I saw some baby-step advances on the book this week, though they came from unlikely places, and none of them really involved Actual Writing.
First, my beta reader contacted me saying she liked what she saw, but she is drawing up copious notes on where she wants more. This was absolutely fantastic news, because as it stands right now I feel that my projected total is coming up a few thousand words short, so it’s nice that I’ll not only have guidance on where to add more, but also have room to add it.
Second, I have some feelers out with subject matter experts on certain aspects of the book that will be really helpful if I can get them. I have more people to contact before I’m done, but as I said, they were baby steps.
Third, I read another really great book this week — Pioneer Girl, by Laura Ingalls Wilder, as edited by Pamela Smith Hill. I’m a little biased because I absolutely adored the Little House books as a kid. My Aunt Shirley gave me Little House in the Big Woods for my fifth birthday, and then gave me the next book in the series for every Christmas and birthday after that. I adored Aunt Shirley, so anything she gave me was going to be well-received. And dribbling out the books like that for me was a great exercise in patience and anticipation, so that when I got the next one I gobbled it down like crack, on top of re-reading the previous ones.
So I might be wrong about this, but I figure it’s safe to say that anyone who read the Little House books as a kid will find this interesting. And I’d go further to add that anyone who enjoys or has an interest in narrative history will like it too, for different reasons.
The Little House books were great because they took vast sweeping themes and the culture of a time and place and translated them into a paradigm that a kid from a relatively foreign perspective could understand and envision. I didn’t have the faintest idea what it was like to grow up in a house where snow would sift in through cracks in the log walls, but I could shiver and snuggle up in bed and shut my ears against the wind when Laura did.
Pioneer Girl is great for an entirely different set of reasons. It’s nice to read as a sort of “real story behind the books,” of course, but as an aspiring writer it’s really interesting to note the myriad differences. This was written as a straight-up autobiography and told from the perspective of an adult looking back, with an adult’s understanding, recollections, hindsight, and perspectives on cultural issues. The literary voice is stripped down to a more journalistic, factual tone; the imagery and use of descriptive language is scaled back to a huge degree.
But the thing that made me especially happy in reading this book is the prodigious work that editor Hill put into the annotations. It looks like she cited everything she could get her paws on: census records, newspapers, letters, diaries, you name it, she looked at it, organized it, and cited it. I’m equal parts admiring and inspired by the depth of this work—and just a little jealous that she had SO MUCH MATERIAL to draw upon. So many of my potential sources are gone — apparently nothing ever burned down in South Dakota, since there are still copies of newspapers and court records and other things that no longer exist for the book I’m trying to write. And she obviously had unfettered access to family papers. If there are still family papers for the families I’m working on, they’re well hidden.
But there are other books out there that I can cull for further detail and embellishment of my narrative. Thus, my beta reader’s request for “more” dovetails nicely with my observations in this book of where “more” can come from.
Next week I’m hoping to get closer to my wheelhouse—I’m reading a book that is (1) nonfiction history, (2) in the same genre and time period as the book I’m working on, and (3) by an author who is still alive.