Many thanks to Jacqui Reiter, who again invited me to be part of a writer round robin. Her fascinating entry on her work regarding John, 2nd Earl of Chatham (the underrated and overshadowed brother of William Pitt the Younger), may be found here.
What am I Working On?
A fanfiction novella with the working title, “The Huffing Rule”, about the relationship between Mary Ingalls (famous as the blind older sister in the Little House books by Laura Ingalls Wilder), and Oscar Edmund “Cap” Garland (famous for being one of the heroes in Wilder's The Long Winter). This idea has been toying with me for over twenty years, long before I even knew the word “fanfiction”.
How does my work differ from others of its genre?
As fanfiction, “The Huffing Rule” falls into the “Alternate Universe” category. I have changed historical facts, condensed dates and years, and altered characters in order to serve my vision. Wait-- perhaps “altered characters” is not the right idea. I have not altered what I see as the essential characteristics and personalities of the historical people involved. What I have done is present a different side of events and personalities-- a side glossed over, ignored, or only hinted at in Laura Ingalls Wilder's fictionalized account of her own life.
In the Little House novels, most of the story is told from Laura's perspective. Mary Ingalls is her good-goody sister foil: Only once, In These Happy Golden Years, are we allowed to see Mary's life from her own point of view. At the end of this poignant and truthful self-revelation, we are left with Laura's assessment that Mary is “truly good.”
Possibly she was. And, since Mary died in 1928 and These Happy Golden Years was published in 1943, Laura sounds like she has survivor's guilt. Now, why might that be?
Why do I write what I do?
My major influences are Laura Ingalls Wilder, Dorothy Dunnett, and Willa Cather. I write because I am fascinated by the past-- and by various interpretations of it. This is also why I write fanfiction-- I've rarely been content with the end of a story, and usually want to know what happens next to the characters, or more about their backgrounds, or about their motivations for action.
How does my writing process work?
I think in images, obsess over the images-- and then turn them into written vignettes. For “The Huffing Rule”, I initially had an image of Mary guiding herself across a yard via clothes lines. This image has not (yet?) made its way into the work, but an image of two men playing checkers/draughts has-- it became part of the opening chapter.
I work part time, so I write Thursdays-Sundays for now. I also read (usually history) every spare moment I can-- the historical facts lead to mental images and inspiration. Portraits and photographs help, but there comes a point when I write when I have to stop meditating on the physical images and put them away. I also find a song or two that serves as inspiration-- and I'll play that until its part of who I am. Last month, I played Lord Huron's “Ghost on the Shore” while writing a piece-- only to discover to my shock/horror the next day that I'd listened to it over 70 times.
When I write, I try to pound out the first draft as quickly as possible. I often write standing up or leaning on something (It seems to help my concentration). I don't eat much when I'm writing: Just enough to keep going. Coffee is sometimes my friend and often my enemy.
Thank you to the wonderful and generous Jacqui Reiter, who tagged me in a Writer's round robin. Her great “Meet My Main Character” entry, about the underrated John Pitt, 2nd Earl of Chatham, can be found here.
1) What is the name of your character? Mary Amelia Ingalls
2) Is he/she fictional or a historic person? She is historical (Jan 10, 1865- Oct 20, 1928) When and where is the story set? The story is set in early 1890s De Smet, South Dakota. Although the town is a real place, the setting is what is known in fanfiction as “Alternate Universe”—that is, the characters, sometimes physical setting, and internal rules of the story are different than the original source (“Canon”). In this case, “Canon” is a combination of “The Little House” series by Laura Ingalls Wilder and the historical record of her life, family, and friends—with the emphasis on her sister, Mary Ingalls.
3) What should we know about him/her? Mary has been blind since her early teen years. In the 1880s, she attended the Iowa School for the Blind. Now she is back in a Midwestern railroad town, with the general understanding that she will be living with her mother for life. The school taught her how to be a useful member of society-- she does various handicrafts which bring in a slight household income; she plays the organ in church on Sundays; she does errands in town under her mother's very strict supervision.
4) What is the main conflict? What messes up his/her life? Someone falls in love with Mary-- or thinks he does. Oscar Edmund “Cap” Garland is in his mid-twenties, a bachelor, and lives over the local livery stable. He and his best friend, Almanzo Wilder, are famous for saving the town from starvation during the Hard Winter of 1880-81: The two men made a 40 mile round trip, outracing a blizzard, to buy seed wheat from an isolated homesteader.
That was ten years ago. Cap and Almanzo are still deeply respected for their feat-- but life has disappointed in the meantime. Droughts and tornadoes make homesteading (the lifeblood of the town, because of the railroad) almost an exercise in despair. Cap has never found “The Right Girl”; Almanzo has wed Mary's embittered sister, Laura.
Cap thinks Mary may be “The Right Girl”. The problem is that he doesn't really know Mary at all. Society (or is it only perceived society?) labels her as “Blind”, an object, and it is therefore expected that she will never marry. Part of the conflict is that, on the surface, Mary has accepted this role-- until now, she assumed she had no other options.
5) What is the personal goal of the character? Mary's goal is to live a good and useful life within her blindness. Cap's infatuation gives her the possibility to redefine what that means.
6) Is there a working title for this novel, and can we read more about it? The working title is "The Huffing Rule"-- the title is taken from a now obsolete 19th Century rule in the game of checkers.
7) When can we expect the book to be published? There are no immediate plans for standard publication. Since it is a work in progress, I'll be posting chapters to fanfiction.net as they are completed.
I cannot live within "Christina's World"
At your convenience:
You keep an artist's distance, throw out phrases in parched colors,
False hopes and false apologies, and claim you have no fault.
Your charity is cold. Spring winds do not keep warm.
"A grassy slope," you say, about my life.
And when your work is done,
When you have finished painting the curved spine,
The upward tilting head, the twisted limbs,
You will bound past me, and climb toward the house.
A grassy slope. The house waiting at the top.
"She was a nice girl," you claim. "I liked her.
"Just... Yes, it is too bad. I wish her well."
Her bare feet, long and slender, met the light
Of moon brought full to term. Water dripped
From limpid leaves of willow to the ground,
Where waiting violets eager drank the dew.
Behind, in darkened tower's vaulted rooms,
A poet, spent, now slept in twisted sheets.
Within his hand he clasped a broken chain:
A diamond collar fit to grace a deer.
A half-forgotten gate of creaking rust
(Its wooden door half-rotting in the posts)
Groaned to the stars a half-remembered dread:
The Garden of the Consorts and the Queens.
Here pomegranates withered on the branch.
Cruel ivy bound the supplicating hands
Of She Who Hears-- her votive long abandoned;
Her marble fingers crumbled by the rain.
At sight of her who desecrated night,
She turned her ruined face towards the ground.
"And where is your queen now? What of her love?
"As hollow and as barren as her prayers."
The Lady did not answer.
A thousand thousand voices in the dark
Formed into one: "What will you now?"
"The queen of what?" soft mocked the Longaevi.
"The Queen of Earth," replied the sloe-eyed one,
"And Mistress of Desire. And this my pledge:
"Let roses thorn in bloom beneath my feet,
"My blood to bring forth ransom for my crown."
"Your blood indeed in payment we require.
"Of ransom there is none. And in return,
"Unrivalled will your children rule their realms."
For thirty years I've paid to know the skies.
Now alchemy must acquiesce to me:
You have just thirty minutes to comply.
Their king insists I've stolen Spanish gold:
Medallion gold; gold bars; gold plate;immense
Amounts of coin; Madeira wine (one hundred Casks),
Fine opals, pearls, two ruby rings, and
Three pirates' fees in silver--so I'm told.
Alas,my captains now cannot attend:
Sir Raleigh has a toothache; Drake, the flu;
John Hawkins claims malaria's to blame.
All send their deep regrets to Court and Spain.
Of course from Spain I've nothing there to hide.
The opals I've had sewn into my robes.
The pearls adorn the gown I wear tonight.
As for the rings: Of such I have no need
(Fit payment for an alchemist--Agreed?)
(Take heed your stars) in half an hour's time.
Then we will dine in State. This I command:
Transform the Gold to Lead and Stay the Wine.
I hear birds in the trees outside. The birds are cheerful.
I wish they would stop being cheerful. It's only Thursday. Tomorrow morning, they can be cheerful.
I'm not sure what to do about Benedict Cumberbatch. I'm not a fan girl. I'm not! I'm not! And yet, there it is.
I first saw him in "Amazing Grace" several years ago, and (aside from "Sherlock") that is the role that sticks in my mind. So to stop myself from joining message boards anbd watching Youtube videos of Cumberbatch reading "The Little Red Hen", I am reading a biography of William Pitt the Younger.
I admire Pitt. I'm not sure I like him, though (hey I'm only on chapter 2). So I'll report back on the subject when I've finished the book and then rewatched the film.