Update on the Historical Novel(s)

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This has not been an easy summer, in any number of ways. Obviously, blogging has been one of those elements that has suffered over the summer. But this is a good forum for me to discuss the current project and what my plans for it are. So, here goes:

I’ve previously mentioned that I’m researching what will be a series of historical novels, set in Provence in the 1440s. Probably mysteries, possibly thrillers, maybe “just” historical fiction. It depends on whether the puzzle takes my fancy, the chase, or the milieu itself. It has been pointed out to me that, of the elements that make up the MICE of fiction (Milieu, Idea, Character, Event) that for me, the milieu often battles it out for first place over the Idea.

I’m fascinated by the time period I’m working in. It is a time where the western world is recovering from the Plague that swept ravaged Europe not even a century earlier, during which more than of the population perished.1 The disruption caused by that event may be what led to people looking to the past for answers, with the Humanists prising old books out of monasteries and convents in order to learn how the Ancients thought of the world, searching their past for answers to their present. In the same way, both the Renaissance Humanists and the fracture in social norms that came with the eradication of millions of people from the plague meant that this time in the West was the last century in which Europe would be united by religion instead of fractured by it.

My summer has been taken up by two major decisions. The one personal.2 The professional one is that I am going to travel to Provence next year to do research on-site. I’ve been looking over travel guides; thinking in terms of not one, not two, but three books in the series so as to maximize my time there; oh and considering the idea that I might want to spend a day or so doing something just for fun.

To make it most worthwhile, this summer has been spent improving my French reading skills. They have improved. But will it be enough to do the research I think I need?

Is any of this going to be enough? The amount of things I’m not finding is daunting. The amount of French I’ve learned has been gratifying, until I try to write in French or try to read something not aimed at new learners and I find myself stumped, or going to the translation dictionary time and time and time and time again.

But as it is good to have goals, this goal will spur me on to continuing to improve my language skills and my research skills. I may bring in help for all of it. And then next year, I’ll spend some part of the spring in Provence and even if I fail at learning anything new (er, old, but seriously, how could I not learn anything?) I will still spend the spring in Provence and that sounds pretty good.

My hope is to keep making blog posts as I prepare for the trip. Initial decisions will have to be made soon (like in the next month), so I have to start locking in dates and locations. Flights soon, hotels soon after that. I’m going to push ahead with research through October, lock in those locations to visit … and then set aside the Historical and go back to Harmony. I discovered that I can’t split my focus in such a way as to work on two, but by November I’ll need to take a break from the 15th century and get back into the 21st, at least for a bit. I figure two months for the re-write and then back to Provence in my mind come January and in the flesh come spring.

Allons-y !


  1. Can you imagine? Within the span of a summer, half the people you know are dead. Or maybe more than half if your area was hard hit (averages can be a bitch that way). Look around your home, your workplace, the highway as you commute and imagine taking away half and leaving piles of dead. 
  2. And by personal, I mean, not the subject of this blog or post. 

Update on my NaNoWriMo 2014 post

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More than two years ago, I wrote about the project that I was going to write for the 2014 NaNoWriMo. I sincerely stated that my goal with the project was to answer some questions I had for the characters but would not be more than 30,000 words.

Ha! It’s like I’ve never met me.

I completed the first draft of that project on 2 January 2017, more than two years after starting it. Now called Harmony in Three Voices this first complete draft clocks in at over 150,000 words.

It is the most complicated narrative I’ve ever attempted.

Taking three POV characters written in first person past and wrapping them in a second person present frame tale, I recount about 20 years of history of each of those three characters, tying those past events to their current conflicts. I wrote all three first person POV narratives completely, meaning some scenes were written down three different times, three different POVs, three different long chunks of text. Then came the frame tale, picking and choosing which parts of which narratives to keep, which ones to subsume into the frame tale, and which to discard outright as unnecessary. While I have over 150k in the parts I kept, I’ve discarded more than 100k.

Yep. I wrote two complete novels just to get one story.

I’m still not sure if it is “saleable” or of interest to anyone but myself. And yet? The “win” I mentioned in that old post certainly happened: I’m much more comfortable using Scrivener and discovered that I really could not have written the story I did with any other tool. But the bigger win was the risk I took in writing that story. I’ve never been as pressed, pushed as hard, as I was when I tried to figure out how to get it all to work. In truth, it might not work, but that’s almost less important than the attempt.

About the end of March I plan to begin editing that draft and I’ll know better then if it is something that I’ll try to sell, either self-pub or traditionally. By November of 2017 I hope to again do NaNoWriMo, getting a draft of a historical mystery down.

Making it up as we go along

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I caught an episode of “Bones” the other day, “The Daredevil in the Mold” from Season 6. One of the sub-plots is that Booth asks his girlfriend Hannah to marry him. That’s pretty much the only scene I saw that day, so there may be some issues surrounding the proposal I’ve forgotten. But by the end of that episode, I was shaking my head. This was bad drama and lazy writing. Even worse, it shows a limited grasp of relationship possibilities. First, the setup:
  • Booth unilaterally decides to ask Hannah to marry him
    • DESPITE the fact that Hannah had told him she wasn’t the marrying kind
    • DESPITE the fact she’d told him this repeatedly
    • DESPITE the fact that her job took her away often (iirc)
  • Hannah says no
  • Booth, shocked, shocked I tell you! that despite all of her earlier declarative statements regarding not wanting to get married that she does note want to get married. Being all butthurt, the mopey Booth ends the relationship and kicks her out of the apartment
Lazy writing. I’m guessing that, as fun as the Hannah character was, the writers needed to get rid of her in order to make room for Bones and Booth to get together in the next season to give an explanation to Emily Deschanel’s real-life pregnancy. I’ll give them this: they kept Booth’s actions consistent with his long-demonstrated reactionary approach to relationships as well as his less-than-stellar record of actually paying attention to the women in his life. Sure, it served the dramatic purpose of breaking them up, but BORING.
But what fascinated me most (having almost zero investment anymore in “Bones”) was how easy it was to use the “relationship escalator” as a convenient (and lazy, don’t forget lazy) shorthand to create a dramatic break between characters. The audience all knows the escalator and most even sympathize with Booth for attempting to “take it to the next level” and being shot down by the woman who just doesn’t understand how wonderful a life filled with Booth ignoring their explicit statements detailing their wishes would be.
Unfortunately, the writers reward Booth for his simplistic and immature behavior towards Hannah and “give” him Brennan to create the family he wants (regardless of the fact that it wasn’t anything that Brennan wanted. What women want isn’t held very highly by the writers/producers of “Bones.”) He fails “upward” in his attempts to stay on the relationship escalator. Boring. Lazy. Safe.
Especially galling is the fact that so very few relationships fall into the standard narrative anymore. And we all know this! Not everyone gets married. Hell, a bare majority of adults are married in the US. Not all families are made up of one each, male and female. There are unmarried people with families and remarried people with families, chock full of step- and half- siblings and parents and guardians. Most states still don’t allow gay people to get married and not all gay people would marry if they could. The escalator no longer describes most of us, and yet most of us seem happy to let that model be our definition, even if it means feeling like a failure for not being in a relationship that matches that model.
In my writing, I try to depict different relationship models and structures. It isn’t that I think no one should be a couple made up of male-bodied and female-bodied people. Far from it. What I want to show is that the effort people put in to deliberate relationships will make it more likely that everyone involved has a good shot at long term happiness. Why? Because the effort expended is most often about what will improve the odds at happiness. They don’t simply assume that riding the escalator all the way to the top will result in happiness. Instead, they question their own needs and desires, they interrogate the needs and desires of the people in the relationship with him, and together, everyone involved seek the path that will maximize the happiness of all those involved.
This is not to say that Booth would be good at any other relationship structure. For one thing, his identity is based on doing the “right” thing without ever actually questioning what that means. He constantly gets rewarded for being unimaginative, anti-intellectual, and unevolved.  I’m not saying all successful polyamorists are highly evolved individuals, but few successful polyamorists are as unevolved as Seeley Booth is. I’m sure the writers will make sure that Booth is happy with Brennan. But that’s only because the writers are fine with so completely rewriting Brennan’s character as to make her fit with Booth. It’s her show, but his narrative, and that’s not only boring. It’s annoying.