Friday, February 26, 2010

18th Century Living: Linens & Things

This post is to highlight a site I recently stumbled upon, which should prove helpful to writers of 18th century historical fiction, or those simply interested in the clothing of that era.

Wm. Booth, Draper: Linen and Woolen Draper, Haberdasher &c.

On the page above you'll find links to more pages with photos of linens (bleached, unbleached, checked, striped), wools, broadcloth, worsted, flannels, silk, cotton and more. There are notes on what sorts of persons could have afforded which grade of cloth, and many of the photos include snippets from historical advertisements for runaway servants and slaves, detailing what they were wearing at the time of their abscondence.

There are pages for buckles, buttons, thread, lace, yarn and needlework tools.

There are pattern pages for women's shifts, chemises, gowns, bonnets, caps and stays.  And men's shirts, breeches and trousers. Childrens clothing too. And knitting!

If you're looking for more references for 18th century clothing, there's a bookstore.

I'd love to collect links for more such sites to create an 18C resource page. If you have a favorite, please leave the link for it in the comments, and thanks!

spinner photo: wallyg (flicker)

Thursday, February 25, 2010

Stand Alone Pages!

I'm thrilled that Blogger has finally made it possible to create stand alone pages, making their blogs feel more like a website. Here's easy instructions on how to create pages for your blog:

Click Customize
Click Posting
Click Edit Pages

Here you can create a page or edit one in draft stage. I've started with a book list for 2010 that I'll keep updated all year. This is so much easier than keeping it tucked away in my drafts, and having to hunt it down to update it every few days.

You can create up to ten stand alone pages. There's the choice of listing them under the header, as I've done, or listing them over in a side bar.

Now I'll have to think stuff to fill more pages. Shouldn't be too hard!

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Shower Scenes

No... not that kind of shower scene. I mean the kind that pop into your head while, still half-asleep, you're lathering shampoo into your hair. Or maybe you're vacuuming the long-neglected carpets, or cruising the aisles of the local market, or somewhere else going about your day, unaware that your subconscious is about to spring a full-blown exchange of character dialogue on your unsuspecting conscious mind.

Like this snippet from a recently completed chapter of WILLA, in which my canine character apparently decided I'd kept him out of the spotlight a little too long:

Neil rose and went to the door, opening it to the smell of the night. He’d heard no thunder for some time now and could hear the rain falling in a gentler patter, no longer battering the ground. Feeling a nudge at his knee, cold and wet, he looked down to see that Cap had risen silently and padded after him to the cabin door.
“Ye dinna want to go out there," he told the collie. 

Cap whined and scratched the door.
"I'll no' be letting ye back in, an ye get yourself all-over mud," he warned. "Ye’ll stay on the porch ’til ye've dried.”
The amber eyes fixed on his, in what he'd taken to calling the bad sheep stare.
“'Tis on your own heid then.” He let the dog out into the night. “And dinna pester the hens,” he called after. When he glanced back at the hearth, Willa was bent over her sewing, not quite hiding a smile. “Did I say something funny?”
“It is good, how you are with that dog.”

“Aye, well. I dinna ken quite when it happened, but he’s come to be like a child to me. Though there’s times when I think he thinks ’tis the other way ’round.” He peered out at the night, but Cap had disappeared into the dark. Neil shivered slightly, having no such desire to venture out even to check on the mule or the goats.

That exchange of dialogue had me scrambling for the notepad and pen I keep in the bathroom. Don't you keep a notepad and pen in the bathroom... you know, just in case?

While the majority of a novel gets written right here at the computer during the hours of 9am to noon, Mon-Thurs (sometimes Sat), and sometimes it's all I can do to make myself stay in the chair for those hours and wrench words onto the screen, there's a special sort of inspiration that likes to pounce when I least expect it. I've had snippets of scenes blind-side me while driving, poke me awake on the edge of falling asleep, visit me in dreams, intrude while I'm reading or listening to good fiction, or tag along while I'm hiking up and down mountains. They've even insinuated themselves into my thoughts while I'm sitting in church listening to my pastor teach (thankfully he encourages us to take notes!).

Where are some of the places inspiration has ambushed you?
photo by Martin James (Flickr)

Friday, February 19, 2010

The Book I Never Read

I didn't read Blue Like Jazz, by Donald Miller, even though I heard so much praise heaped upon it years ago, and friends whose opinions I respect recommended it. Over and over.

I don't know why I never read it. But I will read it.

As soon as I finish reading Miller's latest book, A Million Miles in a Thousand Years.

What a refreshing take on writing stories, and living our own stories, and choosing a better story if the one we are living is boring, or meaningless, and the importance of a true inciting incident in both cases in order to force our comfort-seeking, afraid-of-change characters (and selves) to actually have a story.

Plus there's some truly delicious writing between those bright mustard-yellow covers, including the best description of corn on the cob I've ever read.

I'm just sayin.

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

While I'm Thinking About Waiting and This Writing Life....

If you are a writer, or if you aren't, please (please) don't miss literary agent Rachelle Gardner's post today:

Where The Rubber Meets The Road

It's something anyone striving for excellence and commitment in any area of life should read.

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Wait For It

It's another mild and misty morning in southern Oregon... where it really should be much colder, and there should be snow falling. As my cousin Maggie attests in her blog post, my family on the east coast has been abundantly blessed this past month with wintry weather... although I'm not sure blessed is the word they would use just now!

Something I had to get used to after moving to Oregon 17 years ago is that overlaid onto the four seasons are two seasons I didn't experience back in Maryland: the rainy season, and the dry season. Most of the moisture southern Oregon receives in a year falls between late October and early May. Aside from thunderstorms over the mountains (which more often cause forest fires than provide needed moisture), our valley might not see a drop of rain from blistering July thru parched September. So accumulating a snow pack in the mountains, to be drained into the reservoirs come spring, where it will be horded and portioned out over the dry months, is a vital thing. We haven't had enough snow this winter. But winter isn't over yet. In years past we've experienced winter in March, even April. Wait for it, I keep reminding myself.

Waiting well takes practice, and for me, constant looking back. I'm experiencing a time of waiting. Waiting to hear from agents. Waiting to see if "soon" is the time God has appointed for my long-held hope of being published. Or at least taking the next step in that direction. Wondering if the present doors will close too, and I will have to wait some more.

Just like I've seen enough Oregon winters and springs to know not to fret about mild February temperatures that turn what should be snow into rain, I remind myself to look back over the trail I've walked to past times of waiting. Hasn't God always come through? Hasn't He always been faithful? Hasn't His timing been just right, over and over again? Hasn't He been faithful to say No, when what I wanted wouldn't have been the best for me? He has. And He never changes.

Why so anxious, O my soul? Why impatient? Put your trust in God, and His timing, and wait for it.

Friday, February 12, 2010

Scaling Mt. First Draft

I was composing an email to a friend this week and noticed it was coming up on my 9am-quit-stalling-and-get-to-work-on-the-novel time. So I finished the email with these words:

Time to get to work. A few more steps up this literary mountain. Funny how it is much like climbing a mountain, writing a first draft. The farther I climb/write, the better my view of the big picture becomes. But it never seems to get easier. I wonder if it's because I keep adding things (craft knowledge, rules, techniques) to the pack I carry? But who wants to get caught on the side of a mountain, stranded without some key piece of survival gear?

I've done a lot of mountain climbing, but I've never been one of those hikers who hustle their way up a mountain like their legs are made of steel. My pace is slow. I rest at streams. Point out interesting bits of flora to fellow hikers. Fallen trees along the trail are inviting places to pause and look out at the expanding view below. The climbing process doesn't get any easier, though one would think at some point conditioning would kick in and my pace would pick up just a bit.

The same seems to hold true for first draft writing. I'm working on WILLA, which to my reckoning is my fifth first draft (not counting three novels abandoned at the midway point), and I don't seem to be progressing any faster than last time. Perhaps this is due to the increased amount of First Draft Survival Gear I'm carrying, all those writing craft books and blogs and conference notes I've read since my last first draft, this huge pack on my back full of handy tools for....
Plotting the most direct route up the mountain and avoiding side trails
Helping me through that soggy middle stretch where I tend to bog down
Discovering the details of setting that anyone but my POV character would be bound to miss
Finding the energy to get up and take a few more steps, and then a few more....
Finishing strong, enjoying the view, then evaluating whether the trail I chose was the quickest way to the top; might there be a better way? A more exciting route?
It takes time and energy for the portage and maintenance of all the gear I've accumulated over the years, but I'd rather have it with me than find myself lost and helpless in the wilderness of writing a first draft. A few of the handy tools in my pack:
The Fire In Fiction, by Donald Maass
Revision & Self Editing, by James Scott Bell
Writer's Workshop, A Guide to the Craft of Fiction, by Stephen Koch
Hooked, by Les Edgerton
What are some of the essentials in your pack?


Hiking in Cade's Cove, TN. Photo by Doree Ross

Tuesday, February 09, 2010

Where do Characters Come From?

It's a subject I was curious about as a young reader, and one that still fascinates me now that I've written several novels. Where do these story people come from, anyway?

Characters have been born in my imagination in any number of ways. In fact, I doubt any two protagonists I've let loose on the pages of a story have come to me in the same way. Character and story are sometimes so intertwined it's difficult to tell which came first, but sometimes a character is born before her story is. I've had them pop into my mind as an image of a person going about her day, complete with her full name. Then I had to let her occupy space in my thoughts for months to discover who she was and what might be the story she wanted to tell. But I've had it work the other way. Another character began as a shadow, a certain type of person I felt needed to inhabit and tell the story I had already envisioned. Again it required much thinking for this character to reveal himself to me. 

Once a character remained all but inanimate until I finally hit upon the right name. Then she gently showed me she had a will of her own, and completely overturned the journey I had planned for her.

Still another remained "off" somehow; no matter how many scenes I wrote from her POV, she seemed distant to me, not as real or unique as I knew her to be. Then one weekend I went on a hike with friends. Coming down the mountain our group was staggered out. I was walking alone, passing through a thicket of buck brush and watching small birds dart through tangled branches (I could probably still find the precise spot on that trail) when the words "Mama was the first of Mountain Laurel's slaves to know about the letter," flit through my mind like one of those birds in the thicket, and I knew I was hearing that character's voice truly for the first time. And I knew at once what the problem had been. I'd been writing her in third person when I should have been writing her in first person. Perhaps my subconscious had been screaming for my attention for some time, and it took getting away into the outdoors, alone and undistracted, to finally hear. I rushed home to write down what I heard, and knew I finally knew that character.

Here's what two well known writers have to say on the genesis of their characters:

Madeleine L'Engle.

"Where do the imaginary people who live, who love, who die, come from? Are they, in fact, imaginary? Well, the answer is paradoxical. No, they're not imaginary. They're real. They have lives of their own. Most novelists will agree that their characters are stubborn and willful. They do thing which the writer never anticipated. And when a writer and a character have a clash of will, the writer would do well to listen to the character." 

"A character in a story may well be an amalgam of many people, some well known to the writer, some simply observed. And the creative-below-the-surface mind will do the underwater work and send the character up to the surface when needed. It's a mysterious act of collaboration between intellect and intuition."

"Sometimes a character I thought of at first as being dark-haired and short will reveal himself to be fair and tall. And if I pin him down on a file card, he isn't free to change and let me know what he really looks like. Not that I don't take notes on the people who come to me. I do. I think about them for months or years. I write about them on slips of paper which usually get lost. I describe them in my journals. They reveal themselves to me, show new facets."

One of my favorite explanations of how characters come to be is from Diana Gabaldon, and can be found in her Outlandish Companion, in which she talks of three types of characters, Mushrooms, Onions, and Hard Nuts.

Mushrooms: "I've found that a lot of characters do pop up like mushrooms.... I'll be slogging along, hoping to dig myself into the day's work, and all of a sudden this... person shows up out of nowhere and walks off with the whole scene. No need to ask questions, analyze, or consciously "create"; I just watch in fascination, to see what he'll do next."

Onions: "Other characters were conceived before I wrote them, and were consciously intended to serve some specific purpose in the story. However, once I began to write them, they obligingly came to life and started acting on their own.... One may not know everything about an onion at once, but rather discover him little by little, by writing multiple scenes involving him, or by thinking about him and figuring out bits of his personal history."

Hard Nuts: "Beyond mushrooms and onions are hard nuts. These are the most difficult characters for me to animate; the characters whose function in the story is structural--they're important not because of personality or action, but because of the role that they play." 

I recognize my own characters' genesis in all of this, but no matter how a character is born in my imagination, no matter how much I ponder their life history, their personality, their issues, strengths, quirks, and scars, it's not until I begin to write them and see them living on the page, surprising me with unexpected actions and words, that I truly start to know them. Most of my characters develop like Diana's onions, though just lately I've had an unusually abundant crop of mushrooms spring up and threaten to overtake all my good story intentions!

Have you had a character come into being in an unusual way, or by a means other than those I've mentioned or quoted?

Monday, February 08, 2010

Whadda Ya Know Good?

This is a quick redirect to a post today by agent Rachelle Gardner. It's the most helpful take on the old adage Write What You Know that I've read... maybe ever. If you ever wondered (or struggled with or rebelled against) what it means to "write what you know," you'll want to read Rachelle's post.

Thursday, February 04, 2010

Counting Blessings

Three things this morning have put me in a thankful mindset. One is a comment to an earlier post by fellow writer Carla Gade, who has experienced some of the same struggles I've met along my writing journey. Carla had this to say and I think it worth repeating:

"I always feel like it takes me the long way around to get any clarity of thought or organization. And when I do it is always with an extreme attention to detail to make sure it is correct. It's a challenge to say the least. So if the Lord ever allows me to be published it will be such a huge accomplishment for me and a testimony to his faithfulness and grace in my life. If I don't get published, I still am grateful because every day is a true miracle."

I never tire of remembering what it felt like those first few months after God enabled me to write again the kind of complex historical fiction I once produced, after five years of chemo fog. As if each day I sat down to write and strung words together was a precious gift, because it was. As if I needed to pinch myself to be sure I wasn't dreaming, that I was actually writing, and it wasn't discouraging or frustrating me anymore. Challenging yes. Always that. But not making me feel like it was hopeless and my time would be better spent elsewhere. I'm always happy for anything that renews that sense in me and causes me to see each day of writing work as a gift, never to be taken for granted.

Another reminder came this morning in a devotional book I'm reading, Becoming A Vessel God Can Use. In today's reading author Donna Partow included a prayer by a 17th Century nun. It appears to be widely known, although its author is not. It resonated with me on many levels (aches and pains, anyone?), but today most of all as a writer.
Lord, Thou knowest better than I know myself, that I am growing older and will some day be old. Keep me from the fatal habit of thinking I must say something on every subject and every occasion. Release me from craving to straighten out everybody's affairs.

Make me thoughtful but not moody; helpful but not bossy. With my vast store of wisdom, it seems a pity not to use it all, but Thou knowest Lord that I want a few friends at the end.

Keep my mind free from the recital of endless details; give me wings to get to the point. Seal my lips from aches and pains. They are increasing, and love of rehearsing them is becoming sweeter as the years go by. I dare not ask for grace enough to enjoy the tales of others' pains, but help me to endure them with patience.

I dare not ask for improved memory, but for a growing humility and a sureness when my memory seems to clash with the memories of others. Teach me the glorious lesson that occasionally I may be mistaken.

Keep me reasonably sweet; I do not want to be a saint - some of them are so hard to live with - but a sour old person is one of the crowning works of the devil.

Give me the ability to see good things in unexpected places, and talents in unexpected people. And give me, O Lord, the grace to tell them so. Amen.
Last but not least, Laura Frantz's blog post today put me in the mood for listing the books I'm currently reading, few of which have made it over into the sidebar yet. Most of them, including the fiction, are research for WILLA. Each is in its way a blessing.

Becoming a Vessel God Can Use, by Donna Partow
The Essential Charles Eastman (Ohiyesa), edited by Michael Fitzgerald
Madeleine L'Engle {Herself}, Reflections on a Writing Life, compiled by Carole Chase
Children of the Longhouse, by Joseph Bruchac (fiction)
Writing The Other, A Practical Approach, by Nisi Shawl & Cynthia Ward
A Company of Heroes: the American Frontier, 1775-1783, by Dale Van Every
Christopher Columbus and His Legacy, Opposing Viewpoints, edited by Mary Ellen Jones
The Red Heart, by James Alexander Thom (fiction)
Indians, by Edwin Tunis
Forgotten Allies, The Oneida Indians and the American Revolution, by Joseph Glatthaar & James Martin
The Natures of John and William Bartram, by Thomas P. Slaughter
Joseph Brant, Mohawk Chief, by Jonathan Bolton & Claire Wilson
The Bloody Mohawk, by T. Wood Clarke
1 Corinthians (personal thru-the-Bible devotional reading)

Aside from my devotional reading and a few others, I don't read all those titles every day, but I'm working my way through them all. Usually two or three titles rise to the top of the stack and hold the bulk of my attention, and I spend most of my reading time on them, fitting in the others as I can. 

Feel free to share your own reading list in the comments. I find some of the best books when others share their current reads.

Monday, February 01, 2010

Sleepless in Oregon

I had a largely sleepless night last night, but was it ever productive. It was one of those rare nights that I kept waking up every hour or so with my brain busy working on character development and back stories and the many small (and sometimes secret) ways all these folk in the frontier village I'm currently peopling are interconnected. Amazing that the subconscious can keep working while the body sleeps (or tries to sleep).

At one point I drifted off with a vivid picture of a minor character in my mind. I'd cast about for some while in a half wakeful state for a name to go with the face, without success. Next time I woke, still somewhere in the middle of the night, that character's name was the first thought that popped into my head, as sure and settled as someone introducing themselves. "Hi, my name is Seth." "Seth what?" I replied. "Just Seth." Okay... not what I expected, but it is what it is.

I'm thankful for all the insights, but I can't take too many nights like that in a row. Exhausting work! I spent quite a few hours today getting all those mental notes into files, and working on the current scene, plotting scenes for a few chapters ahead of where I'm at based on the nocturnal note-taking in my head. Then after lunch I made a run to the library, did some house work, baking, got dinner going for this evening. While waiting for my computer tech husband, Brian, to get home from work, I grabbed my thumb drive and came back to the computer to back up the day's work. And the computer froze. When I tried to reboot, I got some hideous black error page. Oh no! Had my computer crashed? Had I lost all that valuable work? Was I going to have to somehow reconstruct it? If so, how could I possibly?

A tense half hour passed, and Brian (my hero!) arrived home and trouble shot (shooted?) the problem. Good news, the computer didn't crash and I didn't lose my day's work. It's safely backed up on my thumb drive now. Bad news... my ancient beloved keyboard that I've used for 19 years, the ONLY keyboard I have EVER used and is so big and heavy it takes two strong men to budge it... is no longer with us.

Goodbye Big Guy. I'm gonna miss ya, especially when I have to retype just about every word with this new keyboard that wants to scoot across the desk at the slightest nudge. They don't make 'em like they used to!

What an interesting day it's been. Any other writers out there experience entire nights when your subconscious keeps working on the WIP? This is only the second time for me in nearly twenty years of writing. A writer friend of mine who had this happen the night before last said it must be the full moon.

I kinda wish it would happen more often.