Marsha Canham's Blog

September 8, 2011

Dancing with the Fireflies

Filed under: Caesars Through the Fence — marshacanham @ 2:10 pm

I was going through email this morning and, after hitting delete a lot, tickled the keys and answered the few that caught my eye.  One came from another author who mentioned she was thrilled about the ebook revolution because it gave her the freedom to write at her own speed, with no ugly deadlines looming overhead like a thundercloud.

I had to agree wholeheartedly.  That was always the worst part, to me anyway, about writing.  Once the thrill of signing that first contract fades, and the utter and complete breathless joy of walking into a bookstore and seeing your first book on the shelf passes…what comes next in rather rapid succession is the realization that you have to keep writing at a pace that puts at least one book a year in front of the readers.  The lucky ones can sit their bums down the day after they send a manuscript off and instantly start another book.  The really lucky ones have two, even three books on the go at the same time and simply switch gears to another storyline.

Me? I was always a one book a year…if I was lucky.  I’m the first to admit my writing habits are horrible.  I learned way back that I couldn’t force myself to write if the mood wasn’t right. When I did that, I usually scribbled garbage that just got scrapped somewhere down the line anyway.  I also don’t work from an outline, which makes it difficult to know ahead of time where your story is going and what your characters are doing. Plus, I like to toss in the odd twist and turn so the story doesn’t always go where the reader expects it to go.  The drawback there is, when I kill off a character who has been the likely suspect through half of the book, I have to come up with a new villain who logically fits the bill.  Sometimes that requires going back and redoing bits in the half of the book that is written already, so its like taking one step forward and scrambling two back.

Plus, I’m never happy with what I’ve written.  I’ve been known to take two weeks over a single short scene, writing it twenty different ways until the right words *ping* in my head.  I swear there is an actual *ping* sound, and the fingers tingle, and I can draw a full deep breath again.  I vividly recall the angst I suffered over writing a death scene in The Blood of Roses.  It *had* to be just right. Had to.  The victim was a character I had lived with for over three years, writing him as a major personality who was funny and sensitive and loving and gentle and loyal and heroic. His death was intended to more or less encapsulate the horror and tragedy of the war as I had discovered it through my research, and to shock the reader into seeing that through my eyes.  I lost count of how many different ways I wrote that pivotal scene. The nights I lay awake staring at the ceiling, picturing it as a movie and what if I did this, or what if I did that…  I moved on and wrote around it, because I had other brave, heroic characters to kill off too (it was a major battle, after all) but I kept going back, kept that one scene in my mind knowing I had to do it eventually…and I did.  I think the words didn’t come for so long because I just didn’t want him to die.  He, like all of the characters I write and invest so much time and emotion in, had become a major part of my life, so it was like watching a close, dear friend die.  Augh. And choosing the method of his death.

So it comes as no surprise that I can honestly say I have never met a publisher’s deadline. Being one or two months overdue was normal for me and luckily I had reasonably understanding editors.  Hard to argue with:  I haven’t figured out how to end it yet.  My longest misfire was eleven months, and that was, oddly enough, for The Pride of Lions which was the first book of the Scotland trilogy.  The story had been originally conceived to fit into one book…hero and heroine on opposite sides of a war…meeting, clashing, falling in love despite their differences etc etc etc.  I had just finished The Wind and the Sea, which had a cast of a bazillion characters and at some point or other just about every one of them had been the suspected villain, so I had spent a good many brain cells trying to lead the reader down all kinds of twisty turning paths.  I just wanted to write a straightforward romance with none of the 17 hour days of writing.

Uh huh.  First mistake was basing the book in Scotland.  I totally blame my neighbour at the time, Jeannie, who was a fiery little Scottish gnome who loved to get drunk as a fart and bellow out songs in the backyard at 3am.  She stood about 4ft 6 and had a set of lungs on her that had windows slamming all around the townhouse complex.  You could set your watch by how long it took for the cop cruiser to show up, and after five minutes with Jeannie, the cops were laughing so hard, they had tears in their eyes.  And she would usually sing them on their way back to their cruisers.

So it was Jeannie’s fault, because her favorite song was  Lock Lomand “You take the high road and I’ll take the low road…”  And of course the one killer line that always made my fingers tingle to grab a pen… “But me and my true love will never meet again…”  How deliciously tragic, perfect for a romance novel especially since, by Jeannie’s telling of it, the author of the poem was a soldier in the rebellion, anonymous, and the words were found on his body, scribbled on a piece of paper in his pocket.

If you search Wikipedia, you find this:

There are many theories about the meaning of the song. One interpretation is that it is attributed to a Jacobite Highlander who was captured after the 1745 rising. The English played games with the Jacobites, and said that one of them could live and one would die. This is sung by the one who was sentenced to die, the low road referred to being the passage to the underworld. Some believe that this version is written to a lover who lived near the loch.

Another interpretation is that the song is sung by the lover of a captured rebel set to be executed in London following a show trial. The heads of the executed rebels were then set upon pikes and exhibited in all of the towns between London and Glasgow in a procession along the “high road” (the most important road), while the relatives of the rebels walked back along the “low road” (the ordinary road travelled by peasants and commoners).

So Jeannie wasn’t far off and I was hooked, so I had the little firefly of an idea buzzing around in my head.  Unfortunately, you don’t just sit down and write a story based in Scotland the way you would sit down and write a story based in, say Peoria.  The simple act of choosing a name for my hero and a location for his clan took weeks of research because heaven forbid I put a Cameron on Argyll land. Then came the politics.  And religion.  And even after I had finished The Pride of Lions for the second time and gave it to a Scottish friend of mine to read over, she said yes, story is great, but you’ve got all the Highlanders speaking with a Lowland dialect.  AUGH.

Notice I said there, finished it for the second time?

I tried. I really tried to write a straightforward romance based in Scotland, using the rebellion as the backdrop for the angst between the two main characters. But when I got to the end, totally unhappy with what I had, I gave it to my (now known as beta readers) close friend and extremely harsh, honest critic, who gave it back and said the fateful words:  It’s okay, but pretty ordinary.

Oh. My. God.

I sat on it for days.  I had already missed the deadline and the editor was getting antsy, it was already slotted into the publishing schedule for the following spring…

But my neighbour had only confirmed what I knew myself.  All through the book I had wanted to expand on things I had found in my research. I wanted to make it longer, bigger, grander.  I wanted to do the rebellion justice and make it a huge part of the story, not just a bit of tattered plaid in the back ground.  I wanted to dance with a whole flock of fireflies, not just one or two.  So what did I do?  Called the editor, told her the book was finished but it was crap and I was tossing it out and starting all over again.

In the silence that followed, I could hear her blinking.

So I explained what I had, what I had tried to do, what was bothering me about what I had done, and what I really truly wanted to do.  She listened without interrupting and when I was finished sketching out what would eventually become the two books, The Pride of Lions and The Blood of Roses, she said three little words.  Go for it.

The point of this ramble (and you can see now how my mind wanders off the beaten path and follows its own) is that we…the authors who dream up the stories, or feel that tingle, or hear that *ping*, no longer have to worry about rushing through a book to meet a deadline.  I read emails from friends all the time who say, omg, I can’t even come up for air, I have a deadline, I can’t eat or sleep until I finish this…yada yada…


Perhaps taking advice from someone who never met a deadline is a little sketchy, but hey, you rush it, the book suffers.  You take short cuts, the book suffers.  You don’t write it the way you want to write it, the book suffers.  Prime example is my own book, My Forever Love.  You notice it hasn’t joined the other backlist books I’ve reissued? That’s because I read it through and was mortified.  I could see exactly where the pressure of disinterested editors, rules and regulations about length and content, deadlines, the pointlessness of writing something that would get little or no distribution or marketting….all came crashing down on me.  I knew halfway through that book that it wasn’t fun anymore and I had always said that when writing stopped being fun, I would stop writing.

Well.  Hello ebook revolution.  Hello all you wonderful readers who have remembered me through 7 years of silence.  Hello all of you new readers who never had a chance to read my books because they were taken off the shelves and relegated to obscurity.  And hello all of you readers who enjoy the excitement, the intrigue, the adventure of having the history be a secondary character and not just a colourful backdrop to the story.

Hello all you readers who enjoy dancing with the fireflies. I’m back, I’m happy, and the fingers are tingling again.



  1. Midnight Honor is STILL my all time favorite book. Can you reissue that one? I think I have reread it five or more times. The love triangle was so wonderful and the all the characters maintained their loyalty to the end. It was the first book that made me cry.

    Comment by Juliet — September 8, 2011 @ 6:10 pm | Reply

    • Juliet…
      Unfortunately, the three Scotland books are the three that Dell refuses to give me the rights back. So there’s nothing I can do about it, although I noticed they’ve dropped the prices on all three of the kindle editions. Maybe if no one buys them for the next year, they’ll relent and give them back to me LOL

      Comment by marshacanham — September 8, 2011 @ 8:04 pm | Reply

  2. And, this very informative post, is why your writing is so far superior to so many other authors out there. You didn’t short change your readers or yourself. You were true to yourself and your amazing talent. And I, like so my other of your readers, are so happy that you followed your heart, didn’t cave to your publishers and put out books that were, and are, so incredible. But above all, I am SO very happy you are back in the game. Well worth the long wait!

    Comment by caseykelly3 — September 9, 2011 @ 1:41 pm | Reply

    • Casey, thank you so much. Most editors, unfortunately, don’t have the same attitude as most readers. They want it NOW. Just hurry up and finish, you’re on the schedule, I have quotas to meet, yada yada. What always fascinated me was, even if you did bust your butt getting something to them Fast Fast Fast, it sat on the editor’s desk for three or four months before she even got around to reading it. And if she was pressed for time, she only did a glance-through to make sure there were words on every page, not whether they made sense or not. That kind of attitude not only short-changed the readers, but it short-changed the authors too.

      Comment by marshacanham — September 11, 2011 @ 1:55 pm | Reply

  3. What can I say that hasn’t already been said? You’re the best there is…I’ve read them all….
    Keep on writing!

    Comment by Vicki Nolan — September 11, 2011 @ 1:14 pm | Reply

    • Vicki…thank you so much. And I am. I’m writing. But I never was the fastest writer at the best of times LOL

      Comment by marshacanham — September 11, 2011 @ 1:56 pm | Reply

  4. Marsha, I take my hat off – your talent to combine historical setting with a hot romance is unmatched. I read all your books on amazon. Can’t wait to read more and will be re-reading most of them while I am waiting. What a pleasant surprise to stumble upon your blog!! You are an amazing writer! It’s going to sound suss but you have fired my desire to learn more history. Wishing you all the best! Jane from Sydney, Australia

    Comment by Jane Markova — September 19, 2011 @ 11:22 pm | Reply

    • Jane, thank you. I’m always amazed at how the internet makes it possible for people who live half a world apart to connect so easily. Australia is somewhere I’ve always wanted to visit.

      Oh, and I’m glad you enjoy my books too *G*.

      Comment by marshacanham — September 20, 2011 @ 4:12 am | Reply

  5. Marsha – I am rereading “Through a Dark Mist” for the umpteenth time and went online this morning with the burning hope that you had written something new, or were about to. And, low-and-behold, I found your “new” blog (I used to regularly visit Caesars Through the Fence) and read this post. I’m doing the happy dance in my chair! Yes, I adore history being the secondary character of the story! And, I love, love, love, the way you write. I always feel completely immersed in your stories. You sweep me away and I feel every gritty, misty, sandy, sea-sprayed, and dare I say HOT moment. Can’t wait to see where you will take us next. My iPad will have a shelf (or two) just for you.

    Comment by Susan — September 24, 2011 @ 3:37 pm | Reply

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