And, scene.

This morning I put final touches on the book, and it is now in the hands of an agent.  And so, the waiting and a new flavor of fretting begins.

I am not sure how to feel about it. Part of me is ready to cast about for new ideas to research.  However, I’m not even sure if this one is going to launch, so that’s obviously a bit premature.  Part of me is ready to turn back to previous projects and see what I can do with those, although that raises a number of other questions that I’ll need to address, because they are completely different in tone, focus, and audience, and I don’t know the ethics and etiquette of agent or publishing politics.  (And, let’s be honest, I’m not sure I’d be terribly effective at juggling that many checklists/emotions/calendar items. Mostly emotions.) Part of me looks at the bigger picture and curls up in a ball for a nap.

So I think, perhaps, I will go on hiatus. Summer break starts for our school district tomorrow. I have all manner of plans for our youngster, and many of them involve reading. I suppose I would not be ill-advised to make up a list of similar plans for myself. I know I want to finish the Outlander series, and then I have a whole shelf full of other books—two shelves, even— that I won’t have time to finish before school starts again.

Happy Summer Reading Program, everyone.

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Down by Two

One more week, and I should have something resembling progress on my book to share here. In the meantime, I’m delighted to report that the man who brought you America 1844 (and to whom I am married) is now contracted to follow up with a book on 1856.  This puts him in the lead among the writers of the family, but I’m fired up and thisclose to being ready to cut his lead by half.

We are also waiting to find out what kind of grade our 12-year-old got on his first attempt at something resembling a novel—a 30-page outing about a kid who goes to DragonCon. I’m not sure I could have come up with 30 typewritten pages on a single topic at his age, so that’s an accomplishment in itself.

Meanwhile, it’s just more editing and reading and generally wordsmith-y endeavors over here!

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So You Want to Be an Author

There are big doings afoot, but I feel like if I talk about them before they happen, I will jinx them. So instead I will share something that made me laugh harder than the comments on the Hutzler 571 banana slicer.

When I was in Kentucky a while back, the big draw of the event was Diana Gabaldon. She said she is often asked, “How did you go from being a scientist to an author?” and her answer is, “Well, I wrote a book. It’s not like you have to get a license or anything.”

As someone who has written more than a couple books and is still in the process of going from writer to author, I can tell you there’s more to it than just Writing a Book. However, that is definitely the first hurdle to clear.

And thanks to a link from my dear friend Kris, I am now aware that wikiHow is at the ready to assist, with How to Write a Book.  The writing, the suggestions, the illustrations, the fact I got a blank screen when I clicked the Sample Excerpts—it was all fried gold.  My personal favorite: “The only caveat for true non-fiction is that it be factual.” Excellent protip, wikiHow!

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Faith, Hope, and Charity

Yes, I know some translations say it should be “love” instead of “charity,”  but I need more of the latter than the former right now—and I like to think that I try to pay all three of those forward to the best of my ability  (in my bookish pursuits, at least).

You see, I honored the commitment I made in my last post and stayed up crazy hours to finish my book.  In an effort to make it better and save me from myself, I have handed it off to three people: a beta reader to tell me if it’s boring, an editor to tell me if I’m a grammatical disaster, and a local history expert to tell me if I’ve got my narrative’s events completely ass over teakettle.

I have faith it’s a good story. I hope I did well in telling it. I need charity from these parties in their reviews and the time they spend on them, to make it the best it can be.

When I get those back, middle of next month, I believe I will finally have a book fit to print.

In the meantime, there are several tasks I need to accomplish. I have to check a few more citations at the library.  I have to do a little more research about the time period that is not going into the book but that I feel I’ll need if I’m ever called upon to talk about the book. And then there are the human contacts: There are still a couple of descendants I must try to get in touch with, not because I think they will have anything to tell me that I can use (though I will certainly ask, see that business about “hope” above), but more as a sort of courtesy  alert that I am trying to move this into a real, bona fide pipeline to publication.

Still, this is the best I’ve felt about things since I started this project.  I daresay I’m ready to start thinking about another one!

In other news, I also handed in a completely unrelated essay to another outlet and I’m hoping to hear something about that some time soon, though I’m not sure if what I provided was really what they were looking for. Time will tell!

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Seminars, Symposiums, and Oh, Yeah, Books

So, there have been several developments, some of them social, some of them literary. I went to a book festival in Kentucky last month as a spousal tagalong while my husband talked America 1844.  It was interesting to go to the seminars—all two of them, his and one other—on history. The second seminar was on the Civil War, and not as instructive as I could have hoped. I asked about reading through the bias of Southern sources, and sort of figuring out what was really going on vs. what was being cleaned up for history.  The author of a book on Mary Lincoln came off a bit disdainful and told me I should consider the sources—”for example, why would I include ANYTHING Herndon said about Mary Lincoln?”—while the author of a found diary of a Tennessee woman made the friendlier (but also not particularly helpful) point that I shouldn’t let my modern biases get in the way.  Finally, the author of a biography of Benjamin Buckner spoke up and actually addressed my question, saying that in his view, it wasn’t entirely necessary to draw any distinctions; that as a writer, it is entirely in bounds to say,”this person did A and B during the day, but at night he went home and wrote X and Y in his diary,”  and to let readers draw their own conclusions about whether the actions or words are louder.  This suggestion actually DID help.

And with that in mind, I finished my first draft a couple weeks ago.  I am terribly excited about this, although I am miles from being close to an “acceptable” draft. Citations, revisions, and then (in perhaps just a couple of months) submission, and all the grief (and joy! There will be joy!) that augurs!

Then this past weekend, I went to a  symposium called After the War that focused on Reconstruction, largely within Prince William County.  While I didn’t get quite as many local anecdotes as I’d hoped, I did get a couple of good perspectives on how to deal with some historical issues I’d been struggling with, and I got to introduce myself to some of the speakers, all of whom seemed genuinely nice and engaging, and you should go find them on Twitter: @censerbilityVA, @historyGuy6465, and @JohnHennessy2.  (I think I scared Jane Censer; I’d already read her book about women in the postwar South and cited one of her constructs in my own book’s explanation, and I was so effusive I think she was afraid I might try to eat her up. I intend to send a lower-key and less fangirly email some time soon.)

And then of course, over the course of a month there was all the reading. (Admittedly, there’s not as much as there probably should have been. It is spring, after all.)

1: I finished Sin in the Second City (again).  I see poor Abbot is back in the news for plagiarizing; whether it was an honest mistake or malice seems sort of hard to tell from here.  While I don’t condone ripping off someone’s words, I do find the schadenfreude from other quarters a tad distasteful.

2: I am now on the second book in the Outlander series. I should probably be farther along, but this one is slow-going compared with the first, and I find I tend to read it more when I am waiting in line than on a regular basis each night.  Now that I’ve knocked some other things out of the way, this might change.

3: I finished listening to 1776, but I feel like I need to listen to it again. I have a terrible time with books on CD.  I listen to them during my work commute, so I start out strong, but then something in the book sends me down a rabbit hole about related topics, or I see something on the road, or I start thinking about what I need to do first when I get to work, and the next thing I know, I’ve missed a couple minutes and have to back up.  It is embarrassing.  I thought maybe it was just that book, but when I finished that one I started listening to Founding Brothers, by Joseph J. Ellis, and the same thing is happening, albeit to a lesser degree.  And it’s not that it’s dry, history writing—Ellis is absolutely amazing and engaging and FUN.  It’s all my lack of brain.  I’m not sure what I need to do to bring it around. Maybe I need to read the nonfiction on the page and listen to the fiction in the car?

So, this weekend, I have signed up for a tour of the jail (under reconstruction) where most of the events in my book occurred, so that will be another fun weekend of inspiration/excuse not to make any progress!  (And now that I have committed to not working on revisions, I will commit to trying to do some.)

Hope you all enjoy your Memorial Day weekend.

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Lack of Focus, Little Progress

I have not finished reading any books.  I am in the middle of one (re-reading an old Karen Abbott—Sin in the Second City), listening to another (David McCullough’s 1776), and foolishly started a third this week because it looked frothy enough to focus on while waiting for my car to get an oil change. Unfortunately, it’s Diana Gabaldon’s Outlander—so although it’s frothy, it’s long as all get out and there are a billion books in the series.

I have also been working extra hours after getting back from a non-writing vacation to visit family, so I have not worked much on my project. I got one email that helped fill in some holes, which was nice. Today’s goal is to research the disputed election of Rutherford Hayes and Samuel Tilden and distill the story into 200 words for a tiny chunk of my book. (Fun and educational! Or at least, short and educational.) I still have to write my missing chapter and I have no idea when that will happen. I have asked for a weekend in a hotel alone to do it. I don’t know if I’ll get it. Maybe Mother’s Day? Hahahaha. “I love you, kid. Now I’m dumping you for two days.”

Next weekend we are going to the Southern Kentucky Bookfest, where my husband will be talking about 1844 (and, to come full circle, Diana Gabaldon will be speaking as well—but not with my husband).  We are going to see one of his childhood friends and I’m really excited; even though this is the third book event in a month, it doesn’t really get old. Perhaps that’s because I’m wondering if I’ll ever manage to pull it off and get a turn of my own at some point.  La la la!

I did talk to another friend of mine, who encouraged me to pick up one new idea and write an essay on it, plus dust off an old idea, write a novel, and send it to her.  So I may start on that in my copious free time.  If I can find any. We’ll see!

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“Moby Dick? Never Read It.”

(Titled with apologies to Laurie Anderson.)

Well, I still haven’t technically read it, and I daresay I never will. I spent the past two weeks listening to it on CD during my commutes to work, and that was enough to put me off staring at page after page of self-indulgent tone-poem stylings hard on the heels of dry factual recitations.

Unlike some critics, I don’t actually have any problem with the story itself. Is it sexist? The argument could be made, although I wouldn’t make it. I think, rather, that Melville is basically ripping apart absolutely everything he touches on, including racism, religion, sex, politics, and all those other social constructs we get worked up about today. Are there homoerotic overtones? Eh, I suppose. Are there way too many tangents about Types of Whales and Proper Sailing Protocol and so on and so forth? Yes, I’d grant that one, and while I did like some of the stuff he had to say (and to feel moderately amused at how far we’ve come and how much more we know now) I did find my mind drifting a little on some of the longer divergences.  Is it annoying that you’re at Chapter 125 before anything REALLY happens? Absolutely.

But what really killed it for me was the writing. This chapter’s written as a play. That chapter’s written as a poem.  Another chapter is written as an encyclopedia entry and yet another is an allegory. I find this incredibly frustrating, and while I suppose it could be construed as a mark of great genius, I find it a stunning lack of writerly discipline.

And while some of the language is absolutely gorgeous, and some of the descriptions are quite vivid and inspire amazing mental images, for every one of those instances, there are threefold frustrating and tiresome passages full of repetition. In a book that long, you don’t really need a character going, “Aye, Aye, Aye,” —one “aye” is quite sufficient.

So  when you add inconsistent style and turgid writing to the fact that it’s a relentlessly negative work, it’s a big glob to swallow.

Anyone want to take the opposing view?


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This is the problem with trying to blog every week.  Too many works in progress, no progress to actually report.

The proposal is written and in the hands of a capable but overtaxed editor who will get to it when the rest of her life has stopped imploding.

The last chapter is still being studiously avoided as I mop up other dribs and drabs. I’m hoping to tackle it this weekend on a couple long car rides.

The last bits of not-totally-futile research were completed over the weekend.  (I’m still engaging in futile research, however. Hope springs eternal, and all that.)

The formatting of the sample chapter is on my to-do list.

I’m hoping I get enough of a first draft in place that I can print out copies to dump  in the laps of my relatives when I visit them the last week of March.  Will I pull it off? Only time will tell.

Meanwhile, have I read anything? Sort of. I’m halfway through two books; one on CD and one old-fashioned eyeball-reading. And you’ll get reviews on those … someday. Later. Not sooner.

Of course, I have also promised my kid that I will finish knitting him a scarf that I began more than a year ago. So, you might want to keep that in mind when you wonder how far off “later” might be!

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Getting Closer

The book, oh the book. Every day I do not write the book.  But I poke at it around the edges. I send email to strangers looking for information I don’t have, and they probably don’t either. I do web searches and come up with nothing new. I arrange my notes. I transcribe other notes. I try to incorporate other already-transcribed notes into my text.

I think I am close.

I still have one chapter unwritten, I still have lots of highlighted text where I need (OK, want) to add details, and I need a good strong closing paragraph. Then I need to save copies of everything and start the tedious task of turning my cryptography into actual end notes.

Still, I think I am close.

I have to re-read from start to finish, and I need someone else to read it all the way through with a critical editorial eye.

But to have enough of a book in hand that I am thinking about needing someone to read the whole thing—that means I’m close, right?

So, I have decided I am to the point where I need to change gears. I am writing the proposal. I think I will send it out next week and see what happens.

Now I just need to hunker down and take it from Close to Actually Arrived.  Stomp the accelerator, tighten my grip on the wheel, and Get There.

Wish me luck!

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Dropping the Ball

Well, I missed last week’s window to blog.  I wish I could say it was because I was working so hard on the book, or so absorbed in reading someone else’s, but the truth is I was just flat lazy and watched  old episodes of House of Cards and other TV like a slug.

I also missed a deadline to finish one of my unfinished chapters. I did make up for it, however. In the past week I got some notes back on the first half of my first draft and pulled an all-nighter addressing them. I am now confident that I will hit the word-count for a respectable book length. I also connected with a couple of people familiar with the story I’m working on and had very nice exchanges with them. I am excited about where those relationships might lead, although I suspect it will not be of huge direct help in completing the book.

Most exciting, I went to the library and found a memoir by a guy who was in the same Civil War infantry company as my protagonist. It is little things like these that really thrill me–to find firsthand accounts of people who were there, and first-person observations of things I am trying to describe.  It makes me wonder what kind of euphoria I’ll have if I ever work on a book where my main characters have left behind diaries or letters or other materials in their own words that I’ll be able to use.

My plan today was to go to Fredericksburg and do a bit more research, but it snowed in the morning and might snow some more later, and other family members are not feeling up to it, so a 4-hour pleasure jaunt doesn’t appear to be in the cards. Maybe next weekend. Instead, I suppose I will do something exciting like clean the house, or read a book, or … write! Yeah, that’s it! I’ll write.  Although I do still have the second season of House of Cards to catch up on….

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