A Novelist in Edinburgh Then and Now

June 16, 2013 by · Leave a Comment 

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Edinburgh_in_the_17thC_(detail)_by_Wenceslas_Hollar_(1670)It’s been more than fifteen years since I was last in the city of Edinburgh where the historical figure (and heroine) of Island of the Swans, Jane Maxwell, rode pigs down the High Street of Edinburgh in 1760, the year King George III ascended the throne and Scotland’s independence as a separate nation was well and truly gone.IMG_9464

And it’s been even longer since my husband, my son Jamie—now a father himself—and I rented a house (with a boat) in Glen Affric in the Scottish Highlands near where the Frasers of Struy once lived some 270 years ago. Jane and “the Lost Lieutenant” Fraser were star-crossed lovers in my first novel, a biographical historical based on a true tale, and even back then, I was treating the research as I would any “story” that I chased down in those days when I was also an on-air reporter for the ABC radio and TV affiliate in Los Angeles—-only the Maxwell-Fraser saga had taken place nearly three centuries earlier!

IMG_9466Seeking the facts of their lives, however, required the same reportorial skills and the same tenacity as any other assignment…only this was one I’d assigned myself with no guarantee I’d ever find what I was looking for, or ever see this first novel published.

Ah, the freelance writer’s life…IMG_9457

But before you feel too sorry for the plight of an unproven novelist, you need to know that back in the 1980s, I was determined that Jamie and I would also use these research trips to seek the roots of our own Scottish heritage, given my Great-Grandmother Elfie McCullough’s claim that our branch were direct descendants of the McCulloughs of Gatehouse of Fleet who had married into the Maxwell of Monreith clan several generations before Jane Maxwell was born.sc001a7be8

So on one of those early trips to Scotland, down to the Lowlands we went to the “Land of the McCulloughs” where, at the clan castle, the keeper announced as I signed the guestbook ‘Ciji McCullough Ware,’ “By sweet Saint Ninian! So yer a McCulloch, are ye? The worst of the lot! They wouldn’t jus’ pour boilin’ oil on ye…they’d invite ye into the inner courtyard and then pour boilin’ oil on ye!”

So much for our notions of romantic Scotland “back in the day…” It was a good first lesson.IMG_9430

On that original trip, when friends as well as family shared renting that house in the back-of-the-beyond Scottish Highlands, I dragged our group all over the territories inhabited by our Scottish antecedents so many generations before. Jamie then, as he is now, was a tremendously good sport, even submitting to being dressed in a kilt in the years that followed.

Jamie-Teal engagement party 2009_0002In fact, when Jamie and his bride got engaged in 2009, we knew he’d picked the right woman when Teal endorsed our idea of making the announcement party a “ceilidh”—the Gaelic word for a celebration with music, food, storytelling, and a great deal of laughter.IMG_9463

I’m a “few” years older, now, than I was during those early trips to Scotland, and this research effort for my next novel will be focused on modern-day Scotland and how the city of Edinburgh and the surrounding countryside are coping with globalization and the threat to the ancient ways and traditions. On this journey, we will head for the Scottish Borders, south of Edinburgh, to the land of Sir Walter Scott (in the nineteenth century, the Maxwell clan intermarried with the Scotts, by the way) and visit today’s woolen mills to see tartan fabrics and cashmere manufactured, and visit castles and mansions whose owners can barely afford to keep these estates in their families…and then, I will see where the story takes me as I begin to conjur That Autumn in Edinburgh—a contemporary sequel to Island of the Swans and the next novel in the Four Seasons Quartet series after my recently published That Summer in Cornwall.

IMG_9455Before we left on this trip, I had been telling my friends with a laugh that I’m on a mission called “Dateline: 270 years later…”

When I look at the pictures of myself and that little boy standing in front of Prestonfield House in the heart of Edinburgh, I do feel a bit older–but whatever age I am now, it’s wonderful to be back in Scotland again!

Creating Characters Before The Novel Is Written

June 6, 2013 by · Leave a Comment 

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Image 46In an previous blog I talked about the task facing authors beginning a new work to figure out what was going to happen to keep readers turning the pages of one of those novels sitting in the library or on your bookshelf.

The central question a writer must ask before typing page one is: “What do your characters want, and what are they willing to do to get it?”That Summer in Cornwall

As I mentioned in an earlier post, in That Summer in Cornwall Meredith Champlin, the heroine in blue jeans and Wellington boots, basically wants to re-boot her life. With her service dog, Holly, trotting at her side, she escapes a dead-end relationship with a charming but alcoholic rodeo rider, along with her grueling job as a pediatric emergency room nurse at a children’s hospital in Wyoming to spend a few months at the “Money Pit” belonging to her cousin who has married an impecunious British landowner with a castle and an estate that is reeling from the current economic crisis.

Caerhays_CastleSo what is she willing to do –in other words—what are the actions she’s willing to take to affect these changes in her life? The actions–whatever they may turn out to be–constitute the plot of the novel, and in Meredith’s case she A) takes a leave-of-absence from her nursing job in Wyoming; B) prompted by being unexpectedly awarded the guardianship of her deceased cousin’s young daughter, she and her ward get on a plane to spend the summer in Cornwall with another cousin; and C) she co-founds a dog obedience school on the grounds of the Barton Hall estate with a British veteran from the Royal Army’s Canine Bomb Squad–and he quickly becomes the other protagonist in the story.images

So now, on the eve of my research trip to Scotland for the next novel in the Four Seasons Quartet series, I am faced with those same questions in That Autumn in Edinburgh: what do the principle characters want and what are they willing to do to get it? An obvious “want” for heroine Fiona Fraser (an American with Scottish roots who is a home furnishings designer for a well-known firm based in New York) and hero Alexander Maxwell (a Scot struggling to keep the family woolen mill out of bankruptcy due to the unholy competition from manufacturers in the Far East) is to succeed in their difficult chosen professions…and they must fight to do that against a number of serious obstacles.

cottage_at_dornie_lochalsh_scotland-1920x1080Along with these material wants, each also yearns for a feeling of “home” in their respective lives due to certain aspects of their past that are revealed as the story goes along. That quest to find an emotional center in their lives, as well as the discovery early on that they descend from a pair of star-crossed lovers in the eighteenth century, fuel their journey in the Scottish Borders region south of Edinburgh to uncover “the rest of the story” regarding their mutual Scottish connections.images

The plot of the new book will be driven by the actions that these two main characters are willing to take to get what they want. For instance, what steps will Alex employ, in the wake of Scottish mills like his that are struggling to stay afloat, to triumph over his Chinese competitors who are selling tartan fabrics for 75% less than he can make fabric on his traditional looms? What chances will Fiona take at the risk of losing her job to fight for the quality of products she wants in the design company’s “Scottish Home Collection” that she’s been sent to Scotland to research by a boss who increasingly only cares about his bottom line?

Given the protagonists’ previous shaky relationships with “significant others” and the fact that they were born in two different cultures with the Atlantic ocean separating them, how far will they hazard their hearts or make a permanent commitment as they are drawn inexorably closer by the tragic story of their ancestors–the “lost” Lieutenant Thomas Fraser and Jane Maxwell, the 4th Duchess of Gordon–whom readers met in the first novel I published, Island of the Swans.

1087_33_8_webFrankly, I do not yet know the answers to these questions, but I’m hoping that my upcoming trip to the land of my own maternal ancestors will yield some exciting clues! Off I go…

Are Ancestors “Fair Game” in Fiction?

May 20, 2013 by · Leave a Comment 

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Ciji Ware, ABC RadioI remember when I was a young consumer reporter in my early days at ABC—long before I’d written or published novels like That Summer in Cornwall —when the subject of one of my radio assignments became very angry that I revealed that his company was pumping air into its ice cream to increase the bulk (and hence the weight) which, of course, meant they could charge-more-for-less.suppliedsmallcone

I told a veteran newspaperman about the significant blowback I received from Mr. Ice Cream and the head of the station’s ad department after the story aired, given that the chain where this tasty treat was sold turned out to be one of KABC’s biggest advertisers…oops! The old media hand gave me one of his droll looks and said, “Oh, I guess I forgot to warn you, Ciji.  People who think they are important only want to be described in the noblest of terms.  However, you’ll just have to ignore that and tell the truth.” That, he added, was my purpose as a reporter.

Island of the SwansI ran into an alarmingly similar problem when I was researching my first historical novel, Island of the Swans, a kind of a Gone with the Wind of Scotland saga that was based on the life of an historical figure, Jane Maxwell, the 4th Duchess of Gordon.images

I had contacted a descendant of one of the other “true-life” figures in this biographical novel, Baron Simon, the 15th Lord Lovat of Fraser, a celebrated World War II hero (played by Peter Lawford in the classic The Longest Day) who, along with his wife, Lady Rose, eventually hosted my son and me as guests at Balblair House for a few days on one of our trips to the Highlands to track down the important details of the amazing Duchess’ tumultuous life.Lady Rose, Lord Lovat, Jamie, Ciji BalBlair House, Scotland

I had landed on the Lovats’ doorstep—literally—in search of information about the “lost lieutenant,” Thomas Fraser of Struy, who had erroneously been reported killed in the American Colonies while serving with the Black Watch regiment at Fort Pitt—now Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.william-hogarth-portrait-of-simon-fraser-lord-lovat

I soon began to get that same, uneasy feeling when an eighteenth century Lord Lovat, painted here by Hogarth, was beginning to emerge as a slightly villainous figure in my story, preventing, it turned out, the lovely Jane Maxwell (from whom my own great grand-grandmother claimed our McCulloughs descended) from marrying the great love of her life, the aforementioned Simon Fraser’s ward, the handsome soldier, Lieutenant Thomas Fraser of Struy, later in the 78th Fraser Highlanders, as shown here.soldierb

I nervously explained to the present-day Lord Lovat, who had been so kind and helpful to me in my researches, that his ancestor Simon Lovat, son of “Simon the Fox” who had been beheaded for his nefarious deeds, was truly a dark force in the novel. The current Lord Lovat threw his head back and roared with laughter.  “Oh!” he exclaimed to Lady Rose, “how frightfully amusing!”

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Here he was—a genuine war hero and nobleman, memorialized during his lifetime with an enormous statue on a hill in the Scottish Highlands—and he wasn’t going to give me grief just because the truth lead me to an historical figure in my book whose selfish, frankly despicable actions truly drove the plot.  I realized in that moment that creating a compelling story based on the facts as best as can be discovered, especially in a biographical novel dealing with “real-life” people who once walked the planet, is my purpose as a writer.

103373516_271138cThat formative experience with Lord and Lady Lovat, seen here on their wedding day in 1938, taught me a great lesson:  whether writing fact or fiction, my job is to let the evidence take this writer wherever it will.  Simply tell the story–and damn the torpedeos!

But what if a character in my upcoming novel, That Autumn in Edinburgh, a modern day sequel to the historical novel, Island of the Swans, is based on a descendant of my own ancestor who—it turns out–may not have behaved so nobly?  What will my family say….?Ciji at work in Portofino Office 4-07

More on that sticky subject another time as I knuckle down to the next task at hand…and head for Scotland in June.

Dateline: 200 Years Later…

May 2, 2013 by · Leave a Comment 

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Island of the SwansI’ve realized recently, preparing for my trip to Scotland in June to research the second in the 4 Seasons Series ,that the next book—That Autumn in Edinburgh—may be the “ultimate sequel.”  That’s because the story it continues, Island of the Swans, left off at the end of the eighteenth century. The new books starts in 2013!  Crazy idea? Here’s how it happened…Image 2

Not too long ago, my husband and I were driving the two hours from the Bay Area to Sacramento to see our Godchildren and tossing ideas back and forth as the California scenery sped by.  During the previous twenty-five years, I had written the words –The End–on seven 130,000 word historical novels, along with two weighty nonfiction books and was feeling, as my late novelist father Harlan Ware was wont to say, “that the well may be running pretty dry.”

Image 3Like my dad, (seen on the right in a portrait by Donald Teague) I love reading as well as writing fiction, but producing historical novels to the standard I think the reading audience deserves takes a commitment of a couple of years, each, and I had hit a very significant birthday recently.  To launch into another big project like one I’d been mulling over in the middle of the Great Recession would require living with no income during the time it took to produce the book, to say nothing of the expensive and extensive travel required to truly do the subject justice,

SAMSUNGAnd then there would be the huge struggle to get it traditionally published in today’s ever-changing and tumultuous media industry, not to mention the effort required to promote an historical novel set two hundred years earlier to audiences who were less and less likely to have studied history prior to World War II!IMG_6140

“I’m running out of runway,” I recall complaining to my writing pal, Michael Llewellyn. “The readers who like my stuff are as old as I am!  Maybe I should hang up my spurs?”

Then a thought struck:  why not write some sequels to those same historical novels, but set them in contemporary times?  I was yearning to try a new direction in my writing life, but as a practical matter, the good news was that I already “knew the territory” of each book’s setting; knew the characters from whom their modern-day counterparts descended, and I grew excited to accept the challenge to develop stories that echoed down from the distant past.

Ware Family, circa 1915I have long been interested in the idea that events far back in a family’s line filter down and affect later generations.  I’d seen this in my own family where my ancestors had originally sailed across the Atlantic from various parts of the United Kingdom to settle in the American colonies in the eighteenth century, pushing West in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries.  My father, who’d never traveled to Europe, was nevertheless about as British as they come, serving tea each day, promptly at four o’clock.  Why was that, I’d always wondered? Could having a cuppa be encoded in one’s DNA?300px-Battle_of_Shiloh_Thulstrup

On my mother’s side, her four-times great grandfather and his son had been officers in the American Civil War on the Union side, captured at the Battle of Shiloh and put in a prison camp, and returned to Missouri broken, self-medicating men, with repercussions that were felt down through the generations—even to my own day.

03_Duchess_JeanSo, I wondered, why not tell the uncompleted story in my biographical historical novel, Island of the Swans.  Reveal to the readers what ultimately happened much later in their lives between Jane Maxwell, the 4th Duchess of Gordon, and the “lost lieutenant” Thomas Fraser who had been reported killed in battle and came back to Scotland to claim her as his bride shortly after she was married to the Duke.  How had Jane’s losing the love of her life impacted the Maxwell-Gordon-Fraser children?  (Yes, there is quite good evidence that one of Jane’s offspring was not by the Duke!)

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What if two descendants of the star-crossed lovers happened to meet in Edinburgh, Scotland in the first decade of the twenty-first century and–

And thus, as with That Summer in Cornwall a modern-day sequel to an historical novel is born: That Autumn in Edinburgh. So watch this space…

Book Bargain Bulletin from Ciji!

April 16, 2013 by · Leave a Comment 

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LightOnVeranda082311aI woke up to the news this morning that–in the mysterious ways of Amazon–my ‘time-slip’ novel A Light on the Veranda is today’s (April 16th) “Kindle Daily Deal”–which means you can secure an 88% (!) saving if you click over there asap!  These deals usually only last a day or two, so I wrote this “emergency blog” to let any reader who wanted to get a copy could quickly grab one!Image 9

 

 

 

 

 

The story, set in both nineteenth and twenty-first century Natchez, takes place in “The Town That Time Forgot” where there are sixty “tour-able” mansions built in a time when “Cotton Was King” and plantation owners erected replicas in this market town of their larger, elegant houses in the nearby Mississippi countryside.

The heroine, Daphne Duvallon, was the character in Midnight on Julia Street who blew off her wedding in the first chapter and high-tailed it back to New York City, never to be heard from again until her brother’s wedding forces her to return to the South and confront her devils.  Thanks to a harp whose vibrations whisk Daphne back to the time of her ancestors, she discovers events from her family’s past that still echo down to her own life, and that of the arrestingly handsome Simon Hopkins, a nature photographer in the Natchez area stalking birds once painted by John James Audubon.

Image 20Given that spring has sprung along the Mississippi right now, what better time than to indulge in a bargain book that will whisk you to one of the most historic and memorable places in the United States?

Thank you Amazon/Kindle!

 

 

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