Tuesday, December 09, 2014

Winter. Snuggled in.

Snow. Ice pellets. Howling winds. Temps of 26 degrees.

But I bought milk, meat and apple juice yesterday. I bought roses.

I haz a wood stove. I haz kitty litter and satusmas. I haz egg custard and bread and a rough-draft chapter to whip into shape.

Life is good.
. . . so long as the electric holds out.

Friday, December 05, 2014

The Oldest White Horse on the Hill

The Oldest White Horse on the Hill

Joanna here, talking about a British hill figure, the White Horse of Uffington.
Uffington horse attrib davepriceThis is Nicola’s neighborhood, as you see here.  I will nonetheless forge on bravely into her bailiwick.
Okay. Let’s say you’re a Regency miss visiting friends in Oxfordshire in the parish of Uffington.  Even though the White Horse can be seen twenty miles away, your carriage arrived in the Vale of the White Horse at night. You had to pull yourself out of bed at dawn to creep out in the garden and finally see it.
A skimped, hurried breakfast and you’re off.  This is Midsummer’s Day. You drive through throngs in the morning to get to the White Horse. You’re not surprised there’s a fair and foodstalls, jugs of beer, and sports. Midsummer’s Day is always  a big event. You have a village fair back home in Yorkshire. But this is huge. Beyond Cerne_Abbas_Giant_Renovation_(10)_-_geograph.org.uk_-_970091anything. There must be thousands of people here.
You’re in time to see the festivities start. The young men gather in a troop, up spade, shovel, mattocks, and hoe, and head up hill for the “scouring of the White Horse.”  All the nearby towns, you’ll be told, claim a role in the scouring and restoration of the White Horse by ancient custom.
Now I will break into your Regency scene here and say that I have been to the White Horse of Uffington myself.  It’s impressive. There it is, carved into the endless green, 374 feet long, 227 feet high.  Designed to be in proportion when viewed from below. It’s . . . big.
The figure is on the side of that sloping hill, just a lazy walk from the road below. It was clear and quiet when I was there.  The figure feels very old. The artistic convention of it is sophisticated, but alien.  And it’s beautiful.
There’s a superstition that if you stand in the ‘eye’ of the horse and make a wish, it’ll come true.  So I did that. And it pretty much did.
Back to the Regency, where I spend much of my time. Your giggly friend twirls her umbrella and admires the manly form of the local squire’s son who’s joined the village lads scraping away at the encroaching vegetation.
The_head_of_the_White_Horse_of_Uffington
What it looks like near the eye
You climb the hill with the others to get a close look. The White Horse is made simply enough.  You can walk over and see how the shape of it is cut into the ground. This chalky ground underfoot has fascinated you from the first. The paths bordering the garden at your friend’s house are all perfectly, dazzlingly white. The stones in the fields are white. Under a layer of grass and dirt, you find chalk.  The White Horse was created when people scraped away the grass, set the edges, and filled in level with more chalk. But in every generation since then, these people have kept the figure alive. You’re lucky enough to see it happen when you arrive at the one-year-in-seven festival when the White Horse is ‘scoured’.
Come for the dancing, singing and drinking, stay for the legends.

Read the rest at Word Wenches.

Saturday, November 29, 2014

Back again after a hiatus

Cat, for no reason
My blog has been in abeyance for a couple months. This is a 'New Book Coming Out and Desperately Doing Promo' sorta thing.

I will now try to keep on top of the blog again and post interesting things in a timely manner.


Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Regency Spices

DSCN1964
 I was fumbling through my spice shelf the other day, as one does, trying to decide whether I wanted to make some kind of fancy beet salad to go with my last burrata cheese ball — this turned out to be a non-problem because I left Catonporch5the cheese on the counter while I was thinking all this and the cat jumped up, seized the cheese ball in her little white teeth, and went running off to scarf it down in secret under the forsythias.
Anyway, I got to wondering which of my spices I got here in my house would be in the kitchen cabinet of your well-supplied Regency housewife or cook.
Up above there’s my spice cabinet, which I have over the sink because having it over the stove is harder on the spices, them getting heated up and damp from the steam and all. As you will see, there is a bit of a crowd of spices.
So what spices and herbs do I hold in common with my Regency housewife?
She would have had access to all the herbs that grew in hedgerows and kitchen gardens since the first modern people walked across a land bridge into the British Isles about 40,000 years ago … though they didn’t so much go in for DSCN1986kitchen garden at that time.
A Regency woman would have easily matched my pitiful little array of traditional herbs. See them pictured in a line: sage, rosemary, mint, thyme, and oregano. She would have called the oregano ‘wild marjoram’, just to make everybody’s life interesting.
Wiki HerbsThe Regency housewife would have had many more of these traditional herbs at hand — dried or fresh parsley, (thus the ‘parsley, sage, rosemary, and thyme’ that are headed to Scarborough Fair,) ordinary marjoram, dill, sweet basil, coriander, (of which more below,) fennel, garlic, scallions, mustard, saffron, and caraway. And she’d use herbs we don’t necessarily associate with everyday cuisine any more, like marigolds, lavender, roses, and violets, tansy, and angelica.

And follow the rest of this posting at Word Wenches here.

Wednesday, July 09, 2014

Regency Weather Lore

Wench weather caspar david friedrichJoanna here:  The other day, we had a bit of a storm -- buckets of rain, impenetrable clouds walking up the hill and past my window, trees lashing back and forth like mad things, a march of roiling black thunderheads over the valley.

This was our taste of Hurricane Arthur, and fairly mild it was when compared to other folks' experience.

It got me to thinking about weather in a historical sorta way. Before Arthur went strolling up the Wenches weather gustave callebottecoast,  I had a week of weathermen showing me charts and maps and making dire predictions.

If I'd had a herd of sheep I would have moved them to the lower meadow or the upper hill or whatever. I would have made sure the roof of the hen house was tapped down tight and in good repair. I could have gone out to the fields and brought the corn in. (We do Indian corn -- maize -- in this section of the world and it's getting ripe on the southern slopes.) I would have worried about the little baby peaches on the trees -- not that I could do much about them.

And read the rest at Word Wenches here.

Tuesday, April 29, 2014

Win a FREE COPY of the Forbidden Rose audiobook

Dear All --

This is a wonderful opportunity to get a Free Copy of the most excellent Forbidden Rose audiobook.

The contest is over on Goodreads and will be open till tomorrow.  Pop over here and give it a go.  
Hurry.

Two ... no, three things to mention.  No, four.  Well, several things.

This is US only, and I am very sorry if the audiobook is not available where you live.  I feel just terrible about this.  All I can suggest is, check Book Depository for one possibility.  Ask at a local bookstore that may be able to order it.  Ask a US friend to buy it and mail it to you.
Geo restrictions frustrate me terribly.

The audiobook is about brand spanking new, so you are in the forefront of this reading delight.

Tantor is also going to put out Lord and Spymaster and Black Hawk over the next couple months.  I haven't heard these yet.  I am waiting impatiently.  Can I say I am on Tantor-hooks?

The Forbidden Rose audiobook and the others are narrated by the extraordinarily talented Kirsten Potter. (Who narrated Spymaster's Lady and did such a wonderful job.)  She is so good she should have groupies.

Teresa Medeiros has given me a cover quote on the audiobook.  Like, wow.

If you are at GoodReads anyway, wondering if you're going to enter this contest, remember you can check out the reviews of the book itself right at that site to decide whether it's worth the trouble. 

Jo (having done this huge gollop of prom, fans self in exhaustion.)

But, really.  I mean.  Free audiobook. How can you go wrong?

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Technical Topic -- Do I need an agent?

Because advice is kinda like this

Giving advice here:

First, you finish the book.

I. If you're going for print publication with one of the Big Five New York Publishers you probably need an agent, because these publishers mostly don't look at unagented manuscripts.

Who are the Big Five? If you go to a book-and-mortar bookstore or the book aisle in the grocery and run your finger down a row of books, 90% of them are from the Big Five. Most of the folks who make good money writing publish with one of these imprints. We're talking Hatchette, McMillian, Penguin Random House, Harper Collins, Simon & Schuster and all the subsidiaries thereof.

So that is one career path. If you take it, you need an agent.

Your agent at work
A good agent will not only get your foot in the door, she will (a) know the best place to sell your work, which makes the sale more likely, (b) get the best contract terms, and (c) keep the author from making contract mistakes.

There are exceptions to the rule that you need an agent to get in this particular door. Some folk meet an editor at a conference; they're already published; they have a following for their fanfic; they are successfully self-published; they know somebody who knows somebody ...


II. Some imprints from the Big Five (Tor, Avon,) and some large independent publishers (HQN, Baen, Kensington, Ellora's Cave, Sourcebooks, Grand Central, Carina) accept unagented manuscripts.

These books are distributed to brick-and-mortar stores and groceries. Writers can do very well indeed dealing with this set of publishers. A number of the folks making a living at writing sell to these companies.

Your agent helps them pick YOUR ms
If you plan to deal with them, you do not need an agent to get your work seen. But a good agent might still perform functions (a), (b), and (c) above.


III. E-publishers and almost all small presses accept unagented submissions.

Agents do not generally submit to these publishers because there's not enough advance money in it.





Many satisfying options don't need an agent



IV. Self publishing/indie publishing, of course, doesn't need an agent.




So, the short answer is --

Summarizing all this
-- You need an agent for some career paths and not for others.
-- There are many profitable career paths that don't require an agent.
-- Even where an agent is required, you may be able to sneak by without one, depending.
-- Agents earn their weight in gold at contract time.
-- If you plan to submit to the Big Five, get an agent before you start firing your ms out to random publishers.
-- Finish the book.



Monday, March 17, 2014

Technical Topic -- Just Leave Stuff Out

Elsewhere, somebody asked, (I'm paraphrasing,)

"Time passes between one chapter and the next.  Stuff happens.
Do I have to write out all those scenes of checking into a picturesque inn and selling the horse and leaving a message for the dwarf?

How do I show the reader what went on without dropping long, boring explanations at the start of the new chapter?"


This is part of the larger topic of
 Just Leave Stuff Out
where we don't tell the reader most of
what's going on in our timeline
because most of what people do is excruciatingly boring.

So you don't take the character Miles out of the library and show him walking along the
Not taking every separate step
hall and then downstairs with his hand on the bannister and then down another hall which you describe in detail and then to the kitchen door and then he opens the door and walks in . . .

It's more like,
"I'll just ask Doris about that." Miles stomped out of the library.
He didn't find Doris in the kitchen.  She was out back, in the kitchen garden, hanging up damp tea towels, looking frazzled. 

We have skipped right from brandy by the library fire to tea towels in the garden and skipped the dull long dull trek through Milton manor.

(We have, incidentally, changed scene without knocking the reader over the head with it.  Did you see that?  Zip.)
The reader is grateful.
Even Miles is grateful.

When we move from one chapter to another and change place and let time elapse, we take advantage of Just Leave Stuff Out.

Chaptering is a place where we have have lots to do.  It's a bit like the beginning of the whole story, in fact.  We re-involve the reader.  Just as we don't start our story with a collection of backstory factoids, we don't start a new chapter with a clunky summary of intervening action.    


The triumvirate. I leave you to decide who is which.

















Here's what we do when we start a new chapter in a radically new place.
Generally speaking, our goals are:

(1) establishment of POV, (if in 3rd limited,)
(2) establishment of setting, and
(3) action that is happening right now.

This is the triumvirate of
Whose head am I in?
Where the devil am I?
What's going on?  (We want something going on even if it's trivial.  We want a character in motion.)

Lookit here.

***
Chapter Six


Hork was as fond of rodents as the next man. His sister raised prize-winning ROUXs back home--fine eating and and a soft, spinnable
Action holding onto the story
wool in the fall. But he didn't like the wild pygmy variety that scattered underfoot as they walked into The Willing Wench.



-- And we got a character in motion, rather than a static scene.

He's walking into an inn.  We could even add more opening of doors or pushing aside of bystanders if we wanted to.
Motion.  Action.

-- We know where we are in space and time.  We are in the scene because the character has performed an action.


-- We have identified the POV character for the chapter because we see his internals and he is the first identified character.


In short, this first paragraph does the triumvirate of scene establishment.


I like to go pretty fast into dialog at the head of a chapter. Just my preference. I like this first dialog to hold emotion about the scene at hand and to hint at the next problem.

"Why don't we just eat in a sewer and skip the middleman?" He followed Jeremy to a table in the arse end of the tavern, careful where he put his feet.

"You wanted skanky? I give you skanky." Jeremy brushed at the history of former meals that encrusted the table. Gave up. Sat on the bench. "Brytog will like this place."

"And we have to please Brytog."

"God help us, we do."


Not mentioning the obvious
Okay. We are fifty or a hundred words into the scene.  All of the words have been in the scene's realtime.  We've added more stage business to show time passing and to solidify the fictive place.  This is about the earliest point that we bring up anything that happened elsewhen and elsewhere.

We mention only what is not obvious.

And our readers are very very smart, so lots of stuff will be obvious to them.

If our characters are warm and dry in the new chapter and last chapter they fell in a river, the reader will figure out they have changed clothing. If it is night and last chapter was noon, they know time has passed. If our folks walk off to their room at the inn, we don't need to say or to show one of them renting a room.  We Leave Stuff Out.

We add stuff that is
(1) not bloody obvious,
(2) important, and

(3) related to the problem the characters are going to deal with.

Insofar as possible, we wrap up the backstory factoids in ribbons of what-will-happen-next.

Ok.  Let's add that backstory ...

Jeremy tapped the purse he wore at his belt. "I got three and six for the nag and eight for the tack. It won't be traced back to us. I dropped some of it on replacement arrows, which you can complain about later when we're back at the inn.  The innkeep and the fletcher both say there's no werewolves in town. The Lythrops are hiding or run off in disorder. Or dead."

"Maybe they ate here." Himself, he wasn't going to touch anything that came out of that kitchen, including the tavern wench headed their way.


***

This is same old, same old problem of how to add backstory invisibly.

So let's say, for some arcane reason it's important the pack horse be accounted for.  Let's also say it's important to show somebody rented a room at the inn.
(Though basically these both sound dull as dirt.)
But let's say they're important and we gotta add them.

We want to convey these past factoids without dragging the reader's mind away from the present scene and back into the past.  
So we don't talk about them in a way that calls up the past.

We talk about them now-ish-ly.

The sale of the horse six hours ago greets us in the story present time because it's all about 'we won't get caught'. That's a 'now' worry.  A current worry.  We aren't dragged back to the morning and a scene with the unimportant guy who bought the horse.

The sale of the horse segues to arrows -- arrows with a 'now' location and intended action in the future when they will be examined.  'Why do they need arrows?' the reader asks herself.  This drags her to the future instead of the past.

Also -- 'nother technical point here -- we've given both character a plausible reason to talk about that sale.  We've avoided As You Know Bob where one guy describes dull intervening events to the other.

And if for some reason we want to tell the reader there's an inn chamber rented?
An inn, but probably less exciting than the Willing Wench
We don't go back into the past to show the innkeeper haggling over storing their luggage.  We firmly place that inn-rental factoid in the present by surrounding it with werewolves which are a current and future problem.
(This is like putting medicine into the ball of hamburger and trying to trick the dog into swallowing it, which is to say, not easy.)

So it's less a backstory dump of,"I rented a room. Then I sold the horse. Then I ..."
It's not so much, "This is what I did four hours ago and that is what I did next."

It's more, "When I bought oranges in the market there was no rumor of the princess coming through town,"
which brings the past action of orange purchasing into a relationship with the next problem in the story.

Thursday, January 30, 2014

Technical Topic -- Using the City

A wonderful reader wrote, asking "What sorts of resources do you use to make your cities--London and Paris, in particular--so convincing?  . . .   find your London to be almost a character in and of itself."




As to making the city part of the story . . .  I think we gotta use scenery in a dramatic sense.

When two characters are talking, we layer in lots of stuff between their dialog and internal thoughts to make 'time' pass at the correct rate.  Scenery is one of the things used as a pacing device.

When Justine is walking down the steps in the Coach House and she's really scared I put in description of what's on the walls and what the downstairs looks like so the reader can get a gut feeling of being scared along with her.  That emotional response wouldn't have time to form if I took fifty words to move her from the upstairs to outside the door where she listens to the Tuteurs. 

Likewise, when Jess and Sebastian have left Lazarus and sit looking out over the Thames, the description of the Thames spaces out realization and revelation.  Lets it  unroll slowly. 
Likewise the underground journey in Forbidden Rose is meant to make clear that the rescue attempt is a long, perilous, uncertain, process. If I just said -- "and then they spent a couple hours bumping around in the semi dark till they found ... "  -- it wouldn't let the reader absorb the emotion.

Scenery puts the characters in passing time.

 attrib esprit du sel
Scenery is also symbolic.  It has meaning.

In Forbidden Rose, that passage through the darkness is Orpheus rescuing Eurydice.  Justine going down the stairs to face a great fear is every hero picking up his sword and going forward to meet the dragon. Sebastian and Jess sit face to face and talk, while the River Thames, which is their past, (Jess' mother used to take her there; Sebastian used to scavenge the banks,) flows beside them and away, carrying their past while they reveal it to one another.

The writer needs images.  Contemporary paintings and drawings are great for this. 
But it's not just about having the images in the writer head.

I think it is a mistake to just  'travelogue' a setting.    Sure enough, we need to describe the city.  Describe it vividly.  Tell everybody what the city looks like and what the weather is and colorfuldetailslikethatthere. 

But that's not enough.  The writer has to use the setting to accomplish more than "Isn't this exotic?"  We have to make the setting tell us about the characters.  We match setting to the characters' feelings and purpose. We make setting symbolic.

We supercharge the visuals.  We make them full of feel.


Wednesday, January 15, 2014

Technical Topics -- Scene Breaks, Chapter Breaks and Hiatuses

Elsewhere,
folks were chatting about what a scene is and what a chapter is and how we change POV invisibly.
I made comment, and it's all written out neatly, so now I'm dragging it back to the blog to enjoy.


Starting out small and basic --
A scene is a sequence of continuous action. It's a cohesive section of writing that occurs in one consecutive period of time. Probably follows the same POV character. May have the same setting.

A scene break happens when a chapter has two or more scenes in it. The end of one scene and the start of the next is the scene break. This is marked with a hiatus.
You see this all the time without much noticing.


For instance:
Jenny puts the gun down and crosses the room to drag the body to some more convenient spot.
 (hiatus)
In the kitchen, Helen eats raisins and talks to the cook.

A hiatus is represented in a printed book by an extra empty line.There's a little space.
Except when a hiatus in a print book falls at the bottom of the page.
In that case, the book designer will put a pretty symbol there  ~ ~ ~ or ♛^♛ or whatever to show us there is a hiatus.

A hiatus is traditionally represented in the manuscript by a # centered on a line with empty lines above and below. But a hiatus can be represented by any convention the author chooses, so long as this is all clear to the editor and copyeditor.  The author can use asterixes or a note in brackets or a piece of chewing gun.

In the print book process, the copyeditor is going to get hold of that manuscript and will change whatever the author uses to mark her hiatuses with the conventional centered # mark before the manuscript goes to the book designer and onward to the printer.

An e-book probably won't use a couple empty lines to show a hiatus because this is too easy to lose in the various formats. So e-books will use something pretty to mark every hiatus. ≈^≈ ⚔⚔⚔ or ♛♛♛ or ****.

Now, Let's say you want to change POV.

A) You can change POV and stay in the same scene by using a hiatus.
You go writing along.  You want to flip to a different point of View.
You hiat.



This is simple and clear.  The downside is, it may cause a break in the action.

(You can click on any of these images to get a larger view.)




B) You can change POV by using a chapter break.  
In this use of a chapter break you stay in the same scene with no time lapse, but now you are in a different head.
This is another easy and clear on the POV front, but the feeling of interrupted action may be larger than with a hiatus.




I want to note that you can stay in the same scene and in the same POV and still lob in a chapter break.
Whoee.

The Chapter Break used in the middle of a scene may signal some change of mood or action or location or you may simply have gotten sick of the scene and want to do something -- anything -- to add excitement. A Chapter Break is less troublesome than shooting a minor character which is another alternative.

When I do my own changing POVs I'm as likely to reach for a chapter break as a hiatus.  But when I use two POVs in a scene it's likely to be a very long scene and well worthy of an interruption.




C) You can also change POV in the middle of a scene without starting a new chapter and without inserting a hiatus.
This is so exciting.
You change POV right in the scene itself with everybody watching.

It's like putting on a bathing suit under your clothes when you're sitting in your car and anyone might walk by.
You want to avoid showing the indelicate bits.

Or, in this case, you want to avoid knocking the reader over the head with the face you are doing technical stuff to vhange scenes.

This is the Hand-Off method which is one of several ways to do it.
You hand the POV from one character to the other.

Your goal is to avoid disrupting the scene and breaking the reader's fictive haze as much.
But it's really technically difficult to do this POV change inside a scene.
I've done this maybe twice.

Okay.  The stages of the hand-off ares:

1) -- we are in POV One.
2) -- we make POV One shallow.
3) -- we slide into narration that is without obvious POV for maybe 50 words.  We pick a word or an image out of the narration.
4) -- we pick up POV Two. It contains one of the words or images from the narration.
5) -- we enter  POV Two at some depth so the reader 'sees' at once that we're in POV Two.

To make this transition, it helps if POV One and POV Two are in different paragraphs.  The separating narrative  is happy in its own paragraph as well.

So, for example:

She thought, I want this. I want only this.  

Desire washed across her like a warm sea. Resistless, she let him lay her back on the stone. Magic entered the threads of her sinews, the pulse of her blood.  The domed ceiling of the crypt gathered shadows into the tracery of its design. The candles on every side wavered with the drumbeat. Dark and light wove across sweating shoulders, legs, the smooth muscles of a powerful arm, the taut plain of a belly. The chant deepened as it filled the huge space.

Etari found himself moving his lips with the words of the chant, "Gaudé, gaudé, Pirri tem. Piri tem."


What's happening here is (the numbers ref the stages above):


(1) She thought, I want this. I want only this.
 

(2) Desire washed across her like a warm sea. Resistless, she let him lay her back on the stone. Magic entered the threads of her sinews, the pulse of her blood.

(3) The domed ceiling of the crypt gathered shadows into the tracery of its design. The candles on every side wavered with the drumbeat. Dark and light wove across sweating shoulders, legs, the smooth muscles of a powerful arm, the taut plain of a belly. 

(4)  The chant deepened as it filled the huge space.

(5) Etari found himself moving his lips with the words of the chant, "Gaudé, gaudé, Pirri tem. Piri tem."
 

Sunday, January 12, 2014

Technical Topic -- Being Introspective

Elsewhere, somebody says, more or less  --
My WIP is full of introspection.  I'm going overboard. 


It's good to spot this going-overboard-with-introspective problem before you disappear under the waters.

Introspection distances us from the story.
It is generally pretty boring unless the character is introspecting about how to murder someone with a can opener.
Or overthrow the government. 
Or lure somebody into bed.


This exercise is one approach to the introspection problem:

-- Make a new document of the scene.

-- Remove ALL the introspection.
I mean -- just all of it.  All the internals. All the flashback.  All the philosophy and self-doubt and angst and toing-and-froing about what to do next, all the moral uncertainties.  In short, every moment the author takes the reader into the character's head.
This includes flashback and thinking about what's happening elsewhere or mulling over what just happened and roughly about anything that is not under the POV character's nose at the moment.

-- Put the internals into a separate document.

-- Nudge a bit at this stripped-down version. Can you goose up the pacing? Can you give the scene more forward momentum by adding dialog or action?

-- Move internals into dialog

Instead of him thinking 

He was so sad Connie had failed her exam. Why wouldn't she study? What was wrong with her? He felt frustrated and annoyed.

Write it out as dialog

He snapped, "Why the hell can't you study?"
"I try--"
"You failed another goddamn exam. Do you think you're going to become an architect with a bunch of C+ grades?" He kicked the chair beside the fire.
"It's not my fault."
"Bullshit it's not your fault."


You do this movement from introspection to dialog because dialog (and action) is more interesting than introspection.
Because dialog allows folks to react to all the stuff that's floating around in the POV character's head. Because the POV character gets to react back.

Actual brain contents and why we avoid introspection.
-- Now you go to the snippets of introspection you have saved in the other document and allow yourself to use a tenth of that introspection.

-- Do not re-add the rest of the introspection till the next draft. After a couple weeks away from the introspection, you will be less in love with it. The new, faster, sleeker, more-vivid story will compare favorably with the sluggish, introspective story.

Thursday, December 26, 2013

The Lights of the Solstice

DSCN1430I posted this over at Word Wenches and forgot to put it here.

Now I'm putting it here.
Because i really do get to most things, just not very fast

So, me,  writing about the Winter Solstice.
And lights.

If you want to be picky about it, we're two days past the solstice, which was on December 21 this year, but I will just go ahead and talk about the Winter Solstice anyhow.

What is this Solstice I speak of?

Your ordinary woman in the Seventeenth or Eighteenth Centuries and in all the days right back to when women woke up and stretched and strolled out of the cave in Laxcaux, France, might watch the sunrise every morning.

Authorial intrusion here to say that I wake up every morning at sunrise because that is when the dog and cat wake up and they want my company.
They are worried if I don't get up.
They are determined.

But, anyhow, let's say our historical woman is shuffling through the farm yard to empty the chamberpots or feed the chickens. She Before sunrise 2notices the sun does not just get out of bed any old where along the horizon. When she stands on the doorstep in July, the sun is rising from that pointy pine over there.

Every morning the sun gets out of bed a little to the left of where it got up the morning before.
Not enough so's you'd notice it from one day to the next.
But enough so's you notice it over weeks and months.

In December when she drags herself out of bed and stands shivering at the door, there's the sun waking up all the way over next to the church spire.

That extreme, leftmost sunrise she sees, on December 21 or 22, is the Winter Solstice. From then on, day by day, the sunrise heads back in the other direction. Our New Year is tied to that astronomical event, being a little inexact about it.


 I go on to talk some more about the solstice in the rest of the posting, which is here

Sunday, November 17, 2013

Technical Topic -- Where does the Spy Stuff Come From?


Most Excellent Reader Elizabeth asks:

"Could you talk about how you come up with all the various capers and escapades for your spies? 
All the fiddly bits that string together to make up the jobs they pull basically. 

How do you do that? How do figure out the pieces and then put them together?"


Hah!  Bit of a tough question.
Plot devices. I haz them.

One good thing is that the spy stuff is all 'plot device', really.  The stories do not hang on the outcome of any of the spy stuff, except in Forbidden Rose where the actual historical politics are important.
All this running around, doing stuff, is just plot device, That means I can plug one thing or another thing into that spot in the story.  I have something to accomplish and it doesn't much matter which 'device' I choose. 

So, for instance,  I had a spot in Spymaster's Lady where I want my heroine to escape Meeks Street.

I set up an event -- a plot device -- that makes the escape possible.
I need a plot device because it is not like my Meeks Street guys are going to go out one afternoon and leave the door open behind them.
But it could be anything, so long as it opens up Meeks Street so my heroine can escape.

I considered a bunch of possibilities. 

Sorta like this coach
I can have a coach drive by and men shoot out of it, hoping to hit somebody in the house. 
(My heroine escapes because they have loosened the bars on the windows.)

Or I could use a cat playing bagpipes
I could have some bad guy throw a satchel bomb over the side wall.   Or they leave a box of explosives at the front door as a delivery.  Or they park a wagon outside with a bomb in it.
(That would loosen the window bars but good.)

Or maybe somebody drives up a load of cobras and dumps them in the back garden
Cobra, which Adrian could have got hold of
(and everybody has to get out of the house and she escapes in the confusion.)

Or the baddies could steal Congreve rockets or fireworks and set up on the next street and lob some explosive rockets through the air.
(That makes a nice weakened spot in the house wall for the heroine to pull the bricks away and slip through.)

Or somebody could sneak up to the roof and drop a keg of gunpowder down the chimney.  Boom.
(Which blows through the bars they have blocking the chimney and the heroine is up and away through that chimney.)

There are others.

I don't have to stick to one possible caper.  I have a choice of many.
I pick the one that lets my hero and heroine do exciting things together.
And is, like, plausible.
I try out all these possibilities in my mind and toy with them and brainstorm with myself.
Gordon Riots. My answer to folks who think London wasn't violent
I go with the scenario that comes to my mind most clearly and strongly.

Where did I get the ideas for the possibilities I list above?

The coach drive-by comes to my mind from the Gordon Riots and various other riots of the period.

The satchel bomb -- I was in Paris when somebody threw one of these into a building.  Shook the glass in my windows but good. 
Cobras are in an old trunk novel I have under a bed somewhere. 
The rockets came to my mind because I like fireworks.  (I did a Word Wenches blog on period fireworks.) 
The keg of gunpowder is from the 'Infernal Machine', plot to assassinate Napoleon. 
Putting something down the chimney is from the story of how Hawker first entered Meeks Street.   

How do I figure out the details of making the 'spy stuff' happen?

Research.
And more research.
(Le sigh.)
Lotsa research.

None of that shows up in the scene, drat it, but my life is just full of finding 1800 stuff out. 

If I want my bad guys to do something as simple as arm up and go shoot into a house,
I can't do that till I ask myself --

What kind of neighborhood 'police protection' would be available at that time. 
(Short answer -- none.  Paris had police.  London didn't. That's why London had muggings and gang rapes in good neighborhoods and periodic riots.) 

Would the available neighborhood protection prevent a shooting or chase down the criminals who did it?
(No.)
What kind of weapons would be available? 
(I know more than I want to about period guns  Much more.  Ye gods, that is boring research and there is infinite scads of info.)

Would somebody be able to get hold of a bunch of guns? 
(Peace had come.  Much corruption in 1802 in the matter of army weapons.  Lots of weapons lying about in London) 

Would Frenchmen be conspicuous in London?
(It was the Peace of Amiens. Lotsa Englishmen travelling to France. Lots of traffic the other way.  London was full to the gills with Frenchmen.)
This is a metaphor for Research

How fast could they shoot? What would it sound and smell like?
(Y'know, Youtube is just a wealth of research goodness.)

What were security bars made of, how did bars get set in the windows; did London houses have bars; would a shotgun blast loosen a bar; how widely were they spaced; how much space does somebody need to climb between bars
 ...?
(Endless research.  Endless.)
And yes I really did work all the stuff out.  All the details of the 'spy stuff'.

So the long answer is above.
And the short answer is, "I dream up what should happen.  I picture it.  I spin it out of all my experience.  I blue sky it.
Then I research the details
to see if it could really happen."