Beth Camp Historical Fiction

Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Wallabies, editing and ROW80

Research is absolutely critical to writing good fiction.

I've never seen a real, live wallaby. But I'd read about them, looked at pictures, thought they were very interesting looking with their small, inquisitive faces, busy hands with quite useful claws, and those massive haunches. So I included one that Deidre spotted on the way to the Cascades Female Factory, though I found these animals, about the size of a dog, are mostly nocturnal and hunt for food or graze about at night.

Wallabies don't scuttle, though that's what I wrote. Back came a critique, thank goodness, from Les Denham, a writer in NOVELS-L, of the Internet Writing Workshop fame, someone who has lived in Australia and seen hundreds of wallabies. So I found this four-minute video of a Black-footed Rock Wallaby (by Walkaboutlad) that shows a bit more of how a wallaby moves.

Can I find a video of a wallaby running in the wild? Not yet. Lots of zoo shots of tame wallabies. Lots of footballers. Several fascinating videos of wallabies with babies in their pouches and one wallaby that simply stares at the camera. He looks ferocious. But I did learn that wallabies hop or bound. and so my one sentence is now a bit more accurate.

I still hope to visit Tasmania, otherwise known as 19th Century Van Diemen's Land, before Years of Stone is complete. I'm on my fourth revision, with perhaps a year's more edits to go. The sentence that reverberates for me is mostly attributed to Voltaire, something like: Striving for perfection can be the enemy of the good. I'm also staring the law of diminishing returns in the face.

ROW80 CHECK-IN. Next week, we go on the road, netbook stuffed in purse, on a 1,400 mile jaunt from snowy eastern Washington to balmy Tucson. They say you can drive this in about 22 hours. We'll go more slowly. I'm scampering like a wallaby to organize the packing, finish my volunteer PR work, and yet write every morning.

WRITING/RESEARCH: I still hope to finish my read through of Years of Stone by the end of this Round of 80 Days. I feel pretty good about the editing just now. My revision builds on new research about the Cascades Women's Factory and efforts to rewrite Deidre's character so she's less passive. I'm subbing to NOVELS-L and have gotten insightful and positive responses from Francene Stanley, Don McCandless, Holly Michael, Bob Smith, and Les Denham.

Also got a lovely new book on The Victorian Underworld by Donald Thomas and started pulling library books on the Hudson's Bay Company for Rivers of Stone for the trip across Canada this summer. And the biggest find: this photo from Margaret Muir's research-oriented website on Matthew Brady. This Australian author lives in Tasmania and is currently working on a story about Matthew Brady (1823-1843), a few years before my novels are set, but Brady, a bushranger, hid out in the hills above the Tamar River in Tasmania, exactly the kind of site I was looking for, though I want to find a hideout with caves. Still researching this, but what a picture. Margaret Muir is now on my "to read" list.

MARKETING/PUBLISHING: My first book club discussion for The Mermaid Quilt occurs this Thursday. I'm ready with lots of props and notes. More about that later. Haven't made progress on either GoodReads or Smashwords now that The Mermaid Quilt is off KDP, but it's on my to-do list.

May your week go well. Write on!

Sunday, February 17, 2013

Feeling smart?

Too many inducements. I now have an i-phone, one of those smart phones that's smarter than me. At least I figured out how to make phone calls, though the darn thing buzzes and rings at the same time. Probably it knows I need both. The speaker feature is kind of neat. I can put the darn thing down and just wander away.

Here's my Sunday night update for ROW80, A Round of Words in 80 Days, a truly lovely writing community.

WRITING: I'm reminded of the first paint-by-number picture I tried at about age 8. Very quickly, I began  to paint the colors I wanted, not those itemized on that careful list of numbered colors. And then I began to paint outside the lines. The result was impressionistic and not as pretty as my sister's tidy painting. Now I begin writing each morning and nearly straight away begin to deviate from my ROW80 goals. Does anyone else do that?

ROW80 goals are supposed to be measurable, but I can't measure the words I'm editing or the new pages I'm writing. My goal is simply to finish editing Years of Stone by the end of this round.

Since Wednesday, I've been doing a bit more research on several supporting historical characters who appear in my story. What I've found is that letters, newspaper articles, speeches, and portraits help me to visualize these folks more fully. I begin to know their internal worries and hopes, sometimes the formidable obstacles they faced. What spins out next is a mystery but reads true.

Naming characters is always a challenge. So much goes into a name. But to be historically accurate meant one of my major characters had to have a name change this late in the story! Mary was a very common name in the 1840s. But Mary Hutchinson, matron of the Cascades Female Factory, cannot be confused with Mary Dallow, that mouthy, blue-collar lady who has fallen in with a bushranger and most likely slept her way to Van Diemen's Land.

Mary Hutchinson, on the other hand, grew up at Parramatta, a women's prison in New South Wales where her parents worked. She married young to a handsome Wesleyan pastor with poor health. When he left the ministry to become a superintendent at Cascades, Mary became the matron. Beset with overcrowding at the prison and the threat of riots, constant criticism from the local press, and the continued ill health of her husband, how would this mother who had lost several of her own babies react to the rising infant deaths at Cascades? Petulantly says one report. But there's more to the story.

READING/CRAFT: Finally caught up with reading. My office has returned to a semblance of order, and I'm currently reading Jeri Westerson's Veil of Lies (A Medieval Noir). So far I'm admiring her crisp storytelling, evocative settings, and neat plot twists.

MARKETING. Reading some articles, working on Book Club reading/questions. The "event" at a local bookstore has been postponed to April (travel intervenes). Some progress on quilting. OMG, the smart phone beeps me when I get new e-mail. Obviously I need training on how to change the settings! Even my computer doesn't do this.

Karen Huber's latest post , "A Matter of Practice," talks about facing into the "now" by accepting both light and dark sides of your self. We are all in different stages in our lives, but her words always resonate for me. Here, I'm thinking of my characters. Do I allow myself to understand their dark as well as light sides? Something to ponder. I appreciate Karen's vision of practice, her willingness to face fear, and her writing that builds from meditation. That inner stillness, so difficult to find, perhaps comes with practice.

My smart phone now feels like an intrusion. I shall turn it off!

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Weds check-in for ROW80 . . .

Just going to jump right in with a quick update. Like a wildabeest, its hoary, hairy beard swaying in the wind as it grazes, one eye out for predators, I hover over my keyboard, balancing writing with all else that intervenes. Some days, I make progress. Less so, this week.

William Buckley (Source: Wikipedia)
Writing: Still working on editing Section 2 of Years of Stone but I discovered some new research on Cascades Female Factory (a women's prison in Van Diemen's Land).

I found a painting of William Buckley in the Australian Dictionary of Biography. Buckley, who actually worked as a gatekeeper for the nursery at Cascades, befriends one of my characters. Unusually tall, well over six feet, somewhat ungainly, and pock-marked, Buckley lived with aboriginals from 1803 to 1835. I'll let Buckley explain his history as he talks to Deidre about his life before working at Cascades . . .

“’Twas before I came to Van Diemen’s Land. The high court sent me to the mainland first. I guess you’d call me an absconder, for I didn’t stay there long. Those days was different. Never enough to eat.”

Buckley kept talking like a wagon wheel that once began to roll, couldn’t stop. “I ran away from Camp Phillip with a couple of my mates. I went one way; they went another. I never saw them again. I nearly starved out in the bush, but I managed. Found a spear and that was the ticket. Later I learned it was a marker for a grave. The Watourong saw that spear and thought I was the spirit of the one who’d passed. Those were good years . . .  

In writing about Buckley and the Cascades Women's Factory, my sense of the people and how they interacted is deepening, but sometimes only a phrase guides me. For example, Lucy Frost's very helpful Abandoned Women, describes Ann Hutchinson, the matron at Cascades, as "petulant" in responding to a government inquiry about the numbers of infant deaths there as well as the actual physical layout of the nursery. All useful stuff. And a prisoner who could read could find work at the nursery. What drives me forward is trying to imagine what this prison was really like. Ah, the writer's quest for verisimilitude!

Other goals. Does it count that I did my taxes which required meticulous accounting of book sales, starting and ending inventory, those books given away for promotion, for gifts, and other various expenses? Done! Getting ready for book club on The Mermaid Quilt at the end of the month. Reviewing Smashwords for its conversion requirements. Still don't know if I need another ISBN. Steady progress on reading craft and on keeping the travel blog updated (latest entry tonight re the wildabeest). Does anyone else get seduced into downloading Kindle books to read? No time! But I got to quilt tonight and my desk is ready for writing in the morning.

May your week go well.

Monday, February 11, 2013

It's ROW80 Monday . . .Personality, Pinterest and Oh, My!

Missed Weds check-in and Sunday check-in, but the week ahead is looking good. My office only looks like half a bomb hit it. There's no snow on the ground outside. I survived SuperBowl, a 3-hour dental visit, ferrying folks to doctors, lots of late-night babysitting, and the insidious deadlines of volunteer work, with a little quilting thrown in -- for fun.

Three quick tips for writers this morning which come from circling the wagons -- and not writing.
Medieval Mermaids, France 1450-1470 (Hermitage)
  • Read other blogs. Create a folder on bookmark menu bar in your browser. Call it whatever you like, maybe READ THESE BLOGS. Then bookmark other writers' blogs, especially those you find inspiring. Today's suggestion comes from a Write it Sideways! interview by Debra Eve with historical-fiction-with-an-edge writer Jeri Westerson. Her well-designed blog alone is worth the trip,  and she writes 10 pages a day!

  • Set up a Pinterest folder just for writing ideas. Many writers are visually oriented. Why not take advantage of what appeals to you. Check out my Pinterest on mermaids or on the 19th Century just for fun. Some of these links take me to very unexpected places.

  • Be willing to do research whenever a question arises. Follow your intuition. This week, I found a very useful "idea tree" that describes a range of emotions that far surpass my own. I'll use Parrott's  tree to flesh out my characters (see below). How did I get here? By completing just one more exercise in Donald Maass' Writing the Breakout Novel Workbook.

ROW80 UPDATE: It's always about the writing, and this week, I've simply not written every day. Hit the wall. So, I worked on Maass' exercise on adding dimensions to characters to realize I don't really understand personality, emotion, character traits, etc.

Thinking about Maslow's hierarchy of needs may help as well, but I believe that people don't get stuck necessarily at one level before advancing to the next. For example, if I'm concerned about survival, Maslow posits that I can't be worrying about higher level issues (self-fulfillment). But the act of creating something pushes us to self-fulfillment in spite of being stuck elsewhere. Maybe I believe that we need to take risks to create -- nothing is a certainty.

Plutchik's Wheel of Emotion, 1980 (Wikipedia)
I was less sure about personality. After some research to define terms (and possibilities),I found some neat charts along the way. Like many other writers, I'm a visual person.

So this first chart by Robert Plutchik helped me to "see" possibilities. Wikipedia's summary suggested other research, but most helpful was the more linear chart of EMOTIONS BY GROUPS by Parrott.

I can use this to work a character through her/his reactions. If Deidre is afraid of something --  maybe something small like a spider, or something more nebulous, like fear of drowning, would she react with HORROR or ANXIETY?

Under HORROR, for example, Parrott lists Alarm - Shock - Fear - Fright - Horror - Terror - Panic - Hysteria - Mortification.  Any of these choices would help me develop a scene differently. And, under ANXIETY, Parrott lists Anxiety - Suspense - Uneasiness - Apprehension - Worry - Distress - Dread. And, I can ask, does this person tend  tend to respond positively or negatively, for each of these affects the character's thoughts and actions. Now, finally, I'm ready to write!

All of these 'categories' take me in far different directions, helping me to understand new depths in my character AND twist the plot.

ROW80 MARKETING UPDATE. Continuing to map out what's needed. Big achievement this week in keeping with that good advice that says to tackle the most intimidating task on your to-do-list, I subbed Years of Stone to the historical fiction category for the Pacific Northwest Writers Association 2013 literary contest. It's not too late. The contest closes February 22.

May your writing go well this week! Writers, write!

Sunday, February 03, 2013

ROW80 Check-in and shades of gray . . .

It's not always easy getting reader feed-back. We know that. Today's 'bon mot' came clear from the east coast with a suggestion I should read that 50 Shades of Gray book (classified as erotic porn) to add 'more emotion' to my characters.

Haven't read it. Don't intend to. Not my storyline. The person had read an old version of a story I'm working on. Intellectually, I know not every reader will like my stuff and that my story's a good one.  Best seller? Most likely not. But I was all excited to report in today for ROW80. Now, less so. I'm feeling gray.

In half an hour, we'll walk over to the wetlands near our house (where I caught this picture of a crane last spring), and life will be good.

Meanwhile, here's my ROW80 update.

WRITING: Just finished another round of editing on Section 2, Years of Stone. I'm excited because not only is the sequence tighter but so is the tension. I laughed and cried while rereading Section 2. I'm also excited because Donald Maass' acclaimed Writing the Breakout Novel Workbook just arrived, and those exercises look pretty good. The strategy behind his book is to take a 'nearly finished' book and put it through just one more round of thinking and editing. The first exercise is to analyze your personal hero (someone who influenced you) and identify those attributes that make that person heroic. First two people who came to mind were Frida Kahlo and Sor Juana Ines de la Cruz, both formidable women who created art/writing in spite of serious obstacles.

My other writing goal -- to begin researching Rivers of Stone sometime in 2013 -- is heating up. Looks like we'll be driving across Canada this summer to follow the trail of the Hudson's Bay Company's fur brigade, culminating at the York Factory in Manitoba (think polar bears). Notes, camera, action!

MARKETING: Even if I was not able to complete daily blogging for the Ultimate Blog Challenge, I learned so much about marketing from participating. My current favorite blogger to read is Rachel Abbott's down-to-earth description about what self-publishing strategies she, at first, bumbled into -- and then improved. And I found her via the Ultimate Blog Challenge AND Twitter.

One example: After reading Abbott, I doublechecked the categories listed for The Mermaid Quilt to find that the paperback version only listed Books > Literature & Fiction while the Kindle edition had four subsets of categories. After searching fruitlessly to find out how to change the categories for the paperback, I wrote to the HELP folks at Amazon's AuthorCentral. They quickly replied. My paperback version is now quite properly listed under Books > Science Fiction & Fantasy > Fantasy and I can add another category through them.

The point that Rachel Abbott makes is if your book is listed under categories that are far too general, people simply won't be able to find your book. Lesson learned with more to come. Because of Rachel's clear discussion of the importance of a marketing plan, my "morass" of information is better organized and far more specific with pre- and post-launch action steps.  Click on the link to read just one of Rachel's blog posts about the marketing plan.

So that's my ROW80 update. I'm already feeling less gray, and it's time for that walk. May your day (with SuperBowl?) and your writing go well! And if you feel so inclined, what marketing tips would you share?

Update: ROW80 Blogs I visited Sunday February 3:
Shan Jeniah writes this week about Truststorms
Annie Gray, A Force of Love
Tia Bach at Depression Cookies
Prudence MacLeod at Valkyrie Rising
Elizabeth Anne Mitchell, writer of historical fiction
R. Scott Steele, A writer in progress

And in case you are interested in joining the April A-Z Blogging Challenge, go here to sign up!