"Roundheads and Ramblings"
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Harbingers of Things To Come
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"Roundheads and Ramblings"

New Research

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!


Looking Backward

I'm experiencing a bit of a lull this week.  The new book -- Damned Yankee -- is getting a final few corrections made, and the printer now says the final proof copy will be ready by April 15 -- a week from tomorrow.  Then I'll be back into it again as we kick off a launch, order books for a small book tour in South Carolina, and start marketing full time.

But what to do in the meantime?  I already have plans for a new book, based on my mother's family of eight sisters.  I've always been fascinated by their lives, but have been hesitant to write something that would offend family members.  Now I've decided that a fictionalized version will work -- with enough details changed (and the names, of course ) so that folks won't be finding grandma's dirty laundry being hung about.

And with that thought in mind, I've been exploring old family photos and scanning them into my computer for guidance and inspiration.  Some were taken in my own lifetime, but most go back well over 100 years.  I'm amazed at how clear they still are. Here's one example:

It shows my grandmother on the left, with her sister, her second oldest daughter, and her first grandchild.  It was taken about 1898. And what a different world it reveals.

Then I can jump ahead to 1915 and see the whole lineup of grandmother and her eight daughters. They're still very old-fashioned, aren't they?






And for another change, I found this portrait of my mother  (the youngest of the girls) in 1935 -- looking quite modern. 

I'm going to enjoy exploring that time at the beginning of the 20th-century and its enormous changes.

It's now Tuesday morning, and I'm still wallowing in old family memories, some of which  only originated in listening to my mother tell stories of her girlhood.  She looks lovely here, but she wasn't always so happy.
I can' resist including this picture of her one-room schoolhouse.  Obviously she was not pleased with having a class picture taken! That's her in the middle of the front row, arms folded and a ferocious scowl on her face. The picture is even scratched, lokking as if she tried to cross herself out.



Oh, and by the way, I'm scowling, too.  The blog trolls have been at it again, leaving their ads in the comments section. I tried leaving comments open but requiring my approval before they appear.  However, there are so many of the annoying ones that I've closed comments.  You can always e-mail me, instead, if you want to comment.












My Calendar Doesn't Change Until Tomorrow!



Tomorrow is Epiphany in the Christian calendar -- the twelfth day after Christmas and the day when the Wise Men visited the infant Jesus and recognized his divinity.  In many cultures, holiday celebrations continue through the twelve days of Christmas, gift-giving continues [remember the song "The Twelve Days of Christmas?], decorations remain in place, and good feelings prevail. Last week I wrote that I was not yet ready to start the New Year, and perhaps this is why. But after tomorrow, I'll have no excuse to cling to my holiday laziness. 

Epiphany also marks the beginning of Carnival season, which extends from Epiphany to the beginning of Lent.  Carnival traditions vary widely from area to area, and are most often identified with the Catholic church, but the origins go back very far into history.  Celebrations today include parades, masquerades, and over-indulgence in food and drink -- stocking up, as it were, before the deprivations of Lent. [carne vale is a bastardized Latin phrase for "Farewell to meat."]



 In the Middle Ages, there was frequently a period of "mis-rule" or a time when the natural order was overturned, children took over for bishops,  and fools replaced wise rulers. (The temptation here to point to Congress is almost overwhelming, but I'm fighting it.) It may sound like the holiday parties continue, but carnival fun has an entirely different flavor. It's a busy time, full of debts coming due, schedules to be met, appointments to be kept, and social obligations with double meanings -- quite unlike the warm coziness of Christmas with family and friends.


In any event, I'm setting my own calendar marker for tomorrow.  We'll eat the last of the left-overs (turkey soup, the stray cookie, the last of the cheese and crackers), put away the stray ends of the decorations, like the lighted trees from the front porch, gather up the Christmas cards to be noted for next year's list, and wrap up our holiday pecan sales.  On Monday, it's back to work time  

And what will I be working on?  Well, I haven't been entirely idle the last couple of weeks. I have a new book in the early stages of creation.  A least it's swirling around in the recesses of my writing brain, waiting for me to settle in and start putting quill to parchment. More of that on Monday. For this weekend, I'm going to take full advantage of the last quiet moments of the holidays.

How Do You Get A Novel from a Melodeon?

Now that we are all surviving 12-12-12, I'd better explain a little more about the subject of my next book.  "The Melodeon" will be a biographical novel, based on the lives of a real South Carolina family who struggled to hold heir family together during the Civil War. He was a teacher and an Episcopal priest, sent to minister to a small community just inland from the Sea Islands of coastal South Carolina.  He came from Boston and a family closely associated with Harvard, so he was sometimes regarded with suspicion by his Confederate neighbors.  She was the daughter of a fine old southern family.  Her mother's people had helped settle and open South Carolina to the cultivation of cotton.  Her father was also an educator, so she brought to her marriage an abiding determination to raise educated and cultured children -- and "southern" children at that.

And what about the children of this "mixed marriage" of North and South? The wife gave birth to 13 babies, 4 of whom died in infancy. In addition, the couple adopted 2 nephews whose parents had died when the boys were both under the age of four.  So going into the Civil War, the family was raising 11 children -- the older boys finishing college and professional training, the youngest, all girls, still attached to mother's apron strings.

I was attracted to their story, first of all, because they were the owners of the house in Beaufort known as "The Leverett House." Those of you familiar with my earlier books may recognize it as the house on Bay Street where  the Pennsylvania Roundheads established their regimental headquarters in December 1861.  

You've read about it in A Scratch with the Rebels, in Beyond All Price, and even in a couple of the short stories included in Left by the Side of the Road.

Have you ever wondered what happened to the people who owned the house? Where they went when they were forced to flee from Beaufort? Why their house full of slaves was so loyal to the house and the missing family? Whether they ever got their house back?


I wondered, too, and that curiosity suggested the new book.  The Leverett family were--as might be expected from a family of educators -- inveterate letter-writers, and much of their wartime correspondence has survived. I'll be using those letters to follow their experiences.

And what about the melodeon? Well, in Mrs. Leverett's correspondence, music plays a symbolic role.  It is one way she encourages the cultural development of her large family.  She also uses music as a way to give "voice" to her feelings about what is happening.  She owned a melodeon because it could be easily transported from the Beaufort house to their inland parsonage, to their plantation at Canaan, and eventually to their farm outside of Columbia. It travels with her as a constant presence.  When it is temporarily lost in transit, it engenders a family crisis. Its sale literally saves the family from starvation at one point, and its recovery signals the resolution of the trauma of their wartime experiences.

Stay tuned!