Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Details, Specifics, and Deadlines

Some of you have been asking how the book is coming along. Well ... it's never far from my mind .... but getting stuff from my mind onto paper is another thing. I think one of the things that surprises me most is HOW SLOWLY it goes (when I actually write.) You see, on my blog - or with other writing projects, writing is quick and easy. (also very informal with lots of mistakes). But writing this story is exactly the opposite. 3k words, which would normally take me an hour or two hours to whip out, take DAYS AND DAYS. It is REALLY kicking my butt. I'm not sure if I'm doing it wrong ... or making it more difficult than necessary ... or have just chosen one of the most difficult genera: Historical Fiction. ... BUT ... I cannot believe HOW LONG it's taking me to write the three pages due today. (also see: Mit is a procrastinator and is now writing HERE instead of there. Not to mention during business hours).

No one seems to understand why it is such slow going. Several writer friends have just said, "Just write it down, then go back and fill in or verify the details." Of course these people write Science Fiction stories - or stories in what I call 'current time'. So they are working from a vast storehouse of personal knowledge or make everything up.

Me? Not so familiar with all the minutia of time from 1820 - 1891.

The other thing you're told OVER AND OVER AND OVER ... is use "details and specifics", "details and specifics!" You cannot be generic or general ... or the story won't resonate. You have to give/show as much (accurate) information as possible. But if you don't KNOW that information, because you have not lived in that time, or in that place, then every little thing your write becomes a huge game of hide and go seek. Or a scavenger hunt.

For example, in these particular pages I am introducing my third major character, the farmer who brings the lawsuit against the mining company. Plus his wife and children. I think the wife and kids will just be background), but I need to decide how many (children, not wives), ages, gender, and names ... because "details, details, details". Anyway that is neither here nor there - but took up about another hour of staring into space.

What I do know this section of the story has to happen in about 1879. See the lawsuit comes to court (hmmm, Federal or Circuit Court??) in 1882. So I have to give enough time before that date for the case to be built and for witness and experts to be rounded up. So I figure '79 is about the right time for the farmer to approach the lawyer. And in this sceen, I want the farmer to be thinking about rain and flooding and what is does/has done to his land and businesses. So there should be a rain storm, right? Right.

Now I have to figure out if '79 was a flood year, 'cause if it was ... then what the farmer says will be TOTALLY different than if it's not. Thankfully it's four years AFTER one of the bigger floods in 1875. But do you know how long it took me to find all the flood occurrences on the Feather and Yuba Rivers??? Trying to find this information I have uncovered web sites for Levee District One in Sutter County, the Yuba County Water Agency, the Sutter Buttes Flood Organization (who give tours of the levees in April and May ... YOU SHOULD GO !) and the Corp of Engineers.

Then I wanted him to have a dog. And I was talking to a friend about the friend's beagle ... so why not a beagle? But then I had to figure out if there were beagles in the US and when they got here. And a NAME for the damn dog. Since the family is Swiss, I looked up Swiss names (which I had to do for his wife, 3 boys and daughter too. They are now named Dania, Remi, Walter, Thierry, and Eilonwy). My original idea was to name all the animals after English Royalty (because wouldn't it be fun to have a dog named King Richard??)... but if the farmer is SWISS ... why the HELL would he be naming animals after the English aristocracy??? So then I looked up Swiss/Danish royalty. The Dane's have queens and kings ...but not the Swiss. *sigh* And the names are all sucky - and no one would get the reference. That was a good HOUR of time wasted. The dog is now named Nillson.

And if he's a farmer, he needs horses, right? Draft horses and carriage horses. So I want the draft horses to be Friesian's ... which means ... yes, you got it. Were there Friesian's in the US? And when did they get here? And then WHAT TO NAME THEM. (Kekke and Karsten).

I've also had to research the Debris Commission and the Anti-Debris commission. The first works with the Corp of Engineers and helps regulate runoff from the hydraulic mining industry and the second one ... is formed by the farmers and clearly OPPOSED to the first one.

Then I had to figure out what the river is named after it merges with Yuba and Feather Rivers. (At this point I am using real river and town names. I might change this so I can have more creative license). Of course, I have these maps AT HOME, but I don't always do my writing/research at home. And GOOGLE maps is NO HELP. (it's the Feather, thanks Original Box Mitter for that piece of information!)

Then add in all the stupid writing/style mistakes that need to be corrected AFTER I finally get something writen and AGGGGGGGGHHHHH!!!!!

In other writing related news, Dr. Whiney and I had dinner last night. It was good timing. Although my friend "C. Horsey" is my editor, Dr. Whiney considers himself my “creative muse”. I really value the questions he asks me, because he makes me look at my characters in a fuller manner. The fact that he is a medical doctor AND lawyer is EXTRA helpful with this particular story. Last night he asked me questions about the legal motivations of the landowner/businessman (pointing out that he's NOT "just a farmer" if he's bringing this lawsuit), the judge (because apparently judges have biases - and the fact the ruling ultimately overturns centuries of business law precedent means there must be SOME REASON (besides the facts) for him to rule this way.) (and now my naivety about the law is gone). Plus he wants to know more about the motives of the prosecuting attorneys.

He also wanted to know about the health ramifications of the polluted water on the general population. (to which I replied, "?????") This last question is especially interesting since I have only been focusing on the effects of the flooding on wildlife, geography, and agriculture. I mean ... back then they never would have thought to attribute high infant mortality to drinking the water. Or birth defects .... or other unusual health problems, right? (Talla Paula ... guess what I want you to do?)

So ... THAT'S how the book is coming. Aren't you glad you asked???


Keetha said...

I've never considered writing historical fiction, but if I had, I think this would have cured me! Whew! You are thorough. Your readers will thank you for it. :-)

Anonymous said...

Whew - never realized how much background research this story would take ! Hats off to you ! I'll see what I can find. tp

Allie said...

Gadzooks!! How DO you keep your sanity intact??

billie said...

It all sounds wonderful to me, but I love that crazy part of writing when you don't know what you're doing really, because it's so unformed -- but then it suddenly begins to take shape and an entire new world opens up.

It feels like you will know it inside and out by the time you get the entire story told, and that will make it sing! :)