Monday, May 23, 2016

Monday Morning Musings: Book Reviews

Frank Henry, c. 1918
My grandfather used to scan the sky for weather changes, the way dark clouds might hug the horizon or riffles suggest a coming storm. 

He was a cowboy, well used to what could happen if he were out checking fence on horseback, miles from shelter.

My most physical labor is keyboarding. I glance at the sky occasionally, when deciding which shoes to wear if it's raining or when to time that dash to the supermarket or those walks in my suburban neighborhood.

As a self-published writer, I confront daily that challenge to balance writing with marketing. Two weeks ago, I signed up for an online marketing class and have been inundated by e-mailed workshops, marketing tips for writers, and exhortations. I should have seen that coming.

My mantra? Divide and conquer. Pick one or two marketing suggestions each week. Try them. See what worked. Rinse and repeat. For the coming week, my focus will be on reviews. 

Why write a review or ask for one? 

Apparently people are swayed by reviews. Most of the time, I read the blurb, jump to scanning the writer's storytelling skills inside the book (whether picking up that book physically or online), and then make a decision. My husband is guided by all those "best of . . . " and reads literary fiction. I read everything else.

But I do subscribe to several e-mails (including from my local library) that send me suggested titles to read in historical fiction. 

Last week's e-mail brought an invitation to vote in this year's "Best Blog Review Blog Award" competition. 

Some 25 blogs and websites were suggested as this year's best. I read through these blogs, considering content, sophistication of setup (some were formal websites; others were rolling blogs), genres covered (and likely audience), clarity of instructions on subbing for reviews, and relevance to my writing. 

And despite that avalanche of incoming e-mail, I found a few new sites to subscribe to and added three more books to my TBR list.

What's next? My goals currently include writing at least one review a month, preferably for an indie or self-published writer. This week, I'm also going to request a review for my books from two of my favorite sites. And, yes, I voted. Will you?  

Have you ever asked someone to write a review? Or written a review -- for an indie writer? Was this difficult? 

Here's my favorite meme of the week from Steven Malone's Google+ site along with a link to this neat article (also from Steven) on "Book Reviews: A Casual Readers' Guide to Reviewing." Anthony Eichenlaub will have you laughing and rethinking how you write reviews.

If you would like to review any one of my books, send me an e-mail letting me know which one, and I'll send you an e-book!  Make it a good week.

Sunday, May 22, 2016

Tracking down Archie

My quest this month and last has been to research those people Canadian artist Paul Kane met on his trip from the wilds of Canada down to the Willamette Valley around 1842-1847, during the fur trading era.

Kane's journal, Wanderings of an Artist, introduced  a "Mr. Mackenlie'" as a chief trader in Oregon City. Following the winter holidays at Fort Vancouver, the two traveled down the Columbia River to Oregon City, Kane's mission being to see and paint as much of native life as possible.

"Oregon City" painted by Henry James Warre 1845 (Wikipedia)

Kane goes on to write that he spent some three weeks with "Mr. Mackenlie," well entertained by his "stories of Indian life." In one tale, a three-pound caret of tobacco went missing from the store. "Mr. Mackenlie" suspected an Indian had taken it, so had the Chiefs assemble everyone. He told them of the theft and "wished everyone present would place his mouth to the muzzle of the gun and blow into it, assuring them that it would injure no one innocent of the theft," but it would kill the thief (132). "Mr. Mackenlie" began the process, followed by every other person in the room, except one man who said, "he would not tempt the Great Spirit" (133).

That's all the information I had about "Mr. Mackenlie," so I turned to Diane Eaton and Sheila Urbanek's Paul Kane's Great Nor-West to learn that when they left Fort Vancouver, the temperature hovered around 7 below zero. And "Mackenlie" was Archibald McKinlay. Now the fun begins, and I am very grateful for Google searches. Here's what I've learned about Archie, for each little snippet takes me deeper into what life was like back in the 1840s.

Scottish Archibald McKinlay (1805-1891) came to Canada in 1830 with his sister Ellen who had married James MacMillan.  He began work as an apprentice clerk for the Hudson's Bay Company at York Factory in 1832 and also served at Red River in 1834. Archie was tall, had ginger-colored hair, weighed about 200 pounds, and was by several accounts quite chatty with a flair for solving problems diplomatically.  

In 1835, Archie was transferred west of the Rockies, where he met up with Alexander Caulfield Anderson at Jasper House; they became lifelong friends, later serving together on the Indian Reserve Commission together in the 1870's. 

Archie served as a trader at several different Hudson Bay Company posts, the last being Fort Nez Perces (now Walla Walla). He never went home again. After the Oregon Treaty of 1846, he moved to Oregon City. commenting, "It's no surprise we lost Fort Vancouver. Every year, the Americans came out on the trail, as thick as mosquitos."

On June 15, 1840, Archie married Julia Sarah at Fort Vancouver, one of the daughters of Peter Skene Ogden -- who was Chief Factor at Fort Vancouver at the time. 

Archie and Julia had 10 children, though one report suggests they had 5 children. Large families were not unusual during this time of no birth control. The first, a daughter, was born in 1837 at Red River (a footnote suggests she might have been a foster child), but given that Archie was a favorite of Peter Skene Ogden, and traveled widely, more research would be needed. It was not uncommon for marriages to occur years after the couple married 'in the style of the country.' Julia traveled with her husband, so she would have been at Oregon City when Paul Kane stayed there.
Source: Branwen Christine Patenaude Trails to Gold, Volume 2, page 60.
I also discovered that Archibald McKinlay loved books -- of a certain kind. In 1842, he ordered $100 worth of books through Dr. Marcus Whitman, though these books did not arrive at Fort Vancouver until June of 1845. The books traveled from Boston around the Horn with a stop in Hawaii before arriving on the Columbia River. Mostly religious in nature, the crate of 60 books did not include Shakespeare or any popular fiction! (PDF article by J. Orin Oliphant, Washington Historical Quarterly, 1933).

Interested in reading more? See Paul Kane's Wanderings of an Atist Among the Indians of North America; Nancy Marguerite Andeson's The Pathfinder: A. C. Anderson's Journeys in the West; Diane Eaton and Sheila Urbanek's Paul Kane's Great Nor-West; Nichole St-Onge, Carolyn Podruchny, Brenda Macdougall, eds.Contours of a People: Metis Family, Mobility, and History; and Branwen Christine Patenaude Trails to Gold, Volume 2. 

And just one last link: Nancy Marguerite Anderson, consistently writes about the fur trade era on her blog, with much good excerpts from letters and journals. 

Tuesday, May 17, 2016

Volcanoes and my current work-in-progress

When I first started thinking about what Rivers of Stone might include and that connection between the fur trading era, Hawaii, and the Great Pacific Nor'west, I thought about volcanoes and the clouds of ash that fell on Oregon City during Mount St. Helens' massive eruption in 1980, just before we moved to Oregon.

For on March 27, 1847, Mount St. Helens did erupt, and Canadian painter Paul Kane did paint a fiery plume coming out of her left side at night.

Paul Kane, "Mount St. Helens Erupting at Night," 1847
Source Wikimedia

Perhaps this 'fiery eruption' was partly created by the artist's imagination. Volcanologists report that between 1840 and 1850 before entering a long period of dormancy, Mount St. Helens did erupt in 1844, 1845, and 1846, with smoke plumes being most common, as spotted by British spy Henry Warre.  

Paul Kane wrote in his Wanderings of an Artist: "There was not a cloud visible in the sky at the time I commenced my sketch, and not a breath of air was perceptible: suddenly a stream of white smoke shot up from the crater of the mountain, and hovered a short time over its summit; it then settled down like a cap. This shape it retained for about an hour and a-half, and then gradually disappeared." 

Kane further notes: "About three years before this the mountain was in a violent state of irruption [sic] for three or four days, and threw up burning stones and lava to an immense height, which ran in burning torrents down its snow-clad sides."

But it doesn't sound like Kane directly observed that fiery 'irruption.' I did find a fascinating aside reported by Warre in his journals about an Indian, tribe unknown, who told of trying to jump over a strange river of hot stones when he was hunting near Mount St. Helens. He miscalculated the jump and badly burned his leg, which was later treated by a Dr. Barclay at Fort Vancouver. Warre's story contradicts Kane's report that the natives refused to go near Mount St. Helens.

Dr. Forbes Barclay
Source: Oregon Health & Science University
As research threads unravel, I followed this lead to find that Dr. Forbes Barclay, born in the Shetland Islands in Scotland, was a surgeon and fur trader at Fort Vancouver from 1840 to 1850, just the time my characters would have visited there. 

So, Paul Kane would have known Dr. Barclay. 

Further, Dr. Barclay moved to Oregon City, about the time that John McLoughlin, the Chief Factor at Fort Vancouver, moved there. Both men married M├ętis women, and Dr. Barclay built his house next door to McLoughlin in 1849. He married Marie Pambrun at Fort Vancouver in 1843.

Richard Matthews, a National Park Service volunteer at the Barclay House, was interviewed for a series of videos about the Oregon Trail. This five-minute video focuses on Dr. Forbes Barclay.

Maybe I won’t have fiery volcanoes or clouds of ash in my story, but now I’m thinking Dr. Barclay will make an appearance in Rivers of Stone

Another surprise: I’ve also been on the hunt for a quilt to put in my story and just discovered that a 200-year-old quilt is housed today in the museum that was once John McLoughlin’s home in Oregon City. Aha! More research is needed. 

Yesterday, a friend wanted to know when Rivers of Stone would be available. I'm still editing but hoping for this year. Sign up for my newsletter HERE to find out exactly when.  

Questions? Comments?

Wednesday, May 04, 2016

IWSG: The Power of a Writing Community

Most days, the writing itself is its own reward. I know when my scenes work and when further editing/writing is needed. And, most of the time, I can catch those grammatical errors. 

I'm most interested in critiques that help me dig deeper into my stories, spot structural problems, character missteps, plot holes, misplaced images, flat writing, and, perhaps most challenging, straggling or struggling story lines.

But I haven't found a face-to-face writing group that gives this kind of feedback. Yet.

Nile Crocodile (Wikipedia)
I've been in groups where at the end of the evening, I've felt somewhat eviscerated. And in other groups where everyone smiled and told me how wonderful my story was. 

Neither advances my cause. The criticisms that cut to the bone leave me doubting, and the fans who wave pompoms also cause me to doubt my storytelling skills.

What about online writing groups that critique work-in-progress? 

The Internet Writing Workshop offers a listserv exchange for people interested in getting feedback on novels. For every one of your own chapters you post for review, you need to critique two chapters by other writers. I've met other serious writers this way, read and critiqued some wonderful work, and gained immensely from very thoughtful critiques. The sheer volume of subs can be daunting, but I'm nearly ready to join again those colleagues of the pen in NOVELS-L, one chapter at a time.

Just as the Facebook group, 10-Minute Novelists, has helped me write in little bites, so too the Facebook group, Insecure Writer's Study Group has helped me feel connected to other writers. 

Manito Park (Camp 2014)
Writing is a solitary pursuit. I'm OK with that most of the time. But I do want critical feedback, perhaps from beta readers by the end of the summer.

That's my writing goal for 2016. Finish the draft. Find a few good readers for critical feedback. Publish Rivers of Stone this year.

It's spring, the season for optimism. May your own writing and editing go well. 

Find out what other IWSG writers are thinking about this month on the Insecure Writer's Study Group website or on the Facebook page. 

Saturday, April 30, 2016

Ze End . . .of April's A to Z Blogging Challenge

Here we are, once again at the path of accomplishments behind us, farewells for today, and ahead, who knows what awaits?

This last month for April's A to Z Blogging Challenge, I've revisited the research underlying my current novel-in-progress, Rivers of Stone, now in the editing stage. In the process, I've made some discoveries, dug a little deeper into what affects my characters, and reaffirmed my nerdish love of books.

A few discoveries:

--Dr. John Rae, that Arctic explorer who discovered the last remains of Sir John Franklin's ill-fated party lost in the ice, actually wintered over at York Factory in 1845, the time of my book. Because he dared to report his findings, that Franklin's crew resorted to cannibalism in their desperate efforts to survive, he was ostracized and his exploration of Arctic areas unrecognized until very recently. I visited his tomb at St. Magnus Cathedral and saw his house when we visited the Orkney Islands.

Dr. John Rae's Tomb at St. Magnus Cathedral (Camp 2009)

--Country wives were protected somewhat, but their treatment still shocks me. Sometimes the men who 'married' these Metis and native women simply abandoned them and their children; other times, they arranged new husbands. Sometimes the men respected their wives for their entire marriage. I haven't quite figured out how to honor the history of these women. Sylvia Van Kirk's book, Many Tender Ties, added depth to this sad aspect of fur trading history.

--I could probably fall back into research to find again what I have forgotten, but that would delay the 'finishing' of this story for another year or two. And, after all, is it the history or the story of Catriona and Dougal that I want to tell?

Voltaire once said something like, "Sometimes the quest for perfection gets in the way of accomplishing what is good." He said it in French and more succinctly (the best is the enemy of the good). 

My commitment to write as well as possible for this A to Z challenge pulled me away from writing/editing Rivers of Stone. Now, May begins and I shall resume. Each of my books has taken about three years to write. This is the third year for Rivers of Stone, and my goal is to finish this year.

New A to Z people I've met this month and thoroughly enjoyed their posts:

Go forth, A to Z bloggers! May your writing and reading nourish each day!

Friday, April 29, 2016

Y is for York Factory

Full circle. York Factory, the fur trading headquarters of the Hudson's Bay Company's Northern Department is where my novel, Rivers of Stone, began.

Catriona, disguised as a boy, and Dougal, her husband, landed here when the annual ship arrived from Britain late in the summer of 1842. 

They met an interesting array of historical personages, including James Hargrave, the Chief Factor, and his wife, Letitia, a gossipy letter-writer some 15 years younger than her husband, who has given us pretty clear pictures of what life was like at that isolated fur trading post.

Situated in the middle of Cree country, York Factory was near enough to Hudson's Bay to be affected by every storm that rose over its waters. In the winter, Polar bears and wolves scampered on the ice, hunting for unsuspecting sea otters. In the summer, this main supply depot was pretty much surrounded by marshland. Workers sank to their ankles in mud and had to walk five miles to gather firewood. Everyone dreaded the black flies and mosquitoes.

Letitia Hargrave described York Factory as surrounded by ". . . a desolate waste of green swamp grass and small scrub as far as the eye could see" (McGoogan 52).

York Factory in 1853 (Wikipedia)
By the 1840s, York Factory was an fenced outpost of some 30 buildings built of wood, with the main depot and guest houses in the center. Along each side, a hospital, doctor's house, bakehouse, cooperage, library, various fur and provisions stores, and quarters for officers and servants. In the center, the Company flag flapped from a tall pine (Newman 50).  

But the lives of those who lived there year round were complicated by boundaries of class and race. In the winter, Letitia Hargrave might dine with the 'gentlemen' and officers, but through the summer, when the men ate outside, she dined alone. 

James Hargrave had a piano brought for his new wife; she was rare, a European wife with a servant from the Orkney Islands in a land of country wives. In the earlier years of the fur trade era, such wives, both Metis and tribal, were prized. The marriages were arranged by the father of the young woman and the husband to be. Property was exchanged (typically horses), and the husband promised to honor his wife all his life (Brown 76). But gradually, such marriages were seen as an impediment to promotion by ambitious clerks far from home. 

Letitia befriended such a country wife and wrote of Mrs. Gladman that she had been 'married' when she was 12 to a Mr. Stewart: ". . . She was dragged out of her mother's room and sent away with him & he beat & maltreated her til life was a burden" (MacInnes). After nine years, Mr. Stewart left her, and she 'went with' Mr. Gladman. Letitia continues,  ". . . from what she says, the ladies here have a custom of smothering their babies" (MacInnes).  I've read elsewhere that some tribal families hid their daughters and/or their children when the traders visited.

Tomorrow marks the last day of the April A to Z Blogging Challenge, with an entry for the letter Z. I wonder what zat will be?

Some references: Peter C. Newman, An Illustrated History of the Hudson's Bay CompanyJennifer S. H. Brown, Strangers in Blood: Fur Trade Company Families in Indian Country; and Morag MacInnes, "Letitia Hargrave in the Nor'Wast," Frontiers Magazine

Another helpful read is Michael Payne's The Most Respectable Place in the Territory: Everyday Life in Hudson's Bay Company Service, York Factory, 1788 to 1870 (found at a used book store!).

Thursday, April 28, 2016

X is for the XY Company in the fur trade era

Originally I was going to write about the XY Company, that early fur trading company set up in 1797 to compete with the Montreal-based NorthWest Company.  
The Northwest Company labeled its fur packs with NW; the XY Company labeled its fur packs with X and Y, the letters that followed W. 

Those were rough and tumble days, and the XY Company did not last long. The fur traders from these two companies built competing posts, schemed, fought, and outbid each other with increasing amounts of rum and brandy. The rivalry out in the field for furs was matched by equally intense battles for profit within these two companies. The end of the short-lived XY Company came in 1804 when it merged with the NorthWest Company, but the newly merged NorthWest Company continued to fiercely compete with the Hudson's Bay Company. 

When the Hudson's Bay Company first established York Factory as the hub of its fur trading operations on the edge of Hudson's Bay itself in Upper Manitoba, those early officers and gentlemen with their apprentices and networks of fur traders were content to let the furs come to them for trading and then loading on the annual ship from England. Competition from the NorthWest Company changed that complacency.

This historical summary sounds pretty sedate, compared to the harsh realities of life in the fur trade, well matched by rowdy meetings by the managers to set policy. After the merger, by 1810, the NorthWest Company had nearly 2,000 employees and 1,000 canoes (Morrison 36). 

The Beaver Club in Montreal, where 'wintering partners' of the NorthWest Company met to set policy began with 5 toasts. Following each toast, the glasses were hurled into the fireplace. Morrison reports that a bill from one of the hotels shows "thirty-one members and guests consumed twenty-nine bottles of Madeira, nineteen bottles of port, fourteen bottles of porter, and twelve quarts of ale, plus a quantity of gin and brandy" (37). She quotes one attendee as saying, "By four o'clock in the morning . . . we could all give the war whoop as well as Mackenzie and McGillivray . . . " (37).

In 1821, another series of negotiations led the Hudson's Bay Company to merge with the NorthWest Company and acquire its posts west of the Rocky Mountains, significantly expanding its control of fur trading lands. The HBC, concerned about American and Russian expansion in the region, worked hard to solidify its position in the Pacific Northwest.

Perhaps the U.S. would not have stretched "from sea to shining sea" without this intense competition between the NorthWest Company and the Hudson's Bay Company. 

John McLoughlin
Source: Wikipedia
And John McLoughlin.

For McLoughlin was the powerful Chief Factor at HBC's Fort Vancouver from 1825 to 1846. He welcomed those American immigrants who arrived nearly broken by the harsh journey west. 

The Hudson's Bay Company rebuked McLoughlin again and again for being too generous with food and temporary lodging, but McLoughlin turned no one away. He did encourage them to settle south of the Columbia River, honoring the HBC's assertion that the boundary between the U.S. and Canada should be set at the Columbia River. Those immigrants settled along the Columbia and down into the Willamette Valley, along with retired voyageurs and McLoughlin himself, who later became an American citizen.

Oregon Country/Columbia District 1818-1846
Source: Wikipdia
Click map to see larger version
The disputed area shown in the map to the left takes up nearly 75% of the state of Washington, west and north of the Columbia River as it flows down from Canada to the sea.

Arguments about where the boundary between Canada and the U.S. should be were finally settled not by gun but by diplomacy. The Americans, faced with potentially two wars, one over its northern border, and the other over its annexation of Texas, and its southern border with Mexico, finally drew the line at the 54th parallel, well above the Columbia River the Canadian government wanted as its southern border. Neither country recognized the sovereign rights of tribal peoples beyond a token nod.

Hudson's Bay Company employee Richard Lane, in the very same fur brigade traveling west that included Canadian artist Paul Kane, carried the official boundary papers west in 1847 (Aha! Right in my story, Rivers of Stone). The rest, as they say, is history. 

Tomorrow takes me back to York Factory, nearly the last entry for April's A to Z Blogging Challenge. It's been an amazing month with many new blogs to discover. 

Interested in more about John McLoughlin? This is one of my favorite sources, rich with chatty excerpts from letters and journals of the time: Morrison, Dorothy Nafus. Outpost: John McLoughlin and the Far Northwest. Oregon Society Historical Press, 1999, 640 pp.