This was a filling-the-well sort of weekend. Friday evening at the RI Philharmonic, listening to my favorite Mozart piano concerto and the Saint-Saëns organ symphony. Saturday at the RI Festival of Children’s Books during the day and playing games (Roll for the Galaxy, Cacao, and The Dresden Files cooperative card game) at Rivendell Books and Games in the evening. Sunday was for walking, our weekly everyone-in-the-kitchen family lunch, and tending to necessary weekly routines.
Over the weekend I also read The Rules of Magic, Alice Hoffman’s new book. It’s a prequel to her bestselling book, Practical Magic, and it’s wonderful. Reading a book like that is like listening to Renee Fleming sing: it shows you how much room you have to grow. That can be discouraging, but it can also leave you feeling energized by the possibilities ahead. Today, I choose the latter response.
The latest issue of Renaissance Magazine is out. There’s lots of castle lore, a comprehensive listing of Renaissance Fairs, ads for all sorts of intriguing stuff that’s hard to justify purchasing because you (mostly) live in the 21st century, and the Tomes of Lore column. In the latter is my review of Allison Weir’s latest historical novel: Anne Boleyn: A King’s Obsession.
I’ve been writing articles and reviews for this periodical for several years now. It’s a fun publication that appeals to RenFaire enthusiasts, as well as people who enjoy popular history and historical novels, games, and music. And since I’m spending a great deal of time in the Renaissance these days, I have several more reviews in the pipeline, most of them for recently released histories.
The reason for this historical immersion is that I’m currently writing a novel set in a dark fantasy version of Elizabethan England. More info coming soon!
This is one of the most engaging history books I’ve read in ages. Author Ruth Goodman is a social historian who takes a hands-on approach to Renaissance history. She has worked with museums, documentaries, and as an adviser to dramatic productions such as the BBC miniseries Wolf Hall. For several months she lived and worked on a reproduction Tudor farm. The result is a first person view of what it would be like to live in 16th century England.
Goodman’s focus is the everyday life of ordinary people. The book is organized from dawn to dusk, starting with the sort of beds you could expect to wake up in, how you would tend to personal grooming and what you’d wear. She digs down into the details, describing not just what people ate, but also how that food was produced and prepared. Every aspect of the day is described from the dual perspectives of research and experience. Goodman has roasted meat on an open fire, brewed ale, and made baked bread from heirloom grains. She has sewn clothing, made starched ruffs, and attempted to plough a field.
She’s not alone in this obsession: Living in the Renaissance is a Goodman family affair. Her daughter creates handmade silk ribbons for theatrical productions, and her husband, who is interested in the everyday art of the Tudor period, creates pigments and paints with period-authentic methods and ingredients.
As well as guiding you through a typical day, Goodman gives a sense of the seasonal work cycle, and on an even broader scale, how workers trained for various occupations. Along the way, she dispels some of the commonly held notions. Hygiene, for example, was a much bigger concern for Elizabethans that proponents of the “smelly history” theory would have us believe.
This book is a good resource for people who enjoy historical reenactments or write historical fiction, but anyone who’s interested in history is likely to enjoy author’s enthusiasm for her subject and her clear, engaging writing style. Highly recommended.
April was an odd month. There was a lot of writing going on, but you wouldn’t know it from the summary below. A couple of small projects I’d hoped to finish were pushed back into May (or possibly beyond.) On the bright side, I am very enthusiastic about the new novel, which will be the most ambitious story I’ve written since Evermeet, and considerably longer. I’m in learning mode, trying new things and submitting to new markets, and that’s a very exciting process.
- Renaissance Faire and Culture Magazine, Vol. 21 #3, Issue #109. A review of Edward IV, England’s Forgotten Warrior King: His Life, His People, and His Legacy by Anthony Corbet. I was surprised to receive the “scribe’s copy” of this issue, as I’d submitted this review about a year ago and by now, I’d assumed it had been declined.
- Wrote and submitted two short stories, on spec.
- Submitted a previously published story to a podcast magazine.
- Submitted “Synthetic Sanctity” to Market #4. (Persistence!)
Rejections: 2 (or possibly 4)
- “Synthetic Sanctity” was declined by Market #4. I got some very good feedback from two Trusted Readers, and am going to do a substantial rewrite before sending it out again.
- The reprint story I sent to a podcast magazine was declined. This was a first step into audio for me (not counting the audiobook versions publishers have done of my backlist.) I’ve started listening to podcasts, and I’m going to practice recording my work-in-progress to make sure a story works for the ear. Lots to learn!
- Not all rejections are definitive. Many publishers don’t respond at all unless they accept a story or article, so there comes a point at which writers have to call a submission’s “time of death” and turn off the life support. This month I’m pulling the plug on two essays written and submitted back in December. It’s always possible to be surprised a few months later, as in the Renaissance Magazine review, but in these two cases, it seems unlikely.
Work in progress:
- First draft of an on-spec fantasy novel.
- Revising a non-fiction ebook on habit acquisition.
- Awaiting editors’ notes on two short stories submitted in March.
Projects in circulation: 3
After wiping the two essays off my submission slate, I have just three short stories out in the world–the two new ones submitted in April, and a story submitted to a reprint anthology.
- Sent the graphic novel version of my Forgotten Realms story “The Great Hunt” to the winner of the March contest held on the Facebook group Forgotten Realms Archives
- Ran a contest for April in Forgotten Realms Archives with two audiobook versions of Winter Witch as prizes.
As a child, I read incessantly. One of the series that caught my imagination featured “the Littles,” a family of tiny humans who lived in the walls of a typical family house. Their size created significant challenges, as well as a new and intriguing way to view the world.
This notion has stuck with me over the years, and it’s the basis for “The White Tunic,” a story in this anthology. A young farmer strikes a bargain with a tiny fey warrior, who promptly takes him up on it. Before you know it, he has been seriously downsized.
In this review, the writer suggests using this notion in RPG campaigns. Since many of the people who read my stories are also gamers, this was something I had in mind while writing. Shrinking your player characters would give them an interesting way to experience the world and their place in it.
Another idea, and something I do frequently when I’m out hiking, is to envision yourself the size of a bird or chipmunk and imagine what the world would look like from that perspective. This draws your focus to the environment in a way that you generally don’t experience when you’re moving through it as a human. The forest floor becomes more detailed and nuanced and important, the canopy both closer and more vast.
I’m fond of “The White Tunic,” mostly because it so clearly defines one of my primary storytelling values: Stories are all about possibilities, experiences, and seeing life–and perhaps yourself–a little differently than you did before.
If you’ve been thinking about picking up this anthology but wanted to get more info first, this detailed, story-by-story review ought to do it. Here’s a link.
The reviewer commented on the anthology’s diversity. This is a hallmark of Jim Lowder’s projects, all the more impressive when you consider the ven diagram suggested by TWO very specific themes: the Cthulhu mythos and the Orient Express luxury train.
Looking forward to Jim’s next project, whatever that may be!