Sunday, October 27, 2013

On Pearl, New Research, and a Bib

Before I dive into the madness and exhilaration of NaNoWriMo, I wanted to leave October with a hint of what I'll be working on come December, once the NewBrightShiny Idea is written and I have some time to think through what I want to do to The Sailor's Daughters, that ridiculous piece of work that is my historical fiction novel.

I say "ridiculous" lovingly.

This picture over yonder is a photo of some of my sources--those that I have in physical form. Aren't they pretty?

Yes, I am a massive nerd. Somewhere along way, these pesky Keegans went from a frothy turn-of-the-century, Jane Austen-ish story to something that requires a lot of facts and some sense of realism.

All I can say is, Thank God I'm not writing about real people who existed, y'know?

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Historical Context

So, as I'm outlining my NaNo, my characters do things that normal New Yorkers do: go to Starbucks, take the subway, complain about the subway, do a side-eye when a celebrity walks by but go on about your business, get stuck in crowds, bitch about how slow some people walk. I'm deliberately leaving the year that this story takes place vague, but it's definitely New York as I experience it now, you know?

It's different in my historical fiction, which starts in 1799 and kind of ends in mid-1801. There were several large-scale things happening at the time, like the continuous warfare between Britain and France that would last until Waterloo, the growing British abolition movement (though, in 1800, because of sedition laws passed as Britain entered war against France, abolition groups weren't meeting), King George III's intermittent madness.

Then there are the general things about the time period that apply when one is writing about a segment of the British aristocracy.

Estates, because the British upper classes owned them, sometimes several of them. Estates included not only a large house, parkland, and farms, but entire villages, too.

Primogeniture. The oldest son inherits the bulk of everything--title, money, land, house. This is especially true if there is an entail, an archaic piece of law that you may heard about four dozen times in the first season of Downton Abbey. An entail made it impossible for one lord, let's say, to sell his house or to sell too much land to cover his gambling debts so that the heir would inherit a house and land to earn his income. The daughters had dowries once they married. The younger sons? Bah. Here's your allowance and maybe a piece of unentailed land or a house, now go work. But not, like, work. Go into the army as an officer, which won't pay you enough to live on. Go into the navy, go become a lawyer or a politician.

How do you think a historical fiction author makes stuff like this clear? How does one get the time period and the intricacies of the time period across without veering into, "Well, you know, Lord Bob, when you die, your heir inherits..."

I'm thinking back on when I read The Greatest Knight by Elizabeth Chadwick. It's about William Marshal, who rose to become England's regent after King John's death. So it takes place in the 1180s and the sequel covers the latter part of Marshal's life. Not a time period I really know anything about, but I soon got the hang of the period while reading.

I'll have to figure out what made it easy to slip into medieval England.

Friday, October 18, 2013

7 Things a Writer Should Do...

...after you get a beta's comments back on your WIP.

1. Read them. I took about two days to read and analyze my beta's very astute comments and then the rest of the time to read through the Track Changes in the document itself.

2. Have a drink. Not because the comments were harsh or bad, but because thinking about the amount of work that has to be done is simply exhausting. Plus, I happened to be out with friends in a place where drinks were readily available.

3. Thank your beta. I feel like this should be a given.

4. Process the experience. Can I just talk to you about college writing workshops for a second? They soured me on the whole workshop/critique/beta thing. Ask my college roommate about my state of mind after workshop---and that's mostly because in writing programs, they don't teach you how to approach workshopping someone else's piece. So then you have people telling you stuff like, "I don't like your main character." No explanation. No reason given. So really, having actual constructive crit on my work is mind-bending.

5. Make some decisions. Go on with the piece? (Yes). Take some time off? (I haven't read it since I sent it, so when I was re-reading it yesterday, I re-read it with fresh eyes.) Am I still feeling the characters or the setting or the initial story? (Yeah, but I'm also prepping for my NaNo project, so my attention is a little divided). Dive in now or later? (I'll go back to it in December, when NaNo is done. Gives me some time to think about my approach.)

6. Think about a new project. I've learned that I'm not much good when not working on a writing project of some kind. I get all tense and extra-anxious and kind of scary-emo when I'm not writing. In this case, the new project is my planned NaNo, which should be fun to write over November. Also, since I seem to be able to outline the NaNo in pretty good detail (something I've never had the ability or patience to do before), when December rolls around and I'm ready to get back to the pesky Keegans and their pesky Georgian England problems, maybe I can bring my awesome outlining skills to a new draft.

7. Read through the notes I took as I was researching the book. Mostly because there were details I've forgotten by this point, stuff about manumission and potentially bad harvests. Found some new things worth reading as research in the Kindle Store. Think about how much telling vs. showing one does to get a historical period across. Novels aren't textbooks, after all.

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

The Most Famous Book Set In Every State

My friend Meta the Beta sent me this yesterday. It's a story on Business and it's called The Most Famous Book Set In Every State.

Cool, huh? Scroll down on the link for the book summaries. What's the supposed most famous book set in your state?

From Nudelman

The Great Gatsby is on the list for New York, my home state. It might be the most taught book taking place in New York, but I'd counter that A Tree Grows in Brooklyn is also a famous book set here. Or that Walden is hardly the only famous book written about Massachusetts. I had to read The Scarlet Letter, Ethan Frome, and The Crucible in school.

So. Agree or disagree with any of the choices?

Saturday, October 12, 2013

Chapter-by-Chapter Outlines


I classify myself as a sort-of pantser. What I mean is that I go in to a first draft with main characters, backstory, and a basic idea of the plot and maybe some research (if applicable). And then I go off into the chaos and fury of a first draft.

For whatever reason, I already know what I want endgame to be in this upcoming NaNo project. So, to stave off any urges to cheat and dive in to my first draft, I'm writing my outline. I started in my usual way. Setting: New York City, roughly this year, but could be next year. Characters: Emma, Ailey, Colin, Lily and some minor characters. Backstory: Emma's family is political, she is not particularly politically-inclined. In fact, she's agoraphobic. Colin's an actor, the son of jobbing actors, and becoming a bit more well-known.

And then a weird thing happened. Because I decided on my NaNoWriMo project so early, I found myself thinking about my characters a lot. How did they meet? What were their impressions of each other? Then I started a chapter-by-chapter outline. I'm on Chapter 13 now. This is the first time I've actually done a chapter-by-chapter outline of anything I've written.

Not entirely true: I did a chapter-by-chapter thing for the very first incarnation of the Keegan Inheritance, back when I thought of it as a romance novel. But the descriptions were vague. For example:

Chapter 10: It is time for Madeline to call on Laura. Henry tells Madeline that the house belongs to a French spy. Madeline and Laura have an awkward visit. Louis comes home to find Laura saying good-bye to Madeline. 

Chapter 11 in the NaNo project looks like:
Susan, Lily's mom, has been busy organizing Vivian's house after the death. Vivian lived in a nice, suburban, smallish house near the Nassau/Queens border on the North Shore of the Long Island...The furniture and other stuff will have to be accounted for...Susan, Bob, and Emma's dad decide what they want to keep. The kids get to work organizing the basement and the attic. Emma, Bryce, and Robin are in the basement. All they find are boxes of grandpa's things, old Christmas decorations, broken stuff, old computer equipment. Bryce carries the boxes up.

It's actually more detailed that that, but who knows what'll change before November? I'm going for 80,000 words this year. I've already won NaNo twice with 50,000. Let's up the ante a little. I hope that organizing my story beforehand will help me fix necessary things before I dive in to the madness of November.

Do you do chapter-by-chapter outlines? How detailed are they?

Tuesday, October 8, 2013

On Anna

This post contains spoilers for Downton Abbey, season 4, episode 3. Don't read this if you haven't been watching or actually care about getting spoiled.

Also, as Australian comedian Tim Minchin says, this is one of my rare (ha!) but fun rants.

Sunday, October 6, 2013

New Adult

I don't usually have a problem identifying the genre of my stories. If it's not blatant fanfic, then what I've written can easily be categorized as romance or historical fiction or chick lit.

But for the new NaNo, chick lit didn't seem to fit. I mean yeah, it's about a young woman and her...issues..., but there's also a guy's perspective in there, plus a little bit of a family background and whatever else comes out in the third week of November.

So then I thought, "Huh. What about New Adult?"

New Adult is a category I've been seeing more and more. And it's basically what I thought it was--and where I think my NaNo project (and indeed, a lot of my contemporary-set stories) sit comfortably. I doubt that people who aren't in writing or publishing know what it is nor do they care.

Sorry. You're getting a publishing education on this blog, too.

Thursday, October 3, 2013

A Retail Rant


If you are going to call a store in another state to order an item to have shipped to your house, please don't be surprised by the shipping fee.

As in, yes, we have one. The fuck do you think this is, Amazon?

Yes, I'm sure the item total has to be over $50 to get free shipping. Really, I'm sure. No, really. It's 10:21 pm and we close at 10:30. Let's finish this off. What's your information?

The item you want to order doesn't accept coupons. But you know what? Even with shipping, this order is less than $20.

You want me to go fetch a random item to get your order above $50. Huh? How about I put it on hold for you and you can decide on an add-on tomorrow and call for the order then?

Oh, now you just want your original item. Fine. No, it doesn't take coupons. No, you don't get 20% off with your card. I'm sure you got free shipping with your last order, but no, it won't work on this one. Sorry.

Oh, now you want to put it on hold.