My personal life and writing life intersected in an unexpected way this past weekend. As many of you are already aware, I love old houses. I love the history they absorb into their very foundations, and the stories they could tell – you guessed what I am about to say – if their walls could talk.
I spent this past weekend at the former home of one of the Ringling brothers of Ringling Brothers Circus fame. Once they all started making serious money from the circus, three of the brothers built large homes in the town of Baraboo, Wisconsin. This was where they started the circus, and where they returned with the circus each winter to rest up the animals and prepare new acts for the coming year. One of the homes was destroyed and another is now a museum. But the third home stayed in the family for over 100 years, and was only recently sold to someone else. It is now a B&B (http://ringlinghousebnb.com), which is how I was able to stay there.
Aside from being a gorgeous old home, I soon realized it also would be the perfect inspiration for the home my hero lives in with his mother and younger brother. They are also a wealthy family, so would also have a large house. Plus, the age of the house is about right. As a result, I spent a good portion of the weekend looking at the various rooms in the house and visualizing my characters there. As a bonus, the property also includes the original carriage house/stable, the barn, and even a cottage Charles Ringling built for his mother-in-law. It is a perfect example of how a Midwestern estate in the early 1900s might have looked.
Our hosts at the B&B were very gracious and gave us a tour of the home, from the walk-in safe in the basement to the unexpected fine woodwork inside the carriage house. The house has been very well preserved and still has all of the original woodwork and huge pocket doors from when it was built. And let me say, the library at the back of the house, with its bow window and built in mahogany bookcases, would be the perfect place to sit and write. Or, since I can’t do that, I can at least imagine my hero sitting in there working late at night.
All in all, what started as a weekend spent with friends became much more than that. I now have great pictures (mental and physical) for the home which is the primary location in my current story. And I had a great time exploring a historic old house in the bargain. Life doesn’t get much better than that.
This date in history is an interesting one. Of all the many things which occurred on this date, I’d like to talk about the one which had the most impact on many of us. On this date, in 1620, the passengers on the Mayflower finally spotted land.
It was a long journey in many ways. It took some time to even leave Europe. The Pilgrims were living in Leiden in the Netherlands at the time, but life was hard for them there. Plus, it looked as though Spain might soon be at war with the Netherlands, which could bring the Spanish Inquisition down on them as non-Catholics. However, the idea of emigrating to the Americas was terrifying also. They had heard the stories about the Roanoke colony and the difficulties at Jamestown.
Even after the Pilgrims decided to send some of their group on the first voyage, the planning took some time. They didn’t have the money to fund the venture, so entered into an arrangement with a group of investors who would provide the ship and supplies in return for receiving timber, furs, etc. from the new colony. The negotiations with the investors were difficult, and eventually included the Pilgrims agreeing to include a second ship full of Separatists from England on their journey.
With all of this, the ship the Speedwell, which was to carry the Pilgrims from the Netherlands to meet the rest of their group in England, didn’t leave port until July 22. The Speedwell began leaking, so there was a week’s delay while they patched it up. Both ships left England for America on August 5, but the Speedwell began leaking again so they went back to England to repair it before departing again. After having to do this one more time, the group decided to abandon the Speedwell and make the trip with only the Mayflower.
All of this delayed them by another month. After they abandoned the Speedwell and jammed most of its cargo and passengers onto the Mayflower, they left England for good on September 6. By this time, the passengers had been living on a ship for about a month and a half already. The voyage itself was difficult. All 102 passengers lived in an area which was roughly 68 feet long and 24 feet wide and only about five and one half feet high. This area also included masts, hatches to get between the decks, and the winches used to lift cargo between the decks. This all took up some of the space.
After the first month, the Mayflower started encountering rough storms in the North Atlantic seas. The winds were sometimes so strong they could not control the ship’s direction and had to let it drift with the winds. In spite of this, the ship didn’t go as far off course as one might expect. They intended to land near the Hudson River, so perhaps they didn’t do all that bad, all things considered.
As the sun rose on the morning of November 9, the ship’s crew spotted land. It wasn’t the Hudson River, but Cape Cod. The Pilgrims intended to continue on to the Hudson River, but extremely rough waters forced them to stay where they were. The men left the ship to explore and start building. The poor women were forced to live for another four months in crowded conditions on the boat until they were finally allowed to leave it in the following year.
Most of us know some version of what happened after they landed, and how it resulted in the Thanksgiving holiday we all mark now. I thought it might be interesting to give you this glimpse into the difficulties the Pilgrims experienced before they even arrived in America. Personally, this gives me a greater appreciation for everything with which I have been blessed.
I was heartsick to learn of the passing on Saturday of one of my favorite authors. Janet Chapman wrote humorous, quirky contemporary romances which all took place in her beloved home state of Maine. Many of her books are on my keeper shelf.
Whenever I need a pleasant diversion for an hour or two from life’s stresses, she is one of the authors I read. Her books often have a mystical or magical element which never overpowers but simply adds to the fun. What I find especially likeable is that she saw the wonder and magic which is ever-present around us, if we only look for it. Here is a quote I found on her Facebook page:
“The magic is real, people; as real as the sunrise, the ebb and flow of the tides, the haunted call of a loon, that unseen fish tugging on the end of a line, the birth of a baby, the death of a loved one. The problem, in my opinion, is that these things seem so everyday ordinary that we forgot how extraordinary they are.” ~Janet Chapman
I wish I could have met Janet Chapman in person. She sounds like a kind, funny, kick-butt and determined woman. From what I understand, she was still trying to finish her last book even as she battled cancer. Maybe today would be a good day to pick one of her stories off my shelf and settle in for a satisfying read. It’s the best way I can think of to honor a prolific and extraordinary author.
Farewell, Janet. Thanks for the many happy hours.
To me, the best time to be a writer is before you sit down and write the story. I have taken to calling this the “honeymoon” period. Like a true honeymoon, it is a time of fun and joy and endless promise for a writer.
I been in this fun stage lately with a new historical romance series I am brainstorming. This is such an enjoyable time, because the story ideas are flowing and anything seems possible. The moment when all of the ideas start coalescing into a plausible story is magical. The ideas start flowing even faster then, which amps up my energy and enthusiasm to write.
One could compare this to the moment in a wedding reception when you look at the happy young couple sharing their first dance and see their loving future glowing bright in their eyes. Later, when the laughing, excited couple runs to their car under a hail of rice to depart for their honeymoon, it lifts everyone around them. Somehow, you know they will have a great time on their trip and a wonderful life together afterward. This produces an extra level of energy in everyone waving good-bye.
This is similar to the energy I get when dreaming up a new story. I suppose this zeal is intentional on my muse’s part. I will need this enthusiasm to carry me through the months of writing the first draft. In a marriage, once the honeymoon is over, it takes hard work and perseverance to keep the marriage healthy and moving forward. So it is with a new story. Sitting in front of the keyboard and typing the thousands of words necessary to keep the story moving forward is not nearly as much fun as partying somewhere exotic.
So for now, I will enjoy the honeymoon. The real work of marrying an idea to my writing is yet to come. But I know I can make this relationship work, and get to that golden moment when I am able to type “The End” on what could be considered my story’s first anniversary. When that day comes, I will invite you to the “anniversary dinner” to celebrate it with me.
In the meantime, check back to this blog for updates on my writing journey as I return from story honeymoon and get back to the hard work of making my writing marriage a success.
I have another friend I would like to spotlight in my blog this week. I met Sara Dahmen (www.saradahmen.com) through our writing group. If I were creating a list of modern day Renaissance women, I would have to add her to the list. In addition to being a writer of adult and children’s books, she is also an artist, an artisan, and an entrepreneur. I don’t know how she finds the time to do it all, given she is also the mother of three small children, but she does all this plus is very involved in several organizations related to writing and books. And she is a genuinely nice person to boot.
Some of you may be thinking her name sounds familiar. Sara is the person who, while wearing her artisan metalsmith hat, created a custom cookie cutter for my mom. I don’t have a photo of the cutter yet to share with you, but do have something even better. Below are some photos of the hand-made copper cooking products Sara sells through her company (http://housecopper.com/) as well as through a network (http://www.housekeepercrockery.com/) she formed to include craftsmen selling hand-made cookware in various forms.
If you value quality, hand-made cookware which hearkens back to an earlier century, then I think you will enjoy this. Settle back and admire what can happen when people strive to preserve our past. (Oh, and if you are thinking about Christmas presents, you could do worse than follow a link to one of her websites. Hint to my husband.) I hope you enjoy her work as much as I do.
It is time again for “If These Walls Could Talk.” In honor of Halloween later this month, I decided to share a picture of a house which certainly looks as though it could be haunted.
This appears to have been a large, lovely home at one time. But unfortunately, it hasn’t been that for years. It has definitely fallen on hard times. Now, I think we are more likely to see a ghost flitting in and out the windows than to see a corporeal human walking in the front door.
What sort of ghosts do you think would live here? When I look at this picture, I hear children laughing as they run through the halls. I visualize a family gathering around a large table to share the events of their day while they eat supper. I would like to think any spirits present are happy residuals of the families who once lived here.
Even though it is overgrown and barely standing, there is still something about this house which to me is more hopeful than haunted. I get the sense this house is wishing someone would rescue it from its current disrepair and make it a happy home again.
What do you see when you look at this house? Does it speak to you, or is it too far gone for that? I am wondering what you think this house would say, If These Walls Could Talk.
If you want to see some of the previous buildings used, you can find earlier blogs on my website. Also, if you have any suggestions for future buildings to blog about, I would love to hear from you. http://www.karenmarcam.com/contact.html
When trying to select a topic this week, I considered – for half a second – writing about my favorite romance authors. However, the idea only lasted for half a second because 1) I would surely miss someone, and 2) I wouldn’t want to offend the ones who didn’t make it on the list. So I won’t name my favorite authors. But I can tell you what I look for in stories.
This is where it all starts. (I know, for some of you this is probably so obvious, you are fighting the urge to roll your eyes. Bear with me.) I don’t care where she is from or what trendy occupation she has or about the color of her hair. I do care that she is a likeable person. I want to have a reason to care about what happens to her. I want her to have some spunk, even if she might not realize it yet. Blindly naïve, doormats or TSTL need not apply.
I have a similar list for the heroes. He doesn’t have to be a Seal or a billionaire. But I hope he has enough internal strength to know the right thing to do and be willing to do it, even if he grumbles the whole time. In a historical, I want a man willing to take on a gang of outlaws or to do whatever he must to protect his clan. In a contemporary, I want a man who will stand up to the town bully and will also stand for the flag. And he needs to have (or learn) patience when the heroine as at the end of her rope. Bonus points if he helps her (even grudgingly) tie a knot to hang on.
This has to be believable, too. Now, don’t get me wrong, I’m willing to suspend a little disbelief, especially when the genre clearly calls for it. And if there is a huge plot twist, a good writer has already laid the groundwork to make it seem plausible. Beyond that, the specifics of the plot are less important. Give me a believable conflict and characters who must grow and struggle to get through it and I’m happy. Characters simply talking about their problems through an entire story make me yawn. Improbable events inserted to take the story in a certain direction make me want to throw the book against the wall. But for an author who does a good job setting up the plot, I will happily follow characters on a cross-country quest or watch them battle their own demons. .
An author does not need to load a book with a lot of details to make me happy. A small sprinkling is sufficient, if the author gets them right. There are some authors who, with only a word or two, can convey a setting or an emotion or make you feel as though you just learned something about another place or time. These are the ones I enjoy. Conversely, wildly improbable details are probably what make me want to throw a book against the wall the quickest. If a story takes place on a farm, have the characters actually get dirty, and have them work longer hours than 9:00 – 5:00. If a story takes place in the mountains in winter, I hope the character will be dressed for the weather.
This is a quick summary of what I am looking for in a story. Is your list similar? I suppose most of us are looking for essentially the same thing. We all want to find a great storyteller who will keep us engrossed in a story long past the time we should put it down and go to sleep.
Getting from beginning writer to published author can be a long, slow journey. This has become obvious to me in many ways the last few weeks.
One indicator was the date on an old story I am revising now. It is hard to believe I wrote this story back in 2006. Looking at the story now, I can see how much my writing has progressed since then. I would like to think I no longer write stories with characters who are not fully developed. The poor heroine in this story has been waiting a long time for me to show her full potential. Also, the exclamation points! I know I do not use them nearly as often – if ever – in my stories now. I am still not sure what prompted me to go back to this story now, but I am glad I did. Not just because it deserves to be fixed, but also because it is encouraging to see how far I have come since I first wrote it.
Though, apparently, I have not come far enough yet. I received another “good” rejection recently. While I am happy it was by and large very positive, I am waiting for the day I advance from a good rejection to an actual offer. All of my recent rejections said essentially the same thing. My writing is strong, but not quite strong enough to break into what is currently a very competitive historical romance market. This is a good mile marker, but not the end destination. So now I must figure out what lessons I need to learn to get me to the next level with my writing. I guess I still have some miles to travel on my journey to being published. But I know I am getting closer.
Some other romance writing friends and I were discussing this topic last night. We all want to be published, and are willing to put in the work to get there. But no one can tell us exactly what it is we need to do. In fact, sometimes we get conflicting messages from experts in the industry. We had a good laugh about it last night. It’s too bad there isn’t a crystal ball for writers in our situation. But since there isn’t, we will all keep moving forward, perhaps taking a detour or two, until we finally end up at our destination.
It may take some time, but I have no doubt we will all get there. I am convinced we all have the necessary skill and determination. It’s just a matter of perseverance now.
I may not end this journey as quickly or in the story vehicle with which I started the trip, but someday I will reach “The End” on my journey to published author.
I am glad you are along for the ride with me. If you want to see some of my previous stops on the journey, you can find them in earlier blogs on my website: http://www.karenmarcam.com/
Fair warning, I am shamelessly promoting a friend in this blog. Since I wanted to focus on crafts and hobbies this week, I decided to share a resource some of you might find helpful.
Like me, Debbie Warner has worked in IT for years. During the day, she is a dedicated and experienced project manager. However, she is also one of the most creative and talented people I know. (There seems to be something about working in a very technical field like IT which makes people go in the opposite direction with their free time.)
I have witnessed (and benefited from) Debbie’s skills with candle-making and jewelry-making in the past. More recently, she has been focusing on paper crafting. She is so enthused about it, she works some evenings and weekends at a brick-and-mortar craft store where she teaches classes. (Having co-trained with Debbie in the past, I am sure she is awesome!) She also has an online blog (http://debrahwarner.com/) in which she shares beautiful photos of cards she has made, and provides the directions to make them.
So rather than me blathering on longer, telling stories about Debbie, I will let her work tell the tale. Below are some photos of cards she has designed. You can find the material list and directions for each of these on her blog. Even if you don't create cards, you might – like me – find yourself simply appreciating their beauty and the underlying craft. Enjoy!
This morning, I went down a research rabbit hole. I intended to answer a quick question on medieval widows. Instead, I ended up looking at all sorts of interesting medieval history. One of the most intriguing tangents I took was about food.
Even back then, most people had three meals a day, though the timing and content shifted a bit from what we are used to now. Breakfast was a simple meal, usually bread and cheese, and was generally eaten around sunrise. Dinner, served between 10:00 AM and noon, was the biggest meal of the day. While still a relatively simple meal for the lower classes, a lord might expect to see more meat, fruit, etc. at his dinner. A lighter supper was served close to sunset. This included more of the bread and cheese, and perhaps a simple stew for most people.
People had fruits and vegetables available, especially during the summer months. They also consumed a large amount of fish. Since every location in England was less than 100 miles from the shore, fish was generally inexpensive and easy to obtain.
When a lord had a reason to celebrate, simple meals went out the window. I stumbled across a few records of what was consumed at specific banquets, and it was eye-opening. Lords used banquets as an opportunity to demonstrate their wealth, with both the quantity of food provided and the variety of expensive spices used.
Here is a listing of foods consumed by the 6,000 guests at a feast after the installation of the Archbishop of York in 1467. (I must digress for a moment here. How does one serve 6,000 people at a meal? The mind boggles.) Anyway, here a partial list:
A discussion of medieval eating and drinking would be incomplete without some mention of ale. This was the second most popular way of consuming grain, after bread. However, ale in those times was very different from what we think of today. It had less alcohol, and was actually relatively nutritious. Many people either brewed their own, or acquired it from a local brewer. Interestingly, brewing ale was such a common occupation for women, the surname “Brewster” today is derived from the label for those female brewers.
I am. It’s a good thing I ate lunch. One of the biggest lessons I learned while down this food rabbit hole was that, contrary to myth, people in Medieval England actually ate about as well as we do now. Granted, they didn’t have ice cream or chocolate yet, but they did have access to a wide variety of foods.
Since collecting recipes is a mild obsession of mine, I am tempted now to start collecting medieval recipes. If anyone knows of some sources, I would love to hear your suggestions. In the meantime, I guess it’s back to writing my actual story for me.
I write historical romances, and I invite you to share the journey to published author with me.