Cara Langston


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The Forgotten Women of the 1920s

My WIP is a piece of historical fiction set in 1925 Chicago. “Great!” you may be thinking. “I love flappers and gangsters! When it’s published, I’ll definitely read it and give you a 5-star review!” Well, I’m sorry to disappoint, but although flappers and gangsters do make appearances, my main character is neither. She is married. She would not be a flapper. And I’m tired of researching 1920s women and having to wade through the immense love of flapper culture to find what I want.

Nearly 100 years later, I hardly need to explain what a flapper is. We love them! There are fringed Halloween costumes, Gatsby parties and weddings (can I please be invited to one?), tutorials for flapper finger curls on Pinterest, and more. If you know a bit about the early 20th century, it’s easy to understand why we hold such a fascination. Flappers were some of the first precursors to modern 21st century women–those who seized their independence from gender norms, who eschewed the strict conventionality of the Victorian and Edwardian eras.

But flappers were a significant minority during this time period, limited mainly to young women in urban cities. Women who were older, married, poorer, and/or religious (thus the average American woman) were living a little more conservatively in the 1920s. Many followed the standard marriage/child rearing convention. Many were working, learning, and lobbying for social justice. This post is a tribute to those women who weren’t considered flappers.

 

Pallas Athene Literary Society, 1927

Pallas Athene Literary Society, 1927

Armor & Co., 1926

Armor & Co., 1926

Office, 1923

Office scene, 1923

Massachusetts police women, 1927

Meeting of Massachusetts police women, 1927

League of Women Voters, 1926

League of Women Voters, 1926

MSU Rifle Team, 1923

MSU Rifle Team, 1923

National Woman's Party, 1926

National Woman’s Party, 1926

Southern Railway Ladies' Car, 1926

Southern Railway Ladies’ Car, 1926

 

End note: I do not hold any judgement against flappers, and I’m sure many of them were also working and learning and lobbying, et cetera.


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WIP Update!

I FINISHED MY FIRST DRAFT YESTERDAY!

I went into the weekend with four chapters partially written. On Saturday, I finished the first two pretty easily. And then on Sunday, with only two chapters and ~2,000 words left, a weird (or not so weird) thing happened: I didn’t want to finish my first draft.

For the past 13 months, I’ve pushed off certain problems with the story. “Cara, don’t worry about it now. This is a first draft. You can figure it out later.” And now later has arrived. It’s terrifying.

I procrastinated. I did four loads of laundry, finished my Christmas shopping, wrapped all the gifts and put them under the tree. But eventually I forced myself back in front of my laptop because I needed to finish the first draft over the weekend, before the holidays and before my parents come into town for a full week (no writing will get done then). So with great reluctance I eked out the final two chapters.

Now what?

  1. Second draft, focusing on inconsistencies, plot changes, and expanding emotion/description. I’ll also take a first pass at going through my writing weaknesses checklist
  2. Send second draft to my fabulous beta reader and hope she doesn’t think it’s awful
  3. Think about themes, etc.
  4. Re-write blurb
  5. Try writing a synopsis (there’s a first time for everything)
  6. See what my beta reader says and make any necessary adjustments

I’ll stop the list there. If I get too far ahead of myself, I may have a panic attack.

Happy holidays to those celebrating!

Screen Shot 2014-12-15 at 7.15.06 PM


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WIP Wednesday: 11/26/14

Happy Thanksgiving Eve to my fellow Americans, and Happy Wednesday to everyone else!

Including today's date means I need to post today

It’s been three weeks since my last WIP Wednesday post. I meant to post on Nov. 12th and then on Nov. 19th but I kept pushing it off, telling myself that I hadn’t made enough progress on my writing to warrant an update. What can I say? I’m a fantastic procrastinator! So I got into work this morning (I’m one of very few who haven’t taken the day off) and sketched a turkey with today’s date. I will write and post an update today . . . because I don’t want to redraw that turkey and let this one go to waste. Now for the update:

I have FINALLY hit my stride on finishing the first draft of this novel. I have 7 more chapters to finish, but the remainder is starting to seem manageable and not overwhelming. For example, I know how the story will end and I think I’ve managed to create enough tension throughout the last part to drive the plot home. There are still, however, some loose ends I’ll have to figure out before I can call the first draft complete, like figuring out what the hell I want to do for an epilogue. I briefly considered ending it without an epilogue in an attempt to be edgy or something. Then I remembered that if I were the reader, I’d be really pissed off without some sort of closure. There are also some subplots I haven’t fleshed out enough, but I’ll leave those for the 2nd draft.

wordcount112614

The graph above depicts my writing progress over the past month, the line being the cumulative word count and the bars each day’s addition. Have I mentioned I’m an Excel dork yet? I think I have.

With the upcoming holiday, I’m hoping to have the time and inspiration to add to this even more. No Black Friday shopping for me–I’ll be writing! There’s also no incentive grand enough to force me into that craziness . . .


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WIP Wednesday: 11/5/14

I’ve decided to start blogging my writing progress because–well, why the hell not? I have nothing else to blog about. I fear blogging about my writing may be too boring for the average reader, but it’s better than not blogging at all, right? Even if no one reads this or cares, perhaps it will keep me accountable on my WIP.

I’m about 55,000 words into the first draft of THE GLASSMAKER’S WIFE. I started writing this story almost 1 year ago (I remember because it was right after I returned from my honeymoon). That’s a long time to write only 55,000 words. But as I often have to remind myself when I start to feel like a lackluster author, quality over quantity. I’d rather slowly write something I love than crank out three first drafts a year.

So here’s my progress for the past week (plus a couple days):

Monday: 1 word. I added “bricked” to a description of the house.
Tuesday: 401 words, despite writing for over 3 hours. This chapter is giving me problems.
Wednesday: 138 words
Thursday: 49 words
Friday: 295 words
Saturday:
26 words
Sunday:
441 words, but I did finish my problem chapter! We can move on to a slightly more exciting chapter now.
Monday: 0 words. Productive day at work.
Tuesday: 1,547 words. Finally hit my stride and finished another chapter!

I’ve become obsessed with tracking my word count in Excel, as you can see below. I personally think it’s a nice visual representation of my progress. It also shows me which chapters I’m actively working on (in blue) and provides a forecasted word count based on my average chapter length. That’s the Excel nerd in me.

WordCountTracking2

And because I should start doing this, here’s an excerpt from the WIP. Remember, it’s only a first draft!

Out of spite, Eva slid the green dress from its hanger in her wardrobe. If Arthur wanted her to wear something nicer, she’d wear the dress from their honeymoon.

She changed into the frock. It fit her now, at twenty-five, the same as it had when she was seventeen. By 1925, the style was considered old-fashioned with its high neckline, full sleeves, and a skirt that fell to her ankles. But Arthur disapproved of the new fashions of the twenties—the lack of sleeves, the low backs, and the baring of shins. She wasn’t sure if it was the fashion he disapproved of most, or the type of women who wore them.


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My ever-evolving characters

The majority of my colleagues were away at a conference earlier this week, so I took advantage of the quiet time at work and finally picked up my WIP again. It was tough, but I managed to write about 1,000 more words, just barely surpassing the 21,000 word mark. And then it happened: The first major snag appeared.

I have a detailed outline of where The Glassmaker’s Wife is heading. I’ve developed the backgrounds of all my character. I can tell you when they were born, their views toward Prohibition, their happy or terrible childhoods, and way more. The story was coming together so perfectly! But it just had to come crashing down when I realized that my main character’s actions made no sense with the history I gave her. I sat at my desk whispering profanities under my breath as I panicked, battling with myself on how to resolve the problem:

“It can work,” I reassured myself. “I don’t want to re-write all this shit.”

“No, it can’t work. Eva is a complete idiot if she falls for this man after everything that happened to her. You don’t want your readers thinking that in the first 20% of the novel. Something needs to change.”

“Fine, but I can’t change what Henry does. It’s vital to the plot.”

“Then you have to change Eva’s childhood history.”

And that’s what I did. It wasn’t fun. I had to find a new background for her. Now she has a new sibling, and her parents are completely different than what I originally wrote. I had to cut out a scene and a character that I loved. I changed the way she met her husband, which changes how she interacts with her husband going forward. To be honest, I’m still not 100% sure if this is going to work. But I am glad that I discovered this problem at 20,000 words rather than 100,000 words.

So that’s my lesson for today: You may want to be a plotter, but your characters will grow lives of their own and screw everything up.

P.S. I don’t usually have conversations with myself . . .


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Blurb: The Glassmaker’s Wife

Today, over my lunch break at work, I finished the initial blurb for The Glassmaker’s Wife!

I generally hate writing these kind of summaries . . . For the Battle Hymns one, I put it off until the very end. I’d finished writing the entire story and was in my 3rd edit. I found it incredibly difficult to narrow down the plot. How much character detail should I include? How long should it be? If I include this character, does it ruin the plot twist?

This time around, I wrote the blurb before I wrote most of my manuscript. I’m only 10-15% into the first draft, but I had enough of it outlined that I could create a summary. And guess what? It was easier this way! I’ll probably tweak it as I write more of the first draft, especially if the narrative changes directions as it is wont to do. But I’m rather pleased with how it turned out.

In 1917, Eva Simon, the youngest daughter of immigrant dairy farmers, marries Arthur Berger, a man she’s known for a mere week, in order to escape her grim childhood in rural Wisconsin. Despite a twelve year age difference, Arthur whisks Eva to Chicago with promises of love, family, and happiness. Eight years later, in the midst of the Roaring Twenties, Eva is resigned to a loveless and childless existence. Her once adoring husband has become cold and unsociable, and Eva spends her time minding the Berger glass shop and doing philanthropy work. She has accepted her fate in their marriage

Eva’s life forever changes when a lawyer for the Chicago Outfit, Henry Carravaro, presents a lucrative business opportunity to Arthur: In exchange for his cooperation, the Outfit will use Berger bottles for their legitimate soft drink and illegal brewing operations. Though Henry stands for everything Eva is against—organized crime and alcohol consumption—their paths continue to cross until Eva is unable to resist Henry’s charm. They begin a heated love affair, and for the first time in years, Eva finds happiness.

But the powers that be in crime-ridden Chicago threaten their union, especially as Eva inadvertently risks revealing Henry’s most dangerous secret.