Sunday, July 29, 2012

Ah, Summer!

Here's a favorite dessert for summer. Since I'm rather deathly allergic to most fresh fruit, this is how I get to enjoy my strawberries.

I'm not complaining. :)

A tip for making better pie crusts: I started out making pie crusts with Crisco and butter (half and half), but wasn't always pleased with how dry and crumbly the crusts turned out. A few pies ago I tried using all butter, and am much more happy with the crust texture now. The pie pictured above is an all butter pie.

For a two crust pie: combine a cup of butter and two cups of flour and a teaspoon of salt in a bowl with a pastry blender until crumbly. Add enough ice water to form a ball. Just dribbles at a time, because it doesn't take much. Divide the dough in half and you're ready to roll!

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

La La La Can't Hear You

I visited author Kaye Dacus's blog today and in commenting on her post I realized I had a subject to blog about. Always a happy discovery. 

In answering the question she posed (you'll have to visit her blog to find out what that was), I got to nattering about not giving in to laziness in daily writing, staying sensitive to my relationship with the WIP (work in progress), and with what the Lord might be leading me to do in regards to it, which sometimes isn't according to my plan.

Because I usually do have a plan. I work better if somewhere on a scrap of paper I have a jotted list of goals to carry me through the next few months. Not a daily word count. More like:
~ Finish the section of story that ends with Anna making that big discovery across the creek in the woods by the end of May.

~ Finish the section that ends with William's return by the end of June.
~ Finish final section by end of July.
But what happens when The Plan breaks down (the story feels off, the characters' motivations are muddy, I can't see my way forward (any number of reasons why this could occur))? I'll tell you what. At first a sense of frustration and panic starts to build in my chest and I begin having unpleasant flashbacks to the years I spent creatively lost in chemo fog, after my cancer was cured. This is not a comfortable place to be.

But here I am.

See that last goal listed on The Plan? I thought I'd blaze through and finish the first draft of the WIP by the end of July, but over the weekend just past, with 4-5 chapters left to write, I realized that some serious issues of character development need to be addressed before I can write a fitting ending to the story. My gut (and a couple of encouraging writer sisters, and the Lord too, I am convinced) was telling me I needed to stop, set the project aside for a cooling off period, turn my focus to something else, or nothing else, for a little while.

I've been writing long enough now to know that if I do this, I can come at those issues needing to be addressed objectively, and with an inspired game plan. I could have plowed on and written those chapters just to meet that goal and call it a finished draft, but I would have been a frustrated mess by the end of it, and no doubt would have had to rewrite the ending anyway to fit the changes I know I need to make, and will make, so what was the point?

Instead, I'm filling my creative well for the next couple of weeks. I'm starting the early research and story weaving for a new book that I'll write maybe next year. There are other projects I can turn to as well. Proposals that need polishing, synopses that need writing.

It's never easy to be in this place. This not producing 1000-2000 words a day place. This seemingly sitting idle place. Even for a day. There are slightly panicked, urgent voices shrilling at me that I mustn't stop producing words or I'll have tanked my career before it even starts. I wonder if most writers have those voices harrying their souls, or is it just me?

If these seasons are something you've experienced, do you have a hard time accepting them as a natural part of the writing life? What do you do in those non-writing, down times, to silence those voices pestering you to keep pushing on no matter if it's unproductive? I have my fingers in my ears, chanting, "La-La-La-Can't-Hear-You!"

Figuratively speaking, of course. Hard to read or watch films otherwise. :)

* * *

photo by Hey Paul Studio via Flickr Creative Commons, used in accordance with the Attribution License

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

An Historical Fiction Research Library (in the making): A Guided Tour

Recently author Diana Gabaldon gave her readers a blog tour of her research library. While I wish I had the capacious shelves she does (and the avid readers!), my research library-in-the-making is admittedly quite a bit smaller. At present, it's scattered about in smaller sections organized in a manner that makes sense to me, but might not be readily apparent to the casual observer. 

There's my main bookcase (photo at left), organized roughly by subject.

Top shelf: Native American Tribes
Second shelf (l-rt): North Carolina; Plantation-related subjects; General 18th century Life

 Third shelf: Oversized General 18th century subjects; clothing; warfare; trades

Fourth shelf: Slavery and Race subjects

Small Bookcase
Top shelf: 18th Century Herbals; Naturalists; Food; Medicine; Cooking
Second shelf: Scottish historical subjects (a good half of those are pulled out and elsewhere); miscellaneous

On the side board: Books I've read for recently completed manuscripts & books I'll need for upcoming edits on completed manuscripts, so I want them quickly to hand. 

On the desk: (l) books of interest yet to be read, but no pressing need. (rt) Books I've read for the current novel in progress, but want to keep near to hand. 

Another stack of books of interest I hope to get to one of these days.

Current research I'm working through. These books tend to wander from room to room as needed.

In the upper cabinet of my desk: Writing craft books.

The chair where I keep books that need to be sorted, shelved, or returned eventually to the library. 

I have lots of other shelves of books (all my fiction, and more nonfiction), but these are those that pertain exclusively to my 18th century research and fiction writing. Go ahead and read the titles if you want. I don't mind. Just click for a larger view.

Do you have a research library? Do you keep it tidy and organized, or a bit haphazard like mine? See any book that piques your interest?

Friday, July 13, 2012

Muskets, Tomahawks & Gingerbread

photo by Flickr's gbrunett
This week I came across two 18th century research/writing resources that I've been eager to share with my blog readers. I've been reveling in them all week. Now you can too.


Contemporary Makers is a blog devoted to highlighting contemporary craftsmen and women creating replicas of historical items, many of them 18th century. There are many posts on this blog, each containing wonderfully detailed photos of historical guns, knives, tomahawks, powder horns, canoes, fire buckets, and sundry other frontier and Native American equipment and accoutrement. Great visuals for recreating characters and settings.
Our role is to make an effort to document some portion of what’s going on today. To comment on the established makers and to uncover the unknown. We welcome your comments and suggestions and look to you our readers to make us aware of the talented makers out there.
~ Art and Jan Riser, Robert Weil, and The Makers (from the Contemporary Makers blog)


Jas Townsend and Son have an extensive selection of videos at YouTube demonstrating 18th century skills such as.... 

Starting a Fire with Flint and Steel
photo by Flickr's sarahstierch

Making Beeswax Candles

Preparing Salt Pork

Soup, Stew and Hash -- 18th Century Soldier Cooking 

Stinging Nettle Soup

And last but not least, the cutest little cook you ever saw will teach you how to make Gingerbread 18th century style.

Do check YouTube's sidebar for more Jas Townsend series on 18th Century Cooking, as there are far too many to list. This is an awesome resource for historical writers!

Sunday, July 08, 2012

Delayed Blessings

Thoughts from my devotional reading this week, which, as a writer who wrote for twenty years before God opened a certain door, I found encouraging...

For the vision is yet for an appointed time.... though it linger, wait for it; it will surely come and will not delay. (Habakkuk 2:3)

In the captivating booklet Expectation Corner, one of the characters, Adam Slowman, was led into the Lord's treasure-house. Among the many wonders revealed to him there was the "Delayed Blessing Office," where God stored the answers to certain prayers until it was wise to send them.

For some who pray expecting an answer, it takes a long time to learn that delays of answers are not denials. In fact, in the "Delayed Blessings Office," there are deep secrets of love and wisdom that we have never imagined! 

We tend to want to pick our blessings from the tree while they are still green, yet God wants us to wait until they are fully ripe.

The Lord longs to be gracious to you.... Blessed are all who wait for him!" (Isa. 30:18). 

~ from Streams in the Desert

As one who has waited long, I say Amen. I can recall at a certain point in my long writing journey wondering if God's answer for me, as it pertained to publication through a traditional publisher, was No. At about that same time I posed the question to myself, "If you knew for a fact you would never be published, would you keep writing anyway?" 

When I was able to answer Yes to that, I also decided that while I was writing it couldn't hurt to keep knocking on those publishing doors, through queries and through prayer. If I didn't knock, I figured chances were those doors wouldn't open. If God didn't open one, despite my knocking, it would be all right. I trusted He knew what was best for me in this situation. 

Turned out my Yes was a Delayed Blessing.

~photo credit: jlcwalker via Flickr Creative Commons

Wednesday, July 04, 2012

Liberty Tea Party at Colonial Quills

"In the 1770's Colonists forsook the partaking of tea imported from the British, and thus American women looked to their own gardens and the world around them to create their own teas."  ~ Carla Gade
Click over to the Tea Party to learn what the colonists used for tea during the War.

And how fun that Carla has done my research for me, all unknowing. Yesterday's work ended with these lines (In May of 1776, Anna has been absentmindedly polishing a cherrywood sideboard):

“Anna, you’ll wear the finish right off that poor thing.”

Anna’s hand jerked to a stop as Lydia set a pewter stand with a candle, lit at the hearth while she’d been miles away in her thoughts, atop the sideboard beside the dishes.

Lydia was right. The cherrywood sideboard gleamed. And her hand was cramping.
“We can use it for a mirror now,” Lydia said, peering at the candlelight reflected off the wood. Then she gave Anna’s face a careful scrutiny. “Shall we take a little break and have some tea?”
Happy Independence Day! 

Fireworks display at Colonial Williamsburg. Photo credit: WDanRoberts via Flickr