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Damned Yankee -- Excerpt
Damned Yankee -- Some Scenes
Damned Yankee--Inspiration
Damned Yankee--Synopsis and Review
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"Roundheads and Ramblings"

New Book

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.


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.

 

Once More into the Fray!


 In November 2009 I joined NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month) for the first time.  The NaNoWriMo goal is to produce 50,000 words in 30 days -- which amounts to 1667 words every day. The rules do not demand that anyone produce deathless prose.  The goals are speed, creativity, allowing characters to develop, and ideas to flow.  In November 2009, I produced 62,000 words in 28 days.  I even got the certificate!  But what was important was that many of those words ended up in my latest book, "Beyond All Price."  Many of them didn't, of course, but I was off to a great start, and the motivation carried me right through to publication.

The NaNoWriMo process seemed easier in 2010.  II was better able to just sit down and let the words flow.  What was developing on my computer screen was by no means a finished product, but it served as a great base from which to build a real novel. I was getting a feel for the characters, and  some of the individuals began to speak in their own voices, which is always a delightful turning point.

Now, I've done that, several times in fact. Technically I've won the darn challenge three times. But I finally had to admit that (1) 50,000 words is not long enough for a novel; (2) it is impossible for me to write without editing as I go along, partially because I can't type the letter “I” to save my soul; and (3) a story written without taking time to think about what you are writing doesn't turn out to be a very good story.

I have, however, learned a bit more about myself and about the writing process.  Here are five rules I would now be willing to carve on a stone:

1. Don't start writing until you have some idea of where you're heading.  These little daily chapters utterly fail to provide direction.  An impartial reader can not tell who the important characters are, or what the book is all about.

2. Have a timeline.  My events tend to be confusingly out of order.

3. Don't confuse "show and tell." My academic background reveals itself all too clearly when I fall into lecture mode.  I thought I was writing conversations, but the result all too often sounds like a typical schoolmarm telling a class of students what they must know for the test. I wrote so quickly that I forgot to let my characters show what was going on through their words and actions.

4. Know your characters. Each one needs a distinct personality, recognizable in both their actions and in their speech patterns. If the reader can't tell the characters apart, the author has failed again.

5. Write because you have something important to say.  The reader deserves to understand what is important about your story and why you care.

So I quit doing NaNoWriMo a couple of years ago -- swore I'd never do it again. And I haven't, except for a couple of summer camps where the goal was shorter. Still, when November rolls around, I get this irresistible urge to pound the keys.  So here I go again, but this time I’m headed into a new novel with six months of preparation behind me.  I have character sketches, a timeline, a complete chapter-by-chapter synopsis, and lots of notes on the accompanying history.

I'll keep you posted on progress. Cheerleaders welcome

Off and On Like a Light Switch

Hello, again.  I've had a frustrating few days, thanks largely to this website.  While the pages on my books have been functioning well, thank goodness, the link to this particular page -- my "Roundheads and Ramblings" blog -- has been unavailable for five of the past eight days. It's irritating to me, when I have something important to pass along, and discouraging for my readers, who think I have suddenly fallen off the edge of the world. What to do?

The obvious solution was to call the company for help. Last Thursday, you may remember, I thought I had solved the problem by changing my browser to Google Chrome. Hah! That lasted exactly one day. By Friday, I was off-line again.

Over the weekend I decided the only solution was to move the blog to a different site. So for the last three days I've been nudging and tweaking and experimenting with a new blog over on Google's Blogger site. Its focus will be on the process of creating a new book. I just happen to be at one of those crossroads -- current manuscript drafted and into the editing phase, which means "nothing new to write." So I'm starting to think about book 3 of the Grenville Saga by gathering stories from the beginning of the 20th century. I've long wanted to write about my mother's family who grew up in that era, so this is a perfect opportunity to start collecting and examining their experiences.

If you are interested in following that new blog, it is titled "Katzenhaus Blogs" and can be found at: 

http://www.katzenhausblogs.com/

Come on over and see what's developing.  If you want to be notified when a new post appears there, simply fill in your e-mail address at the top of its title page and hit "submit." 

Now, what to do with this site?  It contains FIVE years of blog posts, viewed a total of over 1,000,000 times. I can't just pull the plug, annoying though it may be in its crotchety old age.  So this blog will continue to function whenever possible.  And once again, I'm pointing it in a semi-new direction. 

Every so often I think about a new development that should be included in a second edition of The Second Mouse Gets the Cheese.  I've even considered calling it Cheese Souffle for the Second Mouse" since a new edition would be a much more sophisticated and authoritative collection than my first innocent ventures into the world of Indie publishing.  I'll start posting some of those ideas here, and we'll eventually see if there's enough for a new book.

Welcome back. I hope the lights stay on!


Missed Milestones

While I've been mucking about trying to find a browser that would work for me, I've managed to miss two important milestones. Each of them would have merited a blog post of their own if I had been on time, but since they have already passed, I'll just call your attention to both of them. 


The first one happened at the beginning of last week. My Katzenhaus Books website passed the one million mark on the chart that keeps tract of page views.

 1,000,000.

 I have trouble getting my mind around that number. I started the website in the summer of 2011, and for the first year or so, I counted less than two hundred page views a month.  We've come a long way. So thanks to all of you who check the website to see what new books are on the way and to read this blog.  Your numbers aren't  legion, but I'll settle for a million!



And then on Tuesday evening, my talented designer at Avalon Graphics sent me the cover design for "Yankee Reconstructed." 

The map at the top shows several locations that will be familiar to many of you from previous books -- Beaufort (Beyond All Price), St. Helena Island (The Road to Frogmore), and Edisto Island (Damned Yankee). 

The picture on the bottom, however is new. It was taken about 23 miles inland from Beaufort, at the ruins of the parish church on Old Sheldon Road. The church, in its various states of disrepair plays a crucial role in the story to come.  I hope you'll be intrigued.












Coming on January 3, 2016.
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