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Posts Tagged ‘research’

Write on

Posted on July 29th, 2009 by annakjarzab

I realize that it’s been a while since I talked about my current works in progress, and that’s probably because I’m a little bit stalled. I’m not panicking, because A.) it is fruitless and B.) I don’t expect to be stalled much longer. I think what’s been happening is that between all the traveling to California, weddings, graduations, friend and family visits, trivia, work and work-related shenanigans, and putting the finishing touches on AUT, plus life maintenance such as grocery shopping and laundry (el oh el as if I’ve done laundry) and assorted errands, I just haven’t had the time, and when I’ve had the time I haven’t had the energy, to write.

I also realize that I meant to put up a post about my trip to California in June, when I visited the semi-ghost towns up near Sacramento, and I never did that. Now would be a good time, I think, considering that it was all research for GR.

Here’s the thing about my writing this summer. I have about three projects that I’m actively thinking about/working on, albeit in the small spurts that I’ve been able to fit in to my schedule. One is “big”, in the sense that it’s probably going to be on the long-ish side (and considering that my YA debut is going to be 352 pages, you might want to adjust your definition of “long-ish” in this situation), and that it’s what I’m calling a quasi-post-apocalyptic pseudo-mystery. It’s sort of a thriller, too. It’s crazytown, basically, and I’ve been referring to it as GR.

Then there are two “smaller” books in that they are going to be shorter (probably shorter than AUT, although maybe not, who knows). One of them is a family-type drama, and one of them is a comedy (by my definition, at least–you should know that I consider MB a comedy, and it’s about a boy who goes missing and has the word “murder” in the title, so…). The family-type drama doesn’t have a name (well, I have one for it, but it’s ridiculous and I’m a little embarrassed of it, so here I will call it “Fluffy”), and the comedy has a tentative name that is pretty boring so here I will call it “Lancelot.” I probably won’t be talking about either of these much, to be honest, because they’re not that hard, they just require time at the computer and a steady hand.

GR, however, is the bane of my existence. There are these moments in writing where you know what you want the end product to look like, and you know what you have so far, and there is such a huge gulf between those two things that you think you’ll never get across it. It’s so discouraging. Right now, I’m 80 pages into GR and just verging on the start of the action, which is a PROBLEM, and also the story itself is losing steam. I had a hard time building an outline for GR, so I decided to write up to the point where my outline stopped and then try again, because I have beats I want to hit, ideas for scenes, the end, and a good grasp of the character arcs, but I don’t have a sure-fire plan as such. This morning I think I might have thought of a way to accelerate the action, and some pieces seem to have fallen into place because of that, so that’s good progress. I have a long weekend starting tomorrow, so I should be able to get at least some serious thinking done, if not any actual work.

But whatever! Vacation pictures. For whatever reason I’m pretty protective of GR, so while these pictures and explanations might give you an idea of what I’m doing with it, I’m not going to be explicit about how the places and things I show fit into the story–you’ll just have to guess. And wait.

Okay, so first of all, this is apropos of nothing, but my sister graduated from high school:

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Fun facts: the last time I was sitting in that pavilion (at the Alameda County Fairgrounds) I was there to see a Bj√∂rn Again concert. True story! Also, that blue dress I’m wearing, I wore that to every single event this summer: two weddings, two graduations, plus a bonus BEA! It’s getting a workout, but it’s cute so that’s okay.

Earlier that day, my mom and I had gone to the Winchester Mystery House, for my research purposes. I took so many pictures and videos that I can’t possibly post them all here, but trust me, this place is awesome. This was my third time going, and I had just as much fun as I did the first time. We took the big tour, which is the Mansion Tour plus the Behind the Scenes tour, plus the Garden Tour, although that’s free and self-guided. The only thing we didn’t do was the Winchester Firearms Museum, which I plan to go back and do over Christmas. If you’re ever in the Bay Area, believe me, the Winchester Mystery House is totally worth it and fun for the whole family.

BUT: It is not scary. You should see the billboards that are up on all the freeways in Northern California, they’ve got, like, skulls and crossbones on them and give you the impression that the WMH is a haunted house, but it’s not. They’ve got their ghost stories, of course, all old houses have them, but for the most part it’s just a really weird place. Sarah Winchester moved west from Connecticut in 1884, after the death of her only child, Annie, in infancy and her husband from tuberculosis. Back then, San Jose was a total farming community, so she purchased 162 acres of land, most of which was orchards, and an eight-room farmhouse, which she built upon for the next 38 years–twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week, to the tune of $5.5 million, which in today’s money would be about $70 million. ON A HOUSE. A house that was worthless after she died, because the eccentricity and, in some ways, impracticality of its design, its size, and the massive amounts of money it cost to keep it up made it unlivable for anyone who wasn’t Sarah Winchester. And even SHE had other homes.

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The house from the front, facing Winchester Blvd.

Now, there are all sorts of stories about what Sarah Winchester did or didn’t believe, why she built the house the way she did, who she was, etc., but the truth was that she was very private and left behind no written account of her intentions with regards to the house–no letters, no journals, not even blueprints. They say she moved to San Jose because a medium in Boston told her to. Supposedly she believed herself to be haunted by the ghosts of those killed by the Winchester rifle, and the Boston medium told her that if she were to go west and build a house without ceasing, she would never die. Sarah could afford to do this because she was, like, a gazillionaire. Truly. She inherited $20 million after the death of her husband–and this was before there was income tax, so she got to keep it all–and 50% ownership of the Winchester Repeating Arms company, which provided a $1,000 a day allowance. That’s still a lot of money! Back then it was a huge fortune.

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Stairs to the ceiling

Anyway, so she built this house, all day, every day, for almost forty years. She did eventually die, though, because obviously eternal life is bullshit. The house is crazytown because there are no blueprints and never were–she used to sketch out plans for rooms on napkins and scraps of paper and just hand them to her foreman. That’s why the place is a virtual maze, with stairways that lead to ceilings, cabinets that are one inch deep, chimneys that stop a foot before the roof, winding corridors, six kitchens, thirteen bathrooms, two basements, forty-seven fireplaces, and much more.

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The Room Where Mrs. Winchester Died, or the Deadroom

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A door leading out from the seance room–into the kitchen sink, a flight below.

Okay, like all good rich Victorian ladies, Sarah Winchester was something of a spiritualist, purportedly anyway. She had an interest in contacting the dead, which is understandable given the losses she suffered, and had a seance room built in her house for expressly that purpose, but there’s really no proof that she ever actually had seances in there. It’s kind of small. It does, however, have that weird door that leads to nothing but a short drop and a sudden stop, if you will. There’s a lot of things like that in the house. I don’t know what happened to the photos I took of the seance room, that one seems to be the only one I have at the moment. Hm.

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The north conservatory

The thing about Mrs. Winchester was that she was also something of a tech buff. I mean, she didn’t have an iPod or anything (although Apple’s headquarters aren’t very far away from the Mystery House–COINCIDENCE?! Definitely), but she liked cutting edge stuff. The conservatory pictured above has a slanted floor made of removable wood panels; when the wood is taken off, there is a second floor made of some kind of metal (tin?). This allows the plants to be watered and the unused water to fall to the floor, where it flows down the slant and into a container to be used again, in the conservatory or elsewhere. Go green! The conservatory also has an elevator, one of three on the property, which, as you might imagine, is a bit unusual for the Victorian age.

Other conveniences include steam and forced-air heating, indoor toilets and plumbing (including a hot shower), push-button gas lights, and a call system that allowed Mrs. Winchester to summon her servants to any part of the mansion from any part of the mansion. Pretty cool, if I do say so myself.

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So you know how before I was mentioning that Mrs. Winchester would just build a room on to the existing exterior wall? Well, here’s proof. This is the unfinished second ballroom (Second! Ballroom! Because she needed two! To entertain the guests she didn’t even have!)–the walls hadn’t gone up at the time of her death–and you can see how the walls of the ballroom were being built right smack up against the outside, covering up a window and the old paint job and everything. This is one of the reasons why the house is so freakin’ weird. It’s also one of the reasons it survived (for the most part) two extreme earthquakes, because half of it is built on a de facto floating foundation, because all the rooms were built separately. That provided enough sway for the house to stay upright. Science!

Speaking of ballrooms, here’s the finished one:

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Okay, this room is the best. First of all, it was built almost completely without nails. Second of all, it has a vault in it, hidden behind a wooden door, so heavy that it required its own foundation–and when it was opened upon Mrs. Winchester’s death, it was found to contain locks of hair from her daughter and husband, and their obituaries. That’s it. The silver chandelier came from Germany, with twelve candle holders. Mrs. Winchester, who was rumored to have a superstition about the number thirteen and scattered the number around the house (the thirteenth bathroom has thirteen windows in it, for example), had a thirteenth candle holder added. It looks terrible; as you can see in this larger picture, it’s lopsided. WHOOPS!

The stained glass windows each have a quote from a Shakespeare play on them. “Wide unclasp the the tables of their thoughts,” says the left-hand window (Troilus and Cressida, IV:5:60); “These same thoughts people this little world,” says the right-hand window (Richard III, V:5:9). What did they mean to Mrs. Winchester? Hell if I know. But they must have meant something to her. This guy has a theory, though, and it makes sense to me.

The grand ballroom cost $9,000 at a time when a whole house could be built for >$1,000. This was the point when my mom shook her head and said, “If she had to spend all of that money, why didn’t she just give it to charity?” The answer, of course, is that she did–she gave lots of her money away. But my mom has a point. What a colossal waste, and furthermore, if she really did believe building forever would make her live forever, what complete selfishness. HOWEVER. Now the house belongs to posterity, and we can walk through it and marvel at it and deconstruct it as a physical expression of one person’s psychology, and that is amazing.

Okay, I could show you a million more pictures and talk forever about this house, because it’s the coolest, but I won’t. As it is this post is super long; I’ll do another installment to talk about the semi-ghost towns we visited.

Brief updatelettes

Posted on June 17th, 2009 by annakjarzab

Hey guys. Sorry I fell off the face of the planet for a hot second there. I was in California, as you probably gleaned. I’m working up to a post about all the things I did there (hint: it was a lot, mostly for GR research which went SPLENDIDLY; I find myself approaching the manuscript with a lot more love and vigor, if caution), but for right now I need to catch up on some much needed sleep, visit my friend Jenny, who has been pretty seriously sick (she’s getting better, though, and finally coming home from the hospital!), unpack my suitcase and put it back under the bed so it isn’t taking up literally half the floorspace in my teeny, tiny bedroom, and attend to some other things that, um, need attending to.

Meanwhile, no news about ARCs or first pass pages or blurbs or…anything, really. I will keep you updated, though. And hopefully this week you’ll get a huge post (probably a two-parter, with the second part to go up on The A Team blog, because I’m sneaky like that) on all the GR research I did last week. If I can drag myself out of bed and away from How I Met Your Mother Season 1 long enough to write it.

Fantasia has no boundaries

Posted on May 21st, 2009 by annakjarzab

As I’ve mentioned here before, and in several rambling mind-spill emails to Joanna, I’m at a bit of a crossroads with GR. I’ve hit a bit of a wall, which is not a huge concern to me at the moment. It’s become clear to me that I can’t progress with that book until late June, after I do my research, which is probably why I’m having a hard time. I “finished” my SM synopsis, but I’m not feeling very engaged with it right now, so I’m putting it aside for a while until I decide what I want to do with it (options: write it now while I research GR, or push forward with GR and write SM fourth per the original plan, or write them simultaneously (far from ideal because of how it will make me crazytown this summer)).

Naturally, not only am I bouncing around between GR and SM and working piecemeal on both, but I have several projects in the pipeline that are in the let there be light phase–I have the idea and that’s it. Ain’t no earth or heaven or water or land or creatures great and small–just a little speck of dust like the one the Childlike Empress shows Bastian at the end of The NeverEnding Story* (the movie, obvs; I read the book many, many years ago and was sort of shocked at how much comes after the Nothing devastates Fantasia). (Sidebar: DORK!)

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Some of these ideas–one in particular–require a little bit of research. A few weeks ago, my good friend MD (a Marquette University alum) mentioned that there was an article in her alumni magazine about a student who graduated the same year I graduated from Santa Clara (’05) who is becoming a contemplative nun of the Poor Clares order. This rustled up a long-dormant novel that I’d shelved to finish All Unquiet Things back in college and has been bumped back further and further over the years by other books.

I asked MD to bring me the magazine, which she thoughtfully did, and I also ordered Karen Armstrong’s Through the Narrow Gate, which came yesterday. I’d read The Spiral Staircase, back when I considered becoming a nun for like a nanosecond, but could never find a copy of Through the Narrow Gate, which is the “prequel,” if memoirs can be said to have prequels or sequels. I also did some Wikipedia-ing, my favorite research method, and found out something I never knew in my 25+ years as a Catholic:

Although the English word “nun” is often used to describe Christian women who have joined religious orders, strictly speaking, female church members are referred to as nuns only when they live in enclosure, otherwise they are “sisters” or “female clergy.” The distinctions between the Christian terms monk, nun, friar, brother, and sister are sometimes easily blurred because some orders (such as the Dominicans or Augustinians) include nuns (who are enclosed) and sisters (who work in the broader world), as well as friars (who are not enclosed).

The more you know.

So anyway. Something to distract myself with, at least, until I get back from California in late June with armfuls (figurative) of research for GR and actually have to make a decision about how I’m going to proceed with that book.

*Why is The NeverEnding Story‘s title in German on the IMDb page? I get that it’s based on a German book, but the movie is in English.

In praise of the internets

Posted on April 21st, 2009 by annakjarzab

I had a very productive night last night. FIRST, I watched one and a half episodes of Bones–major achievement! (Not at all.) Also, I cooked dinner, another one of my “lazy” meals (perhaps you are familiar with my Lazy Chicken Cacciatore, which I learned this weekend means “chicken for hunters” in Italian or whatever). Actually, this meal is only lazy if you consider the fact that I make it because I’m too lazy to go to Trader Joe’s, which is about twenty minutes from work in the opposite direction of my apartment. (So, forty minutes from my house.)

You see, Trader Joe’s has these amazing frozen pasta dishes that are low-cal and also delicious. My favorites are the mushroom linguine and the gnocchi, but because of the aforementioned farness of my local TJ’s I only go once in a while, stock up, and then when I run out I run out. I’ve run out. I ran out several months ago, in fact, and the last time I had a supply it was one I’d dragged back from Chicago because it was less annoying to bring frozen pasta from another city than it was to get it here in New York. Go figure.

Thus, I have to resort to reproducing these pasta dishes as best I can. I haven’t found a way to reproduce the mushroom fettucini, although believe me when I do figure it out I will tell you, but the gnocchi is really easy. First, I buy prepared gnocchi from the grocery store. Sometimes I get the frozen kind, sometimes I get the vacuum sealed kind, I haven’t found a noticeable difference except often the bags of frozen gnocchi (depending on which brand; I can’t remember what mine is called) yield more food.

First, I boil the gnocchi (this takes almost no time, because they cook almost instantly–you’ll know they’re done when they’re floating on the top, like ravioli) and drain it, then heat up a pan with a little bit of olive oil (maybe two tablespoons) and half of a forkful of minced garlic. (Again, I am lazy so I buy the kind in the jar. The garlic amount is for sure not hard and fast, because some people don’t like garlic as much as I do. Use what feels good to you.)

Once the garlic is nice and sizzly, I throw in the gnocchi and dump about a cup of pasta sauce on top (add more if it doesn’t seem like enough, and some will cook off). I use Brad’s Low-Fat Roasted Garlic pasta sauce because it’s my favorite (I also use it in the Lazy Chicken Cacciatore), but anything is probably good if it doesn’t have chunks of vegetables or meat in it. Then I throw maybe half of a handful of shaved or grated cheese (I’ve been using asiago recently, but parmesan works, and chunks of mozzarella would definitely work, mmmm) on top and mix the sauce, garlic, and cheese all the way in with the gnocchi. It takes about two minutes, and it’s scrumptious. I eat it with frozen vegetables sometimes (green beans or broccoli), but last night I had a salad with mesculin greens, cucumbers, grape tomatoes and balsamic vinegarette dressing (the spray kind).

Okay, so anyway, besides making dinner and watching Bones, I got some real work done last night. I got farther in my copyedits (I’m over halfway done now) and I even solved a little issue with the POWER OF WORDZ AND COMPROMIZEZ. Maybe I’ll tell you this story one day. I also wrote almost 2,000 words in GR, which I hadn’t touched in months. I was able to write because of research I did at the touch of a button online, which is pretty amazing.

As soon as I told my mother what GR was about, she suggested we go visit some ghost towns (California is lousy with them) on one of my trips home this summer. She sent me a link to a website that lists all the CA ghost towns*, and I think I’ve decided I want to go to El Dorado County–probably Coloma and Georgetown and maybe Placerville for the Gold Bug Mine–because that’s where GR is set.

I’m also toying with the idea of dragging the fam to Rescue (also in El Dorado County), because that’s the town GR is based on. Luckily for me, Rescue (which has a very anorexic Wikipedia page) has its own historical society, where I was able to get some documents describing the town’s people and past and a map of the historical sites that are still standing. El Dorado County also has its own historical museum in Placerville (another reason to make that a stop on the tour) and two websites devoted to its history. And that’s only the research for GR I did last night–I also used a great deal of research I’d already done on another Bay Area historical oddity, all of which I found on the web.

God I love the Internet.

*This website is a little weird, though, in that it lists my parents’ county as part of Southern California.

Research – Testing the limits of Google

Posted on August 8th, 2008 by Anna Jarzab

Recently, as I think I’ve mentioned, J gave the MS of AUT to her boss, D, for a fresh read and D red-flagged something that I probably knew deep down was a problem but never really wanted to confront it. Whoops, Inc.! Well, that’s what wonderful talented agents are for, you see. Anyway, the problem had to do with inheritance law and the fact that minors aren’t legally allowed to enter into binding financial contracts (i.e. create their own wills) or accept a gift under a will. Now, objectively speaking, this is not that big of a deal. Minors inherit money, so I know it can be done, but what I didn’t take into consideration is that, of course, there are limits to how they can access and use that money, and also there is always a legal adult in charge of the assets. So I just had to figure out how the person who willed the money to two minor girls would have done it.

That part, at least, was easy. A quick Google led me straight to an answer: testamentary trusts. (Yes, I am taking legal advice from Wikipedia.) A testamentary trust is a trust that becomes active upon the death of the settler (or testator)–basically, these characters’ grandmother, who is LOADED and kicks the bucket off-stage. The testator can establish an executor or guardian of the trust, which can be different than an actual legal guardian of the minor, which is good because I know the first thing Mams (the settler) would want to do is keep the money as far away from one of the girls’ legal guardians as possible. The way I see it, the guardian of the trusts would then authorize allowances for the girls, and they would get full access to the money when they graduated high school (something I also learned: the age of majority in California for inheriting money is 18 unless the minor is still in high school; then it’s 19, or upon graduation) so that they could use it for college or travel or whatever girls do with millions these days. Perhaps I should ask Paris Hilton?

Anyway, here is what I’m stumbling with: what if, before she reaches the age of majority, one of these girls dies? What happens to the money? Google is less forthcoming with an answer for this one. Now, I can hazard a pretty good guess–that the assets are then distributed according to state laws regarding intestacy, because a minor cannot have a will, as I said before. At least, that’s what happens in Canada. But AUT does not take place in Canada! Anyway, if we say that it’s probably similar in the US (specifically California, because I know that all the states have different laws re: this issue), I’m going to go with that means that her next of kin (her father) would inherit everything. Technically, I can stop there. Her physical possessions would most definitely go to her next of kin, since you can’t even technically own property as a minor, although I wonder how that affects sixteen-year-olds who save up and buy their own cars? Well, Google says that probs you can’t be the sole owner of a car as a minor in most states, so we’ll go with that. Anyway, one of the things that bugs me about just leaving it like that is that if the OTHER girl had died, the guardian of her trust would NOT have wanted her father to inherit the money–and how would he go about preventing that from happening?

My thought is that he probably couldn’t, but this guy is a dotter of “i”s and a crosser of “t”s–if there’s any way he could stop his niece’s father from getting his hands on her money, he would probably do it. And now that I think about it, I wonder if he, as guardian of the trust, would inherit everything anyway, since for her next of kind (her father) to inherit it she would technically have to own it but she can’t own it because she can’t inherit anything technically because she’s a minor. SEE WHAT’S HAPPENING TO ME? What seemed like a fairly insignificant part of the story has grown ten sizes bigger when I found out I was doing it wrong. Shite. I should’ve gone to law school. WHY ARE NONE OF MY FRIENDS LAWYERS?

The good thing is that I emailed J about my potential solution and she was totally on board with it, and pointed out that this solution will give some relationships and personalities added dimension, so it will probably improve the story, which is great. But I think I still may need to visit a university legal clinic when I’m home in California (less than two weeks! I’m so pumped) just to make sure, although it looks like SCU’s law clinic only does consultation on worker’s rights, etc. Anyone have any suggestions of where I could get free answers to a couple (just one or two, swear!) will and trust questions?