The MacGregor Legacy - From Scotland to the Carolinas

(Book 1 - For Love or Loyalty) (Book 2 - For Love or Country) (Book 3 - For Love or Liberty)

Path of Freedom, Quilts of Love series

1858 North Carolina - When Quakers Flora Saferight and Bruce Millikan embark on the Underground Railroad, they agree to put their differences aside to save the lives of a pregnant slave couple..

Highland Sanctuary, (Highland series - Book 2)

1477 Scotland - A chieftain heir is hired to restore Briagh Castle and discovers a hidden village of outcasts who have created their own private sanctuary from the world.

Highland Blessings, (Book 1 - Highland series)

1473 Scotland - The story of a highland warrior who kidnaps the daughter of his greatest enemy and clan chief to honor a promise to his dying father.

Awakened Redemption (Inspirational Regency)

1815 England - A story that pierces the heart and captures the Regency era.

Monday, March 30, 2009

Author Platform - The New Buzz Word

By Jennifer Hudson Taylor

The buzz word making the rounds in the writing community lately is platform. A few agents and editors are blogging about it, including my agent. It seems that with the economy tightening, publishers are being more selective than ever in what they're accepting for publication. This means the competition has gotten even tougher, and in my humble opinion, it was already tough enough before the recession hit.

So what is platform?

My understanding is that platform is a buildup of readership and/or a following of people who like to read what you write enough to buy it. Of course, the bigger your platform, the easier it is to sell your books and to get your books published through a publisher. Platform is becoming a more important reason why good authors are being rejected. The writing may be good, the concept interesting and applicable to the time, but if the author doesn't have a great platform, it can be rejected based on that alone.

So the great question for every author is: How do I build a platform? It all boils down to marketing and promoting. Those who are great at marketing themselves, speaking in public, and building that public awareness will build a bigger platform and have the edge over the writers who don't market and promote themselves well.

I'd like to point you to some great articles that have been written on this topic lately:


  • Need A Platform? by Agent Terry Burns


  • Fiction Platform by Agent Rachelle Gardner


  • How Important is an Author's Platform by Michael Hyatt, editor of Thomas Nelson Publisers


  • Building A Platform by Agent Chip MacGregor (Click on Archive, Jan. 11, 2009)


  • I'll be covering more on this topic in the future, since it is so vital to our survival as authors in this world of publishing.

    Friday, March 27, 2009

    Save Morris Island Lighthouse

    By Jennifer Hudson Taylor

    Recently, I had the privilege of visiting Morris Island Lighthouse in South Carolina, or getting as close to it as I could. Water and erosion are taking over this historic relic and there is a huge effort underway to try and save it, much like the effort that occurred in my own state of North Carolina to save the famous Cape Hatteras Lighthouse a few years ago. For more information on the effort to save Morris Island Lighthouse, go here.

    The current structure was built in 1876, just after the Civil War. The brick tower stands 161 feet tall. The original Charleston Lighthouse was built by order of King George III of England in 1767 on Middle Bay, which is now Morris Island. It stood 102 feet, was also made of brick, and the light was fueled by lard oil. In 1858 a Fresnal lens was installed. During the Civil War Confederate soldiers blew up the lighthouse to keep the Union from using it.

    In 1873 Charleston Main Light was erected at a cost of $150,000. It was located 400 yards from the original structure due to the shift in the channel. The light could be seen 19 miles away. The keeper and his two assistants lived in the three-story home with their families nearby. There was a small community and even a school house. A damaging hurricane in 1885 and an earthquake in 1886, destroyed the community and left lasting damage to the lighthouse with cracks in the structure. Since then over 1600 feet of land has been lost around the lighthouse due to erosion.

    In front of where my daughter is sitting on some boulders with the Morris Island Lighthouse in the distance, are some square stone foundations that remain of a few building structures. The buildings no longer exist, the foundations still lay there as a reminder of things now gone.

    Sunday, March 22, 2009

    Query Letters that Get Noticed

    By Jennifer Hudson Taylor

    Most agents and editors require authors to approach them with a query letter. A few will accept a partial, which consists of a cover letter, synopsis, and the first three chapters. Query letters and/or cover letters are your first introduction to an agent or editor. It should be professional, informative, compelling and precise. The goal of the query letter is to hook the agent or editor to want to see more.

    Research Appropriate Agents/Editors

    Before you write a query letter, you must do your research on the appropriate agents and publishing editors you want to target for what you write. It doesn't make sense to query an agent or editor who doesn't handle historical romance, if that is what you've written.

    Make sure you address your query letter to someone specific. Typing in "Dear Editor" or "To Whom It May Concern" will not impress them. You want them to know you've taken the time to do your research and that you know who they are and what they acquire. If you are lazy in the way you submit your proposal, they're going to question if you've been just as lazy in doing your research on your story.

    Many editors will not accept queries from authors who do not have an agent. Those queries are either returned unopened, ignored, deleted or thrown away. Others will accept a query letter and nothing else. A few will accept a partial proposal (cover letter, synopsis, first three chapters). Agents vary just as much in what their submission requirements are. Some only accept electronic proposals, so pay attention if it is okay to submit the proposal as an attachment or if it must be pasted into the body of the email. Others want proposals postal mailed. Some agents require more in their proposal, such as a marketing plan, author platform, research on competition, a bio with a photo, etc.

    The best places to research the submission guidelines for agents and editors are the latest edition of the Christian Writer's Market, Guide to Literary Agents, and the Writer's Market.

    Introduction Paragraph
    Avoid the temptation to get wordy, creative and tell them how they'll love your book. If it's Christian fiction, don't give them the old--"God told me to write this and you have to publish it" routine. If God really told you to write it, then let Him do the work in getting it published, while you do your part in sending it out when it's complete and ready.

    Tell them why you're writing the query letter, give the working title of your manuscript, word count, genre of the story and make sure you mention that it is complete. If you are a new author and unpublished, don't send out a query letter to anyone until it is complete. If you met the agent or editor at a writers' workshop and they requested you to send it, make sure you remind them of this in the first paragraph.

    Summary Paragraphs
    This is where you get to tell about the story you've written. Keep it short and to the point. Highlight the goals of the two main characters and the conflict in keeping them from obtaining those goals. End it on a hook to make them want to read more. Don't get into specific details. The summary in a query is very similar to what is on the back cover of a book. Read some of these to get an idea of how to narrow your story down to a similar summary.

    Credentials
    The next paragraph should list your credentials. Include your degree, articles that have been published in magazines, newspapers, e-zines, church newsletters, etc. List any awards you've received from your writing or if you've placed or finaled in a writing contest. You you have many awards, don't list each one of them, only highlight the most prestigious awards.

    If your profession provides extensive knowledge that qualifies you to write your novel, be sure to mention it in this paragraph. If you are a medical doctor and you've written a medical thriller, or a psychologist and you've written a psychological thriller, or an archaeologist and you've written an historical that includes an archaeological dig, these are all examples of how a profession could be a great resource for a novelist.

    Final Paragraph
    If there are attachments, state what you've included in the proposal such as a synopsis and the first three chapters. Thank the agent or editor for taking the time to review your query and/or proposal. The last sentence should be an offer that you would like to send a proposal upon their request, or the full manuscript upon their request if a partial is already included.

    If anyone is interested in having me post a sample, please let me know and I'll be happy to do so.

    Monday, March 16, 2009

    Using Personal Experiences in Fiction

    By Jennifer Hudson Taylor

    Most authors write from personal experiences, even if the story isn’t based on a true story. They may insert a scene that is similar to something else they’ve witnessed or experienced themselves. It could be a conversation or character traits from other people they know in real life.

    If you decide to write personal experiences into your fiction, I advise the following:



  • Always change people’s names. Even if you only use the first name and don’t use the person’s last name, I would still change that first name or their nickname. If people you know read your book, believe me, they could possibly recognize themselves in it.



  • Change the name of common historical people. Unless the person was famous in history like Abraham Lincoln or George Washington, change their name, especially if there is anything that might give a negative impression of that person. Descendants of later generations may care about how their ancestors are portrayed in a published work, even fiction. You don’t want to land yourself in a lawsuit by a group of disgruntled descendants.



  • True experiences need to sound authentic. Life can throw some strange curve balls at us sometimes and things happen that sound almost unbelievable—and that’s the problem if you use it in a story. If it sounds unrealistic, it won’t fly with an editor. If you have one of those bizarre experiences that you want to write about, tone it down a bit.
  • Places need to be accurate. Don’t use a real small town in fiction and have all the street names, businesses, and landmarks incorrect. People notice these things. The smaller the town, the more noticeable mistakes will be. Do thorough research and don’t rely on resources that are several years old unless it’s an historical. An alternative would be to create a fictional small town that is similar to one you know about or have conducted research on.

    Writing from past experiences is like bearing your heart and soul on to everyone out there. Authors want to share themselves with their readers by writing from the heart, and Christians by writing from God’s heart. Only then does the story come alive, captivating the realism that people can relate to.

    So write the book of your heart—with the wisdom and conviction God has given you.

  • Friday, March 13, 2009

    Guestpost: Terry Burns on Traveling in History


    Please welcome Terry Burns, my literary agent. A few months ago I had some questions regarding how fast my characters could travel in the early 1800's. My agent came to the rescue with the advice below with permission to post it on my blog. Terry is an agent with Hartline Literary Agency and a historical author with a new release of his own, Beyond the Smoke.
    ____________________________________

    This question comes up a lot when people are writing westerns or historicals set in early time periods. The answer is not that black and white. How long would it take to drive from Texarkanna to Brownsfield in Texas today? It depends, are the roads wet or slick? Would you have a flat? Will the traffic be heavy? How many times will you stop for gas or to eat and for how long? There are a lot of intangibles that enter into travel time on a trip and it was no different in the 1800’s.

    Travel time would depend on the terrain, the condition of the stock and the equipment, the weather, even on whether there might be those around who were intent on impeding your progress. These were always factors to consider. However, considering these complicating factors a group of published western writers gathered around our virtual online campfire and talked about realistic travel times. The result of this discussion has been very useful to me.

    We figured a man walks around three miles an hour. A man on foot can easily walk 30 miles in a day, 40 if he pushes it. Jackson’s ‘foot cavalry’ consistently did more than that.

    A horse will walk 3-4 mph, trot about 8-10 mph and gallop depending on the ability of the animal and the terrain at 30-40 mph. According to the U S Cavalry a horse can cover some 30-40 miles a day but can be pushed to double that, but then will be pretty much spent for several days while he recuperates.

    The US Cavalry mounted service cup race averaged 60 miles a day for five days carrying a rider and over 200 pounds of gear. A Pony Express rider would cover 75-100 miles on their portion of the mail run and would change horses at way stations every 10-15 miles. The entire 2000 miles of the trail would be covered in 10 days with riders riding 24 hours a day. That makes an average of about nine miles an hour according to express records, but daylight riders did much better and night riders moved much slower. By means of comparison modern racehorses have achieved records up to 40 mph.

    A wagon might do 15-25 miles in a day depending on whether it is being pulled by horses, mules or oxen. They would make good time where there was something of a road or trail, but then might spend an entire day or even more lowering wagons down a bad grade or floating them across a river. Then, wagon trains didn’t travel the most direct route either. A scout out front took them through the most favorable, or more level terrain, and they could only carry so much water so choosing a route that took advantage of available water had a lot to do with how directly toward their objective they were traveling. Still, wagons moved at a pace where occupants often walked alongside and since we’ve established the speed of a man or horse walking at some 3-4 mph, that’d be the speed of the wagon too if no obstacles are involved.

    A stagecoach would run on an established route similar to the Pony Express and would make much better time than a wagon train. Running 24 hours a day and with relays of fresh teams they usually covered the route in a little better than half the time of the feisty express riders. Of course they also stopped to rest and feed passengers. This generally had them covering some 100-150 miles in a 24 hour period depending on how good the roads were and the other factors mentioned above.

    Railroads were subject to terrain factors as well. A steam engine capable of 60-80 mph on a flat grade with no load could be reduced to five or ten mph pulling a steep grade with a load. They might haul a 50 ton load at some 25-30 mph but would stop at towns to let passengers on or off and pick up or drop mail as well as to take on fuel and water. When the transcontinental railroad was finished in 1869 it became possible to go from San Francisco to New York in only ten days. That’s close to 3000 miles giving an average of about 30 mph.

    These are ball park figures that I use to help keep me within the bounds of reality when time and travel come into play in my writing. Perhaps they will be helpful to you as well.

    You can visit Terry's website and blog at: http://www.terryburns.net/.

    Wednesday, March 11, 2009

    Book Review - "Carolina Scots" by Douglas F. Kelly & Carolina Switzer Kelly


    By Jennifer Hudson Taylor

    This is a nonfiction work that is an historical and genealogical study of over 100 years of emigration. The book begins with a Preface that explains the the author's background, knowledge and education on Scottish history and his upbringing in the Carolinas. He states that this is not an exhaustive study of all Scottish settlers that came to the Carolinas and that it mostly concentrates on his family roots and those he knew who came to the Carolinas through the Cape Fear region.

    There are several Scottish emigrants who settled in the Carolinas that came through Charleston, South Carolina and down the Great Wagon Road from Pennsylvania and a few through Virginia. Those families are not covered in this book.

    The book is primarily broken down into two parts. The first consists of a brief history of Scotland that includes an outline of Scotland's geography with an illustrated map of the country. The author explains the difference between the highlands and the lowlands, the culture, and language of those regions. An explanation of the highland clan system is given, clan structure, poetry and music, housing and living conditions of the 1700's with photos and illustrations, social relationships, and schools and churches in community life.

    The author then describes changes in farming practices, rent raising, and forced removals by estate holders and managers who widely contributed to the mass migration of Scots from their mother country. The Carolinas became a popular area for Scottish immigrants to target as they received many letters from family and friends describing the Carolina colony as a vast opportunity for commoners to start over and buy cheap land since there was so much of it, and be near other Scots who were already established in Carolina. It helped that North Carolina had a Scottish governor.

    Photos of homes build be Carolina Scots are included, along with a brief exerpt on their lifestyle and the business market in the Carolinas. Most Scottish immigrants were Presbyterian and began churches that still exist today. They struggled to find enough educated and qualified ministers. The Argyll Colony petitioned the Presbytery of Inverary and Synod of Argyll for a presbyterian minister in 1739, 1741 and again in 1748.

    The Gaelic language was widely spoken in the Sandhills of North Carolina and along the Upper Cape Fear region since the arrival of the Argyll Colony in 1739. As with many immigrant families today, most Scots were bilingual. They spoke Gaelic in the home and at church, but English at school and on the job. Fayettevill, NC had a Gaelic printing press in the early part of the 19th century and several of their publications are preserved in the Presbyterian Historical Foundation in Montreat, NC.

    Part Two of this book covers the family history and genealogy of the 1739 Argyll Colony in North Carolina. Three hundred and fifty men, women and children arrived with the first ship of this colony. A list of 52 names are given that have been verified. Some of the surnames include, McNeill, Armstrong, Clark, McAlester, MacLaughlin, McPherson, Buie, McCranie, Campbell, McDuffie, Stewart, McGill, Smith, Smylie, Ward, Colvin, and Cameron.

    Each family section has a brief introduction and then it lists the parents and their children, and the following subsequent generations. An exhausted list of sources is given for every chapter and section. This is an excellent book with historical documentation and detail, as well as a wonderful source of genealogical reference for the descendants of those families.
    If you would like more information on this book, visit:
    www.carolinascots.com.

    Monday, March 09, 2009

    Emotional Impact Checklist for Fiction

    By Jennifer Hudson Taylor

    Ever read a manuscript that seemed flat with no emotion to carry the story forward? I call emotion, the heartbeat of the story. It's the nucleus that holds everything together, like an electrical magnet. Without it, the story is boring, doesn't move me, and I can't stay interested or motivated enough to continue reading.

    I wanted to share the following checklist you can use during the editing process to find emotional gaps in your story.


  • Does past experiences of your character affect his/her response to current events in his/her life? How does this happen? If you can't answer this question, you need to dig deeper into your character's background and internal reactions and show it unfolding in the story.


  • How does your hero show emotion? Men tend to make jokes, get quiet, walk away, work harder, deny their feelings, change the subject, get angry, but they rarely talk about it.


  • How does your heroine show emotion? Women tend to cry, have outbursts, express their feelings, unlike men they want to talk about it with someone.


  • For every event, conversation, discovery there will be a physical response and an emotional response. Did you show the emotional behavior instead of telling about it? Combine the physical response with the emotional response to show the impact of the emotion on a deeper level.


    • Example:


      Telling - She was sad.

      Showing - Moisture filled her eyes, and she lowered her gaze, rubbing a finger across the bottom of her eyelid. Soft sniffles penetrated the silent room as she inhaled a deep breath and wiped her wet fingers on her jeans.



  • Does your dialogue show appropriate emotion? It shouldn't be through a dialogue tag that tells how something is being said, but through word choice and sentence structure.


    • Example:


      Telling - "I can hardly believe it," she exclaimed.

      Showing - "Wow!"



  • Did you avoid cliches? Instead, substitute with words of imagery.


    • Example:
      Cliche - She floated on cloud nine.

      Imagery - She flew high like a kite out of anchoring string.



  • Did you use sensory to convey emotion to the reader? Where appropriate, your reader should be able to imagine or feel what your character is seeing, smelling, hearing, tasting, and touching.


  • Layering these emotional tips into your manuscript will give it more depth and meaning to the reader. It will help them to feel the story as your character feels life happening to him/her. The key is to make it feel real and you must do that by stirring more than just pure imagination, but the senses of imagination.


    And don't miss my interview today on Carolina Mama!


    Friday, March 06, 2009

    Sunday in the Early Colonies

    By Jennifer Hudson Taylor

    While religious services varied depending on the denomination, most early churches in the colonies were Presbyterian, Methodist, Baptists, Lutheran, Quakers, and Moravians. In spite of their differences in beliefs and the way they worshiped, all of them still had many similar characteristics.

    Most early churches didn't have buildings. They would meet in court houses, forts, tents, open fields when weather permitted, barns, or wherever they could gather.

    Meeting-houses were the first buildings for most early churches with no steeple. They were long houses with clay-filled chink, and thatched roofs with long grass and weeds.

    Men and women sat on opposite sides rather than whole families sitting together. Once in a while, young men and women were allowed to sit in the gallery together, if there was a gallery. Little girls sat beside their mothers, and boys were seated together by themselves on staircases if there were any or off to the side. The tithing-men would watch over them to ensure they behaved in orderly conduct.

    Services were long. Sermons could last two to three hours and prayers one to two hours. An hour-glass was turned to keep the passing of time at the pulpit.

    Once church service began, no man, woman, or child could leave regardless of fatigue or restlessness. I can only imagine how hard this was on the children.

    Songs were song by memory without notes and music by ear with no instruments. Most early churches had no organ or piano. These were ordered long after the colony was well established and could afford it.

    Sunday was considered a day of worship and rest. Fishing, rowing, sailing, shooting, farming, riding for fun, all these and similar activities were forbidden.

    If residents missed service, a group of members were assigned to go visiting the people in their homes to find out why they didn't show up at church. They would be reprimanded by the church without just cause.

    Most of the above information, came from Children's Life in Colonial America by George Rice and from church minutes I've read from some early churches in the Carolinas.

    Monday, March 02, 2009

    Sir Thomas - Our Scottish Snowman


    By Jennifer Hudson Taylor

    I'm taking a break from my usual Monday posts on writing to blog about the great snow we finally received in Charlotte, NC. The last time we got enough snow to make a snowman was several years ago in Winston-Salem, NC. Today my daughter decided she wanted to make a Scottish snowman.


    So please welcome Sir Thomas!


    I don't know where this name came from, but Celina decided she wanted to call him Sir Thomas. I doubt she realizes it, but my grandfather was Lee Thomas Hudson, my uncle was Thomas Herseley Hudson, and my brother is Keith Thomas Hudson, so I suppose the name fits in our family.

    Celina is standing in the photo above with Sir Thomas and her golden retriever, Kada. This dog absolutely loves the snow. She danced and pranced around chasing snowflakes last night until we literally forced her back inside. Today when we were trying to make Sir Thomas, she thought the snowman's stick arms were hers to play with, chew up, and break. She demolished the first ball of snow we'd made for the snowman's body. She took a running start and jumped on the ball of snow like one would a pile of leaves.


    And before we went inside to thaw out and have some hot chocolate, Dwayne and Celina made snow angels. This is a perfect day off work and out of school! That's the one thing I love about living in the south. When it snows we get a break from the daily grind of work and school. And of course, it gives me the extra time I need to work on my novel. I have a social dinner scene to finish in 1810 Charleston, SC.