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Posts Tagged ‘Pavane for Miss Marcher’

Those of you who’ve been following EverWriting for a while may remember my blogs about growing and nurturing a pomegranate plant which I related to the process of writing Salsa Dancing with Pterodactyls.

I’m back at it.

I actually had not eaten a pomegranate for years and years! When I was a girl, my first taste of this wonderful fruit (some believe to be the original ‘forbidden fruit’ of the Garden of Eden variety) gave me hives! As the ruby fruit was the only oddity in our daily composition at the time, pomegranate got the blame. I stayed away until I was well into adulthood.

My next encounter was after I had three children with no untoward results at all. Since I had already had good luck with growing apple trees from seeds germinated from the Braeburn variety and oaks from acorns my children had gathered at school, I threw some pomegranate seeds in potting soil and behold, I was the proud horticulturalist of a plant usually only grown in mediterranean climes.

This year, I bought and ate my first pomegranate after another long long dry spell and, though Iimage of pomegranate seedling have only a balcony and a few potted plants, I attempted to repeat my previous effort. As far as I know my first pomegranate is still growing in my daughter-in-law’s care but having one of my own again felt right. I have a number of lemon bushes from seed and a pomegranate was a natural step.

Of the twenty or so seeds I planted, three sprouted and one survived and the secondary leaves have sprouted.

In many ways, at least in my quirky mind, there are similarities between storycraft and horticulture/gardening. If we think of an idea for a story, we often think of it as a seed. We nurture the idea/seed with effort in the way of research in the process of germinating the story, as the seedling has germinated from its pod and thrown out roots below and first leaves above. Those first leaves and roots provide the nourishment to grow in the same way our stories grow from experience (roots) and imagine (leaves).

My previous experience with pomegranates coincided with the writing and successful publishing my multicultural, interracial novel Salsa Dancing with Pterodactyls.

This tiny plant coincides with my first American history novel, Pavane for Miss Marcher, which examines the aftereffects of the American Civil War on those who fought, those left behind and process of healing the divisive wounds.

 

 

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Last summer, I had the privilege of attending a workshop offered by Ursula Renée, who writes historical novels set in the 1930s in New York City. Renée had a long list of ways to discover information about the time period, the activity, the product or just about anything a writer needs to make their book—whether fiction or non-fiction—authentic.

The book I’m writing at the moment takes place in the 1870s, in Maine, beginning in the summer, in a small village about six to seven years after the American Civil War. There are aspects of this story that are familiar to me, such as village life in Maine—regardless of the era—and human behavior.

Less familiar to me but researchable are:

  • When is the best time to prune a tree—in the manuscript, I have written that the male protagonist starts chopping away at an 100 year old oak in the heroine’s front yard at the end of summer. NO! I would be excoriated by my good friend, Paul (arborist and my former singing teacher) if I allowed that error to survive into a published novel. Laughable but it is the sort of error that can stop a reader and destroy our credibility.
  • My hero travels from Wyoming to Maine, part of the journey is by train. So. What type of train engine was hauled carriages up the coast and into Franklin County from Boston? It might be excusable to leave the details of the train as vague and non-committal. But, isn’t it better to add some meat on the bone? My research presented the Achilles. Perfect! The flawed hero of Greek tragedy carrying my flawed hero toward his destiny.
  • Speaking of post-Civil War travel, is it good enough to say coach or carriage or would landau be more authentic?
  • A young woman of this period doesn’t just wear a dress…she wears a steel hoop crinoline ‘pouf’ and pantalets, a corset with detachable sleevelets, a flat derby with ostrich feathers and bloomer skirt.
  • The American Civil War is thoroughly documented from every angle and perspective—a surefire cesspit of quicksand to sink my book to the unforgivably forgettable regions of ‘false history’. With so many truly magnificent non-fiction and fiction books available to the thousands of enactors/enthusiasts/history readers, how do I write this book?
    • Read wide – not just what is ‘accepted history’ but alternative views
    • Reject the notion that there is only one true side of history
    • Know that history is written by the victor but there is always an opposing view
    • Avoid capitulating to those who threaten you with “You’d better be on the right side of history”—see point directly above
    • Write as honestly and as judiciously as possible
  • No matter how well-researched we think our book is…someone will find a fault. Or disagree. Or think our book is the ‘worst book ever written’. There’s no remedy for this. We must write our best, write what we believe is important to say and take the criticism on the chin.
  • Writers of genre fiction have a particularly prickly relationship with the ‘expected’ but, Agatha Christie aside, a little curve ball (mixed metaphor acknowledged) can make a formula a chemical explosion. To paraphrase  Steven Pressfield from his book, The War of Art, following the recipe may make a soufflé but it doesn’t make a meal.

Of all the pitfalls we face as writers, getting our facts wrong can lead us into a hinterland from which there is no escape. Always get a second opinion.

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The Very, Very Basics of Writing Anything

There are three fundamental elements of every piece of written work—including film, non-fiction and grocery lists.

These three elements must be present or there is no point in proceeding.

In non-fiction, the three elements forming the basics of a book are:

  1. Idea – the Topic
  2. Reason – Information or Add Information
  3. Goal – to Educate or Refute Previous Thinking

9781870206129_bachBefore my publisher, Honno, agreed to consider Parachutes & Petticoats, which I edited with the renown feminist historian, Deirdre Beddoe, we had to convince the board of directors that 1) the Topic, Welsh women’s experiences during World War II, was worth the effort; 2) we could find enough material to make a full volume of women’s autobiographical memoirs; 3) the information we gathered, written by the women themselves, was of sufficient interest and relevance to warrant the expenditure, effort, and examination required to bring a collection of essays by unknown women to fruition.

9781906784119_bachThe resulting request for autobiographical essays brought in hundreds of submissions from women in Wales whose experiences had never been heard. The book was published in 1992, reprinted in 1994 and 2003, with a fourth reprint in a smaller format with minor editorial additions appeared in 2010. The essays that we couldn’t include in the volume were submitted to the National Library of Wales (Llyfrgell Genedleithol Cymru) to become a part of the national archive. Next year, 2017, will mark Parachutes & Petticoats’ 25th anniversary. Though neither edition is still in print, the book is still available at bookstores and online book retailers.

For fiction (of any kind, in any genre, in any medium) they are:

  1. Protagonist – the Hero
  2. Antagonist – the Villain
  3. Purpose – the Goal

For example, in my most recent published novel, Nights Before: The Novel (originally published as a novel in six installments), the above structure works like this:

  1. Protagonist – Jocelyn Tavers
  2. Antagonist – Jason, her ex-boyfriend
  3. Jocelyn’s Goal – to find a replacement boyfriend before the end of the year

Nights-Before-Final200_thumb.jpgThose three elements will not, in themselves, make a full sized story, let alone a full length novel but without them, there’s no beginning, middle or end. Jason also needs a goal to combat Jocelyn’s efforts to reach her goal. And Jocelyn needs a lot more than a boyfriend to make the essentially girl-meets-boy, girl-loses-boy, girl-finds-new-boy story something more than just that.

Though Nights Before is a romantic comedy, there had to be some depth to the story and that called for a secondary goal. This is usually something hidden, even from the protagonist—a long buried pain that has left a wound that will not heal without more pain. Enter an absent parent or two, conflicting potential new boyfriends, torn stockings and a lobster feast, a demanding employer, a car accident and abandonment issues.

With my upcoming American historical novel, Pavane for Miss Marcher, the three elements are shared between the Hero and Heroine, both of whom have Goals and Antagonists out to get them:

  1. Protagonists: Cathryn Marcher / Rupert Smith
  2. Antagonists: Susan Miller / Jericho Colson
  3. Goals: Staying in Maine / Moving to Wyoming

ggncMay2012Both Cathryn and Rupert have Deuteragonist supporters who get in the way for the best reasons and enemies who get in the way for the worst reasons.

The story is set in Maine five years after the end of the American Civil War and I am currently researching and reading on both sides of this terrible conflict in our history. Keeping faith with our nation’s past has complicated the process, especially with such an emotive background that plays an enormous part in our lives 151 years after the conflict came to an end.

With family members from the southern states and a strong New England heritage complicates the story on a personal level as well but I believe a writer’s duty is to write the story that comes from their own heart, regardless of possible consequences. As my mother always said, “Be true to yourself.”

Pavane for Miss Marcher is scheduled for publication in 2017.

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