The Forgotten War

This year, 2015, marks the 200th anniver­sary of the last bat­tle of the War of 1812. Note that I didn’t say this is two hun­dred years since the end of the War of 1812, because that offi­cial­ly came on Decem­ber 24, 1814, when The Treaty of Ghent was signed. But that was in Europe, and with­out twen­ty-first cen­tu­ry com­mu­ni­ca­tion, such as cell phones, radio, or even cable mes­sages, the news had to wait until a ship crossed the Atlantic Ocean.

Why am I inter­est­ed in that bit of his­to­ry? My next book revolves around a reen­act­ment of the War of 1812, so I did a bit of research for inci­den­tal com­ments as my char­ac­ters speak. I want­ed to know what was true, although some of my char­ac­ters may not know the real facts. But why did I choose that time to reen­act instead of the more com­mon Rev­o­lu­tion­ary War or the Civ­il War?

That’s anoth­er sto­ry.

My hus­band and I spent a lot of time sail­ing on Chesa­peake Bay. We stopped at var­i­ous ports and I shopped the local gift shops. They always had a book about the local his­to­ry, which includ­ed the War of 1812 and bat­tles on Chesa­peake Bay. I read up on those bat­tles. The burn­ing of Havre de Grace. How the peo­ple of St. Michaels fooled the British. The defeat of Wash­ing­ton, D.C. and the burn­ing of the White House. The suc­cess­ful bat­tle at Bal­ti­more. So I knew when I wrote the next book my char­ac­ter, Jo Durbin would be involved in a reen­act­ment of the For­got­ten War. Of course, there’s a For­got­ten Body.

And, while the sub­ject is fresh in my mind, I’ll spend the next few Thurs­days telling bits of Amer­i­can his­to­ry that changed the lives of our ances­tors (and, even­tu­al­ly, our lives as well).

Why did we go to war with Britain? What hap­pened back in 1803-07? The Unit­ed King­dom (Eng­land) and Napo­lian­ic France went to war against each oth­er. Nei­ther side want­ed Amer­i­can sup­plies to reach the oth­er. They both declared it ille­gal for Amer­i­can ships to deliv­er goods to the oth­er. Which, they fig­ured, made it per­fect­ly okay to seize ships defy­ing their laws. France seized 206 Unit­ed States flag ships, but Eng­land seized 528 Amer­i­can ships. Not only that, but Eng­land seized around 6,000 men from our ships and put them to work on their ships, often claim­ing they were real­ly AWOL from British ships. They also bar­ri­cad­ed Amer­i­can ports.

In 1811, Pres­i­dent Thomas Jef­fer­son decid­ed the only way to solve that Henry Clayprob­lem was to for­bid the Amer­i­can com­pa­nies from ship­ping any­thing any­where. Con­gress agreed. That put the whole coun­try into a finan­cial depres­sion. Not hard to imag­ine what came next. Ful­ly half the old con­gress was vot­ed out. The old guard was replaced by the young War Hawks. Hen­ry Clay became the new Speak­er of the House, a posi­tion, until then mere­ly as a pre­sid­ing offi­cer. Under Hen­ry Clay the office became one of par­ty lead­er­ship, as it is now. (That would be the Demo­c­ra­t­ic- Repub­li­cans, before the par­ty split. The oth­er par­ty was the Fed­er­al­ists.)

So Amer­i­ca went to war against Great Britain. Amer­i­ca was com­plete­ly unpre­pared for war.

 

Thoughts on the Writing Process

One Penn­syl­va­nia Dutch expres­sion I’ve heard is: “Too soon old, too late smart.” A more com­mon expres­sion is: “You can’t teach an old dog new tricks.” I guess I could accept both those sen­ti­ments, but as the 85-year-old self-described Grand­ma Moses of Mys­tery, I tend to ignore them. Why else would I read writ­ing mag­a­zines, lis­ten to videos, and inter­act with oth­er writ­ers to learn more of my trade? Or, am I relearn­ing things I thought I already knew?

I’ve been attempt­ing to write a short sto­ry, a pre­quel to my first mys­tery. writer at workEvery day I start­ed over, chang­ing what I had writ­ten, decid­ing it was all wrong. Then I read a blog post from a well-pub­lished author I fol­low. She was hav­ing trou­ble writ­ing her newest book. She decid­ed the prob­lem was that she didn’t know where it was going, what should come next. She had to take time out until she knew what her char­ac­ters would do. A few days lat­er I read a mag­a­zine Q and A with an author. His words—writing was a strug­gle all the way. But he also said that if he were told what a scene should be, he could write it eas­i­ly. The idea was the hard part.

Okay, got it. Yeah, that idea. And I real­ize, when I’m writ­ing a full-length mys­tery, I keep a sep­a­rate file to talk about my sto­ry. I ask myself, would Jo do that? If she did, what would her sis­ter say? What would Mel do? I’ll ram­ble on down one path, then back up. “Nope,” I tell myself, “that’s not right. But maybe, if she said…” And I’m off on a new string.

So, why not do the same thing with a short sto­ry?

Hey, did this old dog learn a new trick? Umm, maybe. Maybe just a relearned trick. But that won’t stop me from look­ing for some­thing new for my tool kit. After all, I only start­ed this blog a cou­ple of years ago, at 83. And I’m still try­ing to improve it every chance I get. I try, as well, to improve my sto­ries as I write new ones. I will go along with the, “Too soon old,” part of that say­ing. But, “too late smart?” Nope, that will nev­er hap­pen.

I think writ­ers are a time­less bunch. We write about oth­ers of any age, no mat­ter our own age. Women write about men, men write about women. We send our char­ac­ters to far lands, or into their own minds. If we didn’t con­tin­ue to learn and inno­vate, we’d have one sto­ry to tell, then be done. I’m will­ing to bet, each writer has learned some­thing com­plete­ly new with­in the last year, and writ­ten about it. Do you agree? Or, do you dis­agree?

A Writing Room

A room ded­i­cat­ed to writing—that’s an ide­al for any author. Or not. Some authors pre­fer tot­ing a lap­top or pen­cil and paper to the local cof­fee shop, or out­doors where there’s a love­ly view and pleas­ant weath­er.

Years ago, when I was a twen­ty-some­thing and liv­ing in Seat­tle, I did not aspire to be a writer. I thought I’d be a singer. My broth­er had a beau­ti­ful voice, my sis­ter played the piano. I had illu­sions of a fam­i­ly trio—for a few months. I took singing lessons. Since I lived at a board­ing house with a land­la­dy who said, “No prac­tic­ing at MY piano,” I rent­ed a prac­tice room sev­er­al days a week. All around me, oth­ers behind oth­er doors prac­ticed voice, clar­inet, bas­soon, or piano. But, for an hour, I had my own room.

When I start­ed writ­ing, with teenagers in the house, I heard about writ­ers who rent­ed office space, set it up with type­writer (before most peo­ple used any­thing resem­bling com­put­ers), and escaped into anoth­er world. I set up my type­writer in the base­ment. After a while, I, too, had a com­put­er.

Fast for­ward a lot of years, and my hus­band and I are liv­ing in retire­ment. Our chil­dren have chil­dren, and even a grand­child. I have my writ­ing space in the retire­ment home base­ment. I don’t need to escape from a hec­tic house­hold. But a cou­ple of days ago, I read about a local free-lance writer who has his own small office space in a local build­ing, a restored tobac­co ware­house divid­ed into indi­vid­ual offices.

Gee, should I con­sid­er that?

Nah. I look out my win­dow, and think—drive through weath­er like that, every day? Then I look at my desk, piled high with arti­cles I must save, my desk­top com­put­er, my print­er, my rolling chair, the full book­cas­es sur­round­ing me. Move all that? You think? Of course, if I had Kait Carson’s very neat office, maybe… Nope. Why change per­fec­tion?

I’ve always wondered—does tak­ing your work to a new place, one with­out a dish­wash­er to emp­ty, a dirty clothes ham­per full to over­flow­ing, and dust on every shelf—make for more time spent writ­ing?  Or, does tak­ing one­self away from dai­ly life also take away the inspi­ra­tion? Some­how, I think that answer changes by indi­vid­ual, and per­haps, even by the moment. What do you think? Have you ever tried mov­ing your work to a new space?