Saturday, February 24, 2018

Word Choices!

I came across this video on my Twitter feed this afternoon:

Go ahead and watch. It's not very long. I'll wait. 

Yes, it's a press launch/ preview video for Lobby Hero, a Kenneth Lonergan play starring Chris Evans, which opens on Broadway in March. Yes, I'm going to see it. Yes, it feeds my interest in Broadway, which feeds my inspiration in my contemporary romance idea. Yes, it's Chris Evans' Broadway debut and that's very exciting. Yes, I'm still occasionally Internet-stalking Chris Evans.

But the thing my friend Jess and I found ourselves talking about after watching this video:

Bloviate. Temerity. Gauche. Or what we would call "SAT Words."

I had to look them up. And yes, he uses them correctly, so my reaction was, "Well, shit."

I'm not the kind of writer who uses SAT Words in her writing; at least, not the really far-out variations of vocabulary, the kind the thesaurus gives you as third or fourth options. You know: the ten dollar words.

There was a point--I think maybe in college--when I felt really undereducated, under-read, not as intelligent as the other students in the writing program, particularly when it came to vocabulary. I'm a fairly taciturn person until I get to know someone (and then I don't shut up). I'm what a teacher once described as "quietly outspoken." But I often thought that my word choices could be more precise (which is part of what's fun about vocab--more choices means more chances of a more precise nuance).

But I've come to realize that precise word choices doesn't have to mean overcomplicated word choices. I'm not writing literary fiction; I'm writing contemporary romance, short creepy horror stories, and I'll probably go back to historical fiction at some point. Fiction writing is about finding the right words to move the story along, to fit the setting and the genre, and especially the characters.

It is not about looking shit up in dictionaries and in the thesaurus.

And maybe this is true of all of us--that we use different words in writing than we do in everyday conversation and speech, depending on who we're talking to. I know I certainly do. 

Saturday, February 17, 2018

February's always been a weird month for me

February's always been a weird month for me.

It's the dead of winter up here in the northeast, with very up and down temperatures and strange weather altogether. During adolescence and up into my early twenties, I used go into an almost-legendary annual February depression. Thinking back on it, I think it was mostly Seasonal Affective problems and hormone issues which collided during the shortest month of the year.

Of course, sometimes depression results in really creative endeavors and ideas--back when I was in college, I kind of ascribed to that weird notion that writers were generally depressive, that creatives were generally depressive--and though I'm fighting off a sore throat/headache/very tired/PMS combo I've had for a few days, I am trying my best to feel creative after a few weeks where all I've wanted to do is read and sleep. #Hibernation

Screenshot of the very first blog post I ever wrote
So, for starters: this blog was born during a February--nine years ago now. How's that for creative? In the spirit of creativity, I've kept the topics I talk about on this thing loose, a chronicle of whatever the heck I'm interested in at the moment.

Can't wait til this downloads to my Kindle!

Valentine's Day just passed and there was some Internet hoopla about the romance genre. I haven't been as diligent with continuing my romance outline in the past couple of weeks. I was exceedingly uninspired in that direction.

I've been reading romance since I was a pre-teen, right? Historicals have been historically more my jam, but I've followed some authors I like--and new-to-me authors--into contemporary romances, too.  I have become a devoted listener to the Smart Bitches podcast, where the authors, books, and topics they discuss resonate with me. My series idea takes place in the vibrant and exciting world of Broadway theater, in contemporary New York City.

But I'm the least romantic person on earth. Seriously. I like romantic fiction--romance novels and romantic comedies--but actual real life romance kind of grosses me out. All the stuff that works for me in romantic fiction are things I would find highly suspicious in real life. So, in the last week and a half or so, that niggling doubting voice that every writer knows so well was like, "Why are you trying to write a romance novel?"

"Because I want to. Go away."

"But what is it you actually like about romance? And anyway, aren't you super sleepy? Go hibernate." (This may be worthy of an entirely different post since my own ideas of why I like romantic fiction, why I gravitate towards it, and what I think of its tropes and characters have evolved over the decades.)

I'm feeling inspired again in that direction...because of the Olympics.

So, there's this Canadian ice dancing couple--Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir--who have been ice dancing partners since they were children. They're known for their great skating and passionate programs. They have a program set to the music of Moulin Rouge! and it's fantastic. They've known each other forever and have a tendency to act kind of couple-y, though they say they're platonic friends.

(I know the acting in love is part of the routine. Still, I ship 'em)

I'm not the only one on the romance readers and writers parts of Twitter who watched them and went "Oh yeah I remember them from four years ago...what do you mean they're not in a relationship?!" But anyway, this has caused me to fall down a YouTube rabbit hole of Virtue and Moir and reignited my itch to get back to my romance novel outline.

Ubasute no tsuki by Yoshitoshi
I've also revived a short story I started last year and let lapse--it's one of my darker disturbing short stories. I had a ton of fun writing the creepy "Haunted Lake." When my friend Emily mentioned on Twitter that she wanted to write something revolving around older women, witches, and folk tales, I remember thinking of the (probably apocryphal) legends of Japanese grandmas being taken to the forest during times of hardship--so that their families wouldn't have to feed them. I started a story in that vein late last year and I turned back to it earlier this month 'cause it just fit my mood better.

I like that it fits the hibernating February mood I've been in. Plus, watching that Irish Potato Famine episode of Victoria two weeks ago has given me yet another potential idea for a creepy, somewhat dark short story.

Monday, February 12, 2018

What Does That Say?: A Family Tree Odyssey

On Sunday, February 4th, there was an episode of the show Victoria on PBS--Victoria being the show that fills the Downton Abbey and The Crown-filled holes in my need for British costume dramas--which dealt with the Irish Potato Famine. 

I watched it with extreme interest and a bit of trepidation. Since the show is about the monarch who reigned during the Potato Famine, I wondered how much the show would fictionalize. I've been hearing about the Potato Famine my entire life; it looms large in Irish immigrant families, even though my family didn't leave Ireland during the Famine. 

By the 1840s, the majority of Irish-Catholics were smallholders---tenant farmers. (Catholics weren't allowed to own land in Ireland by the 1840s). They raised livestock and crops for their landlords but most of that grain, meat, and dairy were exported from Ireland to England. 

A huge number of Irish-Catholic tenant farmers relied on the potato as their only source of food. When a blight hit the potato crop in 1845, causing the potato crop to rot, people started starving. I thought Victoria did a good job of portraying the attitude a lot of establishment Protestants had toward the Irish peasants--that they were stupid, intemperate, had too many kids, were lesser than they were--and that the blight was "God's will." In the meantime, while the Famine was in full force and an incredible number of people were dying, being evicted, going into workhouses, and emigrating, there was still food and livestock leaving Ireland and going to England. 

I think the episode seemed overly sympathetic toward Queen Victoria. She may have been relatively tolerant towards Catholics, but I don't think she gave much of a crap about the Irish. 

1.5 million people died during the Famine years. Another million immigrated. Ireland's current population of 6 million still hasn't recovered to its pre-Famine numbers. 

...All of this brought me around to a question I've periodically had rolling around in my brain when it comes to Irish history and my family. 

What the hell were we doing during the Famine? 

My ancestors didn't start immigrating to the United States until, at the earliest, the 1890s. But County Mayo had a large population drop of 30% during the famine. The vast majority of the poor in Mayo were solely dependent on the potato. 

So I started Googling--I was just trying to find any information on County Mayo during the Famine, in the hopes that maybe I'd find something that might mention the villages my ancestors lived in. I still haven't figured out what we were doing during the Famine, but I did read a few things which indicated that things were not good in those places at the time.

I came across Irish Genealogy, a website set up by the Irish government with Birth, Marriage, and Death records. I found actual birth dates for ancestors! I found causes of death for ancestors! (Lungs are not our strong organ; there's a lot of consumption, pneumonia, bronchitis, and influenza). 

Death record of Winifred Athy, my 3x great grandmother

And then I found this. So background: Margaret Moran is my 2x great grandmother on my grandmother's side. I knew that she'd eventually have eleven children, that she was born and died in Ireland, and that she had died in 1937. Through, I'd figured out that her birth year was 1866. Well, on Irish Genealogy, I found her marriage record, which had her father's name on it. So using that, I did a search for birth records--only one came up in the correct district with the correct father's name in late 1865. It's her. 

Her mother's named Bridget. Cool. 

But I can't clearly read Bridget's maiden name (The bit circled in yellow below). Does that say Bridget Moran formerly Moran? 

If it does, I found where my family is possibly inbred. 

(There are other Morans in my grandmother's family. So, like, not totally surprised there, but yeah...) 

It's also the only record I found on the site that I'm having trouble making out.

Note: I actually forgot that this will post on the blog's ninth birthday! Happy Birthday, Blog!

Wednesday, February 7, 2018


It's time for IWSG--the Insecure Writer's Support Group. We post our writerly insecurities and release them to the world on the first Wednesday of every month. Check us out here.

This month's question: What do you love about the genre you write in most often?

I'm in the midst of exploring other genres right now, actually. I have a few ideas for some creepy dark short stories (because I had fun writing "Haunted Lake") and I'm working on the beginnings of a contemporary romance series.

But up until now, I guess I've mostly written somewhere in the historical genre. 

What do I love about the historical genre? I love reading about history in the form of a story--because that's when history comes alive for me. I love learning through the eyes of characters. I like all the nerdy details that come with historicals, even if I'm taking a break from historical fiction for a bit.