Thursday, September 27, 2012

We have a title!

I just heard the official news today. We have the title for my debut historical, set in the 1780s on the New York frontier. It's going to be called Willa

That's the name of the story's main character and I'm quite partial to it, no surprise there.

The photo that inspired the opening scene of Willa.
There's a good chance there will be a subtitle to go along with Willa. We're still brainstorming that, but I'm excited to have taken another step toward seeing these characters of my heart take on flesh and blood. 

Paper and ink, anyway.

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Choosing the Steep Path

Secret Path by sadaton, Flickr
A week has gone by since my last post (and that sheepdog trial is starting today, I'm looking forward to watching the finale on Sunday, streaming live here).

I've spent the week working on the final chapters of my WIP, a story that's posed some of the greatest challenges I've ever faced as a writer and a researcher. It's one of those stories that I'm not sure I'm old enough, wise enough, mature enough, skilled enough, to do justice. I knew that at the outset, and there have been plenty of struggles along the way. Times I've had to set it aside for a few weeks. Lots of mornings where it was the focus of my prayers.

The book spans twenty years, so I've had to research the largest chunk of history for this one novel than I've ever researched for any book before it.

It's a generational story, so I'm dealing with more than one hero and one heroine. Three of each, actually. One of those main characters does something terribly terribly wrong at the start of the book, yet my goal is to make the character sympathetic to the reader anyway. It's also to show how God can take... well, let's call it what it is, a crime... and bring something good from it. A whole lot of painful consequences along the way, but in the end, good. In the end, hope.

I've noticed something about the stories that grab hold of my heart, the ones I choose to write out of all the possibilities that present themselves to my brain in the course of a year. There has to be an element of uncertainty involved, a question of whether or not I can actually pull it off. Something about that challenge is alluring to my soul. While it's guaranteed to bring me stress, it also promises to stretch me. As a writer. As a Christian. And the faith it requires bleeds over into other areas of my life.

So this one thing I know: if I want to keep growing as a writer, a storyteller, I can't choose the easy story. I can't choose the level path, or the one I've walked before. It has to be the steep and windy one, leading up to a height where the air is thin, but the view is new and grand.

Q for writers: is there some thread of similarity that runs through the stories you choose to write? What does a story or a character have to contain for it to be plucked out of the well of possibilities and given months, or years, of your heart and soul (and blood, tears, and sweat)?

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

The Olympics of Sheepdog Trialing

photo by SheltieBoy, Flickr Commons
The last time a major sheepdog trial was held in my area was back in 2009. I was privileged to attend the competition, and am thrilled it has returned to my southern Oregon area this autumn. 

2012 National Sheepdog Finals
September 25th - 30th - Klamath Falls, OR

This exciting event has previously been held in the Klamath Falls area in 1997, 2001, 2006 and 2009. This is the ‘Olympics’ of sheepdog trialing where you will see the best of the best dogs and handlers from across North America compete for the coveted title of National Champion.

The top 150 dogs from all across North America will compete over 6 days to select the best dog in North America. In addition, the top Nursery dogs (dogs under 3 years of age) will be competing on an adjacent field for the title of Nursery Champion.

Visit the 2012 National Sheepdog Finals website for more information, and, if you want to watch these dogs in action but can't make it to Klamath Falls next week, a live webcast of Sunday, the 30th's Champion Double Lift competition will be streaming at the website.

Don't have a clue what a Double Lift is? Find out Sunday the 30th. These dogs are a wonder to watch. Not just herding the sheep, interacting with their handler through a series of whistles and voice commands, often far far away down the field from each other. Just watching a dog and its handler walking through the crowd, seeing how attentive the dog was to every little facial twitch (or so it seemed) of its master, was a memorable experience. I've seen these dogs walking backwards beside their handlers to keep them in view at all times. I'd never seen anything like it from a dog, and haven't since. Ready to fly into action, that's a Border Collie.

I look forward to introducing you to a Border Collie who holds a special place in my heart, and who stands in for the collie I wish I could call my own--but I know better; these dogs need work to do, not a house to lay around in while I type away at my desk.

The collie I'm referring to answers to the name of Cap. He lives in the pages of my debut novel, Willa, set to release next year. I can't wait for you to meet him!

Friday, September 14, 2012

More on Writing a Welsh Accent

The National Flag of Wales. Love it!
I posted several months ago that I was having to learn to write a Welsh character's dialogue for my novel in progress (I do keep choosing characters who don't speak like I do... unless of course they choose me, then it's totally not my fault). Since that post has stayed near the head of the Popular Posts list over in the sidebar ever since (seems a lot of other people are writing Welsh characters too, and are out googling how to do so; go Team Welsh Characters!), I thought I'd revisit the subject briefly.

In the months since that original post (How To Do A Welsh Accent), I've read books with Welsh characters, some by Welsh writers, others not. Here's a short list I think would help you in your efforts, if you happen to be on this Team:

one of my favorites!
Any of the twenty Brother Cadfael mysteries by Ellis Peters, particularly the audio versions read by Patrick Tull, if you can get them. He does a great Welsh accent, as far as I can tell. This series includes (and in no particular chronological order) but isn't limited to:  
The Rose Rent
The Hermit of Eyton Forest
The Summer of the Danes
An Excellent Mystery
Dead Man's Ransom
The Virgin in the Ice
The Raven in the Foregate
Brother Cadfael's Penance.

A Faded Coat of Blue, by Owen Parry

A recent immigrant to this land -- where American has taken up arms against American -- Abel Jones finds himself mysteriously chosen as confidential agent to General George McClellan, the "savior of the Union."No stranger to the cruel paradoxes of war, Jones is asked to investigate the death of Anthony Fowler, a young volunteer captain shot through the heart outside an encampment of raw recruits. Fowler was one of the North's "golden youth," envied and idolized, an impassioned abolitionist and sole son of a powerful merchant dynasty. Instantly, his murder is blamed on the Confederates -- but whispers haunt the death of this fallen martyr, leading Abel Jones from the blood of the battlefield through the intrigues of Washington, D.C., and into a web of secrets and sinister relationships where evil and good intertwine...and where heroes fall prey to those who cherished them the most.

How Green Was My Valley, by Richard Llewellyn. 

How Green Was My Valley is Richard Llewellyn's bestselling -- and timeless -- classic and the basis of a beloved film. As Huw Morgan is about to leave home forever, he reminisces about the golden days of his youth when South Wales still prospered, when coal dust had not yet blackened the valley. Drawn simply and lovingly, with a crisp Welsh humor, Llewellyn's characters fight, love, laugh and cry, creating an indelible portrait of a people.

I'm several chapters into this book, so cannot yet speak to whether it will turn out to be a good story (though it is a classic and well loved, from what I've read about it so I have high hopes in that regard). The characters are engaging, but most of all the rhythm of the prose and especially the dialogue is what I was hoping to find to help tune my ear to the sound of a Welsh accent.

And if watching movies is something that helps you with this aspect of writing, I recommend a film it seems most people I mention it to have never even heard of, The Englishman Who Went Up A Hill But Came Down A Mountain. It's set in Wales during the early 1900s, and stars Hugh Grant and Colm Meaney. It's funny and touching, and loaded with lovely Welsh speech.

Okay Team, write that accent! Make it authentic! Avoid creative phonetic spellings whenever you can!!! Has anyone seen my pom-poms?!!!

Friday, September 07, 2012

18th Century Research: The Iroquois (Part 2)

Flag of the Iroquois Confederacy
After the Mohawk (see yesterday's blog post), the second eastern-most tribe of the Iroquois League, or Haudenosaunee, were the Oneida, or Onyota’a:ká:. Their name translates as People of the Standing Stone.

Though no nation of the League was unanimously pro-British or pro-Patriot during the Revolutionary War, most of the nations fought on the side of the British--except for the Oneida Nation, who sided with the colonists.

This was due in large part to the influence of New Englander and Patriot Samuel Kirkland, a Protestant missionary who had lived and ministered among them since the mid 1760s. While not all Oneidas welcomed Kirkland and the Gospel he preached, many considered him a friend to their people. Kirkland lived among them and shared their hardships, alleviating them as best he could through pleas for aid from wealthy seaboard acquaintances and missionary societies in the colonies and in Great Britain. Through him the Oneida people formed stronger links with the colonials than did the other Iroquois nations. Some Oneida warriors served the Patriot army during the Revolutionary War as scouts. Some fought with the colonial militia at the Battle of Oriskany, near Fort Stanwix in western New York.

As happened throughout our country's history, even our native allies in the War of Independence lost their lands not many years after the war's ending, though portions of the Oneida Indian Nation still live on their ancestral lands in New York. Others relocated to Wisconsin and to Canada. 

Finding resources for Oneida-related subjects has proven harder than for those pertaining to the Mohawk. For the benefit of anyone else researching along this same path, here's what I've found thus far:

~ The People of the Standing Stone, The Oneida Nation from the Revolution through the Era of Removal, by Karim M. Tiro.
~ The Oneida Indian  Experience, Two Perspectives, Edited by Jack Campisi and Laurence M. Hauptman.
~ Forgotten Allies, The Oneida Indians and the American Revolution, by Joseph T. Glatthaar and James Kirby Martin.
~ The Divided Ground, Indians, Settlers, and the Northern Borderland of The American Revolution, by Alan Taylor
~ Life of Samuel Kirkland, missionary to the Indians, by Samuel Kirkland Lothrop (can be found online as an ebook through Google).
~ Oneida Iroquois Folklore, Myth, and History by Anthony Wonderley 

Portions of this post were originally posted at the Colonial Quills blog, by me.

Thursday, September 06, 2012

18th Century Research: the Iroquois (Part 1)

Flag of the Iroquois Confederacy
From time to time I write a blog post dealing with a subject I've researched for my 18th century-set novels. I like to do this for the benefit of other writers, or anyone interested in that particular subject, coming along behind me on this research path.

Today I'd like to share my bibliography of titles collected while researching the history of the Iroquois Confederacy, or The Six Nations, particularly the Mohawk and Oneida nations.

The Six Nations are a confederacy of Iroquoian-speaking peoples that once occupied the the western portions of the state of New York from the Hudson River to the Finger Lakes region, though their hunting range, and their influence over other tribes, spread much farther abroad.

Traditional Iroquois longhouse
At a certain period of their history, their primary dwelling was the longhouse. The Iroquois thought of their land symbolically as a giant longhouse running east to west across their territory.

Guarding the eastern door of The Great Longhouse were the Mohawk. Next came the Oneida and after 1722 the Tuscarora. In the center of the Longhouse, as Keepers of the Central Fire, were the Onondaga. Then came the Cayuga and lastly the Seneca guarding the western door.

Sometime before European contact, arguably around the year 1450, these nations united under the Great Law of Peace to form the Haudenosaunee, or The People of the Longhouse.

Due to war, disease, settlement, and broken treaties, the 18th century and the early 19th saw the removal of these nations from most of their traditional land. Many were resettled in Canada. Some in Wisconsin, some in Oklahoma. Some still live in New York.

As part of the research for my debut novel I studied the history of the the Mohawk, or Kanyen'kehake, nation. Their name translates to People of the Flint.

Joseph Brant
Much of this research centered around Joseph Brant, or Thayendenegea, who was educated in an eastern school, rose to prominence among the Mohawk partly due to the influence of Sir William Johnson, Superintendent of Indian Affairs for the northern colonies (and husband of Joseph's sister Molly), and became a war chief for his people who fought with the British during the Revolutionary War.

Titles I found helpful in my research:

~ The Ordeal of the Longhouse: The Peoples of the Iroquois League in the Era of European Colonization by Daniel K. Richter
~ Joseph Brant 1740-1807, Man of Two Worlds by Isabel Thompson Kelsay
~ Turtles, Wolves, and Bears, A Mohawk Family History by Barbara J. Sivertsen
~ Kanyen'keha Tewatati (Let’s Speak Mohawk) and One Thousand Useful Mohawk Words by David Kanatawakhon Maracle
~ The Iroquois by Evelyn Wolfson
~ Joseph Brant, Mohawk Chief by Jonathan Bolton and Claire Wilson
~ Realm of the Iroquois by The Editors of Time-Life Books
~ The Iroquois in the American Revolution by Barbara Graymont
~ The Tribes of the Iroquois Confederacy by Michael Johnson

I hope they'll prove useful to the knowledge-hungry traveler! 

Come back tomorrow for Part Two: The Oneida

This post, or portions of it, was originally posted at the Colonial Quills blog, by me.