Saturday, December 03, 2016

Writing with the kindness of strangers . . .

A cold snap is coming. Temperatures down to the 20's starting later this week. Naturally, then, I'm writing about a rugged trek south from York Factory in the summer of 1843. 

Due to the kindness of a writer I've met online, I've got maps spread over my writing desk. And I'm reading journal notes of a survey team of roughly that era to figure out which river the Fur Brigade Express took from York Factory to the infamous Red River Settlement (now Winnipeg), and exactly what my feisty heroine experienced.

The conditions were deplorable for a typical working day. Sails only worked for a little while on the narrow, shallow Hayes River, its route south from York Factory bending through the marsh in a convoluted, twisted S-shape. The oarsmen used long poles to move the York boats forward, stopping frequently to use ropes to brutally haul the boats further south when the water was too shallow. Four men traded off every one-and-a-half hour shifts, grateful to be back in the boat for a breather from hauling those 30-foot long, fully loaded York boats along slippery, muddy banks, where footing was precarious. 

Where did those maps come from? Nancy Marguerite Anderson kindly shared her research with me. She's working on a sequel to The Pathfinder: A. C. Anderson's Journeys in the West, a well-written and fascinating account of her ancestor, a fur trader and map-maker who also worked for the Hudson's Bay Company and traveled widely in Canada and the Pacific Northwest. If you are drawn to history of roughly 1831-1884, her book is well-peppered with insights, anecdotes, maps, and photographs as we follow the exploits and life of this young fur trader. Nancy's blog, An Accidental Historian, is also a fabulous resource as she comments on her ongoing research.

Fort Garry, 1884 (Wikipedia)
Translating research into story is challenging and fun. I'm constantly asking how does this new information support and drive my story forward. Should the new 'stuff' be pulled into dialogue or backstory? What nasty twist can I add so my heroine and various characters 'suffer'? What does she learn? How does this change or affect her quest? And what is the structure of this section, how does it support the overall story goal?

My original optimistic hope was to finish Rivers of Stone by year-end. I can report the overall progress is good. Major sections of the book are taking shape, and the draft is now about 95K. But I do see much revision in the section I'm working on, with at least one more round of revising the full manuscript before I can leap up from my writing desk and say, "It's done!"  Next step? Ready for beta readers.

May your winter be a mild one, and if you are writing, may your writing go well.