Sunday, November 28, 2010

Crushing Dreams

Self-Portrait, Rolinda Sharples c 1820

My protagonist wants to go to college. What in the world is she thinking? Women did not go to college in 1805/1806. Does anyone have any ideas what a gently-raised woman would do who wanted to earn her own living? Is it possible to go back and change history?

The Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts in Philadelphia accepted women in 1805, but is my protagonist artistic? Still, she can’t cook without setting something on fire and she isn’t very good at taking care of children. She must have some skills which could translate into money. Is it art? Does she have talent in that direction? Shouldn’t I have known about this earlier? I mean, really, I’ve taken her through an entire book already and it wasn’t mentioned. I’m a little miffed.

It is unfortunate, but I’ll just have to dash all her hopes and plans, not because I want to, you understand, but because historically, society would have done so. Somehow, this pleases me. Mwahahaha. I feel better already. Writing is fun. In what other occupation can one take pleasure from making someone absolutely and completely miserable and still be accepted at cocktail parties?

Perhaps I'll toss in a couple of fabulous things she never expected, just to be nice. I am a nice person at heart, even though I'll be as mean as possible to her. Honest.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Goose Me

I love the Northwest. There are so many things to thrill the heart. This morning I drove to work in 20 degree (Fahrenheit) weather and saw a lone crane shivering in a frosty field. A red-tailed hawk perched atop a light standard, gazing down at a small wetland pond. A gaggle of Canada geese--maybe one hundred of them--honked their way west, turned, flew east, circled in bustling chaos until they settled in for a rest.

I had lunch with the geese a few days ago. They get nervous if I get out of the car, but they allow me to join them if I sit quietly with my window open and Mozart drifting into the frigid air.

I must find a way to include them in a book.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Beta Reader Time

I've finished rewriting my book, and I got the brilliant idea I'd print it off and get a couple of beta readers to go over it. I went to a talk given by Karen Azinger, who has recently sold a five-book deal, and she suggested beta readers be the friend of a friend. Someone who doesn't really know you and never has to face you again will be more honest. She has a check list she asks the beta reader to do at the end of each chapter and once they have finished the manuscript, she invites the reader out for coffee...and grills them. Grilling people sounds fun to me so I'm doing it.

I hauled the tiny flash-drive down to Kinkos and asked how much it would be to print two copies and spiral-bind them. Whoo hooo, it was a lot. So I asked if I could do two pages on one sheet. He said I could, if it was formatted that way, and then he pivoted and began helping someone else. Do I know how to format it so there are two of the same page on each page? No. I rolled my computer bag in and fired up the laptop, but after fifteen minutes I decided to just buy some ink and print it off myself.

Bad idea. An HP #94 print cartridge only prints about 200 pages. What is up with that? That is highway robbery. That is larceny. That is very expensive. I burned through two cartridges printing off the two copies, single spaced, with title page. Plus it took a very, very long time. The next day I bagged up the two piles and had them bound at Office Depot. I tucked the chapter-by-chapter check list inside, and handed them off to my friend who has lined up two of her friends to act as beta readers.

My babies are off and my heart is thumping. And just to be fair to Kinkos/Office Depot/Office Max, it would have been about the same price to have them do it and bind it, than printing it at home with the steal-the-grocery-money-out-of-the-pockets-of-the-user HP home printer.

As an aside, I have an uneducated character in my book who uses slang and double negatives, etc. Spell-check HATED him. It took so long to run the spell-check, and continually press "ignore rule," that next time I'm packing a lunch.

Okay, I think I'm finished venting now.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Historical Fiction/Historical Facts

She waved a pair of scissors. "Look what I forgot to give back to Mr. Applegate."

Uh oh. Dang it. When were scissors invented? Off I go to google scissors. Were they around in 1805? Yes. Whew. Back at the manuscript, I begin typing again, but my mind is not focused. What kind of scissors were around in 1805? Were they the spring scissors, like sheep sheers, or pivoted? Were they easily available? Would they be likely to be in Mr. Applegate's possession?

More research.

It is okay. He probably would/could have had a pair of scissors. Okay, back to the manuscript. ("Okay" was not used in 1805, by the way, and it is really difficult for me to avoid using "okay" when, really, it is one of my favorite words--just saying.)

So all this took about fifteen minutes. Just to write those two lines. As one writes historical fiction, one must investigate historical fact. In my book, I never say what type of scissors they are, but I'd better dang well know that they were readily available to someone in Mr. Applegate's position. It is the little, tiny, insignificant details that give historical fiction its flavor.

If they were around then, but not easily available, the next line could reflect that.

"He's probably frantic. You've got to get them back to him."*

If they were available, but very expensive:

"How much do you think we could get for them?"*

If they were likely to be unimportant until the next time they were needed, then maybe following with this would be fine:

"I guess you'll have to return them, but not until after we've used them."*

This is why I could never do Nanowrimo. Yes, yes, yes, I know you can just write a note to yourself to research later and go on with the writing, but my mind doesn't work that way. Before I spend a bunch of time writing something that could not have happened, I want to know that it could. Had scissors not been invented, I would have been tapping the backspace key.

Whatever possessed me to write historical fiction? I don't know. But I love the reality of the world I've created; from the creaking wood of the ship, the smell of the tarred lines, to the damp, rat-infested darkness of the hold. How would a sheltered, twenty-year-old woman deal with the hardship and terror of being aboard a Royal Navy ship during the Napoleonic wars, when all she had wanted was to visit her grandmother in South Carolina?

Back to editing.

*none of these are actually the following line

Monday, November 8, 2010


I've been worried all day. When the alarm blared this morning, I tossed off the covers and picked my way across the carpet, keeping my gaze away from the windows, lest I see an owl. My breathing came quick and shallow on the drive to work for fear I'd see a black cat or spin out into on-coming traffic. When the car rolled into a parking place, I raced through the front door, holding the banister as I climbed the stairs and slumped into my cubical, taking long, hardy breaths. Minutes later the back stairwell door banged open and footsteps clumped on the linoleum floor. The maintenance supervisor dragged a ladder through the maze of cubicals, all the way back to my desk.

My eyes widened. "What are you doing with that ladder?" I whispered in a shaky voice.

He cocked his head and stared. "You wanted your light bulb changed."

I never said anything about one of the overhead florescent lights being out. I pressed back into the chair, remaining completely still until he'd finished his task and hauled the ladder away.

It has been 24 hours. That seems like enough time, don't you think? Last night about this time I had some Chinese food. After the meal I broke open my fortune cookie and there was nothing there. Nothing. What does it mean when there is no fortune at all? Bad luck? Or that I won't last the day?
I'm home now and have buckled myself into my easy chair. I'm not moving until the stroke of midnight.

Saturday, November 6, 2010

Marauding Renegade

Normally on a Saturday I go a-roguing at Starbucks, slapping down some coin for a small cup of java and pillaging their electricity for my computer. But I'm tired of coffee. (Did I just say that?) I've had me three cups o' Joe, more'n my daily allotment, and I didn't feel like running the trade at the coffee hut. I set a course for my local library, with all the big windows and comfy chairs and lonely tables in the corner.

Out in the parking harbor, I stole some lubber's wind, moored my car and hauled my rolling red computer bag into the cavernous edifice. Here, I don't have to spill my purse for no worm-infested grog, (although it would be jolly if some no-account would set a tankard of ale on the table--just saying). Last week I wrote out an enormous check for the cutthroat tax collector and, curse me for a canting mugger, I done earned the right to steal five hours of electricity.

Aaarrrr, back to editing.

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Be Prepared--Carry a Chair

Photo by Scott Meltzer

Today was warm and sunny. I could see the sun outside, reflecting off the white walls of the building across the parking lot. Trucks looked hot at they backed into the loading docks. A seagull scanned the pavement for forgotten treats. Days like this in November are not all that common and when you live where it rains nine months out of the year, you really want to participate in the sunshine. That's why when I heard the monthly test of the "Emergency Broadcast System" on the radio, I evacuated the building and popped open my trunk where I keep a folding chair for just such occasions.

"What are you doing out here," one of my co-workers asked.

"It was the test of the Emergency Broadcast System," I said. "I'm waiting for the okay to go back inside." I settled back and watched the orange glow behind my eyelids, stretched my legs out, and listened to the compression brakes on the State Route 503 and the patter of forklift horns in the warehouse. It nearly lulled me to sleep. Such a shame that a co-worker gave me the "all clear" just a few minutes later.