All In Another Day’s Work

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This is what happens to a writer left alone. The Mrs. is in Lisbon until Wednesday. So I have no excuse not to tear through more of the manuscript

My home office [Photo by me, 2016.]
My home office [Photo by me, 2016.]

And yesterday, I did. On the spur of the moment I decided to kill off an important character. Writing can be a “brutal” world. You can do just about anything – and surprise and shock readers.

Later, after a couple of Mad Men episodes and dinner, I ended up awake until midnight. Finally I took on a scene I’d been putting off writing: A character at a dinner, debating Thomas Jefferson.

He’s a tough man to debate. As you know I’ve tried talking to him myself. He wouldn’t give me the time of day. πŸ™‚

After having had enough, I called it a night. Just before I shut the Microsoft Surface, I skimmed much of what I’d just written. And I considered the manuscript overall from a reader’s perspective.

While there’s real history all over it, that’s mostly about the wider context for the fictional tale.

There are life ups and downs, including fatal illness. Medical care as we understand it did not exist. We tend to forget how those pre-20th century were incredibly strong people to have survived even to adulthood.

Reading “Jane Austen” we can forget that they did not have access even to an aspirin. Women gave birth essentially as nature took its course. Most of us reading this right now would have been dead before “age 5” had we been born in “1770.”

Perhaps partly because of that grim reality, they were profoundly spiritual and god-fearing in ways we are not. Many were superstitious and “ignorant” as well. George Washington once felt it necessary to issue an explanation to his troops as to why they need not fear a coming eclipse.

At home, they didn’t much venture out at night on the mostly dangerous, pitch black roads. There was no artificial light except expensive candles. There were no police as we understand them. You looked after yourself and your loved ones.

Because of all of that they often treasured and thought of each other profoundly in ways we today may forget to behave with our loved ones. They were not as complacent. They never knew if “next week” one of them would suddenly become ill and die. When they were parted, Jefferson used to demand of his daughters to write him about themselves and his grandchildren at minimum every few days, even if only to scribble three words: “We are well.”

Within that historical reality, I’ve also – of course! – got some handsome men and lovely women (both fictional and historical). Their world was quiet. (No cars. No machinery. No recorded music.) They read books for entertainment. They dined for the conversation and dressed up for the flirting and amusement. And they sat before a fireplace together as couples and – yes, really – often actually talked to each other.

There’s also adventure (including murderous violence which I’m not proud of; but there was less pity in that world compared to ours), as well as travel and fashion. And there is, uh, some “intimacy” between certain men and women. (If you, umm, get my drift.)

A Paris view. [Very old photo, by me, 1994. Look vaguely familiar? It's on the back cover of Passports.]
A Paris view. [Very old photo, by me, 1994. Look vaguely familiar? It’s on the back cover of Passports.]

But I do warn you, as for Paris, there’s no Eiffel Tower. I don’t do science fiction. Paris had no Eiffel Tower in “1794.” πŸ˜‰

Have a good day, wherever you are. πŸ™‚


  1. Killing off sympathetic characters can be shocking and brutal for writers, too. It hurts to have to let them go and just live with our memories. After all, we lived with our imaginary friends much longer than our readers do, even if they re-read our stories. Perhaps that’s one reason why many writers keep bringing characters back to life in “prequels.”

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    1. That is so true. We spend unaccounted hours with them that to kill off one is not easy. I chose to do this as an out of left field shocker – because that is how death can come. And in the circumstances that are discussed, it was entirely plausible to happen as it did. Actual human beings are incredibly fragile, not superheroes, and too often I think it is too easy to overlook that in fiction.

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      1. We who write historical fiction also have to be careful about assigning character deaths to only a few etiologies. Communicable disease and childbearing carried off many people before they reached old age, but they were not the only causes of death (and actual childbirth itself did not become a problem until relatively late, when doctors decided to take over obstetrics and introduced risks that were not there to begin with).

        Similarly, battlefield deaths are not always due to blood loss or wound infection. Consider Stonewall Jackson: there was no postmortem done, and the doctor’s records were lost, but by all accounts Jackson’s wounds and amputation were healing well without signs of infection, when he took a turn for the worse. Looking at the symptoms he reportedly exhibited before he died, as a retired Registered Nurse, I would say that his death was due to pneumonia secondary to immobility, because “the sick” were kept on strict bed rest, and complicated by fat embolism secondary to broken long bones, because of the trauma to and amputation of his arm.

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        1. Quite. Jackson’s death was probably avoidable. So was George Washington’s at 67. What we know is pre-20th century all – rich or poor – were at the mercy of nature and, by current standards, appalling doctoring. A strong personal constitution, good genes, and not a bit of luck, contributed more to longevity than anything “medicine” could do.

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