Thursday, January 22, 2009


Sometimes a character you intended as a walk-on will walk away with your heart.  That was what happened to me when writing SAPPHO SINGS.  I introduced Gongyla so well she would have taken over the book had I let her.  But the book wasn't about Gongyla.  The book is about Psappha, as the divine Sappho called herself.  Psappha was a real woman, a famous poet, an inventor of language and meter, quoted by Masters of Greek Grammar and Literature centuries after her death for her perfection of style and form.  It was my joy to put her words back into her thoughts and dialog.  She was the focus of my Muse for more than forty years.

Nevertheless, Gongyla refused to leave my imagination and in doing so she stole Psappha's heart as well.  The name was taken from an almost complete poem of Sappho's.  A lovely piece that survived through the ages to grace our modern world.

But, like many times during the book's creation, I didn't start out to talk about Gongyla today.  I wanted to talk about characterization tools.  My favorite and most useful is to discover pictures of my characters in magazines (usually by accident) then frame them so that they look down from my office walls as I write.  First,  the irrepressible Gongyla as portrayed for me by Roanne Nesbit

Gongyla_smallAnd the lovely unknown who served as model for Psappha


(page clipped from New Woman magazine's February 1972) 

Monday, January 19, 2009

To Librarians With Love

Previously, I wrote about the ethics of attempting to write historical fiction using shoddy research and I could almost hear some of you saying, "That's easy for her to say. She probably lives within walking distance of some huge library."  Right?  Wrong.
The bulk of my research was done when I lived 9 miles from the nearest town and 11 miles from the nearest library, when Bill Gates was still in diapers. And I have never had a driver's license.
What I did have was an enthusiastic librarian who taught me about the wonders of Inter-Library Loan. Through ILL, one can get just about any book from nearly anywhere, and sometimes half the fun is seeing where the books come from. I once borrowed a book on Feminist Witchcraft from a library in Yazoo, Mississippi.  Who'd a thunk it?
To use ILL effectively, you must first familiarize yourself with some reference tools. Specifically, a series of volumes titled BOOKS IN PRINT. Admittedly, to find what you need you often have to search the library's storage area for out of print volumes of Books in Print. Take a feather duster with you and do the librarian a favor while you're there. Sometimes, you may have to dig through several decades of dust to find exactly the title you need. However, I believe that, no matter what you want to find out, someone has put it in a book at some time or other. If not, it's time to write your own.
That's where my enthusiastic librarian came in. Although I could get to the library only on weekends when my husband came home from work, she searched the archives all week, and sent queries along with books she was returning. She requested books she thought I might be interested in without my asking and, every time I got to talk with her, she had a list of possible sources ready for me.
Another surprising thing is that I was sometimes able to study precious reference tomes that had to be read in the library because they were not available for public loan. This is an often-overlooked advantage to ILL. Once, when she obtained an extremely old and fragile volume on a limited loan, she personally hand-copied many pages for me because I was unable to stay at the library long enough to do it myself.
Remember, these were the times before copy machines reached small town America. Naturally, not every librarian would have the time to do all of that, no matter how enthusiastic they might be about a project. However, most of those I have worked with have been extremely supportive and generous with their time.
Librarians, with or without a Library Science degree, are an invaluable asset to the serious researcher. In fact, I have found that the smaller the library, the larger the heart of the librarian and the greater their enthusiasm for the written word.

Blessed be librarians one and all.

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

So tired my tired's tired

Ever move on almost no notice?  Rough, isn't it?  My daughter got 10 days notice to report to her new job in another state.  Talk about rush!  Sweetlings, if you've never done it you just don't know.

My youngest called last night and asked if I had all the boxes unpacked.  Jeesh! Can you imagine the gall?  I arrived here Saturday after a marathon of packing, shuffling, loading and unloading and he wants to know if everything's unpacked by Tuesday night.  Wow!  And HE complains about HIS back.  Get real, pup, the old beotch may be great but supermom she ain't.

He knows how much got left behind [it was "old"] We had to spend Sunday shopping for beds and all that goes with them. Plus other stuff.  We're grrls ya know. Then there's cable, computers and phones to set up, email to catch up on, friends to call and update. All unpacked indeed!

You never know how much financial minitue you deal with every day until you have to transfer everything.  How did we ever manage before the web and 800 #s?  That stuff alone took me from 5 to 9 this morning. Unpacking can wait. Shoot fire, pup, my bed won't be delivered 'til tomorrow and a camp cot's danged narrow.  Would be poor sleeping even if I wasn't sharing it with a fat calico cat.

I should get off this computer now - oops, it's almost noon. The boxes can wait. My soaps start in 5 minutes.

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