Month: January 2018

Life in a Small Cabin

 

In my part of the world it has been raining for days and days and days. Hard rain, the kind that dances on the pavement, makes big puddles, and turns the ground sodden.  The skies are unrelenting grey, the cloud cover so low I can’t see a 100 yards from my house.  (I normally have a panoramic view.)  We keep the lights on all day to dispel the gloom.  I’m getting cabin fever.

How easily that phrase comes to mind – and how ridiculous! In my “cabin,” I have many rooms.  I have the distraction of radio, television, internet, books and the telephone.  I have electricity, that allows me to keep the lights on.  I have natural gas that keeps the fireplace burning with no effort on my part.  I have running water – no need to visit an outhouse.  And I have a vehicle that allows me to travel in comfort and connect with others. If I think I suffer from “cabin fever,” what did our forebears suffer during long winters when deep snow cut them off from fellow human beings?

From Wikipedia: “Since prairie madness [cabin fever] does not refer to a clinical term, there is no specific set of symptoms of the affliction. However, the descriptions of prairie madness in historical writing, personal accounts, and Western literature elucidate what some of the effects of the disease were.

The symptoms of prairie madness (cabin fever) were similar to those of depression. The women affected by prairie madness were said to show symptoms such as crying, slovenly dress, and withdrawal from social interactions. Men also showed signs of depression, which sometimes manifested in violence. Prairie madness was not unique from other types of depression, but the harsh conditions on the prairie triggered this depression, and it was difficult to overcome without getting off of the prairie.”

The short story, “The Lamp at Noon,” by Sinclair Ross gives an indication of the overwhelming sense of helplessness of a woman on the prairie during the dustbowl. The isolation, fear, and daily life in harsh circumstances overwhelm her.  Would a friend have helped?  Even a casual visitor from the outside world?  Ellen is imprisoned by hardship, dust, poverty and loneliness-a graphic description of cabin fever. “One’s a Heifer,” by the same author follows a similar theme.

The photo at the top of this blog is of a replica log cabin close to my home.  The collage at the left is of the interior. The whole building is roughly 12×24 ft.  It is one room with the bed, the baby crib, the cookstove and the table all squished in together.  Note the “distractions” for the woman of the house–the cookstove, the wash tubs, the sewing machine, the baby crib, the baking cupboard, the hand-braided rug, the handmade quilt, the spinning wheel, the water bucket–“women’s work is never done.”  Imagine a whole family, mother, father, baby and likely other children, living in these tight quarters.

In my stories, my heroines have space to call their own.  My heroes embrace the rugged landscape.  Children run and play, unfettered by fences or timetables.  Note, I write fiction.

 

So, now that I’ve considered the true source of the term “cabin fever” I’ll stop my grousing, turn on my full-spectrum lamp, and enjoy my photo-album of sun-filled days.

What about you? Does the weather get you down?  What are your coping mechanisms?

 

 

Re-Write

Item F-08807 in B.C. Archives- Susan R. Crease.

            Last week I wrote about the use of the word “idiot” in my ms.  This week, I’m showing you a portion of the unedited ms and my re-write. This if from a scene where Rev. Daniel Stanton goes down on one knee in the dusty road to propose.

 

Original:

The impatient mare tossed her head, and whinnied breaking the spell. Louisa gasped. “Get up, you idiot! What if someone saw you?  The gossip would be hotter and faster than a wildfire.”

            “Is that a yes, then?”  He rose to his full height with a lithe grace Louisa admired. Convention demanded that he conduct himself with dignity and decorum. It was easy to forget that, behind the collar was an attractive and athletic man in the prime of life.

            “No it is not a yes.”  Her chest ached and she felt an absurd impulse to scream. Shock, she assured herself, Too many shocks in too short a time. “I won’t marry to save face.”

Rewrite:

          The impatient mare tossed her head, and whinnied breaking the spell. Louisa gasped. “Get up, Daniel, do.” She plucked at his coat, while trying to look in all directions at once, alarmed by his extravagant gesture. “What if someone saw you?  The gossip would be hotter and faster than a wildfire.”

            “Is that a yes, then?”  He rose to his full height with a lithe grace Louisa admired. Convention demanded that he conduct himself with dignity and decorum. It was easy to forget that, behind the collar was an attractive and athletic man in the prime of life.

            “No it is not a yes.”  Her chest ached and she felt an absurd impulse to scream. Shock, she assured herself. Too many shocks in too short a time. “I won’t marry to save face.”       

    Just a note, I did have her use the word earlier in the ms where she is laughing and clearly making a joke. Daniel did not take offence. Is that enough set-up to let the original of this passage stand, or do I need to eliminate the problematic word?

   I’d love to have your comments both on the original and the re-write. It is always easier, and more fun, to critique another’s work than our own! 🙂

P.S.  The photo at the top comes from the B.C. Archives.  I wanted to show you an historical image of a woman and a horse.  Most photos show only men, but there were horsewomen in our past as well.

Save the Cat

 

Blake Snyder’s classic advice to “Save the Cat” came forcibly to mind this week.  I was reading a best seller where the protagonist not only didn’t save the cat, he aimed a kick at it.  At this point my dh put down the book and refused to read further.

I carried on reading. The novel is a book club assignment so even if I don’t like it, I have to read it to justify my opinion.  In this case, I came to empathize with the hero—he had a hard life and in the end he did rescue the cat—but I did not identify with him.  In other words, the story was entertaining and well-told, but it kept me at a distance.

For some types of novel, that distance is not an issue, but for romance novels, we want the reader to enter into the story, to put herself in the heroine’s shoes and feel every heartbeat with her.  Having a heroine who even contemplated kicking a cat could eliminate a large readership.

This little vignette was a good reminder to me to choose story words and actions carefully. What may seem like good characterization to an author– being mean to a stray cat—may offend readers so deeply that they cease to be  readers.  Snyder’s example was intended to help authors write empathetic and complex characters. In real life, no one is all good or all bad.  Unless they are comic book caricatures, even villains will have at least one redeeming feature.  They care for their mothers, or they send money to an orphanage, or they rescue a stray kitten.

I had an object lesson on this topic in my WIP. I used the term “idiot.”  A beta reader found the word harsh, denoting anger and insulting to both the heroine, who says it, and the hero, to whom it is applied.  Such was not my intention.  I had used the term the way Georgette Heyer used it, almost as a term of endearment.  She also uses “stupid,” and “wretch” in the same way, playfully and with no intent to hurt.  Clearly, I’m not as skilled as Ms Heyer in portraying the meaning of the word in this way.

I could argue with my reader, or I could put in a long explanation of how the word “idiot” is intended in this context, but none of that would be helpful. If the word offended one person, it might offend others.  Why would I want to annoy readers when I could avoid the issue by re-writing the sentence?  I’m not suggesting that writers should water down their prose to be as bland as a blanc-mange but I do recommend paying attention to possible misinterpretations.

English is a living language and words change their meanings and connotations over time. For example, hussy comes from the word housewife and used to refer to the mistress of a household, an honourable position, the exact opposite to the disreputable woman it refers to today. When writing historicals it is wise to keep an etymology dictionary handy.  I find this one on-line useful.

So, now I’m going through my WIP on the hunt for unintended red flags. My heroines can still be strong, decisive, and, occasionally cranky and plain-spoken, but they must remain likeable.

So, thanks to Blake Snyder and the unsympathetic hero for warning me away from “idiot” unless I really mean it.

How about you?  Are there words or actions that cause you to close a book and write the author off your TBR list?  Are there themes that are auto-buy for you? I’d love to read your comments.

 

Resolution – Meh!

 

It’s the new year and media abound with lists of resolutions

  • 8 ways to a happier marriage,
  • 10 tips to lose those holiday pounds,
  • 6 foods for better health,
  • 101 reasons to exercise.

This blog will not give you any suggestions for resolutions.  If you’re like me, you are a work in progress, always seeking to enhance your lifestyle, to improve your mind, to work smarter, and to cultivate relationships.  Those are not one-off resolutions to be written down in January and checked off in February. They are part of daily life.

What I am doing to mark the  new year, is clearing my closets. Over the years, I have accumulated “stuff,” and lots of it.  There are rods full of old clothes, that I kept because they might be good for costuming, or I could wear  again if I lost that ten pounds. (See 10 tips to lose those holiday pounds.)  Those closet hogs are going to the thrift store.  If  those extra pounds ever disappear I want new clothes, not old ones.

Dated or broken electronics.  We are never going to need that old VCR and the idea of repairing a broken tv is just a pipe dream.  Off to the recycling depot they go.

Harder, are the old Christmas decorations.  They have sentimental value, even if they no longer go on the tree.  Apparently, they have monetary value as well.  I saw a set of my old tree balls in an antique store, priced at $30.00 for a box of nine. I’ve still got mine in the original box and I paid $3.99 on sale, according to the price sticker.  Anyway, I’m keeping the pretty cut ball ornaments, but those fabric ones the cat scratched up?  They can go.

Clearing book shelves is harder still.  Some books were gifts, with the donor’s name on the inside page.  If I get rid of the book, am I telling the donor she no longer matters to me?  However, I got new books for Christmas, just like I requested, so space must be freed up.  I’ll take some old treasures to the used book store so someone else can enjoy them.

The basement and attic, I’ll leave to the man of the house.  It’s mostly his stuff in there anyway and I don’t have to look at it, except for my canning shelves.  They seem to be full of jars, yet when the season hits, I’m always running out of jam jars.  Another run to the recycle depot in my future.  Just because a jar is shaped like a bear, does not mean I must keep it.  I never put jam in an old bear jar.

Fabric, odd balls of yarn, worn out linens, these are the hardest tasks for me.  The last time I gave away my stash of yarn, I needed it a week later.  Even tiny scraps of pretty fabric can go into a quilt.  I dread clearing out my sewing supplies.  But it must be done.  The drawers are full and I’m still buying new stuff. However,  I’ve instituted a rule about not adding more storage space. Everything I have must fit in the space already allocated.

 

All this clearing and tidying and sorting gives me fresh energy. I feel as though I’ve cleared the decks for new adventures. The energy carries over into my writing life as well.  I’m better at seeing “stuff” in a stodgy sentence and throwing out the unnecessary words.  A ms that has languished for years is bound for the recycle.  It occupies space on my computer and in my mind but does nothing to promote my career.  Time to let it go.

There is nothing magical about turning a page on the calendar, but our culture seems to think January 1 is the start of new things. So, I take the first weeks of January as an invitation (command?) to clear out the dead weight of the previous months.  Then I feel refreshed and ready to go.

What about you? How do you mark the beginning of the year?

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