Winding Down February

I got an email newsletter from Elise Blaha-Cripe yesterday. I love her stuff. She has a great eye for color and craft and her attitude of “just get it done” is something I am trying hard to adopt, knowing that you can only edit words that have been written. Anyway, in her email, she mentioned that it felt like January lasted 7 weeks and February zoomed by. And I identified strongly with this. I know at least once in January I woke up in the middle of the night in a cold sweat fully believing that it was mid-April and I had missed all my deadlines. And now, on the last day of February, I feel like it was just February 4th yesterday. What kind of crazy time-warp is this??

I am winding down the self-edit of The Star of Fire, book two in The Star of Time Series. I have a chapter to go and then I need to drop in some little morsels before I can send this on to beta and editing. Come hell or high water, it will be done by Friday and off to beta.

This is a book that I wish I had written like I laid out in the self-editing post. It really could have benefitted from that kind of writing and I am excited to try it out with the next book scheduled for plotting and writing in March. Will report back.

Completely unrelated, but necessary note: As spring approaches (apologies to anyone who may not see spring for a few more weeks or months – remember this when I complain that it is eleventy million degrees here later this summer) I may be more scarce. We have tractor repairs to do, mowing to start and a bunch of new fruit trees to plant and get situated. We’ve had almost two solid weeks of rain and I shudder to think about what the yard will look like once it is dry enough to mow.

Another, sort of related, yet unnecessary note: In the email referenced above Elise said that she is writing a book on productivity and can I say that I am insanely excited for this book to come out (2019, I think)? She gets more done in a day than I sometimes get done in a week and I’m just … well, I could use the help, I think. Besides that, I love reading about productivity and the fact that she’s got kids and a successful business means a lot. It’s different when you balance those two and a lot of books I’ve come across feel like they’ve been written in a kind of childless vacuum where the only life priority is work. And that doesn’t, well, work for me.


Sun Baked Second City

1871 Chicago had to be a fascinating place. A cross between the wild west and high society New York.

Railroads brought new people, livestock, and goods in constantly. The stockyards were full of cattle, pigs, chickens. The smell had to be ferocious, especially in the summer, when high temperatures were in the 90s, cooking manure and waste, trash and people. New arrivals were warned – handbooks in various languages passed around – to avoid scams and con artists. Undoubtedly many still fell prey.

The river had just been turned to flow south into the canal. An engineering marvel. The hope was that it would carry the sewage away from Lake Michigan – the main source of the city’s drinking water. Cholera and other water-borne disease had been a real problem, as you can probably imagine. Hospitals couldn’t handle the sick, the youngest bearing the brunt of fatalities.

The gap between the wealthy and poor ever expanding. The upper crust lived on Prairie Avenue and the Gold Coast (which was just gaining a foothold). Their street was lit with well-maintained gas lamps. Their houses were surrounded by gardens and fences. They had carriage houses and staff. Parties and nights at the opera. They worried about fashion – gray and violet were the colors of the season along with the ever fashionable black. Their homes and businesses heavily insured against disaster.

The poor lived to the north. They lived in little wooden houses packed tightly against each other. Multiple buildings on each lot. Piles of wood and trash in the yard, animals in a barn if you could afford them. Wash hanging out in the open. Nobody cared about the color of their clothes, they were worried about their next meal. Insurance a foreign concept.

The whole city was slowly rising from the mud. Seriously. The city decided that the flooding in winter and spring was unacceptable, so they raised street level about three feet. This required large buildings to be raised on jacks and new basement areas to be built. The Chicago Underground? It’s a real thing that exists because of this raising of the city. St. Patrick’s Church basement was being constructed when the fire broke out, the church on jacks and stone being stacked beneath the building.

All the hustle and bustle. Kids going to school, men off to the stockyards or to the downtown area to work in groceries, dry goods stores, and other shops. Heading to the roundhouse, to the factories. Women heading to work, too. Cleaning, teaching, volunteering, nursing.

Saloons didn’t quite outnumber the churches, but they were plentiful. They dotted the streets in vice districts – Hell’s Half-Acre, Gambler’s Row, Hairtrigger Block. And the brothels? Abundant. Lou Harper’s Mansion, Carrie Watson’s, the infamous Under the Willow (just shut down upon the proprietor’s retirement to the country where he lived as an upstanding citizen aided certainly by his fortune).

The wooden streets where wagons and horses rumbled by. The sidewalks, also wooden, host to crowds of pedestrians. The river, dirty and undrinkable. Ships forcing the bridges to stay open longer than they should, making it near impossible to get across the river. The crowds and traffic, bucking against the delay. They built a tunnel to alleviate congestion, but who knows how effective it really was. The wooden buildings, packed together – houses and warehouses, factories and tenements, all together. Zoning wasn’t a thing.

Children roamed the streets in packs like dogs. They learned to pickpocket and survive. Some were organized by the less caring adults who saw an opportunity. Others were put in orphanages where their lot may not have been much better.

All of this. All the people and animals and houses and buildings and streets and sidewalks baking and baking under an unforgiving sun with no rain in sight.

The fire department was understaffed and underequipped. Some of the wagons had been in service since the dawn of the department – 10 years. Worn hoses, old wagons, not enough men and horses and a record number of fires in the last year. $3.5 million in damages. They asked for more money, better equipment, more fire watchers. The city was low on funds. Not enough in the budget, the city replied. So they patched their hoses. Kept the wagons working. Bought a few more horses. But the city expanded. And the fire department spread even thinner.

Still, the sun baked the city.

October rolls around and it should get cooler, but it doesn’t. The sweat and the stink and the heat and still no sign of rain. Every bit of moisture has been wrung from the city. Fires are a constant threat. Carelessness is the leading cause, but arson is a problem, too. A warehouse here, a house there. The fire watch is expanded. The first shift used to start at 9:30. Now it starts at sundown. They search the horizon for any sign and send crews to fight the blazes that erupt.

A regular Saturday night, until fire dots the sky on the west side of the river. The fire department races into action, wagons, horses, and men working together to bring the destruction under control. Hours roll by. Crowds gather in the streets to watch the spectacle. Saturday night entertainment. Daniel Quirk owns the saloon across the street. He passes out free liquor in exchange for onlookers wetting down his building. The home across the street burns, its occupant perishing, refusing to leave their lives fortune. The city holds its breath, wondering if the brave firefighters can beat the raging beast back this time. It is noon on Sunday before the fire is out. Exhausted firefighters drag wasted hoses and beaten wagons back to stations for repair and rest. Quirk’s saloon is saved.

The fire is all anyone can talk about. They feel as though they dodged a bullet. If the firefighters hadn’t gotten it under control, why, the entire western side of the city might have been destroyed. People meet to worship and take their Sabbath day of rest. They pray for their city. They pray for rain.

It’s nine hours later. The city winds down (most of it anyway, some of it was surely just getting started). Tomorrow is a work day. A school day. Gas lanterns are lit on Prairie Avenue. Children are tucked into bed. Women finish their chores. Men smoke a pipe, a cigar, a hand-rolled cigarette. On a little-cared-about street in a little-cared-about neighborhood, history remembers a cow kicking over a lantern. Or so the story goes.


Quinning | February 2018

Hello, world! Oh, how I have missed you!

Today is the first day since January 26th that I have felt even remotely human. I don’t know what we caught (though I have a sneaking suspicion it may have been flu) but it wiped us out. I wrote this off as a cold for several days because nobody ran a fever. Sniffles, general blah feeling, but no fever or other serious symptoms. And maybe it was a cold. But I’ve never had a cold last 2 and a half weeks. Maybe we were spared the other symptoms because we had the flu shot? Who knows. I’m just glad to be back!

January 2018

I only had two goals in January:

  • Finish the sweet romance. I am giving myself to the end of the month to knock out this little book. It won’t get published until late in the year since it is a Christmas-themed book, but I wrote out the beats in December and wanted to finish while it was fresh.

Scrapped this … for now. I got 40,000 words in and realized I was bored out of my mind. It didn’t take a rocket scientist to figure out why either. The premise is cute, but not enough to sustain a full novel. There’s just not enough there and I was forced to spend way too much time inside each characters head. I do think it could work as a novella, and I may revisit it later this year when I have a gap in my schedule to see if I can pull pertinent scenes and use it that way. Then the words won’t be a total waste.

I took three days to mourn my lost effort and moved on. But I believe too strongly that if the writing bores the writer it’s sure not going to entertain the reader!

  • Write 1,200 words a day. I joined a writing challenge group to hold me accountable and so far, so good. I haven’t hit goal every day, especially at the beginning of the week when I was rewriting the first quarter of the romance. Once I got into fresh territory the words came faster and the goal was reached more consistently. Public shame is a strong motivator, I guess.

I came really, really close here. I know I would have made it if I hadn’t slept through an entire day – sick. AUGH! I had built up a bit of a buffer, but couldn’t quite make full word count after I got sick and then I had a zero word day on the 29th because I couldn’t get off the couch. Still, I am super proud of my 36,153 words. That’s a lot of words! That’s a lot of words consistently!

February Goals

  • Finish edit of Star of Fire – I finished my edit notes months ago (color me embarrassed) but still have to go through and make the actual edits. I also have to write at least three new scenes and add an entire secondary plot. So, no biggie. 😮 I’ve already booked a spot with the editor for March and I’d love to have this to him by 3/1. Head down and get to work time I suppose.
  • In the course of scrapping my sweet Christmas romance, I had a brainstorm for a different book. I can’t help it! So I went ahead and started it. It’s a secondary project now and only gets work when/if I have time after working on SOF. Thankfully it avoids all the pitfalls I discovered with the first book and seems to be holding up better. If nothing else, it’s good practice for writing out of my home genre!
  • Sketch plot for book three – The Star of Storms. That’s right – that’s the title! I have the major plot points in my head, I just need to get them down on paper and start filling in the little twists and turns and figure out the motivations for the not-so-tiny cast of characters. Very exciting stuff! If all goes to plan (which it won’t, just sayin’) I should start drafting this book on 3/1. Fingers crossed!

Not writing related, but still goals for February:

  • My parents are going to be moving in temporarily. They’re building a tiny house, but aren’t quite ready to retire and my Dad was laid off work. So they’re in this weird holding pattern and don’t want to make a house payment on one salary. We’re returning the favor – we lived with them for a year while we built our house. Anyway, all that to say, I need to declutter and make some space. It’s amazing the debris that can build up in just 5 years.
  • Get tax stuff together for the accountant. I stopped doing our taxes years ago (actually, I put my foot down and told Mr. Quinn that it was getting too complicated and I didn’t want to be responsible for a major mistake). I just need to make sure all the papers are present and accounted for so I can drop them off. My writing won’t affect our taxes for 2017, so there’s that. 2018 will be a different story!