Tomorrow I turn 75. That will certainly be a milestone.
Which of course made me curious about the word milestone. As with nearly all historical explorations, it proved to be exceptionally interesting.
Milestones were originally stone obelisks – made from granite, marble, or whatever local stone was available – and later concrete posts. They were widely used by Roman Empire road builders and were an important part of any Roman road network: the distance travelled per day was only a few miles in some cases. — Wikipedia
One of the main characters of my WIP goes on a journey overland to London, following ancient Roman roads. Might she see a milestone? But of course.
Yesterday was another milestone of sorts: I began a NaNoWriMo push to (try to) write 2000 words a day. Day one: check. Day two: check. (With only a little cheating.) Tomorrow will no doubt be more challenging, but that’s allowed on the day one turns—OMG—75!
Along with writing, I invariably get lost in research. Delving into the Tudors is just a bit crazy-making! At every turn, there’s a fascinating story, at every turn, a mystery to solve—mainly, of late, trying to figure out Queen Elizabeth I’s exceptionally complex family tree. Here’s a crude and over-simplified “chart” that took hours to make.
I’ve been scrambling a bit, trying to sort out my system—and naturally returning to a system I’ve often used before. I record the day, time and word count in a notebook first thing, along with the word count I must meet that day.
At the end of the day, I write the word count met, along with the appropriate smiley or frowny face. For some reason, I find this system motivating. Approaching the end of the workday, I will calculate how many words I have yet to go, and then I go for it—crash, bang, come hell or high!
Mid-day I realized that the notebook I was using was too small so I went looking for a better one. I found one that had only been used a bit four years ago while working on a revision of The Game of Hope. It was moving seeing my scribbled notes. it feels like a decade ago to me now.
Meanwhile, Day of the Dead
Day of the Dead is a delight in Mexico, a beautiful tradition. Here are a few photos from Halloween, when people all over town were getting made up in fanciful ways.
In preparation for NaNoWriMo‘s blast-through-a-first draft-November, I’m following K.M. Weiland’s roadmap on constructing an outline. I’ve outlined my last three novels, but each time it’s like starting from scratch. In any case, I like learning something new.
I began last winter with Weiland’s software, Outlining Your Novel, which is the computer version of her workbook by that name.
All this to say that reading her book this morning, she mentions using old calendars to establish a timeline for a novel. I’ve been working all month on a detailed timeline on Scrivener, but using printout calendars is an excellent idea. Ms know-it-all Google directed me to this useful site, and I now have color-coded printouts of the years 1549 to 1559 with the significant events highlighted. I especially like that I will be able to know the phases of the moon since this was all-important pre-electricity.
Four other blog posts on outlining that may be of interest:
Question: What happens when you live in one house for over 40 years?
Answer: It gets cluttered with unfinished projects and treasures without a place (including letters and treasures from my parents’ cluttered attic).
Question: And what happens when, of an instant, you decide to have the entire first floor refinished?
Answer: Everything must get moved out and surfaces cleared.
This process takes time! Everything must be puzzled out.
One of the treasures without a home I picked up this morning, for example, is a manilla file titled “Crime of the Week.” It’s filled with clippings of the Crimes of the Week as reported in the northern Californian Anderson Valley Advertiser in the 1980s and 90s. My parents had a property in beautiful Anderson Valley (not far from Mendocino, California), and my father used to send me the Advertiser. I began cutting out various Crimes and slipping them away in a file.
The Advertiser is still trucking, but I suspect that the crimes to report these days may have lost some of their last-century charm.
For example, here’s the Crime of the Week from June 22, 1988, picked at random:
CRIME OF THE WEEK
A Westport couple was hanging out the window of their house screaming that they were trapped. Deputies Hillard and Degeyter walked right on in through the front door and transported the couple to Ukiah for psychiatric evaluation.
Or this one (date not noted):
CRIME OF THE WEEK
Miles Reisman of Redwood Valley called the Sheriff’s Office to say a neighbor of his was walking through the neighborhood wearing nothing but a “scrap” around his waist while swinging a dead skunk. Deputy Pendergraft was unable to locate the dead skunk twirler, speculating the man had simply blended in with the Redwood Valley commute crowd.
I’ve long thought that the Advertiser should publish the Crimes of the Week as a charming daily calendar, something a publisher like Workman might be interested in. At the least, I thought I might share some of them on this blog now and then. (What do you think?)
Today the Crime of the Week feature seems to have morphed into Catch of the Day. On October 13, 2016, Catch of the DAY listed 13, with grim mug shots of each.
And thus it is that it has taken all morning to place just one file without a home in Current. :-)
A note to writers of cosy mysteries: the Anderson Valley Advertiser would be an excellent source of ideas for plot and character. There is even a book put out by Bruce Anderson and Mark Scaramella: Mendocino Noir; Crimes Large and Small.
I’m pleased to announce the beautiful Canadian paperback edition of The Game of Hope. It’s fresh and fun to have a new cover. The first person to email me* a selfie holding the book will be sent an autographed hardcover edition.
In other news, I’ve just returned from a three-week trip to the UK, researching the early life of Queen Elizabeth I and the village of Adisham, where I’ve set my other heroine, young Molly the falconer.
In one month, shortly after Canadian Thanksgiving, Richard and I will be heading south to San Miguel de Allende for the winter. Once settled, I plan to NaNoWriMo-write the rough first draft of Molly & Bess (working title). I’m not yet sure if it’s one novel or two. This will be one way to find out.
One of the most challenging things for me in writing a YA novel based on the scant (and most likely apocryphal) stories “Mary of Canterbury” has been figuring out where to place her. I needed to find an old village in the countryside close to Canterbury and not far from the cliffs of Dover. Proximity to the Pilgrim’s Way of Chaucer fame would be a plus. Also, because of how my story was evolving, I needed proximity to a pond.
I had originally thought that I would “simply” fabricate such a village, but I discovered that that was far from simple—at least for me. It appears that I need a real place to dig into. Ironically, without facts, I am creatively lost.
In researching the turbulent years leading up to the accession of Queen Elizabeth I, I learned of a tiny village not far from Canterbury that was rife with conflict. Like a story-seeking missile, I had found my village.
Adisham (pronounced—I think—AD SHAM), is an old village not far from Canterbury, not far from Dover, and not far from one of the Canterbury Pilgrims’ paths. And it had had, in former times, a “dangerous pond.” How good was that?
The more I learned about Adisham, the more fascinating it became. A poltergeist in a house near the church? A witch dunked in the pond? A main street called “The Street”?
The biggest bonus was the discovery of John Bland, Protestant rector of the church of Adisham.
A “Canterbury Martyr,” John Bland was one of the first to be burned alive at the stake under the rule of Elisabeth I’s half-sister, “Bloody” Queen Mary. It is also claimed, likely falsely, that he was 103 years old when executed!
I’m about to embark on a research trip to the UK and will be visiting Adisham, talking with people who live there. I’ve already learned that they warn new rectors of what happens to those who run afoul of the churchwarden and the people of the village. :-)
Here are two links on Adisham:
This one shows numerous photos of the church, along with historical details.
Here is a link to a description of the parish, published in 1800, opening with the charming words: “This parish lies exceedingly pleasant and healthy … “
In Canada, I have a tall narrow bookcase of books—one of many I have in our house. This one includes poetry, novels I’m either reading or would like to read, and an embarrassing number of books on writing. I am a collector, apparently, a collector of books on writing.
This morning, as I was drinking my delicious mug of decaf, I took three black binders down from the top shelf. I was curious: what were they?
One was a collection of printouts of writing exercises by the New York agent Donald Maass. Another, a thick, heavy binder, was labelled Truby. In it were printouts from master story guru John Truby. I have a lot of Truby—including a series of tapes and his book The Anatomy of Story (which overwhelms me at the first chapter every time I open it). I recalled that at one time Truby offered interactive story analysis on his website; I think it was free, an amazing offering. All the printouts were from his website.
The third binder, labelled Story Tools, was of a middling size. The first page was a list of Sarah Waters’ instructions on how to write a historical novel. Her wise words are no longer online—at least not that I can find—so here it is, my gift to you. (Click here to see the full pdf.)
In the corner I had written: 6 mos min to write 180,000 words.
I wondered when I had written that note. The second page in the binder gave a clue.
I must have written this after I’d been offered a contract to write the Josephine B. Trilogy. Several months before I had finally completed an acceptable draft of The Many Lives & Secret Sorrows of Josephine B., the first novel in the Trilogy. While my agent was looking for a publisher, I had started work on what was to become, nearly two decades later, Mistress of the Sun. On signing a contract for a trilogy, I reluctantly put the project away.
So: all this was Very Long Ago, as I was setting out on this 32-years-and-counting writing adventure.
Sarah Waters’ advice on how to write a historical novel is a treasure. I’ll be returning to it.
The photo at top is of Sarah Waters, 2010, by Sam Jones, as seen in the article in the Guardian on Sarah Waters’ 10 rules for writers (rules which are, of course, spot on).