5. She is more than her emotions. More than her female-ness. A strong female character might be a mom, or a girlfriend, or a wife, a queen or a harlot, but that is not what defines her character. Her ability/proficiency at the sex or at having offspring does not make her strong. Her lack thereof does not make her weak. These are simply aspects of life, of her life, living among other people in whatever world she inhabits. She is the main character of her story and there will be other characters who show up along the way. Some may walk with her for a time as partners/lovers/spouses/children, but their very existence does not slam our hero into a box. These relationships round out her character, they enrich her world, they give her lessons to learn, but they are not to be used as labels, as slots to jam her into.

She’s not “the mom,” picking up after her weaker, clueless male colleagues. She’s not “the girlfriend,” perpetually worried about pairing up with someone. She’s not “the baby girl,” who must be catered to if she is not to fly apart. She’s not the “woeful barren one” who looks longingly at families with children because that will never be her.

BUT, she could be all these things at one time or another. If her story is a journey through life, one tiny aspect of it could be her internal sorrow over what she can’t have. If we see her moving, growing, becoming (ahem, I’m thinking ‘cookie dough’ here), especially from teen years when there are different motives and desires, and into a fully realized, fully baked adult, then these aspects of her character may surface. But they are not her whole story.

The SFC: Zoe Washburne. Lessa of Pern. Buffy Summers. Hermione Granger. Black Widow (before AoU). Sara Crewe. Matilda. Melinda May. Pippi Longstocking. Nancy Drew. Emma Peel.

These are my SFCs. Please, writers, creators, developers, and producers, may I have some more?

The Most Powerful Piece on the Board


They never talk about strong-willed male characters. It never needs to be spelled out. I’m neither an actor nor a casting director, but I would bet the farm that there has never been a call out for male actors to play a king or a superhero, a pirate or an astronaut or an apocalyptic warrior where the notes supplied say, “this is a strong-willed, strong-minded character, independent, able to stand on his own two feet, who doesn’t need to define himself through his significant other. Or his boobs.”

Yeah, okay, I sorta added that last part myself.

When did writers forget how to write women? I taught Advanced English Literature for ten years. We read about many women. Women who lived in snowy Russia. Women who survived abusive husbands and fathers, fires and tempests. Women who didn’t need saving, but saved others instead. Women who survived death camps. Women who sought life on their own terms.

When did the women in our favorite stories become simply foils for their male partners? Simpering, eyelash batting simpletons who don’t know enough to call the police when they find a boy watching them when they sleep? The mother figure who picks up after her foolish boys? Or the innocent chick the rich playboy convinces that it’s all the rage if he ties her up and slaps her around? Have human beings actually become shallower? Less appreciative of intelligence and strength?

There will always be a place for romance. For thinly plotted tales with the grand story arc of “Oh, I hate him.” “Oh, he’s not so bad.” “Oh, I love him.” Romances have their place. There are expectations going in that the princess will be rescued by the knight, that long gazes and sexual tension will be at the heart of the story, and there’ll be a happily ever after.

Perhaps it was the growth of visual media that made physical appearance more important that character. That created a yearning to watch perfectly formed men and women, and emphasized what we could see rather than what was happening in these characters’ minds. Maybe it was a shift from reading classics – prose and poetry – from learning how to critique and analyze and pull the true depth of meaning from characters and stories that has reduced us all to trying to choose between Magic Mike XXL and Inside Out at the movie theater – a bro movie and a tale about how emotions rule a young girl’s life. And, no, I don’t believe the Magic Mike franchise (I cannot believe I really just typed that) is in any way empowering to women. Turning men into idiots and sex objects in no way makes women stronger, it just makes men weaker. There’s no scale, no immediate gain for women when a man loses character and IQ points.


My favorite on-screen genre is suspense/action/sci fi/fantasy. What, that isn’t all one genre? Okay, fine then. THOSE are my favorites. And, frankly, I’ve looked long and hard to try to come up with a well written female character among them all. Let’s discuss.

Ellen Ripley is towards the top of my list. She is not perfect, not a superwoman, not even clothed in seduction. She is the epitome of a survivor. Of course, in the second movie they had to create a child for her so that she could be a real woman. Le sigh.

Buffy Summers. Teen angst, yes, plus the pesky romance with the bad boy, but at least Buffy had friends, both male and female. She was sarcastic and eye-rolly and kicked serious ass. And saved the world a lot.

Samantha Carter. Beautiful and brilliant and excellent with a gun. Held her own in the man’s military world and with the brainiacs. I loved the early seasons of SG-1 when the four of them were friends, proving that male/female relations was not as important as the team interaction. And then they went and spoiled it all with a – and I sigh again – romance that could never beeeeeeeee.

Sarah Conner. Grows up fast, and by T2 she is a gun toting, shoot first and ask questions never lady. But also kinda crazy. And, really, this is all about her son.

Princess Leia. Love her in A New Hope, or, as I like to call it, Star Wars Original. Tough and a little mean and a better shooter than any stormtrooper. Damsel in distress my aunt fanny. The Han and Leia, unfortunately, takes over her role as the movies progress. Leia needed her own ship. Her own base of operations. Her own military behind her, not just to be an adjunct for the male characters. And don’t get me started on Padma.

Zoe Washburne. Nicely done, Joss Whedon. Zoe is, perhaps, the best written adult female in sci fi. Yes, she’s married, and she sticks up for her husband. Good. But she is also second in command and a warrior in her own right. This is what a strong female character looks like, people. Because, first of all, she is simply a strong CHARACTER.

Black Widow. First Avengers movie Black Widow. She uses what the Red Room turned her into to fight for the good guys. She’s nasty and tough and gives the bad guys enough rope to hang themselves. She gets herself captured to gain intel and rescues herself, thank you very much. She has deep friendships and shows fear and still does her job. But, as we learn in Avengers AOU, her REALLY TRULY AWFUL regret is not that the Red Room turned her into an assassin, but that she can’t have babies.

There’s a pattern here. In the earliest stages, these women are good characters. They push the plot along. They have skills that are useful. They make it work and give 110%. They stand beside their male counterparts to get the prize or save the day or save the world. BUT, as time goes on, as these characters move forward in a franchise or a series, inevitably their storylines are narrowed down to their lady parts. Love. Children. Harry or Ron. Angel or Spike. Which of the other heroes will get together with her? What happens when her womanly weaknesses make her less useful? When she, again inevitably, falls apart? Because that is the other option. Romance or madness. The Bride. Sarah Conner.

That’s it. Those are the only options. Because that’s all women are. That’s all they care about. Love. Children. Feeeeeeelings.

I haven’t seen Inside Out, but I have seen the previews, so please correct me if I’m wrong. The girl is playing hockey, hustling down the ice, and she sees a defender coming towards her to take her out. Does she rely on skill? On her training? On the discipline she’s learned in practice to dodge or pass? No. She has to rely on her emotions to tell her what to do. In this case, anger. I’m fairly sure that any athlete will tell you that getting angry is not the way to win games, it is a distraction.

We’ve all been distracted. We’ve turned our attention from character and story and focused on the simple. The basic. The most primitive urges of humanity. Sex is something everyone can understand. Teenaged romantic pining, too. Don’t have to think about it. No need to analyze it. If all of a writer’s characters interact on a hormonal level, they don’t have to develop personality, or motivation, inner drives or outer responsibilities. Easy peasy. So easy, a caveman could do it, people.

Dumbed down. Appealing to the adolescent – all emotions and hormones. Today’s writers have never read the classics: Bronté, Dostoevsky, Montgomery, or Melville. They didn’t learn history: Joan of Arc, Queen Elizabeth I. And they certainly never read poetry:

“You misconceive the question like a man,

Who sees a woman as the complement

Of his sex merely. You forget too much

That every creature, female as the male,

Stands single in responsible act and thought

As also in birth and death.”

  Aurora Leigh by Elizabeth Barrett Browning

Single. Responsible. Not the complement of another.

In chess, the queen is the most powerful piece on the board. She moves in any direction, for any number of spaces. She protects the King, but moves independently of him. Takes out enemies. Is strategic. No emotions trouble her.

Believe it or not, real women are like that, too.

I hereby call for more Zoe Washburne. More Melinda May. More Hermione Granger. More Emily Prentiss. Jane Eyre. Anne of Green Gables. Jo March. Pippi Longstocking. Give her a role to play. Give her work to do. Give her friends – male and female. Give her victories and failures.

Give her life.

Cue the Spotlight


Do you want to know what it’s like to try to “hook” an agent with a pitch or a query? Watch the very first episode of this current season of Food Network’s The Next Food Network Star.

There are all the hopefuls who believe that they are “sure of who I am and know what I can cook” and they are given 30 seconds to sell the judges on the way that they are PERFECT for this opportunity. They are standing there in a line, and are told they must sell their personality and their concept to these professionals. That’s it. First impressions are the ONLY impressions you are going to get.

Cue spotlight. Every eye is on you. No matter that you’ve cooked a gajillion fantabulous meals (written a book where you created an entirely new world), you can’t win if you don’t get past these gatekeepers.

And…. GO!

Yep, that’s just what a pitch/query is like.

It’s you. On a page. One page. Just a few short paragraphs. And if you don’t hook them, you’re on the reject pile.