Monday, August 31, 2015

A Good Reason to Get Your Flu Shot

Though the Great Plague gets more press, the 1918 influenza pandemic was much more deadly. It it one reason that both sides in World War I came to the peace table as it killed hundreds of thousands of young men in barracks and camps and made a growing manpower crisis critical. The epidemic spread slowly, but I've seen few signs that people recognized it in its early stages. 

It certainly affected my family in western Pennsylvania in the year before anyone called it a pandemic.. In the notes I am assembling for my book on my mother's family, I find that my first cousin,  Electa Smith,  died at the age of 17 from the flu.  The year was 1917.  Her mother  (the oldest of the eight McCaskey girls)  died shortly thereafter of  "a broken heart," and her brother, Clair, was left with a permanent stutter from the grief that engulfed his family.

The Smith family -- Ella and Harry,
Electa and Clair, around 1908
Ella and Baby Electa in 1900

This picture has a bit of mystery behind it. That's Electa on the left. The other girl, referred to only as "Carrie", seems to have been an orphan that the Smiths took in to help around the house.  After both Electa and Ella died, Harry married Carrie. There's a story there, somewhere, but I doubt I'll find it.

Sunday, August 30, 2015

Come In and Make Yourself Comfortable

Welcome to one little corner of my writing office.  It contains all the essential ingredients  -- an open door, books, a rocking chair, a sleeping cat, a laptop computer and a pot of flowers.

This new blogging venue opens with a  simple goal -- to give my readers an inside look at what goes on between the time a writer decides to create a new book and the time that book hits the bookshelves. Every author knows that writing is a long process; every reader thinks that the next book should become available sooner than it does. To fend off those who greet every new book with the same question --"When's the next one coming?" -- I'll try to share some of the processes that go into creating a new set of characters and  a new story arc with all the appropriate turning points, crises, and cliff-hangers. You'll get to hear about the struggles between historical accuracy and dramatic necessity. I'll try to show you some of the research problems and their solutions. You'll get to follow the debates over point of view, characterization, settings, and appropriate language. And you'll even get some inside peaks at our ideas for cover illustrations.

Right now I'm thinking about three separate publishing ventures. The most immediate is the release of Book 2 in my fictional series about the Grenville family of South Carolina during the Civil War and its aftermath. I have finished the basic manuscript for Yankee Reconstructed, and it is now flitting back and forth between me and my editor, as she makes suggestions for changes and I try (or refuse) to fit those changes into the story.  At the same time, I'm corresponding with my graphic designer about the layout for the cover and ideas for a book trailer. We're all aiming for a release date of January 3, 2016 (which is not as far off as it sounds.)

Also on my agenda is a new publishing venture which I am taking on for another author. This is a non-fiction book about a little-known aspect of World War II.  In this case I will be shepherding the book through the publishing process, handling things like editing, layout, production, distribution, and marketing. As you might guess, that will require a whole new wardrobe of hats!

The third project is still in the process of hatching.  The Grenville Saga begins with the Civil War and focuses on a northern gentleman married to a southern belle in Damned Yankee.  Book 2 (Yankee Reconstructed) picks up the story during Reconstruction and concentrates on the Grenville children, whose lives take on very different problems after the war.  But we will need a third volume.  I have a rough time frame (World War I to Great Depression) and a cast of new characters who are the Grenville grandchildren.

So what do I know about those fictional grandchildren? Well, I have a prototype family from which to draw much of the story arc. The granddaughters will be based on my mother's immediate family -- a widowed mother and eight obstreperous daughters who followed eight very different paths through the Roaring Twenties and beyond. Easy? Maybe not. I've struggled for years over the question of how to tell their stories honestly without upsetting any of their descendants, who are in many cases my beloved cousins.  That problem is still there, and I'm now dealing with it by trying to clarify what i know about each of the women involved.  For the next little while, I intend to regale you with stories about my aunts and their lives. And then I'll change their names and draw their most interesting personality quirks into telling the fictional story of The Grenville Sisters.

And so we'll start by introducing you to my family.  I'm importing the first few of these stories from the "Roundheads and Ramblings" blog over on my website. And then I'll add the others as I happen to recall their adventures.

Tomorrow: Aunt Ella