So lately I've been in a bit of a funk. Lord knows there are plenty of things to stress me out. Work. Kids. Health. Aging Parents. But it's more than that. I've been stagnant, both in my writing and my friendships. It's time I tested new waters.
But instead I've crawled back into the past and found it to be a lovely new place. It's fresh and warm, sort of like bread from the oven. It seems time has not diminished many of the books I once loved and I'm rediscovering them all over again. I began buyin the newly re-released Georgette Heyers. Sourcebooks has them all being gradually re-released with gorgeous new covers. Oh, How I love Heyer! Let me count the ways.
I think I love her feisty heroines the best, followed by her pairings of equally wide-eyed heros and heroines. My personal favorite may be Black Sheep, closely followed by Faro's Daughter, Frederica, Regency Buck, and Friday's Child. I also adore Cotillion. Her characters are magnificently drawn and the situations are always fresh and entertaining. Her history is so right that I never find myself pulled from the story. Yummy!
If Heyer is fresh bread, then M.M. Kaye is chocolate chip cookies. I'm reading my way through her Death in... series. So far I've re-read Death in Kenya and Death in Zanzibar. Next up, I'm thinking Death in the Andamans and Death in Cypress. Or maybe Kashmir. I love her mysteries. Exotic locales, young lovers, treasure, spies, creepy houses: her books have it all. I only wish there were more of them. If all you know about this woman is The Far Pavilions, you simply must give her mysteries a try.
Mary Stewart would have to be a big steaming baked potato with all the fixings. Always romantic and always suspensful, her novels really set the bar for me. Intrepid heroines who sometimes rescue their heros simply made my teenaged heart go pitty-pat. No jerk, a-hole exucuses for Alpha Males. Her heros are witty, urbane, and utterly devoted to their heroines. The danger often somes from within, killer cousins and deceptively faithful family retainers abound. What's not to love?
So who are YOUR comfort foods? I mean reads. Comfort reads. I knew that.
Sometimes I'm sure it sucks to be a predator. Predator's get no love. Everyone saves their warm fuzzy feelings for little fluffy bunnies and duckies.
Two weeks ago, something began nomming on my pet ducks. I had fifteen ducks and they weren't allowed to simply roam at night. My ducks are very spoiled. They have a Taj Mahal duck house and their own plastic wading pools for the days they don't feel like trekking down to the pond. At night, they are safely locked inside with feeders and a bowl of water with lovely mounds of fluffy shavings to nest in.
Something broke into the Taj Mahal and devoured most of Snowdrop. Turned out that the house breaker had dropped onto the roof from the trees, pried back the chicken wire covering the vent holes and helped himself to Snowdrop (a Swedish Blue duck) and most of the eggs. So we fortified the Taj Mahal with extra boards and went to sleep certain that the duckies were safe.
Not so. The bandit struck again. I opened the door expecting the usual mad dash for pools, but my ducks seemed reluctant to come out. Finally, one by one, the emerged and I saw the first evidence of carnage. Two of my ducks were bloody and badly injured, Squeaker (a little, noisy, crested Swedish Blue) and Staypuff the Marshmallow Duck (An enormous crested white Pekin who looks like he has a giant fluffy marshmallow on his head). Grrrrrrrrrrrrrrr! Inside I discovered the remains of Heidi (A black Cayuga).
Squeaker didn't last the day, but Staypuff really hung in there. He's a feisty one. This time the miscreant had pried open the wire along the back vents of the roof. I no longer had any doubts as to the villain of this piece: A racoon. Once a racoon puts your poultry on his nightly rounds, there is nothing you can do but remove him. I hate killing animals, but I buried Squeaker and Heidi and hardened my heart. The racoon must die.
We borrowed a livetrap and placed it on the roof of the Taj Mahal I didn't want to catch any stray bunnies or skunks, just the killer coon. In a flash of divine justice, I baited the trap with duck eggs. Sure enough the next morning, there he was staring at me. The mighty predator. A medium sized racoon. He was kind of cute and clearly petrified, but he hissed and showed me his teeth. On a closer examination (okay, not to close. I'm not soooopid.) I saw part of the problem. He had an enormously swollen infected leg. Suddenly, it all made sense.
This was a very injured animal trying to survive. My ducks were an easy source of food for him after he stopped being able to efficiently hunt. To him, the Taj Mahal was a handy buffet. I felt a little sympathy for the villain.
Course that didn't stop me from putting a bullet in his brain, but it was as quick and painless an end as we could manage for him and it started me thinking about villains. So rarely are they simply evil for the sake of being evil. No, they want something. Something real. Something necessary. Maybe they're desperate, injured, hungry, under duress. They don't want to be evil. They just want to survive.
I doubt the racoon considered himself the villain of the story. He probably would tell you that he was the tragic victim of an uncaring farmer who maliciously trapped and shot him. My ducks would say that I'm an avenging angel, but I feed them so they're totally biased. I guess sometimes villain and hero is just a little matter of perspective.
Ducks entering the Taj Mahal at night. That is Squeaker in the far left corner and Staypuff just below the ramp and Snowdrop to his right. RIP Squeaker, Heidi, and Snowdrop.
I'm having one of those chapters. You know the ones I mean. I've been stuck for days and I keep writing and deleting and rewriting and redeleting. Finally, I'm just plowing on through the suckitude until I get to the good stuff again.
Why does this happen? Is it just a part that I haven't thought through carefully enough? Am I missing a step? Is my brain just not turned on? What?
What I have learned is that the only thing for it is to keep going. Sometimes I look back and have trouble spotting where it was painful to write. It may have felt bad at the time, but was actually productive and not too sucky. Other times I reread and wonder if someone slipped crack into my coffee when I wasn't looking. Yowza.
This all seems to happen most often in transitions. I'm at point A. Dramatic major plot event has just occured and in the aftermath, I need to be at point B. Getting there equals headaches from pulling my hair. That's what has happened this time. I'm just going to skim ahead and get myself to point B. I check back later and see if the journey makes sense or if I'm destined for a major rewrite.
Come a little closer. I have a confession. Closer. Cloooooooooser.
K, not that close.
All that conventional wisdom about write what you know? I refuse. Oh, I've done it in the past and there are any number of writing tropes that would fit perfectly in my life. Soccer mom? Lived it. Cute little Southern Town ala Fanny Flag? Lived it. Ranch life? Yup. Gotta go let the ducks down to the pond in a few minutes and gather eggs (not to mention chase my son's horse off the front porch yet again. I don't get her obsession with chewing on my porch furniture. Stick to the grass, dammit!)
I think my obession with historical periods is pretty well known, but I'm the same way about exotic locales. Gimme long ago and far away or at least one of the two. I want escapism. I want fantasy. I don't want to write about my life for anything longer than a blog post.
Life on a ranch holds no mystique to me. For some it may sound fascinating, but all I can think about is cleaning stalls and who needs to be dewormed and is it time to move the cows to the back pasture. Not really romantic fodder.
I want to read about palm trees and jungles and beaches and drawing rooms and Victorian street life and the birth of the Viennese Waltz and settling Kenya and--you get the picture. I want things as far removed from my world as possible. I want to be transported and not only when I read.
Let's face it. Like a lot of writers, I began doing this in order to entertain myself. Writing should be fun and for me, it just isn't fun to ruminate on my reality. So I've placed my writing where my reading is. No more contemporary stories set in Texas. Done.
I might write an 1880's ranch tale though. Just maybe.