Research can be deadly (OR) Why Scotland?

So, as I’m writing (yay!), I’m listening to a guided meditation.  There is a very calming voice in my ears telling me that I am intimately connected to the creative power of the Universe.

I’m also looking at pictures of the Scottish countryside, because that’s where the next part of my story takes place. Why Scotland? Why do American writers always go back to Scotland? I’ll tell you why: because it’s pure dead brilliant that’s why. And if you’ve ever been there, you know what I’m talking about. It’s been over 20 years since the summer I spent there, and it still pulls me back.

eilean donan castle

My husband thinks I’m crazy. I’m sure he thinks it’s just a nerd-fantasy thing, and yeah it’s that, too. I’m a nerd, I like fantasy, so that’s cool. But he probably wishes I would shut up about it –  the same way I get when people talk about football.


But looking at the pictures helps me get in the mindset. Where my characters are, what they’re doing, the topography they’re traveling through. If I can see it in my mind’s eye, I can follow them, and let them show me what’s going to happen next. It also helps me focus.

Why is research deadly? Because like so many other things – like blogging for instance (ahem) – it takes away from what I should be doing, which is writing.

The searches, images, and learning more about the things in my story help me feel connected to what’s going on in that world, as opposed to letting my mind wander back to the dusting and the laundry pile. Not to mention that it’s Christmas and that puts a whole new spin on the lack of writing time. Even though research (er, Google) can be a deadly distraction from your daily word count, sometimes you just need to dump the everyday garbage out of your head before you can make way for your story. Don’t overthink and don’t be too hard on yourself.

clear your head (

Thankfully, I’m making progress. I keep telling myself that all I have to do is keep moving my story forward, and it will tell me where it needs to go.

So now I’m going to stop blogging and researching and get back to writing. Happy Holidays everyone.

xoxo heidi.

Enjoy some pictures of Scotland (click for source):

Black Watch Regimental colours


birks of aberfeldy
birks of aberfeldy
the Isle of Mull, with Duart Castle, from Bike Scotland
the Isle of Mull, with Duart Castle, from Bike Scotland
Tobermory, on the Isle of Mull ©Mitchell Ratner, Smile of the Dandelion (with permission)
St. Kilda,
St. Kilda,
Kelpies at Falkirk, ©Ben Williams,
Kelpies at Falkirk, ©Ben Williams,
Jamie and Claire; Outlander
Jamie and Claire; Outlander

— If anyone ever says to you, “Hey I’ve got an aunt who lives in Glasgow, you want to hang out for the summer?” Say yes.

— More Scotland info here.

— the meditation currently in my ears: click here.

Merry Christmas.

Juniper is waiting for Santa :)
Juniper is waiting for Santa :)

What I learned at Barnes & Noble Today

  • Time flies when you are looking at books.
  • There are way more books to read than I will ever have time for in my life.
  • For fiction books, all you need to read is the first page to know if you’ll like the book.
  • My fantasy-adventure story is still relevant. The “does it matter?” slump/doubt has been completely erased, and fed with new inspiration. Thanks to the teen & young reader’s section, and re-visiting some of the classics.

classic books

  • My read-aloud bedtime book is very relevant, and I can do my own illustrations. Even though I’m totally getting into unleashing my artistic side, I’ve been overwhelmed by my lack of experience. I keep thinking: How can I illustrate this story while fooling everyone into thinking I know what I’m doing?

With the recent nudging of a very good friend, some inspiration from Neil Himself (watch this video, and if you already have, watch it again), and today’s hours spent in the children’s section, now I know: art is art. Everyone has a different approach, and like Mr. Gaiman says, no one  can tell my story but me. No one can create the art that’s in my head but me.


Off I go.

Meet the Writer – Anna Questerly

An author interview on the craft of writing.

Featured Writer: Anna Questerly

Books: The Minstrel’s Tale I, II, and III

Young adult historical fiction

Buy Anna’s books:

Intro, from Heidi:

I first met Anna at her bookstore, Dog Eared Pages Used Books in Phoenix. It is right next to the kitchen for the caterers where I work, and of course when I see a bookstore I have to go in and check it out. Let me just tell you, if you are ever in the north Phoenix area, and are in need of something to read, you HAVE to go into this store.

Dog Eared Pages has that magical quality of looking very small on the outside, but when you walk in – look out! You could seriously get lost in here. And if you do, that’s OK, because you will have PLENTY to read while you wait for the search parties. The atmosphere is complete with shelves and stacks of books that twist and turn and reach up to the ceiling. There are weekly discussion groups and writer events as well.

When we got to talking and Anna told me about her first book, The Minstrel’s Tale, I picked up a copy. I’m a huge fan of historical fiction, and Anna’s book does not disappoint. Her characters take you on quite an adventure, weaving the tale of a contemporary American teen with fairy  tales, folklore, and little-known facts of 14th-century British monarchy.

On craft:

How old were you when you started writing? 

I attempted to write since I was about twelve years old. However, I was forty-six by the time I actually finished a story.

Where do you write? 

I have a huge dining room table that I’ve taken over as a writing desk. It’s completely covered with manuscripts in different stages of editing, timelines, character sketches, maps, research material.

When do you write? 

I get up early and write for a couple hours in the morning. Then I get two days off a week to work on my writing. Most of my editing and rewrites get done on those days.

What helps you write—music, pictures, maps, journals, etc.—what gets you into that mindset?

My magic book. My journal, is how I tap into the creativity, resolve plot issues, and develop characters. I write in it every day, yet I never reread it.

What are some things that stand in your way? logistically as well as creatively?

What do you do when you “hit a wall?” 

On days I just don’t want to write or can’t figure out where to go, I promise myself that if I just write 250 words, I’ll call it a day. I think taking the pressure off helps, because on those days I almost always manage to get over 1000 words done and have a good idea where I’m going from there.

Do you use an outline—do you know exactly how the arc will play out—or do you just let the story develop as you write? If so, how do you outline? (notecards, etc.) 

I do a bit of both. Like a roadtrip, I want to know where I’m eventually going, but I like to leave the way open for fun adventures and fortuitous discoveries. I always know my endings before I begin, but leave the path open to get there. It’s more fun that way, since I want to know what’s going to happen next.

How do you draft/revise? (i.e. do you just get it out in one big “dump,” then revise, revise revise, or do you revise and edit as you go)

I write my draft first and then revise– forever it seems

What are some tools that you use? (reference guides, manuals, websites—a favorite pen/notebook/computer)

I write historical fiction, so I use a lot of reference books, maps, andbiographies.

Do you use critique groups?

How did you find them? Yes, my critique partners have improved my writing immeasurably. I found them through writer’s groups at my bookstore, Dog-Eared Pages in Phoenix.

On your current project:

What kind of research did you do for this book? And, were you surprised by something that you learned in your research?

I was surprised how much 14th century politics resembles our current political/economical problems. For example; the Peasants Revolt in Britain was similar(although bloodier) to the Occupy Wall Street movement.

How good did it feel to write that last line? 

Bittersweet. I am so happy to have finished, but I’m going to miss those characters.

On the business of publishing:

How did you find your agent/editor? 

Great question; I actually had to make my own editor. My daughter edits for a living and has been so helpful with my books. I trust her more than anyone else I can think of and probably wouldn’t have dared publish without her help.

How has self-publishing shaped your career as a writer? OR What is your opinion of self-publishing? 

I love the ease of self-publishing. The more I learned of traditional publishing and the problems authors have with their rights, royalties, and marketing, the more certain I am self-publishing was for me. It’s more important than ever to have good editing when you go it alone.

What can you share with our readers about marketing? (i.e. what, if any, support did you have from your publisher? Costs involved? Things that worked best/weren’t worth it, etc.) 

The Kindle program that allows me to be paid for books borrowed has been great. I’d recommend it to any author.

About You:

What is a trick that you’ve learned along the way that has made the writing process easier? 

I can’t remember where I read it, but it’s one of my favorite lines. If you get a button chair (butt-in-chair), you can write.

What writers inspire you? 

Tolkien, Twain, Dr. Seuss, Steven King, JK Rowling and so many more

What do you like to read for enjoyment?

Historical fiction, fantasy, horror, sci-fi (pure escapism)

We all know that learning from our mistakes is part of the process of becoming who we are. As a writer, what’s one lesson you’ve learned that you would like to pass on to others? 

How to handle a critique. This was a huge lesson for me. One of my readers pointed out that I had a character in the story I hadn’t introduced. I argued and showed her where I had introduced him in the previous chapter. I was ready to discount her suggestion, thinking she hadn’t read it correctly. While I was discussing it with another writer, he said to me, “Maybe you didn’t make the character memorable enough.” This was a big wake up call. If something isn’t clear to the reader, you can’t blame the reader. As the author it’s my job to make things clear to my readers.

What’s next for you? 

Another series. This one will be present day. If Nancy Drew and Indiana Jones had a daughter wouldn’t that be a blast? That’s my main character for the new series.

While reading Kris Tualla’s book, Becoming and Authorpreneur; Navigating a 21st-Century Career in Publishing, I was pleasantly surprised to see her refer to you in her chapter on the importance of “branding.” It must be an honor to be referred to by other authors!

It is a wonderful feeling to be referred to by other authors. It’s always an honor to be recognized by one’s peers and Kris Tualla is an amazing author so it was special.

Here are the books:


The Minstrel’s Tale

Amos Questerly, a wandering minstrel in fourteenth century Europe, takes on a mysterious young apprentice. But his new protégé, Richard, carries a deadly secret. A secret someone is willing to kill for.

To reach safety they must earn their way to England by telling exciting stories of magical swords, princesses and dragons, while danger follows on their heels.

By the time Amos learns Richard’s secret, it’s clear even England may not be safe. The two, trapped in an adventure as thrilling as any of the Minstrel’s tales, must follow a perilous path that leads straight to the royal palace.



The Minstrel’s Tale II

The Minstrel’s Tale continues…

A boy with the power of a king.

A wandering minstrel bound by an oath.

A secret that unites them.

When Minstrel Amos Questerly’s ten-year-old apprentice, Richard, ascends the throne of England, Amos soon finds himself entangled in royal affairs.

Determined to return to his wandering ways, the minstrel instead finds himself drawn further into the king’s inner circle where powerful enemies conspire and scheme for control.

The country at war, the treasury low, and the young king’s first decision triggers the roiling anger of England’s peasantry to erupt, and plunges London into a revolt that shakes the foundations of a nation.

The Minstrel’s Tale III

The Questerly saga continues…

King Richard II, once a friend — now a powerful enemy, refuses to release Minstrel Amos Questerly from the impregnable Tower of London.

A daring plan to rescue Amos leads to more exciting adventures and incredible dangers in this thrilling conclusion to the Minstrel’s Tale.

Anna can be found online:

Thanks for taking us on 3 amazing adventures, Anna!