This Is Meghan Bode’s Territory Now

Recently my husband and I made a day trip to Gunston Hall in Virginia, the home of George Mason.

Gunston Hall. Evelyn Browne can only wish this was her ancestral home….

Reconstructed yard at Gunston Hall. Most Colonial plantations had separate buildings for the kitchen, laundry, and other daily work. Meghan has found the archaeological remains of similar buildings at Wyndham Thicket Farm.

Most of you are likely drawing a blank. But as the American Revolution loomed, the Bill of Rights that Mason wrote for Virginia formed the basis of the Declaration of Independence. To my mind, this is one reason why the Jefferson Memorial on the National Mall should be repurposed to commemorate all the men—and women—whose thoughts and visions led to that document. Jefferson merely set down their ideas in words. Shouldn’t we remember everyone who contributed those ideas?

But I digress.

Gunston Hall, built from 1755–1759, is a National Historic Landmark and has a commanding view over the Potomac River. As my husband drove there, I thought about the passing scenery.

The Capital Beltway in Virginia. Meghan lives outside it but not by much….

Another view of the Beltway. Traffic isn’t bad on a Saturday morning heading into Virginia. Weekday commutes are another story.

I’ve always thought of this as Madeleine O’Brien territory. But on this trip, Meghan Bode reminded me that she lives here, too. Two characters. Both women. Both archaeologists. Both with similar names. I know—they should be more different. Something has to give.

For now, Madeleine has yielded the stage. Her novel isn’t ready for publication, and we both know it. And Meghan has stepped forward with her ideas.

Her two live “stories,” which really were first drafts, drew a positive response from readers. But as they stand, they’re not “real” stories. They lack antagonists. Meghan lacks flaws and goals.  But they offer a glimpse into the potential of her world and character.

Rural Loudoun County. Madeleine O’Brien found something interesting in this area. I think she and Meghan know each other, even though they work at different universities. I’d bet Meghan’s done some work of her own around here in the past.

And I know her current ideas have the makings of a real story. One with a modern-day antagonist. One with obstacles to her plans. One with a theme and concept.

Writing it will be hard work. That is abundantly clear already.

Archaeologists take a much-needed break from excavations at Gunston Hall. It was 95F that day (35C).

Can I succeed with Meghan where I’ve so far stumbled with Madeleine, and before that, Catherine? Only time will tell. But the planning proceeds. I’ve even let myself draft a couple of scenes. As I said in an earlier post, I’ll never give up pantsing completely. But I think this story is a real litmus test for me as to whether I can craft a tight, well-paced, and engaging novel from Page 1 through The End. The ball’s in Meghan’s court now, and we’ll see what she’s made of and whether she can whip this writer into an author.

So I hope you’ll excuse me as I wrap up this post and get back to:

Where I need to be if I’m going to succeed with…


Have a great day, everyone, and may you make good progress on all your endeavors. And for anyone who has faced the dreaded “brick wall” or writer’s block, check out this recent post on Harvesting Hecate. I found it incredibly helpful and a wonderfully positive way to view the situation.

44 thoughts on “This Is Meghan Bode’s Territory Now

  1. Best of luck with Megan Bode. I have no doubt that if you keep going with this kind of determination you will succeed. I recently got mine back from the editor and, whilst the feedback was great, there’s clearly a bit to do also!! BTW, is it me or does your photo of rural Loudoun County appear to have a ghost shimmering through the fields. Mmmm.. intriguing!!


    • It’s slow going right now because my part-time job is approaching full-time hours for the foreseeable future. Murphy’s Law strikes again! While those editorial comments can be daunting, they’re also invaluable for helping us write the best stories we can. I know the hard work you put in on your manuscript will make it shine.

      Vanessa is correct about the car window. Alas, wouldn’t it be much more fun if it were a real ghost? Maybe Josiah Kent from Buried Deeds? 🙂


  2. Thank you for taking me one that trip and for a bit of history. While I lived in the US for a number of years, I am very ignorant of your history. I’m looking forward to Megan’s story. A good combination of planning and pantsy, I call it plantsing, will bring it all together. I love your comfy chair 🙂


    • I suspect most life-long Americans have never heard of George Mason, unless they’re familiar with the university that bears his name. As a country, we pay too little attention to history, and I think that’s one of our major flaws for moving into the future….

      I hope the “plantsing” (love that term!) will help. Meghan was disappointed that we didn’t run ahead with a third story on the blog, but that may have encouraged her to come up with what is shaping up into a full novel. 😉

      Given how much time I spend in it (both writing and for the day job), a comfy chair is a must!


  3. Lovely photos. And good luck with evolving Meghan’s character and story. I so need to get back to writing some proper fiction, I keep dabbling in little bits and not doing anything properly!


    • It’s hard because I now find myself putting in nearly full-time hours at work, which has not been the case for a long time. And, of course, that’s when the Muse (and Meghan) decide to strike after a long hiatus! But I hope the planning will lead to better results than I had with the previous two manuscripts.

      Now, get you back to your Muse and writing! You have an audience waiting. 🙂


  4. Great photos! Last summer at exactly this time, my husband and I made a trip to Washington/Virginia for our 20th anniversary. Your photos remind me of the trip, particularly our visit to the Mount Vernon estate and the archaeological site at Jamestown.


    • I love Mount Vernon and Jamestown. 🙂 Just what you’d expect from an archaeologist, right? It’s easy to see how the area inspires my fiction, I think. And congratulations on the anniversary! My husband and I just celebrated our 22nd in May. Where does the time go? 🙂


  5. I like Meghan’s territory in pictures. It’s as I imagined it when I read those short posts earlier in the year of hers. Good luck with the writing. It is a challenge, but worth it.


    • It is challenging, isn’t it? I think writing this post was also a way for my subconscious to prod me to move forward. It would be so easy to say, “This is too hard. I’ll just quit.” But somehow, I keep going forward. I still haven’t figured out how that drive came about!


  6. At Thrillerfest, the writing conference I just attended, there were lots of discussions on pantsing vs. plotting. Most speakers agreed that for a thriller, some outlining was needed (though not all agreed). What was interesting was how they all went about it differently. Some outlined the entire thing extensively (like moi). Others outlined only the first 25% or the last 25%. Some outlined the first 25% AND the last 25%. Some outlined the first third, then wrote a first draft for it; then they outlined the second third and wrote the first draft for that, etc. I think the take away point was to do whatever works for the writer and whatever keeps the story moving along and our bottoms in the chair. 🙂


    • Hmm, it sounds like thriller writers run the full spectrum from pantsing to complete outlining. Speaking more generally for “mystery,” even this pantser thinks at least some planning is needed! Planting clues, creating red herrings, making it possible for a reader to reach the right outcome—that’s hard to create on the fly. Maybe it worked for Meghan’s two blog serials, but for a full novel? Even she’s admitting she can’t do that “cold.”

      And, yes, it’s time I just admit she has a full-blown novel in mind for me. And I’m shaking in my metaphorical boots (it’s way too hot for the real thing)! I’ve always enjoyed mysteries, but the thought of writing one petrifies me. Especially in this day and age when people seem to love dark, twisted, sociopathic/psychopathic, violent ones. I absolutely cannot write something like that. Meghan may be touching on some hot-button social issues in this story, but the violence and dark psychological aspects are definitely not present.

      Still, I have to follow where she and the Muse lead me. I just hope this time we’ll have a manuscript that I can take to publication!


      • There’s still a big demand for ‘cozy mysteries.’ There were several authors of that genre at Thrillerfest. Meghan might fit quite nicely into that category. 🙂

        And yes, it’s way too hot for boots, even my wild-cat ones. I’m currently in Boston (celebrating 25 years with the hubby). Great city but presently quite toasty…


  7. Your passion, conviction and self-confidence shines through In this post. Maeghan will succeed. I am with you on pantsing, though some outlining iis usually helpful (Carrie Rubin’s comments above make sense). So excited for you that the muse is back!


    • Shh, don’t tell anyone, but I think this post was partly meant to inspire some self-confidence. 😉 If you read my reply to Carrie above, you can see how nervous I am about embarking on this adventure! I keep telling myself that every successful “career novelist” has at least one, and usually several, “bottom drawer” manuscripts. So I shouldn’t be so hard on myself for shelving the first two I wrote. Maybe they were “practice” for what Meghan has in mind. I honestly don’t know. But I do know that no matter how often I say “I should just quit trying to write,” the Muse keeps guiding me back to this chair!


    • Honestly, Meghan wanted to write a third story “live” on the blog every Tuesday. But I was exhausted from the first two! 🙂 Apparently, she’s gotten back at me by presenting a full-blown novel challenge. She’s quiet, but determined. Like my earlier characters, she’s in control. And just maybe, she’ll be the one who makes a published author of me….

      Gunston Hall is beautiful. Of course, I’m a Libra and love balance, so Federal-style appeals to me. 😉


  8. I often hear it said that it’s the third book (roughly) that flies for most authors. It takes a couple of tries to work the kinks out and find your voice, your niche… whatever it takes… Go for it!


    • Oh, how I would love the third time to be the charm. 😉 But it’ll take a lot of work to get there. I keep trying to focus on “just having fun” for now. We’ll see if that works!


    • Well, when I’m spending time on the story, I’m mostly planning. 😉 Working 30 or more hours per week isn’t something I’ve done for a while, and it’s really cutting into my writing time. Hopefully Meghan won’t get tired of it and wander off!


  9. It sounds as though Meghan is evolving, if only in your head at present!
    The name Gallows Rd caught my attention – I bet there’s some dark history to that name.


    • I was wondering if anyone would pick up on that name! I chose it purposely for that reason. Apparently that is where the public gallows were located in the past. I’d like to think we’ve made some progress since those days!


  10. Really enjoyed this glimpse into your thoughts on Meghan’s journey. And maybe it was the title, but I thought immediately of her most recent adventure when I saw those first photos! 🙂

    I think your head is in the right place to shift successfully from pantsing to planning. As you said, there’s nothing wrong with the former, but to become that author takes a lot of plot crafting.

    I see what you’re saying about the importance of antagonists, but conflict – especially in a mystery – doesn’t have to come from another person trying to derail the main protagonist. Since Meghan isn’t a gumshoe type, I personally don’t take issue with her not being in dangerous situations. She’s a thinker and a scholar, and you’ve certainly made me appreciate the tension created by research findings and time constraints in her stories. But, again, that’s just me.

    Good luck with the next steps! I’m with you in spirit. 🙂


    • Gunston Hall was built about 30 years after Wyndham Thicket in Buried Deeds, but Wyndham Thicket would have been standing when Gunston was built. 😉

      I still don’t know where future stories with Meghan would lead. There are some ideas kicking around in my head that would center on a “historic” find rather than a modern case, but I wonder if I could make them appealing to an audience of any size. This one is shaping up as a more traditional story—at least I think that’s how it’s going. I’ll have to reevaluate that as I make progress through the draft!

      And I may disappoint some mystery/thriller fans here, but I don’t see her ever being in danger. So the conflicts and tension will have to take a different form. I have an idea what they are for this story. Hopefully, we’ll find good ones for future stories, too. But right now, I need to take this one story one step at a time!

      I definitely appreciate the company! 🙂


  11. JM, you are so honest and forthcoming about your trepidations and fears in tackling this new story and wanting to get it right. The good news is that we’ve all met Meghan and we loved her and your story telling! I have no doubt that you and Meghan will deliver. You’re taking your time, thinking it through, and plantsing (as Kateis mentioned above – I like that word too!). Good luck with the writing (when you get to it).

    By the way, the pictures were so much how I pictured the settings you described in Meghan’s stories. Great job!!!


    • If only Murphy’s Law hadn’t kicked in. 😉 When I had a light spell of work at the day job, my writing had ground to a halt. Meghan’s ideas for this story have come about as I find myself busier than I’ve been in quite a while. I have a sneaking suspicion that’s NOT a coincidence. By spending less time stressing over the shelved WIPs and what to do next, I probably gave my creative mind the break it needed to receive the Muse and Meghan’s next idea….

      And now there’s less time to plan and write. But I hope the planning will ultimately make the writing flow more easily and quickly. We’ll see. And I’ll definitely post about how that goes. 😉

      Fingers crossed that Meghan and I get to spend some quality writing time together this weekend. And when the weather gets cooler, maybe my husband and I will make more trips to Virginia with the camera for Meghan. 😉


  12. Somehow walking around the scene of the crime/reasonable substitute brings up so many ideas and gets words moving. Loved the pictures – those make the stories seem so real and possible.
    ( those roads there are usually so crowded and frantic – and some you can go on at this time, but not that ..a bit confusing)
    I’ve noticed a couple of authors recently have offered short “before the actual novel” short books downloadable for free, then the real novel is for sale….maybe Meghan is setting you up for success in that direction with her stories so far?
    A historic find – sounds interesting…especially if there’s consequences or if that find is based on an old mystery.
    (Nice desk for writing!)


    • I don’t know if I could ever learn to use Virginia’s HOV lanes. Mornings they’re open to traffic moving one way. In the afternoon, they do the opposite. Sometimes they’re open partway and other times not at all. Too confusing for me! Maryland’s are much more straightforward—but there just aren’t enough of them.

      I’ve wondered that about Meghan’s plans, too. Maybe she’ll offer that first, unexpected story as an introduction. Buried Deeds, though, is another matter. 😉 And if she doesn’t change things around on me as we finish planning, I think readers will see a relationship between the historic find and the modern event. But I’d best not say more in case changes are in store….

      I’d never trade in this desk—it was the first dining room table my husband and I bought together. 🙂


      • It looks like an oak one I use as a desk when there’s room. It was originally a dining table, but sturdy oak and the best size and color for a desk. Managed to grab it on sale when there really wasn’t money for luxuries.I’ll never give it up either.
        Unfortunately it’s stored in pieces in a closet right now until kid moves out some of her furniture (it’s old from grandparents, and she hasn’t space, so it’s here)


  13. It’s funny how places can be so inspiring. I’m heading to Butternut next week and thinking it might spark further ideas for the sequel. 😉


    • Especially if Caleb decides to do a little dream walking while you’re there…. 😉 That would be a fun experience!

      Take lots of photos while you’re there—I find them very useful when thinking about scenes and characters. And sometimes the random shots of people can spark ideas, too. I have one photo from the tall ships in Balto last year that teases me with a hint of a story idea. There’s just something about the look I unexpectedly captured on another tourist’s face that says, “There’s a story here….” 🙂


  14. What a wonderful post–a bit of history–both personal and American, a bit of character study, and images to feed the imagination.
    BTW–I agree with you about the Jefferson Memorial.
    I have a feeling that Meghan and you will turn out a fabulous novel!
    That reminds me, have you read Ann Cleves? “Red Bones” is the novel I just completed by her. If you don’t know her, I think you’d like her. She has archaeologists in her story too, and her style is focused on character and place as much as it is on plot.


    • I’m truly hoping that this slower pace and planning will result in well-written, and maybe even marketable, story. It certainly can’t hurt. 😉

      I haven’t read any of Ann Cleves’ novels, but I’ll check them out. It’s usually interesting to see how different writers portray archaeologists in their work. So far, I haven’t run across any characters like Meghan, and I hope that’s a good sign….


  15. That was my exit! Gallows Rd 650! I lived in 2 different developments there: Bedford Village Apts, right next to Fairfax Hosp, and then New Providence across rte 50! And that bend in the highway? wow! I can’t tell you how many days I drove that stretch of road. 🙂 So cool to see it again along with Gunstan Hall. I took a day trip there with my oldest son ( he was 4) just before we left VA for good and moved back to Boston. What I remember most was how we sweltered! it was July and hotter than you know where!!!

    Great to see these locations again and I’m very happy to know Meghan was on your mind while you were there!


    • What a fun coincidence! It was a July scorcher when we were at Gunston, too. I couldn’t imagine what it was like back in the 1700s and 1800s when everyone wore more clothes. Even “breathable” fabrics like linen and cotton feel heavy when the heat and humidity are that bad.

      Luckily, I’ve rarely had to head that way on a weekday morning because it is sssllloooooow going!


  16. Pingback: Into The Dog Days | jmmcdowell

Comments are closed.