Stephanie Burgis
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Cars, birthdays, bad guys, good guys, and filler
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Woot! We picked up the new car (Harriet - see pretty pictures here!) today and celebrated by driving Nika out to the park as a belated birthday present. (She turned seven years old yesterday.) The park is Nika’s favorite place in the world, but without a car, we hadn’t taken her there for months; worse yet, the only times she’s been in a car have been on the way to vets’ offices. She was visibly surprised and joyful when we ended up at the park instead, and she had a great time playing with the other dogs there. It was really nice to see her so happy.

Of course, she had to do very mild play and slow running - she can’t run properly anymore because of the horrible skin problems on her legs (which makes such a contrast to her former self - just seven months ago, she was whizzing in great spinning circles around the field) - but still, we hadn’t seen her so frisky and happy for a long time. And after so much trauma, that has to be a blessing.

And I’m really enjoying the biography I’ve been reading for the past several days, Maria Fairweather’s Madame de Staël. It’s just the right time period for some good background to Congress of Shadows, and more importantly, it’s just incredibly stimulating and perfect for my writing brain. Biographies are my favorite way of getting basic historical research - I can absorb so much information so easily, when it’s in the service of following a really interesting life story - and best of all, they’re perfect for character development. They remind me of how complicated people really are, from “bad guys” - for instance, Napoleon’s chief of police, Fouché, who had ordered several horrific massacres during the Terror in the early 1790s,
“already knew perfectly well that there would be no question of principles under the man he wished to serve, and had made his arrangements accordingly...His previous conduct would in any case not have suggested that he was likely to adopt a moral stance; indeed he often spoke of virtue as of an old maid’s tale. But he was an able politician who saw that it was wise to do only as much harm as was necessary to achieve his aims. He therefore sometimes chose to do good because it was sensible, where another might have followed his conscience.”

to “good guys”, or people who think they are, like Madame de Staël’s mother, a self-conciously virtuous woman who really believed she had sacrificed everything for her daughter, selflessly never letting her daughter out of her sight or letting her daughter choose her own friends (or even have more than one friend her own age), and therefore, why oh why was her daughter selfishly not turning out to be the woman she’d expected and doing exactly everything that her mother ever told her to do?

Much fun, and of course there are lots of wonderful quotes from contemporary letters and literature. I love this period of history.

Speaking of which, I’m about two-thirds of the way through my first read-through of Congress of Shadows, and very relieved that so far I’m liking the second half of the first draft better than the first half. The whole thing still feels a bit thin and outline-like right now, not fleshed-out into vivid color, but I keep reminding myself that Masks & Shadows felt the same way at first, and I managed to fix that. Delia Sherman talks about this writing process as starting with “the good bits version” - you write what you’re most grabbed by in the first draft, then go back and laboriously fill in everything else, all the necessary events and details to make the story really take on life.

Now I just have to figure out all the bits I’ve forgotten to include...

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