Michaeline: Happy Half-Year!

Gibson girl writing on piece of paper.

Writing is a series of decisions. (Image via Wikimedia Commons)

I swear, I’ve only had time to turn around three times, and already, we’ve gone from the depths of winter into the abundance of summer (at least here in the northern hemisphere). “What have I accomplished?” makes me want to crawl back into bed and sleep for the rest of the month.

But the ever-hopeful “What will I work on?” makes me think of breakfast in bed, and planning checklists with colored markers and beautiful paper, all while dressed in a beautiful negligee.

(Note: this is all in “writer-space” – that place in our imagination where anything is possible and everything is as easy as we want to make it. It’s kind of like “cyber-space” but much more ancient. In real life, I’m at the kitchen table in a quick-trick skirt, pounding away at the computer keyboard. My hair is in an unravelling braid, but . . . BUT, I did manage to pull a pineapple/lime water from my imagination, and I’m drinking it as I compose my dream for the next six months.)

So, here’s a status report. Continue reading

Michaeline: Add some contemporary to make your historicals more real

A young lady from the mid-1800s reading a newspaper.

Newspapers were a popular source for information of all sorts. (Image via Wikimedia Commons)

I’ve talked about using contemporary newspaper accounts to make your historical more real in the comments, and I’ve used the technique extensively when researching my Bunny Blavatsky, Gilded Age Spirit Photographer stories. You pick up vocabulary and phrasing for your writing, and background knowledge that would have been part of your characters’ everyday life. You don’t just pick up local tidbits that don’t make it into history books, but in later historicals, you also get world events practically as they happen. The first transatlantic cable was successfully transmitted on August 16, 1858; by the 1870s, messages were transmitted across the ocean in minutes.

According to Wikipedia, there were 43 newspapers in America in 1783; in 1810 there were

A Japanese woman reading a newspaper while clad in a kimono.

Reading a contemporary newspaper could challenge some of the clichés and stereotypes you hold about an era. (Image via Wikimedia Commons)

366 (including 27 daily papers), and during the age of yellow journalism and all the good and bad that attended, papers exploded from 971 in 1880 to 2,226 in 1900.

You can find some of these newspapers archived on line; the Library of Congress is a good place to start.

I’m blogging about it today because there’s an astounding article from the today-in-history feature (August 3) on the United Press International website. UPI brought back an article about the death of Warren G. Harding in 1923. The story is first told with the kind of drama I’ve always associated with New Journalism – it’s a mix of fact and dramatic speculation about the last hours of Harding and his wife. The story then turns deftly to the facts of Harding’s last days, with wonderful period words such as “apoplexy” and “ptomaine poisoning”. It details the reactions of key political figures before going into a pithy biography of the late president, including his achievements as president. In true UPI style, the end is a bunch of charming anecdotes that can be included or excluded as the member paper’s column inches required.

Even if you aren’t setting a novel in 1923 (although, to be honest, it seems like an underutilized and exciting time to set a romance!), it’s well worth looking at the article for the details and the story telling.

Michaeline: Cold Starts for February Fun

I’ve got to say, I just love a cold start on a fresh story. It’s almost a miracle the way ideas bump together and a structure starts to build up where before there was just random litter. I feel like a caveman, bumping rocks together and watching pretty sparks come out . . . and light my campfire.

I found the video clip we’ve been showing this week of Diana Gabaldon’s process to be very natural. The thing that amazes me is that she relies on only one external input – that crystal goblet from a Sotheby’s catalog. For me, I like to have at least two things bump together.

Those things can be words (like in Elizabeth’s writing sprints on Fridays) or images (all praise to Google Image search). My own experiences are like the logs on the fire – the sparks I get (if I’m lucky) fall on some dry memory ready to burst into flames and story.

For example, my Bunny Blavatsky stories started out when I was googling women photographers. Google led me to Bunny Yeager (image from The Atlantic.com). What an exciting name for a character! Full of cuteness and jet planes and all sorts of resonances. But Continue reading

Michaeline: Bunny Blavatsky Arrives in New York

So, here’s my rough draft for a little story of how Bunny got to New York City on Christmas Eve, brought to you through the magic of Elizabeth’s random word generator!

1898 train advertisement with a young mother, her husband, children and a family come to meet them in a horse-drawn sleigh. Christmas Greetings is the banner.

Bunny was not quite so comfortable on the train. She could scarcely contain her excitement about moving to the big city. (I found this at The Old Design Shop. http://olddesignshop.com/2012/12/lake-shore-michigan-southern-railway-christmas-ad/)

I don’t recommend arriving in New York for the first time on Christmas Eve. The train is packed with holiday excursionists, the hansom cabs are taken, and there is no room in the inn, no matter how much money you have. And I didn’t have a lot.
And let’s not even talk about the ghosts. Ah, Christmas Eve, when the veil between the world of the living and the dead is very thin, and the holidays wears everyone’s tempers even thinner. All of the love, the heartbreak, the celebration and the sheer life of the living draws them nearer.
I found a warm drugstore, and was sitting at the counter, slowly drinking my cup of hot coffee, wondering how I was to find a place to stay on Christmas Day, when a drugstore-casanova came in. Oh, he was ready to help me find a place to stay! Such a masher. The ghosts of three poor girls clung to him. They looked like immigrant girls who had caught some sort of consumption. The poor dears were in love beyond the grave.
A rush of patrons flooded into the store, and a soprano voice from heaven commanded the masher to “Move on out, Dooley. You should be ashamed to break hearts tonight.”
She was a red-headed goddess, and I could see the traces of stage make-up around her eyes. She extended a hand. “Sarah Kelso. You look fresh off the boat!” Continue reading

Michaeline: What exactly is in a name?

Young woman with a large bouquet of roses on her lap. 1916

Helen Delilah Patton Leckey (whew! what a name!) takes time to smell the roses. (From Greene County, Pennsylvania Photo Archives Project. http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/4.0/)

What exactly is in a name? “That which we call a rose, by any other name would smell as sweet” or so they say, but first impressions count for something. “Belladonna” sounds very pretty, even if we know it’s a bit sinister. On the other hand, “deadly nightshade” is a clear warning. Same plant, different names.

I don’t have many problems with character names. It’s pretty easy to set a name for my characters at first, and as I get to know the character better, I have no problems changing them. (I make it a point to note the character’s name changes in my Cast of Characters spreadsheet so I can go back later and make sure every Luke is changed to Hadiz, or whatever name I’ve chosen.)

My characters often start out with half-forgotten celebrities from the 1970s and 80s (remember General Hospital’s Luke and Laura? No, neither do I, really, but Luke has stuck in my head as a name for a romantic lead. It almost always needs to be changed at some point, but it’s a good start).

Book titles are another story, and they give me fits. Continue reading

Michaeline: Water Therapy

Contemplative woman bathing 1915

Warm water is a womb for creativity. Why are there no fantasies that use the bathtub as a portal for another world? “Calgon, take me away!” (Image via Wikimedia Commons)

So, it’s summer vacation, and even though my daughter’s summer vacation is only three and a half weeks, I’m already going a little crazy. She headed for camp, I cleaned the house, we hosted Girl Scouts from the US, and today she had to take a test for placement in her cram school – she’s studying for the dreaded Japanese high school entrance exams. No time for writing.

Rush, rush, rush. And the heat means I didn’t sleep very well last week either.

So, I could have sat my butt in the library and stared at the screen for four hours. But instead, I chose to take a bath.

I’ve mentioned my local hot springs before. They have a lovely outdoor bath that Goldilocks would adore – not too hot, not too cold. And no bears climbing up the mountain, either! Continue reading

Michaeline: The Very Short Pitch

ca 1913 A young lady sitting on fence outside of a baseball park, cheering her team on. On her fan is written, "forty thousand tons" -- a reference to the fertilizer she's selling.

We’re all cheering for you as you pitch it right into the catcher’s mitt! (Image via Wikimedia Commons)

So, I was goofing around this morning and stumbled upon something that I didn’t know was a thing: the Twitter pitch contest. I have never participated, and I haven’t done enough research to recommend specific contests, but it sure caught my imagination!

The idea is to write a 140-character pitch (well, probably 130 after you include the contest hashtag and genre hashtag), put it out in the great wide Twitter-world, and then wait for agents and editors and fellow-writers to notice you during the span of the contest.

Wow. One hundred and thirty letters. Talk about your challenge! A good pitch would include your protagonist, your antagonist, your major plot complication and motivations. Could you do it? Why would you even try? Continue reading