Wednesday, June 30, 2010
I have one more chapter to write in my WIP – maybe two – before I run out of planned material and take a leap into the unknown.
Okay, maybe it’s not as dire a decision as the one indicated on this sign (which my husband photographed on a recent business trip to Aspen.) I mean, I don’t think death can result from writing a novel without an outline … but I’m not really sure.
I have all the elements. I have a story idea – a mystery, a romance, and a little history. I think I know how it will end. I have the various nuts and bolts: two caged graves, an Indian massacre, clues in a diary, lost treasure, a love triangle, a swamp, legends of the undead, poison, and war. I probably have more than I need, and when I’m done, I fully expect to find some unused parts laying around.
Because I don’t really have the plot hammered out yet. And I’m not sure I can plan it out too far in advance, because my characters have their own ideas. I have found that if I give them the space and time to develop, my characters may lead me down unexpected paths. (Hopefully not that path marked with the skull and crossbones, though.)
That’s why instead of an outline, I just have a list titled: Events That Will Probably Happen Soon.
Writing a new story is an adventure, a leap into the unknown. And as a writer, I should be prepared to take some false paths and maybe even discover that the story I planned is not the story I’m going to write. I need to let the characters play and grow and frolic through whole scenes and dialogues that I’ll cut later. The order of events may change; some scenes will be cut and others added. I may even need to throw out the beginning and start from a different place.
All this is good, because creation = chaos.
Do you know where YOUR WIP is going?
Monday, June 28, 2010
Today I am welcoming Mary Simonsen, author of Searching for Pemberley (Sourcebooks Landmark 2009) and a delightful little book about an Italian-American community in the 1980's, The Second Date. Coming from an Italian-American heritage myself, I found The Second Date to be like a good antipasto: colorful, flavorful, and full of tantalizing little nuggets that aren't too filling.
Book Description (from the back cover):
Sonia Amundsen looks like a Nordic goddess on the outside, but her heart, soul, and stomach are all Italian. She is also a successful professional who is about to celebrate her 30th birthday. Although friends have been setting her up on blind dates for two years, she never goes out on a second date with any of them because she is still looking for that perfect guy. She has very specific criteria about Mr. Right, and Sonia is beginning to think that such a man is not out there. Set in the late 1980s, Sonia is surrounded by an extended Italian family, a caring, but over-bearing mother, warring aunts who use family funerals to stage full-blown tragedies, and a close friend, whose main goals in life are to get pregnant and to help Sonia find true love. The Second Date explores friendship and love in the heart of the Italian-American community where food is second in importance only to love.
Mary, how did you come to write a novel about an Italian-American with a Norwegian name who struggles to find true love?
I grew up in the 1960s in northern New Jersey, where most of my friends were Italian. I’ve lived in Arizona for 14 years, and although I do love it here, there is a dearth of Italians in the area (although there are lots of Scandinavians from the Midwest). Three years ago, I became nostalgic for good New York pizza, North Jersey accents, and people who express their emotions with their hands. The Norwegian character was just a way of contrasting my staid Irish background with the much more interesting lives of my friends.
You’re not Italian-American, but I am – so I know you’ve hit the nail on the head with these characterizations. How did you know all this stuff?
As I said, most of my friends were Italian, but it was the boy (let’s call him Tony) that I dated all through high school that brought me into the world of Italian-Americans. Tony’s mother was a first-generation American, and his grandparents were Sicilian peasants. With his family, I had my first bite of lasagna, drank anise (needed a fire extinguisher), and went to Italian weddings where the guests danced the tarantella, the bride had a silk purse to collect money for the cash dance, and Dean Martin and Tony Bennet records played in the background. The families of many of my friends belonged to the Italian-American Club, and they had a terrific festival on the feast of San Gennaro every September.
Also, Tony’s mother had a running feud with her two sisters, Ro-Ro and Wee-Wee (not making this up), and they could really get into it. (They would serve as models for my characters of Gina and Angie.) As a result, I greatly expanded my knowledge of Italian, although I couldn’t actually use the words I learned.
How many of the anecdotes in this novel are based on real events? Which one is the most outrageous (and still true)?
I witnessed almost everything in this book. Granted, events are exaggerated, but not by much. As for the real, completely true, incident, I had a friend who dated a boy of German descent for three years, but Angela’s mother wanted her to date a good Italian boy. For those three years, the poor guy was never invited to dinner. In fact, he barely made it past the plastic runner inside the front door. When her boyfriend went into the Army and was stationed in Colorado, Angela went to Fort Carson and got married. Her mother mailed her the handkerchief that she cried into when she got Angela’s telegram. That’s a true story.
Do you think these quirky details (plastic slipcovers on the furniture, cash dances at weddings, whacking kids with wooden spoons) are uniquely Italian – or are they typical of a lot of European-heritage families?
In addition to my Italian friends, I had lots of Jewish friends, and they were real big on plastic, and not just on the furniture or lamps. There were plastic runners everywhere. My only experience with cash dances were at Italian weddings, but my mother was pretty good at whacking. However, her weapon of choice was a spatula that she used to flip eggs with. She was also pretty deadly with her moccasins.
Is there anything else you’d like us to know about The Second Date?
I’d like to think that The Second Date is the type of book you read when you want to shut out all the problems of the real world. There are trials and tribulations, but you are guaranteed a happy ending. It’s a book about love: love of parents, siblings, husbands, boyfriends, friends, and it has a sense of place and history. Reading The Second Date is like putting on a snuggie on a cold winter’s day.
Thank you, Dianne, for having me. Salute!
Mary is giving away a signed copy of The Second Date to one lucky winner. Leave a comment on this post by Monday, July 5th to enter. (Lighting a candle and visiting your mother -- have you called her lately? -- will probably increase your chances of winning.)
You can also find Mary in the blogosphere at Austen Inspired Fan Fiction.
Friday, June 25, 2010
Last night, I was a guest at the Avon Grove Library for Teen Night. “Meet the Author” the signs said – which, I have to admit, made me feel kind of like a poser. I was worried that nobody would show up. I was worried that a ton of people would show up, (but they would think I was a poser.)
In fact, I ended up with a lovely little group of about ten teen readers, including:
·A friend of my daughter’s who was one of the first to buy We Hear the Dead when it hit the shelves
·A young lady who read High Spirits two years ago and is happy to see it re-published but would really like to see me publish a second book (a fan!)
·A former student who lived through much of the editing process with me
·An aspiring writer who is excited to see that dreams really can come true
I brought out everything I had – photographs of the principal characters, biographies, Elisha Kane’s own book, my Ouija board – but the most popular item was the one that I grabbed last minute on my way out of the house: a copy of the screenplay. The teens who had already read my book were fascinated to get a peek at this alternate version – to read scenes that they recognized in scripted form. And of course, that’s when it hit me: They’d read my book. I wasn’t “posing” as an author; I really was one.
I left the library walking six inches off the ground. I almost ran off the road driving home, and it’s a wonder I didn’t get pulled over for Driving Under the Influence of Euphoria.
I’ll finish up this post with reflections on my first week of summer vacation and unlimited writing time:
1. Floating aimlessly in the pool is the perfect way to brainstorm.
2. My skin hates sunlight, and SPF 50 is not strong enough.
3. Nothing will teach you to be more concise than trying to drive down the page count of a screenplay.
4. There are a lot of really fantastic blogs I’ve been missing while locked up behind school firewalls all day.
5. You know the blogging mentality has overrun your household when your 13 y.o. daughter’s Facebook update says: “Comment on my status and I will email you the prologue of my new WIP.” (Yes, she writes, too … and just as obsessively as I do.)
Tuesday, June 22, 2010
The pond was not functional when we bought the house. There was a place for a waterfall, but there was no circulation. The pond was ankle deep in sludge that the previous owners’ boys thought would be fun to throw in: bricks, broken flower pots, legos, batteries, a penknife, etc. Unbelievably, there were still three living fish, and a couple of frogs who (no lie) used to swim in the pool every night as if detoxifying themselves with the chlorine.
It took a few years to clean it all up, mostly because my husband had a grandiose scheme that turned out to be a brilliant idea. We dug a stream up the hill, laid in a second, smaller pond, and fitted the whole outfit with a pump to circulate the water.
We learned the hard way that we couldn’t keep fish in the upper pond. They invariably go over the falls. (Whee!) But the frogs love it. In the lower pond, we now have over a dozen goldfish, one beautiful golden koi, and a squadron of mysterious black fish who arrived from outer space. (I’ll talk about that in a moment.)
Fish also mysteriously appear. Sometimes, they breed. That’s no mystery. But we do have the Black Squadron, a dozen black fish with silver heads who appeared quite suddenly one year. They can’t possibly have come from our other fish. They are not similar to the other fish in shape or color. One day, they just were there – as if they had dropped from the sky. Even spookier was when we discovered another one in the upper pond. He was larger than the others, and when we moved him to the lower pond, he promptly became their leader.
The most logical explanation is that we bought a pond plant that had eggs in it. (And one of the eggs got sucked up the filter and landed in the upper pond.) But we don’t know for sure. The pond is a mysterious place, and I love it.
Where is your safe haven?
(Do you see the frog in this picture?)
Monday, June 21, 2010
Actually, the dog was more cooperative …
Congratulations to Buffy and Malcolm (and Liz on Facebook)!
I will be contacting you for an address to send your prize!
Saturday, June 19, 2010
Summer vacation starts today. It’s been a l-o-n-g spring. I know that I posted (with some bravado) back at the beginning of June that I wasn’t going to “strike my colors” and give up teaching. But I’ve got to tell you – about a week after that, I was dying to surrender!
Yesterday, as soon as my sentence … ahem, school term was over, I rushed home and jumped in my pool. It took about an hour of drifting aimlessly around on a pool float, staring at the sky, just to turn my brain off.
But now it’s time to turn it back on, because I have a Summer To-Do List!
1. Write another draft of the screenplay. That’s right. Six drafts weren’t enough. My wonderful collaborator, Amy Green, outlined a few problems that beta readers picked up in the script. I’ve been cogitating on them for about 2 weeks; I think I have a solution, and I can’t wait to try it out.
2. Prevent succession from turning my flower beds into forest land. People often ask me how I manage to write while teaching full time. The answer is: I let the house fall to rack and ruin. But now, it’s becoming embarrassing.
3. Research, outline, and begin the first draft of a new WIP. I haven’t forgotten those creepy caged graves in the Pocono Mountains of PA, and when my preliminary research turned up the Wyoming Massacre just a hundred years earlier and not too far away – I set my sights on finding a way to tie the stories together.
4. Revise an old piece. A long time ago, I wrote a non-fiction piece about the Revolutionary War in Pennsylvania – queried it, came close to a bite, but eventually gave up and laid it aside. However, the PA Board of Education, in its infinite wisdom, has re-written our state history curriculum to reflect a totally Pennsylvania-centered version of history. We still study Native Americans, but only those in PA. We still study World Explorers, but only the ones who explored PA. We still study the Revolutionary War, but – you got it. Luckily, I have a perfect piece to present to the curriculum committee at my school, but I need to revise it for 5th grade. Maybe add the Wyoming Massacre.
5. Swim in the pool 5 days a week. I don’t mean drifting about on a pool float. I don’t mean soaking in the hot tub. And I don’t mean sitting by the pool with my laptop. I mean swimming for exercise. I’m hoping that stating this publicly will shame me into actually doing it.
6. Announce the winners of the Teen Celebrity and T-Shirt Contest on Monday!
What’s on your Summer To-Do List?
Wednesday, June 16, 2010
In writing We Hear the Dead, it became necessary for me to focus on one of the two Fox sisters. Maggie was my obvious choice, because she was the morally conflicted sister who faced a mob at Corinthian Hall, a violent attack in Troy, and the one who was drawn into a star-crossed romance with a man above her station.
Many readers have wanted to know more about Kate, but unfortunately the timeline of the novel didn’t allow me to fully address her strange life. Although she was a central figure in the Hydesville incident and the early Rochester spirit circles, Kate was subsequently shipped off to school by her family and remained out of sight for a couple years. Horace Greeley took an interest in Kate’s schooling and housed the girl in his home while she attended a private school. This seems very generous, unless you know that Mrs. Greeley was mentally disturbed. Grief for her dead son had made her a morose, temperamental, and difficult companion. Horace Greeley installed Kate Fox in his home and then vanished to his private Manhattan apartment -- he rarely inhabited the same home as his wife. Kate attended school during the day and performed private séances for the unhappy Mrs. Greeley at night.
Kate was miserable. She wrote countless letters begging her family to bring her home. Unfortunately, Horace Greeley was too important an ally to cross, and Kate was left for months at a time in Mrs. Greeley’s less-than-tender care. It’s no wonder that when she finally escaped, the poor girl wallowed in the social activity which her fame allowed. Sadly, she developed a taste for alcohol – so much so that Elisha Kane remarked on it warningly in some of his letters to Maggie.
Did Kate really have “the second sight” as I suggest in We Hear the Dead? Obviously, I have no way of knowing. However, unlike Maggie, Kate never confessed to fraud and worked as a spirit medium for most of her life. Kate was subject to fits and migraines, and even before she started drinking alcohol, her family dosed her with a tonic that may have been laced with morphine (as many were at that time). This might explain some of her “visions.”
Kate’s work as a medium grew increasingly strange in her early twenties (beyond the timeline of We Hear the Dead). She performed a series of séances for a banker named Charles Livermore in which she supposedly produced a physical manifestation of his dead wife. In the pitch darkness of the room, the wife’s spirit held Livermore’s hand, stroked his face, placed her fingers in his mouth – and he reported fingering the ribbons on the bodice of her gown. (What was going on in that dark room??)
Kate married and had two sons, one of whom was diagnosed with epilepsy – lending credence to the idea that she had some mild form of epilepsy herself. During her marriage, her life stabilized for awhile, but after her husband died, she allowed her fondness for alcohol to take over. At one point, her sister Leah attempted to seize custody of her two sons, and only Maggie’s intervention prevented this from happening.
Kate Fox may have been the nineteenth century version of Lindsay Lohan or Britney Spears. Which reminds me that there are 2 days left for you to enter the Teenage Celebrity contest and win a We Hear the Dead t-shirt!
Monday, June 14, 2010
In speaking to other historical fiction authors, I’ve discovered many of them experience the same frustration I do when conducting research. You might think that our biggest problem is finding enough information, but that’s not true. The problem is we find so many fascinating stories, and we can’t fit them all in to our work.
I’m currently researching a new book set in the mountainous Columbia County of Pennsylvania in the 1860’s. But I’m also learning about events of the 1770’s, when this county was under threat from British forces and their Indian allies. These events will be only peripherally related to my planned book – history and legend for my 19th century characters. And yet, there are so many tantalizing little tidbits I wish I could use …
Take Moses VanCampen. He was nineteen years old in 1776 when he offered to sign onto a regiment joining Washington’s army near Boston. But some older local men, former soldiers from the French and Indian War, talked Moses into staying at home as part of the local militia. Young Moses was known as a crack shot, a level-headed responsible young man – somebody they could count on to defend the local civilians. He agreed.
A Committee of Safety decided to build a series of forts between the West and North Branches of the Susquehanna River to defend the area. Moses was ordered to find an appropriate location near Fishing Creek and build a fort to provide shelter for the locals in case of an attack. Moses chose the home of Isaiah Wheeler as the central point for his fort and directed the construction of a stockade fence around it, large enough to accommodate all the inhabitants of the area. His choice of this property was probably influenced by personal reasons: he was courting Wheeler’s daughter, Ann.
So, Moses built a fort around the home of his sweetheart, and even before it was completed, it was put to the test. Indian raiders attacked and burned neighboring homes, but the settlers themselves fled to the safety of the half-completed Fort Wheeler, which withstood the attack. For the next year, Moses VanCampen made Fort Wheeler his headquarters as he ably defended the region with his company of sharp-shooters. In fact, Fort Wheeler was one of only two local forts to survive the war.
However, Ann Wheeler married VanCampen’s best friend, Joseph Salmon.
There’s a story here, folks. A very human story amidst all the history. But Moses and Ann and Joseph have no real place in the book I’m actually planning to write – they lived 100 years earlier and on the other side of the county. Maybe I’ll find a use for them – maybe I’ll write about them some other time – or maybe they’ll be just a tantalizing tidbit of history that will always leave me wondering.
My t-shirt contest is still running until Friday, June 18th – my last day of school! Check out the post below and leave your comment to enter.
Wednesday, June 9, 2010
On my class field trip today (in between rainstorms, hikes through the swamp, and begging kids to quiet down on the bus), I chatted with some of my parent chaperones about teenage TV stars – past and present. It seemed to us that a lot of popular shows these days, especially the ones produced by Disney, are entirely focused on becoming a teenage somebody: Hannah Montana, iCarly, Victorious, True Jackson, Sonny With a Chance, The Jonas Brothers … I could go on and on. And, thanks to our media driven society, our kids know everything about these celebrities – good and bad. They know when their Hollywood idols drink, break up with their boy/girlfriend, get arrested, or take a few embarrassing pictures.
Back in the day, we had our own teenage stars – and they had just as many problems, although they were better hidden by the Hollywood set. (Until the stars grew up and wrote their memoirs.) Danny Partridge was abused at home; and the Brady kids were apparently using drugs and having sex with each other. (Ick!) Hollywood life has always been hard on young actors – Judy Garland was handed amphetamines by her studio to keep her energy high and her weight down. Go back even further – into the nineteenth century – and you will find that the teenage Fox sisters were exposed to the same troubling influences. Both Maggie and Kate were plied with alcohol at a young age, and Kate’s mother regularly dosed her with morphine-laced medicine to combat stress-induced migraines.
A wise adult might wish anything but stardom for their own children, based on the numerous cases of child and teenage actors and singers who develop serious, life-long problems thanks to their fame. And yet – let’s face it – we’ve always been attracted to them. Take good old Shaun Cassidy up there. Yes, I pasted his face all over my bedroom door when I was a youngster. Remember DiDoRonRon? Remember the Hardy Boys?
In honor of teenage celebrities throughout history – and especially my gals Maggie and Kate Fox – I’m giving away a We Hear the Dead T-shirt. (Maybe two, if I get over 10 responses …) All you have to do to enter is be a member of the blog and leave a comment on this post before Friday, June 18. (Coincidentally, that will also celebrate my last day of school!)
Tell us which teenage star you crushed on!
Monday, June 7, 2010
Today I’d like to welcome author and blogger Marva Dasef, who has written a guest post and a vignette about an old paranormal friend – Big Foot, who (I am told) mixes an awesome vodka martini. Visit Marva at home on her blog or her website.
The Others Among Us
Sasquatch, Big Foot, Fouke Monster, Yeti, Skunk Ape, Abominable Snowman, Fear Liath, Chiye-tanka, Quatchi (the name of the Sasquatch mascot for the 2010 Vancouver Olympics), etc.
There’s hardly a more ubiquitous critter that’s (never) been scientifically proved to exist than the Sasquatch. I prefer that term or Big Foot since I live in the US Northwest, and he’s our own personal monster. Hey, we have film to prove it!
Why does Sasquatch (and his cousins) continue to capture our imaginations? Belief in the “Other” makes life more interesting. Vampires and werewolves are Others, too. We love to read about them. Would we want to meet a vampire or werewolf in a dark alley? For a lot of teen girls, they’d be all for it if his name is Edward or Victor.
I suggest that these Others are not imaginary. Perhaps not in the romanticized way portrayed in novels, but real, horrifying, terrifying, dangerous, and, occasionally, funny. They give us a vicarious thrill. If we don’t believe in them as a possibility, then what would there be to scare, turn on, or amuse us?
Take it from me, the Others exist. Anybody who squinches their eyes shut, stamps their feet, and yells ‘No They Don’t!’ is just kidding themselves. Go ahead. Walk down that dark alley, hike through the deep old growth forests, or splash around in a southern swamp. Don’t you just hope you’ll be one of the few who spot an Other and live to tell the tale?
I’ve toyed with Mr. Sasquatch in a couple of stories. I just keep seeing him as a bartender. The picture is by Holly Eddy and adorned my story in Lorelei Signal titled “Chilpequin 22 Miles.” The story also appeared in “A Time To... Volume 1,” the best of Lorelei Signal for 2006.
But the first time I gave Sas a job was way back in the 80s. This tale first appeared in Bewildering Stories in 2007. An audio version is attached to that link.
by Marva Dasef
I lurched across Pioneer Square, hurt by the turned-away eyes. I wish they`d look at me. Go ahead and stare! After the car wreck and the flash fire, the doctors did their best to put me together, but even a pro can`t fix a thing if some of the parts are missing.
I dragged my body into a bar and pulled myself up on a barstool, making sure that the cash register blocked my view of the mirror. As usual, I sat with head bent, hat pulled down over my eyes.
“What’ll ya have, buddy?” the bartender’s rough voice rumbled.
I looked up, expecting the usual gasp of surprise or disgust, the eyes shifting left or right. I got neither. The bartender looked straight in my face, continuing to wipe the glass he held.
I was the one who gasped. He was over seven feet tall with one of the ugliest faces I’d ever seen, including my own. He was poorly shaved, the stubble continuing down his neck to disappear under his shirt.
“I said, what’ll ya have, buddy?” he repeated.
“Uh, scotch,” I whispered. This was not a man, I thought. His nose was a snout; his canines long and pointed; his arms would have hung to his knees. He looked like those pictures, except for the shave and clothes, of course. My own appearance made me bold; people tolerate questions from those they pity.
“You look like one of those Bigfoot monsters,” I ventured, made bold by my own visage. His chuckle was a guttural cough.
“So?” he said nonchalantly.
“So, how can you be here? Why haven’t the cops or the zoo come to get you?”
“You oughta know the answer to that, buddy,” he grinned.
“What do you mean?”
“C’mon, you’re almost as ugly as me. It works great–right, buddy?”
I could see how it worked for him. When you’re as ugly as that, no one looks at you. He`d have no problem hiding out in the city.
“But, why?” I wanted to know.
“We–yes, there’s lots of us–did okay in the woods until all those science guys and hunters started comin’ after us. We want to be left alone, so we went where no one would think to look for us.”
Dollar signs danced before my eyes. “What if I turned you in?”
“Now, you wouldn’t do that, buddy.” His confident gaze met mine.
I decided quickly, and answered – “Right . . . fair’s fair.”
Thursday, June 3, 2010
Counting today, I have twelve days of school left. Twelve.
Teaching school after Memorial Day is like bailing out a sinking ship with a leaky bucket. Every day is a struggle just to hold the students’ attention. “Can’t we just watch movies and play games?” asked one of my students. For twelve days? No – the fact is, the moment I start to break routine, all is lost. I have to keep teaching, and even in the face of blue skies and soaring temperatures, I still see learning taking place.
Take poetry. At the beginning of the year, it was all I could do to get the students to interpret Carl Sandburg’s poem Fog. “The fog comes on little cat feet,” I read to them. “The poet is comparing fog to … what? Anybody? Anybody? Bueller?”
They’ve come a long way since then. This week, we read and discussed a Walt Whitman poem describing the Revolutionary War sea battle between the Bon Homme Richard and the Serapis. It was a struggle, but the students’ interest was engaged by the story. It seemed an appropriate one for the occasion. Not only were we studying the Revolutionary War, but sometimes it seemed that my June lessons, like the Bon Homme Richard, were on fire and sinking …
My students were determined to master the battle language of the poem – battery, powder-magazine, maintop, grape and canister. “What does it mean, ‘the captain lashed fast with his own hands?’” they asked. Thank heavens for Google. We learned that John Paul Jones grappled the two ships together in order to negate the British advantage of having a faster, more maneuverable ship. “The Black Stache did that in Peter and the Star Catchers!” one of the students cried making a connection to their reading group book. “Now it makes sense!”
Written responses from the students indicated just how much they got out of the poem – and how Whitman provided a window to the past, an opportunity for them to imagine the historic moment when, asked to strike his colors and surrender, the American captain replied, “We have not struck. We have only begun our part of the fighting.” One of my students wrote: “The speaker in the poem is honored to have John Paul Jones as a captain. He laughed that the other captain even asked them to surrender!” Another one explained, “He is proud of his captain and will follow him anywhere. It says, ‘His eyes gave more light to us than our battle-lanterns.’”
So, it’s June – and I’m still getting these kinds of responses from 5th graders. Some of the students asked if I would strike my colors and surrender, my teaching done for the year.
The answer is no.