This was a good week for my writing friends. On Monday, a friend’s first book was released. Jennifer Trethewey writes fantastic historical romances located in Scotland. Also, the print version of another friend’s third story will be released tomorrow. Barbara M. Britton writes Biblical fiction with amazing details. Both of these ladies work very hard at their craft, and deserve to have much success. What’s even better is that these are not the only authors I know in my area with recent releases. When I look at the list for November, I see an astonishing eleven books listed!
I am tremendously happy for all of these women, and for the rest of our writing group as well. Our RWA chapter is quite tight-knit, and seeing someone else’s success seems to be good for the rest of us as well. Not only because we are genuinely happy for them, and that always puts all of us in a better mood. But also, from what I have observed, their success begets our success.
What do I mean by this? Seeing people we know succeed after years of effort encourages the rest of us to keep trying. I suppose this is true in any career, but for writers who so often work in isolation, I believe it is especially important. Hearing someone else’s excitement as they announce their first sale and later seeing their book cover reinforces my conviction that if I keep working and submitting, one day I will be the one revealing a cover and asking for reviews.
So, yes, this was a good week to be happy for all of my author friends. I wish you all much success. And I hope you don’t mind if I use your achievements to keep myself motivated.
When it comes holidays, I am a traditionalist. I believe Thanksgiving is a day we should set aside to be thankful for the blessings we have. While we undoubtedly would be better off if we expressed gratitude every day, I hope we all spend a little time on this one day a year thinking of our family and friends and reflecting on the many gifts and opportunities we have all received. (And personally, I don't think ignoring the holiday to spend the day Christmas shopping demonstrates gratitude or a thankful heart. Sorry, but it doesn’t.)
What am I thankful for this Thanksgiving? Many things. Here is a partial list:
What are you thankful for? I hope you can find a few quiet moments today to pause and reflect. The Pilgrims stopped working and building and harvesting to give thanks for what they already had and for the bright future God had provided for them. My Thanksgiving wish is that we all find time to put down the drumstick or mute the football game to do the same.
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.
I write historical romances, and I invite you to share the journey to published author with me.