Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Rotten Mood

Sharon Wildwind

I am in a Rotten Mood. Yes, capital rotten, capital mood.

Too many disasters in the world? Daylight savings time starting far too early? Familial responsibilities piling up like a derailed freight train? A tragedy happening to a co-worker over the weekend? Frigging snow predicted for the next three days?

I think the bottom line is cabin fever.

If you’re not familiar with the late Stan Roger’s take on Canadian cabin fever, I recommend this YouTube version of his song, Canol Road. It’s thin on visual excitement, but Stan’s voice comes across the way we remember him.

Or try Stan’s son, Nathan, singing the same song. His voice is such a ringer for his dad that it’s downright spooky.

“He’s a bear in a blood-red mackinaw, with hungry dogs at bay, and springtime thunder in his sudden roar.”

That’s what I feel like, except that I have a gray parka instead of a red mackinaw and the bear I most resemble is Winnie-the-Pooh. Winnie and I wouldn’t last three seconds in a Yukon bar brawl. Except maybe in my imagination. I figured the best solution to cabin fever was to take my imagination out for a run.

About three years ago I mentioned my all-time favorite role playing game: Frank Chadwick’s Space 1889™. It came out long before steam punk was on the horizon. One of the things I liked about it was that the characters were quick to roll up. All you needed was two previous careers, three physical characteristics (strength, agility, and endurance) and three psychological characteristics (intellect, charisma, and social level) and Bob’s your uncle.

The career choice possibilities made for some odd combinations like missionary-telegrapher or foreign office-inventor (sounds like the prototype for James Bond’s “Q.”) My favorite two-career combination was always dilettante plus adventuress.

Dilettante meant I could muck about in anything I felt like and adventuress meant I certainly wasn’t the kind of woman you’d take home to mother. Both left a lot of room for imagination.

When I realized that cabin fever had truly set in I knew the possibility of producing any sensible writing for the next couple of weeks was zilch and since I didn’t want to stop writing, I decided to play a game. It needed a Victorian name and after a couple of days I came up with Cloud Captains of Endeavour. It didn’t have to make sense, it just had to sound Victorian.

My protagonist is a woman who is between careers. She’s already a dilettante and is going to become an adventuress.

Here are the rules I set for playing the game:

1. The story takes place in October 1889. I picked October because the first sentence that came to mind was, “Rain and sleet pelted London throughout October.”

2. My protagonist had to start in London and end up in Scotland. She had to be forced to make the journey so that going to Scotland was the only option left to her.

3. Every Victorian detail I used had to be substantiated by at least one reliable on-line reference.

I figured I’d knock out a couple of thousand words and get the game out of my system. Well, I’m up to the beginning of Chapter 5 and she doesn’t have a clue yet that she’s going to Scotland. This may take longer than I thought, but I’m having a great time and at least I have some diversion until the cabin fever breaks.

I completely recommend this kind of writing play. Pick the most absurd protagonist you can imagine, someone you can have fun with. Put her in an impossible situation. Make the goal another impossible situation and write until you’ve moved her from point A to point B. This is writing just for the sheer pleasure of it. We all deserve to do that once in a while.
Quote for the week:
People say I live in my own little world, but that’s okay. They know me here.


Elizabeth Zelvin said...

And if it comes out good, send it to your agent, Sharon. :) BTW, the funniest writing I've ever read on winter turning to spring in a place with a lousy climate is Dana Stabenow's Breakup.

Sheila Connolly said...

As I sat watching the snow fall yesterday (the first day of spring), and contemplated my immobilized foot (waving the three toes I can see), I was planning a chapter on a town's "Spring Fling," where the townspeople are fed up with winter and want an excuse to cut loose and celebrate surviving another New England winter. We actually have one in my town, around Valentine's Day. Nominally it's a fundraiser, but mainly it's an opportunity for people to get out of the house and even dance to an oldies cover band.

Love your solution, Sharon. But isn't it kind of chilly in Scotland?

Anonymous said...

Liz, I agree about Breakup. Cabin fever makes some people downright crazy.

Sheila, we have a February holiday in Alberta called Family Day. It's the third Monday in February and we all know it's real name is "I desperately need a holiday" Day. As for Scotland being cold, she has wool underwear so everything will be okay.

lil Gluckstern said...

Since I am loving your books, I'll look forward to this one ;-)