Those Here Then

Done it! I am through reading perhaps the most feared novel (due primarily to its incredible length) of the last century. Yes, I have completed Tolstoy’s War and Peace (1869):

That book finished, in our ongoing “stay at home as much as possible” environment I may for a time do less reading and much more writing.

[From my Instagram Stories. May 20, 2020.]

It is now late May. Back in October (which seems like about 1,000 years ago, doesn’t it?), after the publication of Tomorrow The Grace, I had decided I would write NOTHING before June. Two massive novels in four years, I felt I needed a rest. That “need” vanished with the pandemic – we have had LOTS and LOTS and LOTS of time to “rest,” of course. I tried to put our confinement to writing use.

I re-attacked a short story that I had resolved back in 2017 would NEVER see the light of public day because I had felt what I had written was not that good and I did not believe I could “fix” it. It is based on something(s) that happened to me. (There’s a shocker to you, I’m sure.) In March and early in April (having initially feared even to reopen the “dusty” PC file and have a re-read of it), I revised and FINALLY finished it… and it is FREE online here on my blog and will be as long as this blog exists. (Click here. I have been told by several readers that they think it is fine.)

Since then, I have done far more outlining and brainstorming on Tomorrow’s eventual follow up than I had thought I would have done by this point – which, from October, should have been none. My previous post addressing a recent romance novel that features 1800s English aristocracy, coupled with my writing the last few days, got me reflecting yesterday upon my own often “romantic” subject matter… and I thought… BLOG POST! LOL!

[Pride and Prejudice (1813), by Jane Austen. Photo by me, 2019.]

The image of “period romantic writing” being “Jane Austen” and “the Brontës,” etc., is pretty deeply ingrained out there. But much as I love Austen, she is certainly not all there is. She (and other “classic” writers) is really now just a starting point.

Another is War and Peace. That novel is more like a small library. It is actually several different sorts of books under one title: a combination of historical fiction, “Austen-like” romance, action adventure, and political statement.

What as writers ends up on our pages is a mishmash of all of our reading and life influences to date, subconscious as well as conscious, as we endeavor to create something that is new(ish) and which readers will hopefully enjoy.

[From my Instagram Stories. May 20, 2020.]

In my most recent two novels, and continuing in my next, I have chosen to have a go at a group and period not much fictionalized: Americans in Europe starting about a decade after US independence and into the early 1800s.

Because Americans were here. In just one real-life example, in France in the mid-1790s, during the Revolution there, English writer Mary Wollstonecraft became involved with an American. She even had his child. (Outside of marriage, too: Oh, the scandal.) Most importantly, with Britain and France then at war and the French revolutionaries arresting British nationals, including women, and the new United States neutral, as an American he helped keep her out of prison. (Compared to today, prisons everywhere back then were mostly outright horrors; she might well have died or been murdered in one.)

Unfortunately, though, the real-life story had no “romantic” happy ending because he turned out ultimately not to be a “leading man.” Apparently she far more loved him than he loved her; he was a slug and abandoned her and their daughter. Frankly he would not today rate even a footnote in history had it not been for her, and especially her other daughter’s (subsequently, by a man she married, an Englishman, after she got back to England: the future novelist Mary Shelley’s), eventual great fame. (He was from New Jersey… uh, not that that had anything to do with his horrible treatment her, of course.😉)

And, to be clear, I do not do only mush “romance.” There is lots more. For example, I do do “action adventure” too:

[Excerpt from Conventions: The Garden At Paris. Click to expand.]

No wizards, or magic, though, I am sorry.

Seen from Britain, France, Spain, and Portugal, the U.S. was then a small, distant, weak country. Americans in “1790” were, to most Europeans – if Europeans thought much about them at all – “state of nature” curiosities across the ocean. America was a place of uncooth and violent frontiersmen, savages/happy forest people Indians, slaves, and George Washington.

Such stereotyping was really no surprise, though. Instant communications did not then exist. (A single trans-Atlantic exchange of letters could take three – at best – to six months, and even longer if interrupted by wintertime, when fewer ships risked crossing the Atlantic. That is even assuming the letters were not lost in transit.) Travel itself then was not, of course, also nearly as globally easy (pandemics aside) as it is nowadays:

[From my Instagram Stories. May 20, 2020.]

Like its two predecessors, the next novel will be a BIG one. It will also feature several new major characters as I take the tale to about 1815 or so. The most important addition will probably be a widowed young countess and mother from what is today Hungary/Poland/Belarus – inspired by a real currently living someone of whom I shall be forever nameless. (Doing that sort of thing is perhaps the most amusing aspect of being a novelist😁.)

[From the as of yet unnamed follow up to Tomorrow The Grace. Click to enlarge.]

Among the history background material I have been (re)reading in order to write this volume is a 1970 biography of our third US president I have had now for over 25 years. It was a gift from my post-grad advisor. He died in 2002 and I have never forgotten that he had once told me he had written articles that few read; his students, and what they did someday, would be his teaching legacy.

[Enjoying a homemade muffin and researching the new book. Photo by me, Potton, England, May 21, 2020.]

I often think: I hope I can do enough.

Have a good weekend, and stay safe, wherever you are in the world. 🙂

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