Saturday, March 24, 2012

One of Many Pleasures

One of the things I like best about writing and reading historical fiction is looking back at how real people lived in the past. Of course, the big historical events are interesting, but my favorite thing is finding out some small detail about daily life.

I read once in Harriette Simpson Arnow's book Flowering of the Cumberland that people used to sing a lot, and that makes sense. We have others do our singing for us these days via our iPods, but in the early 19th century people would have been their own iPods. So I incorporated singing into a scene in my novel. I found the names of some old ballads I was sure would have been around at that time and worked them into the story.

But until yesterday, I had only looked at the lyrics - I hadn't heard the songs performed. I was stuck at the computer doing some updates yesterday, so I amused myself by looking up the songs from my book on YouTube. It was such an enjoyable experience I decided to share.

One long-lived and well-known ballad is the beautiful Annie Laurie, performed here by the Scottish duo The Corries:

The next song is one I learned long ago in elementary school music (thank you, Mrs. Pauline Stewart!), The Keeper Did a-Hunting Go (performed here by David Holness):

Finally, this was my first introduction to this beautiful song, which I chose only because its name fit what I wanted to do in the scene. What a piece of luck that it was also such a lovely song - Ae Fond Kiss by Robert Burns, performed here by Dougie MacLean:

Sampling these three old songs makes me interested in learning more of them. As much as I enjoy The Script, Journey, and James Taylor, there's something to be said for the days before iPods, when people sang for their entertainment. Go out today and sing something!

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

What to Do, What to Do....

Sorry for the long absence. It's been a rather brutal month on the day job, with both a draft of my chapter for the school's self-study and midterm grades due. Unfortunately, when I turned in my chapter draft, I was informed that it was too long and needs to be cut in half (and I wasn't even completely finished yet!). So I am still chained to that task.

It's spring break this week, and yesterday our family took a little jaunt to Memphis, TN, to look at a college our son is interested in attending (if he can get enough scholarship money). While we were on the campus, he wanted to ditch us so he could look around on his own without parents and a younger sister tagging along (how uncool!). So my husband, my daughter, and I made a stop at the library, where I made a stop in the Special Collections department, thinking I might pick up some tidbit of research to help me in writing my novel. The attendant quickly produced two books in response to my vague request for "anything about the history of Nashville or Memphis in the early 1820s."

One of those books was quite useful in the brief time I had to spend looking. It had a chapter on the Tennessee frontier (although "frontier" was about 25 years earlier than my story). One of the pieces of information I found was that at house or barn raisings, the men would pile together all the scraps and branches from the trees used to make the building. Then they set it on fire, and the light was enough to illuminate the area for dancing. the first chapter of my book, I have a barn raising and a dance, but I had always mentally pictured the dance as happening inside the new barn. After reading the book in Special Collections, though, it makes perfect sense to me that the dance would be outside the barn. For one thing, there would be more room, and for another, there really wouldn't be any good way to have light in the barn (I don't think the people in this story would have money enough to illuminate the barn with lanterns; I guess I was assuming they would use torches or something, which I now realize would be very dangerous inside a small space with lots of people, including a number who had been drinking....) Ok, so I move the dance outside, right?

The problem is, there is a key plot point that involves the main character leaving the barn to get away from someone, and a whole scene that happens outside where other people won't observe it. It's very important that it happen away from other people. If the dance is outside, how on earth could that scene happen without someone seeing it?

Since discovering that discrepancy, I've gone back and forth about what to do. I thought I was at the point where I didn't need to make any more edits (really, though, will that point EVER come?!!), so part of me says, "Just forget it--your readers will never notice." Another part of me says that's just sheer laziness, and I need to rewrite because someone will notice, and even if no one does, I will know it's wrong, and I'll never be happy with it again. I know which side will win...I'm going right now to wash some dishes and see if I can figure a plausible way to have both the dancing and the important scene outside......wish me luck (or better yet, give me advice, ha ha!).