A Veteran/Writer Looks at History: Leesylvania State Park


It’s off to Leesylvania State Park for another round of checking out the local history of the area

Leesylvania State Park is south of Washington, DC, about twenty miles or so.  It’s probably better known for boating because it’s on the Potomac River.  But the park also has a pocket of history–I only found it because I checked out the park.

Leesylvania means “Lee’s Woods.”  In this case, it was General Lee’s father who owned a plantation on the land, along with a family named Fairfax.  Both of those are common names around Virginia: Leesburg (city), Leesburg Pike, Lee Street, Lee Highway, Fairfax county, Fairfax (city), Fairfax Street. I like looking at street names because they often tell a lot about the story of a place.

Map of the park is here if you want to check it out and see where I’m going.

First stop is Free Stone Point Beach.

Freestone Point Beach, viewed from the Potomac River

It looks like a bunch of trees, but it’s actually a bluff.  It’s more obvious during winter after the leaves have fallen.  This bluff was a landmark for ships navigating on the Potomac River during George Washington’s time.

This was Confederate territory during the Civil War.  It’s strange to feel that between the last place I visited and this one, I crossed the battle lines.  But time has a way of smoothing those lines out and blending them together.

The Confederates had an artillery battery here.  It was actually used as a decoy by General Lee while he built batteries at Possom Point, Cockpit Point, and Evansport.

But that didn’t stop a skirmish from happening at Free Stone Point.  On September 25, 1861, a Union gunship fired on the Confederate battery.  They exchanged artillery.  Didn’t do much to either side.

War is strange, isn’t it?

Fishing pier on the Potomac, showing a sign for Maryland

It was a nice walk out here.  I waded into the water–it was surprisingly warm.  The currents were quite strong–a constant slushing sound coming to shore.

I decided to walk on the fishing pier.  Note the Maryland sign.  This was about 30 feet in, so I crossed the state line into Maryland on the river.  When I was growing up, I thought crossing a state line would be more dramatic.  If I hadn’t noticed the sign…

This border was pretty important in 1957, because Virginia did not allow gambling or drinking.  But Maryland did.  So an enterprising person moored a “recreation resort” boat named the S.S. Freestone on the Maryland border.

Off to the Lee Wood’s Path.  That’s about two miles round trip, and I spent most of my time repelling all borders from bugs and cobwebs.

Ruins of a chimney, and the foundation of the Fairfax house.

Ah ha!  Ruins.  These are from the Fairfax family’s house.  The chimney’s all that’s left, with warning signs all over that the bricks are unstable.  This was the Fairfax Plantation house, one of the places George Washington stopped by to stay when he was coming into DC.  Even though Mount Vernon was 14 miles away, they were neighbors.

Path through woods

This is the path I took through Lee’s Woods.  It was steep in some places and had me sweating.  Much better to take it in winter.  It made me wonder what this place looked like when the plantations were here.  How did people get around?  How big were the plantations?

A sign marking where the Lee house stood

The sign marks where the Lee House stood, but time didn’t leave much behind.  If the sign hadn’t been there, I wouldn’t have know the house had been here.  There used to be a foundation, but a road building project (now gone) destroyed the foundation.

But the Lees had a garden nearby.  One of the interesting bits here that I like for stories are what they did with the trees.  The nuts from the American birches were ground up for flour, pressed for oil, or roasted for coffee.  And, of course, eaten whole.

White oak trees were used to make barrels for wine, and the dogwoods were used for tool handles.

Site of old railroad, now taken over by trees

You can’t tell with this photo, but that’s a steep drop off.  And it’s where a railroad was built, going from Neabsco to Powells’ Creek.  It was completed in 1872.  Doesn’t look like a place for a railroad, does it?

The railroad company had a lot of problems with the location.  They had to do a lot of work to maintain the grade so it was more level.  Because of the terrain, there were landslides and derailments.  One train had to be hauled back up the side with tree!

Brick Chimney

This was at the end of the path.  I knew I was getting close to the end because I could hear the buzz of boat motors coming from the river.

The chimney is what remains of the Freestone Point Hunt Club.  It was established in 1926 by businessmen from New York.  They hunted ducks on the Potomac and hunted so many that the population declined.  The club closed in 1957, and this is all that’s left.

More information on the park is here.

A Veteran/Writer Looks at History: Fort C.F. Smith


I went to Fort C.F. Smith the same day I did Fort Ward.  It was such a nice day, and it was near the library, so I stopped over.  I really wanted to get some more of the sunshine.

First up, this Civil War fort is hard to find.  For some reason, the state or county inexplicably has a sign that points to a right turn, and then no signs indicating where to turn again unless you coming from the opposite direction.

The fort is smack in the middle of a suburban area, so it’s on a shady little street.  Without the sign, I wouldn’t know this had once been a Civil War fort.  It’s a basic park.  Green grass, trees.

Map of Fort C.F. Smith

So here’s the handy dandy map of what it used to look like.  Farmland was used to build the fort in 1863.  This was one of three forts that protected the Aqueduct bridge of the Chesapeake and Ohio Canal.

Fort C.F. Smith was named after General Charles Ferguson Smith.  He was commandant of the the U.S. Military Academy while Ulysses S. Grant and William T. Sherman were there.

It was a lunette fort, which was apparently pretty unusual.  I had to look the word up to see what it meant.  It’s a fort that that has two faces.  This fort’s two faces are on the southern and western side.

The fort came with:

  • Barracks (got to have some places for the soldiers to stay)
  • Mess hall (that’s the place the soldiers eat)
  • Officer’s quarters (that would have been a little fancier than the barracks)
  • Barn (probably for horses)
  • Headquarters building (where the officers did their planning)

Two stone pillars mark the entrance to Fort C.F. Smith Park

This was one of the entrances to the park.  It’s not the entrance to the fort.

Off for a bit of walking.

Park area marking the original entrance of Fort C.F. Smith

This is the original entrance to the fort.  Can’t really tell much looking at it.  in the upper left third of the photo, there’s a post sticking out of the ground.  That marks the entrance.  It’s just a numbered post–if you visit this park, download the brochure before you go or you will have no context whatsoever.

Meadow of flowers and butterflies

There was a bench here so I sat down and looked at the flowers.  This is a meadow as it might have looked to the farmers of the time.  You can’t see it in the photo, but there were little yellow butterflies bouncing above the flowers.

As I sat here, I could hear the freeway on the other side of the meadow.  The roar of jets drowned out the thrilling of the birds.  The park was under the flight path of Ronald Reagan Airport.

Cannon

This was one of the cannons.  There were supposed to be eight, but it looked like the others had been removed.  The hill was a ramp to help move the equipment around.  Artillery is heavy!  During Desert Storm, we hauled shells for artillery to the front line and the trucks were always running on fumes because of the loads.

Stone well

The land was turned back over to the original owners after the fort was decommissioned and they used this well for their water.  I’m from Southern California, so I’ve never seen a well in person.  How I would picture it is those illustrated drawings that make them look rickety.  This was about 30 inches high (measuring by where it hit me on my legs), and the top was sealed up.

Can you imagine lowering a bucket with it’s own weight into that well, then getting filled with water, and hauling it back up?  Takes some serious muscle!

As you can see, there’s not a lot left here.  Why wasn’t more preserved?

The answer is the military.  The buildings were removed when the fort was decommissioned in 1865.   We’re lucky to have this much preservation because it could have disappeared as the world changed.

More of the story about this fort is on the park website.

A Writer/Veteran Looks at History: Fort Ward, Virginia


I’ve been disturbed at the attempts I’m seeing to destroy history.  In Baltimore, there’s talk of removing statues.  Remove history and you take away who we are.  Since Virginia has a whole lot of historical sites, I thought I would visit them and talk about them.

First up is Fort Ward, which is in Alexandria, Virginia.  I like places where I can walk the area and try to picture what it was like for the people who were there.  Plus I get some good walking in.  The weather was nice and sunny, so it was pretty fun checking everything out.

This was a Union fort during the Civil War.   Today, it’s a park where you can walk around with your dog or even have a picnic.  The buzz of cicadas do battle with the sounds of cars racing by just outside the park.  It’s like an island in the middle of busy.

Fort Ward was an earthen fort built to defend Washington DC during the Civil War, though it never actually saw an action.  Construction was completed in September 1861.

This is a picture of the original design.

A diagram of the 5 pointed star shape of Fort Ward.

Time’s now worn down the earthen walls, and it’s hard to picture.  But this design was so that on the star’s points, soldiers could catching approaching enemy in the crossfire.  Very old military technology.

Gated entrance to Fort Ward
Starting at the entrance to the fort.  You can see what a nice day it was out–that sky is a pretty blue and clear.  Warm, but not muggy.

This gate was the only entrance to the fort.  The fort was surrounded by a dry moat.  I can imagine this being a guard post with two Union soldiers on duty, watching for arriving visitors.

Dry moat surrounding Fort Ward.

This is where I start imaging what the soldiers did.  This is the dry moat.  The picture doesn’t show the height really well, but it’s actually pretty steep.

Imagine running up to this berm and dropping down against it, your muzzle loader rifle at the ready and the enemy coming on the other side.  The berm would stop any bullets headed your way (hopefully), but you would still have to stick part of your body up over the berm to fire back, making yourself a target.

Rear view of Fort Ward

I wander on and come up to the fort itself.  This is from the rear view, from inside, so it’s what the Union soldiers themselves would have seen.  That white wall has a shelf in front of it for guard duty.

I get up and walk along it and this is what I see:

What I might see on guard duty from Fort Ward. All grass and bushes now.

And I stop here and think about being a soldier on guard duty.  It’s cold out, because whenever I was on guard duty, it was always cold!

And I’m scared because I don’t know what’s coming, except that I know that my enemy might be coming over that next hill to kill me.

War is both very personal and very impersonal.

Defensive position with cannons at Fort Ward.

Back down the stairs to check out what we in the military calls the “defensive position.”  This position was set up to defend Little River Turnpike (which turns into Duke Street) and Leesburg Pike (which turns into King Street,  Obviously named after General Lee).  All those streets are still here, but it’s hard picturing how it must have looked in 1861.

Time to get closer.

Cannon

This is one of the bigger cannons.  War then was definitely not for short people!  I can barely see over the cannon to where the enemy is coming.

So I try a smaller cannon.

Following a cannon's line of fire.

Cannon fire is very loud.  I was on Fort Lewis, walking on the sidewalk across the street from the parade field.  Someone was test-firing the cannon.

Boom!

I jumped and was going, “What the heck?”

I’d been in front of the cannon, so it was much noisier.  If you ever go to a cannon demonstration, make sure you are on the side you see in the photos above.

The door to Magazine No3

This was where the ammunition was packed with black powder.  It was very hazardous duty.  Then the military didn’t have the safeguards to protect the soldiers, so people often got killed.

Door labeled "Filling Room No5"

And this is where the ammunition is stored.  Also not a particularly safe place to be.

The front of Fort Ward, though bushes

Then I walk around to the front of Fort Ward.  If this fort had seen action, this is the view the approaching Confederates would have had.

More of the fort is visible at winter when the plants die off, so I can’t see much now.  But there’s that trench I’d have to cross if I were on the Confederate side, with cannons pointed down on me and probably soldiers with muzzle loaders.  Look on the left for a cannon poking out.

The last part of my trip I don’t have any pictures for, because there’s nothing left other than the story.  After the war ended, the African Americans who had been freed established what became known as “The Fort” around the remains of Fort Ward.  It was their home and a place where they raised their families.  They emphasized faith, education and moral codes.

As the Civil Rights Era kicked off, they were displaced by time.  All that’s left is a sign and a graveyard of a church in the area.  But some of the new generations still live in the area, and the street names mark the location (Seminary Road).

Here’s the link to the Fort Ward site.

I’m thinking of hitting Leesylvania Park next (you guessed it–named after General Lee, who lived in Virginia).  It’s a pretty area, a bit of challenging walk, and some interesting history that involves–of all things–gambling!

What do you think?  Is there anything you want me to wander off and check out (safety permitting)?

 

 

 

How This Pantser Does Research


Research came up as a topic on Facebook, one of those things where the writers want to know how you keep your research notes.  I suppose I’m an oddity, because I don’t keep any research notes.

To start with, I don’t plan out my stories at all.  I have no idea what will happen in them, or how they will end.  Consequently, I also wouldn’t know what I needed to research.

I could try, but I would waste a considerable amount of time.  I learned that on one of my book projects.  I researched several subjects to death, dutifully wrote down cool things that caught my interest.  Even went to a college campus, hit their library and looked stuff up, took notes.

Then I made first contact with the story.  Used none of that research.

So what do I do instead?

Most of it is long before I write the story, and it’s not for any specific story.  I go to some place like Old Towne, Alexandria, Virginia and wander around.  Enjoy myself.  Look at stuff.  Smelled the malt of beer being made at a distillery. Be horrified at the cobblestone alleyways—how did people walk on them things? 

Then, when I come with an idea, I do the reverse of what I think a lot of writers do. They get the idea and shape the research around the idea.  If the idea involves a doctor doing surgery, they go out and learn everything about that type of surgery.

On the other hand, I start with the setting, which is where most of my research would be needed, so I can pick some place that I’m well familiar with and intersect other elements, then plop an idea there.  I’m also not going to pick occupations for characters where I have to do research just to do the character.   

As I write, the details filter into the story through my subconscious.  I think that’s because I had fun at these places.  Fun leaves an imprint.

I’m working on a story that started with Old Town as a basis, and I added bits from a fascinating lecture on Civil War maps I attended ten years ago, and  the visit of a three masted sailing ship (isn’t the ship below glorious?).   Oh, and also a Civil War fashion show from a few years back.  Clothes are always interesting.

18th century replica ship

After that, it’s the writing.  It’s a fantasy, so some of it is made up (magic and swords; no repeating rifles or muzzle loaders). Still some research, but it’s on the spot, as I discover what I need while I’m writing the story.  For the story, that’s been food.  I just look it up and put what I need directly into the story.

On the plate for the future is to visit the masted ship in Baltimore.  I really want to walk on board and see what it was like to live there.  Some of my ancestors came over on sailing ships like that.  And it would be really cool to write a pirate story one day…

Traces of War: Fort Ward, VA


Today was really the first day I was able to get out and walk around. It’s been so cold since about December that going out really wans’t much of an option. Though the snow from Thursday is starting to melt often (51 degrees today), the temperature still drops enough overnight to turn anything wet to ice. My front sidewalk was a sheet of ice, and is still icy in the early afternoon!

So I picked Fort Ward because it has wide asphalt walking paths for joggers.

It’s a Civil War military site, one of the many Union forts used to defend Virginia. The fort is the only one that is intact, though intact is strange word. It makes me think of actual wooden structures like what I might see on TV in an old TV show, hardly anything that would be accurate. The outer area is a lot of rolling hills — rifle trenches.

But the centerpiece is the fort itself.

It’s built up as part of an embankment, almost unnoticable at first because it blends in with the background. During spring, it’s all the grass and plants. During winter, snow.

At least until I spotted the cutouts for the cannons.

Because the grass was still covered by snow, I stayed on the paved walkway. In a way, it made that a difference experience because I looked at the outside of the fort in the way a Confederate soldier approaching would have seen it. Admittedly, it was still hard to picture because just a short distance away, I could hear a steady stream of cars on nearby I395 and see the tall buildings.

I had to imagine that there was probably a meadow, and maybe two dirt roads. This fort was to protect those two roads, though it never saw any battles. The soldiers who were there probably wouldn’t recognize it today.

Time moves on, but war stays with us.

Details a Matter of Character


I wrote this post on having trouble with details over a year ago.  It was really hard for me for quite a long time getting even basic details into my stories.  In fact, I had to keep hitting at it with a battering ram.  Sometimes I have to hear something that seems obvious to everyone else before it starts to make sense (though, in this case, I think that a lot of people don’t get that obvious piece).

I’ve found that a lot of the writing advice approaches description from the outside looking in, and often portrays it as frippery, something that is always excessive and should be deleted.  I’ve heard this from the writers on message boards:

“I hate description.”

“All description is boring.”

“I’d rather leave it to the reader’s imagination.”

And from a recent blog:

“Editors hate description.”

That one was from a published writer with three or four books out.

The message seems to be that description isn’t important to the story.

What’s missing from pretty much all of the advice is that the description is done through the character’s eyes and is a function of the characterization itself.  It shows who the character is and where they are at that point in the story.  How could that get left out of everything about description?

Maybe it’s because description is often treated as an exercise, rather than a functioning part of the story.  I’m not sure how much of that steeped into my brain over the years and influenced the dysfunction.  But understanding this at least helped give me a better foundation for getting the specific details into the story.

To find the details, I do some research — not extensive.  If I know there’s going to be outdoor scenes, I try to get names of some of the local plants and trees that most people would know.  That’s actually harder than it sounds, because most sites and books focus on the scientific side and list everything.  Tour books can sometimes be helpful, and sometimes be terribly unhelpful, so it’s like a gold mine when I find something.  A visit to local Fort C.F. Smith mentioned White Pines and Magnolia trees, so I grabbed that for a future story set in Virginia.  If I can get three names, I’m happy, though I may search for additional ones as I write.

I also look at photographs.  I was writing a scene on a Hawaiian trailhead with a waterfall at the end of it, so naturally, I headed for waterfalls.  If I have a specific picture, I can build the details better; if it’s just a picture in my head, it’s very easy for me to go vague and fuzzy.  When I was originally doing the scene, I planted this waterfall in front of the characters and had a stream flowing out, and that was about it.  There was also a kind of a clearing because I needed a place to have a fight scene.

Once I got a picture I liked — I was focusing on terrain — then I started building the details in based on the main character’s situation.  This is an incredibly beautiful place, and he’s thinking about the danger that’s coming.  How does that play into how he describes it?

Indoor locations are a lot harder for me.  Rooms tend to go fuzzy for me.  I’m working on a scene in a living room, and I keep wanting to leave it at “sofa, some chairs, and there’s a door to another room on the left.”  It’s really forcing me to stop and think about what this character has in this room and why.  What kind of art does he like?  Does he like heavy furniture or modern furniture?  If you watched Star Trek: The Next Generation, we’d go into most of the character’s quarters, and they’d be pretty spartan.  White room, neutral colors, clean lines.  Then we’d go to Worf’s quarters, and it looked like a dungeons.  Dark, weapons on the wall, flickering candles.

I also don’t necessarily try to get all of it at once.  I move back and forth in scenes, adding to them as I do more research, or just get further into the story and realize something else is needed. (Breaking another rule here: I continue to make changes all over my story as I create.)

So the details are a matter of a bit of research, but mainly a matter of the character.

Desert Storm: Logistics and the Build Up


Everything to do with supplies and carrying equipment and troops is called logistics in the military.  If you don’t have the supplies, soldiers can have problems with basic things like not get enough food.  That was one of the reasons the First Battle at Manassas during the Civil War was such a surprise to everyone.  That railroad at that location was logistics, in this case, bringing more troops in.

Because the military moved so fast to start getting soldiers over to the Persian Gulf, we were reading in the newspaper about shortages of toilet paper, toothpaste, and other personal hygiene items.  So our supply sergeant ordered everything and tried to anticipate what we would need.

My company was what was called a “Medium Truck,” which gives a very different impression than the reality.  We had M915 tractor trailers — yes, a tractor trailer is a medium truck.  There’s an even bigger truck with tires that are taller than me!  As the supplies came in, we either packed them into boxes mounted on pallets, or packed them in corrugated steel shipping containers called conexes.  The conexes could be mounted on the back of a truck flatbed or lifted by a crane and put on a ship.  They also could be locked.  Anything worth stealing went in those.

I remember that one of the trucks pulled up outside out company area, in the gravel parking lot.  The lot always had muddy holes in it and was on the 10 year waiting list for repair.

We had the shipping boxes out and were throwing things in.  I had a clipboard and lots and lots and lots of copies of packing lists.  This was in the days before computers, and even copy machines were a bit on the early side.  I sat on the ground and hand wrote the contents of each box on six copies.  One copy went inside the box, and one was put outside the box, one went to the supply sergeant, and I don’t remember any more where the rest went.

We were like zombies at that point, almost mindlessly going through the packing.  It was a foregone conclusion we were going, though we still didn’t have a date.  It wasn’t like if you get really stressed out at work, because at the end of the day, you can leave.  Deployment was all around us, and we never could quite get away from it. We were all racing to get done without the end actually in site.  I remember in one of Tamara Pierce’s books, Daja’s Book, the main character is using her magic to put out a massive forest fire.  All she can see is what’s in front of her, and it’s go, go, go!  Then the fire is gone rather abruptly, and it’s like “Now what?”

We got the trucks packed up, and then they were driven off to the Seattle port to be shipped out.  Suddenly we had nothing to do but wait.

This an interesting article on the build up, which discusses some of the logistics.  It also mentions the 7th Transportation Group, which would be eventually assigned to after we arrived in the country.

How a Soldier Thinks: Anything is a Tool


The Washington Post featured an interesting article on recovering art in Afghanistan this week, called “For real ‘Monument Woman,’ saving Afghan treasures is unglamorous but richly rewarding.”  What caught my eye was a section on the Marines damaging ancient ruins in Babylon.  The former chief of staff of the 1st Marine Expeditionary Force said:

[Col. John Coleman] said occupying the site was better than leaving it to looters in the chaos of postwar Iraq.

It kind of sounds like a cop-out, doesn’t it? Yet, it’s probably more of a tap-dance to explain something about soldiers that is hard to explain to people not immersed in the culture.

The Washington Post article on recovering art adds another puzzling piece:

Rush’s programs have dual missions: the Army teaches troops about the ancient histories of Iraq and Afghanistan and that they might encounter ancient artifacts or sites that should be treated with care in conflict. At Fort Drum, 10,000 deploying soldiers each year get to practice bedding down on a 19th-century archeological site that Rush oversees. The Army is also investing in mapping initiatives to keep track of archeological sites in regions where troops are deployed. Rush hopes the Army’s program, which has been replicated throughout the military, reminds troops that preserving cultural heritage is a valuable part of their mission.

Probably everyone who read the original stories about this were outraged. How can anyone not know that ruins and antiquities is important? How could the officers, who are supposed to be in charge, let it happen? Moreover, why should the soldiers need extra training? Shouldn’t it be obvious?

Well, it’s not quite that easy of an answer.

It starts with how a soldier is trained and why the culture seems so strange.  Every part of the soldier’s training is to prepare for war.

Twenty miles down the freeways is the Manasass Battle Field, where the first battle of the Civil War was fought. The Union and the Confederates recruited men from all over, but a lot of them were farmers. They went to this battle thinking that it wasn’t going to be a big deal — so much so that in a local town (not sitting on the battle field as some claim) an audience gathered to watch, like it was movie with popcorn. No one expected what happened.

It turned into a very bloody and horrific battle. So much so that even the hardened veterans who later saw even worse battles like Wilderness still remembered it. War when you’re not prepared is unforgiving. War when you’re prepared is still not forgiving, but maybe if you have training, you might survive.

This is what the military teaches. Training has a focus on “Accomplishing the mission,” because if you can’t accomplish the mission, you lose the battle, maybe the war itself, and maybe your life or the life of the person standing next to you. It’s serious business with serious consequences.

So, when a soldier is told to go do something, such as build an ammunition point on a particular spot, she launches into “Accomplish the mission” mode. It doesn’t matter where she is or what’s around her; only that the mission gets accomplished. The result is that she may need rocks to build something and tear down an ancient wall, or use part of a historic building as a defensive position. It’s what’s available, and in accomplish the mission mode, everything becomes a tool.

And yeah, it looks callous and disrespectful. But when a soldier is thinking about the enemy coming over the horizon, it’s very different perspective.

I’m taking a class now, which is on Genre Structure. The purpose of the class is actually a lot like the reason the military needed training on ruins. The idea is that you have this knowledge in the back of your mind so when you start writing, you’re already shaping the story to fit in with the requirements of the genre and what’s the most important. If the soldier receives the training, it’s now in the back of her mind, so when she sees that rock wall, she’s now thinking about a mission just as important as the immediate one: Preserving the area.

Links: What Women in the Military Have Done


Navy woman standing next to helicopter
Lt. Janis Harrington, a helicopter instructor pilot with Helicopter Sea Combat Squadron Two (HSC-2), has been selected as the Navy’s Woman of the Year honoree for the USO of Metropolitan New York. (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Ernest R. Scott/Released). In case you’re wondering why I headed over to the Navy, the Army offers very few photos of women.

With all the news about sexual harassment and assaults in the military, I thought I would do a post about some of the things women have done in the military.  Honestly, we need something more than just the negative stuff.

Did you know women were in the Civil War?  They had to pretend they were men, of course.  One of the things that really surprised me was the reason a lot of them did it: Money!

Women’s Auxiliary Corps, 1942.   Some great photos here.  Check out the gas masks they had to wear.

Women can now be tank mechanics, a job previously closed.  We had five graduate from school last week.

Women on the business end of war.  This features a big group of diverse stories about women on the battlefield.  I was impressed because it included the enlisted.  Though the enlisted make up the bulk of all the services, people tend to only think about officers.

Also see these military posts:

Week 4 of 10 Weeks of 10 Stories


Woman in dress from the Civil War
I took this at a Civil War fashion show a few years ago. The woman hand-made this costume herself.

Story #4’s idea started with a book on cats published in the 1920s.  There was a short blurb about a painting of a cat with eyes that followed you.  Those eyes supposedly drove the owners to commit suicide.  I tried to do it as a story, but I couldn’t figure out really how to resolve it.

So I put it back on the plate for the 10 Stories in 10 Weeks.  I was going to ignore the earlier attempts and start fresh.  I was in critique group, and one of the members mentioned a story that gave me a perfect idea for part of the execution.  Then it hit me: “Crap.  I’ll have to do research.”

A story in a week doesn’t allow much time for research, and this new bit would have required a lot of it.  Could I change it so I didn’t need to the research?  The story became steampunk, using a technology solution.

But it was still stubborn and didn’t come together.  My travel to Balticon, and then to Virginia Beach might not have helped … It was sort of like I had all these different pieces, but not the story itself.  I couldn’t figure out how to open it, and I wasn’t entirely happy just having a technology solution.

One of the problems was that I needed to establish the setting.  I got too focused on establishing the problem and not on the other parts  necessary to resolve it.  Once I got the setting into the story, it started to come together.  I did have to do some research, but only small stuff:

Women’s Fashion in the 1880s – I was looking for a picture I could describe, and I wanted something with a more unusual color.  In cons, the Steampunk costumes are usually brown and white and not the glorious colors the Victorian period is known for.

Historical Fashion – More pictures!  The blue dress is what inspired my female character’s clothes.

Women’s Hairstyles in the 1880s – I was glad I looked this up.  I was thinking a more severe hairstyle than the one described here.

By the way, the male main character is a war veteran, and disabled, and has post traumatic stress syndrome.

Now I have to figure out where to send it …

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