Friday, August 10, 2018

Some random questions on the stories

A kindly reader has asked a few questions.  I paraphrase the questions and answer them below, in case anyone is interested.



Lucille seems tragic, but with a touch of inhumanity. 
The long and short of it is, Lucille is not a nice person. 
Taking a toddler to France in dangerous political times is iffy at best, so we start with that. Then Lucille's loss of her husband and her imprisonment, rape, and torture made her very hard. Cold. Fanatical almost.
Annique paid the price.

Annique's eidetic memory was recognized as soon as she could talk. It's the key to why she was in France at all. If she hadn't been uniquely useful, her mother would have sent her back to England when Annique's father died.


Frankly, Lucille exploited Annique and spared her very little. Just as Lucille spared herself nothing.

Was Lucille a villain who manipulated and used her daughter and later Justine in a despicable way
or a heroine who stepped up when England's existence was at stake?
Was she a woman who sacrificed everything she cared about for England's sake?
Or a selfish ideologue?

Or, like, all of the above?
 

I don't explain and we never go into her head. I try to show her as a woman with regrets. I'm hoping the reader will find her believable as a person and wonder about her and feel sorry for her. 



She had just a touch of inhumanity

On the exculpatory side:

Lucille, as a high-level officer of the Secret Police, curbed some of the evil things going on. Justine's rescue from the child brothel and sending Justine to help the last of the Caches are two examples of Lucille's work.


Did she really keep a brothel?


 Well ... yes.


I have trouble writing about historical whoredom. It needs somebody wiser than me.


Women had few career choices in this era. Some women, for one reason or another, became whores. A rich, well-run brothel like the one Lucille ran was an island of safety in a city visited by war, revolution, riot, and the occasional bout of starvation. The woman working there were grateful to be in the place. They had different expectations than run in the world of 1867 or 2018.

So I'm trying to deal with difficult historical realities in the context in which contemporaries would have judged them. Also trying not to be too realistic.


She raised Annique to be a spy, naively committed to France, while using her for the opposite cause. She set Annique up for the heartbreak and disillusionment in TSL,


Lucille wouldn't have felt it was morally dreadful to be a French patriot. Lucille spent her whole life among French patriots and, I think, loved some of them. Arguably, France was on the right philosophical side in that war.

Lucille chose loyalty to the British. She left Annique free to choose which side she'd be on. 

Annique feels betrayed when she sees all her letters and reports have found their way to the British. A tough day to be Annique.


What happens to Grey and Annique?

I don't say what happens to Grey and Annique after the end of TSL, since I want to be free to return to the timeline and write a story there if I ever decide to which I probably won't though.

I'm sure they had a true HEA, which means they both found uses for all their talents. Maybe out in India. Or maybe they went under deep cover in the south of France and ran a safehouse. I know they did exciting things.



Why does Shandor have a Hungarian name? At least, the spelling isn't Hungarian but the sound of it is.


It's a Kaldarashi name. A Rom name.


At the end of Rogue Spy, what was Galba's final reaction to Pax's insubordination?

All along, Doyle and Grey kept Galba in the loop about what was going forward. Galba, in the manner of senior management since the dawn of time, turned a blind eye to what he couldn't prevent . . . and what was ultimately serving his purposes.

Galba would have preferred that Pax not be the one to kill his own father, (Who among us wishes to promote patricide?) but he approves of the overall outcome.

After the close of the book Galba gives Pax a legendary and wide-ranging chewing out. Then Grey, Doyle, and Galba take turns interfering with wedding preparations to brief Pax on what they expect from him when he heads back to Italy.


Who replaced Grey when he retired?


Some "guy I didn't need to name or worry about what happened to him" took over. Then another guy, likewise. Then Adrian.



When Adrian stepped into Galba's shoes as Head of Service, the position of Head of the British Section was taken by -- you guessed it --  another "guy I don't need to name or worry about."


All else being equal I'd rather not name or describe characters who aren't necessary to the action because I always have more than enough characters anyhow.


How did Justine learn about Lucille's death and how was she affected by it? I expected to see this come up in The Black Hawk when the story moved parallel of the events in Spymaster's Lady and Vauban's death was mentioned.


[SPOILER]
What we're looking at here is the section of Black Hawk that begins with Hawker coming to Justine's window carrying a letter and ends when Justine shoots Hawker.

[END SPOILER]

In this time frame Vauban had been dead about a week. Lucille, who has been in Italy for months, has been dead a few weeks. 
The action of TSL begins after the action of this section ends.

Before this Black Hawk section opens .... Lucille dies. Annique leaves immediately for Paris. Soulier's resident spy sends word of Lucille's death to Soulier in London. LeBlanc's assassin, having killed Lucille, spends a lot of time attempting to find Annique and finish the job. He then wastes more time trying to track her north. Eventually the assassin rides for Paris and reports to LeBlanc.

During the TBH section, only LeBlanc, Soulier, a couple messengers, folks in Italy, and Annique know about Lucille's death. Justine meets none of these people except LeBlanc and he's not about to reveal he knows Lucille is dead because he has no legitimate way to have this news.

After the BH section, Paris Secret Police get the info.

So Justine doesn't learn about Lucille's death "on stage," as it were, and we don't see her reaction.

Tuesday, April 24, 2018

Joanna on Oranges ... and Lemons

Here's an old post of mine, pulled up from Word Wenches, because it's rainy and I am tired tired tired of the scene I'm working on over at the Work In Progress.

 

Oranges and Lemons, Say the Bells of St. Clements

 

Raphaelle Peale (American artist, 1774-1825) Orange And A BookOranges and Lemons,
Ring ye bells at St. Clements.
When will you pay me,
Ring ye Bells at ye Old Bailey.
When I am Rich,
Ring ye Bells at Fleetditch.
     Tradtional Counting Rhyme 

There are any number of interpretations as to what this all means, but I see it mostly a reminder that poetry does not necessarily have to make sense.


Those of us with a keen interest in botany will have noticed that oranges -- not to mention lemons -- don't thrive in the British climate.  Well, maybe down in south Devon where hopeful souls sometimes plant palm trees.  But citrus isn't plucked off the tree on Hampstead Heath or in the Welsh mountains.

What is an orange doing in an old, old counting rhyme?
Not to mention lemons.

How come?
Because the Regency and Georgian folks imported their oranges (and lemons) enthusiastically or grew them enthusiastically in greenhouses. 

You can see the rest of this post at:

http://wordwenches.typepad.com/word_wenches/2013/09/oranges-and-lemons.html

Tuesday, April 03, 2018


This came to mind today and I wrote it out, so I'm putting this up here while I have it handy.
Here's the publication order of the six books of the Spymaster Fictive Universe. It's a perfectly fine order to read them in, IMO. 
I mean, that's the order in which I learned about the characters.
  




So. Publication order is:
 
 
The chronological order of events is:

Forbidden Rose  (1794)
Spymaster’s Lady (1802)
Rogue Spy (1802)
My Lord and Spymaster (1811)

Black Hawk (It covers several time periods between 1794 and 1818)
Beauty Like the Night (1819)

 

 
There are three additional minor works in the Spymaster's Fictive Universe:

Gideon and the Den of Thieves (novella) (1793)
Intrigue and Mistletoe (In the anthology Mischief and Mistletoe) (1815 and a bit)
Her Ladyship's Companion (30-year-old Regency) (1818)

Saturday, January 13, 2018

Technical Topic - Thinking About Saying Stuff Twice

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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 )