Saturday, February 14, 2015

Silent Noon - A Valentine

Today on Valentine's Day it is a multi-media convergence of love and the romantic on this blog!

Have you ever felt comfortable enough with someone that you did not need to talk? Hopefully everyone has a relationship like that, but rarely has the feeling been expressed in language so gorgeous and memorable as Silent Noon by Dante Gabriel Rossetti. I love the way it suggests that two people of one mind can jointly share and appreciate the beauty of nature in all its fine details. A few years ago it was part of a Valentine I gave to my wife, and this year it is my Valentine to the world.

Silent Noon

Your hands lie open in the long fresh grass, -- 
The finger-points look through like rosy blooms: 
Your eyes smile peace. The pasture gleams and glooms 
'Neath billowing skies that scatter and amass. 
All round our nest, far as the eye can pass, 
Are golden kingcup-fields with silver edge 
Where the cow-parsley skirts the hawthorn-hedge. 
'Tis visible silence, still as the hour-glass.

Deep in the sun-searched growths the dragon-fly 
Hangs like a blue thread loosened from the sky: -- 
So this wing'd hour is dropt to us from above. 
Oh! clasp we to our hearts, for deathless dower, 
This close-companioned inarticulate hour 
When twofold silence was the song of love.

I'm far from the only person who has appreciated these words. They were set to music by the great British composer Ralph Vaughan Williams. There is a fine video of tenor Ian Bostridge singing the song in the out of doors, and you can watch it here.

The above painting, Pair of Lovers, by Pal Szinyei Merse, also captures the feeling of these words in a wonderful way. 

I told you this was multi-media! Enjoy and Happy Valentine's Day!

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

Days of Mercy

News item: Today I started circulating the first few chapters of my novel, which I am calling Days of Mercy.

Meanwhile, here is an updated description of the story: 

A British spy dies while rescuing a young aristocrat from the French Revolution.  The aristocrat, ungrateful and mortally offended to owe his life to a commoner, determines to discredit the spy’s reputation. Searching for hidden scandals, he inadvertently uncovers a plot to overthrow the British Monarchy, pulling himself into a perilous underworld of treason and crime.  In an epic journey across France, England and Wales, the boy aristocrat can only survive by finding the man within himself, and finishing the work the once detested spy had started.

Thursday, January 15, 2015

A(n) Historical . . .?

When one wants to write historical novels, the first question that comes to mind is which indefinite article to use prior to "historical", "a" or "an"? I know, I know. That is not really the first question. My kids hate it when I exaggerate. But it is a point of confusion that was probably never cleared up in Freshman English, and it was bothering me, so I looked it up.

Here is the rule for using the indefinite article prior to words beginning with the letter "h":
  • Use "an" when the "h" is silent, as in "honest." For example, we speak and write: "an honest woman."
  • When the "h" is spoken but the first syllable is unstressed then we use "an" in speech, but we write "a." Thus, in speech we would say "an historical novel", but we write "a historical novel." This rule has transformed over time so that it is usually considered correct to write either "a" or "an." Spoken usage has also evolved to where using "an" in this case is considered formal, even pretentious. Translation: when the first syllable is unstressed, do whatever you want.
  • When the first syllable of the word beginning with "h" is stressed, then "a" is always the correct indefinite article. Example: "a hat."
Conclusion: for the purposes of this blog, I am a historical novelist.

Wednesday, January 14, 2015

Details, Details, Details

One of the best things about writing a historical novel is that it forces me to dig up and closely examine details from history that I never would have noticed before. It turns out that details are much more interesting than the broad picture and often more informative and compelling, as well. Likewise as a reader of historical novels, reading a reference to a minor character or a long forgotten building can open new vistas for discovering the past. Let me give you one example.

London Bridge, 1799

The Old London Bridge is well-known for being crowded with shops and houses teetering precariously over the Thames, like a bloated version of the Ponte Vecchio in Florence. At the time I am writing about, 1792, the bridge had been wiped clean of those structures. All of the houses and shops were torn down, so that the surface of bridge was a clean sweep. However, all of the original pillars, connected by nineteen arches, remained.

Especially interesting to me, the effect of all of those pillars was that they forced the river to run through nineteen separate channels, and when the tide was flowing, each channel was a separate fast moving ten foot waterfall! Daredevil boaters sometimes shot through the channel and sometimes drowned. Passengers from up river avoided the danger by disembarking above the bridge and walking down below the bridge to continue their journey. A whole other fascinating detail was the group of water wheels under the London Bridge, positioned there because of this flow, and which supplied London with much of its not-so-fresh water.

Much more information about the history of the bridge, including detailed diagrams of the water wheels, is available at the Old London Bridge website, here.

Details do bring the past to life, and one of the great virtues of historical novels is that they are informed by details, which can be jumping off points for the reader to do his or her own historical research. It makes history exciting, and that is the point.

London Bridge, 1710

Monday, December 29, 2014

Work in Progress - Historical Novel

I am currently working on a novel tentatively titled Chasing Dragons. Here is a brief description:

A British spy dies rescuing a young aristocrat from the French Revolution.  The aristocrat, mortally offended to owe his life to a commoner, determines to discredit the spy’s reputation. Searching for hidden scandals, he inadvertently uncovers a plot to overthrow the British Monarchy, pulling himself into a perilous underworld of British treason and crime.  The aristocrat can only survive by finishing the work the once detested spy had started.

Friday, October 3, 2014

Tracking Writing Progress

Rewards are powerful, but they can also be simple, almost insubstantial. Putting a check mark on a list is a reward that can provide real motivation. Making progress public is also effective. For example, the Goodreads Reading Challenge motivates me to read more books during the year and to push to reach my goal by the end of the year. In fact, I have to be careful not to set the goal too high, otherwise I spend too much time reading, taking me away from other more productive activities, like writing.

That brings me to this effort to publicly track my writing progress on this blog. The novel tracker shows the total words and the word count I want to reach by the end of the year: 65,000 so far and 80,000 by the end of the year. The general writing tracker shows my progress towards an end of the year goal for general writing, including the novel.

It will be interesting to see how tracking my progress on this blog impacts the quantity of my writing of my writing output. The goals I have set are very modest, but will require me to significantly increase the consistency of my writing. Here goes. It should be fun.

Oh, and the title of this blog is also the working title of my novel or WIP. So, time to follow the dragon and get to work!