I had a professor one time (Professor Kulkarni at Rice University) tell me that all experiences are like tomato seeds. Plant them in your thought process and see what grows. We’re talking a basic simile here. And here’s what it has to do with research.
My hubby and I just finished a cruise through the Panama Canal. Now I am not currently writing anything that has to do with the Panama Canal (okay, one possibility), but the history and engineering of this incredible, world-changing slice through the earth is epic. It’s an experience I shan’t easily forget (dementia runs in the family, so I have to qualify that), and one that is definitely a seed I will plant in my garden (that would be my brain).
Yes, I just likened my brain to a pile of . . . excrement, but few will argue the point.
As Professor Kulkarni would say, you plant it and see what grows. Will it be a major plot point? Will it be the background story for a character? I have no idea, but I have confidence this experience (the Panama Canal cruise) will influence my future stories in some way.
That’s what experiences do for writers. Around every corner is an idea that might end up in a book. Perhaps it’s a fact you picked up on vacation, a secret in your own family’s past, maybe even something as simple as an overheard conversation. To be a writer is to be open to new experiences at every turn, and to nurture those experiences into something you can use in your writing.
So, for today’s lesson, here’s a re-cap. Look to every experience you’ve had or the ones to come for seeds that might grow into your writing. Research what’s interesting (or fascinating in the case of the Panama Canal) and use your curiosity to feed your creative streak.
Oh, and yours truly may indeed be full of . . . well, you know.
K.P. Gresham, author of the Pastor Matt Hayden Mystery series and Three Days at Wrigley Field, moved to Texas as quick as she could. Born Chicagoan, K.P. and her husband moved to Texas, fell in love with not shoveling snow and are 30+ year Lone Star State residents. She finds that her dual country citizenship, the Midwest and Texas, provide deep fodder for her award-winning novels. Her varied careers as a media librarian and technical director, middle school literature teacher and theatre playwright and director add humor and truth to her stories. A graduate of Houston’s Rice University Novels Writing Colloquium, K.P. now resides in Austin, Texas, where life with her tolerant but supportive husband and narcissistic Chihuahua is acceptably weird.
Once I arrived home from the doctor’s office I knew that I wanted to journal my fears and questions, and what had been happening to my body for the past few months. Writing was a tool I had used most of my life to rise above, or outshine, sexual abuse, family alcoholism, untimely deaths, and divorce. After I heard the fateful words, “You have cancer,” recovered from surgery, gone through chemotherapy, and had begun a new life as a cancer survivor, a friend asked if she could read my journal. Days later she called to encourage me to publish my journal saying, “Women need to read this.”
Q: What did the second hand say to the hour hand as it passed by?
A: See you again in a minute.
Q: What do you call a story that one clock tells to another?
A: Second-hand information.
Time is on My Side, Yes it Is:
Time is on my side, yes it is.
Time is on my side, yes it is.
Now you all were saying that you want to be free
But you’ll come runnin’ back (I said you would baby),…
Time is on my side. Or is it? Is time on my side or your side, while on the truck, it seems that I am constantly fighting against time. It’s time to drive (11 hours), then it’s time to sleep (5-8 hours), then it’s time to eat (2 hours). That’s 21 hours, so I have 3 hours to shower, clean the truck, relax, exercise, dance, or create. Time is not on my side.
When I’m at home I have a little more time to do what I want, but that is usually going to my various classes or clubs, and swimming. I am still sorting out my collections or hoardings that we talked about in a previous blog. Also, I have family and friends there that I really must visit with before heading back to work.
My shortest book, Four Moons and Fair Maidens still took a lot of time to get the rhythm just right. Westerns more than other books have a rhythm of their own, and it is historical so that means a lot of research. All the facts have to be exact because if they are not someone will notice.
***How is your time?*** And speaking of time, 2 anthologies that are listed below are getting ready to go out of print so if you’d like to have a copy now is the time to get them. Cowboys, Creatures, and Calico–Pawprints on my Heart.
Cher’ley’s Books are listed below and on sale at Amazon and local bookstores. Her newest book is an Advanced Coloring Book and she has one that is freshly published with 11 other authors.
According to Merriam-Webster the definition of mishmash is a confused mixture of things. It perfectly defines life right now. (No, I’m not talking politics. I leave that to those who are passionate about it.)
So what do I mean by life right now? Life is and always has been confusing. We learn as we go along, making mistakes and enjoying triumphs. We plan our journey, and do everything the way we think it should be, then…bam…some challenge gets thrown your way. The key to getting somewhere, go with the flow.
I always thought I would be a performer, and I have been. I decided at fifteen I would work with criminals. Been there, done that. I’ve always written, but didn’t think non-fiction would be in the picture. *OOPS* Teach me to think life didn’t have another idea.
The thing is, life really is a mishmash, but it isn’t such a bad thing. Instead, I prefer to think of all the wonderful experiences I’ve had in my lifetime as gifts. If I hadn’t started spending weekends in the research section of the library, I’d have missed out on some great friendships. I also probably would never have found the women doctors, and written scholarly papers on such diverse subjects as ancient volcanos, film commissioners and of course women doctors.
If my parents hadn’t encouraged me to take chances, to follow dreams and not worry about how others viewed me, I wouldn’t have been an acting teacher, played music professionally and been an actor. Because no one told me I couldn’t, I live a blessed life. So bring on the mishmash.
I’d like to share some of the thoughts of Mark Twain about life. Hope you enjoy the mishmash.
You can’t depend on your eyes when your imagination is out of focus.
Courage is resistance to fear, mastery of fear, not absence of fear.
The fear of death follows from the fear of life. A man who lives fully is prepared to die at any time.
Don’t part with your illusions. When they are gone, you may still exist, but you have ceased to live.
It is curious–curious that physical courage should be so common in the world, and moral courage so rare.
There are not enough morally brave men in stock. We are out of moral-courage material.
And my favorite: Let us endeavor so to live so that when we come to die even the undertaker will be sorry.
Angela Raines is the pen name for Doris McCraw
Author, Speaker, Historian-specializing in
Colorado and Women’s History
Tomorrow, I’m embarking on a journey part of which was roughly trod by the Ancient Roman Armies of General Agricola in AD 83/84, and of the Roman Emperor Severus in AD 210, when they came to explore my part of north-east Scotland.
The route shown on the map follows the current rail line from Aberdeen on the east coast of Scotland to Kyle of Lochalsh on the west coast. I’ll be making a return journey by train from Inverurie all the way to Kyle of Lochalsh—though how far the Ancient Romans marched beyond Inverness is still anyone’s guess.
Archaeologists have confirmed evidence of Ancient Roman Marching Camps at regular intervals from Aberdeen to Inverness. These camps lie roughly along the same route as the railway, some being only a few miles from the rail lines. Between Inverurie and about 16 miles south of Elgin (the angle change on the map above) the camps were large enough to shelter upwards of 20,000 men. After that ‘angle change’ (Camps of Muiryfold and Auchinhove) the Roman camp sizes get smaller, meaning they sheltered fewer and fewer Roman soldiers, as they progressed along the coast of the Moray Firth towards Inverness. Why they got smaller is open to conjecture and I’m having a lot of fun writing my version of the advances of Agricola’s forces in Book 4 of my Celtic Fervour Series of historical adventures.
Current archaeological digs are underway to find out if there’s any evidence of further Roman Camps beyond Inverness and I’m very keen to hear the updates of these because it might be important when I eventually get around to writing Book 5!
I’ve driven the same route to Inverness and beyond many times, since the main trunk road (A 96) also roughly follows the rail lines, but naturally I’ve not been able to appreciate the landscape in the way that I hope to do tomorrow. From the comfort of the train, I’m really looking forward to seeing the terrain in a more detailed way and doing a bit of imagining of what it was like some 2000 years ago – during the eras of my historical novels. Now, you might be asking yourself -Why isn’t she just taking the train to Inverness? Why go all the way to the west coast?
Tomorrow’s train journey isn’t on just a regular service train. I’ll be journeying in a vintage railway carriage that’s probably almost as old as I am!
In Scotland, like many other countries, we have many heritage societies. One of them is the Scottish Railway Preservation Society. This was formed in 1961 at a time when many rural railway services were being axed by the government and the enthusiasts who formed the society were determined to preserve as much of Scottish railway history as they could. By the mid-1970s, my husband and I were enjoying the society’s special tours all over Scotland, some of which were steam hauled on shorter routes and some by diesel engines for longer treks.
Tomorrow’s special tour will use a restored diesel engine and the restored carriages will be Maroon Mark 1 stock, which were probably built in the 1950s. The return journey is expected to take approximately 12 hours with a stop at Kyle of Lochalsh of 1 ½ hours. Just enough time to stretch our legs and have a wee wander, though it might include a coffee stop since the inevitable Scottish rain is forecast for the west coast! I’m looking forward to having an elegant lunch and dinner on the train as we ply forth and back along the spectacular Kyle Line – named as ‘One of the Great Railway Journeys of the World’ passing moorlands, mountains, rivers and lochs.
More about SRPS HERE if you’d like to see some more images.
I’ll also be having a wee read since I’ve just stocked up my kindle with new books. My publisher, Crooked Cat, has a SUMMER SALE going on this weekend (7-10th July) All Crooked Cat ebooks are 99c/99p across the Amazon network – including my own, so if you fancy reading about the Romans who trod that pathway noted above, you can get my Celtic Fervour Series for less than $3! Or if you’d like to try my stand alone mysteries you can get them for the same price if you’re really quick! Just click the link HERE to reach my amazon page or type in Crooked Cat on Amazon to choose from around 150 multi-genre titles.
Have you ever taken a rail journey like the one above – for pleasure and more?
Whatever your weekend is like- happy reading!
Nancy Jardine also writes time travel historical for Middle Grade so if you know any good readers of approximately 10 years and above they can enjoy an ebook version of The Taexali Gamefor only $1.99!
Nancy finds all historical eras totally fascinating: research a delightful procrastination! Her week is taken up with grandchild-minding, gardening, reading, writing and blogging. Catching up with historical programmes or TV series and watching the news is a luxury – as are social events with friends and family but she does a creative job to squeeze them in.
We all seem to have the Big Why in our lives. Why did I do this, or that. We tend to beat ourselves up over some mistake. Let’s take a look at the Little Why.
Why do I continue to comment on other people’s blog post even when they do return the courtesy?
I do so because I know people who write these post have something to say. It is a joy to see how they think, what’s important to them. By taking the time to comment, even if it is to say thank you, I acknowledge their efforts. Let’s face it, we all want to be heard.
Why do I continue to write post that no one seems to read or care about?
This goes back to the comments in the first Why. As I learn new things I want to share. The world is a big place, we can’t all do everything, so if something I think about or research will make a difference, I’m going to share. It goes back to my days working with juveniles. A wise lady once told me, “just keep talking, you never know when something you said might make all the difference.”
Why do I continue my photo and haiku practice?
This one is easy. It has become a habit, and I plain enjoy the challenge.
Why write romance?
I want to tell stories, and if there is a bit of romance in them, I’m okay with that. One of my cover models said she loved my novella, but it didn’t follow the formula. That is what I aim for, a good story that doesn’t have to rely on formula to succeed.
Why is telling the story of early women doctors so important?
Why shouldn’t it be? Dr. Susan Anderson had Virginia Cornell to tell her story. While I do not aspire to the universal love that the Cornell book has, I do not want these women to be lost to time. They did as much if not more than the more ‘famous’ ones did. They may not be famous, but they are worth remembering.
Why am I doing history symposiums and speaking in public?
See the above answer. There is so much rich history to be shared. If I can add just one small part to the overall knowledge or get someone excited about a piece of history I am happy. Life is too short to be too afraid. No one really told me I couldn’t and if they did, I chose not to listen.
So there you have it, a little bit of Why.
For those who are interested you can stream the symposium on June 11. Here is the link: http://www.ustream.tv/channel/ppld-history The program starts at 9am Mountain Time. The topic this year is Myths and Mysteries of the Rocky Mountain West.
Our local schools have recently had their 2 week spring holiday. When I was teaching, those two weeks were avidly awaited – they were an opportunity to recharge my batteries and snatch a short break in cultural venues steeped in history like Vienna, Barcelona, or Mediterranean islands like Malta or Crete. The destinations never needed long haul flights, European cities being easily achievable in a couple of hours from a Scottish airport.
Now it’s my grand kids who’re locked into the school holiday system so, as a regular carer, I’m back to taking spring holiday breaks. We’ll work up to a whole week away…but not just yet… that’ll take a wee bit of practising! At present it’s a ‘Day Out’, one at a time.
Last week we picnicked at 16th century Crathes Castle, along with my daughter who had a day off work. After a long visit to a brand new soft play area, there was heaps of grass to play ball on and space to throw a Frisbee. My 4½ year old granddaughter wanted to go into the walled garden having remembered the fountain and various other interesting features from previous visits, her recall of things quite astounding.
My grandson, only just turned 2 years old, was convinced it was Tinkerbell’s Castle and wanted to go inside, though an inside tour hadn’t been on the original plan for the day. With two adults it was doable—one adult and two little kids not so much.
Aberdeenshire is coined as ‘castle country’. It has the greatest amount of castles per acre in Scotland and there’s a plethora of them to visit, some of them now administered by The National Trust of Scotland of which I’ve been a member for the last thirty years. The interiors are all distinctively different, well preserved, and full of ancient treasures so it’s with trepidation that I enter the portals with a two year old, but I think that you’ve got to culture’em early!
Crathes Castle is set in magnificent grounds of around 600 acres which are typical of other grand estates in Royal Deeside. Aberdeenshire castles have an impressive history that’s documented but also shrouded in legend. The present Crathes Castle, completed c. 1596 and which took around 40 years to build, was the home of the Burnett family for many centuries and was only given over to The National Trust for Scotland organisation in 1959, when the new Burnett heir, resident in New Zealand, couldn’t maintain the property.
Legend plays a part in the story because it’s said that the most prized treasure of Crathes Castle is ‘The Horn of Leys’ which Alexander de Burnard received from King Robert The Bruce in 1323 as his badge of office as forester (overseer of the estates). ‘The Horn of Leys’ is a highly decorated carved ivory horn which now hangs encased behind glass in the High Hall at Crathes Castle; the horn symbol also a part of the Heraldic Coat of Arms of the Burnett family (the name change from Burnard was a common trait) . Photography is not allowed in the castle but the general idea at left of the horn has been taken from a book on Amazon. (I’m not sure I’d be willing to pay over £200 for this copy, though)
My problem with visiting even fairly well known castles is that there’s always something new that I’ve not absorbed on earlier visits that just begs to be researched. I’d never thought before of what the first family dwelling of the Burnetts might have been, i.e. before the present castle was built, but it’s an intriguing question that begs to be researched. The problem is that there’s no documentation from the early 1300s to clarify the answer!
If you’re interested in learning more there are some scant details about our visit to the castle and an intriguing mystery about the first home of the Burnett family who lived on the Crathes estate on my BLOG.
Have you ever heard anyone say that before? I have many times but as I got older I found it very easy to disbelieve it. I would even go so far as to say that I probably veered a lot of my reading energy during my teenage years (1960s) towards subject matter that was nerdy and very unfashionable purely because it was history, or historical biographies, or historical fiction and because I was quite happy to buck the trends. Where I grew up in Glasgow, Scotland, during the 1950s and 1960s, archaeology was thought to be a very dull subject indeed and quite a closemouthed occupation. By that, I mean that when the experts conducted an archaeological ‘dig’ it seemed to be shrouded in absolute secrecy for a very long time till the results were finally published and available for public reading…by which time the dig details had died a dull death and had faded into the forgotten news archives.
I’m thrilled that for the last couple of decades archaeology has become a hot topic. I’m delighted to thank the use of innovative scientific technology, television, the internet and the general media for that volte face… and this post is full of links to demonstrate the ease of information transfer.
However, I do have to confess that back in the late 1960s, although I loved reading about archaeologists like Howard Carter, who hit the headlines with the 1922 discovery of the Tomb of Tutankhamun, I didn’t actually fancy doing the boringly repetitive and back breaking digging that’s a necessary part of being an archaeologist. Whether the date is 1922 or 2022, that monotonous minute clearing away of soil is still a necessary part of any exploration of sites of interest but today even that process can be speeded up by the initial use of a small mechanical excavator. When I first saw evidence of this use I was horrified till I realised that the experts know just how deep in the soil to begin the painstaking clearance, particle by particle, and that what’s above that level can be quickly removed.
Since joining Facebook, I’ve liked a lot of ‘history’ pages and I get regular media updates of all sorts of interesting discoveries. Hardly a day goes by now without something amazing being found and I’m delighted to say that many of these have been closer to home in the UK, and even in Scotland.
I’ve written posts about interesting places in Aberdeenshire before on this blog—about local castles; and places like the ‘folly’ at Dunnideer but I’ve not written all that many posts about places associated with ‘Dark Ages’ history. On the way home from one particular Craft Fair at Insch, I went home the long way which took me past a site that I knew was being excavated by an archaeological team led by Dr. Gordon Noble.
Dr. Noble is associated with many current archaeological projects in Scotland and is associated with Aberdeen University. I’ve gone to a few local talks where he’s updated amateurs, like me, on what’s currently happening on the sites of excavation. The videos below show just how ‘open to the public’ archaeologists are now, and it gives some light on the fact that a lot of the sheer grunt work of painstaking excavation is now done by volunteer labour.
What’s incredibly exciting about archaeological discovery is that for the last couple of decades the addition of scientific techniques like geophysical surveys/ resistivity surveys have provided much more evidence of ancient occupation. Some 22 watch towers and small Roman forts on the Gask Ridge in Scotland – now claiming the name of Rome’s First Frontier – have been identified… and this is only on a tiny stretch along the long line of Roman advance around AD 84 from the Central Belt (Glasgow to Edinburgh) to the north-east where I live. (You can find out about resistivity HERE. )
Dendrochronology and dendroarchaeology now make the likelihood of evidence discovery and dating a much more real prospect (Information on the techniques HERE. )
Tried and tested aerial photography, since the end of the Second World War, has been incredible in advancing the knowledge of ancient sites in Scotland and can still be a useful indicator of what is below ground, especially during dry summers. But anyone who knows anything about Scotland will also know that dry summers are pretty fictional and not to be relied on!
For me, the most exciting technology of all now being used for archaeological purposes is LIDAR. LIDAR isn’t a new technique. It’s been used since post Second World War for governmental uses but only now is it beginning to be used for archaeological identification of potential sites of interest. I wrote about LIDAR a couple of times on my own blog last year, you can read one of them HERE. The grunt work will be needed at a computer but the potential results could be amazing. (More information on how LIDAR works can be read HERE.)
All of these scientific techniques make the history much more easily understood by the average member of the public. Some TV programmes (in the UK and maybe worldwide) admittedly dumb down the knowledge level of a subject to make it more palatable and more sensational, but generally if a programme interests more people in the historical subject, then it’s successful.
I love the visuals that are now available. I really look forward to ‘shared’ items on Facebook about new discoveries and articles written about them. And I especially love when really clever people make 3D images of places I’d love to visit—if I travelled back in time. My Roman characters spend their time in Britannia but if they spent time in Rome itself they might have encountered the scene in this 3D reconstruction of the Mausoleum of Augustus. I can’t add this one directly to this blog but it’s definitely worth a click! http://www.realmofhistory.com/2016/03/10/3d-reconstruction-mausoleum-of-augustus/
Sadly, I’m not adding much to my WIP for Book 4 of my Celtic Fervour Series because newly read archaeological information means (like that about The Gask Ridge Project) I’m constantly changing what I’ve written because I’m not happy with what I already wrote. But I am slowly learning – a lot – and enjoying what the internet has to offer in new archaeology!
Do you love the visual history that’s now available via the internet covering all eras ?
This has been a rough summer. There were lots of good times, like visiting family in Michigan and hanging out with my daughter and younger sister on Amelia Island, Florida. But there were less happy times as well.
We had to spend money on things we really didn’t want to. There was the cat that got sick and needed blood work and an ultrasound just 3 weeks after her annual physical. Then there was the call to the exterminator to get rid of a wasp nest, which turned out to be honey bees. It’s illegal to kill them, and you don’t want to anyway since an untended hive will crumble, causing honey to drip down your walls which leads to an ant infestation. So $500 went to send the bees off to a new and happy home.
Repairs to the house, in preparation of a refinance, have gone slowly and of course costing more than we budgeted. Mike and I are doing as much work as possible, with the help of a wonderful friend who spent an afternoon shoving branches into a wood chipper. We also have a handyman who is taking care of projects that require a really tall ladder. He started painting the second floor window frames when he took a break to have gall bladder surgery. Yep, it’s been that kind of summer.
My car got sick on the way home from Florida and some awesome people at the Ford Service Shop south of Savannah fixed it for free, but with stern orders to get the car better repaired when I was home. I did as I ordered and, like the cat, 3 weeks later the car got sick again. The air conditioner compressor died and the cost to replace it, and all other relevant parts, is more than we can afford right now.
So, for the near future, we are a one car family.
At first I was upset and frustrated, trying to coordinate my responsibilities around the lack of daily access to a car. I had to back out of a few commitments and everyone has been very understanding. Still, I felt bad about this and am still anxious about how we will sort everything out.
Then I had my “ah ha” moment.
We have one car.
I can’t go anywhere.
My book must be to the editor by mid-November.
I now have a great reason why I can’t do much except stay home and write.
Monday was my first car-free day. I didn’t do much writing but I did a ton of research and sorted out the last of the details I needed for the second half of my book. What writing I did accomplish flowed much better with these final pieces of my puzzle in hand.
I look forward to spending most of the rest of my week living in the world of my creation, with the occasional detour into the real world to write a client’s weekly blog and edit a piece for my brother. These things don’t seem so hard, now that I know I can’t be asked to drop by the school, do a quick grocery store run, or any of the pesky little errands that can eat up big chunks of my time without my even realizing it. Best of all, I can focus and write day after day, rather than having long breaks between sessions.
I miss my car, we call her Little Red, but things are working out okay. There are still challenges to face and we can’t manage as a one car family for too long, but until then I will view this as a gift rather than a burden and see what I can accomplish.
I thought I’d take a break from writing about individual women doctors and investigate a related topic, grooming the cat. If anyone has tried this exercise, you know it is filled with challenges, frustrations and maybe a bit of laughter. Okay a lot of laughter; after the scars have healed.
I can hear you saying, the cat grooms itself. Yes, they do, but sometimes they can use a bit of help. Just ask the cat owner who cleans up after a hairball has landed on the floor, bed cover or your shoes. Because the cat is used to grooming itself, they don’t like their owners manhandling them, unless of course you started when they were really young. How many people have done that?
Just like grooming a cat, anytime you try something new or challenging, there is that learning curve. The pain of getting scratched or worse, being disliked. Like the cat, you will get over it. No, you may not like it but once it’s done you do feel better.
When I started researching ‘my’ doctors, I ran into a lot of stuff, much of it did not even contribute to the overall information I was looking for. I had to clear the excess away and get to the basics. Even as I worked through the ‘women had a hard time’ scenario to get to the actual information, I found myself worrying about whether I would ever find the truth. I’m not saying women didn’t have a difficult time, but back then everyone had a difficult time compared to our lives. When we try to put our lifestyle against another it will always fall short of the other persons truth. The fiction writer can get away with some of those comparisons, but for historians it can cause problems.
So as I groom my cat, and he starts purring, then wanting to play with the comb, I find pleasure in his response. As I groom away the excess in my research, I also find a great deal of pleasure. But lest you think that excess fur, and excess information are a total waste, you can use the excess to create something new. No, I don’t usually use cat fur, but it would be fun to glue onto something creative. The excess information I don’t use, well it can end up in a story. which is what I did with my latest short. That titbit of information help me create Tom’s story, a follow up from my first novella, which will appear in an upcoming anthology.
So you see, even grooming the cat has rewards. Until next time, here is to your own joy in grooming your ‘cat’.