Quilt or Tapestry

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I recently read an interesting article, “Polish Your Prose” by Paula Munier posted on the Historical Writers of America website. Ms. Munier outlined the need to evaluate your writing in terms of either a quilt or a tapestry. Are you writing in blocks, or chunks? A chunk of narrative or backstory, followed by dialogue or action, followed by info dumps of details. Or, are you writing a tapestry where elements of 1) descriptions/details, 2) dialogue, action, and conflict and 3) inner thoughts of a character are woven throughout your prose?

As a first-time writer, and of historical fiction, where details can bog down a reader and turn a story into a text book, a close reading and editing to ensure I’m creating a tapestry becomes even more important. The suggested perfect balance in writing will have equal parts of all three.

Although I haven’t started into my editing phase in earnest yet, the article piqued my curiosity. I decided to choose a couple of random pages to see if I’m crafting a quilt or a tapestry. I asked Jim to choose a random number between pages 1 and 145 (my total pages to date). I’ve pulled those two pages out here.  Take a read – what do you think – quilt or tapestry?

White ruffles descended down the length of the dress in tiers, its final layer brushing the bedroom floor where the inanimate dress form stood, ready to cede the dress to the vibrant young woman. Puffs at the shoulders tapered along the arm where a flare of lace cuffed the wrist. The laced bodice insert covered the chest area, a semblance of inlaid modesty. Eliza fingered the fine silk of the skirt, bringing a swath of the cloth to her cheek. Days and nights spent in classrooms and laboratories, hospital wards and settlement houses, and occasional clinics with the men from Jefferson Medical College never called for finery of silky ruffles and lace. In fact, professors discouraged them from wearing such attire at all times. The less feminine they appeared, the better their chances of being considered as serious students of medicine.

Eliza rejoiced at the chance to shed four years of darkness, dullness, drabness. Plain shirt waist dresses, loose fitting suit jackets and ribbon ties at her throat. Today, she would don the type of dress her mother hoped she’d wear four and a half years prior for a Presentation Ball. Today, she would enter a larger society, a more meaningful and purposeful society. A society and sorority of women doctors. Women who would give lectures, not attend them. Women who would treat charitable cases, not raise funds for them. Women who would make a real difference in the lives of others.   

The dress form stood as a sentry next to the door. A gentle tap on the other side as Eliza’s mother nudged the door open with the tip of her boot. In her arms, she held a wrapped rectangle, firm and solid beneath floral paper with a white grosgrain bow.    

“I’m glad I caught you, Eliza. You’ve been so busy with exams and all, I feared I wouldn’t get a chance to speak with you alone before we left for the ceremony. This is for you.”

She placed the gift in Eliza’s hands. With a sure and steady hand, as steady as when she held a scalpel, Eliza untied the bow and slid a finger under the paper edges to reveal an Oriental jewelry box. The inlaid dark walnut wood with tiny figures of mother-of-pearl reflected the light from the bureau lamp. Cherry trees lined a path leading to a bridge where a rickshaw pulled by a male figure carried a woman clutching a parasol. Eliza placed the box on her bureau and lifted the lid. Nestled in the folds of blush pink satin, which covered the bottom and sides of the box, lay a string a pearls, a pair of pearl earrings, and a cameo brooch carved from glistening ivory, its oval shape edged with gold filigree. The etched profile of the woman resembled Eliza’s Aunt Maria. Her hair swept back in waves and held with a thick ribbon band, tight peonies clipped to the band above the right ear, her downcast eyes covered by long lashes, her hand drawing another peony to her rosebud nose for a sniff of its sweet scent.

“Mother, it’s beautiful! The pearls…”

“Yes, Eliza. The pearls are for you. I consulted with the woman at Wannamaker’s jewelry counter for quite a while. Did you know pearls are said to symbolize wisdom acquired through experience? And pure white ones, like fresh snowfall, signify new beginnings? I think they’re quite appropriate for my graduate who has acquired great wisdom over the past four years and who is ready for her next beginning. I know it has not been an easy time for you, and, Lord knows, I’ve had my reservations each time another semester started. But, here you are, ready to become Dr. Edwards. I am so proud of you, my dear.”

“The cameo brooch, too, Mother? But it’s so dear to you.”

A quick scan and my thoughts of which words fit into the three elements indicate I’m doing a decent job of balance: 34% descriptors/details, 50% dialogue/action and 16% inner voice. I think a check-in at this point is a good idea. Moving forward now into PART TWO of Eliza’s story, I will be more conscious of pulling more “inner voice” into my writing.

While I found the exercise useful and like the comparative of a quilt to a tapestry, it also made me think. Am I crafting a quilt of words which readers will want to wrap tight around themselves, warm and comfortable within my story? Or am I crafting a tapestry, a work of art to be admired and exulted? I hope I’m creating both.

For fun, here is my exercise in color:exercise.jpg

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First Half Done

Yippee

Yippee Part Two – First Half is Done!!!!!

A commitment to #NaNoWriMo has led to nearly 12,500 words / 50 pages so far for the month, with five more days still to go. At this point, however, I’ll be hitting the pause button on writing to turn to some editing. I’d like to get the first half polished and out to my preview editor and readers before I dive into the second half.

To celebrate, here are few of my favorite lines so far. Heck, my sons had highlight reels for their college sports recruiting, so why can’t I?

Is there one which jumps out at you?  Pulls you in to want to read more?  I hope so! I’d love to hear which one resonates the most.

  • The darkness of the dirt slowly filled the hole and covered the light of the petals. 
  • She fell into the blue ocean of his eyes, an ocean searching for a beacon to calm the stormy seas of his soul.
  • Her matriculation ticket card positioned on top of her notebook, centered and visible to proclaim her right to the seat. 
  • Woven into the deep blue-black fabric sky above the manger beamed a white shape, a glow of triangles interlocked at a center, their eight points splaying outward to summon and guide. The North Star.
  • This time her mother listened. Eliza no longer spewed a child’s chatter. She spoke a woman’s words. 
  • The hand-inked illustration displayed a map, rivers and streams marked boundaries. Other lines followed roads across the countryside. On these pages she hoped to find a map to guide her to more answers. 
  • Crumpled balls of scrap paper littered the desk tops, clenched fists of frustration. 
  • She unpinned her hat and with a slight shake of her head, she strode toward the dining room, breathing in the aromas of the pork roast, a faint cinnamon scent from the stewed apples. The thought of the crisp, succulent, peppered pork skin teased her taste buds. She hoped they had saved her favorite end piece for her. 
  • Is there something more, something else for me, a freedom to choose a different path?
  • This situation, this sense of limbo, of no hope. This, this is worse.
  • Her shoulders shuddered with each pulse as she retched from the bottom of her gut, pulling the darkness in her soul with it. 
  • Indulging the depths of my despair to find me again. Yielding to the pleasure of loving a woman again. 

Half Way

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A few milestones this week for my work in progress.

#1 –  It’s the middle of #NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month) and with the support and encouragement from my writers’ group on Facebook, I have committed to writing EVERY SINGLE DAY of the month. From a high of 1,025 words on this past Sunday to a low of 89 words on Wednesday during a flight home from Baltimore, I’m already at over 5,000 words for the month, my most productive month to date! To those who aren’t familiar with word counts, 5K words equates to about 20 pages in a novel. The way I’m pacing, 20 pages is 1.5 chapters. This milestone is my “Glass is Half Full“. A goal that I’m proud of and a pace I hope to continue.

#2 –  I have also hit the 35,000 word count mark which is the half-way mark for a minimum word count recommendation for a first-time novel. I wish I was further along by now as I’m nearly nine months into this project. At this rate, I won’t finish a first draft until next August. And, then I still need to edit and polish before it’s ready for submission to an agent or publisher. I need to pick up the pace. I want to submit by next April / May to stay on track for a hoped-for publication date of May 2021. This milestone is my “Glass is Half Empty” and makes for a good kick in the butt for more focus and more commitment. At a minimum, I want to complete Part 2 of the story by the end of November. I’ll need to carve out some time over the Thanksgiving holiday weekend and relish my writing time.

Rather than take any time next week for a blog post, I’ll extend my warmest wishes to you all now for a very Happy Thanksgiving. I am grateful for the support you all have given me in reading my posts, hitting a like button or leaving a comment. They all keep me going.

I hope you have a wonderful day with family and friends and lots of yummy drumsticks, mashed potatoes, squash, green bean casserole, cranberry chutney, pies, rolls and breads. Those are the standard menu items at the Daly house!

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Disclaimer: Photo is Google sourced. Ha Ha – looks good though!

Veteran’s Day

Charlotte Fairbanks

“Dr. Charlotte Fairbanks, served in WWI as the surgeon in charge of the American Women’s Hospital unit, a group of 42 women, doctors, nurses, chauffeurs, and machinists whose work was recognized by more than one government. Dr. “Charlotte” and her unit spent a year in France, ministering to the sick, starving and wounded. The last eight months the unit was quartered in one of the most devastated regions of that war-stricken land. The suffering was horrible. The doctors of France were all at the front and these American women carried on.

For her remarkable contribution in saving the lives of hundreds of men, women and children, Dr. Fairbanks was decorated by the French Government. She was awarded several medals, among them the gold medal, Medal Reconaissance, and was made a citizen of France. Dr. Charlotte never spoke of her accolades. It was extracted from her proud mother and she had to learn from the pens and lips of others, her daughter’s associates in France and through French newspapers.

After graduation from St. Johnsbury (VT) Academy, Dr. Fairbanks took her A.B. from Smith College in 1894, her Ph.D. from Yale University in 1896. The Women’s Medical College of Pennsylvania awarded her the degree of M.D. in 1902. From 1902 to 1904 she was an intern in the Woman’s Hospital of Philadelphia. In 1913 Dr. Fairbanks was made a Fellow in the American College of Surgeons.”

From Our “Dr. Charlotte”, by Gertrude S. Menut, Drexel College of Medicine, Women Physicians, 1850’s-1970’s.

Stay tuned… Dr. Charlotte, an incredible doctor,  will appear in my novel as an important historical figure, and classmate.

All Souls Day

All Souls

October 31 – Halloween,  the over-hyped commercialized holiday.

November 1 – All Saints Day, recognition of saints and martyrs, important people but not known on a personal level.

November 2 – All Souls Day, commemoration of all those who have died.

While I have many family members and friends to reflect upon with a quiet prayer, my Peirce / Elliott / Robinson family are the ones who have gone before and whom I need to honor as the influences of my novel-in-progress.

My main character is loosely based on the life of my Grandmother Elizabeth Peirce Elliott Robinson. In order to fill in some blanks and develop a compelling plot to hold a reader’s interest, I dove into Google research. I knew there would most likely be some material related to her grandfather, William Shannon Peirce, who was a Judge and an anti-abolitionist lawyer. These facts I knew.

But, it was two items I found online which offered the most interesting angles for plotlines:

  • “Benjamin Harris Brewster, later an US Attorney General, was called upon to address the court at the time of the demise of Judge Peirce. Brewster paid eloquent tribute to his character and ability… His daughters were women of character and intellectual attainments.”

Intellectual attainments. I found it curious that the Judge’s daughters were mentioned during an eulogy. What this statement said to me is that the Judge supported and encouraged his daughters, (seven!) to seek out knowledge, which was not a common practice for the 1840s – 1870s. What would a family of seven daughters and one son look like? What type of intellectual activities would these daughters pursue? What influence would these women, my Grandmother’s mother and aunts, have on her?

  • “He was an earnest advocate of emancipation, and was the counsel of the slave in nearly every fugitive-slave case that occurred in Philadelphia. The last important case was the great Dangerfield case, in which trial he and his colleagues argued before the court and jury from the opening of the court in the morning until sunrise the next morning. Lucretia Mott (famous, early suffragette) and 20-30 other women in the room sat erect, their interest unflagging and their watchfulness enduring to the end. In 1866 he became a judge of the court of common pleas in Philadelphia, which office he held by subsequent elections until his death in 1887. He took an active part in founding the Woman’s medical college in Philadelphia.

Founding the Woman’s medical college. I never knew there was a women’s medical college in Philadelphia nor that it was founded as early as 1850. Now, that is a piece of history which deserves more exploration. And, as a graduate of an all-women’s college myself, I believe there is rich fodder to craft a story line of women + education + friendships + careers = success. Why not make my main character a student and graduate from the college her Grandfather helped found?

Next after the Judge, Laura Peirce Elliott shaped my character as well. Widowed while pregnant with my Grandmother, she never remarried. She raised two sons and my Grandmother on her own. It would be only natural she would turn to her family, her father and sisters for help.

As they say, history repeats itself. My Grandmother also found herself alone to raise her two sons when her husband abandoned the family. With her own mother as a role model, she survived through the Depression alone and raised my father into a caring, intelligent man who would, like the Judge, served his country with three years of active duty in WWII South Pacific and an additional 24 years in the Navy Reserve.

Writing a historical novel is fascinating, time-consuming and thought-provoking. How do events of the past shape us today? I’m learning as I proceed and hope to devote more time to my writing this month. Who knew November is NaNoWriMo?

National Novel Writing Month!

 

Courage

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I came across this quote from the New England theologian, William Greenough Taylor Shedd, while searching for an image to depict courage. Sure, I could have used a lion. Doesn’t the Cowardly Lion from The Wizard of Oz immediately pop into the head of anyone over the age of 40? For all he wanted was Courage. But, any image tied to the ocean calls to me. I also think the concept of “taking on a challenge” found in Shedd’s words are excellent connotations for Courage. Other immediate images of courage may be a solider, or a skydiver, a ship captain’s, or a doctor. Maybe even, a writer.

This week I took the dive and entered a short story writing contest, co-hosted and managed by the Public Library Association and Short Edition. The entry places my writing out into the public for a wider audience for comments and judging. While it would be fantastic to win the $1,000 grand prize, I’ll be happy with more people starting to see my name listed as “author”.  I hope some will also enjoy the premise of my story and determine it a worthy submission.

You can read it here:   https://short-edition.com/en/story/3-min/flagpole-1

If you truly “like” it, feel free to hit the “like” button. If you feel compelled to comment, I’d appreciate any feedback.

Crafting an interesting story takes skill and courage, too. You need to develop characters with depth, admirable traits, and flaws to make them real. Antagonists are meant to be despised to add intrigue and dimension. Protagonists need to face fears and challenges and find the courage to take steps forward, make mistakes, learn and grow.

This week, I also finished a scene for Eliza which required her to summon her own style of courage. A sense of moral strength will guide her through this scene and set her up for other challenges ahead. She needs to be vocal to make a difference. She needs to stare down the antagonist in this scene and prevail. I hope I’ve given her enough courage to succeed.

 

Parallel Lines

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Finished two books over the long holiday weekend. I felt like parallel universes colliding. How can two books from different authors and different publishers be so alike?

I wanted to read The Great Alone, by Kristin Hannah after her tremendous success with The Nightingale. I also loved her Winter Garden. Both titles present historical fiction at their finest with rich detail and characters formed by the historical events happening around them. I bought The Great Alone earlier this year at its release in February. It has sat on my beside table until I finally got to it on the bottom of my stack as a stark departure from the warmth of Cape Cod summer beaches to the wilderness of 1970s Alaska.

Delia Owens’ Where the Crawdads Sing is the first fiction piece from a well respected and best-selling non-fiction naturalist. Ms. Owens created a story set in the 1960s steeped in the nature and marshlands of the NC coastline and I suspect she pulled upon her and her husband’s own experiences of living in the area. I noticed several recommendations for it as a brand new release (August) in one of my FB groups. When I realized I had some Audible credits to use, I downloaded it to my phone and listened to it during all my recent work drive times.

How could these two stories sound similar? Warning – some spoiler alerts!

  1. Both main characters mature from their childhood through their teens into young women over the course of the book with a coming of age theme. Both could be considered YA if not for the length, especially The Great Alone clocking in close to 500 pages – one of my disappointments – it did drag. Ms. Hannah could have edited out at least 75 pages.
  2. Each one grows up in a family with an abusive father and the fear of an absent mother, real or imaginary fear. Each mother comes from an upper-class family and marries a man deemed to be beneath her by her family and leaves the comforts of her family for the love of the wrong man.
  3. Each main character falls for a local boy, loses the boy, finds the boy.
  4. Each main character ends up working as a naturalist tied to art – one a photographer, one an illustrator.
  5. Both settings explore the beauty of the wild nature of the characters’ surroundings – the NC marshlands and the Alaskan inlet.
  6. Both involve a murder with an unscrupulous local cop/sheriff as a secondary character.
  7. Both involve a large African American woman who befriends the main character.
  8. Both make mention of a necklace made from elements from the local area – a bone, a shell.

Finally, take a look at the cover art of each book – even the colors and hues are the same burnt orange of a late summer afternoon sunset framed with black tree silhouettes.

The closeness of the characters, the themes and the settings makes one wonder – are there any new ideas left? In a parallel universe, is someone writing the same story as I am? Does Eliza have a twin in the making out there on someone else’s tablet? I hope I am developing a unique novel, a story which hasn’t been told. Sure, there will always be some comparisons for any book, and I hope readers will compare my book to some of the greats – Little Women? Gone with the Wind? Pride & Prejudice? Little House on the Prairie? Those are some of my favorites.

But at the end of the day, ONE WAY or ANOTHER, I want Eliza to stand on her own, to be her own character with her own story.

Ok, all you former punkers from the 70’s and ’80s – go ahead – treat yourself and hit up you tube for Blondie’s Parallel Lines album – you know you’re humming it already…

“One way or another, I’m gonna find ya’
I’m gonna get ya’, get ya’, get ya’, get ya’
One way or another, I’m gonna win ya’
I’m gonna get ya’, get ya’ ,get ya’, get ya’
One way or another, I’m gonna see ya’
I’m gonna meet ya’, meet ya’, meet ya’, meet ya’
One day maybe next week, I’m gonna meet ya’
I’m gonna meet ya’, I’ll meet ya’
I will drive past your house and if the lights are all down
I’ll see who’s around”.

Highways and By-Ways

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It’s been a long couple of weeks on the road for work. Over 700 miles last week alone for a trip to New Jersey and Pennsylvania. While most of the driving hours filled my work day, by the time I arrived at my destinations, exhaustion set in. An unproductive period for writing. Frustrating and irritating. But work is work, and still necessary for an unpublished author.

The only redemptive part of the travel came from listening to a new book on Audible. Thank goodness it’s long – 12 hours of listening time. (Review to come when I finish it next week.) I also realized technology could help me along the way. I could pause the story and switch over to the Word Doc app on my phone and make note of some phrases that caught my ear through the “speak to write” function. I don’t think it’s plagiarism if I re-work the phrase and put the idea into my own words and voice.

The other challenge at this point in writing Eliza’s story is the roadblock I’ve hit. I’ve reached a scene which will take Eliza down a dark road. I’m finding it’s difficult to write this scene although I know it’s important to the plot and will impact future life decisions and struggles for her.  Walking my dog this morning helped to clear my head and work through parts of this scene, but I still need to find the time to sit down and just write it. Damn Patriots’ schedule with a Thursday night game today. Apparently, my priorities are still a little screwed up.

However, the long Columbus Day weekend is around the bend. I intend to hunker down and write. Just write.

Back to School

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On a hill at the central point of the town sits my high school alma mater, Needham High. It’s been a few years since I walked those halls and up and down the hill to the pizza place across the street during free periods. Wasn’t an “open campus” concept great? I remember each English class with mixed results. Sophomore year presented a solid foundation for critical reading and writing with Mrs. Mueller. Junior year I tried one of the alternative offerings. A complete waste – or LAF as we called the class, Language Its Art & Function. I can see the teacher in my mind, but don’t recall his name. Must not have made an impression on me. Senior year before heading to college I realized I needed a traditional course again. I’m sure they abolished an open campus policy years ago. I hope they dismissed LAF as a class as well.

A year ago, I began my creative writing journey with an online course. I learned a great deal through those extensive six months which gave me the confidence to launch the start of my novel. I used three class assignments (A Stop Along the Way, Presenting Dr. Elliott, First Class) to develop scenes for the novel. Now I’m on Chapter 8, page 89 and at 26,000 words with “First Class” already blended in to the end of Part One and the other two scenes waiting in the wings of the story’s timeline. Little did I realize, those two assignments would flow into each other for plot development and the introduction of a major conflict for my main character. I’m sure they will need to be polished and edited since I first wrote them, but at least they’re ready to be inserted in a couple more chapters.

This September, I enrolled in a creative writing class through my local library. They received a grant from the Cape Cod Arts Foundation to offer the class for free. Why not take advantage of it and continue to hone my skills? I am by no means a proficient writer. I need all the practice and help I can get. About 35 people showed up for the first class, men and women mostly around my age. While I’m thrilled many year-round residents enrolled, it also shows the level of interest out there to become a writer. More competition for publication. More competition for attracting readers. I noted three other women mentioned an interest in historical fiction. I hope I can connect with them to spark an interest in each other’s work and possibly find a local, in-person critique partner. Work travels takes me away for a few sessions but the instructor said he would forward the class hand-outs, etc. along to me. Thanks, Corey.

As I drove through Needham yesterday and stopped to take a pic of NHS on the hill, I wondered – did any famous authors walk those halls? We’ve turned out two current governors, Charlie Baker (MA) and Phil Murphy (NJ) are both alums – the same year as my brother, Mark, and 617 other students in the class. Mark claims 1975 must have been a very good year. Gold medalist Olympian, Aly Raisman, attended NHS. Former NHL player and coach, Robbie Ftorek, skated as a Needham Rocket. Sunita Pandya Lyn Williams, astronaut and member of the International Space Station, is the younger sister of one of my classmates. N.C. Wyeth, the artist is from Needham, but I’m not sure he went to NHS. I’m sure there are others notable names from different walks of life. But, from a quick Google search, I couldn’t find any well-known, popular authors. I guess it will be up to Janis Robinson Daly, class of 1980, to leave that mark.

GO ROCKETS!

 

Destination Unknown

Maine

While this destination doesn’t figure into my current novel-in-progress, I would love to think it could be a setting for my second novel. Getting ahead of myself, but I wouldn’t mind spending some extra time for research here in Bar Harbor Maine, walking the rocky coastline, hiking in Acadia National Park, learning more about the people who live in this beautiful coastal town through the height of the summer tourist season and the cold and harsh reality of the winters.

The setting of a story adds color, tone and hues to a novel. Everything from the scents in the air to a typical fare for a family dinner to the clothing needed for a setting’s weather patterns are small details to paint a vivid picture. I’ve made one trip to Philadelphia for research, but I will need a couple more before my main character makes a fateful trip to Newport Rhode Island and then settles in the Boston area.  I can cover any additional Boston research through day trips. However, Newport may require a couple of overnights. Not a shabby destination to have on my list.

For my current work, although I have a road map in my head of where my story is headed,  more unexpected detours will crop up that I haven’t yet considered before I reach the final destination. I have taken a few side trips in the plot and so far those by-ways have proven to be pleasant surprises. What will be more interesting are the roadblocks that need to emerge to create tension and conflict. I just finished one scene which teased at this idea where I introduced a struggle with self-doubt. The next few chapters on the horizon will introduce more dramatic scenes rife with difficult decisions for my main character. Stay tuned.

Note:  We visited Bar Harbor for a fabulous 3 day-2 night trip last week. Highly recommend it as a summer time destination trip. Gorgeous scenery, majestic seascapes, delicious dining options, and a lovely stay at the Cleftstone Manor. I am intrigued with the history of the area, especially after reading Anita Shreve’s, The Stars Are Fire, with its setting on the Maine coast during the aftermath of the great fire of 1947.