Sunday, June 26, 2016

Lafayette Cemetery No.1—Not as Creepy as I Anticipated

Actually, it wasn’t creepy at all. As I mentioned in a previous post, I had opportunity to visit New Orleans over the winter, and one of the places of interest was the Lafayette Cemetery No.1, the oldest of the seven municipal, city-operated cemeteries in New Orleans.

Normally, when visiting a destination, Todd and I don’t do tours. We like to wing it on our own. But this time, I wanted an inside scoop and very specific information, so I arranged for a tour through Save OurCemeteries.

What I did not realize is that generations of families are entombed in many of the crypts. During summer, the insides of the tombs get exceedingly hot—our tour guide told us just how many degrees, but like most numbers, it went in, terrorized my brain, and fled. Suffice it to say, it’s hot enough to essentially cremate a body within a few years, making way for the next deceased.

The best thing about the New Orleans’ cemeteries is that they’re above ground. One of the brochures says, “It is only a myth that above-ground tombs were required because of the high water table in the city. Instead, early New Orleanians chose to bury above ground in response to their French and Spanish cultural history. Above-ground tombs just happen to be the intelligent response to the geographical realities of living in a swamp.”

One of the oddest sites was The Society for the Relief of Destitute Boys. It was decorated with all sorts of trinkets—actually, that was a little creepy, the photo bomber notwithstanding.



 
It’s kind of sad that so many of the tombs are deteriorating despite efforts to restore and maintain the cemetery. Just the same, the relative state of disrepair makes for good story detail, and interesting pictures. I found quite a few tombs that would be perfect for the story.


 

Monday, June 13, 2016

Portrait of a Girl Adrift — Waylaid by Research

I’m happy to say that I am nearly done with the first draft of Portrait of a Girl Adrift, the continuing saga of Leila at large, aka the Portraits series. In this novel, she’s on a quest to find out about her deceased mother who abandoned her when Leila was three years old. Lots of psychological stuff as usual—fun to research. Those parts of the story write up fairly quickly. And then there’s the settings…

Generally, I write about places where I’ve spent considerable time, places like New Hampshire, Maine and Long Island, so it’s all second nature. But the settings in Portrait of a Girl Adrift are a bit beyond my proverbial backyard. Places like New Orleans, the Gulf of Mexico via a 47’ sailboat, Cuba, and Grand Cayman Island. So, the writing has been slow. And just because I’m about 10% away from finishing the first draft—I should say very rough first draft—does not mean I’m anywhere near done. I won’t even try to project when it might be ready for publication.

Speaking of settings, New Orleans being one of them, I did have an opportunity to do some firsthand research over the winter. A couple of scenes take place at the Lafayette Cemetery No.1. Fortunately, not much has changed at the cemetery since the mid 1980s, unlike the rest of the city since Katrina in 2005. More on that later...

Writing about sailing across the Gulf of Mexico in a 47' sailboat has probably taken the most time, and that part of the research is still not complete. And then there's Grand Cayman Island...

The trick is finding information—aside from offshore banking articles—about Grand Cayman in 1984. I also visited Grand Cayman very briefly in January, but the island now is much different than it was thirty years ago. So, the research is taking a little longer than I expected. Nevertheless, I think it would be fun to blog about some of the information I’ve come across over the course of writing Adrift. At any rate, it will help me to blog a little more regularly than twice annually!

Meanwhile, here’s a pretty picture of 7-Mile Beach on Grand Cayman Island

Stay tuned…


Wednesday, November 4, 2015

A Boat Upon Which to Float My Story!

I’ve been under the weather this week, and so what better way to spend idle time than to learn about sailing in New Orleans and pick out a sailboat! I mentioned in my last post that there will be sailing in this novel, the third in the Portrait series (title still to be determined). I sail a little, that is, I have little sailing experience other than tooling around on a few lakes and, yes, that little bit on Chesapeake Bay (well, Todd did most of the work). Our Bock sailboat is pretty in her own way, but she’s fiberglass and was manufactured by a laundry manufacturer in Ohio—not particularly romantic.

I do however come from a short line of boat builders. My grandfather and uncle built a lovely little wooden boat, and my dad builds some beautiful models. I grew up on the Great South Bay and sailed occasionally with my dad in our little Seaford skiff. So, I guess I come by my interest in boats somewhat honestly, but having taken all that for granted growing up, I never paid attention to the particulars of boats or sailing. Yes, I was taught the difference between port and starboard, stern and bow, but other than that, not so much.

My sad lack of technical knowledge didn’t keep me from writing Uncharted: Story for a Shipwright, which I think I pulled off without any glaring errors, thanks to my nautical-savvy beta readers. If only I could have retained half of what I researched! So, now that I’m undertaking another sailing adventure, one with a whole lot more actual sailing, I find myself in deep water.

So, what’s a novelist to do? Happily, I have a writing buddy who sails expertly, but I can’t just throw a sloppy, unresearched mass at her! So, for my initial phases of fact-finding, I have two terrific resources—the WoodenBoat Forum, and Cruisers Forum, both have been extremely helpful. I posted a thread, “Need a Boat for a Work of Fiction,” and received wonderful, and often comprehensive, responses. Consequently, I have picked a boat upon which to float the nautical part of Portraits III! In real life, her name is Infanta and she is a 47’ Bermuda yawl located overseas with the added perk of being designed by Philip Rhodes, one of my favorites.

Some may recall that in Uncharted, old Buck built a replica of Rhode’s Pavana, a 46’ yawl.

Anyway, my yet-unnamed boat will be sailing out of New Orleans to the Cayman Islands, which means my research has only just begun—more on New Orleans later…

If you are curious about Infanta's interior and specs, here's her listing from before her new owners acquired her. And a special thanks to the owners for answering my "left-field" question about the fo'ward head! No detail is too small to research!
[Note to self: Never be afraid to click "Contact" on a website.]

Tuesday, October 27, 2015

A Title for My Work in Progress!

For the past couple of months, I have been working on the third book in my Portraits series. I was having trouble coming up with a title that worked with Portrait of… But I knew that if I just kept writing, the title would reveal itself. I was considering Portrait of a Girl Sailing since there will be some sailing, and it works metaphorically, but the story is not just about Leila sailing—it’s about a journey, literally and figuratively, therefore, I was thinking maybe Portrait of a Journey. But neither really clicked for me.

So, today, over 40k words into the first, rough draft, as I was writing a scene, a line came to me from the first book, Portrait of a Girl Running. It’s at the end of the first chapter, which means it will make for a nice bookend, so to speak. The line alludes to something Leila’s father used to call her—Leila-at-Large. It had to do with her always being on the move, about how she would need to fall between the cracks, undetected.

I then looked up “at large” in my Mac dictionary and found, serendipitously, that the term also has a sailing application having to do with the wind blowing from a favorable direction (okay, so I hadn’t ever heard of that, but I still have a lot of sailing research ahead of me—sure wish I could remember half of what I researched for Uncharted!)

So, I have at least a portion of the title: Portrait of --- At Large. The question is, do I go with Portrait of a Girl At Large, even though Leila is no longer a girlshe's now twenty-four. Or, I could go with Portrait of Leila-at-Large. Hmmm...I'm just not sure which works better. I'm open to opinions! Aside from finishing the first draft, and deciding on the title, I need to  figure out if the A in ‘at’ should be capitalized.  

Oh, and in case anyone is curious about some elements of the story, I have a pin board on Pinterest where I am gathering bits of information and images.

Friday, August 28, 2015

What the Heck Does It Mean to Be Whole?

We hear that expression a lot. I can’t count how many of those feel-good quotes I’ve seen on Pinterest, Facebook, Twitter, and elsewhere that have to do with ‘being who you are,’ ‘claiming your identity,’ and the blessed state of ‘being a whole person.’ These ideas usually revolve around one’s readiness to enter and maintain healthy relationships, or embracing the concept of going it alone.

I think the concept got a foothold in the sixties and seventies with self-help books like I’m Okay, You’re Okay*, and How to Be Your Own Best Friend**. There were others, of course, but those are two that I distinctly recall as a youngster—my mother even provided us with a copy of the latter during adolescence. I wish I had actually understood and applied what I'd read. Nevertheless, as a culture, we’ve been talking about ‘Being Whole’ for decades. 

The reason I’m now contemplating the issue is that when I boiled down the theme of the story I’m working on, the third in my Portraits series, this question—What does it mean to be whole?—keeps coming up.

For anyone who has read Portrait of a Girl Running and Portrait of a Protégé, you know I’ve put my protagonist, Leila, through the mill. Although she has had independence foisted upon her, she is living what appears to be a fulfilling life in a safe and nurturing environment with people who care about her, and with opportunities for personal and artistic growth. Of course, I can’t leave well enough alone. No, I don’t think I’m going to kill anyone off (at least not unless I have to, ha!), but let’s face it—Leila has a lot of unresolved issues about her upbringing, and especially about her mother. She’s been on an emotionally intense roller-coaster ride, but, just because her life seems to have finally leveled out, that does not mean she can side skirt those issues which have left her broken and with pieces missing. Yes, she’s having to confront the question: What the heck does it even mean to be whole?

I Googled the question, and aside from coming up with a lot of religious answers—valid as some may be, I’m not focusing on that route—there are so many opinions, a psychological and spiritual free-for-all! I have my own opinion, but I’m still shaping it. And I am very curious how other thoughtful people define it. Please feel free to leave a comment or send me an e-mail (bridget at jbchicoine dot com) if you’d like to share!

*by Thomas Anthony Harris  **by Bernard Berkowitz, Jean Owen, and Mildred Newman

Tuesday, August 18, 2015

What I Did On My Year-Long Vacation

Well, it’s been…let’s see…over eight months since I last posted! And yeah, I will admit that the break felt good—really good. Not only did I take a break from blogging and nearly all social networking, but I also took an even longer break from writing. I might have been suffering from a bit of burnout, but I think that mostly I wanted to revisit my life the way it was before I took up the crazy notion of publishing my work! Yeah, I actually had a life and it was still intact just waiting for me to slow down, to clear my mind, and to refocus. What do I have to show for it? Well, at least a few pictures… 

Beginning with last autumn...
...we visited New Hampshire...

...did you know they have drug-free cows?...

...we started roasting our own coffee beansyeah, that's a modified popcorn popper!...

...I mooshed my kitties a lot...

...I watched as Todd split a lot of wood...

...we made lots of pear wine (not as good as our last batches)...

...I painted a bit...

...I sewed a bunch of dolly outfits for my granddaughter's American Girl Doll...don't make me rant about how ridiculous those dolls are...

...I tried on goofy hats at the flea market...

...made and ate far too much bread, and didn't spare the brie!...

...visited my beautiful sister and her husband in Virginia...

...enjoyed an 'ice storm' while with friends in the beautiful Virginia countryside...

...came home and survived the rest of our winter in Michigan, and waited until May... 

 ...when we went to the Chesapeake Bay to celebrate our 25th wedding anniversary...

...we watched sunsets...

...and sailed...

...ate raw oysters! Yum!!...

...saw scary sea creatures...

...and gooey ones...

...and ugly ones...

...and more sunsets...

...and hung out on the beach and did nothing at all...

...and sat around some more...

...and played with crab pots...

...and sailed some more...


...watched our last sunset...

 
...and then, a month or so later, we headed to New England and camped with my lovely daughter and her family in Maine...

...and saw more cool jellyfishes...

 ...and visited the Pemaquid Point Lighthouse...

...and took pictures that made me want to write...

 ...and made me want to paint...

...then we backtracked to New Hampshire and kayaked while visiting my brother and his amazing family...

...and ate clams on the halfshell...

...and later on, played on the river with grandbabies...

...and now we are home and I'm writing again. I've had an idea for a third book in my Portraits series, and it has turned into a plot. I'm in the very early stages and can't make any promises, and I won't set any deadlines, but I am making progress and enjoying it.

So, there you have it! I may even post again before the year is out! 

Monday, December 8, 2014

Free Portrait of a Girl Running Adiobook in Exchange for Honest Review!

So, I just received 25 complimentary Audible.com copies of PORTRAIT of a GIRL RUNNING audio books! I'm supposed to use them to start spreading the word about the audiobook release. So, if you would be interested in a free audiobook of GIRL RUNNING in exchange for an honest review, send your email address to bridget at jbchicoine dot com and I'll send you the code and instructions!

Here's what the story is about:


All Leila wants is to get through her senior year at her new high school on Long Island without drawing undue attention. Not that she has any big secret to protect, but her unconventional upbringing has made her very private. At seventeen, she realizes just how odd it was that two men raised her—one black, one white—and no mother. Not to mention they were blues musicians, always on the move. When her father died, he left her with a fear of foster care and a plan that would help her fall between the cracks of the system. Three teachers make that impossible—the handsome track coach, her math teacher from hell, and a jealous gym instructor.   Set against the backdrop of Long Island in the 1970s, Leila’s ability to run, along with her musical and artistic talents, places her in compromising situations. Accusations of misconduct and judicial hearings put Leila’s autonomy and even her dignity at risk, unless she learns to trust an unlikely ally. Portrait of a Girl Running is a story that sifts through the many ways we define friendship, family, romantic love, and even ethnicity.

Thursday, December 4, 2014

Portrait of a Girl Running Audio Book Now Available!

Once again, my overall inactivity online is not necessarily an indication of what’s been going on behind the scenes. I’ve been tossing around some ideas for a third book in my Portrait series, and that’s not all … the bigger news is that Portrait of a Girl Running is now available as an audio book! You can find it on Audible.com where it’s free with a trial membership or can be purchased for $19.95. You can also download it via iTunes for a little cheaper. It is also up on Amazon.com. Carolyn Nicely narrates and does a stellar job! Go have a look, that is, a sample listen!






And just in case you didn't know it, Uncharted: Story for a Shipwright is also available as an audio book!

Monday, October 13, 2014

Five Books in Thirteen Months! Yikes!

I’m coming up on one year since I published Portrait of a Girl Running and its sequel, Portrait of a Protégé. And last year at this time, I also received the reversioning rights to my debut novel, Uncharted: Story for a Shipwright. This was only months after publishing my second novel, Spilled Coffee. That was a lot of publishing in a short period of time! And on the heels of all that, I dove into my fifth novel, Blind Stitches and published it this past July. Yikes! That’s five novels in a little over a year—no wonder I feel story weary, which explains my recent silence on this blog. In fact, I haven’t been online much at all since the beginning of August, and I have to say, it has been very good for me. Especially for my stress levels.


It may be hard for a non-writer to understand the kind of pressure a storyteller feels, not only from the voices of all those characters who want resolution to their conflicts, but from those voices (real or imagined) that insist a novelist must continue to produce or they’ll lose their audience. And that sicky-sweet voice that says, “It doesn’t matter what you write as long as you’re writing! Write for yourself! Write for fun—you remember what that is, right?” when the contrapuntal voice is saying, “Oh please, there’s no possible way you could ever write without analyzing every word, every sentence, every plot twist and character profile. Writing for fun is like losing your virginity—you can never get it back!”

So, that’s where I’m at … sort of. I don’t have a story and characters wrestling in my head and it feels good—like relief … like I can breathe. I’m finding it so much easier to focus on other things that are, quite simply, more important to me than writing. Not that I won’t start some project when something compelling strikes me (especially in the dead of winter), but nothing has at this point. If I do get a creative surge in the form of a story, you may not hear about it until after I decide what to do with it. As an experiment, I’d kind of like to try writing for fun again—just to see if I can actually do it!

Tuesday, September 2, 2014

Vintage Sewing and a Book Review

In two of my books—Blind Stitches and Portrait of a Protégé—one of the main characters favors vintage clothing. Leila (of Protégé) inherits her former-modeling grandmother’s designer wardrobe from the ’40s and ’50s, and Juliet (of Blind Stitches) is a seamstress who specializes in the retro look. These casting details make it all the more cool that I just received a really nice review of Blind Stitches from a talented lady who has a vintage sewing blog. I’ve been following Laura Mae’s blog—Lilacs & Lace—for a little while, and she’s inspired me to sew a few vintage outfits myself. I’m especially pleased that she enjoyed the story!

If you're curious about a seamstresses impression of Blind Stitches, go have a look

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

The Nitty-Gritty of My Publishing Journey

In the process of researching Russian history and language for Blind Stitches, I became acquainted with Anesa Miller, who has a background in Russian studies and creative writing. When I first visited her blog, her post “Drawer No More” caught my attention. To quote Anesa:
In Russian (one of my former professions), there was a saying in the days of universal censorship: “This one’s for the drawer.” Or, “He writes strictly for the drawer”—i.e., with no hope of publication. Even in the era of samizdat, a practice of illegal home-based publishing, writing for the drawer meant that an author was brave enough to put unflattering ideas about the Soviet system down on paper. Sadly, his or her readership remained limited to a circle of trusted friends.

She continues:

In an American context, where being ignored is far more likely than being censored, writing “for the drawer” suggests the author has lost the will to keep seeking the golden fleece of publication. Given up on sharing his or her work with anyone, anywhere.
Anesa’s words immediately struck a chord with me. For anyone who has followed my blog since I started it over five years ago, you know how long it took finally to get any of my work published. What you don’t know—because I have always been very cautious about publicly sharing the nitty-gritty of finally gaining and eventually losing a publisher—is how I ended up self-publishing, that is, how I felt about my publishing journey, the highs and the lows. As I corresponded with Anesa and read more of her blog, I realized that although our publishing paths have differed, we shared many of the same feelings about our work and trying to get it out where it could be read and hopefully appreciated. Anesa has graciously invited me to her blog to tell about how I eventually found a publisher and what lead me to choose the path of independently publishing even while with a traditional publisher. If you are curious about my Inside Scoop, stop over at Anesa’s blog!


Interestingly, over the past several months as I corresponded with Anesa, I found out that she was on the verge of publishing her debut literary novel, Our Orbit, and by chance we ended up publishing the very same week. I’ve just begun reading Our Orbit, a novel about the conflicts that arise when nine-year-old Miriam—with a fundamentalist Christian background—finds herself in foster care trying to adapt to a secular lifestyle while struggling not to lose her connection to the past and her oddball and radical family. Our Orbit, captures the tension between modernity and tradition in the Appalachian corner of bellwether Ohio. Amid the conflicts of finely drawn and compelling characters, Anesa provides a glimpse of the spirit that binds us in our common humanity. I’m really enjoying this read. Can’t wait to find out how it ends!


Monday, July 21, 2014

Why Glasnost and Insanity?


I know that on this blog I’m supposed to share my thoughts on my writing process, but to be honest, when I’m writing, well, I’m just not in the mood to write blog posts. My focus is on finishing the story! When a story morphs from 'my work-in-progress' into a published novel, that’s when I have more time and inclination to share, which I have been doing more of lately—today’s post is a case in point … sort of. I’m actually sharing on someone else’s blog. If you are curious about what inspired Blind Stitches and why I chose to write about insanity and set the story during the Glasnost era—and what about those chickens! head on over to Long and Short Reviews where I tell all (okay, not all, but more information than I have posted here on my own blog).