Sunday, December 18, 2011

Visiting Tasmania . . .

So what's a writer to do when actually visiting the locale of your current work in progress is impossible? Ask if you are a visual person and jump on the internet. This panorama of paintings showing Hobart Town between 1820-1860 helped me "see" into a very different time and place where my characters live and struggle.

This day trip to Port Arthur by Tim Hoosier helps me to visualize what was once a harsh and forbidding prison. Few escaped for the wardens and guards perpetuated the idea that the waters surrounding this stubby peninsula were shark-infested.

This grisly National Geographic video highlights the dreaded Tasmanian Devil. In photos, this small cousin to the more familiar kangaroo is rather cute. But after seeing this video, I now have a scene where Mac goes out into the night to investigate what sounds like a woman screaming.

National Novel Writing Month was good to me. After a month of not writing at all (due to travel and family illness), November kicked me back. Years of Stone is now at 36,000 words and I'm facing my next challenge: Making sure the historical underpinning is dead accurate.

May your own writing go well.

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Revising character . . .

I came to my writing this week not wanting to admit that I was disenchanted with my main character, Deidre. In Standing Stones, Book 1, Deidre was brave. She followed Mac to Van Dieman's Land, flaunting convention, at a time when women had few resources. She became a teacher through her own will, and stood up to her mother and her minister to pursue her own destiny. Yet in Years of Stone, Book 2, once in Tasmania, she deflates, overwhelmed by bustling Hobart Town, unsure of her place, easily cowed by the upper class. No wonder I don't like her any more. This wasn't Deidre.

So when Deidre lands in Tasmania in 1842, would she be less overwhelmed? Is her feeling of ineffectualness really a mirror to my own sense of “Gosh, where am I?” in this not-so-clearly-understood colonial past? She’s not bowed over by convention. In common with Mac, she has the courage to stand up to those in power.

In Standing Stones, both Mac and Deidre suffered for their stand. In Years of Stone, they would not change. They will fight for something, and, they will succeed.

Lady Jane Franklin, the wife of Lieutenant-Governor John Franklin, is a powerful figure in Tasmanian history, but Deidre does not seek approval from her, nor does she aspire to the upper class. So I need to discover what Deidre and Mac are likely to stand for and to defend. That's at the macro level and will help me "see" the resolution of Deidre's initial decision to follow Mac to this faraway land where so many were transported.

Deidre is strong-willed. Her first goal is to get established in rough and tumble Hobart Town of 1842. Does she find a job, a place to stay, a boarding house? Is her money stolen (following the shipwreck, she has some sewn into her clothing). Does she get attacked? Does she walk down the street alone, with men catcalling after her? BY HER OWN EFFORTS, SHE NEEDS TO PUSH THROUGH HER OWN OBSTACLES.

How is she accepted by the middle tier (that’s her true home, not the upper class). Will she be geographically pushed away? If I am to develop CONFLICT, Deidre can never be safe in a place made safe by others. She has to create her own place through her will power and her courage.

After spending three years with this character, I'm still wondering if she sees the forest or the trees? What is her wider vision? What is her fatal flaw? Does she remain worthy of Mac? Is he worthy of her? What I do know now is that she is feisty and courageous, and I care about her again.

Some writers go about telling their stories after resolving these questions. They use any combination of character studies, plot outlines, note cards, even computer-generated programs that help to keep the process organized. I just try to sit down each day and work on the story. Deidre and Mac. Mac and Deidre.

This piece of scrimshaw, carved by some nameless sailor, shows such a sweet couple, perhaps the yearning of this sailor so long ago, perhaps an archetype of Deidre and Mac. The scrimshaw is dated 1840, Tasmania, and held at the Queen Victoria Museum and Gallery.

Thursday, September 08, 2011

'Fire Sisters' is up at Fiction365 . . .

Today, my flash fiction, "Fire Sisters" is up at Fiction365.

The story began in response to a writing prompt from the "Practice" group at the online Internet Writing Workshop back in March. The prompt was fire. My first thought was of those women factory workers who walked up nine flights of stairs to be locked into a shirtwaist factory sweatshop in New York City. The Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire of 1911 was an unforgettable tragedy and provoked changes in union and occupational safety laws.

You can read a summary of the fire at Wikipedia or my story at Fiction365.

Otherwise, I'm still drafting and researching Years of Stone, just now reading a lot about women in prison in 1840, most recently, Kay Daniels' Convict Women. Interestingly, not everything you read in a book is true, but more about that later.

Today, I'm just celebrating.

Friday, August 26, 2011

And more research . . .

I just finished reading Alan Brennert's fascinating Honolulu, a tale of Korean immigrant life in Hawai'i in the 1920s and 1930s, the scope of the book from the point of view of an imported picture bride who experiences plantation life, Honolulu's red light district, the stigma of divorce, and a slow climb out of poverty. Brennert's book helps me see Hawai'ian history more clearly and the rich blended ethinic mix we take for granted today. Also, rare for me, I forgot he was writing from a female point of view. An excellent read.

I also found his 'Author's Note' at the end of the book entrancing. For Alan Brennert does not stint on his research or in telling us how real people (from Somerset Maugham to the original Charlie Chan -- Chang Apana) inspired him. He lists at least 60 books that were helpful in developing a "true" sense of Hawai'ian culture.

Makes me feel a little better about the piles of books that surround me yet -- and thankful for interlibrary loan (two books in now, Kay Daniels, Convict Women, and Deborah Oxley, Convict Maids: The Forced Migration of Women to Australia). Today was a good day. Over 500 words, new plot twists, and outside, a hummingbird sips at our new bird feeder.

Friday, August 05, 2011

Research continues . . .

This week, I balance between writing and research, at times buoyed by Wesley Dean Smith's comments that if you can't find the answer to your research question within three clicks on Google, your readers won't give a damn. But my heroine is a teacher in 1842, Hobart Town, Tasmania. And let me tell you, I couldn't find info within three clicks. In fact the search was so convoluted that I don't think I could even reconstruct it.

But, here is the earliest school I can find, Ellinthorpe (see Marjorie R. Theobald's book, Knowing Women). The school was established in 1823 by a most intrepid woman, Hannah Maria Davice, who emigrated with a friend, Elinor Binfield, and a younger relative, Susannah Darke Purbrick in June, 1823. Hannah opened her school in rented buildings in Hobart Town within a month of arriving. She married George Carr Clark in December 1824 and continued to teach, changing locations to Carr Field House opposite the Post Office in Hobart, and then to Ellinthorpe in September 1827, described as a rural Victorian estate. Apparently, Lady Jane Franklin, wife of the Lieutenant Governor of Tasmania, was not too supportive, having educational projects of her own, but the Australian Dictionary of Biography reports Ellinthorpe was the most prestigious school in the colony, serving about 40 girls.

Hannah closed her school in 1840, taking her 6 children back to England for further education and leaving her husband behind. But Susannah Purbrick (Mrs. John Knight) opened her own school, Carr Villa, near Launceton in 1848 until 1866. I'm on the hunt for more details about how these schools worked and who the students were. That gap in 1842 might very well be useful for my story. And back to work it is, with more than three clicks!

Source of picture of Ellenthorpe Hall.

Thursday, July 21, 2011

Road Trip Day 2

This hotel room looks empty as we leave.
I repacked the cooler and day bags.
Everything goes in the same place
even as all routines dwindle to
today’s Tour de France:
Updates stream
on the laptop.

The clocks change
as we cross state lines,
drive past pine-covered mountains,
lines of July snow on the highest ridges.
At a rest stop, the song of an unseen bird echoes.

Tonight we’ll sleep deeply,
perhaps dreaming of home, that bird,
and the road south.

We are on the road to Tucson, a 1,600 drive down past Yellowstone. Yesterday we crossed Idaho and reached Missoula MT. Place names along the way reminded us of the Lewis and Clark expedition, and we wondered what it was like to cross this mountain country in the 1840s. Early roads routinely washed out. Not many people live in this land of snow, but as we reach Missoula, the land flattens to valleys and a sense of respite. The mountains remain a presence, though. Today's prompt came from Robert Lee Brewer, #141 "empty".

Sunday, July 03, 2011

On writing . . .

I'm digging into the research for Years of Stone. The saga continues as Mac, arrested for protesting evictions and transported by sailing ship to Tasmania from Scotland, confronts 19th Century Van Dieman's Land, Britain's dumping ground for criminals. Deidre follows him into an uncertain future.

Today I found that Tasmania has its own "Southern Lights", and I'm reading Ken McGoogan's Lady Franklin's Revenge, not a romance but nonfiction backstory on Sir John Franklin, famous Arctic explorer who served as Governor in Van Diemen's Land 1837-1843. McGoogan includes photos, maps, and rich detail of the life in Hobart Town of that time.

But as I balance between writing and researching, I'm also motivated by Dean Wesley Smith's advice: "Your job is to tell the story and make things up." My characters move the story forward. So finally, I'm writing. As Dean says, "If you carve out writing time, spend it on creating new words."

As many articles that I've read that give writers various kinds of advice, Dean's words resonate. Yes, sometimes a story needs to marinate. Yes, writers need to master all kinds of technical skills, not the least being a sense of "truthiness" in writing historical fiction. Even for those days when words don't come easily, I'm still making progress, and that feels good.

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

The Next Step . . .

What is slipping through my fingers?
Each heavy book, its pages
promise an idea or image that lingers,
for inspiration comes in stages,
Alas, my eyes want to stop
reading, my body to flop.

What library have I forsook,
freighted with tiny print?
The next step: Kindle or Nook,
no browsing, no out of print squint,
just the pure joy of reading a book?
All else falls away, even rhyme, it has went

the way of all words for my doubts now dwindle.
Outside my window, sparrows chirp.
I, at last, am writing.
All is well in my world.
P.S. I bought a Kindle.

Today's writing was inspired by Carry On Tuesday's Prompt 109: Slipping through my fingers, Sunday Scribblings prompt 271: The Next Step, and something new, a Tuesday Blog Hop from Gladiator's Pen on Inspiration.

You may notice a new page here. I finally learned how to add a page to my blog. So, this new page, called Beth's Reader's Corner, will highlight some short fiction (the first one, a flash fiction about quilting), maybe an excerpt from Standing Stones. Yes, I'm still in the research phase on Australia, such a rich history. But each book I read, each picture I find, will take me there one day.

Sunday, June 05, 2011

Travel Plans . . .

I sink into myself, pushed by so little time,
so much to do. All is illusion and yet
I find joy in watching an African violet bloom,
purple fat flowers, so delicate,
each day the tiny head of a new bloom lifts
and faces the sun.

The Great Migration calls.
Each spring, several hundred thousand wildebeests
sweep over African grassy plains to a birthing.
I will see elephants and tree-climbing lions.
I will travel across two oceans
to the Great Rift,
that place prehistoric peoples called home,
another moon rising,
another mystery fragmented through time.
Let the sun burn away my doubt.
Ride the crocodile into deep waters.
We are never not broken;
we are always whole.

This poem comes from several sources, Sunday Scribblings Prompt #270 Sweet (which I misread as Joy), Carry on Tuesday Prompt #107 So little time, so much to do, and then this interesting and lovely article by Julie C. Peters about a Hindu goddess named Akhilandeshavari. Her story illustrates that somehow even when we lie on the floor, overwhelmed by any of an amazing number of traumatic events, that we are never not broken, that we are ready for change, a kind of persistent quest, perhaps more than survival, that is unique to each of us.

Thursday, June 02, 2011

Let's get serious . . .

No one can say what will happen
to Mother’s handkerchief embroidered in blue,
the journals, the drawings, scraps of poems,
love letters tucked in favorite books,
packed and unpacked again and again,
the dried flowers from my daughter’s wedding,
the quilt blocks begun and nearly finished,
a favorite cup with yellow cats.
No one can predict
who will come to take all this away,
not even with the most careful preparations,
not even with the most trusted friends.
I’m remembering an old Greek woman
who lay in state on the floor in an empty house.
I only hope for kindness
even from strangers on that final day.

This poem began with Robert Lee Brewer's Wednesday Poetry Prompt 134. His prompt reminded me of a scene from Kazantzakis’ film, “Zorba the Greek”(1964). A wealthy woman dies in a small Greek village. The priest, learning of her death, finds the house ravaged by hordes of villagers who took even her bed, leaving the house empty and the woman laying on the floor. This happens here, though in more civilized ways.

Saturday, April 09, 2011

Killdeer . . .

Out on the mud flats, a killdeer with red eye ring
plucks his way along the water-soaked land.
He’s alone in this wide field as dusk falls.
He runs forward in short bursts,
a few steps and then he stops.
He turns away invisible,
his feathers blend brown and gray with the land.
We wait. In a moment or two, he runs forward again,
bobbing his head slightly,
his black double-banded breast a beacon,
his sharp cry piercing the silence.

We walk on, a simple Sunday walk
and stop for birding now and then.
The days pass, grasses grow,
a killdeer returns and nests,
but how that cry lingers.

Sunday, April 03, 2011

The Bowerbird

In the spring, the bowerbird gathers leaves and flowers.
We suppose, being male, he doesn’t have a nest in mind.
He brings a certain rock or mushroom in his beak,
found or stolen from another bowerbird nearby,
and lays in pattern all those elements of art --
color, texture, line -- to entice her eye.

And once she comes, he sings and
dances while she watches.
She may return.
They may mate.
Then she moves on alone to
build a nest, the bower abandoned,
in the forest or the field, a singular work:
he tidies up; he preens for the next female.

We marvel at these elaborate patterns here,
for what if the artful bower just does not appeal?
What if she doesn’t come, drawn by some strange mix
of biologic chemistry and art made by birdy eye and birdy beak?
Even in the deepest forest, art is created, unknown to human eye.
We make our nests, and sing and dance,
And believe all is left to chance.

April begins National Poetry Month where some writers commit to writing a poem a day (see NaPoWriMo). I may not post every day, but I will be writing a poem a day and sharing some.

National Geographic had an article by Virginia Morrell on bowerbirds last year. The images of their precisely arranged "bowers" are fascinating. These are not nests. The male bowerbirds of New Zealand and Australia make them to attract the females for mating. The bowers are just lovely, intricate, a mix of materials. One photograph from the article shows a bowerbird painting sticks in his "nest" with "paint" the bird actually made himself. Sorry the line breaks don't come out properly here; I wanted the shape of the poem to be like a bower . . .

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Where does inspiration come from?

If ever a photo carried stories, they're here in this image of an abandoned house, left to the sand for 50 years in Kolmanskop, once a diamond mining town in Namibia. The photo is by Marsel von Oosten, just published in National Geographic (April 2011). More later . . .

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Song to the Saguaro Cactus

(pronounced sah-wha-ro)

We hike Sabino Canyon
to see the great Saguaro.
The Tohono O’Odham call these persons.
And so they are, each one unique,
standing in the thousands
along the valleys of this canyon,
arrayed in the arroyos as sentinels,
their thick, spiny, slow-growing arms
pocked with nests for cactus wrens or
an occasional owl.

Ah, Saguaro, you live longer than the people
who measure their years
against the flowering and the fruiting,
the hungry times, the longest nights,
the coldest, shortest days.
The people come in the proper season
to make wine from your fruits,
to give thanks,
and to dance under your arms.