Allison Thurman's musings on writing, the weird, writing the weird, and other amusements
Author: Allison Thurman
Allison Thurman has always made stuff: out of fabric, metal, beads, even exaggerated fencing moves. Of late she makes stories out of weird history, with fragments of pop culture, unsolved mysteries, and science fiction mixed in for texture.
She lives in a galaxy far, far away (well, the DC metro area) with too many books and swords.
ReDistricted: Atypical Stories about Washington D.C.: It’s a webcomic about off-the-beaten-path DC history. It’s free, and every story has footnotes! What’s not to love? I’m shamefully unaware of the huge scope and quality of non-fiction history comics out there; it’s time that changed.
Haven’t we all said “that book should TOTALLY be made into a movie” at one point or another?
Yep, me too. What’s strange is that I seldom say it about a historical fiction novel. Stranger still(?), I don’t actually watch that much historical fiction.
Of these three historical fiction novels that need to be adapted for TV I’ve not read a one of them. A damn pity because they sound great: Sparta vs. Rome, WWII crime, Tudor conspiracy. When I do watch histfic it’s usually either written for the screen (The VVitch, Bomb Girls, The Americans) or adapted from a book I’ve not read (Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy, the White Princess, Outlander [well, I read part of this but never finished]).
And I’m admittedly terrible about keeping up with TV series. I start many but seldom finish due to time and attention constraints.
That, and I have a kind of reservation about converting books to movies. Two different mediums require two very different approaches to the same story, which is where the desire to be accurate to the original collides with the need to make a textual story visually compelling. Sometimes it’s just best to leave it alone. So when pressed to come up with books that I think would make great viewing I have to strain.
The spy who hoodwinked the Nazis with sorcery: file under “interesting if true”. As opposed to “Operation” Cone of Power in which British witches actually tried to repel the Nazis, Operation Mistletoe was just propaganda. Allegedly orchestrated by spy and occultist Cecil Williams, this article suggests it’s uncertain whether this fake ritual happened at all. (Tangentially, a whip ’round Google for “Napoleonic magical ritual” nets nothing about the alleged witchcraft used to repel Napoleon mentioned in the article. Still, possible inspiration for Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell?)
I’ve managed to trim down the first third of my book to under 100 pages! This is something of an accomplishment, as the first draft weighed in at a hefty 475 pages – long even for historical fiction, and inexcusable for a first time author. I’m currently rewriting the second third–if I can slim it similarly I’m on the right track.
Cutting has been remarkably easy. Because I wrote the first draft out-of-order many chapters wound up with “last time on [book]”- type introductions. Rewriting in order makes these obvious, and they’re the first to go.
Also: anything that bores me. The first draft adhered too closely to the historical record which includes a lot of pedantic to and fro and preparation. Such interludes hobble the story, and if I’m tuning out I imagine my readers will too.
Speaking of which, the day job and other amusements have impeded my going to my local critique group. As such I joined Scribophile at the recommendation of a HNS acquaintance. I’m getting good feedback, in record time and in the comfort of my own home. Gotta give to get though, and I can only hope I’m as helpful to my fellow writers as they are to me.
I’m not going to have the second draft complete by the HNS conference in late June, but I’m further ahead than I thought I’d be, simply because there’s so much I can get rid of!
How are everyone’s works in progress (writing and not)?
Like a lot of histfic fans I’ve been enjoying Starz’ “The White Princess”. I’m not sure how historically accurate it is. I’m not sure it matters.
The story plays with one of the gaps in our knowledge that is so ripe for fictionalization: how did Henry VII and his queen Elizabeth of York develop a happy marriage? Sources tell us Henry mourned Elizabeth deeply when she died, but not how a woman could be happy with a man who killed her uncle and deposed her family. Two episodes in I think the miniseries (based on Philippa Gregory’s novel of the same name) plays with this question admirably.
Even if the Woodvilles did try to lure Edward IV into marrying Elizabeth through supernatural means they may not have had to: she was reputed to be a great beauty and charming to boot.
Still, if those lead figures were Jaquetta’s she was using them for something, but that may not mean much. People at all levels of society dabbled in witchcraft during the early modern period. For that I do have a footnote: Keith Thomas’ Religion and the Decline of Magic.
Yea, though I walk through the valley of suck, I will not falter…At least, I hope I won’t.
It’s fair to say that I’m not going to have the second draft done by the HNS conference in June. Well and so–I work with the time I’ve got and while it’s not as fast as I’d like at least it’s steady.
But I’ve run into parts of this book that I…despise is not too strong a word. One section in particular I still hate despite acting on quality feedback, and though I move on to the next part I have to wonder if my second draft isn’t turning into just another, worse, first draft.
My plea to my regional Historical Novel Society chapter resulted in: get more critiques. Which I can’t argue with. Second (and third, and fourth) pairs of eyes catch what I can’t because I’ve been looking at the damn thing too long.
I have a local critique group but can’t always get to physical meetings. I’m checking out Scribophile on the recommendation of another HNS colleague to see if online critique exchanges are equally helpful.
Totally unrelated (or not?): my fencing game has been in the valley of suck as well. New coach, new footwork, so I’ve been clomping all over the strip like an asthmatic elephant for months.
Until this past weekend when some of it finally “clicked”.
This is a consistent pattern with my fencing: I have to sweat away in the valley of suck to make a higher (how’s that for a cheesy/tortured metaphor?) I wonder if my writing progress will be the same. I’ve been fencing sixteen years and this pattern remains. I’ve only been writing for four.
Four! (I started at the cusp of a previous government shutdown, and here I am again).Has it been that long? Or has it been that brief?
How The White Princess is a Girl-Powered Game of Thrones: short version: the real Game of Thrones. George R. R. Martin borrowed heavily from the Wars of the Roses but the history doesn’t need much embroidering: woman has to marry man who just killed her uncle – the uncle who may have killed her brothers to take the crown for himself. Throw in conniving relatives and shifting alliances for spice and I’ll be watching.