Friday, December 28, 2007

Friday muddle

It's Friday. Half way between Christmas and New Years. What work I've done this week has not gone particularly well. I'm still wrangling and wrestling with Chapter Three. I'm worn out, and i have a cold, but I'm not giving in just yet. Words still swirl through my head. Voices too. Thomas, Ian, Benjamin Eden. Facets of character I need to make clearer, stronger, settled in my mind and on the page, while keeping an interesting flow and pace and texture to the scenes.

Challenge. Accusation. A clash of wills and purpose. That's what this chapter is about, for the most part. I'm having an equally frustrating clash in the crafting of it.

Should the deeper accusation be spoken, or implied? If spoken, that's going to mean a new and different tension between Thomas and Ian, one I'm not sure would best serve the story right now. Better to keep it lighter now, and save the deeper accusation for later? I think. But let a hint of it bleed through now?

That, and a hundred other questions to resolve. Or else leave it all in a tangle again and move forward? I don't think so. That feels a bit like framing a house atop an unfinished foundation.

But what do I know? Muddle, muddle.

This I know: "Philippians 4:13, for Pete's sake!" (to quote Olivia de Mitford)

Saturday, December 22, 2007

Saturday Ramblings... Quakers, Slaves & Hobbits

With Christmas just around the corner, I've not posted here all week. But I have been squeezing in the editing around the holiday festivities. Yanking out two chapters from the early section of the book has proved a challenge, and I've had to do much rewriting. But in so doing I introduced a third character much more quickly into the story, and this character, a Quaker, brings with him quite a bit of conflict.

Today I want to give a "shout out" to Beth Shope, who has been a great source of information and correction for me in all things Quaker-related. Thanks so much Beth. Go read her blog at The Stone River and check out the snips of her WIP, Knife Giver, as well as her articulate posts on the writing craft.

Well of course there were bits of the yanked chapters that still needed to be worked into the story, and I've spent most of this week in the time I had for writing tucking some of those threads back into the weave. Which means the word count crept back up.

"Nobody panic. It was deliberate," said Gimli.

Speaking of Gimli, and totally off the subject, I recently learned that Peter Jackson will be producing the film version of The Hobbit, after all. He's apparently buried the hatchet with New Line and things are green lighted. Cool. I wonder who will play the younger Bilbo....?

Back to Quakers. By 1793 the Religious Society of Friends (Quakers) were strongly anti-slavery in their views (the Philadelphia Yearly Meeting prohibited members from owning slaves in 1776). Quakers played a large part in the eventual emancipation of slaves, and were instrumental in the operation of what became known as the Underground Railroad.

Slaves have been escaping or attempting to escape bondage since slavery existed, and the lucky ones found help along the way, but in the late 18th Century United States what is known as the Underground Railroad didn't exist in any highly organized form, at least not on a grand scale. A slave generally set out on his or her own, as opportunity and means presented itself; most often they were recaptured or killed. But some reached their goal. Perhaps as early as 1787 Quakers were involved in hiding and aiding runaway slaves. And it's no stretch of the imagination (well, mine anyway) to believe that someone, somewhere, during the late 18th Century took it into his (or her) head to become the first guide, or "conductor" as they came to be called. Many escaped slaves, like Harriet Tubman in the 19th century, risked their lives repeatedly to go back into the south to spirit their brothers and sisters away out of bondage.

Recommended reading on the subject of Quakers and The Underground Railroad:

THE QUIET REBELS, The Story of Quakers in America. Margaret Hope Bacon. Philadelphia, PA; New Society Publishers, 1985.

BOUND FOR CANAAN, The Underground Railroad and the War for the Soul of America. Fergus M. Bordewich. New York, NY; Harper Collins, 2005.

PASSAGES TO FREEDOM, The Underground Railroad in History and Memory. David W. Blight, ed. Washington, DC; Smithsonian Books, 2004.

Friday, December 14, 2007

Curious about the graves

Obscured by thickening mist, it seemed just one more stone, like countless others thrusting through the leaf-mold in the folds of the ridge. He’d nearly strode past it, grown sure of his course, when the stone’s smooth regularity of texture and form made him halt.
~ from Kindred

In October of this year I traveled to North Carolina on a final (well, final for now) research trip to visit several settings in Kindred. I traveled with a friend, who I met up with in Wisconsin. We then drove south to Tennessee, where we stayed for a couple of days before the NC leg of the journey. While there we explored Cade's Cove, an area of early mountain settlement. The settlers' cabins, churches, graveyards and a mill are all preserved. Many of the photos I've used on this site were taken during this trip.

I seem to have taken quite a few photos of graves. This first one caught my eye because the man, John Oliver, was born during the year Kindred opens, 1793. And his wife's name, Lurena.... I love it! I've a feeling the name will show up somewhere in the book before all's said and done.

Another intriguing grave marker. North Carolina Rebels, indeed!

nd one more.. Many of the oldest graves around the churches of Cade's Cove were marked by undressed stone, without even this much identification scratched onto their weathered faces.

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Friday, December 07, 2007


I cut two whole chapters of Kindred's early section this week, bits of which will be worked in further down the road, I imagine (or kid myself). Together they totaled somewhere near 5000 words.

I knew those two chapters needed to go. They consisted mostly of stagnant conversation and back story and slowed the pace far too much, right where it didn't need to be slowed. But... ouch.

On the bright side, this brings the word count down to 278,560. I'm heading in the right direction now.

Which reminds me of a quote, courtesy of my friend Karen Ball's new romance/suspense novel, What Lies Within.

"Even if you're on the right track, you'll get run over if you just sit there." WILL ROGERS

Monday, December 03, 2007

Ready, Set... Go

It's a gray and chilly, blustery day. The fire is blazing. The tea is hot. Let's do some editing!

Starting word count: 284, 183
(seemingly impossible) Goal: 200,000

Saturday, December 01, 2007


I've taken the week of Nov. 26-30 off from writing, to let the finished draft of Kindred cool a bit (and to get a jump start on Christmas). During this brief hiatus I chose to read one book on the writing craft. There are scads of good ones out there. A couple of titles I've found helpful:

Self-Editing For Fiction Writers, How to Edit Yourself Into Print, by Renni Browne and Dave King, tops the list. This is classic.

Modern Library Writer's Workshop, a Guide to the Craft of Fiction by Stephen Koch is another good one.

In the beginning I took up a pen and simply wrote. I didn't read a writing craft book for the first couple of years. I'm glad of that now, though it meant learning the basics of the writing craft the slow way. But I know me well enough to say that had I studied "how to write" before I had written, all the rules of writing fiction would have put me in a creative straight jacket. Along the way I began to learn those rules, most of which are rules for very good reasons (they make for good fiction, clear prose, characters that live on the pages), but some of which can, maybe should, be broken now and then. After they are mastered, and if there's a good reason.

The book I chose to read this past week, recommended by an editor friend of mine, is Hooked, Write Fiction That Grabs Readers at Page One and Never Lets Them Go, by Les Edgerton.

Hooked explores in depth a novel's (or short story's) opening scene, what elements it should contain to pull a reader in, and what elements will only serve to distract, bore or confuse, and therefore should be cut from the opening scene. There are chapters on Inciting Incident, Initial Surface Problem, and the Story-Worthy Problem--that question or challenge or goal that will be answered, met or reached by the novel's end. To briefly define those terms from Edgerton's book*:

The Inciting Incident is "the crucial event--the trouble--that sets the whole story in motion. It triggers the initial surface problem and starts to slowly expose the protagonist's story-worthy problem."

The Initial Surface Problem is "the problem that occurs as a direct result of the inciting incident... it propels the protagonist to take action... and assists in the eventual revelation of the story-worthy problem."

The Story-Worthy Problem is "always the paramount problem; it's what the story is really about in the final analysis... a true story-worthy problem is closely associated with the protagonist's inner self."

For more on the crafting of opening hooks, check out Writing Hooks (not Crooks) by Kat Feete.

In the pages of Hooked I was happy to find an example of the technique I employed in my own opening scene of Kindred. The opening of Chapter 1, that is. I do have a prologue. I'm not sure if it will make the final draft, but I think it will. I have an epilogue that echoes the voice of the prologue, just like the final scene of the last chapter carries echoes of the opening scene of Chapter 1. In fact, the way I figured out how to end the book was looking back closely at my opening scene, making sure I understood what questions I had raised therein, and having my viewpoint character, Ian Cameron, conscious of how they had been answered.

But that ending is a long way off for now as I begin the editing process, in a much more linear fashion than I wrote the first draft. Both beginning and ending may change during that process. I hope both will be strengthened and improved.

The opening scene technique I was referring to, that I used in Chapter 1 of Kindred, is what Edgerton calls "entering late and leaving early." We enter the scene with the protagonist, Ian Cameron, in medias res, with no explanation of how he got himself into his present and very obvious trouble. Then comes a brief slide into immediate back story, then back to the present, all in the space of a few paragraphs, with no space breaks and, hopefully, no jarring. The challenge in making this technique work is to create an opening situation intriguing enough to hold the reader's attention across those few paragraphs, to make them interested enough in Ian and his troubles to want to know how he landed himself in them, and most of all want to know will he get himself out?

In my next couple of posts I'll share excerpts from Kindred. The prologue, and the opening scene.

*quotes cited from Hooked, by Les Edgerton, Writer's Digest Books, Cincinnati, OH, 2007; used for review.