If you’re a regular reader, or if you’re just annoyed by my daily self-promotion of my latest enterprise, then you know I’m writing historical fiction. Which is funny, because I don’t think of it that way. In my head, it’s just Elizabethan noir, the main difference between it and its contemporary ilk being the style of language and the fact that, if one of the characters wants to kill somebody, they can’t use a 9mm.
But the fact is it’s set in 1596. In England. That’s back there a ways. That’s longer ago than when the Cubs won the series. So, somewhere along the way, when I was reading through the Bedford Companion to Shakespeare or Will in the World (great book, by the way) or poking about the interwebs looking up shit like Sumptuary Laws and the Livery of Seisen, it occurred to me that, while maybe all I wanted to do was write a noir story with Shakespeare as the protagonist, I was, in fact, venturing forth into historical fiction.
And something else occurred to me. I had an outline.
If you’re a REALLY regular reader of ye olde blog, then you know I’m pretty famously against outlining. (Or famously against it when I argue with Chuck Wendig about it over on his blog, because he’s really is famous. He has more blog readers than the national debt has dollars. For me, the blog is just how I have a virtual conversation with myself.). Actually I won’t say I’m against. It just doesn’t work for me. My characters are like Steve McQueen in The Great Escape. The outline hasn’t been built that can hold them. They’re gonna do what they want no matter what I tell them, so I’ve given up trying to plan their shenanigans. I just follow them around my head and take notes. So I’m not against it. Hell, if it works for you, great. If writing hanging upside down from the chandelier in just your chinchilla g-string works for you, great. (And thanks for the suggestion, Chuck, but at my age, the blood all pools in my head and the g-string gets tangled in my ass hair.)
But this time, I have an outline. And I didn’t even have to write it.
Shakespeare wrote it for me. See, he actually lived in 1596. Shit actually happened. If you’re reading ROTTEN AT THE HEART, then you know that George Carey, the Baron Hudson, Lord Chamberlain and the patron of Shakespeare’s theater company, dies at the beginning. Well, he really did. On July 23, 1596. (When I first had this idea some months back and started poking about for a kickoff point, I decided on his death, not at the time knowing the exact date. When I finally looked it up, being ready to start writing, I will admit to a little frisson of thrill when I discovered that the old bastard shuffled on his mortal coil on my birthday. I’ve decided to take that as a fortuitous portent. ) Another death is upcoming, and that one really happened, too. Puritans really were railing against the theater as an unholy practice that inspired evil passions and, in its pomp and costumes, reflected the Catholic Mass and the damn Papist fondness for pageantry. Recusants really were trying to be secret Catholics within the narrow lattitude that Elizabeth’s attempt at a middle way granted them. A merchant class really was emerging, reshaping society in unexpected ways and creating a secular path to power that did not depend on solely on royal favor.
So there was an existing historical skeleton for a story in place. All I have to do is string the flesh on the bones. And I will admit it’s helping.
Next time, I’ll talk about how writing in my faux Elizabethan English, instead of being the tedious exercise in quasi-translation one might imagine it to be, has actually been liberating and has me questioning some sacred cows of the craft.