Friday, May 21, 2010

It's Been A Long Time Coming . . .

About eight years, according to the dates on my WordPerfect files. And that doesn’t count the year or two I spent mulling the idea in my brain before I acted upon it.

I began a journey to write a book about which I felt so passionate, it demanded to be written. Because I strive for accuracy and wanted to know my subject inside and out, I bought about twenty books which I read cover to cover. I learned a lot. For example, I never knew much about World War I. There weren’t nearly as many movies made about it as World War II. I must have studied it in school but probably zoned out because the subject was presented like three-day-old unbuttered toast. I discovered that after almost a hundred years, farmers and military personnel regularly find unexploded bombs stockpiled beneath the earth in France. A couple of years ago, someone found several cases of extremely valuable Napoleon brandy within the trench works. (While wine will go sour, time apparently is a friend to brandy.) Some of the land is still unable to grow anything because of the chemicals that leached out of the various products intended to part a man’s body from his soul.

I knew only a scintilla more about what I’d heard called the Spanish Flu around my house. My grandmother had survived it as a young woman living in Constantinople. They didn’t teach this in school at all. In fact, it’s surprising how little was known about it until the rumble about H1N1 began to look like it might turn into a real problem. People just didn’t talk about it. But I didn’t grasp the magnitude of either of these events until I undertook the research myself.

So I began writing Home By Morning, the story of Jessica Layton, a female physician who goes back to her hometown for a visit and gets stuck there when the epidemic hits. There is no other doctor in town except for cranky Granny Mae Rumsteadt, a colorful café owner who also offers folk medicine to the locals, thinks aspirin is poisonous, and doesn't mind helping a farmer pull a calf or two if the need arises.

The book has a bit of everything: jealousy, treachery, broken hearts healed by the love that broke them, battle scenes, love scenes, vigilantism, character assassination, scandal, hopelessness, hope restored, and scores settled.

I hope that this book strikes a chord with readers and makes them curious enough to find out what happens in the sequel, Home By Nightfall.

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

The Little Book That Did

Since making my backlist available on Kindle and, I’ve noticed the most amazing trend. The books that I thought would zoom to e-readers like lightning are doing very well. But one book is leaving the stratosphere: Harper’s Bride.

I wrote Harper’s Bride as a kind of anniversary tribute to the last great gold rush of our time in the Yukon Territory. That the book was released during the strike’s centennial year was mere good luck. As with all of my projects, I did a ton of research and bought so many books from Powell’s City of Books downtown, the clerk asked me if I was planning a trip up there.

I learned that J.W. Nordstrom made enough money in Dawson City to open his first shoe store in Seattle. When I was a kid, that’s what Nordstrom did—they sold only shoes. I also learned that the most dependable money was made not in mining, but in supplying the miners. Because of Dawson’s near inaccessibility, and because inflation always follows a captive audience (think popcorn at the movies or a burger TGIF’s in Times Square) prices for everything were astounding. A dozen eggs went for $18. A fairly current copy of the Seattle Post-Intelligencer sold for $50.

Of course, those are just facts. The story concerned Dylan Harper, a man with a shadow in his past who went to the Yukon and opened a supply store. One of his customers ran up a big bill he couldn’t pay. When Dylan pressed him, he offered his wife Melissa and their child to clear the debt. Dylan figured he was on the losing end of the proposition but his conscience made him agree to it when he saw the bruise on Melissa’s cheek.

It had a very nice cover when it was print published by Penguin, and a nice run. Readers liked the story and it received a lot of great reviews.

Now though, Harper’s Bride has a second life that’s a happy surprise to me and apparently a satisfying one to readers. I’m very pleased to have the chance to share my backlist with you.

A new title is just around the corner. I’ll be sure to let everyone know when it’s officially available. For now, though, have a seat. Do I have stories to tell you!

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Hoot, Mon! Or Writing A Scottish Historical

I have a book that’s been bouncing around in my computer(s) for years now. (I say computer(s) because most of us can’t make one last longer than 3-4 years max.) It’s a Scottish historical that takes place a few years before the Reformation.

Although I’m familiar with what I’ve written, it’s a big departure from other stories I’ve done. It has battles, love scenes, 16th century castles, intrigue, betrayal, a bit of the paranormal—all the good stuff. But it’s different. The dialogue is way different. The lifestyle is much different. There are many solid reasons for why I’ve tended to stick to late 19th century American stories, one of which is that research is a lot easier. I’ve studied that era enough that I often don’t need to look things up because I know them.

I didn’t know anything about clans, chieftains, wars, etc., except for other fiction I’ve read, and that doesn’t count. There’s a certain forgiving elasticity in fiction, but some historical facts have to be correct. I have to be sure they're correct. If I said the Battle at Culloden took place in 1890, someone would certainly notice.

I think my biggest problem has been with the dialogue. Like the US or any other country for that matter, Scotland has different dialects and trying to identify the correct usage is tricky. Then there’s the matter of avoiding anachronisms. Saying “Your ride is awesome, dude!” in an American historical is obvious and easy to catch. But how about, “Fer a yung la' prob scouser yer gorra nauld edon yer shoulders la, gud look son, I think you'll do it.” Excuse me, but whaaa? This seems to have something to do with pub crawling, but I couldn’t swear to it.


Then there’s the matter of North, Highland North, Mid, and South, with some other geographical miseries thrown in too. “Pittin the mither tongue on the wab!” Eh? I beg your pardon! This particular phrase is Ulster Scots, to confuse matters even further—north far enough but on the wrong island. And it’s contemporary besides; the wab means the web, as in Internet.

I have a great book I got on a remainders table at Barnes & Noble, The Scots Dialect Dictionary. It’s big with lots of listings, but the problem is that it lists the Scots word or phrase first and then a mostly understandable English equivalent. If I had a month with absolutely nothing else to do, I would create a database from this book so I could look up whatever I needed, in English first.

Writing any sort of dialect is a matter of careful balance. Not enough worked in and the story could be set at anyplace and any time. Too much and we’re back to “pittin the mither tongue gorra nauld edon yer shoulders la.” It will swamp the reader and overshadow the story.

Writing The Irish Bride was somewhat easier because I had great audio to listen to for cadence and arrangement of words, thanks to the late and wonderful storyteller and teacher, Frank McCourt. I have his books on tape and CD and that was a big help.

My most accessible audio reference for this book has been Groundskeeper Willie on the Simpsons, and I don’t think that’s going to do the trick.

But the story is coming along fine, thank ye verra much.