Indexing Headaches—CoronaLife Day 523

I have spent the entire day with the Norwegians.

One line of my mother’s family goes back to Norway. The connection is very far back, so far that much of it may be more properly classified as “lore” rather than provable fact, but it’s fun any way you look at it.

The Norwegian chapter is a long one, spanning some 200+ years, and is an epic adventure of the Orkney and Shetland Islands, as well as vast reaches of northern Scotland. Between the Norwegian names and the many places touched upon, it is enough to make any proofreader’s head hurt.

I am familiar enough with these people now that the spelling is not much of an issue for me. What really hung me up was the indexing. I spent pretty literally the whole day on it. Some of it was my own fault, because I forgot what I had done in previous sections.

For instance, I forgot I had put the kings of Scotland under the heading “Scottish Royalty” because I was also placing their children under that heading. So today I entered them all as “Kings of Scotland” and then had to go back and change them.

Or I forgot that when I indexed a woman as the wife of someone, I put that info in parentheses, not just offset with a comma. Luckily there were not many wives, so it was not as laborious as it sounds.

Then there are just the crazy indexing errors that are basically typos. When entering the index coding in Word, if you don’t do it exactly the same each time, it will show up as a separate person. For example, “Gans:Kerry”, is not the same as “Gans:Kerry ”. Most of the time I avoided having issues by simply copying and pasting the same code for the same person, but occasionally I’d run across someone I’d missed and have to re-type it from scratch. Or it would be a person I had entered far earlier in the book, and had forgotten exactly how I had entered him (but THOUGHT I remembered), and then when I would check the index there he’d be, twice.

I have gotten all the Norwegians indexed now, however, and can move on to my next chapter. Seven chapters left to wrap up the summer with.

An Unexpected Break—CoronaLife Day 516

So there I was, chugging away at my maternal genealogy book. Compiling and indexing until I was dizzy. Deciding who was important enough to add to the Name Index, what places I would tag in the Place Index. Figuring out how to insert section breaks and make my indexes into two columns. Coming along well and then…an unexpected break.

My daughter broke her ankle.

She broke it walking. Inside. On a flat, clean, carpeted floor. She was texting her friend, and she likes to pace while she texts, and somehow…she broke her ankle. All I know is that she started yelling, “Mom! Mom! I think something snapped!”

Sunday was the emergency room. Monday was the orthopedic urgent care. The end result was a boot and crutches. Tuesday we both recuperated. Today I went to the library to get her a bag of books to read over the next few weeks.

Therefore, I have not gotten much more work on the genealogy book this week. On the other hand, I HAVE been getting a good workout running up and down the stairs bringing stuff to my daughter, since she can’t carry anything up and down the stairs. I might lose some weight out of this deal.

My plan is to get back to the book tomorrow (well, today by the time this posts). Aside from a follow-up on Friday, things should be quiet. The ankle break was very small, so perhaps we will get the go-ahead to be weight-bearing on Friday. It would be great if we do, because my daughter has mostly ignored the crutches anyway and just hops around the house. I worry she will injure her good leg, and then where will we be?

Hopefully things stay quiet, because our Norse Lineage awaits!

Nuts and Bolts—CoronaLife Day 509

I am progressing on my maternal genealogy book, getting into the nuts and bolts of putting it together.

I realized many of my trees were too large for the page size, and some of the tree would be lost in the binding. So I resized all of them to fit properly.

Up until now, all my chapters were in separate files. So now I am compiling of them into a single file. I proofread one more time, then paste it into the compiled book file. Because the margins are slightly different (I need a wider margin on the binding side), there is usually some minor cleanup of each chapter.

I then make sure each chapter is a new section, and add the chapter header. Then I go through the laborious project of tagging each person and location for my indexes.

The indexes are driving me a bit crazy. While the Name Index is fine, the Place Index refuses to wrap into two columns, thus leaving half the page blank. As far as I can tell, both indexes were set up the same, just referencing different tags.

I did multiple indexes successfully for my father’s book, so I know it can be done. I will look back at my father’s book and see how I did it there. Perhaps that will give me the answer.

As painstaking as this part of the process is, I feel like I am making decent progress. Five chapters down, twelve to go!

After this, I need to do the artwork for the book. Cover, chapter pages, any photos I want to include. Those will also be painstaking, but fun to do.


The Quick and the Dead—CoronaLife Day 495

After being away last week, I tried to get back into the swing of things once we arrived home. We’ve had a heat wave, eerily red suns from smoke from Canadian wildfires, a tornado warning, and a heavy thunderstorm that gave us a pond in our backyard. I also took a trip to the ER with a calf muscle injury that I am 98% recovered from at this point.

So, not exactly conducive to concentrated working.

I hunkered down, however, and actually have had a pretty productive week. Since I last wrote, I proofread 40,500 words of my mother’s family history book. And still found mistakes when I went back to quickly look at something in a chapter I had already proofread. I will likely need to read the entire thing one more time before giving it to someone else to proofread. My second read-through will probably be out loud, since most of my problem is shifting tenses, and hearing it will help me catch that.

I also updated several family trees that will go in the book. Apparently, I have been working on this a lot longer than I thought, since people in the trees who have died were still alive, and children who are alive now had not been born. One chapter had no tree at all yet, so I created that one from scratch.

Lastly, I found an image I plan to use in multiple places in my book. One spot will likely be the back cover, and the other places will be as backgrounds for chapter title pages. I had wanted to use maps of Ireland and the UK in strategic places, but could not find one I liked that was not prohibited by copyright. I finally found a line drawing of the British Isles that allows use for reprinting in books with no copyright attached. I will, of course, be using attribution, as they requested.

So I am making progress. After I finish the chapter I am proofing, I have five more to proofread, and one chapter to write from scratch. It is very hard to write a family history book while you are still actively researching, because you keep finding more information to add!

Although there is much work remaining, it is work I enjoy, this strange co-mingling of the quick and the dead. Through my pen, the dead live again, and hopefully my work will live on after I am dead. Those who think time moves only forward never viewed the world through the eyes of a genealogist—the past is ever with us, and colors every aspect of the present.

The Non-Writing Part of Writing—CoronaLife Day 432

This was one of those weeks where my other responsibilities fell on me hard, and I got very little done on any writing front. Although I hate weeks like that, they happen and I have to learn to roll with it.

People who are not writers think that if we are not getting words on the page, we are not writing. And while that may technically be true, that doesn’t mean we are not making some sort of writing progress.

As anyone who has followed this blog knows, I have been struggling with rewrites of my science fiction YA novel, Veritas. I’ve been chipping away at it, and feeling fairly happy with the new direction, but I have put it aside for now while I work on the non-fiction genealogy book. I am not in the right headspace to dive into fiction at the moment, so it is a good detour for me to take.

But that doesn’t mean I’m not thinking about it. I sometimes get ideas that I hurry to jot down in the notes for when I return. And I recently have been enjoying K.M. Weiland’s blog series on archetypes, which is making me think differently about not just Veritas, but the structure of possible follow-on books in a series.

So, my subconscious has been chewing on Veritas while I’ve been away. And I am also re-thinking the first chapter of another project, this one middle grade, The Curse of the Pharaoh’s Stone. I really love this book, but it has not found a traditional home. My co-author and I are contemplating self-publishing it, but I feel that the first chapter is our issue. We get conflicting feedback about it—some feel it is confusing, others are just fine with it. I think if we can get that right, we might yet find it a traditional home.

I also have another project that is not even on a back burner, more like on the warming pan. It is the sequel to my published book, The Witch of Zal. The first draft is written, but it needs a good deal of editing. And I am in the process of getting a new cover and illustrations for Book 1, before I move on with publishing Book 2.

As you can see, I have been doing a lot of non-writing writing. Sometimes you can move forward even when you aren’t putting words on the page.

How are you advancing your writing these days?

Creating a Continuity Checklist—CoronaLife Day 425

I am working on my maternal line genealogy book, as most of you know. I had hoped to be a bit further on in this project by now, but other things came up this week that got in the way. Such is the life of a writer!

I didn’t get into the actual revisions as I had hoped, but I did get the checklist made up. When I write fiction, I am not a super-plotter, I lean more towards the pantser, but not totally. Nonfiction is a bit different, however. I used a Table of Contents to guide my initial writing, and at this point in the process I need to check for continuity. It would be foolish to try to do it all from memory. So I created a checklist in Excel. The first column lists all the chapters, and then the other columns are the things I need to check/fix/revise.

I have 14 chapters in the book, and 6 categories I need to check: Tense, Children, Cross-Lnking, Chapter Headings (& Subheadings), Chapter Title Pages, and Trees. Six categories doesn’t sound like a lot, does it? (*laughs hysterically*)

  • Tense means checking that I have used past tense throughout the chapter. In most cases, I have not, so this is the category that will take the most time.
  • Children is making sure I structured the children’s list for each chapter the same—did I use the same bullet points, did I include birth and death dates, did I highlight the direct ancestor child’s name only or name and dates?
  • Cross-linking is where I mention someone from another lineage within the current lineage, so I then put in parentheses (see [Surname] Lineage). Usually this is at the end of the chapter, when a woman leaves her surname for her husband, or in a subheading under the female’s name. Sometimes, however, neighboring families appear in the same historical events, so I need to mention that someone from another family was also involved, and which chapter they can be found in.
  • Chapter headings is pretty obvious. Did I use the same font, the same font size? Are the subheadings all the same? I also put the chapter name up in the header portion of the page. Did I actually do that? Are they all the same size, font, weight?
  • Chapter title pages precede the actual chapter. I still am trying to design those. Something simple but readable. I’d like to use some sort of graphic or photo, but that’s what I am still stumped on.
  • Family trees that also precede each chapter. I have most of them created, but I need to double-check them as for some families I now have more information on them than I had when I made the trees. And there are several chapters that I don’t have them done yet at all.

Once I get that done, I will compile all the chapters and work on the Indexes. I usually have three: Name, Place, and Cemetery. I know Word has a way to create indexes, because I used it for my father’s book, but I have long since forgotten how to do it and will need to re-teach myself.

That will all keep me busy for a while! I will keep you apprised of my progress.

How are your projects coming along?

It’s All in the Details—CoronaLife Day 418

I’m doing my family research, and I’m waiting on 2 more books before it is complete. One I have asked the library to get, but they have not had luck finding it. Which is strange because they are who I got it from the first time! The other book I will likely have to buy.

While I am waiting for those books, I can get started on the work of putting my family book together. It is pretty much written, but it’s a far cry from done. I need to go through and do a lot of cleaning up—making sure the chapter headings  and subheadings are all the same font and size, that the children lists are all the same format, re-learn how to do the indexes, and make sure the family trees are complete and up to date with the latest research.

The biggest issue will be reading through and correcting the verb tense. It seems natural sometimes to write about these ancestors in present tense, but really the book should be in past tense. This all happened long ago, after all. Right now the book’s tense is all over the place, and it will take a good deal of concentration to make sure I catch all the tense changes needed.

Once I get all of that done, it will be time to lay out the book design and do the cover. So many details to deal with when you self-publish a book! I have done it once before, though, so I know what is coming. A lot of meticulous work—but it will be worth it in the end.

So that’s what’s on my plate for the next few months, writing-wise.

On a side note, my hands are feeling much better, about 95%. And I get my second COVID shot today. Here’s hoping the side effects don’t knock me out too badly.

What’s on your schedule these days?

Power Mad—CoronaLife Day 397

I am researching the Kings of England, after having researched the Kings of Scotland, and I have read about war upon war for power, power, and more power. This seemed especially true of English monarchs. It wasn’t enough to be King of England, you had to also be King of Ireland, and King of Scotland, and, what the heck, King of France. War after war, so much death and destruction because whatever they had, it was never enough.

I admit that I do not understand this mindset. Maybe it’s because I am an introvert and I would never in a million years want to rule all those people, have all those administrative nightmares. Or because I am highly empathetic, and the responsibility for the well-being of all those people would weigh terribly heavy on me.

These people were mad. In two separate cases, a nobleman murdered children to get what he wanted. In 1440, the Regent of Scotland, Crichton, invited the 16-year-old (some sources say he was only 14) Earl of Douglas, William, and his younger brother David, to dinner at his castle—a meal that has come to be known as the Black Dinner. Crichton trumped up charges against them and had them beheaded, in the presence of the distraught 9-year-old King James II of Scotland. This was done as part of a larger power struggle, and many historians believe it was with the full consent of Crichton’s ally, the powerful head of the Douglas family, James the Gross. As James was next in line, he became the 7th Earl of Douglas, and so had much to gain by their deaths.

The better known instance is Richard III of England. When his brother, King Edward IV, died in 1483, Edward’s 12-year-old son Edward became King Edward V. Richard had other ideas, and locked Edward and his 9-year-old brother Richard up in the Tower of London. They were never seen again, and two skeletons found in the Tower in 1674 may have been theirs. Whether they were murdered or simply allowed to die of starvation is not known, but the heinous crime was immortalized in Shakespeare’s Richard III.

I cannot imagine wanted power so much as to murder children. Then again, I cannot see wanting power so much I would start a war, either. So I guess it’s just as well that none of my villains are power-mad. Or maybe my inherent lack of understanding of their nature is why they aren’t. It’s hard to write believable characters if you cannot grasp what makes them tick.

Speaking of writing, both the above stories had satisfying, if not happy, endings. In 1452, King James II of Scotland, now 22 years old, invited James the Gross, Earl of Douglas to dinner. They argued and, in a scene that eerily echoes that of the Black Dinner, King James stabs the Earl to death. King Richard III also did not profit from the deaths of the Princes. Disgust for the murder was a main driver for the nobles to back Henry Tudor, who claimed the crown for himself. Richard III’s reign lasted only 2 years, and the usurper was himself usurped by the incoming Henry VII.

Do you think it’s possible to write believable villains if you yourself don’t understand their emotional and psychological underpinnings?

Point of View—CoronaLife Day 390

As many of you know, I am very into genealogy, which sometimes means learning about the history of the place your ancestors came from. Thankfully, I like history, so this is not burdensome. I have been researching the Kings of Scotland and England lately. And I have been treated up close to the concept of point of view—and that the villain is always the hero of their own story.

Reading the histories, some written by Scottish researchers, some by English researchers, you can see the different points of view. Scotland and England were enemies from ancient times. Even when they weren’t technically at war there were raids across the border, and schemes and plots to take Scotland and make it part of England.

I happened to research the Scotland history first, and the theme was the constant struggle to remain an independent country while England kept trying to make her a feudal state, bowing to English sovereignty. They mostly raided into England either in self-defense, or to uphold the mutual-defense pact they had with France.

Then I switched to the same history but from the English side, and sure enough, it was mostly them trying to take over Scotland. Sometimes it was to try and make them submit, sometimes it was pre-emptive strikes because they were afraid Scotland was going to attack, and sometimes it was because England was at war with France and Scotland was her ally.

The one main point where they differed was this: England claimed that Scotland had, in fact, submitted to them as a vassal state and they were the rightful sovereigns, while Scotland said that was false. Yet this claim of submission was the basis for many of the attacks of England into Scotland.

The truth, as always, is somewhere in the middle. It is true that in 1174, King William the Lion of Scotland, captured by the English, swore fealty to King Henry II and made Scotland a vassal state under English sovereignty. But it is equally true that the next English king, Richard the Lionheart, released Scotland from vassal status in 1189 in exchange for money to go on Crusade—a transaction Richard’s successors conveniently overlooked.

It is also true that during the Great Cause of 1292, when Scotland literally had no clear heir to the throne, English King Edward I was asked to help determine which contender to the Scottish throne had the best case. King Edward chose a man called John Balliol—largely because he was pliant and agreed to make Scotland a vassal state to England. Although King John Balliol was crowned, the nation of Scotland rose in rebellion, and the Scottish Wars of Independence (led by William Wallace and the future King Robert the Bruce) made it clear that the people would not accept this. At the conclusion of these wars, in 1328, England formally acknowledged Scotland’s independence with the Treaty of Northampton.

It was interesting to see how the point of view made all the difference as to who were the aggressors, the aggrieved, and the heroes. The facts remained the same, but the undercurrent, the slant was always different. Each side was very sure their kings were acting for the good of their country. Each side was the hero of their own story.

So it was a real-world lesson as to how point of view can work in our stories. Opponents looking the same set of events will see and interpret them differently depending on the lens they see them through. It can be subtle, or it can be stark. Even people on the same side might interpret events differently, which can lend extra conflict and tension to scenes.

Oh, and for the record, all of England’s insistence that Scotland was a vassal state came to naught, for in 1603 the King of Scotland, James VI, succeeded to the throne of England as well, becoming King James the VI and I of Great Britain.

Do What You Can—CoronaLife Day 348

Everyone I know is hitting the pandemic wall. As we approach a year of CoronaLife, many of us have exhausted our reserves of patience, grace, and stay-insidedness. I, for one, have actually felt worse anxiety and stress since the vaccines came out, a desperate feeling of “so near and yet so far.” Like starving on the street and seeing food on the other side of a shop window.

So seeing as I—and many of us—am mentally and emotionally drained, it is hardly surprising that my creativity has crashed and burned. As much as I want to get to writing, I just have nothing in the tank nor the quiet space needed to go there. I am far from alone in this—many, many writers have commented on the same phenomenon. They have the time to write, but just…can’t.

Not being able to write drives me to berate myself often. The lack of productivity makes me feel not like myself, further unsettling me in this time of upheaval. So what’s a writer to do?

Do what you can.

For me, I decided to turn to non-fiction and my favorite hobby, genealogy. Many years ago, I published a book on my father’s side of the family. I began one for my mother, but never seemed to complete it. This month, I decided to try and get to THE END.

I have revamped several chapters, including updated information newly discovered since last time I looked at it, including indicating which ancestral couples have DNA matches to them. I am now wading through the rest of the chapters, finding them in various states of disarray. Some are written but the source citations are missing, some are partly written, and one hasn’t even been started yet.

Years ago I made a hasty mistake that has come back to haunt me (and would cause all of my college professors to cry). I failed to source my notes. You see, my mother’s line leads back to royalty, so a number of her families have a substantial amount of scholarly research on them. I read some of the works, jotted down notes in my genealogy program, made note of the book’s citation—and didn’t cite page numbers. Even worse, I didn’t cite which pieces of information came from which book, and just had a long prose piece on each person that mixed all the info together.

I have placed orders with the Interlibrary Loan people (who got these books for me before), and hopefully as they come in I can scan them quickly and reunite facts with sources. With my luck, all the books will arrive at the same time, and then I will have only 2 weeks to go through 6 books. I also ordered 2 books via ILL that were completely new and I will have to read in full to write the chapter that I haven’t even started yet.

So far, my plan has been fruitful. I am making progress and feeling productive. A little bit like my pre-pandemic self.

So for all of you, writers or not, who are struggling to feel more like yourself, know that aspiring to pre-pandemic productivity and goals right now may be making you feel worse rather than better. And if it is—as it was with me—take my advice and reset your goal:

Just do what you can.

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