Category Archives: writing

I Write Dead People

I, like many authors, am sometimes taken to task for killing off favorite characters.  While I’m no George R. R. Martin, my stories (being set in a time of war, and a period of far more medical uncertainty than today) often rack up a body count.

It is well to remember that no matter how happy their endings, my characters (real or imagined) are two hundred years in the grave.

Elisabeth-Louise Vigée le Brun, Self-Portrait with daughter, 1786

Elisabeth-Louise Vigée le Brun, Self-Portrait with daughter, 1786

Sometimes, as when I’m researching period art, and I come across a particularly striking portrayal of someone who clearly loves being alive, who lives and smiles on from the canvas, and yet is no more than moldering bones today, this gives me a sharp, even unbearable pang of grief.

It also helps to remind me that we are, all of us, short-lived, mortal, and bound to the same fate that overtakes our characters.

What matters, though, is what they — and we! — do with the days that are granted in this human experience, and in telling their tales, I am helping to extend my characters’ time in the company of the living.

So, rather than mourning the deaths of the characters who people my pages, I encourage you to celebrate their lives, and the fact that through my words, you have had the opportunity to know them and to keep the flame of their memory alive.

As an author, I certainly prefer that to being pelted with rotten fruit, at least.

Play it Again, Sam

I know that’s a misquote, but it fits better misquoted, okay?

With the encouragement and prodding of my editor at Puddletown, I’ve cleaned up the second manuscript in my series, and submitted it late last night. I think it’s pretty good; now we just have to wait and see what their market reader thinks.

Meanwhile, I’m busily sketching out the rest of the series, and thinking about what I need to do to make the third completed manuscript presentable.

If this is what the life of a novelist is like, I’ll take it. Oh, yes, I will take it.

Blood and Guts

So, I’ve read Homer, and after the scenes outside the walls of Troy, what can anyone actually hope to add to that? In just a few hundred lines of poetry, the creator of the first major written epic covered pretty much every variant of violent battlefield death that I ever needed to think about.

And yet, here I am, writing about events framed by a war, in which blood was spilled and guts were occasionally strewn. What to do?

For the most part, I’ve made the conscious decision to this point to keep such action at a distance. My characters recollect the horrors of battle from time to time, and stories of specific incidents so notable that they have persisted in the historical record also pop up.

I have yet to write a direct account of battle, however, and I freely acknowledge that this is a somewhat chicken-hearted approach to the problem. For one thing, as I said above, it’s been done to death, by everyone from Homer down to our modern-day cinematographers, whose loving renditions of the personal costs of war can be emotionally overwhelming.

For another, I’m fortunate enough to have largely avoided any but the most prosaic and well-controlled episodes of blood and gore in my personal life. The births of my children and raising and slaughtering my own chickens, along with the typical injuries of a basically sedentary lifestyle, are the sum total of my own exposure to real-life bloodiness.

So, in all honesty, I don’t know that I have a lot to add, and for the moment, at least, I’m happy enough to just tell my characters’ stories through their reactions to the horrors that they’ve experienced. If I ever did sit down and try to write a realistic battle scene, I suspect that I would give myself nightmares, and that just doesn’t sound like fun at all.

Better to leave it in better-equipped hands, I think.