Saturday, June 30, 2012

From Book to Shining Book

I knew if I kept at it, didn't get this habit under control, that it was only a matter of time before it happened. How could it be otherwise? But I couldn't stop. I just couldn't. And so last night the inevitable occurred. I reached the last page of the last Big Fat 18th Century Historical Novel that James Alexander Thom has written to date.

The book I saved for last isn't a new one. From Sea to Shining Sea, the story of the Clark family (you know the Clarks, right? George Rogers Clark, William Clark, and a passel of brothers and sisters and parents all remarkable in their way), was published in 1983 and spans the years 1773 to 1806, which happens to be my all time favorite span of years in American History. The stuff that generation got up to...!

But now I've gone through them all. Thousands and thousands of pages of history brought to life through Thom's skill as a storyteller and researcher. These are, by and large, BIG books, as I mentioned. From Sea to Shining Sea is nearly 1000 pages long all on its own.

But just think of all the details I missed among those pages! Think of all the lovely, evocative passages, dialogue, and bits of historical detail I've forgotten. Which means these books will stand up to being read and reread. And that's exactly what I plan to do. I don't believe I'll ever not have one of Thom's novels in progress now.

First on my list to reread: Panther In The Sky, the story of the Shawnee war chief Tecumseh.

A big THANK YOU to Laura Frantz for encouraging me years ago to start reading this author's books.

Thom has written a book on writing historical fiction that I think is well worth the read. Here's my review of it, posted several months back: The Art and Craft of Writing Historical Fiction.

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Colorado Springs

Fires are burning in Colorado Springs, where my publisher WaterBrook is located. We've had many wildfires here in southern Oregon over the years, but these photos from literary agent Rachelle Gardner are some of the most sinister and threatening I've ever seen.

Please keep this town and these people in your prayers, and check out Rachelle's brief post.

I hope to visit my publisher later this year!

Colorado Springs wildfire forces more than 32,000 from homes as it spreads into city limits

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

of Place and Time

Queen's College, Oxford by tejvanphotos via Flickr Commons
The current novel in progress (which has at last got a working title, Arrows of Mercy. Or perhaps it should be Mercy's Arrows... Arrows in the Hand...? Oh dear) ranks as the most research-intensive work I've ever tackled, barring only my first 18th century novel, Kindred, begun at a time when I was still hazy on what years the Revolutionary War took place.

For one thing, this story, whatever it means to call itself, spans a far longer time period than any story I've written before. Nineteen years, from the fall of Fort William Henry during the French & Indian War in the 1750s to the early days of the Revolutionary War in the mid 1770s. That's two wars, one of which I knew little about, the other of which I'd skated around, writing stories set just after it, with little flashes of character history that took place during it, but never IT.

The story also takes place partly (admittedly mostly "off screen") in England. One of the main characters becomes a scholar at one of the colleges of Oxford University.
This, this was the real Oxford, "with the sun on her towers," the Oxford of Newman and Lewis Carroll and Tom Brown. There was the high, curving down to Queen's and Magdalen, and the old Bodleian, with its high windows and chained books, and next to it the Radcliffe Camera and the Sheldonian Theatre. And there, down on the corner of the Broad, was Balliol in all its glory. The Balliol of Matthew Arnold and Gerard Manley Hopkins and Asquith. Inside those gates was the great Jowett, with his bushy white hair and his masterful voice telling a student, "Never explain. Never apologize." 

The clock in Cornmarket's tower struck half past eleven, and all the bells in Oxford chimed in. St. Mary's the Virgin and Christ Church's Great Tom, and the silvery peal of Magdalen, far down the High.

Oxford, and I was here in it. In "the city of lost causes" where lingered "the last echoes of the Middle Ages."

" 'That sweet city with her dreaming spires,' " I said, and was nearly hit by a horseless carriage.
~ Ned Henry, time traveler to Victorian England, musing on the Oxford of yesteryear in one of my favorite books, To Say Nothing of the Dog by Connie Willis (I highly recommend the audio version read by Steven Crossley)
Aside from the above sort of passage, until a few days ago I knew nothing about Oxford. Even with the above sort of passage I didn't know the sorts of things a writer needs to know to have a young man in the eighteenth century talk with accuracy and familiarity in his letters back home about his life among those "dreaming spires."

by tejvanphotos, via Flick Commons

So I did what I do. I visited Wikipedia. I ordered books. I figured out what questions I needed to ask, then asked a few fellow historical writers. I wished someone had written an Oxford for Dummies. And after the books arrived I took a trek through my favorite research hunting ground, their bibliographies, where this morning I found a listing for a book titled University Life in Eighteenth Century Oxford, by Graham Midgley. Bingo!

It can be daunting, facing down a new area of research (especially when the hours I spend reading and searching for sources will amount to a few lines of a book), but it's also a great feeling as a heretofore strange environment, whether geographical or historical, begins to feel familiar, and in the guise of a character I walk with confidence through it, soaking in the sights, sounds, smells, and attitudes of Place and Time.

Friday, June 15, 2012


I hovered over that SEND button for a few extra minutes this morning, my mind spinning through familiar pages, scenes, and chapters. Was there one more thing I should've (would've could've) changed? Should I hold off clicking that button-of-no-return for a few more hours?

Yes, I'll get the chance to make changes later this summer when edits begin--lots and lots of them, no doubt-- but a writer sends her first manuscript off to her publisher only once in her life and this writer couldn't resist picking off the lint and smoothing down the cowlick and brushing out the wrinkle just one more time.

I stood at the curb and waved until it was long gone.

Tell me I'm not the only one with a bit of separation anxiety at this stage?

photo by corsi photo via Flickr Creative Commons

Friday, June 08, 2012

It Takes a Village

It's down to one week until my first deadline, June 15. It was on Facebook that I posted this:
I wrote a new scene in the WIP, then read aloud several chapters of the debut manuscript for a final time before I send it to my editor next week. June 15th is rushing up to meet me. I feel like I'm about to send a child off to finishing school. I wonder how she'll change, and how she'll stay the same?
It's an exciting and nerve-heightened time in this writer's life. What will Willa's story look like when all's said and done? What will she call herself? What more will she have to say to the world? I've done my best job raising her, now it's time to let others have their influence.

It takes a village to raise a book, after all.

But for a few more fleeting days she's still in my care. I'm taking this week and next to put my finishing touches on the story of Willa and Neil and Joseph (and Matthew and Maggie and Francis and Anni and Richard and Elias and Peter).

See you on the other side!

PS: I created an Author Page on Facebook. You can find it here.