duskpeterson: (winter sled)
[personal profile] duskpeterson
"Any assumption that gay men will write with most authority about gayness is immediately challenged by inescapable evidence - by the success, for instance, of E. M. Forster's women - and by the common-sense observation that the essence of imagination is its ability to enter into experiences beyond the writer's own. This being so, there seems no reason why the converse case, of a heterosexual writing about gay characters, should excite even the mildest surprise."

--Neil Powell in the 15 September 1995 issue of The Times Literary Supplement.

For newcomers: Background to my writing entries | Background to my mentoring entries | Background to my simplicity entries | Background to my home entries.

How I reply to comments at this blog.

*** 2 February 2010. Simplicity and Writing: Starting afresh (Prison City research).

I woke up this morning with the feeling have awoken from a lifelong bout of insanity.

Now that I've made the decision, it's so obviously right. If my life is overflowing with belongings, the only way to regain control is to severely limit the number of belongings coming in. Otherwise, I'll be like that old I Love Lucy sketch, where the factory belt is bringing in new items faster than the factory workers can deal with them.

At the moment, I'm feeling slightly hung over. With the exception of a four-hour nap, I stayed up for thirty hours straight at the end, having my last bash of uncontrolled surfing and downloading. Think of it as my wild bachelor party before I enter into a far more satisfying marriage.

But now I'm into the one part of my life where I do have in control (albeit very recently) - namely, the composing portion of each month. I've told my Muse that he needs to do a little more work on Prison City this month. This means I'm back to reading schoolboy fiction.

I finished reading "Charles Ryder's Schooldays," an unfinished story by Evelyn Waugh about the public school experiences of the protagonist of "Brideshead Revisited" in 1919. The story wasn't very interesting. References to romantic longing by an older boy for a younger boy, a caning by two prefects (the prefects always seem to do these canings en masse; I have visions of the school fiction writers being frustrated menage-a-trois writers), references to the boys' agnosticism and atheism (I wouldn't have wanted to be a school chaplain in the 1910s; it appears that Christianity was losing an entire generation of schoolboys), brief references to rugby and ragging and lack of interest in schoolwork . . . Waugh rolls out all the usual tropes of school fiction without adding much that's worthy of note, other than better-than-average style and some intriguing passages about Ryder's interest in art and in a printing press. (Usually, in these 1910s stories, the protagonist's rebellion manifests itself in a desire to read poetry.)

My copy of TextAloud is currently crippled - tech support is holding my hand as I try to revive it - and so, instead of continuing to listen to Rosemary Sutcliff's "Rider on a White Horse" by text-to-speech, I'm reading Diana Gabaldon's "An Echo in the Bone" by eye. The novel, which is the seventh in her Outlander series, is 400,000 words long - she certainly gives her readers their money's worth - and so I'm likely to divide the reading into the book's seven parts.

No sign of my Muse yet. He's probably still sulking from my lack of attention to him for the past three weeks.

*** 4 February 2010. Home: Snow in Maryland (now) and in Britain (in 1982) and Somerset village life.

The local news headlines (which I glanced at over Doug's shoulder) say that we're going to get a "monster" snowstorm. The articles themselves reveal that this means we'll get two feet of snow. Somehow, I think that the headline writers wouldn't have survived a winter in Michigan, where I spent my early childhood, much less a winter in Wisconsin, where my father spent part of his childhood. (My father likes to tell the story of how his grandmother, with whom his family lived, preferred to keep the house at ninety degrees during the winter; thus, when he left the house to go to school, he underwent a hundred-degree temperature drop.)

More to the point, this is the snowiest winter I remember since I moved here in 1971. We had a big snowstorm - by Maryland standards - in December, and we had a half foot of snow fall a couple of days ago.

Yes, that means we've had three snowfalls this year. Marylanders tend to get very excited by small amounts of snow.

We're not quite as bad as the British, though. I remember being in Britain during the great snowfall of January 1982 (I think we must have gotten a whole foot of snow) and hearing the BBC Radio announcer solemnly declare that British Rail had lost track of the location of one of its trains.

We took the first train out of Oxford after the snow; the train was so crammed that my father and brother had to sit in the baggage car, along with a bunch of schoolboys headed back to Sherborne School. (Yes, that's the same Sherborne School I've been researching for my Prison City series; we lived ten miles away from it during our stay in Somerset.) When the train reached Sherborne, one of the teachers began pulling all of the boys' bags off the train. My father narrowly escaped having the schoolmaster abscond with the bag that held all of my father's notes for his book on William Morris's Kelmscott Press.

When we reached Hinton St. George, a little village just outside Crewkerne, Somerset, we discovered that Hinton had already undergone its share of bad fortune. The doctor, receiving an emergency call, had raced along the one-lane road, with banks of snow on either side, secure in the knowledge that he was the only person who could be out in such weather. He crashed into the vet, heading in the opposite direction, who had received an emergency call and was equally sure that he was the only person on the road.

The house we were staying in - a medieval parish house - had a coal stove. Or so my parents claimed; all I know is that I spent nearly the entire winter huddled in front of the fireplace, with my coat on.

I was an eighteen-year-old whose idea of a good time was performing at Rocky Horror in my underwear. I found myself in a village where folks' idea of a good time was the weekly darts match at the pub. I comforted myself by reading an academic book on the dirty words in Chaucer.

In retrospect, it was a wasted opportunity; I wish now that I'd done what my mother did, plunging into village life. I wouldn't necessarily have liked all aspects of village life. (I still remember the half hour of gossip at a tea party over whether a certain woman had bypassed the village on her way from one town to another.) But it would have provided me with plenty of interesting material for future stories.

And I wish I'd spent more time with the village cows. They were awfully friendly.

*** 9 February 2010. Writing: New thoughts on e-book publishing.

I've set aside the thought of publishing e-book bonus material about the creation of my stories. It's not that I don't think such material is interesting (to me, if not necessarily to anyone else). It's just that I feel uneasy about publishing it in the same volumes as the stories themselves, because it feels as though I'm annotating my own fiction. Maybe someday I'll publish my own equivalent of Diana Gabaldon's "The Outlandish Companion" - commentary on my fiction, but in a separate volume.

Additionally, I'm worried about how much time it's going to take to gather such bonus material if I have to do it for each and every novel and novella I write. I'm also worried about whether that type of bonus material would make any real difference in sales, and whether such bonus material could really justify a higher price tag ("higher" being more than zero).

So instead, I've gone back to an older idea: Instead of publishing e-books of individual stories, I'll publish omnibus editions of all the stories in a series, then update the omnibus editions as new stories become available in the series.

I'm already doing this with Love in Dark Settings Omnibus, the collection of my online fiction and nonfiction - though I haven't yet published an updated edition, for the simple reason that I haven't added enough new fiction online since the original edition to justify a new edition. I'll probably publish a new edition by the end of this year. At any rate, "Love and Dark Settings Omnibus" continues to sell copies - not many, but sales of it haven't disappeared, which suggests that it fills a need.

What I'd like to do is replicate this publishing process for my various series, including in each omnibus at least one story that isn't available online. The stories that are already available will be my "bonus material" - stories that are available free at my Website, though not in the handy single file that the e-book will provide.

What I'm basically trying to do is create a subscription model for my fiction. The idea is that I'll bring out a new edition of each omnibus once every year or two, incorporating a new story in the series - for example, if I wanted to publish a new novel in the Eternal Dungeon series, I'd bring out a new edition of "The Eternal Dungeon Omnibus" which included the new novel. Regular readers would buy the new edition, in the same way that they would pay a subscription fee to a Website that was regularly updated. (I also have in mind finding ways to give my regular readers heavy discounts to new editions.) New readers would be able to buy package editions of all my fiction within any given series, at a very reasonable price.

I can see disadvantages to this plan. Announcing a new edition doesn't quite have the same PR pizazz as announcing a new novel. Reviewers probably wouldn't be able to cope with this sort of approach. I'm a little uncertain as to what my regular readers would think of it. And I'm still not sure how to handle the pricing.

But what I like about this plan is its simplicity. I would simply keep bringing out new editions of all my series, which are roughly ten in number. This would be a lot less confusing to the new reader: rather than having to choose between dozens of e-books by me, they'd only have to choose between ten or so e-books by me. And it would simplify my job of marketing my e-books.

I'm sort of keen on making my publishing life simple, if you hadn't noticed already.

There are still some practical issues I haven't worked out. Smashwords has a five-megabyte limit on uploads, which could limit the size of each omnibus. (Assuming I go with Smashwords. I'm still awaiting clarification on its adult content policy.) I'm also uncertain whether I should create a separate entry at booksellers for each edition, or simply keep loading new editions to the same URL.

I'm happy to report that nearly all of my previously unfinished short fiction is at the editing stage now. So I'm making some progress. (*Glares at subconscious, which has been sending me dream after dream about me dillydallying.*)

*** 9 February 2010. Writing: Evidence that the publishing world has changed.

"[We are] three authors . . . who don't want to spend their careers writing formula dictated by a distributing company, and who are determined, first, to get our backlist (older titles) back into readers' hands, not priced sky-high and sold on Ebay as rarities. Second, if that gives us the funds to live a decent life on while we do it, we're going to experiment with some brand new items, fiction going directly to e-book."

So says C. J. Cherryh, at a new e-book site that she's running along with Lynn Abbey and Jane Fancher.

Oh, man. Folks have been predicting since the 1990s that this would happen - major authors cutting out the publisher and selling their writings directly to the reader - but it's still eerie to see it happening.

In the passage below, they sum up in a nice way many of the reasons I myself have chosen to self-publish rather than submit my writings to publishers. (And like them, I've been traditionally published in the past, so I know all the professional advantages of working with presses.)

"We're working ferociously long hours, but we're loving it. For the first time in our careers—it's us. It's our way. It's the editing we want. If we want to spell 'grey' as 'grey' instead of 'gray', we can. If we want a comma there—we can. And if we have a notion how our cover should look—we can do it. And we can write stories you'll get to read that would never sell in the current New York Market."

Mind you, if I'd been betaing that essay, I'd have recommended they delete the repetition of two "ands" beginning a sentence. :) I think the only thing they're doing wrong is not getting their works betaed/peer-critiqued. (At least, I assume they aren't; they make no mention of that.) But being betaed is a different process from being edited in traditional publishing, because the author has the final word. If the book contains any excruciating mistakes, the author takes the blame. I've found that this policy of "the buck stops here" is a lot easier on my peace of mind than me having to say to an enquiring reader, "Um . . . that awful error was caused by the editor, actually. I tried to fight against it being included, but the editor was determined . . ."

An alternative point of view, well worth reading, is John Scalzi's Why In Fact Publishing Will Not Go Away Anytime Soon: A Deeply Slanted Play in Three Acts. Or rather, it's not an alternative point of view but a complementary one, because I fully agree: not all authors have the time and skills to be publishers as well. However, I quietly dissent with Mr. Scalzi on the question of whether it costs a bundle to self-publish in a quality manner.

*** 9 February 2010. Simplicity: How the new 'Don't seek new stuff, don't add new stuff' regime is going.

Not well, as you can gather from the above links to articles I downloaded today. The problem is that I seem to have gotten myself addicted, not just to downloading, but to reading publishing news. The idea of going a single month without reading the latest in publishing news is giving me the shivers.

I'm also strongly habituated to going online in order to find new, interesting stuff.

So this is going to be a long, hard struggle. But I'm continuing to work at it.

***15 February 2010. Home: C. J. Cherryh and my stuck Muse.

I've started reading Volume 1 of C. J. Cherryh's The Writing Life: An Author's Journal, which is a free download at her new e-book site. I must say that her journal entries are the most comforting thing I've read in a long time. Here is an entry she writes after twelve days of trying to get herself to write the next sentence of her novel.


I'm launched on my book again and made a little progress. We're invited to a Halloween party tonight, but I just can't, and it's hard to explain, but if you look at everything since 10/18, you'll see the reason. A little mental disturbance is like an earthquake in a china shop - and it takes forever to get the delicate structures and apparently magical connections put back in place, because no outline withstands a party or a computer crisis. The little bit of driving and reading on someone else's work, no problem; but relinquishing my storyline for a major revel - big problem: all the threads drop, make a puddle of same-colored yarn, and there we would be, no progress for days.

So I can't make that party. But, oh, it feels good when the story moves again.

Y'know, writers are strange people. We can't tell a non-writer why we're glum (story isn't happening) or in a wonderful mood (it's ripping along.) No wonder there are so many divorces when a person suddenly becomes a writer and launches into that lifestyle bigtime.

No wonder writer-types don't correspond or return phone calls for months, and then suffer guilt and further procrastination.

But right just above, you have the whole tale of the reasons why we're odd. We're not manic-depressive. But we sure look like it. And a spouse who isn't self-confident and self-entertaining with a lot of personal passions and distractions, particularly a spouse who begins to feel neglected and resentful when a writer-spouse is locked in story, is in trouble. If you've ever wondered why writers and artists tend to domicile together, here you have it. One of us emerges from quarters in the morning, snaps: "Don't talk to me," walks to the kitchen, gets a drink, and dives back into own room.

Is that a fight? A snit?

No, not at all. The other one thinks, Oh, how wonderful. Story's going. And says not a word and is only envious.


I sent that passage to Doug, because it sounds like just what happens in the morning in our house. (The way I phrase matters is, "My Muse is in." Doug understands that this is my polite way of saying, "Shut up - I've got a scene in my head that I need to rush to write down.")

But oh gosh, twelve days stuck on the same sentence? I'd be ready to slit my throat. This makes me feel much better about my recent problems with my Muse.

I'm reading Ms. Cherryh's journal because I had a lightbulb moment tonight when I realized that one of the main reasons I'm having such a problem concentrating on composition is that I'm very susceptible to societal influences as to activities. What I mean is that, if I'm reading about a bunch of people playing baseball, I want to go play baseball, and if I'm reading about a bunch of people doing theater, I want to join the theater. That means that, ideally, if I'm writing, I should be spending some time reading about other people writing.

Well, last year I was having so much problems motivating myself to publish (I think this was around the time I was proofreading Rebirth, which was Not Fun) that I began reading publishing news, because I knew that would help put me into a publishing mood.

I seem to have succeeded too well, because I've spent this month being distracted from composing. First I got it into my head that I needed to create a booktrailer for Master and Servant. (I'm very pleased with the resulting booktrailer, by the way, if not with the accompanying Internet addiction.) Then - probably as a result of me reading post after post at TeleRead - my mind slid over to the thought of e-book publishing.

Now, there's nothing inherently wrong with either of these activities. I needed to create a booktrailer of "Master and Servant"; I needed to think about e-book publishing. Just not when I was supposed to be writing "Master and Servant."

So it's the fifteenth of the month, and I've only gotten five thousand words written. I'm so frustrated with myself that I'm not letting myself take time off from composing at this point. I still need to do heavy editing of "Master and Servant 3: Unmarked," because there's only half a scene left before it's ready to be sent to the beta readers. Plus, I have correspondence and housework to do, darn it. But other than that, I see no reason to do anything for the rest of the month except try to corral my Muse into order.

At least I have C. J. Cherryh's example of persistence to follow.

***16 February 2010. Writing: I get the go-ahead at Smashwords.

With the help of Cheryl Anne Gardner of POD People, I started a conversation with Mark Coker at Smashwords as to how Smashwords's adult content policy might apply to my own books. Amidst all his busyness (he has three conferences this month), Mr. Coker wrote me back an e-mail that is so nicely nuanced that I hesitate to summarize it here. However, the upshot of this conversation is that I gather I can sell my e-books at Smashwords but shouldn't classify the ones that deal with nonconsensual issues as erotica. (Mr. Coker added some statements about the importance of context and authorial intent.)

Fair enough. However, what won me over was not so much how he handled the policy matter as it was the fact that he clearly understood and valued the genre of darkfic. That made me feel very welcome at Smashwords.

And here's another notable fact: When I mentioned to him last month that I'd had difficulty finding the gay fiction section at Smashwords (it was buried in the subdirectory of a subdirectory), he said, "Oh, we'd been meaning to link that from the home page." By the time I read his reply - on the very same day that I'd sent him my comment - he'd added the link. That's what I call customer service.

So as I told Mr. Coker, I'm just waiting now for Smashwords to change its uploading procedure so that I can upload ePub files directly. I hope that's soon.

In other news: With refreshing honesty, after Mr. Coker had written a long series of blog entries in which he pled with authors to keep their e-book prices low, he then posted the results of a survey which suggest that the greatest earnings are to be obtained with higher-priced e-books.

I agree with all he said about the fact that the survey doesn't reveal the context in which the high sales were made. I think it's also important to pair this survey with the results of his earlier survey, which suggest that most readers want to pay lower e-book prices. Personally, I would only feel comfortable pricing an e-book high if I were giving a customer value for their money, which is why I'm leaning now toward the idea of selling omnibus editions, with heavy discounts to readers who have bought previous editions. It's the best way I can think of to (1) keep my profits high while (2) not cheating the customer.

***16 February 2010. Writing: Football fever (Prison City writing).

My Muse is still being cranky, so I spent today rewriting the sports scene in "Master and Servant 3: Unmarked." This involved writing down sketches so that I could figure out where everyone was on the field (I can only hope that my readers manage to decipher my desciptions) and stopping every two minutes to find the answer to important questions, such as whether the 1871 laws of rugby refer to goalposts or simply to the goalpost (both, it turned out), and then going on a five-minute hunt for that video on rugby mauling that I downloaded last March, and then making a note to myself to do a Web search to find out when bleachers were invented.

And some readers think that writing consists of writing. No, it consists of 1% writing and 99% editing and research.

***17 February 2010. Writing: Working out my schedule for the next few months (including Prison City research and Life Prison research); plus, my additional thoughts on the omnibus e-books.

I have fallen so far behind with my housework and upkeep, including correspondence, not to mention going through my two zillion unsorted belongings, that I've decided that I'm going to need to devote this summer to those tasks. I did that for six weeks last summer and made a lot of progress as a result. Of course, I'll still pay court to my Muse whenever he comes calling, and I'll post/publish any fiction that I already have ready to post/publish. But I'll set aside editing and layout till the fall.

In anticipation of posting and publishing, I want to spend the next couple of months trying my darnedest to get all of the editing and layout done on fiction that is almost ready to launch.

This will also be the period when I resume my Prison City research. I just discovered that another book about Tilghman Island watermen exists that I didn't know about; I've put in a library request for it. And I've told Doug that I want to go to Calvert Cliffs State Park in March, since that's when my Calvert Cliffs beach scene is set.

"You want to slog through mud?" he said incredulously. He has less faith than I do in late-March weather in Maryland.

I'd also like to take another trip to Hoopers Island, and I very much need to take a trip to Western Maryland, since I've decided that's where Compassion Prison is located. :) Unfortunately, that's going to be tricky. I had a look on the map, and the part of Western Maryland I want to visit is as far away as my father and stepmother's house on the Atlantic coast of Delaware. Theoretically, we could do it in a single day trip, but that would be exhausting. And we can't afford a motel for an overnight stay.

Maybe we'll end up camping. It seems like the right sort of area for it.

Three out of the four stories in the second volume of Prison City are set on Hoopers Island, so I don't think I'm going to have to do much 1960s research this year, thank goodness. I can save most of that for next year.

As for print publishing . . . I've been trying, for several months now, to figure out a way to fit the "Rebirth" paperback into my 2010 schedule, but I'm just not seeing my way clear to doing that. The problem is that, in the past six months, the electronic bookselling scene has exploded, making it imperative that I get my entire backlist into e-book format. Doing omnibus editions will certainly cut back on the amount of e-publishing I need to do. (Otherwise, I'd be bringing out thirty-five e-books this year. No.) Even so, I simply can't envision publishing nine omnibus e-books and finishing the editing on at least nine new stories and spending the summer doing an archaeological dig on my house and publishing a paperback. One of those tasks needs to be dropped from the list, and publishing a paperback is the least time-imperative item on the list.

Also, quite honestly, I'm pretty sure that I'd like to bring out "Master and Servant" as my first paperback. Not because I like it better than "Rebirth" (my stories are like children to me; it's hard to pick my favorite), but simply because, for various reasons, "Master and Servant" is easier to market to print readers.

I'd rather start with my most marketable paperback; that will pave the way for my less marketable paperbacks.

So I don't have "Rebirth" on my schedule for this year, alas. But I do have it on my schedule for next year; I want to get more than one paperback published next year.

Meanwhile, I've been having further thoughts about how to price my e-book omnibus editions.

What I've been trying to do is find a balance between pricing the omnibus editions high to new readers (who haven't read my fiction before) and pricing them low to old readers (who've read all but my latest stories). Fortunately, Smashwords has a nifty discount coupon generator. So what I think I will do is issue most of my omnibus editions as $9.99 e-books (which is a real steal for new readers, since the e-books are likely to be 200,000+ words) but give a sizeable discount on the omnibus editions, during the first month of sale, to my list readers and blog readers, so that they can inexpensively buy the omnibus editions simply for the sake of the latest stories in them.

What I'm envisioning doing is something like the following:

The 2010 edition of an omnibus contains stories 1-9 of a series, 1-8 of which are available online. I give old readers a deep discount on the e-book during the first month, so that they are only paying for the new story that isn't available online. Readers who encounter my e-books for the first time at retailers will have to pay the full price ($9.99); likewise, once that first month is passed, anyone wanting to buy the e-book will have to pay full price.

The 2011 edition of the same omnibus contains stories 1-10 of the series. I give old readers a suitable discount on the new edition, so that they are only paying for the new story (#10) that isn't available online. Soon afterwards, I post online the ninth story in the series (the one I published in the previous omnibus edition).

As I said earlier, what I'm trying to do is duplicate the Web-subscription experience. New readers will have to pay a little more in order to be introduced to my writings, but once they've realized that they can sign up for my blogs and lists to receive discounts (a fact that I'll mention in the e-books themselves), they'll be able to receive the same discounts on new eidtions that everyone else does, during the first month of sale. And readers who really can't buy my new stories, for whatever reason, will be able to read those new stories after a year has passed.

We'll see whether this plan works for all concerned.

I'm becoming much more comfortable with this plan simply because it means that I can bring out new stories as they become available, rather than having to wait till I have an entire novel written. For example, I have four out of the five stories in Balance done. When I was planning to issue "Balance" as a separate e-book, I needed to wait till my Muse gave me the fifth story in the volume, and heaven knows how long that will be. Which was silly in a way, because each of the stories in "Balance" can be read separately.

Now that I'm envisioning including "Balance" in an omnibus edition of all the Eternal Dungeon stories, I can simply publish the stories I have ready. In other words, I'm going back to the type of publishing that I did back when I was an online fiction writer only. This type of publishing works really well for me (and hopefully for my readers, who don't have to wait forever for me to finish a full volume of stories), so I'm glad to return to it.

So overall, things are looking up for me on the e-publishing front, even leaving aside the interesting developments at Google and Apple.

*** 17 February 2010. Simplicity: How the new 'Don't seek new stuff, don't add new stuff' regime is going (second update).

Still not well on the "don't seek new stuff" front, because I'm trying to pull myself out of an Internet addiction spell, but I'm making progress on the "don't add new stuff" promise. I'm much less likely now to automatically download anything that looks mildly interesting.

I think this will all be easier to handle once the warm weather comes and I can divert my browsing instincts into going through the papers and books I already own. As it is, I'm a bit tired of organizing my hard drives - I've been doing that all winter - and so it's difficult not to get lured onto the Internet in search of fun, new reading matter.

I wish my Muse would show up. He's the only power in earth that has had any consistent success in keeping me offline.

*** 18 February 2010. Writing: So this is how historical research works (Prison City research).

I have done my online research to find out how fast steamboats travelled. (Not very fast.) And now I have in front of me a 26-megabyte map by the U.S. government's Office of Coast Suvey of Dorchester County oyster bars in the vicinity of Hoopers Island in 1908. (You can find anything on the Internet.) I've already used this map to insert a nicely colorful reference to a nearby oyster bar, but more to my purposes, this map and an adjoining map show the water depth around Hoopers Island in 1908, so that I can figure out where boats would have sailed.

But the map doesn't show the steamboat route.

No problem; I simply switch over to the 1902-1904 maps of Hoopers Island prepared by the U.S. Coast and Geodetic Survey, which does show the steamboat route, at least in relation to the middle and upper islands. The maps don't show the steamboat route below the lower island, which is frustrating, but I can project its approximate path.

So I've got the steamboat rate, the steamboat path, the water depth . . .

Oh, shoot. The maps don't show the location of the lighthouse.

Actually, my screwpile lighthouse is imaginary, but I'm placing it in the same location as Hoopers Island Lighthouse (which isn't a screwpile lighthouse) on the theory that at least it's unlikely to topple over if I place it there. Hoopers Island Lighthouse is still in existence - I've seen it while standing on Hoopers Island, so I know approximately where it is, but neither the historical maps nor the two modern maps that I have show where it is.

Darn it. This means another trip onto the Internet.

Meanwhile, I see from the steamboat route that, Oops, I had the steamboat travelling north up the Honga River next to Hoopers Island in another scene, when I should have had it moving west. Actually, that works better for me, from a dramatic point of view, but it means rewriting the scene to get the directions right. I'll do that right after I finish rewriting the sports scene to get the directions right, because, Oops, I had the players trying to get the ball over their own goalpost. (Can you tell that the only team sport I've ever watched is baseball?)

Meanwhile, one of my characters insists that he needs to know what the wildlife is on Barren Island, right next to Hoopers Island. How should I know? I've never been there. And I probably never will, because it's a wildlife refuge unconnected by bridge to any other body of land. And unfortunately, I can't depend on the current wildlife reports to tell me what the wildlife was like there in 1912, because animals have this funny habit of changing locations. For example, there are brown pelicans living on Barren Island. Very nice, but they only moved in a few years ago.

I'm better off where flora is concerned; when I was last online, I discovered that, back in 1910, the Maryland Weather Service wrote an entire book on the plant life in Maryland. I downloaded it from Google Books.

Incidentally, the book was published by the Johns Hopkins Press. I need to get in touch with the press because a Chesapeake author I want to contact doesn't have his e-mail at his college's Website. As far as I can tell, his college doesn't have its e-mail at his college's Website. Fortunately, though, he was published by the Johns Hopkins Press, and his book is handled by . . .

. . . my old boss. How convenient.

Getting back to online discoveries: I found a much better version of an article I'd already known about, a 90-megabyte hefty article about oystering in Maryland in 1892. The reason it's 90 megabytes is that it includes an extremely detailed map of the Chesapeake, showing where dredging and tonging took place. Pure gold to me.

Less important than where the dredging and tonging was taking place is the indications on the map of which parts of the Chesapeake were off-limits for oystering except to watermen from that particular county. Bingo. Hoopers Island is smack-dab in that territory. (At least, the east side of it is. Close enough.)

*** 18 February 2010. Writing: Finished "Unmarked" (Prison City writing and research).

I completed the third novella in "Master and Servant" by an old trick: I dragged myself out of bed and sat down at the computer when I was too sleepy to fully remember that I was having writer's block.

The "novella" turned out to be 70,000 words long. I'm now estimating that "Master and Servant" will be 170,000 words long - the longest novel I've written yet. Good thing that I decided to include only three stories within "Master and Servant." And a very good thing that I have my own press, so that I can decide for myself how long my novels will be.

Of course, I hope that my Muse decides to help me with the remaining scenes in "Master and Servant 1: The Abolitionist," but whether or not he does, I'm going to continue editing "Unknown." I think I'm going to need to take another trip down to Hoopers Island this spring, partly because there's a spring scene at Hoopers Island in the second volume of the series, but partly also because I don't have a firm enough grasp on the flora in the Hoopers Island scene in "Unmarked." I recently gritted my teeth and bought two field guides to nature in the Chesapeake region; I figured it was a long-term investment. So I'll be able to bring those along on my next trip and hopefully figure out the names of the plants in the locations I want to write about.

(This is assuming that I can drag Doug there, but I've been luring him since last fall with descriptions of the unmapped path that Spiralred and I stumbled upon.)

The lighthouse scene is a bit weak too; I think that, come spring, I'm going to need to pore through some periodicals in the Maryland Room at the University of Maryland libraries to dig up more details about turn-of-the-century light-keepers' lives. I would have done so last fall, but swine flu was spreading around the campuses of this nation. Being unvaccinated at the time, I wasn't eager to die for my art.

Other than that, I'm pleased with "Unmarked." The Hoopers Island chapter turned out especially well, thanks to the watermen characters in it.

At least, that's my judgment of it; we'll see what my beta readers think.

*** 19 February 2010. Writing: Nearly fruitless day (Life Prison research and Prison City research).

I spent most of the day trying to pin down where Compassion Prison is located and finally had to give up. Every time I found a location on the turn-of-the-century maps that looked sufficiently isolated, it turned out that my darned state government had dammed it and turned it into a lake (invariably several decades after such a lake would have been useful to me, fictionwise).

I think I'm going to have to shell out some money for county atlases and figure out a likely location today, then work my way backwards to the turn-of-the-century maps.

The only thing I accomplished today was that I stumbled across a historian who specializes in the Chesapeake Bay and who lives in Calvert County. The perfect person to ask a question I have about Calvert County in 1912.

*** 19 February 2010. Writing: Lions and tigers and maps, oh my (Prison City research).

Spent the day catching up on my correspondence and doing little bits of research. I'm rereading William T. Hooper's "My Years Before the Mast," which is the only memoir of a turn-of-the-century waterman that I've been able to track down. Fortunately for me, the gentleman in question was a Hoopers Island waterman. After this, I need to reread John R. Wennersten's "The Oyster Wars of Chesapeake Bay," which is another of my major sources.

I'm going to have go online to figure out the draft of a certain type of boat. (The draft is how far down in the water a boat goes.) The problem I'm having is that I have a particular boat coming down the Honga River, and I'm not sure whether it could, because the upper Honga River is very shallow. I'm also struggling with the question of how long it would take the boat to travel the amount of space I have it travelling. I know, theoretically, how many knots an hour it could travel, but I'm sure reality was far different from theory.

What I need is a local waterman to critique my manuscript, darn it.

I'm also struggling with the question of whether to move the location of my lighthouse. It would make more sense for me to place my imaginary screwpile lighthouse where a screwpile lighthouse actually existed, and I think it would make a particular scene work better - but in the next scene, I have the character peering out the window at Barren Island, which he couldn't do if he was located southeast of Hoopers Island. Well, I suppose that having him think about an island he can't see is better than me placing a lighthouse on a location where it might not have been able to stand.

So basically, I didn't get much done today. I hate the fiddly bits of tracking down information to get the exact details of a historical fantasy story correct; it breaks my concentration in a way that reading a book for research doesn't. Really, what I'd like to do is what every other historical novelist in the world does: Consult the people who have specialist knowledge of the topics I'm writing about. But I'm still trying to figure out a good way to write to someone and say, "Hey, I've written a gay historical fantasy, laced with a bit of science fiction, about a topic that you've spent your life doing serious work on. Mind if I ask you some questions?"

*** 22 February 2010. Writing: Boarding school fiction (Prison City research); plus, Rosemary Sutcliff.

My Muse is in town, so I've switched to reading Owen Johnson's turn-of-the-century stories about Lawrenceville School. Which means reading passages like this:

"Then he was permitted to share their studies, to read slowly from handy, literal translations, his head cushioned on the Egghead's knee."

And this:

"Butcher listened sympathetically, feeling a certain comfort in sitting with his arm around a little fellow-being."

And this:

"They went hand in hand over to the chapel . . ."

Honestly, with canon sources like this, it's a wonder to me that the Internet isn't littered with boarding-school fan fiction.

And if what is needed is movie canon . . . Well, take a look at The Happy Years, a 1950 MGM film based on Owen Johnson's stories. In particular, keep your eye out for the film's rendition of this scene:

"Before him, at the end of a flagged walk, under the heavy boughs of evergreens, was a two-story building of stone, and under the Colonial portico a group curiously watching the new arrival. . . . And yet the group at the steps were only mildly interested. An urchin pillowed on the knees of a Goliath had shifted so as languidly to command the approach; a baseball, traveling back and forth in lazy flight, had stopped only a moment, and then continued from hand to hand."

And sure enough, if you watch that scene in the film, there's that guy pillowed on the knees of another guy. I do love faithful scriptwriters.

I'm also reading Rosemary Sutcliff's "Rider on a White Horse," which is an exercise in humility.

"It was not long after that they came over the last great billow of the moors, and saw Bradford lying in its hollow below them. The gray stone walls of the intake fields came striding up to meet them; and below, the gray stone roofs of the little town, that looked to have broken from its native hills like a rocky outcrop through the heather, caught fish-scale smears of light from the breaking sky."

Oh god, to write descriptions like that. Here's another of the same sort:


Toward evening, with the shooting light already beginning to fade, one of the sharpshooters high in the smoke-filled bell chambers of the embattled tower of St. Peter's Square heard a step come up beside him and caught out of the tail of his eye the flash of kingfisher blue across dark steel, and glancing around as he handed his discharged musket to his loader and took the freshly charged one in its place, found Black Tom at his side. The marksman was the withered little man with the wedge-shaped face who, Anne would have remembered, knelt below the jeweled splinters of the church window at Tadcaster, the muzzle of his musket resting on the sill, and chanted triumphant verses from the more vainglorious of the Psalms with every shot that went home. Now he was kneeling in the deep embrasure of the bell tower windows, the beechwood stock cradled between cheek and shoulder, sighting with narrow-eyed intent along the brown muzzle that nosed out between the piled woolsacks, his face fantastically barred with silver as the wet fading light of the summer evening shone upward on it between the open bell louvers.

Fairfax moved forward into the deep embrasure - the loader, busy with wad and rammer, shifting a little without looking up, to give him space - and looked out and down. He saw the crazy gambeson of woolsacks slung about the face of the tower, and the men who manned the breastworks of the kirkyard wall, all small and grotesquely foreshortened by the height; he saw the jagged holes in the cottages at Barker End and along Kirkgate. He saw the northern of the two batteries that Lord Newcastle had mounted against them, up there at the head of the long hayfield where the cultivated land ran out into the heather, and felt that he was looking directly into the glaring eyes of the guns. There was a flicker of movement from the battery, a sudden white vomit of smoke from one of the great thirty-six-pounders, followed, some two seconds later, by a deep booming roar that beat against the bell tower like a breaking wave; and then the crash of the ball landing somewhere in the town below them. For some time past the Royalists had been concentrating their fire upon the strong point of the ancient church, but that was a miss, and a grunt of derisive laughter greeted it. A deep murmuration of sound like a distant swarm of bees stole down from the high shadows above them, and glancing up through the wreathing fog of musket smoke, Fairfax realized that it came from the bells hanging at rest, black mouths gaping downward, among the great beams and the spider web of ropes and wheels overhead.


Sutcliff is one of the few authors I read word for word, purely for the sheer delight of her style. She also has a wonderfully dry sense of humor:

"Later, while the Parliamentary Foot surged down in a dark flood upon the Market Place, capturing the four culverins that had been mounted there; while the Horse were already pouring through the lanes and alleys after flying Royalists, General Sir Thomas Fairfax found himself - again God might know how, but certainly he did not - alone and unnoticed on the west side of the Market Square, with the best part of a regiment of Royalist Foot between him and his own troops, having collected somewhere along the way two Royalist officers, his sworn prisoners. He wished vaguely that these things did not happen to him. He had a feeling that they did not happen to other generals in battle."

*** 22 February 2010. Writing: Fact and fiction.

So I'm editing a scene about an electricity blackout, and I've reached the point where one character is asking another whether his organization is responsible for the blackout.

The character denies responsibility, then adds: "If you'll forgive the expression, we're as much in the dark as everyone else."

At that exact moment, our house lost power. I love life's little ironies.

*** 22 February 2010. Writing: A reason to love schoolboy fiction: Great first lines (Prison City research).

"They lay incongruously entwined, reveling on the greensward . . ."

That's the first line of Owen Johnson's "The Humming Bird." And no, I'm not quoting it out of context; we later learn that the protagonist is "pillowed" on a friend's back.

I also love this passage, about the protagonist's career aspirations:

"It is true that, witnessing an extravaganza at an early age, he was first tempted to be an Amazon, and wheel and march in the gorgeous, stage-lit parades. But after things were explained to him he stifled this indiscretion and buried the secret in his heart, as one of the bitter delusions of youth."

Meanwhile, Rosemary Sutcliff continues to throw forth lovelies:

"Ahead of them the road to Barton reeled out, winding its way through the marshes of the Humber, its course marked by planted willows; and high overhead, the wild duck winged in wavering banners and arrowheads against an evening sky barred with fading flame."

Must be reading Anglo-Saxon literature that makes her so alliterative. I manage to throw forth alliteration about once in a blue moon; maybe I should be reading Anglo-Saxon literature.

*** 22 February 2010. Writing and Home: More of the Lawrenceville stories (Prison City research); plus, snow in our yard.

"'I have an idea,' drawled out the Tennessee Shad from the fire-rug, where he lay pillowed on the Gutter Pup's sleepy form. 'Let's eat something.'

"At this there was a mild commotion on the window-seat, where four forms lay curled, puppy fashion."

I get the definite feeling that Owen Johnson is into male cuddling.

Meanwhile, I ventured outside today for the first time since the Big Snow at the beginning of February, which ended up breaking local records for the amount of snow in a winter. The snow still hasn't melted (usually snow melts within twenty-four hours in the D.C. area), but we're due to have another three inches tomorrow, so I went out to try to help any still-trapped plants escape.

The yard looked better than I'd expected it to. All of the trees survived, even the saplings in the front yard - though I'm not entirely sure about the fate of the evergreen sapling in the east side yard. It may simply still be under the snowline.

One of the evergreen trees in the west side yard had the top of its slender trunk snapped, but that tree could use trimming in any case. The holly tree had lost a five-foot branch. We now have a five-foot holly tree in our living room.

The bushes and shrubs fared worst: a couple were still so deeply buried in snow that I didn't even try to excavate them. But the ones I uncovered looked bowed rather than murdered, so I'm optimistic they'll recover.

The already-half-dead dogwood tree survived. Doug (who has been wanting to chop it down for two years) is probably cursing that fact.

*** 22 February 2010. Writing and Home: Meme: What do you have on (or under) your desk right now?

Computer and music equipment:

Hard drive, monitor, keyboard, mouse, mousepad, homemade wrist rests, and surge suppressor.


iPod and earphones.

CD player and earphones.

Assorted CDs, mainly classical.

DVD of The Jetsons (Prison City research).

MP3 player that I'm fondly hoping will come back to life.

Three flash drives.

Old fashioned office equipment and containers:

Pottery jar with pens and pencils.

Pottery jar I use as a vase.

Pottery jar for the flash drives.

Pottery cup for my eyedrop containers.

Pottery leaf that I use as a place to put my used eyedrop containers.

Wicker basket for the earphones.

Wicker basket for professional receipts.

Wicker rack to hold assorted items.

Cigar box for extra eyedrop containers.

Three coasters for cups and plates.

Wooden ruler.

Wooden noteholder stuffed with notes that I may one day actually read.

Wicker inbox with papers I may one day actually file.

Wicker basket waiting for me to find a use for it.

Wooden object that I think was originally intended as a pencil-and-envelope holder; I use it as a convenient resting place for my bookmarks.

Scratch paper.

Wooden cradle for the colored foil stars I reward myself with when I've done my work.

Wicker basket holding more scratch paper, napkins, and a paperweight with a 1964 half dollar in it.

(By this time, you may have figured out that I inherited a lot of crafts from my mother.)

Nice-looking handkerchief draped over my ugly hard drive.

Clipboard with currently monthly schedule.

Binder with my past monthly schedules.

Binder with my financial summaries.

Heating pad.

Free-standing lamp. (Because, gosh, there just isn't room for it on my desk.)

Notebook I carry around to make research notes with.

List of the Web pages I need to update.

Notes stuffed under my the pedestal of my monitor, to remind me to make editorial changes on the stories I'm currently working on.

A postcard showing mallard birds, by Audobon, to remind me of the Eastern Shore of Maryland.


(*Deep breath.*)

--"Concise Oxford Dictionary" (also on my hard drive).
--"Merriam-Webster's Collegiate Dictionary" (also on my hard drive).
--"Oxford Universal Dictionary" (a 2000-page abridgement of the OED).
--On my hard drive: Webster's 1913.
--I also own Webster's Unabridged, Second Edition, but I find that I rarely need it.

Style manuals:
--"Merriam-Webster Dictionary of English Usage."
--"Merriam-Webster Concise Handbook for Writers."
--"The Associated Press Style Manual."

--"The New Roget's Thesaurus," edited by Norman Lewis.
--"Use the Right Word" by S. I. Hayakawa.

Names dictionaries:
--"What to Name the Baby," by Evelyn Wells (15,000 names).
--"The Oxford Dictionary of English Christian Names," by E. G. Withycombe (for historical information).
--"The Pronunication of 10,000 Proper Names," by Mary Stuart Mackey and Maryette Goodwin Mackey (copyright 1922).
--The local white pages (for last names).
--Two names dictionaries that I keep around just because I like names dictionaries.
--On my hard drive: Lists of the most popular turn-of-the-century names.

Visual dictionaries:
--"The Facts on File Visual Dictionary."
--"DK Ultimate Visual Dictionary."

Sexual language dictionaries: --"Bloomsbury Dictionary of Euphemisms," by John Ayto.
--On my hard drive: "The Lover's Tongue," by Mark Morton.

General reference:
--"Le Mot Juste" (foreign phrases).
--On my hard drive: "Oxford Reference Shelf."

Period slang:
--"Passing English of the Victorian Era," by J. Redding Ware (first published in 1905).
--"American Slang," by Robert L. Chapman.
--On my hard drive: "Slang and Its Analogues" (1902), by John S. Farmer and W. E. Henley.
--On my hard drive: "The Slang Dictionary" (1913), by John Camden Hotten.
--I'd really like to have the authoritative multi-volume American slang dictionary whose name I've forgotten at the moment, but I can't afford it yet.

Turn-of-the-century department store catalogues:
--Bloomingdale's 1886.
--Eaton 1901.
--Sears 1900, 1902, and 1908.
--I'd dearly love to have catalogues from the early 1880s (for The Eternal Dungeon), the early 1890s (for Life Prison), and 1911-12 (for Michael's House and Prison City), but I haven't been able to locate those yet. And nobody has published catalogues from the mid-1960s, darn it.

Maryland history and geography:
--"Maryland Scenic Byways."
--Assorted modern maps, mainly of Maryland.
--On my hard drive: "Microsoft Streets & Trips."
--On my hard drive: I'm gradually downloading the turn-of-the-century U.S. Geological Survey maps of Maryland.

Classical history:
--"Smaller Classical Dictionary," by William Smith.

Art history:
--"From Abacus to Zeus," by James Smith Pierce.
--"Dictionary of Subjects & Symbols in Art," by James Hall.

Religious history:
--King James Version Bible.
--Revised Standard Version Bible.
--Book of Common Prayer 1928 and 1979.

History of nature:
"Field Guide to Wild Flowers of Britain" (includes historical information).

--"The Elements of Typographic Style," by Robert Bringhurst.
--"Aiming at Amazon," by Aaron Shepard.
--"Book Design and Production," by Pete Masterson.

Encyclopedias (in the living room, because I can't fit all those volumes under my desk):
--Chamber's 1884.
--Britannica 1911 and 1949.
--On my hard drive: Britannica 2002.
--I want Wikipedia on CD-ROM! All of it. Not an abridgement.

*** 25 February 2010. Writing: Update on the steamboat/lighthouse scenes (Prison City research).

I've decided to move the lighthouse and the steamship scene down to the south of Hoopers Island. It will mean a bigger rewrite of the steamship scene than I'd anticipated, but I'm still worried about that shallow water at the top of Honga River. And I realized that, if I had the steamship coming round Lower Hoopers Island, I could accomplish the same as I'd been trying to accomplish in the earlier version of the scene.

I wish I had the exact path of the steamboat on that leg of the trip. I'll have to do my best with conjecture.

*** 26 February 2010. Writing: I think I've found the Eternal Dungeon (Eternal Dungeon research).

Deciding to place the Turn-of-the-Century Toughs world in the Mid-Atlantic region has caused me some moments of awkwardness. Such as trying to figure out where the Sea of Mip is, when Maryland hasn't any seas . . . or for that matter, any natural lakes. Or trying to figure out why Hell's Messenger begins in a desert, when there are no deserts in Maryland.

My latest trick is trying to figure out where the heck the Eternal Dungeon is located.

See, I describe the Eternal Dungeon as being in a cave, under a hill on which the Yclau royal palace is located, within the Yclau capital city.

So I went looking for a likely location in Virginia, which is now the geographical setting for Yclau.

Fat chance. All of the major cities are on or near the coast, where there are no caves. The smaller cities that are in the general vicinity of caves (along the Appalachian Mountains and the Blue Ridge Mountains) are too far south for me to easily visit. (Well, except Charlottesville, perhaps.)

So I sighed and set out to find which Virginia cave was closest to Washington, D.C. Or rather, which show cave was, because, quite reasonably, folks who have caves on their private property don't want visitors trampling over their land, so they don't advertise the caves' location.

It turns out that the closest Virginia show cave is Luray Caverns.

Now, as it so happens, Luray Caverns are the only set of caves I've ever visited. Doug and I went to see the caverns a few years ago, with our friends Katharine and John. In fact, when I started describing the cavey bits of the Eternal Dungeon, I had the Luray Caverns in the back of my mind.

Handy, that.

So I started digging in the turn-of-the-century books at Google Books to see what I could find out about Luray, the town next to Luray Caverns.

Well, it's tiny. Back in the 1880s (which is when the Eternal Dungeon series is set), it was 1400 people strong. Despite that, it seems to have been a hopping place. It had tourists pouring into it, so there was a train station, a series of big hotels, and the sort of amenities you'd expect from a larger community.

Plus, the biggest tannery in the United States. Did I mention that I'd envisioned Weldon as having worked in a tanning manufactory when he was young?

Turn-of-the-century Luray looks as though it had the mix of industry and culture that I was seeking. Moreover, it had what I most wanted: a hill. A nice hill with a set of caves inside it, just waiting for me to place the Yclau palace on top of it.

So I think I'm going to convert Luray into the Yclau capital. I'll have to make Luray bigger, of course. (I don't even know whether the hill is a suitable size for a palace.) But I think it would be nicely ironic to make the Yclau capital not be a city - to have it be a town. So I'm not going to make Luray too big.

While I was online yesterday, I managed to dig up an 1880s phone directory for the county that Luray is in, which shows which businesses Luray had. I also found some turn-of-the-century photos and information on not one but two historical photo books on Luray and the surrounding county, in the Images of America book. (I'm ready to canonize whoever started that series - I've been drawing upon it so heavily.) From Luray's chamber of commerce Website I obtained a modern map of Luray, which I can match to the U.S. Geological Survey's turn-of-the-century map of the county.

That's as much information as is available online, I think. Now I need to visit Luray. I suppose it's too much to hope for that I'll be able to convince Doug to go down there this summer, amidst all our visits to the Chesapeake and to Western Maryland. And as a practical matter, I'd need to earn enough from my writings to be able to pay for an overnight stay in Luray.

Still haven't found Compassion Prison yet, darn it.

*** 26 February 2010. Writing: Figuring out how Greenbelt Lake connects in with the Chesapeake (Prison City research).

Meanwhile, I've been trying to figure out how the lake I live next to connects in with the Chesapeake Bay. This is important, because the second and third volumes of Prison City will be partly set in this area. (This has nothing to do with the fact that it makes it easy for me to do research.)

I pored over an 1878 map of the area - handily reprinted in a history book about my hometown - and it's clear there what the connection was. Back then, what would later become Greenbelt Lake was a swamp fed by springs. The springs led to what is now called Indian Creek, which leads to the Northeast Branch, which leads to the Anacostia River, which leads to the Potomoc River, which leads to the Chesapeake Bay.

In other words, if Doug washes our car with non-biodegradable soap (which he doesn't, I'm happy to say), that soap ends up in the Chesapeake Bay.

What is not entirely clear from the modern maps is whether this route is cut at any point. I don't think it is; I grew up surrounded by remonitions not to dump junks in the sewer, lest it end up in the Chesapeake. But there are some uncertain spots on the map of Indian Creek that I need to investigate.

I also need to figure out (since this is a series that centers on Bay-related wildlife) where the wetlands are in this area. I know that there's been some effort to restore wetlands plants at Greenbelt Lake, as well as at a little commercial area southest of the lake, in the no-longer-aptly-named Golden Triangle. But I don't really have a good sense at this point of the eco-systems of the Bay-related areas of this region. I'm probably going to have to visit the Patuxent Wildlife Refuge Center, just northeast of here, whose streams lead back, not to the Potomoc River, but to the Patuxent River, also part of the Chesapeake Bay system. But the visitors' center there, darn it, has nothing to say about local eco-systems; the displays are all about national wildlife.

*** 26 February 2010. Writing and Simplicity: Wordage, schedule, and the Internet.

It's becoming increasingly clear that I can't set aside large chunks of non-writing time, because my Muse is being fickle as heck these days. He flits in, he flits out, and while I can try my darnedest to write on days when he's not here (and sometimes succeed ), this too seems to require that I be writing - or at least trying to write - on every day of the year.

I've been playing around with schedule patterns this month, and it looks as though, if I get myself into a steady pattern of writing, I can afford to give myself an hour or so of time not related to plotting, writing, and editing fiction. This gives me a little more flexibility in my schedule than I'd assumed I had. I can get correspondence done, I can get layout done.

What is difficult to fit into that schedule is reading nonfiction (or Muse-unfriendly fiction) for research or leisure. I'm still working on that. But what I have learned is that, if my Muse doesn't show up on a particular day, I shouldn't just mope around, feeling sorry for myself, because that makes me more inclined to go on the Internet. Instead, I should turn that into a research/editing/layout/housework day, which makes me feel productive.

As for the Internet . . . Kicking the Internet seems to be a process of discovering a technique, discovering that it doesn't work, trying another technique, and discovering that the previous technique worked better.

I'm going back to going online fifteen minutes a day, because that works a heck of a lot better at controlling my Internet addiction than staying offline for a month (or even a week) and then trying to get a long chunk of work done at one time.

(Ideally, of course, I'd stay offline a week and then go online for fifteen minutes. But that doesn't fit with my professional schedule.)

Last time I tried the fifteen-minutes-a-day rule, I fell off the wagon because I took it into my head one day that I needed to track down every bit of information in the world about Smashwords. So I'm going to try to be strict about the fifteen-minute rule this time. Major emergencies - such as discovering I've got a new disease - are reason enough to go online for more than fifteen minutes a day. So is doing an important task that takes more than fifteen minutes and must be done if one fell swoop, such as checking links after I do a Website update.

Other than that, I'll stick to the regime: go online for fifteen minutes once a day, then lure myself off by the promise of a ten-minute video.

The good news is that, to a large extent, I've stuck to my rule of only visiting Websites on my pre-approved list. The two things that have been keeping me from adhering to that rule entirely are research sites (which I've got to find a way to cut back on) and TeleRead (which inevitably has lots of interesting links I want to visit). If I must visit TeleRead, I should download its pages and read them offline.

As for my wordage this month . . . Not great. I did manage, by sheer determination, to raise my wordage from 6,000 to 16,000 through four days' work this week. But that's still half of my monthly goal. So I really, really need to kick this Internet addiction and develop a work schedule that will bring me in at least thirty thousand words a month.

*** 26 February 2010. Writing: I think I've found Compassion Prison too (Life Prison research).

I wrote earlier, "I think I'm going to have to shell out some money for county atlases and figure out a likely location [for Compassion Prison] today, then work my way backwards to the turn-of-the-century maps."

Well, today I found that Doug owns a map of Washington County (the easternmost of the three counties in Western Maryland), so I set to work carefully examining the map.

My eye must have passed over a certain location a half dozen times before it occurred to me that, if I was seeking a suitable spot for a fortified prison, it might make sense to place it where fortifications already were.

Ladies and gentlemen, I present Fort Frederick.

At this point, my militarily-inclined apprentice interrupted my recital to explain that a good location for a fortified prison isn't necessarily a good location for a military fort, just as a good location for an American military fort isn't the same as a good location for a medieval castle . . . When I managed to get a word in edgewise, I said, "Look, I'm just trying to find a spot that's big and flat, okay?"

Actually, I was also looking for an isolated spot, and Fort Frederick, alas, is right next to (1) the Potomac River, (2) the Chesapeake & Ohio Canal, and (3) the railroad. But I decided upon reflection that this would make a certain scene in the Life Prison series all the more interesting. And the nice thing about the fort being next to the C&O Canal is that the canal is now a national park, so I can walk along the towpath. (Assuming that I can convince Doug to drive me there, which is always an assumption. These days he's attached to his computer like a Siamese twin.)

What's equally important is that, when I checked the 1900 U.S. Geological Survey map of that area, I found that Fort Frederick was fairly isolated - nothing but hamlets near it. Which fits, more or less, with what I've already written.

And guess what? Thanks to construction of the canal, the fort has a fair-sized manmade lake next to it, called Big Pool. I've promptly dubbed it the Sea of Mip. :)

After I'd spent my fifteen minutes today pulling maps of Fort Frederick and the surrounding area off the Web, I went grubbing through what is turning into the greatest treasure that my mother left me: her collection of Maryland Magazine, a magazine which was issued by the State of Maryland for a couple of decades and which has lots of history articles.

Sure enough, I turned up an article about Fort Frederick, written by the Eastern Shore teacher Jack Wennersten, who has just got to be the Eastern Shore teacher John R. Wennersten, author of The Oyster Wars of Chesapeake Bay, the book that got me all interested in the Chesapeake in the first place. The photographs - besides showing that the stone walls of Fort Frederick look uncannily like how I'd envisioned Compassion Prison - reveal that the reconstructed barracks within the fort really look like how I'd envisioned the outbuildings surrounding Compassion Prison.


I read on. Fort Frederick, as I already knew, was built during the French and Indian War (1754-1763). "In the American Revolution," Mr. Wennersten continued, "Fort Frederick served as a--"

"Ha!" I told my apprentice on the phone. "Fort Frederick was a prison camp."

Speaking of the Eastern Shore, Christopher White's field guide to Chesapeake Bay wildlife arrived yesterday, so beautifully designed that I wanted to rush off and buy every other book published by that press (Tidewater Publishers). In a somewhat less tasty package, today I got my hands on Christopher White's Skipjack: The Story of America's Last Sailing Oystermen, his narrative about the Tilghman Island watermen. (It was published by St. Martin's Press; so much for the myth that major-press books are always better designed than small-press books.) I've started reading the volume, and it's wonderful. I'm so glad I received a chance to read this while I'm still working on Master and Servant.

A short time later, Doug turned up with this week's issue of the local newspaper. You know how I said that I wasn't sure about the current path of Indian Creek? Well, this week's leading story is on the current path of Indian Creek. The article confirmed what I suspected, that the creek's route has broken down somewhat. However, I don't think that I need worry about that in an AU that's not meant to correspond exactly to the 1960s as we knew it. It just gives me a better sense of the travails that the local watershed is undergoing.

*Whew*. This has been an incredibly fruitful day, researchwise. Now that I don't have to worry any more about the locations of Compassion Prison and Yclau's capital (I already knew the locations of all the other places in the Turn-of-the-Century Toughs cycle), and now that I have a game plan for fighting my Internet addiction in the coming weeks, I can concentrate on finishing "Master and Servant."
Anonymous (will be screened)
OpenID (will be screened if not validated)
Identity URL: 
Account name:
If you don't have an account you can create one now.
HTML doesn't work in the subject.


Links will be displayed as unclickable URLs to help prevent spam.

September 2017

34 56789
10 111213141516
17 181920212223

Most Popular Tags

Style Credit

Expand Cut Tags

No cut tags
Page generated Sep. 22nd, 2017 06:56 pm
Powered by Dreamwidth Studios