I have been thinking about research lately. So much so, I almost feel as though I should capitalize and underline the word, as in “I have been thinking about Research lately.”
You see, I am at the stage in revisions for my current romance manuscript where I am looking for places where I need to do more world building or add historical details. Hence my dilemma. How much world building should I do? And how many historical details should I add?
I love reading a book by a good storyteller who can make me feel as though I am learning about a previous time and place while enjoying a great story. One or two authors come to mind who deftly add interesting details I never knew – and never knew I wanted to know.
However. There is a flip side. If the addition of details is not done well by the author, it can become tedious, or almost come across as a lecture. I do not want to be that writer!
Perhaps you can see where I am going with this. How many details should I add? And what types of details should they be? These questions tie back to my opening comment, since above all, I want to be accurate. What is the right type or amount of research I should do to get the right type or amount of details? It is all too easy to dive down a rabbit hole while researching something which, while interesting, is not germane to my story.
Last night and this morning were a good example. I wanted to know what breed of horse might be pulling a heavy wagon on an English road in my Georgian historical romance. So while I was at the bookstore last night, I cruised the bargain aisles for books about horses. I found two, so then had to decide which one to get. This morning, I spent time paging through the chosen book looking for a likely horse breed – only to decide later that it wasn’t necessary to be that specific. So while it gave me a chance to look at beautiful photos of horses, it wasn’t very productive in the end.
Perhaps I will toss the question out to you, my readers, for some input. If you were reading a romance which took place in England in the mid-1700s, what historical background or details or descriptions would you like to see included?
Any writer will tell you filling a blank page with the words of a first draft is hard. Luckily, I have found something I call a “creativity circle” which helps me push through.
It all started some months ago, when I was talking with a few romance writing friends about how we all stay motivated to write. One of the friends described for us a visualization exercise which included thinking of one of the chakra colors and then imagining a circle in that color on the ground in front of us. Once we could see that colored circle in our mind’s eye then we each stepping into our circle, where we could feel the energy and joy and warmth which comes to us when we write.
As luck would have it, I was looking at online crochet patterns a few weeks later, when I stumbled across one for a large cowl. This circular garment was large enough to fit around the model’s shoulders in one of the pictures.
Looking at that photo, I immediately thought of my circle in the visualization exercise. How wonderful would it be, I thought, if instead of an imaginary circle on the floor, I could have a real circle around my shoulders?
That quickly, “creativity circles” were born. I bought the pattern and some yarn in pretty shades of blue (the color of creative expression and communication), and over the next several nights, I made myself one of the cowls as I relaxed on the sofa.
Now, when I settle down in my writing space, one of the first things I do is to arrange my blue circle around my shoulders. It is like a form of muscle memory which helps to instantly put me into the necessary mindset for writing or editing. (And as a bonus, it also does a great job of keeping my shoulders warm.)
After I showed my creativity circle to this group of friends, they expressed interest in having their own. Here is a photo of one I crafted for a fellow author in the lovely shades of purple she picked out.
To me, my creativity circle is tangible proof of the way the various aspects of my life now intersect. My writing, my hobbies, my personal routine – even my well-known tendency to always feel cold – are all wrapped together by a bit of blue yarn. Which makes sense, I suppose. Writing is more than a job to me – it is something I have been passionate about for a long time. It isn’t really surprising then that it overlaps with the other facets of my life.
Do you have something in your life about which you are equally passionate? I hope so. If not, perhaps it is time for you to find that one thing which has the ability to fill all the corners of your life. Once you do, perhaps you will find your own creativity circle to bind it all together.
Those of you who are regular followers of my blog know I have been a bit… well… sporadic with it lately. I apologize for that, and I am using this blog to give you a quick recap of what has been going on lately to disrupt my routine.
First, the good news. A few months ago, our son and his wife informed us they are expecting their second child in June. What wonderful news!
This good news made my husband and I think about how hard it is to be a part of our grandchildren’s lives when they live a few states away. Our granddaughter is nearly 18 months old, and we have missed so much already. We have a chance, though, to enjoy some of those missed moments with the second baby.
So my husband and I have decided to move closer to our son and his family.
Our plan was to update our house before selling it and move later this summer. But do you recall the Burns’ quote about “the best laid schemes of mice and men”? That’s us. Once the word spread that we would be moving, people approached us who wanted to buy our house now. (I know we live in a very desirable area, and I personally love our house, but I didn’t expect this!)
So, the last few weeks have been hectic, to say the least. There was a lot of starting-and-stopping going on. We started talking to a contractor about our remodeling project, and then stopped when the first person approached us. And then once the first showing was scheduled, I started cleaning the whole house like mad, and didn’t stop until the couple pulled in the drive. We did this a couple of times. I am glad it didn’t go on longer.
To cap off all of the madness, we also had a fairly severe medical issue to deal with. My husband got some flecks of rust in his eye (don’t ask!) which caused some damage. This meant several visits to a specialist and daily treatment to clear up the injury to his cornea. Dealing with an eye injury at the same time as selling the house really amped up the stress level.
Where are we at now? My husband’s eye seems to be nearly healed. And we have an offer to buy our house, no remodeling or real estate agents required. Better yet, the couple who wants our home is in no rush to move in, so we can still stay in the house a bit longer, as we had intended. Honestly, it all feels as though it is all part of a larger plan for us, the way things worked out.
Best of all, the reduction in stress has allowed me to get back into a writing mindset. In the previous weeks, even when I tried to write, I was too distracted to accomplish much. I am please to say that is no longer the case.
So, thank you for our patience while I was temporarily AWOL. I am back! I am resuming my weekly blog schedule, and will be a bit more active on social media as well. Keep an eye on my blogs/posts, and I will give you periodic updates on the new craziness in my world.
I have been thinking about creativity lately. More specifically, on the well of creativity which exists in each of us, and what causes it to temporarily run dry at times.
Creativity can run dry on a given day. I have heard it said that each of us only has 3-4 hours of strong creativity each day. I tend to agree. Historically, I have done better if I focus on my writing in the morning and then shift to other tasks in the afternoon. By lunchtime, I don’t feel as if my mind is welling with ideas any longer. Since my allotment of creativity has run dry, it is better to shift to other duties in the afternoon. It is a good time to do more straightforward or “mindless” activities, such as research or promotion or even (sigh) paying bills. From what I have heard, many other romance writers take the same approach.
Creativity can also run dry for longer periods. All of us, at some point, go through a long drought where the urge to create is noticeably absent. For me, this is typically when I have other complicated or stressful events occurring in my life. In these situations, the dry spell usually lasts for much longer than a day -- sometimes for weeks or months. For example, I battled with this in recent weeks because all of the stress and decision-making associated with a remodeling project in our house was swamping my writing. And several years ago, I had a dry spell which lasted for two or three years while I was designing and then installing a large, complex IT system during my day job. That project took over my life and sucked up every ounce of creativity in me. I had nothing left for writing for a long time.
But like any drought, even creative ones end at some point. When I got past that large project a few years ago, it was like rain falling on arid ground, and the urge to write came back. And in my recent situation, just as a spring thaw melts the snow and encourages early flowers to bloom, mindfully making other distractions melt away allowed my writing to send up green shoots through the detritus which had piled up on it.
So if you are going through a dry spell, don’t despair. It will end someday and your well of creativity will start flowing once again. Just be ready for it when that gusher starts.
Mary, Queen of Scots was beheaded on this date in 1587. This ended what had to be one of the most complex, tempestuous, controversial lives in history. After doing some brief research, I still can’t decide if she was a tragic pawn, incompetent, or a villain. Perhaps that is why she still intrigues so many people, more than 400 years after her death.
Mary was born in December 1542 to James V of Scotland and his French wife, Mary of Guise. She was his only living legitimate child and became queen when he died only six days after her birth. Thus started a life constantly beset with political machinations, war, and constant threats to her life as well as the lives of those around her.
The first of the many political skirmishes which were a constant in her life began with determining who would be Scotland’s regent until she was old enough to rule. One of the major claimants was a Protestant earl and the other was a Catholic cardinal. Thus, this first upheaval in her life was a harbinger of the many religious and political disputes she would experience.
She was only a few months old when Henry VIII of England proposed a marriage between Mary and his only son, Edward. However, when the Catholic (and pro-France) cardinal became her regent, this angered Henry VIII. He did not like the close connection between Scotland and France and sent troops to Scotland for years of war and “Rough Wooing” to try to force Mary to wed his son.
Mary’s supporters appealed to France for help, thereby setting up the next major phase of Mary’s life. She was sent to the French court in 1548 when she was five years old, with the agreement she would eventually marry the French king’s son and heir, Francis. They married when she was fifteen, and they became king and queen of France about one year later in 1559. Their reign was short-lived. Francis died about in December 1560 and Mary returned to Scotland. At this time, she was still only eighteen.
The next eight years of rule were a constant struggle. Mary’s hold on Scotland was tenuous. Her mother had struggled to maintain Scotland for Mary in her absence, but died a few months before Mary’s return. Now, the Protestant lords were rebelling against their Catholic queen, and France was no longer able to provide troops to help her. Plus, Elizabeth I had taken the throne in England and saw Mary as a real threat to her own power. Then the Catholic lords became upset by her attempts to appease the Protestants and Elizabeth.
Her personal life was also generally unhappy and stressful. She married Lord Darnley in 1565, but the marriage soon soured – especially after Darnley conspired with the Protestants against her. He was murdered in February 1567, and many speculated it was on Mary’s orders. Then, three months later, she married Lord Bothwell (though it’s possible she was forced into it.) This, her third marriage, put even more Scots against her. Bothwell (who was accused of murdering Darnley) was a Catholic and many did not recognize his divorce from his first wife. Plus, people were shocked she would marry the man thought to have murdered her husband. Things came to a head in Scotland and she was forced to abdicate in July of 1567.
For some inexplicable reason, when Mary escaped captivity in 1568, she went to England to ask Elizabeth I for help, even though Elizabeth viewed Mary as her biggest threat. Rather than helping, Elizabeth had Mary arrested. What followed was nearly nineteen years of house arrest in England for Mary, interspersed with an inquiry into her part in Darnley’s death and various plots which reinforced Elizabeth’s animosity.
Mary was executed, after one plot too many, in February 1587. Reportedly, she told the executioners “I forgive you with all my heart, for now, I hope, you shall make an end to all my troubles.” After forty-four years of constant battle and stress, perhaps she was ready for it all to be over when the executioner’s axe came down. (Ironically, even this did not go smoothly for her – it took three tries to behead her.)
Thus ended the life of one of the most intriguing people in history. There is so much more about Mary’s life I could have included in this blog, was I not already well over my normal word count. Yet, even after learning about her, I still don’t really know who she was. Was she an innocent pawn being shoved around by the many powerful people around her? Was she an evil person guilty of the many things for which she was accused? Was she simply unprepared and unable to comprehend the intricacies of Scottish politics after growing up in France? After more than 400 years of research into her life, historians still cannot determine the answers to these questions. Yet one thing is sure – Mary, Queen of Scots still fascinates many of us.
True confessions time – I love watching the remodeling shows on HGTV. I watch them nearly every night to help me unwind before I go to sleep. Which makes it all the more ironic now that I am having such trouble with my own remodeling plans.
We have decided it is time to give our bathrooms a makeover. One in particular needs help, because it still has the light blue fixtures which were popular in the 60’s or 70’s. Given how many hours I have spent watching other people on TV fix up bathrooms, you would think I would know exactly what I want to do with ours. Not so.
A couple of major design questions are stumping me. For example, both of our full baths currently have tub-shower combinations, and I can’t decide whether to keep that configuration in both rooms, or convert one to a walk-in shower. We no longer have small children needing a tub, but future homeowners might, so I definitely want to keep at least one tub in the house. But – which bathroom? The master on the second floor, or the bath on the first floor used by guests?
And speaking of the master bath on the second floor – there is a sharp corner with a sloped ceiling above it at the top of our stairs. So getting anything large up to the second floor is always dicey. (We have had to touch up the paint on that sloped ceiling more than once after carrying something up or down the stairs.) Which has me debating whether to replace the current vanity in the master bath with another large one (my usual preference) or two smaller ones which would have less storage space but would be easier to install.
Such decisions! This has been a part of the stress and distractions keeping me from my writing and my blogging the last couple of weeks. But we have a lull now in between meeting with people and exploring various options, so maybe I can get myself back into my regular writing routine. In the meantime, if anyone has any thoughts for me on the number of tubs or vanities – I will gladly take any input!
My apologies for being so late posting my blog today. My whole afternoon schedule has been thrown out the window, albeit for a good reason. I just finished final revisions on one of my manuscripts It took longer than I thought it would and I sat in my writing chair longer than I planned.
Some time back, I discovered an interesting list of different methods used to keep perishable food cold, pre-electricity. Here are some of the more common methods:
I am probably not the only person reading this who has seen a root cellar. These were a common way of keeping food cool in the summer for hundreds of years. The house I lived in during most of the 80's and 90's still had the cellar doors outside. However, the concept of using cooler temperatures below the ground pre-dates pioneer root cellar ingenuity. People in the past also used caves if there were any nearby, and sometimes water wells if there weren’t. Pitchers of milk, cheese and meat were tucked into the cave or hung on ropes deep in a well.
Running water is cooler than standing water because the additional water surface exposed to the air causes more evaporation. Since early settlers generally built their homes near a water source, this often gave them a ready-made place to set their perishable food to keep it cold. (As long as it was in a container to keep something else in the river from eating it.)
A running stream isn’t needed to produce evaporation. Anything wrapped in wet fabric and then placed where a breeze would hit it would be cooled down as the water in the wet fabric evaporated. (This didn’t work as well in a humid climate, but worked well in more arid areas.)
This method is actually still used in some parts of the world. It is a primitive type of refrigerator created by placing a smaller unglazed clay pot inside a large unglazed pot, then filling the space between the two pots with sand. Food was placed in the smaller pot. Once water was poured over the sand, it would soak through the clay pots. The water which reached the outer surface of the larger pot would evaporate, thereby producing the same cooling effect as mentioned above. A zeer pot could be recreated today by placing a medium-sized clay flower pot inside a larger one and then finding something to use as a cover.
This is the most recent pre-refrigeration method of keeping food cold. Your grandparents probably remember using one. An ice box looked much like a small refrigerator with no motor. Ice which had been harvested during the winter for this purpose would be placed in the top compartment of the ice box, and food was placed on lower shelves. The heavier cold air surrounding the ice sank down and circulated around the food on the shelves. Instant refrigeration.
To me, one of the intriguing things about these methods is how easy it would be for any of us to try them ourselves. I am not suggesting we unplug our refrigerators, but it might be fun to experiment with one or more method to see how well it worked. (Not that most of us need to worry about keeping food cold in current temperatures outside, but it might be a fun thing to do with children when the weather warms up.) If you do try one of these methods, I would love to hear how it worked for you.
Until next week – stay warm!
Welcome back to my blog after the holiday break. I hope you all had a lovely end of 2017.
Now that we have started a new year, it is also time for one of my regular features – it's time to take a peek at another unusual house, and wonder what stories it could tell if the walls could talk. In honor of the cold weather chilling most of the country right now, I chose a corresponding winter scene.
This picture, once I get past the cold sensation it produces, raises all sorts of questions for me. How does one prepare for winter in a place where the snow nearly covers the house? If the owners can leave the house, how do they get around? And on those long days when they can’t leave the house, what do they do all day? Although, I imagine staying warm and fed could consume all available time if this house is as isolated as it appears.
The possibility of children also living in this house raises even more questions. What to the children do on snowy days like this? Do they manage to go outside and burn off energy sledding or with snowball fights? Or are they stuck inside, bouncing off the walls all day? Poor parents, if that is the case.
If these walls could talk, I think they would simply release a heavy sigh and wish for warmer weather. Just like the rest of us. What do you think?
Here is the last trivia quiz before Christmas -- this time, about Christmas trees. I hope you do better than I did on some of these! As before, the answers are at the bottom of the post.
And since this is my last blog before the holiday -- Merry Christmas!
Christmas Tree Quiz
1. Where did the Christmas tree originate?
Question 1: The correct answer is the Europe.
Question 2: The correct answer is 16th.
Question 3: The correct answer is Florida Pine.
Question 4: The correct answer is Tree Farms.
Question 5: The correct answer is Goose Feathers.
Question 6: The correct answer is Real Candles.
Question 7: The correct answer is Flocked.
Question 8: The correct answer is Weekend After Thanksgiving.
Question 9: The correct answer is On Christmas Eve.
Question 10: The correct answer is Pagan.
I would like to thank the website http://www.christmastrivia.net/ for providing the three quizzes I used. If you would like to do more quizzes, check out the site.
Here is this week's Christmas trivia quiz, this time about movies. How many of the questions can you answer? The correct answers are provided at the bottom.
Christmas Movie Trivia
1. What is the name of Rudolph's dad?
Question 1: The correct answer is the Donner.
Question 2: The correct answer is Tim Burton.
Question 3: The correct answer is Hocus Pocus.
Question 4: The correct answer is Clarence.
Question 5: The correct answer is A BB Gun.
Question 6: The correct answer is Ebenezer.
Question 7: The correct answer is Small Heart.
Question 8: The correct answer is New York.
Question 9: The correct answer is Wings.
Question 10: The correct answer is Home Alone.
I write historical romances, and I invite you to share the journey to published author with me.