Craft-Writing, Evelyn Copeland (Series)

New Year, New Project

It’s strange how ideas pop into your mind and leave just as quickly. In December 2019, I was on a mini-vacation in the southern U.S. I knew I would have a lot of downtime in airports and at the hotel, I’d stocked up on books to keep me occupied. I’d no plans to work on my current writing project as I’d fallen into a crater on that one and hadn’t quite figured out how I was going to crawl out.

I loaded up my Ipad with the following author’s I love:

Followed by some new stuff:

I decided to read the new stuff on my way down south. So I bounced back and forth between Ashe’s An Indecent Apposal series and Wonderwoman/Bondage. Finished with Ashe’s three novels I couldn’t shake this feeling of irritation. On a scale of 1-5 on my writing scale (1 worse; 5 best), Ashe was a strong three. She got points for hitting all the checkboxes for hot pepper-heat-level romance. However, the characters in each novel were nearly identical as were the sex scenes. What turns people on should be as varied as the characters themselves. They shouldn’t be the same. Overall Ashe’s novels felt too…well, disposable to me. On my trip home I jumped back to reading my favorite authors, but I couldn’t shake this itch in my brain Ashe’s novels had left behind

I wanted to read a novel with Anita Davison’s level of historic details. Nicola Davidson heat level and incorporate Wonder Woman/Bondage. The Thin Man’s wicked sexual banter between the two leads and M. Ruth Myers kick-ass take-no-prisoners female P.I.

I started to think well if this is the book I want, why not write it myself? It’s amazing how quickly the first draft of this novel is coming together. I don’t even have a ‘real’ title for it yet.

For right now it’s “1937” until I decided on something different.

Craft-Writing

Nebraska Writer’s Guild Writing Conference (2019)

I’ve been wanting to go to a writer’s conference for some time. Finding one close to me has been a challenge. My dream conference is sponsored by the Historical Novel Society (my main genre). Most of their events have concentrated on the east coast (MD this year) or over seas. The only other option in my state is the Iowa Summer Writing Festival. I work a day job and taking that amount of time off for this workshop is not a viable option. Where could I go?

Nebraska Writer’s Guild sponsors two conferences a year. One in the spring and fall with each location in different parts of the state to get a more well-rounded representation at each event (I had no idea the Guild is nearly a hundred years old with a mission to promote Nebraska writers!).

How Did I Hear About It:

I subscribe to Writer’s Digest and was surprised not to see this conference advertised there (however, that’s what Google is for). I do belong to a couple of Facebook writing groups that were plugging the event, so I thought I’d give it a try.

Date(s):

  • Thursday, April 11
  • Friday, April 12
  • Saturday, April 13

Location:

  • Omaha, Nebraska
  • Comfort Inn & Suites, 7007 Grover St

Price:

  • Non-Nebraska Writer’s Guild Member:
  • Nebraska Writer’s Guild Member:
  • Hotel Cost:

Experience:

One of the main draws for me was the Writing Gals. A group of sweet romance authors who share their experiences on Youtube or on Facebook. While I don’t write romance, many of their episodes cover topics writers of any genre may encounter (how to make an engaging first chapter, troupes, marketing, ect.). Several of these authors were going to speak at the event or facilitate classes.

I only attended the conference (Friday and Saturday). I had no difficulty find the hotel. Once inside, the place was well marked. Approximately 125 people attended. So it was a nice crowd. Not too big. Not too small. Two literary agents did pitches via Skype. There was a wide range of classes offered on how to do research, marketing, and character development. The facilitators were well versed in their craft and were externally open to networking and sharing their experiences. Each class was close in proximity and there was time allotted after each course so one wouldn’t be late to the next one.

Next Time:

If I have availability next time and if it is offered again, I would probably have done the writing retreat and the writing boot camp. Any time I can add word count to what I have already and get feedback is always a plus.

I would have networked more than I did. Since this was my first writing conference, I had brain fatigue after each day and had no trouble falling asleep. There was so much to learn and every writer I met was helpful and friendly. Writing is such a solitary act. The more writers I can support the better.

Additional:

It was cheaper to become a member and attend the conference than to be a non-member attending.  So I did sign up to be a member of the Nebraska Writing Guild. Membership includes additional perks that some might find useful (such as critique groups, discount at Office Depot/Max, ect).

If you’d like a sample of some of the events, you’ll find pdf. document here: NE WRITERS CONFERENCE 2019.

 

 

 

 

Craft-Research, Craft-Writing

Those Pesky Details

When writing historical fiction, it’s so easy to get lost in the details and never write. That’s where I’m at in my current scene. It takes place at the Plaza in late October 1924. There are lots of pictures of this famous hotel inside and out. However, I have been unsuccessful in finding a photograph or a vivid description of the Grill. Below is my process on how I mix both fact and fiction to create my settings.

# One: I knew nothing about the Plaza or where it was located. Nowadays it’s far easier to just jump online and go to the first link that pops up in your Search Engine. Not me. My first stop is still a book(s). One of my go to beginning sources are children’s non-fiction. They get to the point quickly and don’t offer a lot of details. I picked up: (1) New York: Everything You Wanted to Know (2) Eloise at the Plaza.

1 - Start Small

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

# Two: My library had nothing on the Plaza at all. So I did a quick Amazon.com search to see what was available. I found five sources: (1) Sonny Kleinfield. The Hotel: A Week in the Life of the Plaza (2) Ward Morehouse III. Inside the Plaza: An Intimate Portrait of the Ultimate Hotel (3) Curtis Gathje. At the Plaza: An Illustrated History of the World’s Most Famous Hotel (4) Eve Brown. The Plaza Cookbook (5) Eve Brown. Plaza: Its Life and Times. 

# 2

# Three: I checked Worldcat to see if any of these five books were at my local library or libraries that were within driving distance. Nope. I was out of luck. So then the crabby cheap scape voice in my head starts whining about not spending any more money on books this month that I should intern library loan them. However, when I go to ABE.com, all five books were under $5.00 with free shipping. That’s just $2.00 more than an interlibrary loan. I decided to splurge and buy all five books.

# 3

# Four: They took about two weeks to arrive. Playing the waiting game, I decided to search online to see what I could find on the Plaza and the Grill. I could find only two online sources that fit my needs (1) (2), but none of these offered a photograph of the Grill. Both of these sites did mention F. Scott Fitzgerald of whom I completely forgot about his obsession with New York City and the Plaza. I attempted to check out Fitzgerald’s The Beautiful and the Damned, but my library couldn’t locate it in their collection (even though their website said it was checked in). So, I had to go here. Fitzgerald described the Grill but in very limited terms.

4

# Five: The books began to trickle in slowly. (4) Eve Brown. The Plaza Cookbook, I had been looking forward to reading thinking it would really meet my needs was a bust. More of a craft book than a cook book. (1) Sonny Kleinfield. The Hotel: A Week in the Life of the Plaza, I was actually going to have to read this book cover to cover. The events depicted were well past the 1920s (1990s), but I figured not too much as probably changed for the workers of the hotel. (2) Ward Morehouse III. Inside the Plaza: An Intimate Portrait of the Ultimate Hotel & (5) Eve Brown. Plaza: Its Life and Times, were okay. I could skim them, but they touched on similar things except told me when the Grill closed. (3) Curtis Gathje. At the Plaza: An Illustrated History of the World’s Most Famous Hotel, provided the best photographs and images of the hotel. There were no photographs of the Grill, though. The closest thing I could find was the remodeled version from the late 1940s in the Rend-vous room.

5

# Six: Now, I combine the sources I found from the internet and few tidbits here and there from the books.

6

# Seven: Then the scene looks something like this with the few items I need to research put into [brackets]:

I waited a half hour after Laura and C.J. departed before heading down to the lobby with my purse and the stack of newspapers clutched beneath my arm.

Laura’s new companion didn’t even bother coming up to our suite. He had the front desk announce his arrival from the telephone. I put his rudeness aside. His presence had allowed me one night of freedom.

The gloominess outside couldn’t penetrate the hotel’s interior. The walls were painted a blinding white. The light from the chandeliers winked at me like the glint in the eye of a half a dozen mischievous boys. I had to grip the railing tighter than normal. Every step downward jarred my ribs. Maybe I shouldn’t have taken Jake so far on that walk.

In the lobby, my footsteps echoed off the elaborate marble. The perfume of freshly cut flowers dulled the odor from the unwashed bodies of the travelers grouped around the L-shaped desk. After months of rooming in cheap hotels and boarding houses on the campaign trail, the opulence of the place made a queer knot form in my stomach. Even if Walley could have afforded a place like, staying here would have alienated his voters. I felt the guilt creep back in and I tried to ignore it. Maybe another cigarette, a good stiff drink, and some food would take my mind off him for a little while.

“May I help you?” The attendant behind the desk wore a swell suit. He had parted his hair down the middle and smoothed it down with Brilliantine. His hair’s severity didn’t soften his sharp features at all. It gave him the impression he’d sucked on one too many lemons. Maybe the last lemon wasn’t so tart. He smiled at me and his brown eyes were kind.

I stepped toward the desk and told him what I wanted. A phonograph with some Negro records, a suggestion on where to eat, and where I might purchase some food for Jake. C.J. and Laura hadn’t bothered themselves with him since we’d left Chicago.

The attendant smiled and gestured toward the hallway near us. “The Grill has delectable food with a wide selection of wines and champagnes not found elsewhere in the city stocked well before that inconvenient law.”

“The place have anything stronger than wine and champagne?”

His smile widened a little bit and his brown eyes danced like the twinkling light overhead. “I’m certain that may be arranged. I’ll send someone out to fetch the records and a phonograph immediately. And as for your dog, room service has a menu strictly devoted to meeting you and your canine’s needs.”

My eye brows rose at that. Room service for pets. What else did this hotel offer?

“Thank you, Mr. …”

“Caldwell. And you are welcome, Miss O’Brian.”

I frowned. There had to be well over two hundred room in the hotel and twice as many guests.

 “How’d you know my name?”

The man’s smile dimmed, but the sparkle in his eyes remained. “It is my job. Enjoy your evening, Miss O’Brian.”

Maybe I should have found another place to eat. The clerk’s suggestion led me to the basement. With my hand pressed against my side and my pinched face, I must have given the impression that I required immediate attention.

I was seated at a round table with a placement of four. I nudged aside an empty glass, a fancy plate, and silverware to deposit my newspapers and purse onto what appeared to be a soft, white tablecloth. Clouds of cigarette smoke hung so thick in the air I had to blink away the stinging sensation. The yellow light overhead waved back and forth as I was in a giant shadowed fish bowl. I could make out the faces of the patrons closest to me. A couple [Arnold & Carolyn Rothstein] and several of the college set giggling at the empty bottles of champagne on their table. But the men in the orchestra playing Mozart’s [piece] at the back of the room, their faces were mere hazy outlines. I hoped their food and liquor proved better than the atmosphere.

Craft-Research, Craft-Writing

What is Historical Fiction?

Looking back, I’ve always been drawn to historical fiction. I know this comes from growing up on a farm. My Grandfather’s brothers and cousins all lived within a two-mile radius from us. Everyone helped each other. During these group efforts of farm work, there was always plenty of time for gossip. I always gravitated toward my Grandfather, my Great Uncle Laverne, and my Great Uncle John. I always thought they were the best storytellers.

What is historical fiction exactly?

The Historical Novel Society defines this genre as:

To be deemed historical (in our sense), a novel must have been written at least fifty years after the events described, or have been written by someone who was not alive at the time of those events (who therefore approaches them only by research).

Most of the stories told to me growing up were G to PG-rated. Maybe ventured toward a PG-13 rating by the time I got older (usually for language). One of my favorite stories was told to me first by my Grandfather, my Great Uncle Laverne, then my Dad last year. This story always ended the same and varied only by the point of view. Coming at this story if it were fictitious would be labeled as historical fiction because I was neither alive at the time and had to approach it through research. Whereas my Dad and Grandfather and Great Uncle would bristle at the definition because they lived during this time.

THE RAM

My Dad said he was seven or eight. My grandfather said he was ten. Great Uncle Laverne only referred to my Dad as ‘when he was a little cuss’ (‘cuss’ changed to ‘shit’ when I was older). My Great Grandmother Mamie who had retired and moved into town at this point, still came out to assist with the farm work. There was a particular ram that had taken a terrible dislike to her and anyone that wore a dress. This was the late 1950s or early 1960s (depending on who was telling the story), so every woman pretty much wore a dress. This ram had a particular animosity toward my Great Grandmother Mamie. Uncle Laverne had suggested she had ‘done something’ to the ram. What exactly she had done was never explained. The worst instance involved Great Grandma Mamie while she was milking. The ram waited until she was bent over. He butted her right into the barn wall and busted out her front teeth.

‘THE LITTLE CUSS’

My Dad was ornery. This was something he never grew out of. He knew the reputation of the ram and liked to goad it for fun. Sometimes he would go in the pen, antagonize it enough so it would put its head down and charge him. My Dad would make a game out of it waiting as long as possible to jump out of the pen so the ram hit the fence instead of him.

One early spring day, (this varied too, Dad said spring, Laverne, and my Grandfather always said summer) my Grandmother announced she was going to have a picnic on the front lawn and would be inviting all of her friends from Circle (this is what the Lutheran women called their organization at church). She made a point of making sure my Dad understood that he was to be on his best behavior.

No matter how many times I heard this part, I always thought it was a rather foolish thing for my Grandmother to do. She would have been better off saying nothing. My Dad, being his ornery self — took this as a direct challenge to her authority.

My Dad watched from the barn while he was doing his chores while my Grandmother and Grandfather set up the tables and chairs. All the food. The shiny cars began to snake down the lane and park in the grass. Women exited their cars in their finest hats and dresses. An idea began to formulate in my Dad’s brain. Something mischievous. Maybe even a little evil. But hilarious none the less.

He waited until he finished his chores. He did his usual batting to get the ram riled up. When he knew the ram was good and mad, he let it loose.

The ram didn’t hesitate. He ran straight for the group of ladies. My Grandmother saw him first and screamed. The other ladies scrambled up out of their chairs. Some of them fell. When they attempted to get back up, the ram in a fit of joy, knocked one lady in the rear then another.

My Grandmother never found the incident amusing. My Dad thought it was hilarious. He knew he would get the belt for what he did, but he hadn’t cared. It was so worth it to see the ladies looking like a bunch of bright dominos getting knocked down over and over again. My Grandfather said it was one of the hardest times he had to discipline my Dad. My Grandfather never admitted this to him, but he had laughed just as hard if not harder at the chaotic scene caused by his mischievous son and his devilish ram.

In the late 1980s I asked my Grandfather whatever became of the ram. My Grandfather paused for a minute, then offered me the usual response to the fate of any animal on a farm. They ate him. But he didn’t taste very good, he had said. The meat was too tough.

Craft-Research, Craft-Writing

Mining the Everywhere

Writing is hard. It’s even more difficult when I have to make the historian in me go sit in the corner by themselves. They’re mumbling away: ‘”That isn’t right. You can’t change that. It isn’t true.” My writer self says: “Shut up! It’s fiction, damn it!”

The character in my current WIP has ended up in Sioux City, Iowa. What I knew about the place is minuscule. The few tidbits of history I’d gleaned from my father and husband who both attended college there decades ago. So, I bought a couple of books and inner library loaned several more to immerse myself in the city’s history.

This is what drives the historian in me bat s&%t crazy. I want to find a source–something that goes into in a depth analysis about Sioux City during Prohibition. I can’t find squat print wise. The closest thing I can find is a Master’s Thesis from a South Dakota university on law enforcement during the 1930s and a book about South Dakota during prohibition (Sioux City is rare in that it sits very close to two other states). There are a few things scattered on the internet. The myth of Sioux City being the ‘Little Chicago’ is debunked here. So, I attempt to go to Newspapers.com to see if I can find anything in nearby newspapers.

Grrr….fragments in the newspapers too. But a few things happened at once that helped me get through my current scene.

Cheesy action flicks. I like to have noise in the background, especially things I’ve seen so I won’t get sucked into something new. Commando (1985). It wasn’t Arnold Schwarzenegger’s beef cake one-liner’s that intrigued me. It was David Patrick Kelly’s character Sully. The small, vicious little guy that was always waiting for the right moment to strike only to get squashed at the end. Kelly creates another intense character, Charlie, in John Wick (2014). He makes Charlie memorable with both his wicked humor and the irony of his profession, waste management. Could I create a character with the same sharp characteristics and make him as interesting as Kelly does with both of these characters (likable feels like the wrong word here)?

That one story. Cheryl Mullenbach’s violent summary of the crime committed by Ira Pavey. A local bootlegger who ended his competition by way of a bullet to the back of their head (I had to confirm the story against the newspapers of the time and it checked out).

David Patrick Kelly and the bootlegger Ira Pavey…I needed to blend these two ideas into one. There had to be an intense and funny guy in this scene. Having him would: 1) Increase tension – feuding bootleggers and my main character is caught in the middle 2) Show the steal of my character by showing the mechanisms she uses to hide her fear and disgust of his profession.

Secondary characters are there to enhance the main character. If you (or I) have done it right, these lower tiered characters can be memorable, too.

Craft-Research, Craft-Writing

Story Always Trumps Fact

“The historian must remember his research, the historical novelist must forget it.” (1)


This is one of my favorite quotes about how to write historical fiction. I feel it sums up exactly what a writer must do in order to be successful in this genre. Historical details may be tweaked or altered to fit a story. But story will always, always trump fact.

Below is an excerpt to a novel that I’m currently writing. It takes place in rural Iowa in 1924. The main character has just survived a terrible car accident with her godfather. She’s guilt ridden, injured, and the doctor is persuading her to submit to an examination. This tiny sample will show how I weave my own personal experiences and research together to create a vivid setting. I have footnoted these for a  smoother reading experience.

EXCERPT:

     I stood on the farmhouse’s porch and clutched its railing. Flecks of cold dusted my knuckles. The stench of manure still hung potent in the air despite the mummer of falling snow.
Tears dampened my cheeks. My teeth gouged by lower lip, silencing the sobs that shook my body. The excruciating pain from my ribs couldn’t compare to the breaking of my heart.
Walley hadn’t meant the things he said. It was his broken legs and pelvis talking. He didn’t regret taking me in. He didn’t hate me. I wasn’t selfish for wanting him to live or was I?
For years Walley had been my knight. His blunt square features with his crooked nose, had been the first thing I’d seen after the thick fog of shock had dissipated after I’d killed my father. It was Walley and not Ida, who had comforted me when I woke screaming from the nightmares. He’d told me he had nightmares too about two boys in a jungle when he’d been a soldier in the Philippines. (2)
Someone touched my elbow. I startled. The movement jarred my ribs. I grimaced and turned away, wiping my face on the sleeve of my leather coat so the doctor couldn’t see my tears.
“He is finally asleep.” The doctor had a thick German brogue. He was a short, balding man with a tiny mustache. Behind a thick pair of specs, his enlarged brown eyes mirrored compassion. (3)
“I hesitate to give anyone such large doses of morphine, but in this case…” He sighed and stepped toward the railing. He smelled of perspiration and a sweet sickly odor that reminded me of the doctors who had operated on me when I was ten.
“I’ve done all that I can for him. I have no x-ray machine to know the exact details of his injuries. The governor needs a hospital.” He gave me a sidelong glance. “He is the governor, is he not?”
“Yes. He—he was to have given a speech at the the high school in Templeton.(4)  We were to stay at the rectory with Father Brenahan. (5) He and Walley were friends and neighbors growing up near Corning.”
“The train does not usually arrive until eight o’clock.” The doctor reached into his vest pocket and pulled out his watch. “That—will not arrive for several hours.” He returned his watch. “I will accompany you both to Sioux City. I have a colleague, Dr. Switzer, who is a fine surgeon at St. Joseph’s Hospital.” (6)
I nodded. “Thank you, doctor. I will pay for everything.”
The doctor bristled before he made a disagreeable sound low in his throat. “Miss Parker described the state of the automobile to me. And by the look of you, he is not the only one who has sustained injuries.”
Walley’s words returned, echoing in my head. You ungrateful, selfish bitch! I told you I didn’t want to be a cripple. Why couldn’t you do it? You did it for him. The tears came again. I stared out into the night and dug my fingers into the railing. Tiny splinters poked into my skin.
“Take care of Walley,” my voice trembled. “I’ll be swell. I’ve been through far worse.”
“That very well maybe true, Miss O’Brian, but you do have injuries. Several to the head. You may have a concussion. I am able to see and smell the blood distinctly from where I stand. Your ribs are not doubt broken. How many and to what extend will be determined by my examination. The Governor has been seen too, now, it is your turn. I will take no further arguments.”
His footsteps were hard and steady. The hinges of the screen door squealed before he opened the kitchen door. The kerosene light made a silhouette of his stiff shoulders and the ridges of his knuckles as he gripped the door frame.
“Come, Miss O’Brian. If you do not, you will force me to do my examination out here in the cold.”

 End of excerpt

Sources:

  1. Celia Brayfield & Duncan Sprott, Writing Historical Fiction (2014).
  2. Iowa had many governors from 1900 to 1931. One thing they all shared was they were Republican. I combined many of their attributes to create Walley’s character. I used one element of former Governor Dan W. Turner’s life. He served in Iowa’s 51st K Company which fought in the Philippines for a year and a half. Many of the guerrillas he was fighting weren’t much older than fourteen. This haunted the former governor when he spoke of it in an interview years later. I used this as well when I would describe a flashback involving Pru and her father later on in the novel.
  3. This area of Iowa had a lot of German settlers. They brought their customs, language and way of life to northwest Iowa. German immigrants encountered a lot of hostility during and after the First World War. One of my favorite shows, Boardwalk Empire, had a German character, Eddie Kesslar. His accent is what I heard in my head when this doctor speaks.
  4. 1924 was an election year for the governor. I made him an incumbent riding into office on the dry ticket in 1920. Templeton was not a dry community. Much of the towns economy was based on agriculture and when the market tanked after World War I, farmers turned making money through illegal alcohol production to keep their farms afloat.
  5. Templeton is a small community located in Carroll County in northwest Iowa. It had a large influx of German immigrants in the 1880s who brought with them their catholic heritage and their love of alcohol. During 1920s and the 1930s the entire town banded together to keep the production and selling of illegal alcohol a secret from prying prohibition agents. Their brand of rye spirits became well known and desired by the bootleggers in Chicago. Two really good sources about Templeton are: Bryce T. Bauer’s Gentlemen Bootleggers and History Book, Century of Memories, Templeton, Iowa 1882-1982.
  6. Western Iowa is incredibly rural, and it still is today. Templeton is a very small town. Paved roads were not as numerous and were not as maintained as they were today. Rail service was the fastest way in and out of a town. Sioux City at the time was probably the largest city at the time equipped with a better hospital to care for someone with Walley’s injuries. However, Sioux City is 106 miles from Templeton.
Craft-Research, Craft-Writing, my novels

Inner Editor (Shut Up)

image

Before I start writing a first draft, I make a deal with my inner editor. Go. Visit a lonely island. Go shopping. Or stand in a dark corner and mumble to yourself how you hate me. Honestly, I don’t care as long as she leaves me alone. But she doesn’t. I can hear her nagging and badgering. Sometimes I can simply ignore her tirade. Knowing she’ll forgive me once I’m finished so she can tear all that I just wrote to shreds. On rare moments, I can’t ignore her. She interrupts my writing with her cynical bitchy comments. Then I have to stop, think, and dang it, that’s not what a first draft is for. This is how it went tonight:

My hero’s been shot. His fiancé , the heroine, is driving him home and helping him into his house (Come on, really? She’s taking him to his house? Alone? What about that double-standard. Women weren’t supposed to call on a man at his home for anything other than business. Eichler[i] even says so). STOP. Well, this is an extraneous circumstance. He has been shot. And the last thing he wants is to have his overly protective sister hovering over him. And besides, they’re engaged. It’s not like the heroine is a complete stranger. And she has been to his house before, even though his housekeeper was there at the time. Besides, how come they can be alone in a car—the ultimate freedom for the teenager of the 1920s anyway[ii]) and in the woods and that wasn’t an issue? Okay. They are both inside. Where do they go? The bedroom. (No way. The hero is an overly gallant, noble gentleman. The bedroom is off limits. For now). Parlor (Nope. He’d get blood all over the place and he won’t want to do that to his housekeeper)? Bathroom (Need to look up bathrooms in the 1920s & 1930s). They’re in the bathroom. She’s helping him undress (Well, how does a man dress and undress in the 1930s? The clothing catalogs I have at home show the outside only. Only a union suit is referenced, but I know urban, younger men would wear something else. So what, then? The movie It Happened One Night comes to mind. But Clark Gable isn’t wearing an undershirt and that’s two years in the future. Every site that I can go to quotes that men immediately stopped wearing them. They all quote a statistic that no one seems to site.[iii] Perhaps the trend for not wearing an undershirt had its roots also in the times. It’s the Great Depression. If you had to choose between an undershirt or putting food on the table, what would you do?).

Should I make my hero wear an undershirt. Nope. It would add tension in numerous ways. And besides, the trend for not wearing an undershirt had to originate somewhere. Why not Des Moines, Iowa?

My inner editor is okay with that.


———

[i] Eicherart, Lillian. Book of Etiquette. Vols. 1 & 2. Oyster Bay, New York: Nelson Doubleday, Inc., 1922.

[ii] Isreal, Betsy. Bachelor Girl. New York: HarperCollins, 2002; Lewton, Val. No Bed of Her Own. 1932. New York:  Triangle Books, 1948; Bailey, Beth L. From Front Door to the Back Seat.  Baltimore, Maryland: The Johns Hopkins University Press, 1988.

[iii] Outman-Standford, Hunter. “Jockeying for Position: How Boxers and Briefs Got into Men’s Pants.” The Collectors Weekly. May 01, 2013. Location. Accessed: 15 November 2014; “The Shirt Off His Back.” Snopes.com. May 10, 2014. Location. Accessed: 15 November 2014; “Brando Sets the T-Shirt Loose.” Lisa Waller Rogers. Lisa’s History Room. March 10, 2009. Location. Accessed: 15 November 2014.

Craft-Writing, NaNoWriMo, Reviews

No Plot? No Problem! (Review)

noplotnoproblemI don’t like reading fiction while I’m dwelling on a stretch of my own writing. But I do enjoy non-fiction (perhaps it requires a different part of my brain to process the information?). Anyway, I picked up No Plot? No Problem! by one of the founders of NaNoWriMo. While it’s a long way from November, I thought Baty might have some interesting advice to dispense even if I wasn’t planning on hunkering down in a bunker somewhere with a typewriter for thirty days to complete a first draft.

If you’ve never sat down to finish a manuscript, by all means read the first 2/3 of the book. There’s some great advice in there. But for those who have finished a manuscript, it’s a bit repetitive. The last third, though, was Baty’s strongest part. Here he breaks it down into the four week writing process and what to expect. Even if you’ve not done a book in a month, eventually every novel fits into these stages at some point or another.

First Week

  • Shut off inner editor
  • Don’t agonize over the first sentence
  • Ride the momentum
  • Italicize not delete
  • Keep the story to yourself

Second Week

  • Don’t Get it right, get it written
  • Take care of yourself / no sick
  • Check in / 500 words or less

Third Week

  • Appraising your progress
  • Support network attacks
  • Try to crank out 12,000 words over a two day weekend by dividing the time into small workable chunks

Week Four

  • Love your body
  • Look for forgotten ideas
  • Cross early and keep writing
  • When it happens, tell everyone you know

Baty in week one through four hits the nail on the head with the momentum of any manuscript. One thing he repeated is you gotta get it down. Even if it’s crap or doesn’t make sense. Write it down. Type it. Do it long hand. Use any method you can to get it from your mind to a computer or a piece of paper.  As he so keenly said: “Don’t get it right. Get it written.”

Good advice.

Craft-Research, Craft-Writing

Buy More Bookshelves

If you want toWakonda Club be a historical novelist, buy more bookshelves. Now I’m not talking about the weak little particle board ones. The kind that bows under the slightest pressure. I’m talking about the thick ones. Real wood. The kind that if they fall on you, you’re gonna think a polar bear sat on your chest (polar bear — not my words really. One of my favorite lines from the movie Road House – careful some graphic violence here). You’re gonna need all the support you can get. I don’t know why, but when it comes to historical research, often times the best sources are the real heavy ones.

Several years ago I bought a membership roster of the Wakonda Club at a flea market. I thought it looked really cool (a few books I have give an overview of the country club, but they’re limited and the place’s website’s even more vague). One of the best tidbits I found was on the second page where it described an incident in 1932, when the sheriff raided a gambling club set up at Sayers Nursery near by. Several of the boys fled across the course with the sheriff in hot pursuit.  He shot over the heads of the escaping boys and nearly shot a club member. I scanned the document and put it away, thinking I may never, ever use it. But the source is cool to have on hand anyway.

Then came my latest frustrating chapter. I struggled and struggled with it for over a month, watching it ramble to and fro, irritated with myself that it lacked any semblance of direction. Fine. I’d just let it marinate in it’s own juices for a while and come back to it. Then it hit me after a couple of days of separation, why not use the incident of the shooting in my latest scene.

Ok. Things started to click and the scene finally had direction. But questionSayer Nurserys kept nagging me. Where in the world was Sayers Nursery? The Wakonda roster only mentioned that it was nearby. Where exactly? I needed my characters to be in somewhat of a believe position to be shot at. I was lazy and went to Google first. A quick search of “sayers nursery & 1932 shooting” landed zilch. I switched and looked up “Sayers Nursery & Des Moines, Iowa”. This time I got something. A park near Wakonda. That was a start. Well, if it was around in 1932 and I did have a humongous 1931 Des Moines City Directory on my shelves. Okay. I dug that out. Toward the back of the obese thing I found where the nursery had been located: 1302 Watrous. A quick Google search gave its past location.

Bam! Scene finished. But another scene popped into my head. What was the punishment of discharging a gun within city limits? I knew it’s illegal now. But was it in 1932? So out came the big, fat, paper monsters again. 1931 copy of Iowa Legal Code. A Des Moines City Ordinance volume from 1932. Yep, it was illegal then too, only it didn’t give the length or fine to be enforced. Zilch on Google for 1932. Managed to find something from an article published in a Mason City online newspaper in 2012. In Mason City, Iowa, discharging a firearm within city limits is a $625.00 fine or 30 days in the county jail. Wasn’t Des Moines, but it worked for me. While it is historical. It is fiction. And sometimes ya just gotta make things up ($625.00 – 2014 = $$36.12 – 1932).

Having the city directory, the Iowa Code, the city ordinance and the Wakonda roster on hand saved me a trip to the downtown library. They’re big bulky things. I might just keep them around when I’m finished with this manuscript. Who knows. I might need to use them again.

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Craft-Writing, programs

Plots

scappleI’m a character person. I loved to pepper my stories with banter. And people not saying what they really mean to say. When it comes to plotting, I’ll admit, it’s not one of strong point. So in the past week I decided to brush up on some books that’d been laying around the house (or on the Nook) that I haven’t managed to read yet.

All of these novels focus on plot by having you look long and hard and what the main character’s goal should be. Gerke doesn’t shy away from giving you examples of authors that lean one way of another (I found him a bit heavy-handed on using his own work repeatedly. Thought he could work a little bit harder to come up with other authors’ examples). The writer should strive for the middle of the road or close to the middle of the road, let’s say either character or plot 51% + 49%. Those that can strike a balance have much better change of making their story a bestseller.

Tapply focus more on the mystery genre. He suggests heavily plotting technique. One of his most useful suggestions is to write out the murder before hand. Who did what to who and how. Knowing this will help you keep up with the clues, provide the appropriate red herrings and make the story satisfying to the reader.

I attempted, with a piece of paper, to draw each clue and plot point out, but ended with a frustrating mess. I needed something more visual. Something that was easily corrected by hitting ‘delete’ if I wanted. After some searching I discovered Scapple created by the same developers of the writing software Scrivener. You jot down an idea and can draw lines and connecting points to each little thought. The developers offer a free thirty day trial (which I’m using). After that it’ll cost you $14.99. But I suppose a little deduction to the wallet isn’t so bad when you can visually see your plot and avoid all the hassles of trying draw a picture in your mind of how everything is connected.

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