Saturday, August 26, 2006

Cart before the horse

Gaidhlig Phrase of the Day: Tha gu dearbh. "Yes indeed." (lit. "Indeed it is.")

[I actually have several subjects to address, not the least of which is still names and naming. But I thought that subject line sounded witty, and it does get to the heart of my current situation.]

In the process of transferring and updating all my currently-written bits to a flash drive, I came across (and subsequently transferred and updated) a draft for a query letter that I had written after reading some discussions of query letters and how to write them for maximal effect. If I may say so, it's pretty darn good. In fact, I feel pretty confident that--were I to be now beginning the query process--I would be able to generate agent interest and probably find representation. Queries, resumes, cover letters...give me some guidelines and I have usually been able to write pretty effective stuff. Now if I only had a book to sell, I could get rolling. I need to just tear myself away from that aspect of writing and concentrate on the actual manuscript. Plenty of time for researching how to sell when I have something to sell. On the other hand, the query did get me to write a very concise premise summary that helped me clarify the overall direction of the book.

What's in a Name? Part Deux...

So, after having posted it and thought about it for a few days, I've decided that I like the male lead's name and am sticking with it. I'm starting to think of him in terms of that name, which is always (in my mind) a Good Sign. Alec MacGregor it is. So now I'm going through and editing all existing story bits and putting his name in, along with the Bad Guy's name (John Campbell...I know, there were tons of them back then, but this one happens to be the first Earl of Breadalbane and Holland).

Funny story: the clinic I work for just hired a new doctor. I worked with him on Friday. His name? Andrew MacGregor. He's not Scottish, but his name sure is. I know I decided on Alasdair/Alec over Andrew for my male MC, but it's still funny 'cause that was almost his name.

But now I'm starting to rethink my poor heroine's name. "Elspeth Clarke" had always been my planned pen name, but the character laid claim to "Elspeth" pretty quickly and so I let her have it. I've been going along with Clarke as well, but now I'm starting to think that maybe I should give her a different last name, just in case my future publisher wants to use that last name or some close variant for me. I've been thinking "Rebecca Clarke" would work, although "Rebecca Timothy" and "Rebecca Gabriel" have also been suggested and aren't half bad. (Rebecca, incidentally, is my middle name.) I really liked "Rebecca Campbell" (Campbell actually being a family name on my dad's side) but that's already artist or singer, I think, is what popped up when I Googled it. Or perhaps "Jennifer Somethingorother." We shall see. But it wouldn't do to have an MC with the same last name as the author, so in case we do use Clark/Clarke for me I should go ahead and think of something else for her.

I want a Scottish surname, but not Mac-somethingorother because that's a bit too much. A nice, relatively short and nondistinctive name. Preferably from a clan or sept the MacGregors get along with, so help ease her way in that time. I've been looking into the Cameron and MacDonald septs, 'cause they're on pretty good terms with the Griogairach. I also kinda like Murray...need to look into that.

The joys of research.

I actually still haven't written much over the past week, but that tide's about to turn. I've been absorbed in research a great deal of the time, and I'm finally starting to get a feel for the time/place enough to allow me to start back into the story pretty strongly. The pile of books on my kitchen table was becoming overwhelming, so I finally managed to clear off an entire shelf of valuable bookshelf space in the office and put them all there. Most of them are library books, but I can renew online and if one of them ends up having to go back, I'm keeping a bibliography so I can request it again if I need it.

Another funny story: the majority of the books I'm using for research are, as I said, library books. I get online to the Lexington Public Library and request books from their online catalog and use their ILL service. The branch I have them sent to for pickup is a tiny little branch in a shopping center on my way home from work that caters mostly to the schoolkids who live in the area. So over the past few weeks, I've stopped in several times to pick up varying numbers of Scotland-related books. This past time, I couldn't find any of my requested books on the "hold request" shelf, despite having recieved e-mail notification of their arrival for pickup. Then I noticed a shelf on the back of the cart that was about 2/3 full and checked it.

I had my own shelf on the hold request cart. How cool is that? The staff there get a kick out of me. I think part of that has to do with my scooter, though...

Speaking of research, I've been conducting two forms. One (the majority) is historical research, plain and simple. The other I like to call "market research." Basically, I'm reading all the time-travel historical romances and the like set in Scotland I can get my hands on. And besides the Outlander stuff--which is thoroughly researched--it's really starting to get on my nerves.

Reason the first: the blatant historical inaccuracies get in my way of enjoying the story. Now, I know that you "can't let reality get in the way of a good story." But could we at least use historically appropriate names? I can pretty much guarantee that neither "Greylen" nor "Griffin" were used as names for Scottish men back in the day. And another huge pet peeve - even the slightest amount of reading up on clan tartans reveals that they weren't really "clan" tartans until the early 19th century or so. And even the "Great Kilt" was something seen after the 1500's. So don't have guys from the 12th century wearing a kilt in a clan tartan. Please.

Reason the second: I have now come across two books in this particular subgenre that have "brilliant physicists" as female MC's. I understand the reasoning--impress the reader with the intelligence and prestige of the character's profession. No problem. But if you are going to have characters that are physicists, please at least do a little research before you start having them expound on scientific ideas. Otherwise, real physicists/scientists (like myself) are going to groan and get annoyed when you use some phrase that probably sounds good on the page but is actually blatantly wrong or nonsensical. You lose your credibility that way.

I don't mean to sound snobbish. And I'm not saying don't write characters that don't share your own personal profession. I'm just saying that both of my reasons for getting annoyed with these books could be cleared up with a little research on the author's part. If you're going to write historicals, etc. that should be a given. Actually, the market would be a little easier to break into if that were a requiremnt. *sigh* It's why I respect Diana soooo much. If she has Claire do something medical or use an herb to treat something, she's looked it up. Descriptions of social customs, historical events, weapons...all accurate. It makes the book that much richer and draws you in to the story that much more.

So, yeah. This is a really long post. I'm gonna sign off her and go tweak book stuff for a bit, then retire. I'm working on an outline for the book, but that's a subject for another post. Starting tomorrow I'm going to begin writing again in earnest. I have 1300 words to come up with by Thursday, and I want to have 20,000 or so total by Surrey (still deciding about going).


Cindy said...

Hi Jenny,

I _love_ your Gaidhlig phrase of the day! I'm going to start writing them down. Do you speak Gaidhlig, or would you like to recommend a particular source for these little gems?

Jenny said...

Cindy -

Thanks! I am _trying_ to learn to speak Gaidhlig. I have the "Teach Yourself Gaelic" course by Boyd Robertson and Iain Taylor and the companion English/Scottish Gaelic dictionary. Most of the "phrases of the day" so far have come from the course book.