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My friends call me Elldee. And breaking the half century mark has been highly motivating: happy wife, mother, writer, teacher, day dreamer.

Monday, January 8, 2018

When you gotta build a castle, research is the answer

Every time I start a new novel, I find myself researching a variety of items, especially with the fantasy novels I've been writing lately. I have selected the 1700s as my template years for technology, clothing, architecture, and transportation.

Picture credit: Okamatsu Fujikawa from on Unsplash
Since drafting my newest fantasy novel, I've found the need to increase my areas of research. Castles. I need to know more about castles, especially, older castles versus new versions, defensibility determined by terrain, and terminology and personnel.

Research is a double-edged sword. It needs to be done, but if you're like me, it is easy to get sidetracked by interesting sites, such as the following site which actually BUILDS castles. BUILDS them! CastleMagic Castle Building. At first I thought it was a spoof that would turn out to be about building paper castles. The drawings were pencil sketches, and the video showing an example of the building process reminded me of Minecraft. But then I looked at their other pictures and videos. They BUILD castles. So you see I did get a bit sidetracked and for good reason. Too bad I don't have the money to have them build me a castle. They do a really good job and can include secret passages. Hmm, secret passages.

This is a site I found for terminology called appropriately Castle Terminology.  Every term I could possibly need, their definitions and alternatives seem to be on this site. Though I don't intend to be dropping castle terms all over my draft, I know I should refer to specific parts of castles correctly.

I toured two castles about ten years ago, both in Sweden which is helpful as the location of the castle in my novel is in mountainious terrain and very cold.

Laying out my castle is my biggest issue. I need to configue it to fit the story but stay within the standards of castles. Thus the following site is useful. It supplied a variety of layouts of castles and the reasoning behind them. Medieval Castle Layout. It's proving useful as I plan out my version. I'll probably have to plan out two more as well. Hmm, a castle building author is never done.

You know, I have to make room for a dragon in my castle. But enough about my research.

What research are you doing lately, and what about it sidetracks you?

Saturday, August 19, 2017

A Stab at a Self-interview: Question 12 ~ collaboration

Mirror Image ~ writing. Modified from a 
Would you consider collaborating with another writer?

I would have to know them very well and feel that we had similar writing styles and a united focus on the plot and characters. Of course, after saying that, I must admit I have been talking to two people about collaborating.

My husband and I have a couple of ideas we would like to turn into a series of books. Though we have never worked on a creative endeavor of this sort together before, lately I have been finding him very easy to brainstorm with. He has often over the years offered ideas that I have found intriguing and inspiring. Usually I write notes down about what he came up with and look forward to when I can work them into my writing schedule. Some have turned into short stories, but at this time none are published.

After I finish editing Standing Stone 3 and drafting Students of Jump 5, I hope to begin working on a novel he and I recently brainstormed together. And we have a second planned out as well. At this point, I will probably be the one writing while he contributes to the process in brainstorm sessions. But we may migrate into actually writing a novel in tandem or in pieces together in the future.

Another individual I am in discussion about collaborating is my daughter. We both are very busy, creative types so we are trying to figure out how we can make this work. Recently, we chatted via Skype so we could brainstorm the organization of an idea we have in mind. We have already determined which parts will be mine to write and which are hers. The unusual structure of the piece makes it possible for us to write separately, share and adjust what we've written. Also the idea we have is more non-fiction than fiction, most definitely not science fiction or fantasy. A contemporary work based on personal experience ~ fictionalized true to life, perhaps is a good description. LOL, without actually describing it.

As for writing with an author I am not related to, that has not come up yet. I'm not against the idea; I just have not had any reason to consider it.


Sunday, August 6, 2017

A Stab at a Self-interview: Question 11 ~ research & writing

Capuchin Catacombs of Polermo overlaid.
Do you do much research before you write?

I sure do. During and after, as well. But none more than I am doing for the book I am currently writing. It is the fifth book in the Students of Jump series, and it takes place largely in the Capuchin Catacombs of Polermo, Italy.

What makes it so much more involved than other research I have done is that the site does not allow photographs, video and the descriptions are limited to tourists' who talk mostly about how ghoulishly fun it was.

My questions are rarely answered by these very brief comments or the pictures the tourists snuck out. The research footage taken by those allowed to film is often better and occasionally there will be one picture that will after I have looked at hundreds finally supply the bit I needed.

One example is the floor of the crypt. I could tell the slabs of stone were engraved, but I could only guess what was engraved. And finally an entire year from the time I started my research (just a few days ago actually) I found someone with the presence of mind to photograph the floor. I had my answer about what was engraved in the polished stone. Names and dates of death.

Until today, I didn't know if that meant these people were buried beneath the stone or if the names are of the people mounted in the niches cut into the walls. I received my answer in a thesis paper written by Mary Buckland Rutin in 2013 for her honors program at the University of South Florida, St. Petersburg. Thank you, Mary. The names listed and their dates of death signify the people buried below.

One of the far more challenging questions I have answered came from gathering an accurate sense of the site as well as the buildings beside and above it. I know that the catacombs were excavated beneath the convent and the church and even a small portion of the cemetery, but how it lays beneath these buildings has taken some research on my part. So what did I do?
  • I located a map of the catacombs themselves, which just to add a little fun to my work was labeled in a language I did not recognize. It made me think of Russian. Google translate to the rescue. This first step was essential if I wanted my character to move about these catacombs, and I needed to be able to place her accurately in the halls among the different classes of mummified individuals. Each corridor is designated for a particular group of people: monks, priests, professionals, women, men and even virgins and children. 
  • So now I had a translated map. I searched for more tourists shots of the buildings and used Google Earth to help me understand how they sat in relation to each other. Also, I needed to know where they were located in terms of the exterior entrance to the catacombs.
  • I also used pictures taken by numerous individuals to garner different views of the same bit of  descending access to the catacombs. I learned there are three flights of stairs that run straight down into the monks' hall below. But above the first flight is a sharp turn that leads down from the public entrance. The tunnel has a smooth curved ceiling and tiled floor that descends to that sharp turn. This was very important evidence as you will find in my next search for information. But again thanks to Mary Rutin mentioned above, I have learned this is not the original entrance. The earlier access was damaged from bombing. There was fire damage as well which explains the wide difference in number of cadavers in the catacomb, from 2000 up to 8000. The numbers are accurate depending upon when the census was taken, before or after World War II.
  • Though I know that the catacombs were excavated beneath the church and convent, I do not know from any description or pictures how they lay beneath the ground in relation to those buildings. Hence more pictures needed to be examined.
    • Imagine how many pictures I looked at not giving a shred of value to the people smirking and pointing about. I was interested in what was behind them, in the shadows or overhead.
    • Several of the catacomb halls show that there are windows. So the upper portion of the tall corridors of the dead are above ground. Hmm.
    • The tunnels were excavated in very straight lines, and the shape is rectangular with overruns at three of the four corners.
    • The convent is rectangular.
    • The entrance to the catacombs is located in front of the extreme right of the convent (if you are standing looking at the convent).
    • Remember that sharp turn? I located a picture (two actually) that show the open outside entrance to the room one must enter to access the tunnel. There is a painting or mosaic just discernible through the door. And some kind soul took a picture of that painting, which is standing to the immediate left of the entrance to the descending tunnel. There is even a sign pointing the way. So I know that the tunnel heads off to the right parallel with the convent entrance.
    • Google Earth gives sharp images overhead.
    • Photoshop can be used to reduce the opacity of a picture. I snapped a picture of the bird's eye view of the convent, church and cemetery, and placed them in Photoshop. Then I took my copy of the outline of the catacombs and reduced its opacity. Then I overlaid my transparent outline and turned, reduced and otherwise manipulated it until the tunnel entrance was lined up with the stairs marked on the outline. What do you know? The lines fit right within the frame of the convent, the overruns lining up properly as well.
  • My current mystery is figuring out how the convent is laid out inside and if there is an entrance connecting it with the church it shares a wall with. I have found pictures of the church, so I'll be able to write a reasonable description when my character passes through it, but I've yet to find any information on the interior of the convent. I may have to see if there are other convents of the same vintage in Italy that provide some view of the interior and extrapolate a likely interior. One satisfying point is if I can't find an accurate description, there will be few who can dispute my version. Hmm. Do monks read science fiction? At least one, I imagine. There's always an odd bird in the bunch.
So do I research? Indeed I do. Better get to it.

Saturday, July 29, 2017

Non-writing life: Includes dogs

Photo by Mitchell Orr on Unsplash
I mentioned in a previous post that my dogs have been keeping me rather busy. I thought I would post about that now because when I learn something new that brings about positive results in my life and those I care about I want to share it with others.

I have two Labradors, great girls who add joy to my life. One of my girls, Cagney has always suffered from skin allergies. We've managed to keep the allergies at a low itch and she's been very positive about the whole experience. Each night I say, "Time for medicine," and she trots over and sits down knowing I'm going to put a nasty tasting Claritin tablet in her mouth. Yuck! She takes it then runs for the water bowl to get the taste out of her mouth.

Some years ago (25+) I had another Labrador that used to suffer from colds on a regular basis. I started giving her a nightly chewable vitamin C. She thought it was a treat and loved them. But the best part was she stopped getting colds. Jump forward again and earlier this year I think, okay why not give Cagney Vitamin C as well. So I started that regimen (follows the Claritin tablet and much tastier). Result: less ear infections and less need to respond to indications of an ear infection starting. Allergies in low itch mode. (For those wondering about eliminating the allergy altogether: non-allergy food provided and out-door activity limited to no more than ten minutes as needed is already in the mix.)

Months pass, and suddenly Cagney is overwhelmed with allergies. She can't walk two steps without one leg or the other trying to scratch and itch. Her belly is a mass of pink dots and redness. We can barely touch her without causing legs to go into itch mode. Her hair is falling out and she has black crusty stuff oozing out her flanks. I add Benadryl to the mix (used to work well as a morning allergy pill before the vitamin C was added). No results. She is miserable. We take both girls in to the vet for yearly shots and discuss this new development.

Result: allergy shot, allergy pills to control the issue until more long-term means take affect. Long-term means: a chewable gelcap of Omega-3 fatty acid, and apple cider vinegar. It's been three weeks: hair is nearly all grown back, pink spots are gone, redness is gone, itching is gone, most of the crusty sebum (black ooze) is gone, and Cagney is comfortable again.

You might wonder what the apple cider vinegar was for. I put it in a spray bottle and I spray all the little skin irritations and such. This includes spaying her feet which have had a purple cast to them since she licks them due to the inching which causes a yeast infection which turns the fur around the feet purple. The color of her feet is now nearly normal, no more licking. The only downside to this is my house smells like I'm pickling something. I am. I pickle my dogs regularly.

Bonus: Lacey's dandruff is nearly gone. She's had dandruff all her life. Otherwise, she never has an issue, and both dogs are shedding far less.

Final allergy regimen for Cagney: one gel cap Omega-3 fatty acid, one Claritin, one chewable 500MG vitamin C, daily sprays of apple cider vinegar where needed and lots of love.