biweekly links 7-27-2016 – the archaeology edition

Don’t have weird. Have some science:

structure and the leaky plot

ship as drawn by John Dee in the margin of one of his books
One of Dee’s marginal doodles, shown in the Royal College of Physicians exhibit “Scholar, courtier, magician: the lost library of John Dee”. More about the exhibit design here, including the joyous news that there will be an exhibition catalog.

Keeping it short this week because I’m up to my knees in story slurry.

The plot fell apart once I got put everyone on a boat to the continent. Effects with nonexistent causes abound, stuff happens without consequences, and useless character tail-chasing brings the action to a crashing halt.

So many craft books talk about the pitfalls of the “mushy middle” but I honestly thought that the sheer amount of stuff I have to cram into the second act would prevent it happening to me. Yet somehow boring departures/arrivals, exposition, and wheel-spinning are all in there and I have to hack them out.

This thing may never map out to a predictable plot structure but A must lead to B because C and have D lingering effects. Trying to include all the facts only left me with enough red herrings to stock a fishery and I’m having to cut out every one to avoid confusing the reader. I’m re-outlining to clarify themes and character arcs, which probably adds as much new junk as I’m cutting out.

The book’s taking a new shape I can’t define yet, but taking this wider view has already answered some long-standing plot questions. Repeated “edit-edit-edit, walk away” cycles tend to make fixes obvious, to the point that I can almost feel when another bit is about to snap into place.

Has anyone else experienced slump in the middle of your WIP? How did you straggle through?


biweekly links 7-13-2016


Last weekend I took a break from the book to attend my first costume conference in several years. The scholarship has proceeded by leaps and bounds since I last made anything substantial, but the real treat was seeing old friends and making new ones.

Photo of ship Susan Constant at sunset
Reproduction of the Susan Constant, one of the ships that brought settlers to Jamestown. Author’s own.

Even so, I couldn’t avoid the book entirely.

The conference was in Jamestown Settlement/Historic Jamestown, a recreation of the first permanent English settlement in North America and the archaeological site of the original fort, respectively. Neither Dee or Kelley ever came to the New World, but some of Dee’s acquaintances did.

Settler George Percy presided over the winter of 1609-10 Starving Time. The name rang a bell, and a Google search revealed that he was the youngest brother of Henry Percy, 9th earl of Northumberland, called the Wizard Earl for his interest in early science. Percy’s Syon House was near Dee’s in Mortlake, and they ran in similar intellectual circles: the Wizard Earl led the so called School of Night, a group of men interested in clandestine religion and science.

The Jamestown archaeological museum included a selection of early tobacco pipes. Names of prominent courtiers and nobles decorated many of them, among them Charles Howard, first earl of Nottingham. Howard was Lord Admiral of the English fleet ca. 1585 to 1619. In a rather oblique connection, Jane Dee (nee Fromonds) served as lady in waiting to his wife Catherine before her marriage to John Dee.

Though he wasn’t involved in the Jamestown voyage, Dee acted as navigating consultant to earlier English voyages of discovery. His 1577 publication of General and Rare Memorials pertayning to the Perfect Arte of Navigation was the first to put forth the notion of a “British empire” and advocated English colonization of the New World.

These connections aren’t that surprising. The rich, powerful, and educated of sixteenth century England comprised a small group so most were acquainted with and/or related to each other. I just found it amusing that even when I take a break my interests reel me right back into the book.

And I discovered a costume element I can use to make Kelley (more) miserable, so that amuses.

I came out of the conference wanting to make everything, and while I find myself with some surprise free hours this summer, I’m going to stick to short, simple projects. Much as I’d love to drown in linen and lace the book still comes first.