J is for Joiner

As in, I’ll join anything! Follow, follow, follow, that’s me.

I’ll even join a blogging challenge in the busiest time of my school year. April. Days before the U.S. History STAAR test administered here in Texas.

Yes, I teach U.S. History. At an alternative high school where the clientele is, for sundry reasons, slightly more challenging than average.

But I joined. And letters fly by, and I just can’t.

Maybe that should have been my J blog. J is for Just Can’t.

Last weekend, I joined a 5K/5K challenge in my writing group. In a twenty-four hour period, I walk 5k and write 5,000 words.

I was so tired, but I tried. I slogged through words. I walked and walked and walked. And my kid got sick and we ended up in the ER. He’s fine, but my effort failed.

I’m in another challenge where I write every day. But there are days when I’m trying to cut words, not add new ones. And days when I am researching, reading, marketing, editing, and scores of other things that involve no new words.

Like resting.

My joining efforts are increasingly difficult and don’t seem to get me any closer to actually finishing my books, and yet I join anyway.

I wonder what it is that compels us to do this? Perhaps the affirmation received when we succeed. Perhaps that group effort that makes us feel we’re part of something greater than ourselves. Especially since writing is so often a solitary endeavor.

Whatever it is, it sure is making me tired.

So, I wonder, should J be Just Say No, or Just Do It?

Knowing me, it’ll probably be the latter. Every time.

 

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F is for Ferrabosco

Isn’t that a great name? Alfonso Ferrabosco the Elder. He was a handsome guy, too, and a court composer to Elizabeth I.

Stories about people like Alfonso are why I became a historian.

If you never get past names-dates-events in history, if you never get to the human stories, the people, the personalities that are larger than life and stranger than fiction, then you missed the whole point.

I became acquainted with Ferrabosco through one of the characters in my novel series, Cardinal Gabriele Paleotti, Bishop of Bologna. Paleotti was from a noble family who had ties with the Ferraboscos in his youth.

The Ferraboscos has been a musically talented family. Alfonso’s father, Domenico, taught the Paleotti brothers to play. Alfonso himself traveled throughout Europe with his uncle, ending up in England.

Except, Protestant Elizabethan England wasn’t a particularly safe place for a young, Italian, Catholic musician.

Nonetheless, the Earl of Leicester maintained a circle of Italian intellectuals at Oxford University, and Alfonso was among them. In fact, he was the first to bring madrigal vocal music to England, though it would take another ten years after he left before it caught on.

Okay, but here’s where it gets good. While Alfonso was writing music in England, the Pope was hoping he could, you know, just keep an eye on things–political things–while he was in England.

And Queen Elizabeth wanted him to, you know, check things out in the Catholic world, too. He was paid quite handsomely for his position as a court musician. Entirely too handsomely.

Meanwhile, Ferrabosco got involved with a Flemish woman, Susanna Symons, a Protestant. But he traveled back and forth between Catholic Italy and Protestant England. He got in trouble for attending a Catholic mass with a French envoy. Heck, he even associated himself with the Earls of Leicester and Sussex, who were political rivals to each other.

He was burning his candle at every conceivable end. I really want to know how he did this!

By the time Ferrabosco enters the world of the Journeymen, he is fleeing England with his now wife, Susanna, leaving his two young children behind at Elizabeth’s request. He is picked up in France with all sorts of prices on his head, and in my story, my fictional characters are smuggling Susanna back to Bologna for safekeeping. Alfonso soon arrives back in Italy, imprisoned by the Pope. Even Catherine de Medici makes an appeal on his behalf. Eventually, he is turned over to Cardinal Paleotti, who keeps him comfortably imprisoned in Bologna.

How can I resist this story?

I can hardly wait to share a bit of the story between Alfonso and Susanna, and how their shared trials bring them into a deeper love with each other. Watch for La Dotta, my second Journeyman novel, early next year.  I’ll be working diligently on it this weekend.

 

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E is for Embroidery

I miss the SCA.

I’ve spent decades on the periphery of the Society for Creative Anachronism, perhaps the world’s largest collection of nerds who love the Middle Ages. And now that I can finally afford to participate, I found a new hobby.

I write books.

But crap, I want to do both!

So here is my small commitment. I’m going to start doing some embroidery. Not a huge project, just something I can work on while sitting in a chair.

Blackwork PaintingThen I’m going to take that project to an event. Maybe a meeting. I’ll bring it with me and sew. It’ll be like a hand prop.

Maybe someone will say, “Ooh, that’s a nice piece of blackwork you’re doing there.” I’ll thank them and maybe say a few words about it.

“I’m doing blackwork because I’m researching sixteenth century Italy for a novel, and I’d like to try some of the things they did then.”

I would show a picture, perhaps. “Here is blackwork embroidery on a sleeve.”

“Here is the pattern I’m trying. It’s a bit like counted cross stitch.”

Blackwork Pattern

“Not much blackwork survives,” I’ll add, “because the black silk deteriorated over the years. But isn’t it lovely?”

I won’t count on being able to say all that, though. I will probably just do my embroidery quietly.

The point is to just be there. I just want to be there.

 

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D is for Drabble

Sounds like what I do to my shirts when I try to eat crab legs with drawn butter.

No, it’s actually a writing thing. A drabble is a microfiction story of 100 words. It tests a writer’s sense of brevity and ability to use words that bring the biggest impact.

Considering I’ve just written a 132,000 word novel, I have apparently lost that ability.

However, I’m in a Facebook group called 10 Minute Novelists, and they have recently started doing a weekly drabble challenge. Katharine Grubb, our fearless leader, provides three random words (drawn from her kids’ Apples to Apples game), and we develop a drabble.

Unable to pass up a challenge, I make it even harder for myself. My drabbles have to be historical fiction.

So far, I’ve only done a couple, but now that I’ve handed off my novel (Lord have mercy), I think I’ll keep trying this. It really does build the important skill of making every single word count.

You want me to do that, trust me.

So, for your drabbling pleasure, allow me to share a couple that I have written. I’ll move these over to its own page on my website when I have a bit more of a collection. Your challenge is to try and guess what the topic is for these drabbles. Yes, they are based on historical events. Let me know if I did a good job providing clues in the story.


The Crown

The storms of three springs cleansed anew these fields once baptized in the blood of men and horses. Today, the fields are a maiden’s shortcut home after charming the mother goats of their milk. A gilded glint gives the maiden pause. Kneeling, digging, she unearths a broken filigreed crown.

Should she give it to the leaders, to have this royal remnant interred with its rightful king, secretly buried in Leicester village? Or worse, given to the Welsh usurper as a trophy?

No. Kings, dead nor living, need no artifacts that could feed her family for many stormy springs to come.


Forty-Six Seconds

The newsboy emerged from his hiding place behind the tavern, tripping over the bumpy cobblestones that made up the dark alleys of San Francisco. He took off his cap and dusted himself off, particles of concrete and fallen buildings floating and covering his knickers and jacket. Peering through the destruction, he could make out the Pacific Ocean, like a streak of blue sky on a stormy day, at the bottom of the hill. He clutched some newspapers under his arm, which he had used to protect his head. It was, and would remain, the longest forty-six seconds of his life.

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C is for Complete

As in… when the heck is this <@&* thing really complete already?

I still don’t know.

I’ve been saying Shadow of the Portico is “done” for so long now, I have rendered the word meaningless.

Sixty-three years ago, when I wrote the scene in which my artist character must decide if her painting is done or not, I didn’t understand her dilemma nearly as well as I do now.

(I exaggerate the timeline there, but only slightly.)

Emilia realized that once her self-portrait was done, it no longer belonged to her. It belonged to the world. Or in her case, it belonged to her betrothed, a man whom she hadn’t met, and didn’t really care to meet.

But why wouldn’t I want to finish my book? Why do I still see little things to change here and there? Why do I edit edit edit until I want to fling it across the room?

I can guess the reasons. Perfectionism. Fear.

Here’s the bottom line, though. I am blessed with having my friend, Olivia Folmar Ard, herself a very talented writer, edit my book. And she is sick of me crying about it.

“Just give it to me already,” she says, and I feel tremendous relief.

I also wish she didn’t live several states away so I can perch myself on her shoulder like Snoopy having a vulture moment.

No, stop. It’s done, Becca. Complete. Fin. I promise.

Of course, I can say that because I’ll have one more round of edits to go after my editor and beta readers look at it.

(Speaking of which, I need to start buying chocolates and wine for those readers so they say nice things to me…)

After THAT, it will be COMPLETE. And I’ll hit the Publish button and it will belong to you, Dear Reader.

Maybe I’ll get you chocolate, too.

We’ll just rename this whole post C is for Chocolate, because, honestly, that whole “Complete” thing is scary as #&@^.

 

 

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B is for Bologna

In my “A is for…” post, I hit so many possibilities for this “B is for…” post. Blogging, bouncing baby books, blank walls. But my heart is telling me to write a love story about Bologna.

I am in love with Bologna.

If you’re thinking about the lunch meat, you clearly have never met me, nor read any of my blogs, or even looked at the picture at the top of the page.

(However, you may be acquainted with my younger son, who loves a good bologna sandwich or three.)

I mean the Italian city! I love the city.

Perhaps it was because I began researching Bologna as the setting of my novel with no hope of ever going there. For two solid years, I ran through the streets using Google Maps, trying to get a feel for things. I wrote semi-blind, doing as much serious research as I could, pouring over paintings, books, maps, memoirs, whatever I could.

By the time I got there, I knew it like the back of my hand. And the reality of it was so much more extraordinary than the computer version.

Perhaps it was because I’ve never been to Europe and have been obsessed with it most of my life. So my inaugural trip there already had a soft place prepared in my heart.

When I say I love it, it feels like an understatement. Put it to you this way. While there, my sons and I also visited Venice and Florence. They were both amazing, almost overwhelming in their beauty, their history, their culture. And yet, I couldn’t wait to get back to Bologna, because it felt like home.

One of the places we visited was the Sanctuary of Corpus Domini, the Poor Clare convent that was home for my character Emilia at the beginning of her story. I walked around the place, reverently, silently, knowing I was ACTUALLY THERE, where Emilia lived.

Okay, Emilia wasn’t real, but the place was.

So, while I stood with my mouth hanging open, a man who had been sitting in the pews came up and started talking with me. His English was so-so, my Italian even worse, but we were still able to share our mutual love of the place. He walked us around, told us about the paintings, the artifacts, the tomb of Laura Bassi, one of Bologna’s first woman professors, the severe damage the building took during World War II and the ongoing efforts to restore it.

The man was so generous with his time and knowledge, and I was so awestruck with the place, I didn’t even think to ask him his name or who he was.

On Christmas day, we decided to hear Mass at the Sanctuary. I was so excited, not only about listening to the nuns sing the mass, but because the mass was printed out for us and I could follow it even with my weak Italian, maybe improve my language skills in the process.

And guess what. As the procession came in, there was my tour guide–the priest of the Sanctuary. Of course! He was wearing a coat in the cold building when I met him, so I don’t know if he was wearing a collar. (I don’t think he was.) But I felt silly that I didn’t guess who he was. And even though we were unable to understand most of his homily, my boys and I left feeling blessed and very impressed with how Christ shone through this kind man.

A week later, we came home from our trip. I spent the last couple days there crying over the prospect of leaving, and I’m getting weepy thinking about it even now.

So the question was, did going there in person make a difference in my book? Honestly, very little! I guess I did a good job with the research, as far as the objective presentation of Bologna goes.

But did it change my heart? My God, yes. And I suspect that love will come through more in my second novel, which is underway now.

The two weeks in Bologna changed me in a way I can’t fathom. Words fail me. It was like falling in love. Even when it’s over, you’re not the same. I hope in my heart that love affair with Bologna isn’t over, and I’ll see it again. But in the meantime…

I have laid out another story in the Journeymen series that is about this love. It’s called The Fortnight, and while it has some characters from the other novels, it is a standalone story. It is about an American woman and an Italian priest, and the friendship and affection they share for each other, and how it affects them both long after their two weeks together is over.

At least my character, Windy, has the good sense to find out the name of the priest she meets–Pietro.

No, this story isn’t anything like what happened in Bologna, and I hope readers don’t misunderstand my intent. It’s just that I hope personifying those days when I made Bologna my home will be the best way for me to share with you how much they meant to me.

 

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A is for April Attempts and Aspirations

…and apparently, alliterations.

I promise I’ll stop doing that now.

So here we are! April! And here I am. I just can’t pass up a challenge.

Write a book? Sure! Do a blog? Uh, okay, but I don’t really have anything to–

I know, shut up and write. Having nothing to say is no excuse.

Hey, it’s April! And out there in the great expanse of the blogosphere, online diarists everywhere are in the Blogging from A to Z Challenge. I participated last year and wrote a good chunk of the alphabet. I was pleased with my effort, incomplete as it was, and happy to have information about my books on my website.Blank Wall

This year feels different. I’m kind of staring at a big, white wall. Literally.

The place where I write is empty. Maybe I need some inspiration, color, ideas.

My book is done, but for a few housekeeping details, and ready to send off to my editor. She stands ready with a machete, feel like I’m bleeding already. (Go back and read that last bit out loud. I could be a rapper. I ain’t trippin’.)

It’s a strange feeling. I thought it would be more like childbirth–a lot of huffing and puffing and pain, and then a bouncing baby boy in my arms. I did that twice, so I thought I knew how that went.

The book in my hands is no baby. It isn’t nearly as joyous. I feel very alone. (No, I’m not writing the A is for Alone post, tempting as that may be.)

It feels like an end, not a beginning.

So, maybe what I need is a beginning. I think this will be my theme this year, new beginnings, new inspirations, new pictures on the wall.

Yeah, normal people do this in January, but I was still dazed after my life-altering trip to Europe. Besides, normal? Bah… April it is!

And how about you? Do you have a blog I can visit? Have you thought about starting one? I’d love to encourage you. Let me know in the comments, or just say hi. I’m glad you stopped by.

See you on Monday with “B is for…” Um…

Yeah, I’m sure I’ll have a B by Monday! Can’t pass up a challenge!

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Holy Bleep, I Went To Italy!

I spent the holidays in Bologna, Italy, which is the setting of several parts of my time-travel series, The Journeymen. It was my first trip to Europe, and it was amazing. So, instead of the usual January First-ish blog post about New Year’s resolutions and whatnot, I’d like to share a few things with you, my dear blogees, about the trip, if you’ll indulge me.

I had planned this trip all along as a research trip, to get a feel for Bologna and what it’s like. I’ve written the novels so far based on second hand information, albeit lovingly and painstakingly acquired to be as accurate as possible. But still… you can only learn so much from Google maps and travel blogs.

When you learn about a new place, people will tell you the big things–where to eat, visit, stay. But nobody tells you that so many people smoke cigarettes that the air permanently reeks of it, or how many people have dogs, and the dogs have better wardrobes than you.

Or that until you taste Bolognese food, you don’t realize how much garlic is NOT necessarily its own food group in Italy, and how good fresh, simple ingredients are. I’m looking at you, Ragu alla Bolognese.

By the way, speaking of food, McDonald’s needs to serve from the McItaly menu everywhere. I mean, burgers with fresh veggies on ciabatta buns, tiramisu and latte macchiatos… oh my. Yes, I traveled with two teenage sons, so McDonald’s and pizza were an integral part of survival there. I was grateful that it amounted to slightly better than mere survival.

I discovered in Italy, you can walk down an alley, knowing you’re going in more or less the right direction but not following a map or heading for anyplace in particular, and suddenly find a magnificent church or palazzo that is 800 years old and amazing. We often walked into a random church and marveled at the architecture and art that people walk past and ignore every day.

In fact, all I wanted to do in Bologna was wander aimlessly, on a treasure hunt of sorts. Turns out, it is a counter-intuitive truth that the more I walked, the less I wanted to eat. My sons noted immediately that nobody in Italy is fat. I pointed out the fresh veggie and pasta vendors and what we saw on menus, but there is more to it. In America, we have crappy processed food AND no place to see. I can’t imagine walking seven miles a day here. What is there to admire in suburban America within walking distance?

Another thing that surprised me was how I saw some of the most beautiful art ever created, including Michelangelo’s David, and yet, I stopped in awe at surprising things like fabulous doors and the architectural wonders at the end of alleyways.

So, forgive my brevity, but I wanted to tell you all a bit about my adventure and wish you a very Happy 2017. I’ll post pictures soon as the jet lag releases me and I get in the swing of being back. Releasing my first novel, Shadow of the Portico, is a high priority this year, and I hope you’ll stick with me through this shiny new year!

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NaNoWriMo Update: Day 28

Don’t laugh at me.

Yes, I know the last “daily” update was Day 7. Yes, I can add, or subtract, or whatever I’m supposed to do to make me feel ashamed that I definitely did not keep up with my blog on a daily basis during NaNo.

My head duly hung in shame, you should know that I’m actually less than 1000 words from completing 50,000 words of La Dotta, my second novel in The Journeyman.

I’m not even making excuses. I just barely hung in there, using what little creative energy I have to create this story. When I turned to my blog, it was always with a sigh of tomorrow… Sarah’s story comes first.

My creative turnips needing wringing.

As a result, I’ve got the first quarter of the book pretty much done, and then I’ve been working on pearls–scenes I’ll string together and turn into the rest of the novel.

I’m so glad I’ve done this, because now I can go back into the first book, Shadow of the Portico and have a much clearer idea of where the story is going. There is more political intrigue in La Dotta, where Shadow has more life and death adventure. And of course, Sarah’s story is very different from Giovanni’s, since Sarah comes from a Journeyman family.

The last part that I’ll be doing today is a conversation between Niccolo and his brother. So much of the skeleton of my writing is dialogue, and I put flesh around it later–details, movement, setting, other information. I sometimes wonder if I missed my calling as a script writer.

I had a funny chat with a fellow NaNoWriMo author here in Austin, about how so much of dialogue and action happens in white rooms with no furniture. I probably could have made this writing marathon a lot easier if I spent pages describing the wainscoting and the hardness of the oak chairs with the worn cushions that had faded to a sad, gray chintz and flattened to virtual nonexistence. I could make non existence two words.

Manufacturing words is fun.

So I’ll let you know when to pop the Asti Spumante on my behalf when I cross that 50,000 word finish line. Maybe tomorrow, if I can stay awake this evening to write.

Anyway, song of the day. So during my busy month when I heartlessly ignored you, dear bloggee, one of the things I did was go see a Yes concert… well, 3/5ths of Yes. Jon Anderson (who sounded amazing), Trevor Rabin (I had such a thing for him in high school and now I feel old), and Rick Wakeman (the becaped keyboard wizard) played an astounding set of Yes music, including one of my absolute favorites.

I’m an old bass player, you see, and Yes had the best bassist to ever lend a foundation to a rhythm section — Chris Squire, who we lost in 2015. However, ARW brought on Lee Pomeroy, an extraordinary bassist in his own right. They performed Long Distance Runaround, and at the end of the song, when the guitar plays a series of natural harmonics, the song usually segues into a piece called The Fish, which was a Chris Squire feature with him playing all the instrumental parts on bass guitar with drums. It starts at about 3:35.

Sure enough, at the concert, Pomeroy sampled himself right on stage, playing The Fish and breaking into a solo that had this bass player standing and cheering (and ignoring grumpy old men shouting down in front behind me).

So in honor of my being MIA in November–no, there’s no real connection, except I went to this concert–here is the original version of Long Distance Runaround, concluding with The Fish. That lyric at the end is, “Schindleria praematurus,” the scientific name for some kind of weird looking transparent fish. We don’t ask why. It’s a bass solo, a rare and beautiful thing. We just accept it.

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NaNo Journal Day 7

Not bad… seven days in and I haven’t collapsed in a heap yet, despite the time change.

Today I wrote one of the finale scenes. Yes, I’m taking that whole not writing sequentially thing seriously. But I’m actually following the advice of the Seven Point Story Structure, which says that we want to start at the end.

That may sound counterintuitive, but it makes sense for the same reason that we put the final destination into our GPS. The resolution of a story really defines what the story is about. It’s where the whole thing is going. In so doing, you can write the beginning with the end already worked out.

With that, and speaking of endings, today’s journal is brought to you by Blue October, who has provided a glimpse of what a happily ever after may look like… after.

And if anyone deserves so much happily, it’s Emilia and Niccolo. Well, and other characters, too…

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