Numbers Games

How many national or national historic parks does the US have? How many state, local, or private historical sites? What about other countries? And how many millions of historic sites are known only to a few (sometimes very deliberately to keep them safe from despoilment).

A lot of questions, not necessarily easy to answer. Perhaps of more import — how many has any given individual visited?

I can’t count the number I’ve visited in my life. I didn’t keep track until recently. But in the past couple of years, I’ve been more proactive about noting and tracking those places I’ve visited — and identifying others I want to someday. Having a good digital camera built into my smart phone helps, but it’s not the only reason.

Indeed, part of this interest in historical parts arises because a few years ago, I had a dream which contained the germs of a large, long, continent-wide speculative fiction tale. I didn’t appreciate just how ambitious my characters were at the time–I’m starting to figure this out, but too late! I’m caught and need to write to know how everything ends (I know some elements in the middle, but the ending is still pretty mysterious).

In service to that dream-born tale, I visited a number of historical parks and sites. I lived close enough to trace a route close to that my characters took in their version of our world.

I plan to publish the first stories in that long sequence in June. In advance, however, I’m going to retrace some of my steps here on this blog by posting shots and sharing some memories/experiences of visiting assorted sites. Enjoy vicariously–and perhaps identify some places to visit yourself!

In Honor of Spring

Lorain County, Ohio, owns and operates a number of parks. One, Schoefple Garden, is just over the county line, in Vermillion, because the previous owner evidently had a high respect for the Lorain parks manager and bequeathed his estate to the county. It’s got a number of interesting features — such as a garden incorporating music and plants . . .

And also the more traditional walks through woods where once an interurban train line ran, along with walks along the river.

It never hurts to check out stray parks around a corner. One never knows what one might find!

“It Happened Here”

A decade or so ago, I recall hearing historian David Blight give a talk during which he recounted an anecdote about a New-York Historical Society exhibit. The market poster–plastered around the city, including in subway stations–had “It Happened Here” in big letters. People wondering what happened had to get up close to find out: slavery.

Slavery in the United States is often (not always!) presented in terms of the Civil War — and as being practiced in the South with the North being free territory. Sad but true, this wasn’t always the case. One of the many history books in my possession is a companion book to the New-York Historical Society exhibit: Slavery in New York.

It’s a comparatively short book — vertically-speaking, not length-wise for it runs just over 400 pages and contains an introduction plus several chapter essays along with a number of illustrations. In point-of-fact, it doesn’t have as many illustrations as other exhibition books I’ve seen (there may have been a second, separate and more visual book for sale, I don’t know as I picked up my copy at a used book sale).

I picked it to write about today because the jacket cover includes the image from a daguerreotype taken circa 1850 of Caesar, supposedly the last enslaved person in New York to be manumitted. In the last 24-48 hours, I’ve read several articles about the Connecticut woman who is filing suit against Harvard for two other daguerreotypes of enslaved peoples from whom she traces her descent.

It’s important, in my mind, to remember the extent to which peoples enslaved others–in this country and without. The amount of time it took for number to recognize the wrongness and act upon it. The delays built in to manumission. The extent to which property rights trumped human rights.

We’ve got the materials for stories right at hand, all around us — fiction or non-fiction?

Tortoise and Feathers

Now available for purchase in electronic format!

Yera lives alone in a dusty, crumbling temple, the only priestess remaining to carry out her family’s pledge to care for a giant tortoise.

In a drought-stricken land, she prays for rain to satisfy the tortoise’s ever-growing thirst.

She’ll trade anything–goods, services, morals–for water.

In fine fairy-tale tradition, a down-and-out girl must venture into the wilderness.

Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum

The weather where I live is bouncing back and forth between almost-spring and still-winter. So for today’s site, here’s something a bit warmer — the Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum. It’s a zoo! it’s a botanical garden! it’s a natural history museum! and much more. (It’s also just down the road from one section of the Saguaro National Park but the latter will have to wait for another post.)

The bookstore alone is one good reason to visit — lots of wonderful, interesting texts about the region’s history, natural history, and more.

The museum is, of course, mostly outside and occasionally underground. Here are two attractions, one dead and one living.

I took a lot of photos during one of my visits (I spent a number of years close enough to visit Tucson and the museum on several occasions). I’m restraining myself rather than overwhelm visitors with images, but here are three showcasing vistas (those are not merely mountains but sky islands in the distance), cacti, and flowers.

The raptor free flights are one of the museum’s many attractions. They’re seasonal–the birds aren’t flown free during the hottest months–and definitely make for a fine show. Here are two samples from my visits.

Owl perched atop a long, thin cacti
Owl landed
Raptor flying with mountains in the distance
Raptor in flight

Links of the Week

Illustrated Pretties – some lovely covers here!

What Tools does a Professional Writer Use? – my list would vary quite a bit, although some of the differences are likely due to the matter that Buckell is a full-time writer while I work a day job

In Praise of Backstory – which I found interesting, particularly inasmuch as I’m working on a lengthy series of related short stories where I am always weighing how much to include in any given work

How to Find Inspiration: Fiction Therapy – some tips for writing from life

What Does Amazon’s “Project Zero” Anti-Counterfeiting Plan Mean for You? – this is mostly geared towards non-textual items (as I read the article at least), but will be interesting to see if/how it extends (anti-piracy anyone?)

What’s in a Name? Naming Characters in Historical Fantasy – for “a name is a significant part of a character” and names set up differing expectations. There’s a lot of possibilities—and places one can (un)wittingly trip

Good Parts and Bad Parts – about the different tasks involved in being a professional writer, which I where I’m headed (not a full-time writer, as I actually like my day job quite a bit, but professional)

Trope-tastic Musicals – in which a romance writer organizes musicals (theatrical and film) by the romantic tropes they fall into, with very interesting results (plus ample commentary on which elements have weathered time and which are cringe-worthy)

The Sunken Trace

Shows where centuries of travel by Natchez, Chickasaw, and other peoples wore down the earth more than five feet in places.
The Sunken Trace, Natchez Trace Parkway, 9 February 2018

A little over a year ago, I moved from the Southwest to the Midwest. I took a month off to move and settle in, and have a bit of a breather before starting a new job. I did a facilitated self-move (hired labor at either end to pack and unpack a truck, which I drove myself), then flew back and drove my car a slightly different route. I am an inveterate planner, but for once I didn’t plan ahead and arrange all my lodgings, stops, etc. I went with the flow.

That said, I went with the flow with a semi-formed goal in mind: to drive the Natchez Trace Parkway. I’ve driven, or been driven, along many of the most beautiful roads in the US at one point or another (Skyline Drive, Kancamagus Highway, Going to the Sun Road, northern parts of Route One). I made it to the Parkway (lets not talk right now about just how long it takes to drive across Texas) and got all of 100 miles along it before I bowed to fate. It was raining, heavily, and the forecast predicted rain, rain, and more rain for all the days before when I absolutely had to be in the Midwest. I left the Parkway in favor of roads that are easier to drive when one is a stranger forging through pouring rain (I got lost first, but that’s a sidepoint).

Nevertheless, I was able to drive far enough along the Parkway to see the Sunken Trace — which is every bit as stunning as I’d hoped. The overcast sky lent the scene a gray stillness, and contributed to my being the only person there. I’ll admit a had a flash decidedly out of this world (it brought to mind the scene in Peter Jackson’s Fellowship where the hobbits hide from the wraiths in the roots of a tree). Nevertheless, the real power of this spot is the centuries of travel along it. The Park Service sign suggests visitors walk along it imagining themselves back to 1800 — but I didn’t stop there. Centuries of Mississippian peoples (Choctaw, Chickasaw) passed by long before any of European descent. It’s all these peoples taking the same path to/from that wore it down between the trees to such an extent. It’s definitely worth visiting–and revisiting.

I’m going back, someday, to drive the whole Parkway and stop at all of the historic and nature spots that the 444-mile road boasts. Someday. Until then, memories and the photo posted above (taken about when the rain started) will have to suffice.

National Park Service sign providing background on the Sunken Trace
Sunken Trace Sign, Natchez Trace Parkway, 9 February 2018

Links of the Week

Some of the posts which caught my eyes (and attention) in the past week.

Biased Opinion – The Destructiveness of Voting Slates in Book Awards

Madame Fourcade’s Secret War (review)

On Life Changing Experiences and Fear

Tips for Complex Historical Research – not mine but another writer’s. Perhaps I’ll try to encapsulate mine for writing historical fantasy/magical realism some day; in the meantime, check out my Tuesday posts for musings on historical sites (web and real-life) and books.

Have We Lost Our Empathy – on hard decisions and the difference between empathy and sympathy

On Writing Process, Part Four: Submitting that first novel & rejection

Finding the Voice – an interesting take on voice

New Worlds: Public Sanitation – something to consider in world building!

Writing Tips: How to Authentically Write Diversity – advice to consider

Transported by Words – a writer of historical fantasy / timeslip who’s work I enjoy writing about another writer who’s work I enjoy . . .

Recreating the Past

To write history or historical fiction/fantasy, one must do research. That said, researching to write history and researching to write historical fiction differ in significant ways. This is not an original observation. I’m not researching the point, but I’m absolutely, positively sure many others have made it before.

As a writer of historical fantasy, then, it’s worth celebrating when I find a resource which contains useful details. Today’s subject for celebration is Phillip Collier’s Missing New Orleans. I’m currently writing a short story set in an alternate New Orleans circa 1840s-1850s (Chasing Shadows, in the Twisting world–likely available late in 2019). This book has a number of relevant photos, names, stories, maps, and places. For instance, photographs of early hotels (St. Louis, St. Charles). It’s organized thematically, not chronologically, so I had to hunt through to find images and anecdotes–nevertheless, it was of incredible assistance as in fleshing out my alternate version of the city.

So if you’re of a mind to set a story in an earlier New Orleans–or just interested in the subject, I recommend this. Perfect? No, certainly not, but chockful of anecdotes and materials to send one down a dozen or more research rabbit holes. Enjoy!

Phillip Collier’s Missing New Orleans. Text by Jim Rapier & Mary Beth Romig, Introduction by J. Richard Gruber, Foreword by Pete Fountain. New Orleans: Ogden Museum of Southern Art, University of New Orleans, with support from The Historic New Orleans Collection, 2005.

Links of the Week (or two)

Once or twice a month, I’ll share stories which caught my eye during blog reading