About those book reviews…

I have an urge to write, but what’s on my mind is reading and reviews.  The World Cup is over, and it’s time to get back to “reality”.  It’s been a rough month refereeing from my armchair!!!!!  I have a lot of non-writing things to do between now and the end of the month.  It’s going to eat into research and writing time.  I’ll be glad when things settle down.  Still, it’s time I got with the  “programme”, as it were, read a lot of literature and write the previously promised reviews. 

There are 82 books in my “to-read” list, 44 “to-acquire”, and I have 3 I’m “currently reading” on Goodreads.  We’re going into the Way Back Machine for most of the rest of the year.  A good chunk of what’s on my “to-read” list is literature from the late 19th Century and early 20th Century.  If you go to Goodreads and look at what I’ve read recently, you’ll see what I mean.  I’m not setting a particular order for reviews of what I’ve recently read.  They’ll come as they come.  For those who might be curious as to what’s on the lists, find me, and follow along.

If you’d like to suggest something off my lists to read next, by all means do so in comment or in email.  I’m open to suggestions.  If you’ve read one of them and liked it, or for some reason think it has some merit even if you didn’t like it, please tell me why.  I’m interested!

The only thing I have scheduled is to read the three-volume set Your Face Tomorrow by Javier Marías during the month of December.  I didn’t get to read it while the clan at Conversational Reading was having a go at it, so I’ll do it on my own.  Hopefully I’ll have the books by then!

The book cover you see above is one of the three I’m reading right now.  Note this is not Arthur Hailey’s The Money-Changers.  This is Upton Sinclair’s story about the 1907 Wall Street scare, which was a precursor (which was ignored on too many levels) to the stock market crash in October of 1927 and the subsequent Great Depression.  Sinclair wrote this book in 1908.

I think I’ll settle in with it tonight and see how far I get.  Have a good one.

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What did I just do?

A few days ago, I think I mentioned I’d gone back to the soc.culture.scottish newsgroup after hearing about the deaths of a couple of old friends.  This was a good thing in some ways, because I connected with other old friends and enjoyed, at least for a couple of days, the cameraderie.

Then….the killfile started to grow…and I started finding reasons not to do what I was supposed to do…

It was like skipping school to go to DisneyWorld.

After a tussle with my burning desire to “hook up”, I walked away from the computer for a few hours and thought about it, did what I was supposed to do, and just chilled.  (Do you use the word “chillax” here?  It sounds so much like Ex-Lax…)

In those same few days, did you notice I haven’t posted anything about any research on The Nothing Man, or mentioned that Teddy is walking or talking?  That’s because I didn’t, and he isn’t.

Bad Maggie!  Bad, bad Maggie!  The children in the photo are mad at me!

Tomorrow is Sunday.  I need to clean and sort the last of things so that it’s done.  Monday, back to serious business and writing.  While I’m not setting any timetables for Teddy, I do want him working before the week is out!  Maybe I’ll actually be able to get that accomplished.

I ran across family photos and documents today, and I have a picture of Teddy now.  I was gobsmacked at how much I look like him.  Scary/creepy, especially from what I know about him.

I’ll post it and post the photos of other characters in the book after the scanner is up and working.  I need to photoshop some of the edges so that they’re clean.

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We are not long here.

I’m taking an early lunch today to write. We’ll call it “elevenses”. I need to unload a bit because of what happened yesterday. While it has nothing to do with any of my research, it has everything to do with who I am.

I received news yesterday that two good and stalwart friends from my days on the Usenet group soc.culture.scottish had passed away. I hadn’t been on the group for years, but the deaths cut me to the quick. I stopped what I was doing for the day and spent time connecting with my old friends. It became sort of an online wake and reunion. I went back to the newsgroup, emailed a few people, and we had some good solid conversations. Memories started flooding back, and I got to thinking about who I used to be and who I am today.

My how things change, and yet many things stay the same. I thought about who I used to be at the time I reached this fork in the road. If I had taken a different path, I might not have become a writer, not be an editor, and instead be heavily involved in nationalist politics and married to an SMP, or at the very least a nationalist rabble-rouser. I would also be a UK citizen.

Why am I not, you ask? Because I have three children here. I love them with all my heart. I swore when I came back to the states, I would not leave them again, and I have not.

It doesn’t mean I miss Scotland any less. I do, and with all my heart, I wish that the circumstances were such that I could pack up my family and cross that barrier into the one place I felt the most comfortable. That’s very selfish of me, though, and I realise that. The family would feel like fish out of water. It’s better that I have that feeling all by myself, yes?

It may never have occurred to me to write The Nothing Man: Gift of Illusion. The presence of my family and the close proximity to the location of the story are the elements that prompted me to tell it. I wouldn’t have had either of those things were I still living in Edinburgh. Could I have written other stories? Of course I could, but this one has been pushing me for years. I would never have been able to push back if I lived somewhere else.

There are hints of Scotland in the story, though. Teddy was born in Scotland. The neighbourhood in Regina is a Scots-populated area. Throughout the story, the reader will see patches of Scottish culture.

On a side note, I think it’s interesting to talk about what happened to the real baby girl, Helen. She was born in Regina in 1927. She was adopted in 1936 in the US, this is true, but what no one knew was that this did not automatically make her a US citizen. Politically motivated, she had voted in every election since she was old enough to vote, campaigned heartily and heavily for the party of her choice, entertained Presidential candidates and members of Congress in her home, was an election official, loyally took jury duty…and was never aware that she was not a citizen. When she was set to make a trip to Japan in 1976, though, it was discovered that she was not eligible for a US passport. Frantically, plans were made to get her one – and it was pushed through via political means that won’t be discussed here (there are still living participants) with the promise that she would study, take the test, and become a “legitimate” citizen.

It came out after her death that her process for citizenship was not completed. As loyal as she was to the US, she never took the test and never took the oath. She died a Canadian citizen and a US immigrant in 1989.

Insane story, eh?  Believe it.  I was there for 35 years of it.

Elevenses are over. I have things to do. Will have to talk about Teddy in a couple of days.

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Dead relatives and living research

I watched the complete seven-hour documentary “The Great Depression” yesterday.  I went back through it twice, taking notes, snagging some stills for the blogs, and shedding a few tears.  Some of the information was common knowledge, but much of the political progression and confusion were new to me. 

Some of what I’d learned in history courses in the late 1960s and early 1970s were refuted in this series.  I found a list of the documentation and research they’d conducted in producing it.  Sound logic and thorough preparation prevailed before making any statements.  Sometimes history is written to appease and or accommodate a certain agenda.  Sometimes said history is counterbalanced by other material.  I think there is that counterbalance in this documentary and its supporting research.

Will I be able to use and talk about most of what I found?  No.  Nothing was specifically mentioned about Colorado, Montana or Wyoming.  It will give rise to a conversation or two between Inez and Teddy, or perhaps other characters who will be reading the newspapers and listening to the radio, and it builds the environment surrounding many of the stories my mother told me.

I “went to Canada” this morning and focused on the city of Regina, Saskatchewan.  The history I’ve found so far is sketchy for 1925-1930, but I’m still digging.  The answers lie between Regina General and St. Matthew’s Anglican Church in the WASP East End just south of Germantown, where British-isles descendants and immigrants settled.

How do I feel about this so far?  I’m not ready to write.  I am ready to bring a voice to Teddy, but not the boys.  Helen hasn’t been born.  We still have to sort out Teddy and Inez’ travel to Regina from World War I. 

It’s a work of fiction.  I can do anything.  I’m just not willing to create an alternate history or universe in the process.  This period of time is full of opinions and opinionated people.  I could spend a lifetime reading it all and yet still miss a point or two, or fail to present a particular character flaw.  How real do I need to make dead relatives?  How many hangnails must they have before they become who they were meant to be?

I’ve decided to submit the query and make the book proposal available at a later date to those who may be interested.

Right.  It’s going on 2:30 p.m.  Research continues.

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When dreams are not quite nightmares

I dreamt about Teddy last night.  Is it fair to call it a nightmare?  In a sense it was character development.  In another sense, everything I had been told about him that had frightened me as a child forced me awake too early and made me uncomfortable.

He didn’t appear in a threatening manner.  He didn’t hold a gun to my head, nor was he carrying any sort of weapon.  His body language wasn’t threatening, either.  It was his choice of words and the way he looked at me.  He was adept at pinning every small thing that might have gone wrong on someone else…and in his eyes, I saw the twinkle of a con artist at work.

I don’t think he figured his granddaughter would be quite this jaded.

I caught myself talking to him in a Thing 1 and Thing 2 sort of way, and I tried to be objective.  He did not have to tell me that my grandmother had a flair for the dramatic.  I knew this very well.  He has a lot of explaining to do for his behaviour well after this book ends, but it is irrelevant.  What is relevant is his behaviour before.  Methinks he doth protest too much.  He was a cad and a bounder.  Perhaps I am too callous, but his war experience did not excuse his lifelong behaviour.  War did not change him, except perhaps to make him worse.

I am going to have to dig deeper into research on the World War I experience.  Without it, I can’t carry Teddy or Inez either one forward.  How on earth a woman with such fortitude would find herself mixed up with a rake like Teddy is beyond me.  It makes no sense at all.

I am very lucky that my characters are ghosts from the past.  They existed, and therefore I do not have to create them.  At the same time, if I am not true to who they were, I end up feeling as if I am not true to who I am.  Does this make sense?

It’s a bit more complicated than I anticipated.  Still, we’ll make the goal of a submittable manuscript by May 2011.

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The Dirty Dozen

There are 12 voices talking all at once.  In my head.  Only one of them is mine. 

I hear my grandmother and my mother distinctly, both of whom play a major part in this story.  The other voices I suppose are assumed to be correct.  I’ve never really talked to any of them:  Inez, Teddy, Theodore, Forrest, Aunt Marguerite, C.E., Clinton, Aunt Daisy and the other woman in Colorado whose name escapes me at the moment.  I may have to give that woman a random name.

The story flows, and in the flow, there are random scenes taking shape that need research.  I’m excited about this because I love to do research, and this happens to be part of a period of time that fascinates me the most, 1901 through 1939.  I’m trying not to spend too much time in the years previous to 1927 or after 1936, though they do play a large part in the human experiences of all of the characters.

If I could just get my brain to stop running in 12 different directions, I would pull myself together, develop a reading and research list, and be all “organised”.  Is this how it is, writers?  Is it just chaos for which you need a closet full of straight jackets for your characters so they will hold still long enough for you to get the story right?

Crazy.  Just crazy.

I want to have the book proposal and a couple of fair chapters written before the end of September.  Why, yes.  I am doing this the old-fashioned way.  I am not making this decision.  I do not have an automatic “in”.  My partner will make this decision.  He will be fair and honest.  If it passes by him, then I’ll put it on the schedule for November of next year.  I think it would make a darn good Thanksgiving story.

I smiled when I thought about the preface for this book, which should not be confused with the prologue.  I think possibly the only one who will really get it and remember will be my sister.  I can hear her now:  “That’s right!  That’s exactly how it was!”

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Inez begins to walk and talk

I spent a good amount of time reading Sherwood Anderson’s Winesburg, Ohio Tuesday night.  I’ve been drawn to Anderson for some time now and didn’t know why until I started reading Hands, giving up finally when I had to lie down, eventually to fall asleep.  It is the unfortunate circumstance of having the e-version of the book, rather than the print version.

I dreamt about his words in the night, and also about the first narrator in The Nothing Man, and I woke Wednesday with a plan.

The first six chapters will be narrated by the mother, Inez. 

The real Inez was born in 1899 in a village that no longer exists on an odd border between France and Belgian Wallonia, and where Walloon was spoken on both sides of that border.  She was a member of the Belgian Red Cross driving an ambulance for them on the Western Front.  I know it is the Belgian Red Cross, rather than the French Red Cross because of the uniform differences between the two.  The French Red Cross appeared to be an all-white uniform with a red cross emblem on the left breast.  The Belgian Red Cross was a full white apron, worn over a dark blue dress.  This is the uniform I recall seeing in a few old photos of Inez that no longer exist.  She was an active part of the Red Cross movement that garnered the organisation the Nobel Peace Prize in 1917.  It was as a Red Cross ambulance driver that she met Theodore Stewart, a Scot in one of the Allied regiments, fell in love and followed him back to Canada, where he had already established a new home.

From what little information I received from my mother when I was a child, her memories of Inez included a passion for reading and a desire to continue to teach herself all that she could about the country in which she resided and its language and culture.  She was a strong-willed and determined woman.  For one left without her mother at such an early age, Helen’s memory of the “little things” kept Inez alive in her heart.

It is important to note that if Inez had not died in 1933, this story would have gone in a completely different direction.  It adds both tragedy and hope to days leading up to the sealed records in July of 1936. 

– – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – –

Don’t mind me.  I’m rambling.

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