Behind The Scenes: Happy Birthday, Dad

My father would have been 71 years old today. Two years ago, on his 69th birthday, he was diagnosed with stage IV lung cancer. His fight against this horrid disease lasted until September 9, 2016. To be honest, it doesn’t always feel like he’s really gone. He traveled a lot for work, so it really just feels sometimes like he’s been on a really long business trip.

My dad wanted to be a forest ranger. Before he died, I promised him I would immortalize him in fiction. I can think of no better way than to name my protagonist after him and base this character on my father in many ways. While James Stanworth, my main character, is also based on Thomas Stanton, a real guy who lived in 17th-century Connecticut, there’s a lot of my father in his characterization as well.

Two years ago, I got the worst news I’d ever received in my whole life. Now, it feels good to be able to honor my father in the best way I know how. Happy birthday, Dad.

Behind the Scenes: Choosing A Writing Program

macbook air

Photo by Markus Spiske on

I got a new laptop yesterday. I’m so enthralled with the idea that I can now work on my novel and other projects anywhere. After years of primarily using an iMac–which served me well for more than half a decade–it’s nice not to be chained to a desk.

New computers always put me on the hunt for new software, so I’m currently reevaluating my writing software. I use Scrivener at present, but they want another $45 to download the latest version. I really hate that they want me to rebuy the software I already own just so I can keep getting updates. Despite everything great about the program, I’m not sure I want to spend it just on principle.

Plan & Write A Novel

Then there’s Storyist. I’ve heard wonderful things about this software but it’s $60. I’m not sure I want to spend that simply because I think it’s a little more than novel-writing software is worth to me (especially as I can use a word processor for free). But it is nice.

Plan A Novel

Story Planner is only $10, but you don’t write the novel in the program. After losing my data once in Scrivener (before I was backing up to DropBox), this is a somewhat attractive idea. It provides a place to organize all of your story’s data and allows you to, well, plan your story. It also allows you to set deadlines so you can track your productivity. This one is definitely a contender on my list.

Subplot, which comes in at $15, does pretty much the same thing. I’m not really sure what the difference between the two is, actually, except that this program has an ideas board. They don’t share a screenshot of it, but I imagine it’s something like Scrivener’s cork board. I could be wrong, though.

Edit & Revise A Novel

Continuity, which costs $14 is another piece of software on my radar, though I suspect this program will be more useful when editing a novel. It seems like a great way to check for plot holes and inconsistencies with characters without killing several trees worth of post-its.

Other Apps & Software

There are several other apps in the App Store, and then there are plenty out there on the internet–but these three are programs I definitely have my eye on. Of course, there is always the good ole word processor.

By the way, if you’re on a PC, there’s an open source program called yWriter that I used to love. The design is not that flashy, but it has some great features. They don’t make it for Mac though.

Behind the Scenes: Deleted Scene

This is part of a scene from an old version of a chapter of my novel. I like the conflict between James and Zaddock, but after this semester’s experiments with my tone, style, voice, and structure, the writing feels so stiff to me. I might grab a few descriptions to reuse, but for the most part, this scene will likely remain deleted.

Two days later, the bell rang from the lookout again. I was in the stables when I heard the chimes fill the air. The horses here were majestic creatures. Abner’s own reminded me of Katherine for they were both Thoroughbreds, but Abner’s horse—called Barnaby—was different from the mild-mannered mare of my childhood. He was younger, and far more spirited. But he had the same white star pattern between his eyes that Katherine had. My father had said it reminded him of a jewel, so that’s why he named her after the queen of one hundred years ago.

Barnaby nuzzled my palm and I pat that star before leaving the stables. The lookout was on the armory, which made sense as the two long guns were perched on the lookout deck. I wasn’t technically supposed to be in the armory without permission, but my curiosity got the better of me; I wanted to see what the bell was for. I slipped inside, spotting a trio of soldiers in the midst of the room. At the moment, all of their backs were turned so I took the stairs two at a time, and almost ran into Gibbons at the top. 

“Oh, pardon me.”

“Mr. Stanworth,” he greeted with a tilt of his head. “Weren’t you supposed to stay out of the armory?” He was smiling. I was certain he recalled giving me a brief overview of the fort and it’d been he who issued that decree.

“Was I? My apologies if that’s so. You can search me if you must.”

Gibbons cocked his head to the side, and it looked like he was chewing on his cheek. “No,” he decided finally. “I trust you. I imagine you’re looking for the Lieutenant?”

I nodded. Gibbons pointed toward the door across the landing. “He’s out on the lookout with the Captain.”

I thanked him and walked past him but then stopped. “Mr. Gibbons?” When he turned from the top step, I asked, “What do you think of the Captain?”

His smile fell from his face. “Doesn’t really matter, does it? What I think? He outranks me, so I do as told, Mr. Stanworth, sir.”

“I see. Thank you.” 

Gibbons nodded and went on his way. I pulled open the door to the lookout and stepped outside. Up here, the wind curled up from the river and smacked my face. The cold made my nose tingle for a moment until it started to feel stiff and numb, even when I tried to wiggle it. I watched the tip, but what I saw didn’t connect to what I felt.

“What’re you doing up here?” Zadock demanded. 

Not my captain. “I heard the bells.”

“You are not a military man. You shouldn’t be up here.” 

Abner shook his head. “It’s alright, James. See that?” He pointed toward the river. 

“Damn Dutch,” Zadock grumbled.

“Is there no one you don’t hate?” I asked the Captain, who turned and thrust his stubby fingers into my chest. 

“I don’t hate the English. Our own kind.”

“All evidence to the contrary,” I answered, pushing his hand away.

Behind the Scenes: Ivy & Trees Snippet

This is from an older version of a chapter, though I might take pieces of it for the draft I’m working on now.

I tug at the collar of my doublet and glance at the clock on the mantelpiece. The carvings that encase the clock look like swirls of ivy. The only problem with that is that ivy doesn’t really swirl. It crawls. Its leaves lie flat, though sometimes the plant itself will wind its way around a tree and choke the life out of it, sending tendrils of roots seeking any available entrance to the trunk through scales of bark. Floorboards creak from the next room, beyond a door that sweeps open. 

My father’s home was filled with ornately-carved clocks, mantelpieces, and doorways. It’d been built one hundred years before I was born. Around my father’s property stood a forest: tall and sturdy like a colonnade. The forest was off-limits. Not because there might be criminals or because I might have fallen out of a tree, but because of evil. My father was convinced, and my brother with him, that evil lurked beyond the sentries of sessile oaks and conifers.

Behind the Scenes—iTunes Playlist

This is the playlist I’ve been listening to while working on my novel. I usually try to listen to music from the period of my story if possible.