Beth Camp Historical Fiction

Friday, July 13, 2018

World-building: More important than story?

My current work-in-progress, The Seventh Tapestry, has historical roots that reach back to France and Scotland in the 16th Century. But the main story is set in contemporary times. I thought maybe I could write this story a little faster than my usual three-year turnaround. Ha!

Did I pick easy settings, located just around the block? Nope. My story is set in Scotland and Paris. So, I'm re-exploring neighborhoods near the Royal Mile in Edinburgh, with a side trip to Stirling Castle about an hour's drive away. Although we stayed in Edinburgh for a month several years ago, I'm wishing we could go back for at least another month.

Luckily the internet is the mother of all resources. This afternoon's jaunt led me to Deacon Brodie's Tavern in Lawnmarket. They have a scrumptious menu, and a quiet dining area upstairs, a little removed from the bustle of the bar below, and a fascinating back story. Apparently Deacon Brodie was an upstanding merchant who made cabinets and repaired locks during the day, but at night, he became a thief and broke into the wealthiest houses. He was hanged for his crimes in 1788.

Here's a view of the bar at Deacon Brodie's. Now, notice that slogan on the front of the bar that begins "A pledge to Scots . . ." It took a little bit to search out the rest of what is etched just below the bar. I finally found the rest of the quote on Twitter, of all places! Here's the full quote:

"A pledge to Scots: In love and life I hath no fear as I was born of Scottish blood."

Here's where the link to storytelling comes in. My heroine and hero will have a delicious lunch at Deacon Brodie's, most likely upstairs in that quiet dining room. And they'll talk about the original Deacon Brodie as they hunt down the thieves plaguing their museum, who might well be hiding in plain sight, just as Deacon did so long ago.

If you've read my previous historical fiction, you'll remember how Mac McDonnell used to say, "Bend, don't break," a rather useful Scottish proverb when all seems lost, when the only way to get through is to simply be stubborn and persevere.

In this new story, my characters will face down danger, various villains, and  their own doubts as they fall in love. So that statement carved into the front of the bar resonates. Suddenly, I knew what my character would say:

“In love and life, I have no fear,” Sandra whispered.

Meanwhile, more research is needed. For now, I'll remember our apartment overlooking the Writers' Museum at Lady Stair's Close just off the Royal Mile in Edinburgh. And, there's always Paris.
View of Writers' Museum, Lady Stair's Close, Edinburgh (Camp 2009)

Wednesday, July 04, 2018

IWSG: Waffling and Decluttering

This month's post for the Insecure Writer's Support Group asks us to consider how we're doing with our ultimate writing goals and to ask if they have they changed?

As I'm in the midst of waffling my way through a first draft and decluttering my office (3 boxes of books are simply gone, not an easy challenge), I'm not sure where to start. Perhaps the purpose of decluttering is clear -- I want more space to focus on my writing and fewer distractions. But the process of organizing and 'deleting' extraneous or nonessential projects, books-to-read, and evaluating whether some unfinished projects are worthy, can be a distraction in itself.

My books, finally decluttered!
I'll return to beginnings. I knew I wanted to write when I was 8 or 9 years old and struck by the injustice of birth. Why were some children in some families (mine, blue collar gritty), and others lived in that mythical cottage on the hill? I sporadically wrote and worked my way through college, but writing always came second to paying the rent, buying food, then building a career. I lamented the reality that writing came between those other commitments, until finally, at retirement, I dove into writing as if I had unlimited time and stamina and heart to do what I'd always dreamed.

What a blast this last decade has been. Three books complete and published. My historical fiction draws on the dark side of history (underlying themes of displacement, abandonment, and that age-old struggle for survival), as my characters work toward that happy-for-now ending. Along the way, I've learned much, but my writing goals are unchanged: To write stories that celebrate our dreams and our struggle to achieve them, despite historical realities. Perhaps that's not such a bad goal in today's climate.

Thank you to Alex Cavannagh for inspiring IWSG. This month's co-hosts for the July 3 posting of the IWSG are Nicki Elson, Juneta Key, Tamara Narayan, and Patricia Lynne! Why not visit other IWSG writers to see what's up? 

And my question to you: Has the underlying theme that resonates through your writing changed? How would you describe that theme?

Thursday, June 14, 2018

Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Tenacity

Weds is senior movie night at the Magic Lantern here in Spokane, so we motored down the hill, found parking, and settled in at the theater to enjoy a bio-pic (Magnolia Pictures documentary), about U.S. Supreme Court Justice, Ruth Bader Ginsberg.

The film rolled, a beautiful blend of photos, videos and interviews, mixed between the present and the past. I did not expect to be taken back to the 1970's.

For Ruth Bader Ginsberg's legal advocacy for rights for women was shaped by the values of the times, post World War II, the civil rights and women's liberation movements, and an environment of deeply embedded prejudice against women.

At my high school in 1961, all graduates were required to have an exit interview with a counselor to discuss our future path. My greatest and most impossible ambition was to attend college. The counselor greeted me: "So, when are you getting married."

I simply got a job and began working my way through college, sometimes full time and sometimes part time. At Chico State, in California, one class intrigued me: "The Economic History of Great Britain." In a class of 70 students, I was the only woman.  As the professor glanced around the class on the first day, he went on a rant -- directed at me. "How dare you take the space of a man who will need to support his family. Why are you here?"

I kept my head down. I knew how to survive bullies. At the end of the class, the professor announced an oral final -- in his office. After a grueling 2-hour final, face-to-face with my nemesis, he grudgingly commented, "I guess you know the material." I earned an A.

But then I ran into two buddies from that class. "How did the final go?" I asked.

"Easy," replied one. "In and out in 5 minutes."

Generally speaking, when someone said I couldn't do something, I quietly got to work. And that's why this powerful movie, RBG, is well worth seeing.

For RBG reminds us of a time when perseverance made a real difference in our culture, our expectations, and our dreams. Ruth Bader Ginsburg's role in redefining "equal protection under the law" to all citizens changed the lives of women and many, many others.

When I retired from teaching about ten years ago and seriously began writing, my first book, Standing Stones, was set in the time of the Industrial Revolution and its impact on one struggling family of fishermen in northern Scotland.

Where did I learn about the Industrial Revolution? That long ago history class I took at Chico State.

Thursday, June 07, 2018

June IWSG: Characters or Titles?

This month, the Insecure Writer's Study Group asks which is easier: coming up with the title for your current book or naming those characters?

For me, titles seem to well up like a line of poetry. Even a temporary title will ultimately morph into something that resonates with the sub-theme. For example, readers have begun to refer to my trilogy as that 'stones' trilogy. That was entirely accidental, though I did want a key word to hold the linked (but OK to read alone) stories together.

Standing Stones is set in the Orkney Islands, Scotland (1840's). We visited the Neolithic Stones of Stenness on the Mainland of Orkney, and I could actually touch those cold stones and imagine long-ago lovers who plighted their troth there. My characters found solace in a similar imaginary circle of stones as they struggled with evictions brought about by the Industrial Revolution.

Stones of Stenness, Mainland, Orkney (Camp)
In Years of Stone, Mac McDonnell is transported to a penal colony in the 1840's, Van Diemen's Land, now Tasmania, Australia. As many were, Mac was assigned to break up stones, as he struggled to survive. Today, that convict legacy is respected rather than hidden.

In Rivers of Stone, Cat McDonnell, disguised as a boy, crosses Canada in the 1840's to the Great Nor'West in search of her husband. Living in the Northwest with family on the east coast, I've often traveled and hiked across Canada and have great respect for the wilderness Cat encountered during the fur trade era.

Johnston Canyon, Banff, Canada (Camp)
These titles didn't emerge linked together in the beginning, but each one fits together, perhaps like a carved stone. Hopefully these stories will endure and tell how we struggle to achieve our dreams, despite sometimes overwhelming obstacles.

Naming characters is somewhat different. If I'm really stuck, street names and lists of baby names online are helpful sources. Otherwise, those darn names shift around until one sticks. For example, my current hero in The Seventh Tapestry has gone through four name changes -- and I'm not happy yet. Thank goodness for that search and replace feature!

Luckily, IWSG didn't ask about gender changes.

Many thanks to Alex J. Cavanaugh and the team at the Insecure Writer's Support Group. This month's co-hosts are: Beverly Stowe McClure, Tyrean Martinson, and Ellen @ The Cynical Sailor!  Check out what others have written HERE and may your reading, writing, revising, and editing go well!

Sunday, May 13, 2018

Quiet Morning for Writing -- or Not?

There I was, pounding the keyboard, having fun translating summary into dialogue, description, and conflict. Now, normally, I prefer absolute quiet for my writing.

In The Seventh Tapestry. my heroine, Sandra Robertson, specializes in medieval art and artifacts, especially tapestries. I recalled a lovely Baroque concert we happened to find at the Museum of Medieval Art (Cluny), a locale at the heart of this story.

As I tried to remember the correct spelling of Machaut, my fingertips led me online to "Medieval Music: Guillame Machaut" on YouTube recording (and the correct spelling).

I spent the rest of the morning, writing and listening to Machaut and other medieval composers. Of course, Sandra now has medieval music in her office at work -- and she might take Thomas to a concert, just before their world falls apart!

May Spring bring you many adventures!

Wednesday, May 02, 2018

IWSG: Just in Time Writing

Back when I was an international banker studying economics, spreadsheets, and productivity, a new way of managing inventory developed in Japan. Sometime in the 1960s, Toyota began experimenting with 'just in time' purchases as a way of using 'lean' inventories to reduce budget stress AND keep that manufacturing line moving.

This week, as I was browsing through advice from other writers, this strategy leaped off the page:

Balance PLANNING with WRITING (30 minutes a day)

I was immediately excited because this advice was JUST IN TIME!

For the last several months, I've been knee-deep in planning, so much so, that even as the plot summary and those character sketches came into focus, I lost sight of the story itself. My writer's inner voice started doubting and complaining as I worked to perfect the plot summary. My story lay on the page, abstract and unfinished.

Today's advice resonated. A green light flashed before my eyes, and I began to write those scenes that bring my characters together, in conflict, in danger, and, just maybe, in love.

I don't care so much about the 'perfect' plot summary any more, though I haven't given up on the planning side. That plot summary and those character sketches still need work.

But my characters are beginning to breathe as I work on writing each section. I'm excited to begin each day with THEIR story, balancing now between writing and planning.

And that's my May post for the Insecure Writer's Support Group. I hope you found my confessions helpful. May your reading, writing, revising, and editing go well!

Special thanks to  E.M.A. Timar, J. Q. Rose, C.Lee McKenzie, and Raimey Gallant for hosting May's posts. Check out what others have written HERE.

Blue Heron, Celestun, Yucatan, Mexico
(Camp, Feb 2018)

Monday, April 30, 2018

"Z" is for Ze End and Ze Beginning!

Ah, 'tis ze end of April
and poetry for now,
and zat means tomorrow brings
ze beginning. Zounds!
What are you zinking?
All ze music gone?
Zut! Nevair.
Zend me a zinger!

Flaming "Z" (fanpop)

Today's post is the very last entry for this year's April A-to-Z Blogging Challenge. Thank you for writing, reading, and making this Challenge possible. We made it! 

What's next in May will bring spring closer to all of us. Future posts here will update you on my current writing project, with stops along the way for an occasional poem, research highlights, and a few photos. May you cherish each day!