Historical Research goes Scholarly

I’m reblogging this today for two reasons: One, it’s about Historical Research and unusual sources, and Two, because it mentions the Alejandro Novella, which I’ll be working on finishing today. (I have to get the last section to my Patreon people next week, so no more dallying!)

J. Kathleen Cheney

As yesterday was Sunday, I was working on the Alejandro novella rather than the normal WIP.*  (Sunday’s my day to ‘play’.)

The Alejandro novella will be set post WWI (early 1921), and for that setting I need some rather specific information about the Portuguese army in WWI.  Not too surprisingly, English language sources pay very little attention to the Portuguese, and very little Portuguese information has been translated into English.

That’s been a constant source of research angst for me. I don’t read Portuguese well enough to do serious research in that language, and those things that are translated into English have a strong bias to them (that’s often anti-Portuguese.)

So in researching for this particular novella, I was despairing of finding any real specific information about the 2 Portuguese divisions involved in the Battle of La Lys.  (This is, BTW, not the setting of the novella, but it does…

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One WIP? Or many?

One of the interesting things about authors is how we’re all different. Some of us are plotters, some pantsers, and a large percentage are in between. Some write every day. Some don’t. Some have rituals or a special place to write, while others can write anywhere, anywhen.

And some of us can only work on one project at a time.

I’ve never been one of those writers. I’ve always been able to have three or four WIPs going, save when I was under a real deadline crush. In fact, for me that makes it easier.  If I’m having trouble working on WIP1, then I open WIP2 and tinker with that for a while. A lot of the time, that shakes loose whatever was bothering me about WIP1.

Recently I’ve had 3 WIPs going: After the War, The Horn, and The Sins of the Fathers. 

(I actually have opened a few other files in this time, mostly on weekends, just for fun. Sometimes we need to do ‘fun’ writing just to remind ourselves why we do this.)

But my point is that this strange way of working is what works for me.


After the War is due to be out later this summer, which means I need to get that last section finished, and then get it out to my editor. I’ve even got a cover commissioned for it, due to me about June 15th.  Now, this is a Portugal story involving Serafina Palmeira and Alejandro Ferreira.point_of_no_return3_by_faestock

(This is the -likely- picture we’ll be using–via Faestock on DeviantArt–for the cover…the rights belong to that artist.)


But it’s recently been The Horn and The Sins of the Fathers that have taken up most of my time.

The Sins of the Fathers (name may change) is the sequel to Dreaming Death, starting only a month later than the end of that novel. Now, this was primarily concerned with the problems caused by Shironne’s father, Mikael’s father, and to a lesser extent, Deborah’s. Hence the name.

However, the edits on the first book killed off Shironne’s father before the first book happened. He was supposed to die slowly and painfully in the first half of Book 2. Removing him also removed a lot of the issues with Mikael’s father, so…I’m having to rewrite Book 2.  This happens sometimes.

On balance, I’m okay with the changes, but it means that as I was rewriting the sequel, the murder in it seemed to work less and less, making the plot weaker and weaker. Unfortunately, how to fix that problem has eluded me for for quite a while. I’ve been spinning my wheels writing it because it just seemed…wrong.

But working on The Horn provided an answer in a very different way.

I’ve been working on that, a series of novellas set elsewhere in Larossa shortly before the events of Dreaming Death (early summer-fall).  The events of the two story lines eventually tie together.So it was of direct benefit to me to have parts of The Horn solid in my head and written down.

But while I was hunting and pecking through my old files for a spare bit of text (I really need to get in there and rename all those old files because their current names are gibberish) I ran across an old Mikael/Shironne story about a murder that…

Well, I’d never finished that 2005 story. I probably got busy with something else and never got back to it. But suddenly I had in my hands the answer to my problem with TSotF.  I could swap out the short story’s murder for the problematic one in the book. A bunch of names had changed, but  the short story was set right after the book, so there wasn’t much time or age difference.

And suddenly I knew how to fix the broken part of TSotF. I am in the process of stripping out the old murder and working in the new. I’m re-outlining the book, as much as I do outlining. And everything is moving again.

Such a relief.

The point to all of that being: For me, working on more than one project at a time is helpful.  Not true for everyone, but for me, it pays.


Does that work for you? Or are you a ‘one project at a time’ writer?



Blind in Your Mind

Recently I ran across an article that discussed being “Blind in your Mind” here. 

It was fascinating to me to read it because I could relate to almost everything the writer said. In fact, several other writers I know said the same thing. Many of us don’t picture things in our heads, and it’s rather bizarre to us that other people do.

Now I want to be clear…I am not as “mind-blind’ as the writer of this article. I dream in color all the time and often can recall snatches of those dreams.  And I do, when I think about things I’ve seen in the past, sometimes get a split-second image in my head. It fades away so quickly that I don’t get any details out of it, like an afterimage instead of a true image.

I am far more likely to recall how something moved or words related to something I’ve seen.  I cannot close my eyes and picture anyone. Not even myself–like the Bible verse, I walk away from the mirror and forget what I look like.

This does not interfere, as the article specifies, with my ability to recognize people. I can recognize people’s faces both in real life and in photographs (as some other people cannot). But if I close my eyes and try to picture them, I only see blackness.

In fact, the harder I try, the less I get. If I’m trying, I won’t even get the split-second image that I mentioned before. I suspect that my ability to recall visual images is subconscious rather than conscious.

There is probably a continuum at work here, where some people are extreme, like the man in the article. And other people picture everything in their mind’s eye, rather like an internal movie.

Some authors who mentioned having a mind’s eye said they often struggle with descriptions because they can’t get the details right enough to match what they see. For my own part, I struggle with making sure I have enough description to get across the basics for the reader.


One of the ways I deal with this is to use photographs of characters. I often keep those on bulletin boards so I can look at my characters as I’m writing them. That way I know what they look like.

Many of these photographs are from an old stash in tubs that I’ve been collecting since college…a long time ago. I’ve recently started using Pinterest to track my pictures as well. For example, here’s my set of photos that I’m using for The Horn. I can look at the pictures any time to remind myself who my characters are.  (Although I also print them out so I can access them when I’m not online.)


So if you’re a writer, do you have this issue? Do you see things in your mind or not? And if not, how do you learn to describe for the reader?


Historical Fudgery: Using Wikipedia as a Portal

J. Kathleen Cheney

When I spoke about Historical Research at the DFW Writer’s Conference earlier this month, one of the things I mentioned was using Wikipedia.

Now I always suggest taking any Wiki with a grain of salt. As a user, you don’t know who’s posting the info there. But I wanted to mention one way in which Wiki became invaluable to me in researching 1902 Portugal.

I used it extensively as a portal to Portuguese Wikipedia.

Let me give you an example:
Here’s the English Wiki Page for Matosinhos, a town where part of The Golden City is set.


As you can see, there’s hardly anything there. Apparently English speakers don’t care much about this town.

But if you look down the left sidebar, you can see several other languages available.

When I click on Portuguese, I get this version of the page:

screen 2

You can see that there’s a LOT more information…

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Historical Fudgery: Costume Research Edition

More in the HIstorical Research reblogging series:

J. Kathleen Cheney

When I talked about Historical Resources last week, one of the things I spoke of was resources for costume detail. So here are some of my suggestions and links:

Costume Books:
I actually own more than the ones shown here. But I wanted to show a few. The one on “Russian Elegance” and “Calico Chronicle” are the ones I paid Full Price (gasps!) for, because they were both newer and directly tied to something I was researching. I admit that I bought the rest used. I’m very partial to the work of John Peacock, by the way…

However, costume books tend to focus on the clothing of the wealthy–so keep that in mind while researching.

These are only useful if you’re researching some date after 1880 or so, but they are excellent for showing what the average guy or gal would wear. Off the Rack. Mail Order. Very useful…

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Using a Baedeker

Reblogging for the people who saw me speak last weekend…

J. Kathleen Cheney

Book 3, The Shores of Spain, is the first in the series to show my characters traveling across Iberia. And to get the historical details of the travel as correct as I can, I’ve turned to the same book that an American making this trip would have used in 1903…Baedeker’s Handbook for Travelers.

If you’re not familiar with the name “Baedeker” then you probably haven’t read E. M. Forster’s A Room with a View, where an entire chapter deals with the heroine’s bafflement after being separated from her Baedeker while in Italy.

Chapter II: In Santa Croce with No Baedeker

Tears of indignation came to Lucy’s eyes partly because Miss Lavish had jilted her, partly because she had taken her Baedeker. How could she find her way home? How could she find her way about in Santa Croce? Her first morning was ruined, and she might…

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Writers and their Beasts: Beth Cato


Today my guest is Beth Cato, Nebula Finalist and Author of the Clockwork Dagger series as well as a new series that debuts in August with Breath of Earth (which I’ve been fortunate enough to read already!)

And today she has a new novella out (which I’ve also read!), another from the Clockwork Dagger world: Final Flight: A Clockwork Dagger Story



Another breathtaking short story from the author of The Clockwork Dagger and The Clockwork Crown, set in the same world…

Captain Hue hoped he was rid of his troubles once Octavia Leander and Alonzo Garrett disembarked from his airship Argus. But he was quickly proved wrong when his ship was commandeered by Caskentian soldiers. He is ordered on a covert and deadly mission by the smarmy Julius Corrado, an elite Clockwork Dagger.

Now Captain Hue must start a mutiny to regain control of his airship, which means putting his entire crew at risk—including his teenage son Sheridan. As the weather worsens and time runs out, it’ll take incredible bravery to bring the Argus down….perhaps for good.

Buy on  Amazon / Barnes & Noble / Kobo / iTunes

iconddNow…on to the Beasts!

1) Let’s start with the obvious: Tell us about your pet.

Porom is my cranky old lady cat. She turns sixteen in May; she was diagnosed with kidney and thyroid deficiencies last year, but the medication and low-protein diet have actually made her healthier now than she’s been in years.


We adopted Porom and her brother Palom in June 2000. I had been married all of a month to my Navy sailor husband, and had a hard transition to South Carolina. We were dirt poor–literally living on ramen and cake mix–but we had some spare money, so we adopted two kittens from the SPCA. We all moved to Washington state in 2003, where my two kitties kept me company during deployments and pregnancy, and then to Arizona when my husband became a civilian.

Palom was my buddy cat, the most extroverted, happy cat I have ever known. He developed cancer in 2012 and quickly succumbed. I still miss him every day, though Porom has actually thrived as a solo cat.


2) How does she help/hinder your writing?

Porom likes to hang out near me. Right now, for example, she’s snoring in an Amazon box a few feet from my computer. She’ll demand affection a few times a day, and she is ardent about getting her canned food and medication at exactly 6am and 6pm. Our big cuddle time is before I go to bed. If I’m not in my appropriate chair by 8:30pm, she will find me and scream at me. Once I’m in my chair, with tea and a book, I help her arthritic body make the jump so she can cuddle at my hip.

3) Do they appear in any of your works?

Palom was a major inspiration for the gremlins in my Clockwork Dagger series. Porom was a direct inspiration for a recent story published in Nature: “The Human is Late to Feed the Cat.”

4) How does being a pet owner affect your writing (philosophically?)

Oh, it’s huge. My cats have taught me so much about compassion and love, and those are certainly themes in my writing. My Nebula-nominated novella Wings of Sorrow and Bone is all about saving gremlins from foul experimentation, and that directly goes to my affection for cats and other animals. I will never be one of those people who goes bonkers over babies, but if you bring out kittens? Oh yeah. My book heroines are distinct people, but they do take after me with reactions like that, too.

BethCato-HCV-smBeth Cato hails from Hanford, California, but currently writes and bakes cookies in a lair west of Phoenix, Arizona. She shares the household with a hockey-loving husband, a numbers-obsessed son, and a cat the size of a canned ham.

She’s the author of THE CLOCKWORK DAGGER (a 2015 Locus Award finalist for First Novel) and THE CLOCKWORK CROWN (an RT Reviewers’ Choice Finalist) from Harper Voyager. Her novella WINGS OF SORROW AND BONE is a Nebula nominee. BREATH OF EARTH begins a new steampunk series set in an alternate history 1906 San Francisco.

Follow her at BethCato.com and on Twitter at @BethCato.

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