Tuesday, October 30, 2007

I'm reading The Great Upheaval--America and the Birth of the Modern World, 1788-1800 by Jay Winik, and I cannot help but be struck again with amazement at a generation that produced a Franklin, Jefferson, Hamilton, Washington, Madison, Adams, Benjamin Rush, Thomas Paine, Gouverneur Morris and others.

Can we say with certainty that others would have risen to the occasion? I don't think so. The combination of brains, charisma, talent and leadership in that generation of Founding Fathers was something special. They were able to hammer out a fledgling republic when every nation in Europe anticipated failure. They even overcame the difficulties of the Articles of Confederation and the antipathy of their own countrymen to create the United States.

To me, histories like this read like thrillers. So much could have gone wrong with so little effort. A stray bullet could have taken out George Washington, who gained power by refusing power, something no other political leader might have done. He was, as others have pointed out, the "indispensable man" and needed as the father of his country.

I know I'm a history wonk, but it's good to be reminded that whatever we are today as a nation, we stand on the shoulders of giants.

Sunday, October 28, 2007

We drove up to St. George Island off the Panhandle for a quiet weekend at our friends' Larry and Sherry's beachhouse. I like St. George Island because it's the anti-Spring Break beach. No bungee jumping, no rentals full of 20 drunk students, just families and full time residents and small buildings that don't block the views of the Gulf.

The weather was chilly, which suited me fine. I like the off season when you can walk along the beach and come back to a nice fire and a cup of tea. The guys watched (and wept) as the Gators got bit by the Bulldogs, and I read and slept. This morning as I was sitting out on the back porch drinking my coffee, Larry pointed out a pod of dolphins jumping in the water in front of us, playing and fishing. We were also in a Monarch butterfly migration path, and all weekend butterflies would drift by, traveling from the east on their way to Mexico for the winter.

I also came up with some new ideas for my new novel. I blame my friend who saw a comment by me where I said I wished I had a pirate Barbie when I was growing up. So of course she sent me a Pirate Barbie and Ken set that I opened right before I left town. Now my book's veering back to being a pirate story, 'cause you can never go wrong with pirates. Besides, I have toys I can use now to act out scenes, even if they haven't done anything over the last 50 years to make Ken a bit more...functional.

Thursday, October 25, 2007

I just finished an amazing fantasy novel, The Lies of Locke Lamora, by Scott Lynch. It's like Sabatini and Stevenson and Lieber and Dumas and maybe even a little Twain all rolled up into one exciting package. A poor orphan survives by his wits and cunning, pitting his skills and the skills of his brothers-in-larceny against the aristocracy of a decadent society. Swordfights, magic, friendship, thieves and more, winding up to a breathless and spectacular finish.

I highly recommend it, and it's now out in paper.

Monday, October 22, 2007

It's been a hectic day, and not in the "I got a lot of writing done" sense. I got home late in the morning from traveling to a friend's wedding in North Carolina. That was a fun weekend, but getting up at 4:30 a.m. to catch a flight home kind of puts a damper on my brain activity for the rest of the day.

Then the vet called and said while they were cleaning Yofi's teeth they discovered two needed to be extracted. I knew one was potentially rotten, and she is nine years old, but the other caught me by surprise. Poor puppy! She's now home again, resting after her ordeal and will be on soft foods and antibiotics for the rest of the week.

I know the rest of my pup's family and apparently there's a genetic predisposition there to have tooth issues. It's my fault too--while I've always given her dental aiding treats and rawhide chews, I haven't been brushing her teeth. My dachshund is wonderfully good natured, but that's where she drew the line, and I didn't insist on it when she was a pup. So we're paying for it now. Literally.

When I dropped her off Friday for boarding and what I thought would be a cleaning, I told the staff to be sure to give her pain meds if she had an extraction. Pain meds are optional, and I paused as I was signing the consent form and said, "Who wouldn't want to give their dog pain meds?" I was gently reminded that the dental procedure is expensive, and for some families that's a tough choice they have to make. I was abashed, but also glad that I don't have to hesitate to give my dog pain medication if she needs it.

So Yofi's on her bed next to me as I type this, still groggy from her dental work. I hope she'll be back to herself in a few days.

Thursday, October 18, 2007

I've been doing research today on signs and symptoms of yellow fever for my next novel. There's a saying around here that it was DDT and air-conditioning that civilized Florida. There's some validity to that. We still had yellow fever epidemics in Florida well into the 20th century. If you walk through the older cemeteries you can see clusters of epidemic victims' graves. Once the mosquito was identified by Dr. Walter Reed and his team as the vector for the disease, a vaccine could be developed and eradication efforts could begin. We still get mosquito fogging trucks rolling through at the height of the season, though they use different chemicals now. And air-conditioning boosted home construction and sales after WWII, sending Florida's population soaring.

Now, some would say that was a mixed blessing. I'll leave that to future generations to debate. However, "yellowjack" as it was known, could still make a comeback. Cases have been found in the US in the last 10 years, and the disease would run like wildfire through the blood of a "virgin" population in the 21st century, especially with the ease of travel between hospitable locales like Florida, Louisiana and Texas.

Our local health department is reminding people to avoid peak mosquito periods if they have to go outside, and to cover up and use DEET if they are out. Good advice, especially following the heavy rains we had last week.

Monday, October 15, 2007

So I'm watching Heroes in real time, which means I'm watching commercials too. One comes on for a toy playhouse for little girls, all in pink and pastels, and it features a kitchen and a laundry room and the tag line is "Make her dreams come true" as the little girl is shoving play clothes into the dryer.

"Make her dreams come true"? Doing laundry? Cleaning house? I don't think so! Those are chores, not dreams! I am incensed! If you want to do a commercial for little girls with the tagline "make her dreams come true" how about showing her practicing surgery?! Or landscape gardening? Or being an astronaut? What year is this, 1955?

Did the last 40 years of women's liberation go away when I wasn't looking?

And I won't even mention the "Always" pad commercial with the electric bull.

Sunday, October 14, 2007

Fall has finally come to North Florida. This week has a been a delight, with clear skies, moderate temps and low humidity. I've got my winter comforter out sunning itself in the backyard in preparation for its switching out with the summer bed linens. The AC is off. I wore a sweatshirt to walk the dog the other morning.

If I'm not around much today, it's because I'm taking advantage of the weather and attending the Butterflyfest at the Museum.

Friday, October 12, 2007

I was on the air this morning for WUFT-FM/WJUF-FM, doing the Fall Membership Campaign for our public radio station. We came close to hitting our $6,000 goal in Morning Edition, but fell short by a few hundred dollars. That was disappointing, but as the Development Director kept reminding me, we set the bar very high. I hope we'll break past $6,000 when I'm there again next Wednesday.

Oh, and I pledged for our anniversary poster, which is fab! I love Jim Harrison's work, and have a few of his prints and "Gainesville Fruit Company" notecards around the house.

Saturday, October 06, 2007

The 4th of each month is when I have a turn blogging at the HEA Cafe. So here's this month's musings:


Last month I blogged about “writing what you know”. This month I’m blogging about “writing what you don’t know”.

My newest novel takes place mostly aboard a British frigate during the Napoleonic Wars. My desk is now piled high with research books, some from the library and some I’ve purchased for myself. I am full of Royal Navy trivia, and yet I know going into this that there’s no group of reading fans more rabid than Royal Navy buffs (with the possible exception of US Civil War buffs). They will catch your mistakes–or what they think are your mistakes–so fast it’ll make your pixels spin.

For example, I have to figure out the date of my book. If I have it set before 1805, the warrant officer who assisted the surgeon was called the surgeon’s mate. After 1805, he’s technically the surgeon’s assistant, but no doubt most old timers still referred to him as the surgeon’s mate. So if I set my novel in 1811, do I have to have a snippet of explanation saying, “Well, yes, Mr. Expendable is the surgeon’s assistant, but of course we all still refer to him as the surgeon’s mate”?

Decisions, decisions....

This also shows one of the pitfalls of deep research. What a friend calls the “I did this research and you’re going to pay for it!” syndrome, where the author believes because she finds these tidbits fascinating, you must also find them fascinating or face her wrath!

I had to take pages and pages out of my last manuscript because I realized that while I found the story of Anna Jai Kingsley fascinating (Read Anna Madgigine Jai Kingsley–African Princess, Florida Slave, Plantation Slaveowner by Daniel L. Schafer for more), writing about her wasn’t advancing my own story and I had to stay focused on my H&H, not wander off into the delights of sharing research.

And while I’m ruminating on research, I must put in a plug for one of the most underutilized yet valuable tools a writer has, Inter-Library Loan. If there’s a book you need for research, and your local public library doesn’t have it, ILL will get it for you. From anywhere in the US where that book is in circulation. You might not get it this week, but eventually it will turn up. I wanted a copy of Roderick Random by Tobias Smollett, an 18th C. novel. Our library didn’t have it, but within two weeks it was within my hands, shipped from a library in North Carolina. ILL has given me access to many books published by the Naval Institute Press, books that if I had to buy them, even used, would quickly exhaust my budget. Plus, these are often books I don’t need to keep, I just need to see a chapter or two.

Which leads me into my next thought, The Evils of the Interweb! I’m often asked by budding young writers which websites to go to for research. The answer is, “None of them should be a primary source.” Oh, sure, it’s nice to be able to see pictures of the uniform of the U.S. Revenue Marine in 1845 at a website, but it’s much more valuable to read a comprehensive history of the Revenue Marine. Here’s the thing a lot of new writers don’t realize–when you use books for research, you learn stuff you didn’t know you needed to know. Also, books have editors. Websites do not. With a website it’s very much “Researcher beware!” Sure, books can have mistakes too, but at least someone other than the author took a look at it before it got to the presses!

So when writing what you don’t know, consider your sources: visits to historical sites, if possible, are always worthwhile. Read books. Read some more books. Then go to websites to see if there’s any tidbit or update you might have overlooked. And finally, don’t make your reader pay for your pleasure. Save your wonkiness for the next time you’re hanging with the period reinactors.