Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Swimming in Research

I didn't realize it, but writing has been so much a part of my life for so long that I haven't really blogged much about it.  I forget not everyone has conversations about their character's point of view, whether there's not enough tension or too much back story.  Not everyone goes to the library at least once a week to do research or work in the fumes of the coffee shop's roasting machine.  People don't have withdrawals because they haven't opened their journal at the end of the day to fill a blank page with gel-penned observations of the day.  But this month, I'll make up for it...

As I was trying to decide on my novel project for this year's Nanowrimo (see yesterday's entry), I dug back through my notes and realized I had done quite a bit of pirate research that dated all the way back to 2006.  I wanted to base my novel on historic facts rather than some of the pirate myths from the movies.  For example, the idea of buried treasure is very rare; pirates spent most of their plunder on women and drink.  Walking the plank is also not historically correct; the idea first appeared in Peter Pan and it has become part of regular pirate-lore.

Some of my earlier research included a book called Under the Black Flag by David Cordingly who is a historian and authority on pirate research.  He also appeared in some of the bonus features on the Pirates of the Caribbean DVDs.  More recently we went to the Real Pirates exhibit at the Science Museum which was all about pirate Sam Bellamy and Whydah ship they had sailed.  There were a lot of artifacts - weapons, gold pieces, hinges, articles of clothing - that they discovered from the sunken vessel.  They also had actors and actresses dressed as pirates to answer questions.

My favorite book so far is Pirate Hunter by Richard Zacks.  It's the true story of Captain Kidd, and how he never intended to be a pirate, but got hanged for it.  It's a non-fiction book but reads like fiction with conflict, rich description and period details.  It's like a well-written dissertation that would never put you to sleep. 

With all the information out there, I wasn't sure where to start, and the thing about Nano is that you just write without even knowing exactly where you're going.  I think I got tired of all the common stories I kept hearing; I wanted my story to be fresh.  So, for right now I've got about ten books from which I'm gleaning information - I guess it's sort of like looking for treasure.  I'm taking bits of information from different books, making a general timeline, and seeing where things intersect in history.  It's proven to be very helpful.  The Golden Age of Piracy overlaps with both Colonial America and the later 1800s.  It also overlaps with slavery, Native American issues, and the outbreaks of smallpox and yellow fever.


One day and six hours left to Nano.  Hopefully I'll have more ideas nailed down by then! 

Monday, October 29, 2012

Nanowrimo 2012

It's almost November and that means most of this month's entries will be about writing.  For the third year in a row I'm involved in Nanowrimo or National Novel Writing Month.  This is about writing a 50,000 word novel during the month of November.  I think the first time I heard about this I was in the middle of editing several manuscripts, so how could I possibly add anything more to my plate?  And what kind of writing quality can you establish in just thirty days?

After I received my graduate degree, I was burnt out from editing and critiques and revising, so I put my writing on hold for quite a while.  Then some of my writing friends signed up for this endeavor and suggested that I do it, too.  And you know, it was the best thing I could have done.  For years I had been revising my manuscripts and not writing anything new.  For Nano, revising and editing is not allowed.  You write all new stuff, which is where a lot of the fun of writing comes from anyway.  It's like giving yourself permission to write sloppy and put the editing on hold until you get the whole story down on paper.  (as Anne Lamott would say, "shi*ty first drafts.") 

I also discovered that the Twin Cities region is very strong, with over 6000 participants.  There are scheduled "write-ins" several times a week where you meet other writers at local coffee shops and libraries and sit in silent support while you click out words on your laptop.  Once in a while you take a break, ask people what they're writing, compare word counts.  (Average per day is 1667 words which is a very doable goal.)

My first year I wrote the first draft of Touching Infinity, my fantasy novel.  Last year I went a bit unorthodox and added 50K words to my half finished thesis project which was a twins novel.  (Hey, I had to finish it at some point anyway.)  I'm still revising these novels, but at least I know I can take a break and write new stuff in November.  This year I'm writing a woman pirate novel and as the month progresses I'll give updates on my process.

The first Nano event for this year was the annual Kickoff meeting which was last night, held at Nina's CafĂ© in St. Paul.  This year I actually knew a few people from other writing groups, but I also met more people.  The best part is finding out what others are writing and then giving each other ideas.  I met someone writing a 30-something novel; I shared ideas with someone writing a novel about mermaids.  There are a lot of people writing urban fantasies, sci fi, romance, or mystery.  I also met someone else who dances.

The past two years I made my 50K goal; I'm looking forward to seeing how this new story turns out.

Thursday, October 25, 2012

Music and Memories

Speaking of free activities at public libraries...

Last week my spouse and I attended a free music concert at the Central Library in downtown Minneapolis.  The concert was called "Tiptoe Through the Sixties," performed by singer, Prudence Johnson and Dan Chouinard, piano and accordion player.  I remembered seeing Prudence one time when she was leading the group Rio Nido at the Dakota Bar in Bandanna Square, St. Paul.

The concert was set up in a small auditorium, and there was a video screen framed by a picture of an old TV set.  They sang and played songs from the sixties and invited the audience to sing along.  There was everything from TV show themes (Gilligan's Island, Flintstones, Addams Family) to songs of the Viet Nam war protests and Woodstock (Blowin' in the Wind, One Tin Soldier, Buffalo Springfield Song (Stop Children, What's that sound...)) as well as the popular hits of the decade (Hit the Road Jack, Stand by Your Man, Camp Grenada).

While the music played, they had the lyrics projected on the screen along with well-known photos from that era and personal pictures from Prudence and Dan's family albums.  Having those ten years laid out like that, I developed a deeper and more personal understanding of that time period and all the monumental changes juxtaposed with normal everyday living.

At one point they read stories that people had submitted on their website about 60s nostalgia and since I had written one up, they read it during the show.  I wrote something about how I had been too young to understand the political unrest of the 60s, but I remembered writing letters to my brother who was stationed in Thailand.  I remembered penny candy such as Slo-pokes, candy necklaces, and wax lips, nails, and vampire teeth.  Some of my favorite songs were California Dreamin', Aquarius and Georgy Girl. 

I hadn't been to a music concert in a long time, and this turned out to be a very enjoyable evening.   

Monday, October 22, 2012

Mixing Potions for Green Cleaning

When I was in fifth grade I liked to go over to my friend Jane's house.  Her mom let us experiment in the kitchen, creating potions out of regular household cooking and baking ingredients.  We gave them names like Flapderrypepin, Vinoosoda, and Bubboo which came from taking a few letters from each of the ingredients and putting them together to make a longer word.  So, Flapderrypepin was something like flour, paprika, baking powder, curry, pepper and vinegar and it was a spicy antidote to our first skin-soothing recipe of which I can't recall.  Vinoosoda came about because we added food coloring to vinegar and baking soda, creating a colorful foaming liquid.  Bubboo was invented by taking soap bubbles from the dish water and adding food coloring (about 3 different ones) which made a glorious colorful mound of suds on the spoon.

Fast forward to a few weeks ago when I started my latest creative project.  I'd like to call it Green Speed Cleaning.  I decided that since I need to clean my house anyway, I might as well turn it into something a little more exciting rather than chasing spiders and inhaling toxic cleaning fumes. I'd turn it into an opportunity to create useful potions that were environmentally friendly.

I found two books at the library - Speed Cleaning 101 by Laura Dellutri and The Naturally Clean Home by Karyn Siegel-Mater.  I decided to combine elements from both of them to pursue my own shine-up project.

Speed Cleaning is a great book to help you gather your tools and set priorities.  Dellutri describes different types of cleaning that are done daily, weekly, seasonally, and of course, speed cleaning - when you have unexpected company coming over.  There are lots of tips borrowed from professional cleaning tactics such as "avoid circular wiping," "carry your cleaning supplies with you in a bucket," and "clean a room from the top down."

The thing that I didn't like about this book was that the author discouraged the reader from using natural cleaning products saying they weren't effective.  She also used glass cleaner for the counter tops as well as for the mirrors and windows as an "all purpose cleaner."  (Sorry, I don't like the idea of having my food taste like Windex.)

The Naturally Clean Home offers a lot of different potions for cleaning floors, dishes, clothing, wood, glass, and even car battery terminals.  Ingredients include baking soda, vinegar, essential oils, borax, and castile soap.  I promptly jumped in and mixed up a few of the recipes starting with my own vinegar and water mixture in a spray bottle which did wonders for faucets and stoves.  Then I tried the Citrus Blast appliance cleaner - castile soap, white vinegar, lemon juice, water, citrus seed extract, essential oil and borax.  (A lot of this stuff you can find at the co-op.)  This is what I use for the microwave and fridge.  I also found a scouring powder that I like with baking soda, cream of tartar, borax and lemon peel that I keep in a shaker bottle and use for sink and bathtub stains.  The only problem I found with this book is that the author used a lot of lavender and eucalyptus oils to scent the cleaners, and I can't stand them!  So, instead I used mostly citrus oils.  I also didn't like the option for dish soap because it didn't seem to cut through grease very well and left a residue on the dishes. 

Oddly enough, the hardest thing about making my own cleaners was finding functional spray bottles.  I found some small ones at Target, and they worked for about a week, but then they wouldn't spray after that.  I found industrial sized sprayers, but I still needed some smaller ones.  I ended up going to the container store and grabbed a couple of metal ones which have held up pretty well.

Ok, and while I was at it, I also found a free class at the Hennepin County Library and made two more cleaners - an all purpose one with peppermint soap and a goopy scouring gel made out of baking soda and cream of tartar.

And, well, I have to admit that house cleaning has become a bit more enjoyable.  My stove top smells like lemons, my floor mat smells like peppermint, and I'm amazed that we spend so much money on cleaning products when vinegar is so cheap.