Ten Things to Do While Waiting to Start Your Second Draft

(image source)

Well, I finally did it. I finished the first draft of my novel. I've set it aside and won't look at it again for a month, so I can get some distance and be a better editor. This is turning out to be much more difficult than I thought. Here are ten things you can do to distract yourself while waiting to get started on your second draft:

  1. Read or reread a book about writing, like Stephen King's On Writing or Ann Lamott's Bird by Bird.
  2. Curl up with a good novel or three.
  3. Finish knitting that shawl for your husband's grandmother. (Seriously, why haven't you finished that already?)
  4. Learn how to cook gourmet meals. Or just learn how to cook.
  5. Draft a research plan or schedule for your next novel.
  6. Go outside. Be surprised by how bright sunlight is.
  7. Deep clean your house. (Yeah, right.)
  8. Hang out with friends. They may have forgotten what you look like by now.
  9. Visit your town's new used book store.
  10. Search for writers' groups in your area.

What are some things you do to distract yourself while waiting to edit your work?

Book Review: Child of the Morning by Pauline Gedge

Cover of Child of the Morning as seen on
Goodreads (source). Cover art by
Leo and Diane Dillon.
I finally got around to reading Pauline Gedge's 1977 novel Child of the Morning, which many people hold up as the gold standard of the Egyptian historical fiction genre. After reading it, I have to agree with them.

Child of the Morning is about the female pharaoh Hatshepsut and spans a period of 30+ years. Gedge pulls off the monumental task of making this arrogant child (and later adult) not only bearable but likable. Hatshepsut's father is determined that his daughter, the living incarnation of the god Amun, will become pharaoh after him. The only problem? The king already has a royal son, and he's backed by the High Priest. Hatshepsut is relegated to the role of chief queen and royal baby-maker. Her brother-husband lets her run the government, but Hatshepsut wants more. When her brother passes away, Hatshepsut and her loyal advisers move to supplant the heir and fulfill her kingly destiny.

If you're familiar with the history of Hatshepsut scholarship, then you've probably guessed who the antagonist is. Despite this predictability, I devoured Child of the Morning and loved almost every minute of it. There is one scene of physical confrontation between Hatshepsut and her nephew Thothmes that was too over-the-top for me. Gedge is also a bit guilty of head-hopping within scenes, and sometimes the dialogue is stilted. Because this is an older book, it reinforces a few beliefs that have since been debunked (the Heiress Theory is one example). And as with Stephanie Thornton's Daughter of the Gods, readers should know that Child of the Morning also has a theme of incestuous marriage.

Don't let any of the above criticisms prevent you from reading this novel. Just make sure you read a hard copy; the Kindle version is rife with spelling errors and oddly placed punctuation. But I suspect you'll want to own a physical copy after reading Child of the Morning.

An Update

I haven't posted in a while because my life has been turned upside down the last couple of months--my husband got a new job, we moved to a different part of the country, found out I'm pregnant, and bought a house. Phew! Things have settled down now, and I'm more than two-thirds done with my draft, but don't be alarmed if my blogging is still inconsistent. I'm trying to finish at least my first draft before the baby comes, so I need to focus on that above all else. Well, that and unpacking boxes.

Book Review: Daughter of the Gods by Stephanie Thornton

Cover of Daughter of the Gods
as seen on Goodreads (source)
Last month, I counted down the days until the release of Daughter of the Gods by Stephanie Thornton. It's about Hatshepsut, who defied centuries of convention to become female pharaoh of Egypt, despite the existence of a legitimate male heir. I'm surprised there aren't more novels about her, so I was glad to get my hands on this one.

Hatshepsut is Pharaoh's youngest daughter. Unlike her demure older sister, she is active and adventurous. A sudden trauma turns her life upside down, and she finds herself trapped in a loveless marriage full of responsibilities but few rewards. Soon even the responsibilities are taken away, and she becomes a virtual prisoner within the women's palace. How will she ever fulfill her secret desire to lead Egypt?

The story is fast-paced and stuffed with all kinds of fun elements like tragic deaths, difficult romances, court intrigue, and murder. You want Hatshepsut to succeed at her seemingly impossible dream to rule the country. I was so invested in her ambitions and romances that I devoured Daughter of the Gods in a few days. My husband mentioned that it must be a good book because I was so engrossed. I particularly enjoyed the epilogue, which is a sensitive take on what led Thutmose III to destroy his stepmother's monuments, and how he might have felt about eradicating all traces of the pharaoh who raised him.

The characters have modern speech patterns and ways of behaving. Generally I prefer my historicals to be more formal, but this was such a fun novel that I didn't mind as much as I usually do. I struggled with the plot twist at the end when the antagonist is revealed. I had no problem with the antagonist's identity--indeed, I suspected a few chapters ahead who it might be. I just had a hard time with some of this person's past actions that are revealed in the climax. These previous villainies seemed irrelevant to the character's primary motives and actions that led to the climax.

Overall, though, I really enjoyed this book. I would recommend it to my friends and will definitely read it again. Sensitive readers should know that Hatshepsut enters into an incestuous marriage with her half-brother. This is historically and culturally accurate, and the few intimate scenes between them are less explicit than your average romance novel. There are also several battle scenes along with all the horrific wounds that you would expect to receive on a Bronze Age battlefield, and they are described fairly graphically (glistening lavender intestines, anyone?). I loved that Thornton didn't shy away from these gruesome realities, but again sensitive readers should brace themselves. This novel reminded me of Kate Quinn's ancient Rome novels, so if you love Quinn's books, Hatshepsut, or ancient Egypt, this might be the book for you!

Do You Need to Travel to Write Historical Fiction?

Lately some of the articles I've read suggest that historical novelists need to travel to the places they're writing about in order to create a truly accurate story. While I think that traveling to your setting is definitely a plus, not all writers have the means to do so. And depending on what (and when) your setting is, travel might not be all that beneficial. Here are three reasons why:

  1. The place might look completely different now. Odds are that people have continued to live there, which means they've continued to build there. The ancient buildings and city layouts may have been permanently altered or even buried by subsequent development.
  2. The climate might not be the same. If your story is set in 16th-century Britain, and you travel to the UK to get a feel for the climate, you're going to be sorely disappointed. In the 16th century, England and parts of Europe were in the grip of the Little Ice Age. It was colder than it is today, and that's not something you'll be able to experience by going there.
  3. The country might be restricted or dangerous. This is especially true for those of us who write about the Middle East and North Africa. I was fortunate enough to spend a semester in Egypt in 2007, but I wouldn't recommend going there now, and the US government has issued a travel alert for Egypt.

If you aren't going to travel, what are some resources you can use to create an accurate setting? Here are four that I've found helpful:
  1. Old travel memoirs. This can be anything from Herodotus' Histories to 19th-century vacation accounts. I love reading Victorian travel memoirs that have titles like A Thousand Miles up the Nile. Just brace yourself for the casual racism that was not uncommon at the time. And remember that Herodotus got a lot of his information secondhand, though he did travel to many of the places he wrote about. Old guidebooks can also be invaluable.
  2. Old photographs. Like old travel memoirs, these can give you a more accurate idea of the past.
  3. Excavation reports. Sure, they can be dry, and not all of them will be relevant. But you can get a good feel for the layout of a building or a city.
  4. Digital archaeology projects. Sometimes archaeologists take those excavation reports and make a 3-D rendering of the structures, or at least post drawings or photos of models online. One of my favorites is Digital Karnak by UCLA. It tracks the progress of Karnak Temple in Egypt through the centuries.

Despite all of the above, I think there is one very good reason to travel for research. There is nothing quite like the emotional experience of standing where your characters once stood and seeing the things they saw. That's the feeling you want to impart to your reader. And if traveling to your setting will help you do that, then you should travel if you can.

Have you ever traveled for research? Where did you go? Did you find that it helped your writing? What other resources have you found useful?