🇺🇸-born, 🇬🇧-based, novelist.📖 Writing, travel, culture and more. Always holding "auditions" – so be careful or you may end up a character in “1797”…and perhaps an evil one.🎭 (And why do I suspect some of you might like that latter in particular?)😂
If you are in the US, you probably saw reports of large protests over the weekend here in the United Kingdom directed at the visiting current President of the United States. In the wake of them, I just want to note this. It is a sensitive subject, but one that should not be avoided:
Sorry, I just couldn’t resist. The top line is not my invention: it’s a full tweet I saw by someone with, sadly, 75,000 followers. The protester I referred to there in the second sentence is, of course, Charles James Fox:
I hope you’re having a good weekend. Yesterday, I paused at one point to have a look through my first (and only) printer-generated copy of my Conventions manuscript. As I turned pages, I also asked myself: “Why the heck am I keeping this?”
As with my earlier books (I’ve got similar copies of those someplace), I never really considered it “real” until I had used up seemingly half of my printer’s ink supply to print the entire book out on that paper. It also required quite a bit of paper: about 260 pages, fronts and backs. Once it was on that paper, though, I felt, I was almost there.
[The first printed version of Conventions: The Garden At Paris. Photo by me, 2018.]
It is essential, I believe, in finishing a book, to review a printed version, page by page. Most people still do not use e-readers, and I feel a reading experience of a printed book is different from that of an e-book. It’s vital to put yourself in the paper reader’s place as well.
Most Americans (I hope) know what today is. 🙂 I thought some lesser known words once offered by the drafter of the Declaration of Independence in 1776 might be interesting reading today. At age seventy-seven, in 1821, five years before his death, Thomas Jefferson wrote this recollection in his autobiography:
[From “Jefferson Himself,” Bernard Mayo, 1942.]
If you read enough of Jefferson’s writings, you notice he had a tendency at times to sensationalize and exaggerate, and sometimes quite a lot. That is not a surprise especially about “1776” if we remember he was of course a “propagandist” for American independence. He wasn’t about considering matters “fairly” as an historian looking back on events should.
Of course Americans did have friends in England opposed to the Government’s “crush the rebellion” policies, including prominent ones in the House of Commons itself. The most well-known today remains Edmund Burke, but noisier – and actually more supportive – was the larger than life Charles James Fox. For example, in 1775 – even before the Americans declared independence – Fox denounced the first minister (today called the “prime minister”) Lord North, terming him:
I’m not one to do this sort of thing – in fact, I don’t think I ever have. However, there are those times when you must plant a flag and not just “nod” politely. I feel doing that is especially necessary when you are faced with another writer who drops in to “sea lion” IN YOUR COMMENTS under the pretext of carrying on a “discussion.”
This deserves the bright light of blog day. First, what is “sealioning?” It’s an expression to describe a type of commenting misbehavior, which Wikipedia defines this way:
Sealioning (also spelled sea-lioning and sea lioning) is a type of trolling or harassment which consists of pursuing people with persistent requests for evidence or repeated questions. The harasser who uses this tactic also uses fake civility so as to discredit their target. The term arises from a 2014 edition of the webcomic Wondermark, where a character expresses a dislike of sea lions and a passing sea lion repeatedly asks the character to explain.
Here is how it works, as that cartoon suggested:
Keep that in mind as you read on. This exchange stems from this post of mine last week that included a bit on author Laura Ingalls Wilder (1867-1957) and charges of racism hurled at her for some things she wrote in her Little House books. I have screen captured the entire “conversation”:
A quick post I hadn’t expected to write yesterday when I wished you a good weekend. My uncle once revealed to me that he felt an author should avoid reading his book reviews. He believed they are best read instead by potential readers.
[My novels so far.]
He thought reading reviews is usually unhelpful to a writer. Bad reviews are likely to discourage you without actually providing much help for future writing; on the other hand reading good ones might go to your head and bring on a sense of complacency. So he did his best to avoid reading any of his reviews.
As a writer laboring for uncounted hours to create what you believe has some literary merit and readers will enjoy (silly you), you become accustomed to being told about the latest big thing that you’ve foolishly overlooked or inexplicably omitted. You’re also constantly stumbling on this or that declaring you’re hopelessly out of touch and doing it wrong. At times, it’s like high school lunch never ended: the cool kids are all at another table…
“What? There aren’t any alien babes? Not to tell you what to write, but I’d set the book in a vaguely Scandinavian frigid place with magical stuff and long-haired, bearded hunks. And I’d toss in some babes wearing fur… and make sure it’s vegan.”
“I know, yeh, the president and all that. But nobody really cares about the War of 1812; they don’t even know the year it started. It’s all dystopia now. Or flying broomsticks at posh English boarding schools.”
“I get you feel strongly that’s inappropriate and ludicrous behavior, but that’s you. What you’ve written here is just too old-fashioned. Romance is all modern now. Audrey Hepburn is dead. Look, how about some cable ties on the second date at least?”
I speak here only for myself. I share my authoring experiences, particularly in writing romantic/historical fiction. I don’t claim to have some especial authority (and certainly don’t mean to be harsh about anyone else), but aim only to address – based on my own journey, so to speak – various issues that may be common to anyone who gets involved in this insane challenging activity.
As you probably know, I have been gradually working on a new novel that I hope will follow 2017’s Conventions: The Garden At Paris. It will be a “stand alone” tale of a similar scope and length, and will include some carry over from that previous book. Three people who appear in “1840” in Conventions – its final chapter – are important fictional characters throughout, and unsurprisingly appear in this new tale; but for spoiler sakes, I’m not naming them here. Several story-vital deaths also occur, but I don’t want to reveal here either who they are. As to the ultimate fates of all of the others, that is meant to be unclear… so I may bring them back or not in this “sorta-sequel.”
…and increasingly I wonder why I bother with Twitter life is too short I think as I scroll down and I’m still on it mostly because many readers expect you to be and can find you there easily but I prefer to devote my social media time to my blog here or Instagram until Twitter someday gets fun again but who am I kidding that’s not going to happen oh come on really?…
I keep an orphaned words doc with extra scenes, sentences, thoughts and passages that don't quite fit. Then I reread and use them later, where they do fit. #amwriting You?..Writing pic.twitter.com/LNwOsmcYqZ
…what I do is privately I loathe writers who are supposedly so organized and so together who tweet things like that because I don’t want to believe you because aside from a vague outline of what I plan to write about and character sketches which assuredly will evolve mostly from hours and then days and weeks and even months of keyboard-tapped brainstorms that I then cut and paste and I’ll redo that and pound into shape and she is just too noble there stop it do you have a little crush she needs some faults and where was Jefferson living in January 1798 and I’ll give Sting a rest today hey I’ll put on Patrina Morris’s new songs I got off iTunes on Friday night…
Another Monday. I hope you’ve had a pleasant weekend. Let’s start the week with a (somewhat) lighthearted post.
[Country walk on Saturday. Hertfordshire, England. Photo by me, 2018.]
We had a good weekend…
[After-dinner drinks. Photo by me, 2018.]
…even though we also had relatives staying over!
With those visitors in the house, I was in my office only briefly. While I was, this issue hit me after remembering seeing it raised yet again somewhere recently. It led me to create this silly meme and post it to Instagram for a laugh:
A week or so after my mother’s funeral, and with my wife having had to return to Britain, I needed a break from coping with my grieving father and my sister. Leaving them in Pennsylvania I rushed off alone for a few days to our house in upstate New York’s Catskill Mountains. On November 17, 2015, awake early, I snapped and posted this pre-dawn photo:
[The Catskills, 6 AM. Photo by me, 2015.]
It felt wonderful to be there. It was rejuvenating – the solitude and the silence especially. What seems so long ago now, I used those days alone not just to try to clear my head but also put the finishing touches to my third novel, Distances – which my mother’s illness and then sudden death had unsurprisingly delayed.
That all came back to me after I had a phone chat yesterday with the man who – with his company – mows our lawn and is also one of those who keeps an eye on the place for us when we can’t be there. “How’s it over there in merry old England?” he laughed to me. “I was up there the other day, Robert. You don’t need a clean up. Everything’s fine around the house.”
I have been in the midst of a “Jane Austen” weekend. I startedEmma. (A book I had never actually read.) However, the best opening line in an English language novel is not in that one of hers, but in another one:
None of us writers will ever match that… the first sentence of Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice (1813). Austen there is witty, cutting, sardonic, and clearly setting the scene for all that follows while giving nothing away. Without a doubt, it is in a class all its own.
But that doesn’t mean we “ordinary” writers should not strive to do our best. It is useful to have a “catchy” not just opening line, but an attention-getting opening generally, in order to draw a reader forward page upon page. I find books I stay with carry me along without me even realizing it, and I strive to write bearing in mind what works on me as a reader.
The relationships the US has separately with Great Britain and with France are both centuries-old and immensely complicated. As is well-known, starting officially in 1778 the French had aided the US in its war of independence (1775-1783) from Great Britain. Once the war was over – to Americans at least – it was also time for a fresh start with Britain; Americans and British had sometimes literally been relatives.
Everyone was tired of fighting by then as well. The three countries enjoyed a decade of peace (1783-1793), with Americans, British and French often on friendly personal terms as well. Someone you may know pretty well has even recently written a novel of those times:
I was not planning on posting anything today, but a few minutes ago – after sharing this on Instagram – I thought I’d offer this here:
[Excerpt from Conventions: The Garden At Paris. Paperback. Click to expand.]
The primary writer of those words, one Thomas Jefferson, was born today, 275 years ago, in 1743, in the then British colony of Virginia. Partly reproduced in French there, they spread to Europe and to South America, and would subsequently help change the world. The equalities we take for granted today owe much to those words in that 1776 U.S. Declaration of Independence. (See this post – “That Man On The Mountaintop” – from last week for more.)
Having covered the French and the Americans in the previous post, I thought extracting some examples of the British and the Americans early on in their “relationship” (long before it was “special”) might make for an interesting post for today:
[Excerpt from Conventions: The Garden At Paris. On Kindle for iPad. Click to expand.]
Conventions: The Garden At Paris is not just about France and the U.S. The British are a vital part in the story.
Some background. Until the early 1770s, most Americans had been an enthusiastic part of the British Empire. They had thought of themselves more or less as “overseas British.” As late as 1774, many colonial leaders still did not believe independence was necessary to resolve the grievances with the Crown.
[Main entrance. George Washington’s Mount Vernon. Virginia. Photo by me, 2011.]
Most lost that sense of Britishness within a decade – especially as London made it clear that as “colonials” they were not the equals of metropolitan British. Former Virginia militia colonel George Washington perhaps sensed independence was necessary before many others got there; yet even he had his doubts, and finally decided independence was the only choice upon learning during 1776 that London, rather than talking seriously to colonial leaders, had dispatched German mercenaries to America to help put down the growing revolt. Other Americans traveled much the same path in their own ways: however they each got there, they moved to seeing themselves as a distinctive people who should govern themselves.