Saturday, January 13, 2018

Technical Topic - Thinking About Saying Stuff Twice

-->
tl:dr summary:
Don’t say stuff twice.

I don't know about you, but I do this all the time. My final editing is full of me sitting in coffee shops muttering, 
"I've just said he can see over the crowd. I don't need to say --'Because he was tall he could see over the crowd.' 

What's the reader going to think? 
That he got up on a chair? That he went jump jump jump? That he has a periscope?
They've figured out he's tall. 
This is how I tell the reader he's tall.
Jeesh."  


Take this early draft example of a man walking into a room. The purpose of the two paras . . .
(Every paragraph and page and scene has a purpose and you should be able to figure out what it is) . . .
is to show the reaction to his entry and to make the reader wonder What Is Going On Here?

He was late for dinner. They’d started without him. Their plates were already full and the footmen had finished serving the vegetables round. Everyone fell silent when he walked in. They turned, their forks in the air, looking annoyed and more than a little offended that he’d been so impolite. Well, he was here. They’d have to make the best of it no matter what reservations they harbored. His seat was midway down the side. Empty, of course. Waiting for him. His father and brothers and the guests turned to watch him as he found his place. The footmen pulled out his chair and settled him among the others. They’d been well trained. Blank faced, they bustled to bring the platters back and offer him what the others were eating. Roast duck and vegetables. Sauces to go with them. Spicy garnishes along the side of the plate.

He didn’t bother to make apologies.

Well, I wouldn't necessarily read my way through that with any care and I wouldn't pick up what's important if I did and most of it is boring because it blathers on and doesn't say anything new.. 
Let's cut the wordage in half.

When he walked in, everyone fell silent. His father and brothers and the guests turned, forks in the air, annoyed and offended. Well, he was here. Let them deal with it. His chair waited for him. Blank-faced footmen bustled to seat him and offer roast duck and vegetables, sauces, spicy garnishes along the side of the plate.

He didn’t bother to make apologies.


I’d argue that the second version keeps the action and conveys the feelings. It shows the visuals of the scene. Most importantly, it still poses all the questions that are supposed to draw the reader onward. 
Questions like:


Why is he late?
Why do family and guests have to like it or lump it?
Why do they keep his chair empty and ready for him?
Why doesn’t he apologize?

There's no change much in the order of action or the responses. The difference is that the second version hacks away the kudzu of needless repetition. There is so much the reader will assume even when you don't say it.
Trust the reader.

So.
Lookit the first three sentences of the original passage:
He was late for dinner.
They’d started without him.
plates were already full and the footmen had finished serving the vegetables round.

Now, none of this is throw-the-book-at-the-wall-awful stuff, 
but “Forks in the air,” is all we need. 

That four-word phrase contains late for dinner,
they haven’t waited for him,
they’ve started eating, 

and
he's not VERY late, they’ve got as far as the first bites but not further. 

“But” – you may say – “I want to paint a picture of what’s going on.
I need to give the reader details."

And there is much to be said for doing that. But sometimes description can more usefully be wielded in a spot where it serves a couple of purposes and also doesn't get underfoot.
I will talk about that in the next post.

Friday, January 05, 2018

Technical Topic -- Fiddling with Words in the Second Draft

 
There are folks who get the words right the first time they lay them down. I am not one of those people.

Think of it as shooting an arrow. Some folks let it fly and it hits in the gold. I shoot and the arrow lands all bent up at an angle and it's somewhere out in the third ring, which is blue. So I go over and take it out and try again. Or I sneak it out and move it a bit inward and decide whether I like it there.
And I usually decide not and move it a bit ... and move it a bit more.

Because that’s how I roll.



So anyhow, here's the process.
I've taken a paragraph of the new WIP and put down the decisions that lie in the slow, tedious process whereby I move Draft One to Draft Two.


I’m sure you will all be fascinated by this.


This paragraph is way early in the first scene.
Its purpose is threefold:
-- I lift the top of the POV character’s skull and show what she’s like.
-- I describe some scenery.
-- I signal the reader that we got a Time Traveller here.



what the jug/pot would have looked like
The Draft Two paragraph:


A jug nudged at her from the left, passed over by Hishisha who was at the blinky, giggly stage of mead imbibing. She was fifteen or sixteen, tall even in this crowd, snub nosed, pale blond, tanned brown with the summer, [anthropological  skull type]. She was one of the unmarried sisters, half sisters, cousins, and god knew what who lived in the house of Medkarratu, chief man of the village. They’d amiably gathered in a stranger, here for the festival. More than gathered her in. They’d shoved over and shared the furs of their bed with her, chatted with her endlessly and incomprehensibly, sprinkled generous helpings of fresh seeds and berries on her gruel, and combed and braided her hair into the same knots and interweavings they wore.

Here’s how I arrived at it:

First DraftL:

Hishisha who was at the blinky, amiable stage of mead imbibing


In the Second Draft it becomes:

Hishisha who was at the blinky, giggly stage of mead imbibing

Why:
Giggly is visual and specific. Amiable is less so. And I probably want to use amiable somewhere else.

Draft One:

 She was fifteen or sixteen, marriageable in this wherewhen, tall and slender as a New York model, (or tall for this ethnic,) blue eyed, snub nosed, fair skinned but brown with the summer, [anthropological  skull type].

Draft Two:


 She was fifteen or sixteen, tall even in this crowd, snub nosed, pale blond, tanned brown with the summer, [anthropological  skull type].


Why:

The sentence is supposed to give an immediate picture of one person, and by extension, the crowd that surrounds the POV character. I want to put the one person in a historical context.

And I want to pull out every word I can. This “person description” is exactly the sort of thing the reader’s eye skips right over.



Let me go back and unpack my choices, phrase by phrase:

fifteen or sixteen. This imprecision is consistent with the POV character not being well acquainted with the girl. This works.

marriageable: This is true and interesting and it’s the sort of thing an anthropologist or other  scientifically trained observer would think. It sets us in a historical context.
But it also takes us haring off with the girl’s marriage prospects in our teeth and we’re not going there. This info is not visible in the immediate scene. We want to stay in the scene.

Wherewhen: One of my made up words. I’ll use it later in dialog, not here in narration. We don’t expect the narrator to be the first to drop jargon on us. When the word appears in dialog, it’s the character laying a neologism down and dialog has looser expectations and rules than narrative.

tall and slender as a New York model. Oh Pleeeease! Jo, this is dreadful.
I put this in to emphasize we have a modern POV here. But my POV character wouldn’t think in pop culture terms. This is (1) imprecise, (2) not appropriate to the character’s mind, (3) not suited to the mind-set of my likely readers. Tawdry phrasing. Ugly. Kill it with poison
.
tall even for this ethnic. which I put in to see if it was better, isn't. It's maybe something an anthropologist would say -- I'd have to find out -- but “ethnic” is a quagmire into which I do not want to step. Let’s just not.
tall even in this crowd. I like the informality of “crowd”.  It's idiomatic, modern phrasing. But this isn't right either.  But it doesn't sing. I dunnoh.

blue eyed, snub nosed, yellow haired, fair skinned but brown with the summer

becomes

snub nosed, pale blond, tanned brown with the summer.

This is fewer words and fewer images but it conveys the same picture. Nine words instead of thirteen.
If I say she’s tanned I don’t have to say she’s fair skinned. If she’s pale blond we can assume she has light-color eyes. Who looks at or thinks about eye color anyway unless they are gazing at length, close up, into the eyes of their beloved?

Fair skinned is another clumsy-footed word choice in 2018. 

Draft One:

one of the unmarried sisters or half sisters and cousins, women who lived in the house of
Medkarratun, chief man of the village.


Draft Two:

one of the unmarried sisters, half sisters, cousins, and god knew what who lived in the house of Medkarratu, chief man of the village.


Why:

I changed the name Medkarratun because I’m trying for a made-up Celtic name that doesn’t look so much as though it’s been filtered through Latin.


The line up of relatives who live in the chief’s house is fiddled around a bit for clarity and to simplify sentence structure.


Draft One:

They’d amiably adopted the visitor, here for the festival.
Draft Two:

 They’d amiably gathered in a stranger, here for the festival. More than gathered her in.

Why:

When I look at some bit of writing and say “This is not good writing” it’s usually because the wording is not exact. One common type of "not exact" wording is exaggerated, overstated, overdramatic, purple prose.
The women in that chief’s house didn’t “adopt” her. They gave her a warm, sincere welcome, not a lifetime commitment of sisterhood. Let us be prosaic for 99% of what we're talking about. This makes the occasional forays into purple pack a little more punch.


Draft One:

given her generous helpings of fresh seeds and nuts on her gruel

Draft Two:

sprinkled generous helpings of fresh seeds and berries on her gruel,

Why:

"Sprinkled" is a more exciting and visual verb than "given". And if it’s midsummer they won’t have many nuts yet, but they will have berries

Draft One:

braided her hair in the same complex of knots and interweavings they wore.

attrib kwarner
 Draft Two:

 combed and braided her hair in the same knots and    interweavings they wore.

Why: I added “combed” because I have so many pictures in my head of Celtic combs. They’re a big part of the toolkit for these folks.
(We are not going to mention lice. No. This is a Romance-y sorta story and we are not even going to think about them.)

I pulled out “complex of” because I just wrote that bit so I could use complex as a noun. This is me showing off. I convey that the hair is complex plenty fine when I talk about knots and interweavings. I don’t have to say this twice. 
Time to simplify and toss out my fancy usage.

Also, if I use interweavings that’s enough showing off for a couple of pages.
Should I make that" braided into knots and interweavings" Hmmm ...  Can you braid an interweaving? Whatthe hell is an interweaving anyway?
This is why I have Third Drafts.

[anthropological  skull type]. Brachiocephalic? Whatever. I do not mind going all science-y but I have to look it up. I think a nice long technical term fits nicely here for cadence or something. 

So there you have it. That's what I was thinking as I moved from earlier words to later
ones. While this is a single case here, working on a single paragraph, it's pretty much how I do this part of wrestling words.
It's a lot faster to d than to  write about, thank goodness.
 

Saturday, October 21, 2017

Potting about

Me with my hair tied back, in the studio,
consulting my lab notes, deciding how to
glaze a cup

Some of you folks may know, I throw pots in my leisure hours.
This is sensei. My teacher in flinging clay.












Writing is a cerebral kind of job, abstract and fancy. Words do what I tell them to. If I don't like what I've got, I make them line up in a different order. Within the limits of my ability, I am all powerful.



Here's one of my recent pots,  a little bowl
with Walnut Spice base and Blue Monday decoration.
Pottery is entirely different. It's physical and intuitive and damned stubborn. I can't talk the walls of a too-thin bowl into standing upright no matter how persuasive I am and how much I know about the origins of the clay and composition of glazes and the shape of Medieval or Roman pots.
Mere thinking, mere knowledge, doesn't help. I am at the mercy of reality.

This is a spread of some of last month's work from the class. The bean pot in the lower right corner is mine.
The art building on the Community College campus
 Go fifty yards in any direction and you're in the middle of a cow field.
Here we got excellent facilities and excellent students.
Writing is hand-wavy and subject to change.
Pottery is solid.
You can see why I like potting,
though I am not so terribly skilled.

Since I produce rather more pots than I can possibly use, I give them away to folks on my mailing list.
(Join by dropping a line to joannabourne@gmail.com )






Tuesday, October 03, 2017


I was eating a kiwi fruit the other day. It showed up coyly snuggled next to a breakfast sandwich sold to me by the delightful ladies who run the catering and breakfast bar at the Rockfish Gap Community Center.

I found myself trying to remember when I’d first seen kiwi. I was young and they showed up in the grocery store one day and my mother, who was a wild woman in her own way, brought them home and figured out how to serve them. They were just mind-bogglingly exotic to me. Furry fruits. I rather distrusted them.


Wench fruit 2
There are many different kinds of kiwi fruits, not just the ones in US supermarkets
Kiwis apparently came from China and were originally called “Chinese gooseberries” as they spread around the world.

The Chinese themselves called them "macaque peaches" but that didn't catch on so much.

The fruit was popularized in the US by WWII servicemen who’d met them while stationed in New Zealand. And they seem to come to the store from California, not New Zealand. Life is a rich pageant of happenstance, isn't it?

“Hmmm,” I hmmed to myself while I was feeding much of my breakfast sandwich to the dog Mandy but eating all the kiwis, “What did my Georgian and Regency heroine encounter as new and exciting fruit as she went about her adventures?” Kiwis and avocados hadn’t arrived in her world. Apples and apricots and even dates were known from Roman times and before.

I thought of two possibles.Albert_Eckhout_-_Bananas _goiaba_e_outras_frutas 

 Bananas. (Did you know bananas are technically a berry. That’s the kind of little fact that’s likely to get you excluded from the company of all right-minded people if you go around pointing it out.)

Bananas spread from southeast Asia to the Middle East and Africa, making everybody happy as they went. The first written trace of their arrival in England was a recorded sale in 1633.

But archeologists found an ancient banana in a Tudor rubbish tip so a few of them were sneaking in even before the Tudors.


A Regency miss might have found one an expensive imported delicacy even in 1798 or 1811. Bananas didn’t get common till after refrigerated transport. Maybe her hero knew somebody who knew somebody in the shipping business.

“You can't teach calculus to a chimpanzee. So just share your banana.” John Rachel


Pineapples.

These would be both familiar and unfamiliar to our Regency heroine.

Wench Still Life with Fruits and Pineapple 1833 - Johan Laurentz
Isn't that a pretty pineapple. There are all kinds of pineapples too.
The plant comes from South America and was spread by Spanish colonialists across the tropical regions of Asia and Africa. The Dutch took it from Surinam to Europe in the Seventeenth Century. Pineapples were ready to catch on, but it wasn’t at all easy to bring them halfway round the world.


So the Europeans grew their own in the cold gray north, being stubborn.

The first European pineapple was successfully reared at Meersburg in 1658. In 1723, a huge "pineapple stove" was built to warm the hot house at the Chelsea Physic Garden. Louis XV was presented with a pineapple grown at Versailles in 1733. Catherine the Great grew them. These were not your everyday cabbages. They were status fruits.

“When life gives you lemons, sell them and buy a pineapple. How to Better Your Life 101.” Davin Turney

Wench 1761 The pineapple at Dunmore Park (l.  photo National Trust)
Yes, it really is the Dunsmore Pineapple
So expensive and snazzy were pineapples in these early years of the Eighteenth Century that they were at first used for display at dinner parties rather than eaten. Like flowers.
Rumor has it the town fruitmongers would snap pineapples up as they came into dock and rent them out for parties . . . till they became questionable even as decoration.

Wench c.1810 Jean Louis Prevost- Still life
But the real fun for the great of the land was in growing them competitively. Hothouses became more and more elaborate as aristocratic gardening rivalry grew. The Earl of Dunsmore built a great hothouse on his estate topped by a stone cupola 14 metres high. They called it the Dunsmore Pineapple. (Earls just wanna have fun.)

By the end of the Eighteenth Century, the pineapple had become a staple of the well-to-do country garden hothouse. The carved pineapples on the Squire's gates promised lavish hospitality at the manor.

August: shift the succession of pineapples into larger pots, in which they are to bear; give but little water to ripening pines, lest the flavour be weakened.
      American Edition of the British Encyclopedia, 1819


Wench c.1685-1710- pineapple on the towers of present St. Paul's Cathedral  London
Pineapples on the towers of St Paul's Cathedral, London
Unless my Regency heroine is a card-carrying member of the haut ton, she might have grown to adulthood having seen the carved stone fruit but never having tasted pineapple.

When she’s served a slice, perhaps cooled on ice, she’d know she was being coddled.

Pineapples, you will be pleased to know, are technically a collection of berries. Yes. Pineapples too. Berries are awesome.


“Be a pineapple: Stand tall, wear a crown, and be sweet on the inside.” Katherine Gaskin

Friday, September 08, 2017

Paisley Shawls -- the History and the Beauty

Joanna here, talking about that fashion accessory of the Seventeenth, Eighteenth and Nineteenth Centuries, the shawl.

Why shawls? We wear form-fitted, sleeved outer garments mostly — coats and sweaters and parkas and anoraks and Macintoshes — in the Twenty-first Century and feel pleased and practical doing so. Why did folks spend centuries throwing loose garments around themselves that didn’t button up and had to be draped and fidgeted with in a manner that may strike us as awkward?

I think an ideal of feminine beauty was at the root of it. The drape and swirl of a shawl, the varied possibilities with all their minute adjustments were alluring to the watcher. Displaying the shawl was an art, and this length of silk or wool might well be the most expensive object a woman wore.

So let’s talk paisley, since we’re talking shawls.

Paisley is based on a repeated, teardrop-shaped design pattern called a bota or boteh – a word that means  “shrub” or “cluster of leaves” in Persian.

Wenches star shaped tile from iran 1262
A decorative Persian tile from 1262. The boteh design comes from such roots
 This boteh is an ancient pattern, widespread in rugs, paintings, and tiles. It's an abstract shape that probably comes from the simplification of many sorts of feathers, fruit, flowers and so on in older designs. That is, there's no one origin. It's derived from many complexities that lost detail as they were copied and recopied.

In the Seventeenth and Eighteenth Centuries the East India Company imported these Indian designs to Europe where they became immensely popular. Soldiers returning from service in the East brought back lovely, expensive scarves of silk and soft Kashmir (cashmere) wool to their sweethearts and family. The British version of the scarves might cost more than 20 pounds. Sir Walter Scott’s French bride Charlotte Carpentier was given a Kashmir shawl in 1797 for her trousseau that cost 50 guineas, a huge sum in those days.

Königin-Pauline-Württemberg-wearing-a-Kashmir-Paisley-Shawl-by-Joseph-Karl-Stieler-ca.-1825.-She-was-born-a-Württemberg-and-married-a-Württemberg.-She-is-holding-her-son-Karl-who-married-Grand-Princess-Olga.-673x1024
A fine shawl wrapping up mother and child 1825
Period portraits are full of these Kashmiri scarves gracefully swirled round the shoulders of women in flimsy low cut, high-waisted dresses. The survival of generations of scantily clad British beauties doubtless depended on these lengths of wool.

Wench british hand loom wool asilk 1810
British wool and silk paisley shawl showing boteh 1810
Almost as soon as the imported scarves arrived, they were copied enthusiastically by European weavers, among them the craftsmen of the Scottish city of Paisley, so much so that the Persian design ended up named "paisley" after that city in Renfrewshire, Scotland, far, far from the exotic mountains and plains of the East.

The handlooms and, after 1820, Jacquard looms, of the misty north produced quite a good imitation of the original Indian product. But it was  not a perfect likeness. 
Throughout the import period, imported Kashmiri shawls were more expensive and preferred over the British version. The colors were more varied. Even at the height of Scots weaving they were using a mere 15 colors as opposed to the more than 40 colors used in the Eastern imports. The quality of foreign weaving superior, and the fabric itself was lighter. British shawls were made from sheep’s wool. Kashmiri scarves, from softer, more supple, more lustrous goat’s hair. And Kashmiri weavers used the “twill tapestry technique”.

Those of you in the know about weaving technique will recognize that this means the horizontal (weft) threads of the pattern do not run all the way across the fabric but are woven back and forth around the vertical (warp) threads to where the color is needed again. This is the way Europeans weave tapestries. And no, I knew nothing about weaving technique before I looked this up.

Wench paisley asian goat
A typical Kashmiri goat. This one is named Anna
When you’re through trying to figure out what that weaving stuff means you will be asking “Why didn’t the British import Kashmiri sheep and raise their own soft goat hair? They tried in 1818, but didn’t get good hair production. Britain wasn’t cold enough, apparently.

Anyhow, the creamy ecru background of many of the scarves in those Regency portraits is the natural color of goat’s fleece. Also, the finest goat wool, like the finest sheep wool and, for all I know, the finest cat fur, comes from the underbelly of the animals. These are the little factoids that make life so cool and give you something to talk about at parties.
Wench 1802 to 14 a-variety-of-wearing-shawls-in-early-19th-century-france-lithograph-1802-1814-768x658
1802 to 1814 shawls and how to wear them
How popular was the Kashmiri shawl?
Pretty popular, as per:

…a fine cashemire shawl, with brown background, and richly variegated border, is generally thrown over the dress, in which is united both comfort and elegance.
La Belle Assemblé, 1806

…over these is thrown, in elegant drapery, a long Indian shawl of the scarf kind, the colour of the palest Ceylon ruby, the ends enriched by a variegated border…
La Belle Assemblée, 1812

(Though I’m not sure what color a “pale Ceylon ruby” would be.)

After the Regency period, in the age of many petticoats and full crinolines, scarves expanded to accommodate. We get huge scarves in this era.

Wench cashmere shawl with crinoline skirt 1865 -4
Here's a big ole shawl worn over a crinoline in 1865
And here's another example of the difference between imported scarves and British ones. The British-woven scarves might weigh three pounds. The imported Kashmiri shawl of roughly the same size, five to nine ounces.

And eventually, the paisley-patterned scarf went away, as fashions will. Paisley shawls declined in popularity after the 1770s. It's likely the new fashion of bustles meant shawls no longer draped attractively. And block-printed fabrics – ever so much cheaper – became popular. This undermined the exclusivity of the paisley shawl.
So, there you have it. The shawl we all know and love from Historical Romances. How many downtrodden heroines have been sent off to fetch the cranky dowager's shawl and run headlong into the hero?

Now me, I have a fine wool shawl that lives over the back of my favorite chair all winter long. It's from Kashnir, I think, and has genuine botehs on it. When the woodstove heats my front nicely, the shawl covers my back.

Wednesday, August 16, 2017

Interviews in which I reveal many secrets

I did three interviews recently. 
One at USA Today Happily Ever After ...
with Keira Soleore

and one at All About Romance
with Dabney Grinnan.

And another one with Anne Gracie at Word Wenches. That one's at:

http://wordwenches.typepad.com/word_wenches/2017/08/beauty-like-the-night.html

I talk about the characters in the Spymaster Fictional Universe and what they're up to when they're not appearing in the books.

I say stuff like:

"He (Lazarus) gave up stealing women in 1812 after My Lord and Spymaster. You could say he’s reformed,"

"... as people of the future we know the British won. My characters don’t know that. The possibility of invasion and defeat is very real."

"When my agent went to publishers with Spymaster’s Lady and couldn’t sell it month after month, I’d take the dog for long walks, seeking out lonely, windswept paths around the suburbs, whimpering, “They were right. You can’t sell a story set in France,” and stuff like that there, rather than planning who should be the protagonist of book six."

so, since they are fascinating interviews, do go check them out.

In other news, 
This is not my turtle. This is someone else's rescue turtle.
I keep using wiki images, not having my own
I stopped this morning and picked up a box turtle that was about halfway across the Blue Ridge Parkway. I parked on the grass verge and picked it up. I carried it a mile or so south to a place that seemed better for its longevity.

Smallish box turtle. I don't know if that's the local breed or if it was a young and stupid turtle. No picture because I didn't think of it. I had not yet had my coffee.

My turtle ... shall we name it Helen ... had totally retreated into its shell and was sitting there in the middle of traffic. I dunnoh. Maybe it was trembling in fear. With turtles, it's hard to tell.

If I had cars whizzing past me I would curl up and do the same, but it is not a successful strategy when dealing with cars. This is a nature observation of wide applicability.