Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Researching Boston streets adds credibility to a time travel scene

The third book in my series Students of Jump is in redraft.  The addition of scenes to complete several jumps back in time required some research.  My current endeavors involve determining which streets were in existence in 1851 in Boston, whether or not they were paved with "cobs" (round stones commonly annoying the farmers in those parts) or setts (rectangular cut-granite stones) considered to be the better street paver for use by horses, carriage wheels and pedestrians, and where the major newspaper publishers were located.

I had originally assumed the roads would be dirt, but after looking at pictures, I saw the streets clearly indicated pavers.  So I had to find out what kind and when they were in use.  This is what I have learned so far.

Cobblestones were used but not throughout Boston and were often replaced with the flat sett granite stone for ease of rolling carriage wheels over, otherwise horses tripped and wheels broke more easily.

There were several papers in existence, the Boston Globe, the Boston Herald and the Daily Advertiser, to name a few.  Fine, but when?  Well, the Globe did not exist until the 1870's, so that threw out that paper.  The Boston Herald existed but had several names over the years and had the frequent habit of purchasing other papers and incorporating their names into its own.  But when and under what incarnation was the name in 1851?  The Boston Herald bought out the Daily Advertiser but not until the 1880s.  So that means I could use either the Herald or the Advertiser for my purposes. 

But that hardly made things easy.  There was a section of town known as newspaper row, but it was located in two different sites due to movement of paper publishers over a period of years.  I finally had to accept that there was no definitive address for either paper until the latter part of the century.   So I settled for Washington Street because it bisected both areas that went by the designation Newspaper Row.

I settled on the Daily Advertiser in the end (Sorry Boston Herald. I know you are still in existence, but I needed to be sure there would be an advertisement of the nature I wanted.  And the name sold me.)

I have been staring at maps of Boston from 1847 and 1950 using magnifying glasses and my daughter to confirm my reading of the nearly unreadable print to make decisions on how my characters are moving through the streets to perform the task they must complete.  The latter map made it possible to read the street names of the earlier one.  (My mother loved books and had the foresight to purchase an amazing Atlas printed in 1950, which was given to me when I married.)  You would be surprised how many times I have turned to it.  (Save old atlases and dictionaries if you are a writer.  Words evolve and roads change names.  My classroom has two sets of dictionaries, a brand new set and a 1980s set.  There are times when my class is reading from an old text and that 1980s set comes in handy even when the work is Middle English. The words are missing from the new set or have taken on new meanings that don't apply in the old texts.)

By the way, the most useful site turned out to be the South Boston Historical pages.  The site had several clear pictures labeled with useful information.  I even got a nice glance at the fashion of the day for ladies and men as well as the building architecture, types of wagons and carriages likely to be seen and some history.

Hours of research for a 1000 word scene.   I even spent my childhood in a suburb of Boston. The sound of the wind still stirs memories, so I have the feel of the place just not the details.  I was busy chasing a dachshund and riding my bike.

I wonder what the ratio of research is to writing.  Has anyone made a point of figuring this out.  Hmm, maybe I don't want to know the answer to that question, or not until I finish the book.  But I am curious, so tell me if you have.

I'm off to research the trees in Boston Common in the 1850's.  And I learned to write "Commons" with the "s" is incorrect.

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

If you travel back in time, you better know the rules

PhotoTime Travel has rules, but they vary by user, which is the point of this post.  I have read a lot of time travel novels over the years and gotten into a few strange conversations with my husband. He views me as a sort of armchair specialist in this area.  Well, I do talk a good talk, but in reality, forward or backward, I find it just as confusing as the next person.

  1. You can go back, but everything you do is already done according to the future you are a part of.
  2. You can go back, but everything you do will change what has already occurred in the future you are a part of, so be prepared for huge change.
  3. You can go back but only as an observer because time has a mechanism to keep you from changing anything.
  4. You can go back, but any changes you make will create an alternate universe running alongside the one that was and still is in existence, but you probably won't know that and therefore won't be concerned.  If you are aware of the new universe(s), it will either bother you because you really messed up or make you happy because what changed worked out well for you or those you love.
  5. You can go back, make change, return and live to enjoy it.  But be careful, some things are dependent on other events you altered along the way.
  6. You can go back; it's the return that is tricky.   Good luck with that one. 
  7. You can go back, but avoid running into your self who you might not get along with, may cause serious problems for, might endanger by making people angry at the other you thinking you're her/him, and it just gets crazy from there.
  8.  This is the one my time travel novels are based on:  You can go back, but we all make mistakes and those are the things that just keep tagging along, baggage we have to face because for the time traveler every move is still forward.

Add to my list:  what other time travel rules have you noted while reading or writing the genre?

Thursday, July 18, 2013

Book 2 of the Students of Jump just went live on Smashwords

No-Time like the Present is published on Smashwords as of just a few minutes ago.  It has been a busy month pulling the last bits together, editing copy and preparing the cover.  I had the best help from fellow author Marcy Peska, who as my beta reader provided advice I could not have managed without.  Check out her books at

My daughter helped me put the cover together.  It would not be the beauty it is without her eye for detail and design.

Look for the second book in the Student of Jump series at Amazon, Barnes & Nobel and other booksellers in the next week or two.  For the remainder of July, the book will be available for 50% off at Smashwords.  Use coupon SSW50.  This coupon will work with all four of my books until the end of July.

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Sometimes one needs a MacGuffin, at least to start with

the sword in the graveyard
You know how there are words that we just love to say or write?  Some of my favorites are frikasee, mimsy, bailiwick, and conniption though they are rather hard to find a place for in my writing.  But one I have found usable is MacGuffin.  This word is a tool used in writing, and I  love the way it rolls off the tongue.   It's fun and useful.  However,  the MacGuffin has earned some bad press.  Some writers for movies, novels, short stories use them simply to start the plot off and then completely leave them behind.  But when used properly, this tool can provide motivation for a character to get involved in some action and can still resurface where it can provide depth and deeper connections later. 

Mystery novels often use MacGuffins to embroil the characters in a mystery.  Spy novels also can make use of the MacGuffin.  Basically the character is chasing something that may not really exist:  the fountain of youth, courage, grandpa's missing will, microfilm with the schematics for a satellite laser beam.  Or they do find it, and it is not of value any more.  I was thinking about this word yesterday and realized I used a version of this tool in both the first and second books of my Students of Jump series. 

In the first book In Times Passed, Brent is searching for independence so he jumps into the past.  His desire to get away from his mother's manipulation instigate the decision.  But once he is there, this is no longer a motivating feature of the actions that follow.  What started out important  becomes unimportant.  That is the nature of a MacGuffin.  (Of course, I plan to make use of this issue between Brent and his mother in a later work in the series.)

In the second book No-time Like the Present, Misty wants to face her father and demand he tell her why he abandoned her.   When the opportunity arrives, she takes it.  But what motivates Misty initially is not a central feature of her growth or the more important goals she really wants but didn't think she could have: a relationship with her father and saving her mother.  It is at best an excuse she gives herself to see her father.  She claims to have no interest in him, but is in fact obsessed with knowing him.  Escaping manipulation and high expectations or desiring one's father explain why he made the choices he made are the MacGuffins which motivate them to take a step into a place they do not understand but need to go.

What MacGuffins have you identified in works you have read or works you have written


Wednesday, July 10, 2013

Personal experience (loss of a loved one) provided direction and depth

Love is a foundation: loss a process
One of the main issues in the first two books of the series Students of Jump is loss of a loved one.  This is an area I have some experience in.  Though my original plot did not include a death, the events grew naturally out of the interaction of characters and circumstance.  My own mother died when I was a baby, and I was at first unaware of the effect it had on my father or myself. As I grew older, I realized he never allowed himself the time to adjust to losing his wife.  He buried himself in his work and in raising his children.  It was a new experience for him to be the sole parent of two small children. 

He shared a story with me about the first months he found himself caring for us.  He knew that my mother had always kept us fed and clean.  He had been guided on feeding us properly by the ladies in the neighborhood, and my father was always a good cook, but the requirements of keeping children clean was never addressed.

He bathed us night and day.  We were not particularly dirty children, both of us under two years old.  When he took us to our yearly check up, he asked the doctor if he was caring for us well, as he feared being gone during the working hours meant he could only bath us twice a day.  Our skin was a bit flakie, but the doctor set him straight relieving quite a bit of tension and reducing the bathing to a more manageable level, and our skin and hair returned to that shiny, moist quality inherent in healthy children.  When I had my own daughter and spoke to my father about her potty training not going well, he gave me just the information I needed to have a smooth process for my daughter.

Talking to and observing how my father dealt with his loss and my own later frustrations at not having my mother around during my teenage years helped when I worked through the changes my characters dealt with and their challenges dealing with loss.

What parts in the writing you have done is a reflection of your own experiences?

Wednesday, July 3, 2013

I have just spent the last three hours working on novel blurbs

I've written two versions for the first book of my series.  That took the first hour and doesn't include all the previous ones I have written, none particularly good.

I wrote four more for the second book in the series which I hope to publish in just a couple of weeks.  I don't think I like writing blurbs.  And now there are five.

I know what I want them to do. But they are not doing it.   Excuse me while I go scream.

Well, that didn't help.  Perhaps some sleep and another stab at it tomorrow.

Please respond with all tricks, advice and personal experience that you think can help me with this endeavor.  The dogs don't like it when I scream.

Update:  final version complete, and I still have my hair and my dogs have their hearing.  Thank you, Marcy.

Monday, July 1, 2013

My books in Smashwords Summer/Winter sale

It's the annual Summer/Winter sale at Smashwords and my books are enrolled.  Check them out today or any day for the month of July.  Use code SSW50 to get 50% off. 
In Times Passed ~ SciFi

Gardens in the Cracks & Other Stories ~ SciFi

The Little Handbook of Narrative Frameworks ~ story framing