"Roundheads and Ramblings"
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Recent Posts

My Love-Hate Relationship with NaNoWriMo
Let's Take the Survey One Step Further
A Question about a New Book -- or Two
My Favorite March Column
Scammers and Trolls Are Alive and Well Today

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"Roundheads and Ramblings"

My Love-Hate Relationship with NaNoWriMo

I first met the National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo) folks back in 2011, when I was struggling with plans to write a biographical novel about the Yankee missionaries who went to South Carolina during the Civil War to serve a huge population of abandoned slaves. I had too many stories, too many characters, too many crises, and not nearly enough satisfactory conclusions. 

The NaNoWriMo instructions were clear: just sit down and write. Quit thinking and over-thinking. That comes later. Just write, as quickly and as much as you can. Take the month of November--30 days--and write at least 1667 words every day. At the end of the month you'll have written 50,000 words. That's almost enough for a novel. If you complete the task, NaNoWriMo will reward your win by printing your completed manuscript in paperback format so you can see your work in print. Then you'll know where to go from there.

I took them at their word and worked myself into exhaustion for a month. I did it and the result was a 176-page book called "Gideon's Ladies."  IT WAS AWFUL! But I learned. When I looked at my raw writing in print I saw every flaw. But I could also see where I had gone wrong and what I needed to do to correct it. So with an awful example before me, i started over, asked myself the right questions, and eventually published "The Road to Frogmore," a much improved version. (And by the way, CreateSpace still keeps that original manuscript in their listing of my works, although it is not available for sale.) 

As my writing methods changed, so did NaNoWriMo. They added smaller versions of their contests in April and July, These "Camp" experiences were more like writing retreats. Authors joined others in cabins, where they were more or less matched with others writing the same sorts of materials. The program kept tract of each author's progress but added the combined word counts for each cabin. Cabin-mates could chat with each other, talk about writing problems, or ask for help. Writers were also allowed to set their own word-count goals, which took some of the pressure off. 

After my first experience, I had decided that a November writing month was not for me. I had too many distractions that month--travel plans, Thanksgiving, meeting commitments. April and July suited me much better. I wrote a major portion of "Damned Yankee" in April 2013 and a finalizing section of Yankee Reconstructed in July 2015. But each time, I then swore off ever doing another NaNoWriMo marathon. I didn't need that kind of motivation any more, I told myself.

Flash forward to November 2016. My African-American genealogist friend decided to try NaNoWriMo for herself. Me? I was ready to start my next ambitious project--all on my own. And the results? My brilliant friend finished early with a blazing total of 74,450 words. Me? Well, as of today, after 130 days of planning, thinking, dreaming, and scribbling, I have written 11,525 words. 

I'll save you the trouble of doing the math.  That's 77 words a day. At this rate, I'll be working on this #$%^&  book for 1559 more days, with a completion date scheduled for sometime in May, 2021. Clearly, I need to stop hating NaNoWriMo and get back in that regimen.

Yes, I'm committed--again! Starting April 1--and the irony of April Fool's Day is not lost on me!--I'll be showing up for Sasquatch Camp 2017--where we will pursue the impossible and hope to find some bright ideas. I've even ordered the camp shirt.


Let's Take the Survey One Step Further


Yesterday, I gave readers a chance to speak up about a book plan I have been contemplating. Faced with an extremely complicated story, I suggested that it might work better as a two-volume series. 

The consensus seems to be in favor of a two-book series--the first  in the form of the protagonist's diary entries; the second a "twenty-years-later" novel exploring the lives of those she wrote about in the first book. 

Now, which set of titles do you like better?

"Compromise" followed by "Consequences"

. . . or . . . .

"A Life of Compromise" followed by "A Lifetime of Consequences"

I've checked both forms and did not find any current books using any of those exact titles, so my choices are open. 

Please vote for your preference. And thanks for your help.

A Question about a New Book -- or Two

Alright, my faithful readers, it’s spring, or so the weatherman, if not the calendar, says. And spring is a time for new beginnings. I’ve changed the picture on my computer background (flowers, now, instead iof snow}. Next Sunday we switch to Daylight Savings Time. Out in the yard, my herbs are flourishing, and –unfortunately – so are the moles, who seem to have invited a whole new troop of tunnelers to explore my open areas. Trees are budding out, Bradford pear trees are turning the landscape white, and there are sprigs of green grass everywhere. I’m caught up on housework, and the kitchen is stocked with prepared meals and Girl Scout cookies. (What’s not to love?)
 
What hasn’t changed? My writer’s block. My proclivity to research just one more little area before actually putting any words on paper. That same outline for a new book, which seems to be expanding its scope without yet providing a a clear map of how I should go about writing it.  I’ve been fiddling with it since last fall, and if you took a peek at my Scrivener files, you’d find a complete outline just ready to go. Except that it isn’t.  Recently, a couple of friends have asked whether I’m deep into writing yet, and I’ve struggled to answer that. It simply hasn't sprouted yet. 
 
The story bouncing around in my head is awfully complicated. It covers a span of more than twenty years and contains multiple conflicts. There’s a background of the Civil War, of course, but also a family drama, a spy story based on historical fact, an international incident, a rape, fratricide, a kidnapping, a hidden identity, and a backstory concealed in a diary written in code. Its characters include a businessman turned pirate, two paralyzed people (one by stroke, one by accident), an opium-addicted prostitute, an expatriate English woman born into the lesser nobility, a French family of slave-owners, and a couple of visitors from my “Yankee” series. Just putting that list together makes me tired. Sounds fascinating,  you say? Maybe so. But also a web so hopelessly tangled that I haven’t been able to find a loose end to start with.
 
So here’s the new thought bouncing around in my spring-inspired brain this morning. What if I’m not thinking of one book, but two? First would come the early story—all pre-Civil War, all written in first-person—in short, the diary of  the expatriate English woman who is seeing antebellum America and learning about South Carolina’s “peculiar institution” for the first time. The reader would meet most of the characters mentioned above, but in their early years, before their own lives deteriorate. The book would concentrate on the gradual alteration of the main character as her childhood innocence gives way to acceptance of the unthinkable, just as the idealism of the young Republic yields to seemingly unsurmountable differences between North and South.
 
The second book would be set during the early years of the Civil War.  The reader would meet the same characters but in a period during which each of them faces a new challenge. This will be the book that handles the international incident, the piracy and blockade-running, the collapse of “King Cotton,” the mystery surrounding the identity of one of the characters, and the fall-out from earlier scandals that everyone thought were buried forever.
 
What think you?  I’d love to pick the brains of future readers.

 

My Favorite March Column


How Green is Your March?
 
            March has only two real holidays, both of them commonly associated with the color green.  The first day of Spring comes in March, and we have every reason to expect the world to turn green.  In Memphis, though, you can't count on that.  Statistically, it is as likely to snow on March 20 as on any day of winter.  If the neighborhood does not turn not white from snow in March, the Bradford pear trees will produce enough white blossoms to make it look like snowfall. At the same time, the wonderful old post oaks in the south grow long fuzzy catkins in the Spring, and they are capable of producing enough pollen paint your car yellow if you park under one. Green will simply have to wait.
 
            The most dependable signs of Spring are the migrations.  Our little juncos and red-winged blackbirds will be heading north, along with those other snow-birds, the folks from along the U. S./Canada border, who have been keeping warm in Florida all winter. You'll see them on the interstate, chugging along in their overloaded motor homes.  Another migration path leads south in March – northern college students on Spring Break.  You'll want to avoid them on the highways, too.  There will be a vertical migration as well.  Do you want to know how close Spring really is?  Check to see how far down in the dirt you have to dig to find an earthworm.  Their migrations may only cover a distance of six inches or so, but when they start to stick their wormy little heads up in your garden, Spring is definitely here.
 
            If  you are Irish, or want an excuse to behave like an Irishman, you'll want to deck yourself out in the brightest green outfit you can find on March 17th.  Just one word of warning.  When I was a kid, my Scotch-Irish mother boasted to me that her family came from Northern Ireland, where the people were Orangemen (supporters of the 18-century Protestant claimant to the English throne, William of Orange).  So I went off to school proudly wearing my new tangerine-colored sweater on March 17.  Not a good idea! 
 
            What about St. Patrick's Day?  If you happen to be in New England, you may notice that small towns dye their rivers green for the day.  In Memphis, you can drop by Silky Sullivan's down on Beale  Street and have a green beer.  Everyone you meet will claim to come from Ireland.  And you'll need to be up-to-date on your knowledge of all things Irish, like blarney stones, leprechauns and shamrocks.
 
             St. Patrick was real enough, although he was a pagan, came from Wales rather than Ireland, and was named Maewyn.  His first trip to Ireland occurred when he was captured by Irish marauders and carried off as a slave at the age of 16.  After 6 years, he escaped and made his way to Auxerre in Gaul, where he studied at a monastery and adopted Christianity.  He returned to Ireland as a bishop and spent some 30 years fighting with the local Druids and converting the population to Christianity. 
 
            Legend has it that he drove the snakes out of Ireland.  True enough, there are no snakes there.  But, then,  there never have been.  The island broke away from the continent well before the last Ice Age, and snakes never managed to make the swim to re-establish themselves.  My guess is that when Patrick promised to drive the snakes out of Ireland, he was actually casting an ugly slur on the Druids, who were pagan priests – "the little snakes!"
 
            Leprechauns are also problematic.  We all know what they look like – about three feet tall, old and ugly, with pointed ears and a pointed cap to match.  They smoke long-stemmed pipes, make shoes, and hide pots of gold under rainbows. They are anti-social, tricksters, thieves, and creators of mayhem in the middle of the night.  They like to get drunk on a homebrew called poteen and as a result usually have pink-tipped noses.  There are no female leprechauns, but I'm not going to touch the problem of how they make new baby leprechauns!  They are associated with St. Patrick because they are elves and therefore join the group of folks Patrick wanted to run out of the island.  Patrick's connection with shamrocks is better-grounded in fact.  He used the native three-leafed plant to explain the nature of the Trinity and adopted the shamrock as his badge. Despite the pictures you'll see, leprechauns probably do not hide under shamrocks.
 
            There is a real Blarney Stone, and Irish legend says that if you kiss it, you will be rewarded with the gift of eloquence.  The stone itself is located on the third story of Blarney Castle, just northwest of the village of Cork.  To kiss the stone, you must sit with your back to it, lean backwards (with someone holding your feet), and lower your head down a crack between two stone walls.  They tell me there are iron rails to hold onto, but I think I'd rather just remain green with envy for those who speak with honeyed tongues.

Scammers and Trolls Are Alive and Well Today

My day got off to a rocky start with an e-mail and then a follow-up phone call from my credit card company, who had just identified a couple of fraudulent charges on my account. "Good Morning! Had breakfast yet? No? Well, first, you'd better take care of this."  How's that for an appetite spoiler?

The card in question was a "Rewards" card that I have only used for online shopping (such as Amazon) or for on-going monthly charges (like the fees for my website.)  It seems that several weeks ago, I answered a survey that purported to be from one of those major companies whose account I recognized. To show their "thanks" they then offered me one of several gifts--including a product I used regularly.  So I made my choice, after which they informed me that they were required to charge for the mailing expenses, but that they would charge that to my account at the company sponsoring the survey. I thought it was tacky but agreed, since it was only a small amount.

That was my mistake -- the equivalent of answering that telephone survey that asks "Can you hear me all right?" When you say "yes," they record the answer and use it as acceptance for some other deal. Same process here, i gather, because this month, the "survey rewards" company charged my credit card for a $99.00 monthly membership fee. Fortunately the credit card company recognized what was going on.  I ended up cancelling that card entirely, since the number and details were already in the hands of crooks. The credit card people took care of demanding refunds from the scammers (which they say have already come in) and notifying the various credit bureaus that the incident should not reflect on my credit.

Still, I have spend the entire morning contacting all the companies with whom I have used that card -- removing it from my accounts and adding a new, less-identifiable card to replace it. Sigh! I've also learned which companies are easy to work with (Apple, NYT, iTunes, Vistaprint, Amazon) and which ones are impossible (Verizon, I'm lookin' at you!) 

So be warned once again. Those surveys with their "free gifts" may end up costing more that you planned.