Category Archives: research

Show Your Shelf!

Miniature of Cornificia (Corinse) in her study, from a Flemish translation of Christine de Pizan’s Cité des dames (‘De Lof der Vrouwen’), Bruges, 1475. British Library Add MS 20698, f.70r

 

Nowadays, even the Pope takes selfies. If you’re a committed writer and/or reader, though, you can get a better likeness than that. Share your shelfies, picture of your books. Give yourself a little leeway, and you can include your desk, your writing space and your reading corner. Why post a picture of your ugly mug? Show us your frontal cortex!

Here’s the most public of my shelfies, the bookcase beside my fireplace.  It displays the books most worth looking at as objects. Almost all of those on the top two shelves were my mother’s or my grandmother’s. They’re bound in leather, tooled in gold. (The books, not my progenitors, though they were pretty hidebound, too.)  The stretch of identical bindings is a set of officially worthy books, some of which are indispensable, like Pride and Prejudice and Wuthering Heights, though I’d already read those in paperback before it occurred to me to look through the family holdings. On the other hand, Lord Charnwood’s biography of Abraham Lincoln will probably be up there, unmoved and undusted, when I die.

The tall books on the bottom shelves are mostly art and coffee table books. I have no memory at all of their provenance. I think people break in at night and drop them off to free up their own shelf space.

Below, in extreme contrast, is The Holy of Holies. Books have to be canonized to get here, and for this purpose, I am the Pope. Most are fiction; a few belong on the history or science shelves. Atwood and Byatt are there, as are Pogo, the best of Diana Wynne Jones, and Perfection Salad, a study on the sociology of home cooking around 1900 that transports me to my grandmother’s kitchen. The woman in the picture is my best friend. A librarian, naturally.

Next, my Purgatory. These, combined, constitute the To Be Read pile. I’ll spare you images of the Lowest Circle (books that have been sitting around so long I can’t remember what they’re about, let alone why I bought them) and the Middle Circle (books I still firmly intend to get to, only not just now, because the purchasing impulse did not convert quickly enough into the buckling down impulse. There’s a lot of nonfiction here.)

Finally, the TBR Upper Circle. These are probably going to make it into my brain within a year or so. I hardly had to rearrange the piles at all to display all my major interests (widdershins from top left): writing, the Israel/Palestine conflict, mysteries and Buddhism. The mix stays the same all the way down. There are also a few specialized books picked up for research, for instance, a detailed description of a classic Yankee-clipper-era mansion and an endless account of everything known about the Abenaki people of New England. But I guess those come in under “writing.”

How about you, readers? What do your bookshelves look like? Are your shelfies a better likeness of the real you than what you see in the mirror?

Later addendum: Actually, it’s not your frontal cortex (which should have been “frontal lobe” anyway.) You read with your posterior parietal lobe. But somehow, “show us your posterior!” even with “parietal lobe” added, seems to change the tone.

 

 

 

 

 

I’m (still) a Genealogy Junkie

My road down the path to becoming a genealogy junkie started innocently enough, as I imagine it does for many addicts. (See my blog post of September 13, 2016, A Pilgrim in the Family.) My husband’s family is my drug of choice.

When my research revealed that Bailey Clough, my husband’s fourth great-grandfather, of Lyman, NH, fathered Helen Luella Clough at the age of sixty-nine, I knew I had some digging to do. I located Historical Sketches of Lyman New Hampshire, written by E. B. Hoskins and published by Charles P. Hibbard in Lisbon, NH, in 1903.

 

Historical Sketches of Lyman

Historical Sketches of Lyman New Hampshire

If these sketches are brief and contain little of deep interest, it is because Lyman is a small farming town, and its history has been quiet and peaceful, with no events of a remarkable character.

I smiled when I read this. It is how I envision Woodbury, NH, home to Gabby, Anne, Olivia, Em, Lexi Rae, Claire, Louise. Nothing has happened here of a remarkable nature. Until now.

Finally, on page sixty, I found the Clough family: William Clough served in the French and Indian war three years, was captured by the foe and carried to France, where he was kept a year or more. He entered the Revolution without enlistment, and was at the battle of Bunker Hill. His children were, namely: Zacheus, Enoch, Bailey, Cyrus, Abner, Jeremiah, Elizabeth, and Dorcas.

Turn the page and there’s virile Bailey: Bailey Clough, son of William, married Susannah Smith, sister of Reuben Smith, Nov. 28, 1799. Their children were, namely: James, born in 1801; David, born in 1803; Darius, born in 1809; Benoni, born in 1812; Chester Hutchins, born in 1822; Susan; and Bailey.

Aha. Bailey had a son with the same name. And Helen isn’t listed among the offspring of Bailey Senior. The son must be the father. If the children are listed in order of birth date, which the author generally did, then Bailey would have been born after 1822. As Helen was born in 1838 or 1839 or even 1841 (I think she lied about her age so that she wouldn’t appear to be ten years older than her second husband), it’s hard to believe that her father was the younger Bailey.

I scanned all of the biographies in the history hoping to find something to link Bailey Clough, senior or junior, and the daughter, Helen, and the wife, Lydia. Nothing there, nothing in Ancestry.com, nothing in Find A Grave, nothing in Wikitree. I can’t believe I’ve reached a dead end in the nineteenth century.

I’m mentally exhausted. And ready for a trip to another cemetery!!

PS After writing this post I was itching to resolve the Bailey Senior/Junior mystery. I returned to Ancestry.com and looked at some other family histories (the least reliable source of information) that I had ignored earlier. Some more research and I am closer to saying that Junior was married to Lydia Stevens and was the father of not just Helen Luella but also Martha Ella. (And I get complaints about the names of my characters!) Bailey Junior was born in 1817, making him old enough to be Helen’s father. He died around the time that Martha was born so it is conceivable that Helen went to live with relatives, as the 1850 census shows her living with an eighty-year old Bailey Clough and possibly her aunt and uncle.

Mystery almost solved…now to get to work on my own mystery.

A Pilgrim in the Family

I think I’m addicted to genealogy, specifically that of my family and now my husband’s family. I started researching my father’s family history in order to join the Daughters of the American Revolution (DAR). I already knew I had a Revolutionary War Minuteman for a fourth great-grandfather from a family history, which made completing the application for DAR membership less daunting than I anticipated. That done, I wanted to learn about his parents beyond their names and dates of death–were they born in Maine (which is where they lived when two of their sons ventured to Groton, VT)?; where are they buried?; where did their parents come from?;–the usual sort of questions you want answers to. But there isn’t much information on Ancestry.com, my main research site.

Not making much progress there, I moved on to the German side of my family. When I realized that I would need my German-speaking mother’s undivided attention for about six weeks to make any headway in that arena, I decided that my husband’s family might be easier to research. We already knew about the Civil War soldier who died at Andersonville Prison but we weren’t aware of the two Revolutionary War soldiers I unearthed.

"Mayflower Harbor" by Hans Holbein the Younger; in the Walker Art Gallery in Liverpool, England

“Mayflower Harbor” by William Halsall, 1882, Pilgrim Hall Museum, Plymouth, MA

Then–JACKPOT!! I am 99% certain that my husband is a lineal descendant of Governor William Bradford of Plymouth Colony who arrived in New England on the Mayflower. With a Pilgrim in the family, Thanksgiving will never be the same.

My own research brought me to this conclusion and when I ventured out to Wiki Tree, a free genealogy website, there it was, printed boldly on the bottom of my mother-in-law’s record: “Mayflower Descendant (Gov. William Bradford). I immediately sent a text to my three daughters: “SOMEBODY CALL ME! I am hyperventilating.” Soon I was talking to one daughter on my cell phone (left ear) with another daughter on the home phone (right ear). I’d say they were excited as well–but not as much as their mother was. And it’s not even my own family.

"King Henry VIII" by Hans Holbein the Younger, Walker Art Gallery, Liverpool, England

“King Henry VIII” by Hans Holbein the Younger, Walker Art Gallery, Liverpool, England

One of my granddaughters was not impressed by the Mayflower connection. Her comment: “I don’t care. I just want to know if I’m a princess.” Hmmm…I think we would know if that were the case but just for fun I went looking for a royal connection. I’m certain I violated all rules of genealogy research when I just clicked away on every link to every father of the next male in the line until I reached a dead end. It just happened to be on Sir Edward Rogers, born in 1498, who served as a courtier to Henry VIII. Yes, that Henry VIII. Sir Edward may not have been a prince but he did hang out with a king! What remains to be determined is if he is a relative.

Real genealogists take their research seriously. Which is what I should be doing with my writing. Is this new hobby of mine just another means of avoiding writing? (That’s a rhetorical and, by now, annoying question. So don’t answer it.) I’m stuck in the saggy middle of my murder mystery–the saggy middle of my outline of the novel, not the actual writing of it. My latest goal is to generate the same enthusiasm for writing this mystery that I have for researching dead ancestors. Wish me luck!

A Different Kind of Character

View through a ruined abbey

View through a ruined abbey

On the advice of Umberto Eco (in Reflections on The Name of the Rose), I’ve just decided to give more weight in my novel to its setting. Thinking it over, I realized that one way to do this is to include a new, non-human character: the plucky little newspaper that serves my fictional town of Oxbow, New Hampshire. I dredged from my files the clippings I’ve accumulated from our real local paper, the illustrious Valley News of Lebanon, NH, mainstay of the Upper Valley of the Connecticut River. The News is living proof that rural life provides all the opportunity you need to spread yourself out in life, to let anything happen. Up here, it eventually will.

Exhibit A, from the Valley News “Local Briefs” section:

NAKED PEDESTRIAN STROLLS THROUGH BURLINGTON [VERMONT]

 A naked pedestrian strolling through Burlington this week has caused quite a stir.

The man was first spotted Tuesday walking through the city’s Church Street Marketplace completely nude, with exception of sneakers and a bandana on his head.

Bystanders say they were amazed to see him walk around the busy shopping and dining district.

Burlington Police Lt. Paul Glynn said that while the man’s nakedness is “inappropriate,” it’s not necessarily illegal as long as he left home naked and isn’t disrobing the public [sic] or harassing people.

The man turned down a request by WCAX-TV for an interview.

Burlington police sleeve badge

I love the first sentence. It could only have been written by an experienced small-town reporter. You can’t imagine it appearing in the New York Times. I like to picture the interviews of the bystanders: “How did you feel when you saw the man?” “Well, amazed, I guess. I was just amazed.” Reporter writes down, “Witness amazed.”

The typo is nice, too. And the sun protection of the bandana directs one’s thoughts to all the possibilities of sunburn.

Best of all are the scrupulous liberties of the People’s Republic of Vermont. (We Granite-staters don’t always see eye-to-eye with the Vermonters just across the river.) Vermont law says that you may not take your clothes off in public. But that’s all the law says. So…. What would constitute harassment in this case? Touching is out, obviously, but what about, “Look at this”? If you only said it once? Only once to each person? Panhandling in a non-harassing manner is allowed. If you didn’t even ask for cash, just for one moment of human attention before you moved on, who could object to that? He didn’t want to appear on TV, so it’s clear he isn’t an exhibitionist. Not in Vermont, anyway.

Local TV covered the story, too, if you’re feeling voyeur-ish.

Last February 5, “Local Briefs” reported a near-tragedy. Here are the essentials. (Unhappily, the Valley News website doesn’t include the paper’s archives, so I can’t send you to the original articles.)

Fire officials say a heat lamp used for chickens caused a fire that gutted a small barn. All of the chickens escaped unharmed.

These would not be generic chickens. Here in the Upper Valley, we like to buy our eggs from our neighbors, and we know the chickens almost as well as we do the neighbors’ dogs. Miss Bossy, for instance, is a Rhode Island Red who lives out in Orfordville. I heard about her from

Miss Bossy?

Miss Bossy?

the lady at the feed store, who is her owner (though Miss B. might not agree about that.) Miss Bossy is the smallest of her tiny flock, which she rules with an iron claw. Her fellow Rhode Island Red is named Thelma. The two Buff Orpingtons don’t have names – I guess compared to Miss Bossy and Thelma, they’re such wimps they’re hardly there at all. You can see why, when fire threatens a barn up here, the Valley News knows what’s important. All the chickens got out.

The paper does a good job of selecting and condensing national and world news stories for its “World and Nation” page (two pages, max.) We get several serious items a day from the top news bureaus plus a small feature summing up lesser stories in a few sentences. Sometimes, on a slow news day, the editor favors us with oddities that just struck his fancy. E.g.:

Meerkat Expert Cleared of Assault in Zoo Love Triangle

London, AP. A former meerkat expert at London Zoo was cleared Tuesday of assaulting a monkey handler in a love spat over a llama-keeper….

Meerkat, marvelling

Meerkat, marveling

Or, if your favorite sin is anger rather than lust:

West Palm Beach, FL. Joshua James, 24, is charged with aggravated assault with a deadly weapon …after throwing an alligator through a Wendy’s drive-thru window.

The point to notice about these stories is their datelines. London, West Palm Beach, what can you expect? If they weren’t already crazy, they’d live here. The news(wo)man’s inverse-square law states, “The farther from home, the weirder.” James got off with nothing worse than probation.

Local papers set the tone, but all our media report scrupulously on what matters to, or reliably annoys, people like us. War and pestilence were raging around the globe, as always, when the public radio station gave us this bulletin:

A tractor-trailer full of cheese caught fire on the interstate. The driver escaped, and was able to detach the truck from the trailer, but the trailer and its contents were destroyed.

Use all the senses, the writing mavens tell us. Think how grounded, how riveted, your reader would be if you could convey to her the sight and smell of 17 tons of smashed and smoking cheese! Consider the plight of the cars immediately following. The report didn’t say, but if it was Velveeta, it would qualify for HazMat treatment. And if, like me, you write mysteries, who set that fire?

Genre smorgasbord

How do I even dare to refer to myself as a writer when I am still figuring out what genre is calling my name? Six years ago I started in my writing group assuming that I’d write contemporary fiction, or chick lit as the worst case scenario, and when I got really good I’d advance to literary fiction. I needed a writing project so I took the easiest route and continued where I had started over twenty years earlier with my novel, “Anne” (genre to be determined). I was able to produce about 140 pages of a draft so rough you could rip the skin off your fingers just turning the pages.

After reading and critiquing the murder mysteries/cozies created by fellow group members, I decided to write murder mysteries, of which I have accumulated a number of first drafts, partial drafts, and rough outlines. I’m beginning to wonder if I haven’t just fallen under the influence of those members who love to write murder mysteries/cozies and are pretty darn good at it. They get excited over how much of a drug it will take to kill a character and whether his weight and how much he just ate should be manipulated to make it work within the allotted time frame.

Am I that same writer? It’s not looking that way.

What my characters are thinking about is more to my liking. My approach in real life (there is such a thing and it’s always getting in the way of my writing time) is to analyze why people around me do what they do. Or don’t do. Psychological thrillers, maybe?

This week at the first writing group meeting I attended in weeks I floated the idea of writing historical fiction. It’s the genre I currently gravitate to for reading pleasure, particularly World War II and the Revolutionary War novels. (I did mention in an earlier post that I was Betsy Ross in a previous life, right?) I already  have a setting for my first attempt at this genre!

Historical fiction requires research and getting the details correct while you’re making up some of the characters, dialogue, and events. Epiphany: that’s control. And I like being in control. Duh. That’s what writing fiction is all about: creating and manipulating characters and action any way your heart desires. And any fiction genre lets you do that. Except with historical fiction you take control of events that have actually taken place. That’s power.

Meanwhile, I’ve committed to submitting an outline of the murder mystery I’ve started recently, “Patsy’s Posse”. Why? To prove I can complete an outline. To give a murder mystery one more try before I move on. (To what?) Also, I’m attending the New England Crime Bake 2016 in November so I might as well hang in there with murder mysteries until then. I signed up for the Agent & Editor roundtable and I need to produce a decent first page of a manuscript. Let’s hope I can get that far in three months.

It Has to be Good, Not Perfect

The sun pours down on my life today. Actually, a thunderstorm is approaching, but to me, all is light and life. I gave a talk yesterday to a foreign affairs discussion group I belong to. Today, therefore, I no longer have to give a talk to the foreign affairs discussion group!

Speaking in public is not a problem for me. It’s the fear of making a mistake that wrecks my life. The search for correctness on every last tiny point ate up last week like the Tazmanian Devil pouncing on its prey. I had a good grasp on my material. But what if that date (2005) should actually be 2004? Google it. It was 2005. What if…? Google it. I spent more time in Google than in Word.

Because I spent the week obsessing, I printed my handouts at the last minute. My printer broke down. I switched to my husband’s printer, got one file completed, and the printer suddenly began taking its orders from Mars. Half a ream of paper was wasted before I finished the task. My office looked as if Dirty Harry had ransacked it.

No time for a shower before leaving. I plastered my hair down with a comb so severely that no one could doubt I intended it to look that way, for some unfathomable reason. Since I know where all the local speed traps are, I walked into the meeting room right on time, wearing an easy expression of ‘no sweat!’ Which made me think of the missed shower again.

And it all went fine. It almost always does. And so what if I had made a mistake or two? The world would not have ended. I would not have been damned for all eternity.

You wouldn’t think that writing fiction would be as susceptible to the search for perfect truth as reportage. You’re supposed to make fiction up. The writer is responsible for all the truth in the fiction. Unhappily, s/he gets none of the feedback offered by the real world when truths collide. In life, a brook simply will not run uphill. In your book, it can run one way in Chapter 3 and the other in Chapter 11. Until some kind or not-so-kind reader points that out.

The perfection trap doesn’t confine itself to fictional facts. When every flaw catches your eye equally, whether it’s a poor word choice or a gaping plot hole, progress can be agonizingly slow. I’ve managed to bring forth a first draft. I’ve rewritten, rewritten the rewrites and … you finish the sentence, assuming it ever ends. A draft that really needs only a clean-up is still miles over the horizon.

Perhaps it’s a trick of focal distance. The present plan is to focus on plot, plot, plot and never mind the rest. And we all know how to find out whether that’s a good idea. 1) Apply rear end to chair. 2) Write.

Dubious Sanctities

The Celtic goddess Brigantia, the original St. Brigid

The Celtic goddess Brigantia

Between bouts of work on my mystery novel, I tinker with a literary work. It’s so serious I can hardly shift it most of the time, but it does have lighter moments. Since it takes place in Ireland, those moments often involve saints.

Ireland favors saints who are hard to pin down, some of dubious origin. They tend to be knowledgeable about human wants and needs, and indulgent of them. I’m far from the final cut on which sanctities will be included. This makes a perfect excuse for “research” that takes me away from the grunt work. Today, I offer you a sampling of my favorites.

The Irish are all good Catholics, even the bad ones. This is possible because, after they had submitted to the church, they went higher up and cut their own deal. St. Patrick, having driven out all the snakes and converted or incinerated

St. Patrick defeats the pagan priests in argument

St. Patrick defeats the pagan priests in argument before the High King at Tara

all the pagans, asked and received a boon from Christ: on Judgment Day, Christ will judge the living and the dead – except for the Irish. They will be judged by Patrick. In life, Patrick was not a forgiving sort, but for his own people….

St. Brigid is sometimes called the “second most important Irish saint.” Patrick, being male and alleged founder of the faith in Ireland, is number one. Officially, the church doesn’t care for women in the top job. But Brigid is “the Mary of the Irish.” According to her legend, when she went to take the veil from Bishop Mel, the Holy Spirit caused him to read the form for ordaining a bishop over her.

In fact, Brigid predates Patrick. She began her career of divinity as Brigantia, “the high one”, a Celtic goddess (seen in a Roman-era relief at the top of this post.) She is the saintly patron of blacksmiths, doctors and poets – metallurgy, medicine and poetry were the three magical arts of the pre-Christian Celts.

A modern, but orthodox, sculpture of St. Brigid

A modern, but orthodox, sculpture of St. Brigid

Her feast day, Feb. 1, is on the pagan festival of Imbolc. (Imbolc has since slipped by a day and been reduced to the yearly appearance of Punxatawny Phil the groundhog to foretell the spring.)

Brigid’s symbol, the cow, was the store of wealth and unit of account among the pagan tribes of Ireland, and her miracles include the sudden appearance of milk, butter and cheese in vast quantities, as well as beer, beer, beer. Irish priorities are clear: first the beer, and only then the loaves and fishes. On one occasion of drought, she converted her bathwater into beer, a very Irish conversion. She could also hang her cloak on a sunbeam.

St. Brendan the Navigator was an Irishman, and his tales are tall. He set sail in a curragh — a boat not much more than a cockleshell made of hides and waterproofed with fat. In it, he traveled west across the Atlantic for seven years to the “Promised Land of the Saints,” the “Land of Promise” or perhaps the Garden of Eden. Mind you, he only went because St. Barrid told him that he, Barrid, had already been there.

Brendan the Navigator with his towers of crystal

Brendan the Navigator with his towers of crystal

On the way, Brendan landed on a whale, saw floating crystals as high as the sky and was pelted by burning rocks from an island, so clearly he got as far as Iceland.

Brendan also encountered Judas, sitting drenched and miserable on a rock in the midst of the sea. Judas explained that this was his Sunday holiday; the rest of the week, he spent in Hell. The church insists that Brendan’s journeys were for the purpose of converting the heathen and founding abbeys. He is the patron of Clonfert Abbey, so that just shows.

I don’t plan to confine myself to Irish saints. The Irish venerate whatever saint can best deliver what is needed (for a certain value of ‘need,’ which includes beer.) My heroine will have recourse to St. Walter of Pontoise, a sad fellow from a place near Paris.

Sad St. Walter, after a chat with the Pope

Sad St. Walter, after a chat with the Pope

Walter wanted only to be left alone in a monk’s cell to fast and pray, but the King of France appointed him abbot of the monastery. The poor man ran for it but was caught and brought back. This happened several times. Finally, the pope put his foot down and told Walter to stop complaining and do his job. Now, he is the patron saint of people whose jobs are getting to be too much for them.

Another favorite of mine: St. Ubald of Gubbio can be invoked against headaches, which I take to mean anything that makes a nuisance of itself without justifying immediate flight. If things get even worse, St. Ubald is said to have miraculously defeated an invading army and talked Frederick Barbarossa himself out of sacking the city of Gubbio. More: he is invoked contra omnes diabolicas nequitias – “against all diabolical depravity.” I presume I can involve my heroine in absolutely anything and get her out of trouble in the end.

St. Ubaldo's incorruptible body in the basilica at Gubbio, beyond all woes

St. Ubaldo’s incorruptible body in the basilica at Gubbio, beyond all woes

To speed you on your way, here is a prayer attributed to St. Brigid, as translated (perhaps loosely) and performed by the Irish singer Noirin Ni Riain on a recording with the Benedictine monks of Glenstal Abbey in County Limerick:

I’d like to give a lake of beer to God.
I’d love the Heavenly
Host to be tippling there
For all eternity.

I’d love the men of Heaven to live with me,
To dance and sing.
If they wanted, I’d put at their disposal
Vats of suffering.

White cups of love I’d give them,
With a heart and a half;
Sweet pitchers of mercy I’d offer
To every man.

I’d make Heaven a cheerful spot,
Because the happy heart is true.
I’d make the men contented for their own sake
I’d like Jesus to love me too.

I’d like the people of heaven to gather
From all the parishes around,
I’d give a special welcome to the women,
The three Marys of great renown.

I’d sit with the men, the women of God
There by the lake of beer
We’d be drinking good health forever
And every drop would be a prayer.

Wait, wait! It’s a mystery!

I should be writing Gothic fantasy, not mysteries. When I consult my pocket notebook (which I often do, because, as Oscar Wilde said, one should always have something sensational to read on the train), I seldom find jottings about sinister strangers or mysterious events. I seem to be attracted by weirdities. I overhear remarks that suggest the speaker is not living a boring life. My passersby live in an alternate universe.

So today I present a quiz, modeled on the radio news quiz, “Wait, wait! Don’t tell me!” The deal is, in each section, I give you three scenarios. One is from my notebook; I witnessed it. The other two are my efforts to create a similar, but more plausible, fiction. Your job is to guess which is the true event.

No prize; the answers are at the bottom of this post.

[Spoiler alert: I have no idea how to make the answers at the end show up upside-down. So don’t scroll past the fourth question till you’ve committed yourself to an answer.]

A London perfumerie in the exclusive Burlington Arcade has premiered its latest original scents. These are:

A. Breath of Bristol and Liverpool Breeze. “The tang of salt, seaweed and steamers to the Orient. The scent of Empire.”

B. Blasted Bloom and Blasted Heath. “Experience the Wild Scents of the British Coast.”

C. Rosalind and Lady MacBeth. “Are you a charmer or a femme fatale?”

Cutting edge European fashion in hair style currently includes:

A. The Angela Merkel short page boy

B. Thin, wispy curls arranged with scalp showing, a la Princess Charlotte

C. The Lisbon pony tail: a shaved head except for a long pony tail growing from the crown.

In his keynote address at Magna cum Murder XXI, author Simon Brett discussed:

A. The new Jane Austen app. It tracks all Jane Austen meetings, conventions and re-enactments worldwide, and lets users chat about their costume plans.

B. Sense and Sensuality, JA’s only attempt at a pornographic novel.

C. An academic article on a murder near Austen’s home at Chawton.

A British gentleman in business attire is walking down Piccadilly with a similarly dressed lady. She gives him a perky smile and says,

A. “So, they exhumed his body?”

B. “She stabbed him. But only with a fish knife.”

C. “My, what a tightly rolled umbrella!”

 

AND THE ANSWERS ARE:

B, C, B, A

So, what do you find in your pocket notebook?

 

It’s complicated

With just 13 days—yikes!—until NaNoWriMo starts, I should be well on my way to an outline, character list and setting. At a minimum. And that has been my plan since my failed attempt to win Camp NaNoWriMo in July. It’s a sad story, a common refrain (for me). My July project is floundering and I am unprepared for November.

I thought I had it under control. I knew what my plot was going to be. Sort of. (It’s those “sort of’s” that seem to be my downfall.) All I needed was some additional information from my mother and I’d be ready to outline like a madwoman.

Last night I met with her (my mother, not the madwoman) for what I was certain would be the details that would weave the story together. Alas, all she could tell me was all that she’s already told me.

You may wonder why I need information from my mother to write this story. It’s complicated. But when isn’t it? Back to my resource, my mother. Several years ago, she gave me what I assume is a pewter or silver plated wall frieze of the Roman goddess, Diana the Huntress, and the stag.

She’s 88 (my mother, not Diana), from Germany, and lived there during World War II. The wall frieze was given to her by her mother in 1953 when my mother moved to the US with my father, who was in the US Air Force.

My grandmother found the wall frieze in 1952 in a trunk that her son-in-law (not my father) bought at an auction. Assuming it only contained a bunch of old newspapers, he stored it in the basement. But my grandmother thought otherwise and trudged down to the basement to paw through the newspapers. She was rewarded for her effort with Diana and my uncle let her keep it. She passed it on to my mother, who gave it to me.

I believe that the trunk was property confiscated by the Nazis from a Jewish family. The twist is that a few years ago I found out that the mother of my German grandmother was a Jew who married a Christian. That means I am 1/8 Jewish. Ties with the Jewish part of the family were severed, which may have been what saved my immediate German family from the Holocaust. (I can’t allow myself to think about the fate of the Jewish part of my family.)

Sounds like a lot of potential material for an historical novel. Or would it be creative nonfiction? A memoir? I could incorporate my Jewish and my German ancestry and my American upbringing. And I do want to write that book. But 13 days just isn’t enough time to do the necessary research and develop the plot, outline, setting, characters…..

So I’ll stick to the story of Diana. If I can come up with 50,000 words about a trunk, a Roman goddess, a stag, and a wall frieze.

Waiting for inspiration

Inspiration…..waiting…..waiting…..when are you going to swoop down and write my blog post for me? That is what usually happens when it’s my turn but this time not so much. Oh, yesterday I wrote enough words to comprise a post. But they weren’t anything I would reread in a few months and wonder if I had actually written them or if my name were mistakenly attached to someone else’s writing.

Yet it’s been hammered into my head that I shouldn’t wait for inspiration. I need to be disciplined, sit down at the same time every day and write. Treat it as though it were a job–unpaid, but a job nevertheless. And some of the members of my writing group do that. They are the ones who produce, who eagerly volunteer to submit their writings for next week’s critiquing by the group.

Where would I be without my writing group? We celebrated our sixth anniversary at last week’s meeting. Six years!! Of the seven attendees, five are charter members and two are “newcomers”  We toasted with port, indulged in a multitude of desserts and snacks, and reminisced. I left feeling reinvigorated, ready to tackle (and finish!!) “Claire.” Again.

The next day the four ladies of the group met for our usual Friday lunch. Heidi provided me with an idea for “Claire” that I absolutely will use. It’s a tweak to the story line that started the wheels in my mind turning and whirring.

Three full days later and I haven’t written a word. But I will.

In addition, the three ladies listened patiently as I outlined, off the cuff, my concept for the upcoming NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month) in November. I know what you’re thinking: 1) it’s only September and she’s already started her plot for NaNoWriMo? and 2) she’s going to attempt NaNoWriMo again?  She doesn’t need a new writing project, she needs to finish something she’s already started. What is she thinking??

The answer is, for me writing isn’t about thinking. It’s about feeling. That’s what makes me a better pantser than a plotter.

Also, I mentioned in a previous post that without agreeing to submit to my writing group and posting to this blog, I wouldn’t write. I neglected to include committing to NaNoWriMo. It’s potentially 50,000 words that I otherwise would not write.

My proposed story for NaNoWriMo has a personal foundation going back to my grandmother in Germany. Unfortunately, she’s not alive so I will have to rely on the memory of my eighty-seven year old mother to provide the background for my NaNoWriMo novel. In addition, it will involve research about World War II, something I can do in advance of November 1. “Can” doesn’t necessarily translate into “will” I have found.

Linda, Heidi, and Eleanor were supportive of my concept. And of my writing ability. What a wonderful feeling to enjoy a cup of clam chowder with people who have become good friends, talk about writing–and leave with my ego pumped up just a bit.

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