Here below is a Guest Post by Carol Buchanan. I met her on Twitter, got to talking, read a couple of her Montana historicals and I can see why she had to go to self-publishing. Her writing is commercial, her style engaging and entertaining, and her books are among the very best (and most memorable) I've read.
You'll find links to her books below, and I recommend you check them out.
Carol does phenomenal historical research and captures the mind-set of her period characters. She is depicting "reality."
See the series on "depicting" here:
And she's doing a very good job of transporting readers to the real Gold Rush era, with all of its concerns and attitudes, complete with Love Story.
But in my personal view, Historical writing is Fantasy writing -- you can't go there and look at what's going on but only imagine it. Historical Romance is likewise a type of Fantasy, and the more-so today when modern female attitudes are grafted onto a historical woman. Or as was said in the 1960's, "All Fiction Is Fantasy" -- and I can see the case for that statement.
I can also see the case for a Historical novel that contains a Ghost character being nothing but a Historical -- because after all, people in those times mostly did believe in ghosts, or weren't firm in disbelief.
In this particular Historical, the ghost character haunts a character who has reason to feel guilt, so it could be just a psychological manifestation (as we see on the TV Series PERCEPTION).
I am suggesting you read Carol Buchanan's novels of the Gold Rush era basically because it's excellent writing done by a self-publishing author. The topic is the only reason these aren't New York Times Best Sellers. And that situation could change in a few years. There is solid film material in these novels.
But I am also suggesting you study these novels closely for the way the Ghost situation is handled. The most recent novel in this series depicts the Ghost against a "reality" matrix, not in a world built to present Paranormal as Real. If you read the first few novels in this series, you will see how this ghost emerges gradually and why it is a "real" ghost.
If you are planning to write a Paranormal Romance, this is the sort of Ghost novel you should read, dissect, and study.
So listen to what Carol Buchanan has to say here, then follow the links below to check out her novels.
We will be discussing self-publishing in some depth on this blog in the near future.
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Fiction writers and poets know that the imagination sometimes produces a coalescence of images that leaves a writer dumbfounded and wondering, “Where did that come from?” Closely followed by, “What does it mean?”
So when the ghost of a hanged man appeared as I started The Ghost at Beaverhead Rock, the fourth novel in my “Vigilante Quartet,” I thought, “Huh? What are you doing here?”
At first I discounted it and brushed it aside. Yet the ghost had such persistence I realized it had to be in the book.
In the novel the protagonist, Daniel Stark, considers himself beyond forgiveness because of his actions as prosecutor with the Vigilantes of Montana, as they became known.
Historically, in Alder Gulch, site of the 1863 – 1866 Montana gold rush, unlimited gold and extreme greed combined in a vacuum of law. There, ruffians ruled and murder was tolerated. When my fictional hero, a lawyer named Daniel Stark, joins the Vigilantes to break the criminal conspiracy and hang the criminals, he does so in order to protect honest people. But it takes a toll on him.
Much as he regrets the hangings, he can’t “repent and sin no more” because he believes protecting honest citizens from the rule of robbers and murderers was the right thing to do. Furthermore, given the same or similar circumstances he would do so again. Believing himself beyond the reach of grace, he becomes hardened to the plight of others who need his forgiveness for their mistakes.
The old trail from Bannack, Montana Territory, to Virginia City goes around the base of a rocky crag known as Beaverhead Rock. It’s a well-known Montana landmark, named by the Shoshone hundreds of years ago. Sacagawea, the Shoshone woman who guided Lewis and Clark in 1803 -1805, told them the name, and Meriwether Lewis noted it in his journal.
The ghost first appears as Dan rides a stagecoach from Bannack home to Virginia City. Here’s how Dan first sees it in the crowded, stuffy coach:
A shadow formed: a man, head dropped sideways and downward in the
broken-neck look of the hanged, stood in the tatters of a restless fog stirring below its coat skirts. Its right hand, holding a revolver, dangled at its side.
Three elements – the ghost, Dan’s yearning for forgiveness, and a rocky hill – had to come together in the story somehow. For weeks, I pawed the ground trying to get them to coalesce. I outlined the novel’s first seven or ten scenes and stalled.
Then I mentioned to my husband that I needed a title. Being one who envisions solutions along the lines of Occam’s Razor*, he said, “The Ghost at Beaverhead Rock.” (*The simplest answer is often the most correct.)
I took a year off to be a “book shepherd” for a woman whose dream was to write her memoir. But I still pecked away at “The Ghost,” which slowly revealed itself. The outline grew. About the time the “book shepherd” job ended, I read another novelist’s blog about the book that has given me the methodology not just for The Ghost but for future novels and stories, too.
John Truby’s The Anatomy of Story: 22 Steps to Becoming a Master Storyteller
has a different approach to outlining a novel than I had heard of before. Forget three-act structure, the rising action and falling action. Forget learning how to pronounce denouement. Truby’s seven-step approach provides both an overview of a novel’s structure and a fairly detailed structure of a short story.
To burrow into the detail of a novel, he offers the 22-step outline. The beauty of both the seven-step and 22-step outlines is that they concentrate on the main character (aka hero, protagonist, etc.). The hero begins with a weakness, such as Dan’s belief that God will not forgive him. That weakness generates both a psychological and moral need. In Dan’s case his psychological need (the sense of being unforgivable) drives his moral need (his unwillingness to forgive others). The novel tells the story of Dan’s journey to learning “how to live properly in the world,” as Truby puts it, by treating others as he would want to be treated.
This approach offers a coherent way of reaching more deeply into a character’s psyche, by connecting a psychological need and a moral need.
I already had a good start on a scene outline by the time I discovered Anatomy of Story. When I went back to the novel and counted, perhaps 30% of the book was outlined, and I had drafted the first 17 scenes.
It was easy to see why I had floundered so long. Without Dan’s weakness and need, I had no idea how to fuse all the story elements together.
Especially, the ghost. It fit in, but how? Where?
I asked myself: Is it a character? A symbol? A revelation to a hard-headed man? All of the above? What is its role in the story?
In some ways, the ghost still puzzles me. If it’s a character, it does not interact with anyone else in the novel in any way, unlike Marley’s Ghost or the ghost in The Ghost and Mrs. Muir. (Perhaps unfortunately, I don’t watch paranormal TV shows or read paranormal books. I’m just not drawn to the genre.)
Dan is the only one the ghost shows itself to, and he is the only one who senses its presence. No one else ever sees it – or smells it. It does not change, because the dead have only one way to be, so there is no character arc or moral challenge for it.
It does not speak or move. It presents only one aspect of itself. It is there and then it is not there.
At the beginning of this post, I mentioned that Dan first sees it on the stagecoach. None of the other passengers notice it. Throughout the novel, it appears at random intervals. Sometimes it comes when he is momentarily at peace with himself and the world. Sometimes it shows up when he is agitated over being accused of murder. He may see it when he’s alone or with other people. It may or may not be the ghost of someone Dan recognizes from life. He guesses who it might have been, but he is not certain of its identity in life.
And no one ever tells Dan, “You look like you’ve seen a ghost.”
It’s a symbol. It symbolizes Dan’s unease even though it does not appear when the tide of his guilt feelings runs highest.
Having decided that the ghost appears at random, I’ve found weaving its manifestations into the outline has been a challenge. (As I write the book, the outline stays open side-by-side with the book file. Both are Word files; the outline is a 21-page Word table. So far.)
As the writing yields new information or new insight, I change the outline. As I see from the outline that scenes are out of order, I first re-order them in the outline, then move them around in the book to improve the story logic. I may also delete or add scenes as needed.
With Truby’s method, as I apply it, I work on two levels – the plot level of what happened and the moral/psychological level of Dan’s fall and growth.
The plot, the “what happens” layer, contains the actions of the story. For example, Dan is both an attorney and one of the Vigilante prosecutors. The ghost first appears in the stage coach the morning after he attended a meeting of the Vigilantes to decide the fate of a criminal whose sentence their tribunal arrived at months before. Because they have insufficient evidence to hang him, they banish him from the region, but if he returns he world be hanged or shot on sight. The Vigilantes carry out the sentence though the criminal has frostbitten both feet so badly that gangrene has eaten them away. Everyone on the coach is horrified that the Vigilantes would hang a man with no feet. Dan, hearkening back to the man’s crimes, later tells his stepson, “We do not show mercy to the merciless.”
When he attends a meeting of the Bar Association, the ghost stands on the dais behind the Territorial Chief Justice. Two other Vigilantes, also lawyers, attend the same meeting, but neither of them see or smell the ghost. Only Dan does.
In another scene, one of his fellow vigilantes, now a Deputy Sheriff, accuses him of murdering a man by stabbing him in the back and leaving him to die. The ghost does not appear.
He decides he will have to prove himself innocent or be hanged, but he doesn’t know how to go about it. Hearing of the accusation, Timothy believes that he is capable of murder because he has helped to hang the criminals (God’s Thunderbolt)
and because he has killed an attacker in self-defense (Gold Under Ice )
By far his greatest source of guilt, though, stems from the Vigilantes’ actions when Joseph “Jack” Slade challenged them (The Devil in the Bottle)
Timothy challenges Dan several times throughout the novel. Sometimes the ghost appears, sometimes not. I have no rule for its appearance.
For example, when Dan decides to tell Timothy how he came to kill his attacker (mugger, we would say now), he goes to a livery barn where the boy has a winter job mucking out stalls. The ghost appears when Dan tells Timothy about having killed the attacker in hand-to-hand fighting even though it was self-defense.
When Timothy challenges Dan to prove he is not a murderer, the ghost does not show itself.
Three layers of the novel go into this scene weave: the “what happens,” as I call the surface action; Dan’s psychological and moral growth; and the ghost’s appearances. The climactic scene of the novel occurs at Beaverhead Rock when Dan confronts the actual murderer. The ghost is there, and it is unclear who Dan fights – the human murderer or the ghost. If he becomes capable of forgiveness, the ghost will vanish forever. If not, it will return home with him.
For several years now, I’ve thought that I write historical Westerns. So when Jacqueline Lichtenberg suggested that the ghost made The Ghost at Beaverhead Rock a paranormal, I was surprised. To me, the ghost symbolizes Dan Stark’s extreme sense of guilt over what he has done. But if its presence in the story bends the genre from historical Western to something else, so be it. Ghosts and writers can’t always be restricted by boundaries.
Links for Carol Buchanan
Website – http://swanrange.com
Blog – http://Swanrange.com/blog