Tuesday, March 30, 2010

The Butterfly Emerges

A funny thing happened on the way to the end of Chapter 21.

To set the stage, starting with Chapter One, mention was made of Cy's tutoring student and friend, Eddie Burrows, but not much. I had a story to tell and it wasn't that much about him.

But, because I knew Eddie was going to turn up towards the end of the book, I asked my readers from the start to share their opinions of him. Based on what little information was given about Eddie in the first section of Aurora Rescue, I asked, is he a believable character? Do you like the character of Eddie Burrows?

In my mind, Eddie was a fun-loving, adventurous university senior who was doing only what he had to do to get his degree. Other than that, his big focus was on marrying Andrea at the end of the school year. He was not very serious about life in the adult world. He was really no one exceptional. His big claim to fame was this: he disappeared.

But, then, enter Eddie in Chapter 21, the second to the last chapter of the book. Okay, Chapter 21 is a very L-O-N-G chapter, and I will probably split it into two chapters. However, it is still almost at the end of Aurora Rescue. What surprised me is this: the more I wrote this chapter, the more I liked Eddie.

The traits and talents for Eddie that I wrote into the first chapters of the book turned out to be a boon for him by that time. Somehow, the goofy college kid of the twenty-first century proved to be leading man and hero material by the time he was two and a half years older and living in 1859.

Marty and Cy become the best of friends, but there is no budding romance between the two in this book. As I finished this chapter, I knew that if Eddie had not already been madly in love with Andrea, Marty could have done a lot worse than fallen for Eddie Burrows.

However, several of my readers are probably not going to be happy with the choice Eddie makes as Chapter 21 closes. Well, hang onto your hat. Eddie is going to be in three of the next four books.

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Perils of Not Keepin' Up

Well, did I get a wake-up call today!

I started my heavy-duty science research on Aurora Rescue in April 2009. Several of my files show a date of April 24, 2009. The latest word was that Solar Cycle 24 was expected to peak on one of two months: either a large high in October 2011, or a small high in August 2012. I set my novel in June, 2012, in the middle of those two dates.

Wouldn't you know it, on May 29, 2009, a mere five weeks after my massive research effort into the subject, NASA came out with a new prediction that the Solar Cycle 24 high will be in May 2013.

So, I am down to one and a half chapters left to go. Today I changed my novel's event calendar to reflect a solar cycle in 2013 instead of 2012. Now I need to go back and change a few things in the body of the novel. That is the bad news.

The good news is, I have another year before my futuristic events are part of the past. Thank goodness I ruled out any connection to the Mayan prophecy of 2012 a long time ago.

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

One Step Back, Now Full Steam Ahead

Okay, I know I am mixing my metaphors, but, hopefully, I am communicating where I am at present.

In my last post, I mentioned six books that arrived Monday. A seventh arrived Tuesday (That is not counting the three that arrived last week that have nothing to do with my research for Aurora Rescue.) As of this morning, Wednesday, I have read the better part of three of them, and a bit of the fourth. The ones that explained the actual conditions slaves in the United State in general and women slaves in particular endured prior to emancipation gave me two things. First, I received additional insights into the actual conditions, not the perceived conditions as portrayed in much of the literature out there, regarding those who were forced into slavery.

Second, there were several quotes by slaves or former slaves in their dialect. I do not need to worry as much about critics saying Black people do not talk that way today. I have information from the records showing how they talked then.

Even the diary of Agnes Lee, the daughter of General Robert E. Lee of Civil War fame, written when she was a teenager in the 1850's gave me a glimpse into the attitudes of some white families. She mentioned a few times she taught her "dark" or "sable" students on Sunday nights even though she was a student herself during the week. She made several affectionate references to her "mammy", who was old, grew sick and died during the time covered by the journal. The thing I found most interesting was that she always referred to the family's slaves as servants, never as slaves. Yet, I know from the other sources I read that this was not typical of the conditions most slaves lived under.

And, call it what you will, compulsory servitude is not freedom.

I also spoke with a person whose opinion I value because she is in a position to be well-acquainted with young adult fiction. Also, although I do not know her history or where she grew up, she has some Negro heritage. (I cannot say African heritage, because the discoveries in DNA and genetics these days indicate we ALL have African heritage. The only question is, how far back do each of us go until we find our ancestors in Africa?) Anyway, she gave me her opinion about a few things that helped me know I was on a safe (read: "non-offensive to most") track.

This morning I took all the samples of slave dialect that I had marked with torn strips of post-it note paper and typed them up for reference. I made a spreadsheet with the words and their meanings based on usage and sorted them in alphabetical order. I will adjust my dialog to reflect the majority usage of the dialect I found in my research (even in these direct quotes, there were some differences of pronunciation based on spelling) and move ahead with my story.

I really like my Kezia character. She is a woman of her time who was shaped by her experiences. She is also a courageous heroine, and a determined role model who knows what she wants in life. She is going to show up in future books--at least two of the five. I want her to be someone my readers will look forward to meeting again after they finish reading Aurora Rescue.

Monday, March 8, 2010

Political Correctness Landmine

I am working on my last chapters of this book, and realize that I am dealing with a political correctness landmine.

This section deals with Marty meeting Kezia, a young runaway slave woman. The storyline, on the surface is no problem. My main concern is creating a believable character for this slave woman. I want her to be a likable character, someone with whom the reader can empathize and want to cheer on to freedom.

However, as I write Kezia's dialog attempting to portray the speech patterns typical of a slave in this woman's time and place, I realize that, no matter what I do to try to be accurate, I am going to upset some readers.

For one thing, I have no Negro ancestry. What do I know about it, right? And, for those who will claim that Black people, African-American, slaves from West Africa--however they want to refer to people in that circumstance at that time and place--did not talk that way, all I can say is this:

I have been reading novels and non-fiction about the time and era for months, knowing that I will be writing these chapters. I have copied and saved samples of slave dialect. I have particularly looked for writings of that time period. The one thing I can tell you is this: the dialects all these sources attributed to slaves or former slave of the 1830s to 1870s is not uniform. And, whether some of my potential Black critics will admit it or not, I suspect that changes in accents and grammar developed in Negro dialect based on region and time period, just as it did in the English spoken by different immigrant groups from Europe based on where they came from and where they settled.

I read an interesting 1890's document about a chicken co-op written in Negro dialect. I read an analysis of Harriet Beecher Stowe's Uncle Tom's Cabin which warned that the author did not correctly portray Negro dialect. Instead, she portrays it almost identical to the dialect of poor whites living in the Ohio River Valley. In addition, she changed usage styles from page to page.

Another problem is that, largely due to the Fugitive Slave Act of 1850, slaves were not allowed to learn to read and write. And, even if those free blacks of the era did become literate, they would probably have written in the accepted correct English grammar style to the best of their ability rather than an accurate portrayal of the dialect and syntax of their spoken language.

It is sort of like my situation. I have picked up the Oklahoma-Arkansas syntax from being around my husband and many of the people who migrated to the San Joaquin Valley during the Dust Bowl years. Yet, when I write, I try to express myself as much as possible using the correct English grammar I was taught in school.

So, what am I, as a writer who wants to portray this as accurately as possible, to do?

I decided I need to do more research. I ordered more books about the era and the people, trying to focus on those written by authors who have done doctoral dissertations based on original documents research. Today was like Christmas. Since we were out of town Saturday, we picked up two days worth of mail. In it were six of the books I ordered.

One is Only What We Could Carry: The Japanese American Internment Experience. I do not need it for this book, but know it will be of value for Book Two, Aurora Recover.

Out of many choices, I selected one book on the historical study of how slavery came to North America.

However, I particularly wanted to understand the experience of women slaves, so I chose two other books that I hope will give me greater insight.

Lastly, I chose two of many offerings about white Southern women of the antebellum era. One is a diary of the Civil War years. The other is based on document research. I am also waiting for a diary written by a teenage white girl in the 1850's, in which she discussed her views of the family having slaves.

I am hoping to gain as much insight as I can of what really went on during that time. I want my Kezia character to be someone most of readers will not only find believable, but someone they can believe in.

Monday, March 1, 2010

Black Hole

I now, for the very first time in my life, understand what a black hole is. Thank you, Michio Kaku.

Black hole = black star = star where the force of gravity is so intense that no light waves can escape it. Therefore, it appears to be a black hole in the cosmos.

Not important to the novel, but interesting to me. And, I believe that in the long run it will help me round out my growing understanding of the cosmos and space-time theory.

I am enjoying Kaku's book. I am reading it like a novel and understanding as much as I am capable of doing the first time around. I only read a chapter or two at a time to allow my brain to absorb what it can of the more complex information in there prior to me putting some more before my eyes. I will take notes and really focus on the scientific information I need for my novel the second time around.

Next this morning, I will double-check on a few other things I have already written in Section 4, which right now is titled "Smithsburg Station", and then send it to my readers.

It is good I am hot at writing dialog, if I do say so myself. That goes quickly. It helps make up for the time I spend on this heavy-duty scientific research to try to make my novel as realistic as possible.

I did mention that this novel is a bit of science-fiction, didn't I? Like I told my critique readers, fiction does not have to be 100% true. It only has to be believable to the reader. But, for that small percentage that is "scientific fiction" to come across as real, I believe I need to have as much true and proven science in there as possible.

If not, this novel could end up being a literary black hole.