Beth Camp Historical Fiction

Saturday, May 29, 2010

Benjamin Percy and the Southern Cross . . .

Tonight, I'm settled in with the latest issue of Poets & Writers, reading "Home Improvement," by Benjamin Percy. I was jolted right out of a quiet evening when I read what Percy had to say about the difference between beginning writers who revise and a professional writer who " . . . mercilessly lops off limbs, rips out innards like party streamers, drains away gallons of blood, and then calls down lightning to bring the body back to life" (26). Ah, passion.

So today was research again, no writing. And that's what's slowing me down. The not writing. I did find some interesting stuff on the Southern Cross, always visible at night in the Southern Hemisphere, south of 35 degrees, particularly useful to sailors as the southern sky lacks a pole star. The Southern Cross was/is honored by Australian aborigines through folktales of the Two Brothers and of totemic protectors.

In 1854, the Southern Cross inspired a banner raised by protesting gold miners in Ballarat, Victoria, Australia. The bloody battle that followed decimated the miners but their cry remains -- "We swear by the Southern Cross to stand truly to each other and fight to defend our rights and liberties." Many of the Irish transported to New South Wales were political prisoners, well versed with 18th Century American and French ideals of liberty and enfranchisement.

If I were sailing near Australia, I could find the southernmost pole now by tracing my finger down the stars of the Southern Cross. But I'm in my office, preparing to "lop off limbs" in one of my stories.