I went the the movies last Sunday (Oh Captain Jack Sparrow, I love you so). As I watched the previews I thought, "Lately my country seems to have almost an endless appetite for apocalyptic stuff." The apocalypse movies appear to be about some kind of mass anxiety about the future. I could be wrong (but I'm a woman so that seems unlikely!)
The thing is, I think that's nonsense. Call me Polly Anna (OK, don't. It's a weird name). I think in all times in human history things have seemed bad to someone. I take the long view in these matters, but not because I'm a Historian, or a particular Optimist or a Dumb Ass (don't say it!). I think everything will be all right because I spend a lot of time with Young Adults. The Next Generation. The . . . wait for it . . . Millenials. Gasp! The Horror!
Before you fall back on this tired old B. S. about how the generation in college now is lazy, entitled and got too many soccer trophies, Stop and Think (it's still legal). They have a larger student debt loan than in any student group in world history, they work more hours while going to school than any other generation, they volunteer more hours than any other age group. I know. I have the great privilege of spending my work life with them.
Take for example my student Daniel Aley. He's a Senior in Graphic Design at Cal Poly. He likes to sit in my office and talk to me about ideas and values (real values, not that political clap trap values). I advised him on his capstone paper (kinda like a senior thesis) and he was excited to learn his topic, concerned about good writing and really enthusiastic about visually representing the paper with a virtual design project. In fact, I enjoyed working with Daniel so much that last year I asked him if he'd like to design the book covers for a series of novels I'm writing.
Yep, a Millennial, designed my book cover. And it's gorgeous. And it wasn't easy. Neither of us had ever done anything like it before. He'd give me a sample, I'd send him long emails, he'd try again. One set of changes I suggested took his perfectly good cover and made it BAD. But he did what I asked and let me see it myself. And don't get me started on resolution specs and 'bleed.' Every obstacle, every change, Daniel met the problem and fixed it. I'm exceedingly proud of him and so very happy that I went with a student instead of a 'professional' cover designer.
I've got another student designing a cover for a different series I'm writing (one with parasols and bustles and vampires and unicorns, oh my!). She's going to be great too. I just know it. I'll show you her samples to you when we get that far.
My point is this. The generation of Americans coming to maturity right now is pretty great. If you've got older children you don't need me to tell you this. The next time you hear someone bash the Millennials know it for what it is: The equivalent of a Cranky Old Man yelling "You kids get off my lawn!" Or go look at the Cover for The Lincoln Special and see how pretty it is.
Spread the Love!
I've done it. I've written, edited, formatted and published my first novel. It's exciting and utterly terrifying.Now I know why people write and don't publish. Writing is fun. Publishing is risk taking. Along the way I have learned many, many things. Many! In life the Lincoln Special was a steam train that took President-elect Abraham Lincoln from Springfield Illinois to Washington DC, taking a looping tour up through the Northeast before turning south. The trip took 10 days.My Lincoln Special took 3 years.
Things I learned:
1. Reading novels is good preparation for writing novels. Reading books about writing novels is even better.
2. Writing is the easy part. Learning all the technical stuff (web page construction, formatting, author pages, etc) was the hard part.
3. Those cute little section dividers in nicely formatted books are called Dingbats--how fun is that?. The swirly things on chapter title pages are called Printers Ornaments.
4. E-books are easier to produce than print books.WAY easier!
5. Even a professional writer and editor has trouble getting her manuscript perfect.If you'd like to beta read one of the next novels send me an email.
6. That was REALLY fun and I want to do it again. And again. (and I will-- Book 2 in the Kate Warne series is due out in Sept.)
Anyway, enough about me. Now I need your help. If you read my book and find a typo, could you email me at firstname.lastname@example.org? If you read my book could you leave me a review on Amazon or Good Reads? Reviews really help sell books and as a new author and publisher I need all the help you can spare.
The book is available exclusively through Amazon. The ebook is available at the Amazon web page and through any Kindle reader or Kindle phone or computer app. The print edition will show on the Amazon page VERY shortly. Until then it available at the Createspace store. There's buttons for both places on the front page of my website: www.peglamphier.com
If you enjoy the LS you'll be happy to know I've got 3 more in various states of preparedness. They are The Great Show, Rebel Belles & The Iron Widow. I'm also working on a steampunk/monster novel I'm calling The Perils of Petronella. It features the monster hunters Emma the Vampire, Sierra the Fae Unicorn and Therese, the Romany Spirit Medium. If those names sound familiar you know they are my daughter and her Lytle Creek friends. In short, my 3 best girls.
Right now I'm under contract for a book about an Italian Civil War cavalry colonel named Louis Palma di Cesnola. Between writing Louis and trying to get the book formatted perfectly I went Social-Media-Dark for awhile. Thanks for your patience.
Remember to spread the love. The world's a lovely place if you just turn off the television and look around. Kisses.
Sunday, May 21, 2017, the Ringling Bros.and Barnum & Bailey Circus gave it's last performance. Sad times. I mean, not for elephants or other circus animals who spent their lives on the road performing, with all the attendant abuses of that life. Don't get me wrong. But circuses were, for along time an important part of American history and a lynch pin of the American entertainment scene. When the circus came to town it was a big deal, an chance to see exotic things in a world with no Youtube or Snapchat.
Circuses go Way back. The first circuses in America were mostly clown and equestrienne acts. By the 1830s and 40s there were dozens of circuses traveling American roads, rails and rivers (by steamboat!). Some were tiny "mud shows" while others had big tops and sideshow tents. P.T. Barnum got his start as a ticket taker and when he got his own circus he'd been in the business for decades. In the 1870s he combined his show with the Bailey Circus in the 1870s. And while Barnum is now probably the most famous circus man in American, he wasn't always. For awhile, in the 1840s and 50s Dan Rice reigned supreme,along with the Spalding& Rogers Circus. In fact Spalding and Rice had a long standing feud that Americans followed like we do celebrity affairs these days.
Dan Rice got his start as an animal trainer. His first act was Lord Byron, the Learned Pig. At one time or another he also had trick mules, a trained Rino, an albino camel and an elephant. When he got Excelsior in the 1850s he vaulted to the big time. That's an Excelsior poster at the top of this post, featuring the horse's biggest and most famous trick. He'd do this pose/statue thing while men carried him around the ring. The snow white Kentucky stallion could also climb stairs, count, do math and carry trick riders. Eventually Rice replaced Excelsior with Lallah Rookh, a freakishly talented elephant (she could walk a tight rope!). Lallah appears in my second Kate Warne novel, but Excelsior is a recurring character, appearing in all four of the novels I've written to date. So's Mr. Rice. Go read his Wikipedia article--what a character!
You see, because we don't know much about Kate's life before the Pinkertons I got to invent for her a circus past. In my imaginary world she ran away from the circus when she was 15, after her parents were killed in a blow down (that's when a circus tent collapses--it's a much feared circus calamity). Yeas later Dan Rice gives Excelsior to her. Did this happen in real life? Nope. Absolutely not. Is it a good story? Sure. Who wouldn't want to inherit a retired, super famous circus horse?
The thing is, with the passing of the Ringling Bros. circus so too passes a piece of American history. The trick mules, the performing rhinos, the tight walking elephants might be better off without circuses, but what about all the circus people, who lived a life outside the boundaries of respectable conformity? Is the country a better place for losing those folk and their way of life? I don't think so. Because there's too darn many people doing what's expected, what everyone else does, watching life instead of living it. So, go out there this week and be weird. Live like you've got a circus horse in the back yard.
Tap dancing and I have a love-hate relationship. It started long ago, when I was a wee thing, no more than six years old. Mom enrolled me in tap class. I thought it was great fun but apparently I bugged my teacher. When the other girls heel, toe, shuffled right, I shuffled left. If they turned one way, I went the other way. My failure to conform (which was probably just a small girl's inability to understand right and left) got me kicked out of class. A tap dance reject before I finished first grade! Oh, the pain. Oh, the horror. Wipe the tears from your eyes and stick with me. It gets easier. . . .
The thing is, I still think tap is cool. It's one of the few original American art forms, along with the blues and jazz. It shares with the blues and jazz it has its roots in Africa and in American slavery. The first "tap" dancer (the word wasn't applied to the dance until the 20th c.), William Henry Lane, danced his way to fame and fortune in the 1840s. He combined Irish clog dancing with African Gioba dancing, threw in some other stuff (there's whole books on this) and won over America with his explosive new dance style. He traveled the country in Minstrel shows, the first black performer to do so, and won more dance contests than anyone else. He was hugely famous and they named before you knew it there was an entire dance style called "Juba Dancing" and Lane became Master Juba. Unfortunately, Juba died of exhaustion and malnutrition (historians think) in the 1850s. This seemed immensely unfair so I revived him for my first novel, The Lincoln Special. I meant for Juba to be a supporting character, but he got bigger and bigger. By the time I got to the second novel in my Kate Warne series Juba was carrying the book. Metaphorically of course.
So I'm back to tap dancing. Only with words, not shoe (which is good because words respect non-conformity). Lately I've been tap dancing my way through this darn book launch. Friday I was trying to build a template for my email list and discovered I need a banner. Crap. Another darn thing to learn. SO this morning I made a banner. BY MYSELF. Is it the best banner ever? Probably not. Is it mine? All mine? Yep. Now I gotta tap dance back to the darn email template and figure that out. After I finish my this blog. Tap, tap, tap.
If you haven't already done so, please sign up for my email list. I swear I won't spam you with "buy my book" crap. I will send you weekly historical tidbits, and the occasional publishing update and offers of free stuff. Right now if you sign up for the email list you get a free link to the first chapter of The Lincoln Special.
Thanks for reading!
I'm tired this morning. I couldn't get to sleep last night. Instead I laid in bed with my head whirling around, images and words competing with that high whining buzz that is the soundtrack for sleeplessness. And I did it to myself.
I've written thousands and thousands of words for articles, newspaper columns book reviews, encyclopedia entries and monographs (books). Writing doesn't freak me out. Then what's my problem, you ask. It's this self publishing thing. You see, for my entire writing career every word I ever wrote was handled by someone else after I wrote it. Heck, I barely had to edit a document. Just write it and send it a publisher or editor. And now I've decided to be my own publishing company. It's thrilling. Thrillingly terrifying. Like walking through a dark wood, chased by a mean witch, worried about Lions, Tigers and Bears. Oh My!
I spent yesterday afternoon working on my self-publishing check list. Start a limited liability corporation? Check. It's Writing Wench Press. Create author pages at Goodreads, Facebook, Amazon and Pinterest? Check. Hire cover designer? Check. Edit manuscript one more time? Check. Find reviews? Where? Format novel? Huh? Buy ISBNs and bar codes? Nope! (Seems terribly real). There's more. My checklist is 7 pages long.Some of it I understand, some of it I don't. It's scary.
Then why do it? Because my whole life I've handed over my words, my ideas to a publisher and I've had little control over what happens next and been paid the tiniest of money. I'm tired of writing stuff people don't really read and I'm tired of not having control and I'm tired of working hard for tiny money. I don't care about money very much. I have everything I need and I like my job. I know people with more money than me. They don't seem any happier for it. Quite the opposite in fact. Mostly, I made a promise to myself a couple of years ago to re-invent myself. To become a better version of me, one truer to who I am and less responsive to what other people expect. Part of that pledge was a promise to myself to keep learning new things.
Learning new things, trying new things, going new places, it's all terrifying. But it's in those spaces where I've taken chances (like leaving Bozeman and moving to So. Cal) that I've found who I'm supposed to be. So I push on. Like Dorothy and her friends. There was a lion in the woods and he scared Dorothy and the Tin Man. Then it turned out he wasn't so scary. So they sang a song and skipped away from the fear. That's what I'm going to do. And the poppies? Well they're in front of me somewhere, but like Dorothy, I'll fall down and then get up again. As many times as it takes to get where I need to go.
I think women my age are good at this.I know some astounding women and they inspire me very day. I think women are better at reinvention than men (I could be wrong though) because we have to be. Are you a re-inventor? Do you find things you're afraid of and then do them anyway? Why don't you share a little in the comments below. Spread the Love!
I'm "home' in Bozeman this week (I went to college here for more years than I'm willing to admit--the Bozone sucks you in), moving my daughter out of the dorms and into her first apartment. The thing about Bozeman is it's easy to forget how funky and odd it is, particularly when I live in So. Cal. now, with all the delight and horror of that place. Yesterday, after a two day drive north, I checked into my weird motel (it's totally retro!) and took the dog for a walk. Dandelions were EVERYWHERE, yellow flowers pushed up in shaggy lawns, boldly declaring, "Order is for Losers!" This Dandelion profusion would not stand in any middle-class neighborhood in So. Cal, nor even in my hometown Helena, Montana, where lawns are carefully edged, mowed and sprayed for 'weeds.' But in Bozeman the dandelions run amok, more profuse than wool socks and Birkenstocks (and that's saying something).
Bozeman is a Granola Town. And I love it. It's genuine and quirky and unabashedly weird (Yesterday I saw a fence made out of old skis, and two purple houses). It is also a universe unto itself. If you live here you think its "normal," this profusion of dandelions and granola-heads and purple houses. In that sense Bozeman is not unlike a novel. A good novel. One that takes you away and makes you believe.
See what I did there? I used two incomplete sentences in a row and the world did not explode. Neither did my head. For it was in Bozeman, back in the 80s, where I first learned to really write. To write clearly and cleanly and in a scholarly manner that would say, "Look at how smart I am." Grad School made it worse, until I got so I could hardly stand my own writing. Complete, compound sentences, don't dangle the participles and for goddess sake, cite everything. Oh, and don't forget the stick up the nether regions while we're at it. For stiffening. Bring on the yawns.
Fiction writing aims to reproduce some version of reality. Reality is messy. People do not talk or think in complete sentences and universes may not be adequately described in footnotes.To invent is to invoke the imagination. The imagination is like a lawn full of dandelions, ebullient and gloriously resistant to bland conformity.
In many ways my series of novels about Kate Warne, the first female Pinkerton detective are a response to the un-dandelion-like nature of traditional historical writing. The past has a billion weird stories in it, some of which I discovered when writing The Lincoln Special. Did you know, for example, that pro-slavery Senators planned to kidnap their own president, James Buchanon, just before Lincoln's inauguration and blame it on Lincoln so as to derail his presidency? Talk about dandelions! But if I were writing "real history" I'd have trouble writing about that plot because it was secret and secret things are hard to prove, hard to footnote, hard to line up in orderly, scholarly rows. But in a novel? Lay on the dandelions, strap on the Birkenstocks and write it baby!
No, I'm not going to talk about the gross unicorn frappe thing! And how it pairs well with a pack of Virginia Slims. Calm down. I was thinking about Unicorns in the shower this morning (but not in an icky way so you don't have to scrub your mind-- or has that ship already sailed?). There's a really helpful book about writing and self publishing by a guy named Johnny Truant that I've been using to get ready for my novel's release. In the book Johnny tells this story about how he wanted to write a western with his writing partner Sean Platt. Seab said NO WAY because if they wrote a western they'd have to do research on stuff like: What color is the smoke in a gunfight? Sean had no desire to do any darn research. He just wanted to write. Johnny figured they could put their main cowboy character on a Unicorn, thus establishing that nothing in their western universe was subject to reality. Thus a series of Unicorn Westerns was born.
I gotta admit, I totally admire the idea. But it's not me. I totally dig research. I love it it like it was a cuddly puppy. Oh, research, have I told you lately that I love you?
So the cool thing about writing a series of historical novels set in the Civil War featuring Kate Warne,the first female Pinkerton detective, is that I can use stuff I already know (cause I've been a history professor longer than I care to admit), research more stuff and make the rest up. And it turns out I love making stuff up almost as much as I love research.
Kate Warne's life is perfect for this balance of fact and fiction. Historians who care about this sort of thing argue about her knowable stuff. The questions they ask include: what was her real name? Was she Allan Pinkerton's mistress? Was she an important spy or just a token girl? There's more, but my point is that there's a ton of stuff we don't know about her, which means I was free to indulge in my fascination with antebellum circuses, theaters and the other cultural spaces where society's oddballs hang out. I could write about famous circus men like Dan Rice and that perennial fave, P. T. Barnum (go see my Pinterst page for fun stuff about both of them). Along the way I still had to get the color of the smoke right. Which is cool. It turns out that a lot of people are fascinated with historical details.
When writing the first book, Lincoln Special, I most surely over-researched. I have city maps of Washington and DC, menus from Baltimore hotels and too many details about ladies clothing. It turns out I didn't need most of the information. I'd write it and then realize it was an "information dump" and delete it. Too many historically accurate details ruin the story telling. Readers don't want to know every piece of clothing Kate put on every morning, nor do they care about the exact route she took to cross the city. Nor how exactly one harnessed a horse to a gig or a shay or a barouche.
What I've learned over the past two years is that historical novels need to get the smoke right, but they need unicorns too. Because if we wanted reality we'd turn on the news. Oh, right. Never mind!
At first glance the photo above my appear to be a young, male Civil War soldier if you look closely you'll see that what you're really seeing is a photograph of Kate Warne, the first female Pinkerton Detective. Note the fine bone structure, smooth skin and tiny waist. Kate Warne has been largely lost to history (tho there was a mediocre one-season television show featuring her on Canadian BBC), in part because what she did was secret and in part because she was female. I'm about to publish my first in a series of novels about Kate and her Civil War adventures, The Lincoln Special (see the Writing Wench section at my web page www.peglamphier.com). Over the next couple of months, as I lead up to my Launch Date (sometime in June) I'll blog about Kate and other characters in the novels.
I'm going to do a lot better job keeping current on this blog. Here's my story, which you may judge B. S. or not.Two years ago I launched this blog with the idea that as I learned to write fiction I'd blog about it. It turns out that learning to write fiction while working two professor jobs and writing novels and setting up a publishing business is JUST TOO MUCH, specially if you want to occasionally cook a meal, do a load of laundry and talk to the husband. I have to got to work or I can't buy dog food and pay my mortgage and there's no use blogging about writing if I'm not writing, so I had to do that to. So something had to give. I've got four novels in various states of readiness now and the first one is Almost ready to publish so it's time to Start Over.
Starting over is something most of us have way to much experience with. It can be stressful, but it can also be a huge and exciting adventure. In the nineteenth century women were supposed to be submissive, passive, domestic. They were supposed to avoid the public sphere like a femininity-killing plague. Kate Warne (and lots of other women, some by choice and some not) took a look at those rules and said Bite Me. I mean, probably not literally, but you get the idea. If she could become the first professional female detective in America and work as a spy to keep President Lincoln safe, then think what the rest of us could accomplish if we were just a tiny bit braver. If we started over more time.
See you on the other side,
Hehehe. I said 'Balls." OK. I'm not super mature. Deal with it.
But I do have too many balls in the air (Ok, that's just going to make me giggle for awhile). Probably you do too. It sucks. Back in June I had a long summer break before me. I planned on spending mornings working on a new Encyclopedia project my historian friend Rosanne Welch (you should check out her new book on the MONKEES!) and I took on, and then the afternoons working on my third novel. Oh, so bucolic . . . . And then life happened.
Now don't get me wrong. I have been writing, but maybe I'm not as far as I wanted to be. Fist, I lost about a week to a damn fire. Lytle Creekers were evacuated for 6 days for the extra scary Blue Cut Fire. My super-hero daughter managed to evacuate all the creatures by herself because I was on the wrong side of the road block when it went up, but Emma did not pack my lap top. To be fair, I did't tell her too, being far too concerned with the 6 dogs, 2 cats, 8 toroises and 2 canaries. Also, fearing for your home and community is not conducive to writing so I probably woulnd't have gotten much work done anyway.
THEN, Leo and I had to take Emma to Montana, to college. I'm just going to say that taking your kid to another state and LEAVING HER is not one of life's funnest things. It's not the worst thing, but it sucks pretty hard. More NOT writing.
THEN, I got back and went at the third novel pretty hard, but other projects kept interfering. I had to edit a bunch of new entries for a science and technology encyclopedia, do page proofs for the women's history encyclopedia (see Amazon for that Bad Girl!). And one of my two jubs started, so I have college stuff and teaching stuff.
I know this sounds like a list of bullshit excuese for why I haven't been writing. But I have been writing. I've been doing pretty well, except for that 2.5 week break for Fire and dumping the kid. BUT, I wanted to be done with novel #3 before Cal Poly started back and I'm not going to make it.
So what's the lesson here? Work harder? Maybe. But, like a lot of writers, I work pretty hard already. I bet some of you work pretty darn hard. If you don't, then the lesson is GET TO WORK! But, maybe what I (and maybe you) need to do is re-evaluate my goals. My original 5-year plan (more about that later) had me writing one novel last summer, another this summer. So I'm really 2/3 of a novel ahead of my original schedule. It's just that I revised the original schedule and now I'm behind. But am I? Behind what? My own bull shit schedule? So?
Lazy writers have no balls in the air. They watch TV, or they talk about writing and don't do it, or they play video games, or whatever, but they don't have any writing balls in the air. The cool thing about that is you can't drop what's not in the air.
But if you have a lot of writing balls in the air you're gonna drop some. Maybe what I should do is juggle fewer balls. Yea, like that's going to happen. So, maybe what I ought to do is not beat myself up for dropping a ball occasionally. Crap. This metaphor is confusing. What I'm trying to say is if you're working hard and not getting as far, as fast as you'd like, .revise your writing (and life) goals. Make your goals realistic. Be nicer to yourself.
Now, I've got to write my protagonist out of a spot of bother, finish the last two files of revised page proofs and drive into Walnut to teach a history class, all the while congratulating myself for what I do manage to get done before I collapse in a puddle of dropped balls.
I haven't been posting new blogs, and I guess I'm sorry about that. Or maybe not. Clearly I'm not as guilt ridden as I should be. But here's the thing:
People who talk about writing aren't writing. Writing about writing isn't all that different.
I've spent my whole adult life among academics (which explains my growing intolerance for administrative bull shit and people who THINK they're smart), and NO ONE talks about writing more than academics. A few years ago, at the first departmental meeting of the year, we went around the table talking about how we spent our summer. One colleague spoke about a proposal for a book she'd finished. A proposal?!? Another said, with not one bit of shame, that she'd been working on an article. The same article she'd worked on the previous summer. Was she finished? NOPE! Two summers, thirty pages, not done. WTF? My writing partner and I had completed the first half of a 1 million word encyclopedia. 'Nuff said.
I have nightmares about a lot of things (the other night I dreamed a Rhino chased me through a field of Angus bulls) but more than anything I fear becoming like one of those people. I try not to talk about the writing too much. Sometimes I can't help myself, specially when I have a particularly good day or story idea, but mostly I try to keep my darn mouth shut. Also, talking about writing makes a person sound like a pretentious ass.
Maybe I worry that writing about writing is much the same. Maybe you worry about that too? If not writing, then some other thing you're good at? I wonder if women particularly suffer from this problem? Because we're schooled to be modest, to not brag, to make our lives about others . . . . Is it better to keep your mouth shut or is it better to brag about yourself? Where's the Ass Hole Line?
Here's what I know. It's important to believe in yourself and if talking about something you're god at helps you with that, then you should. But it's also important to shut up and DO. Shutting up includes both verbal noise, but all the electronic noise as well. If you're tweeting or snap chatting or blogging about writing (or anything else) you're NOT DOING IT.
So, got to go write today. My floor could be mopped, Cosco trip in order, car to be washed, but I'm going to write. My character is going in disguise to Confederate President Jefferson Davis's home to trick him into giving her a pass back to Washington. But until I write it it's not "real." So . . . . see you in Richmond at Jeff Davis's house!