I write fiction, historical fiction to be precise. I can even fine tune it to –Historical fiction based in 1880 Chicago with a strong architectural theme. I write about buildings, the men who financed them, designed them, built them and the people that use them.
Why am I telling you this?
Sent my novel, ‘What Price Honor?’ to my publisher, Emily Victorson of Allium Press , who after a suitable period of time, returned it with her edits. Time to face reality! I had to ask myself, ‘Just how real is real?’ You just have to get the right balance or recipe down.
Chicago in the 1880’s was an exciting, vibrant place. You might say it led a double life, part frontier western town and the other industrial eastern. After the fire of 1871, the city was a blank slate, ready to welcome a new breed of businessman, worker and architect. But there were problems. Chicago was built on gumbo. That’s what they called it. So in order to build tall, these men had to discard old building ideas and create new ones.
You might say I have a blank slate to create interesting adventures, people. I purposely set the book in 1882 because nothing really important happened. But…a lot of things are about to happen. The Socialist movement is gaining ground, skyscrapers are about to rise above 10 stories, electricity etc. That is where I have to find my balance, particularly in descriptions. There is not a lot out there. Ten years later, the Columbian Exposition, there is a wealth of information for the aspiring author. But 1882, I have to find the right recipe.
Lately I find myself asking WHY? We all do and we all have different answers.
I attended the Historical Novel Society conference in 2010. And I was one of six would be authors sitting at a round table with an agent. The agent first asked us for a quick blurb of our book. That was easy, I had it all practiced – twenty five words give or take a few. After listening to five other pitches, I felt proud of myself. Then she asked us….why did you decide to write about him/her?
I hit a wall, a complete blank. I had never asked myself that question. Why did I have a male protagonist? Of course, when my turn came, I started rambling and she lost interest and suggested I refocus. Lately, as I began plotting my second book, I remembered her question.
Well I wanted to write a book about 1880 Chicago when the city started rebuilding after the fire. Why that time? Well my husband and I own an Architecture/Engineering company. We are both history buffs and over the years have amassed a collection of building artifacts – leaded glass, stone capitals, granite pavers etc. And, as I told the agent, I wanted to write about Louis Sullivan, but not a biography. In 1880 Sullivan was young, brash, full of ideas and had just become a partner with Dankmar Adler. Still it would make for a boring book of …and then I built…sort of thing. Sullivan loved Chicago. Why is Garrett Lyons the protagonist?
I decided to show city through the eyes of someone who does not particularly like being here. Garrett Lyons, former army lieutenant, Pinkerton agent, is broke and stranded in Chicago and turns to his poker buddy, Sullivan for help.
As I re-read “What Price Honor” and the three short stories that precede the book, I ask myself that very question. Why have a male hero? I guess Garrett is the big brother I always wanted and never had. My parents divorced when I was three and my mother raised me. I grew up reading and watching TV. My favorite show was “Gunsmoke”. Maybe James Arness was a father/brother figure. But I watched endless reruns. Unfortunately he seems to have the same problems, hang-ups that I have.
So fellow authors, what about you? Why did you pick you hero/heroine?
Just received my manuscript, with edits, from Allium Press.
Getting a chance to read What Price Honor again. I find it still exciting, fresh. The characters still speak to me. Now everything is done on line. I mean this literally….Emily has marked just about every line, usually adding commas and the like. So I invested in word 2010, we are now on the same page so to speak, and Emily came over to give me a quick tutoral. I needed it. She also gave me a copy of the latest Allium Press brochure. If you attended the Chicago Tribune Lit Fest, maybe you saw the Allium Press booth and have a copy. In any case I have attached one here. Hope to finish all these edits before the end of the month and then things start moving. I am excited..
I am a subscriber to the Chicago Tribune’s Printer’s Row and receive my copy every Sunday. I look forward to it. A recent article, “Rahm’s Readers”, caught my eye. This was a summer book club sponsored by the Chicago Public Library and heartily endorsed by the mayor. I imagine most libraries have the same program…a children’s summer reading club.
This brought back some very pleasant memories. Although born in Chicago I grew up in northwest Indiana, the city of Whiting to be exact. A typical industrial town bordered by Lever Brothers soap factory, Standard Oil Refinery and Union Carbide Chemical. Whiting still is a no nonsense type of town.
The one oasis of culture was our local library. Once I was able to get a library card it was my second home. A library card is a ticket to let you explore new worlds…..
I read two book s a day, showed up bright and early when the door opened. I gave the librarian a recap of the book and whether I liked it or not, then checked out two more. It was great. My mother was skeptical at first, but then decided this project would keep me busy all summer. At the end of the summer I read the most books, of course, and won a small pennant with my name on it.
The Whiting Library is still there, almost as I remember it. Until recently, I did not realize that this was a Carnegie library. And, as an architecture buff, I applaud the fact that the city of Whiting did not demolish it but has kept the building.
Next week my publisher is back from vacation. This means that before the end of July I will receive my manuscript “What Price Honor” with her edits. I’ve spent the past months working on my web page, trying to figure out Facebook, and polishing some short stories.
Most of the ‘helpful tips for writers ‘ that are posted on line or in writers magazines advise you to put the book down for at least a month or so. Then you will return with a fresh eye. That is true. Meeting the characters I spent 8 years (I am not joking here) creating and wonder if I we will still like each other again. I think so.
However this editing on line with Word is all new to me. But a red pencil is a red pencil. I have mixed feelings…….seeing my first book – with edits. What comments did she make? And most important are we going to agree? Wish me luck
Some more thoughts on Philadelphia. This is a city that moves at a different pace from Chicago. The streets are manageable. Some are quite narrow. We Chicagoans would consider them an alley. But I soon realized that this was the footprint of the original town
It is still there. And it’s a great feeling. So I walked slowly feeling the history,
This is quite different from Chicago. We are a brash city always on the move trying to impress ourselves and every one else.
I enjoyed it. Philadelphians have kept a lot of their older buildings. Not just the touristy ones, Independence Hall etc, but whole neighborhoods. Still, downtown there is a pleasant mixture of 1880 buildings along side 1920 buildings…..comforting.
A Chicago Connection —
I mentioned architect, Frank Furness in my last blog and posted a picture of the Philadelphia Academy of Fine Art designed by him. Louis Sullivan worked for Furness after completely school and mentioned him frequently in his writings. His style of ornamentation had a great influence on Sullivan. Here are some other photos of the Philadelphia Academy.
Just returned from a five day visit to Philadelphia…a lovely city. A chance to visit with family and see grandchildren. Philadelphians are friendly and rather quiet. No one seems to honk their car horns the way Chicagoans do. But to me it’s all about the buildings. Philadelphia has a wonderful mix of old and new. Chicago has a tendency to rebuild every 30 years or so. When I look at a building in the Windy City it could very well be the 6th or 7th building on that sight.
And then I wonder what was lost.
While there I discovered a Chicago connection, of course. This is a picture of the Philadelphia Academy of Fine Art which was designed by Frank Furness. Louis Sullivan worked in his office for a brief period. He was laid off and moved to Chicago. Furness was known for his flamboyant Victorian style. Sullivan did admit he was influenced by Furness. decorative style. What do you think?
It’s books….that’s why you are here. Like me, you love to read, feel it is essential to living. Maybe, like me, you want to see into the minds of people who write. Where to they find a story, how do they create a character?
No matter what you read or what you have heard…..There are no rule on how to write. Sometimes it comes easily, the words seem to flow from my fingers onto the computer screen. Sometimes its like drilling rock and then blasting it out with charges. I go through a long phase of drilling before the story comes out. Right now I am waiting for my publisher, Allium Press, to complete edits on my novel. Meanwhile I have taken a short story On Patrol, the one that introduced my character and eventually became a novel, and decided to polish it up. When I began the book, I use the short story as a prologue. Agents, editors told me to drop the prologue and just start the novel. It took me a long time before I could let it go. They were right. But I thought polishing it up, putting it out, might let all of you meet Garrett Lyons. He’s quite a guy. More about him later.
Writing fiction is a journey with no foreseeable end in sight. You tell yourself at the beginning that this is a craft you will never master, that you will always be learning. But like every writer I know, I accept, even embrace it.
My journey began over 15 years ago. I enrolled in a writing class at a local college where I tentatively put pen to paper. With my new found confidence I attended a “Of Dark & Stormy Nights” writer’s conference sponsored by the Midwest chapter of Mystery Writers of America. I had my short story critiqued by an author/member of the chapter. He told me I had a ‘way with words’. Yes, girl you can write. But cautioned, the road is not an easy one. Nevertheless I have been hooked on murder ever since.
I began by writing short stories. One story in particular, “On Patrol”, was published in a western fiction magazine. The editor asked for more stories about the hero, Garrett Lyons. As lover of Chicago History and architecture, I decided to expand the Lyons’ character from the short story into a full-length novel – a novel about Chicago’s efforts at rebuilding and rebirth after the Great Fire, which resulted in its “Golden Age of Architecture” and included of course, love – revenge and murder. The result is “What Price Honor”.