Althea Preston

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I Just Want to Write…

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That’s all I want to do, but the voices in my head don’t want to make sense. I get snips of things that are contemporary, historical, always paranormal, and I write them down, but putting those things into a cohesive story isn’t me.

I’m a linear writer. Pantser. Write ‘em as the story unfolds in front of me. As I watch the movie playing out in my head.

And I’m so frustrated I could scream.

Because whoever is editing those movies is playing some cruel joke on me. I no longer have one long story that starts at once upon a time and ends with happily ever after. No. Now, I get murder and mayhem and demons and werewolves and they’re all mixed up and make no sense.

So now I have dozens of pieces of paper with ideas and voices and conversations and none of them fit together. Because I write in a linear fashion, none of them make sense. None of them are starters. None of them are endings. They’re all middles with nowhere to go.

Does this ever happen to you? And if it does, what do you do to get past it?

Hmmm…

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May. I haven’t posted here since May! Funny how time flies.

Then again, sometimes, it drags on for aeons.

Those of you who know me fairly well know I suffer bouts of depression. This is not conducive to imagination. During these times, I often don’t have one. I’ve often wondered what would happen if I found an agent who loves my work, but I already know the answer to that. Though I suffer from depression, I don’t renege on commitments. Ever! I still go to work (which has become full time, unfortunately) and I still do the best job I can. And no one at work really notices that I’m having trouble at all.

That would be slightly different if I had an agent however in that I would certainly let her know what my life is like and I would guarantee she would still get the best of me, regardless of whether I was in a blue phase or not. You see, I love to write. But when I’m in a blue phase, I don’t do much I don’t absolutely HAVE to do, either by rote or request. I do the housework that has to be done, I make the dinners, do the laundry, but after a long day at work, my brain sort of shuts down.

And this is where the problem lies. I haven’t been able to push myself to write much most nights because I’m tired at the end of the day from working with the public who, by the way, has deteriorated in the last 25 years, but that’s another post. I’ve been working on stories I’ve worked on for a long time though. When I decided I’d do NaNo again this year, I knew I needed a new story, a new idea. I won last year, but barely. I want to win this year too. But nothing has sparked my imagination. None of the characters that parade through my head daily are speaking to me, none of them are telling me any of their stories, and I’m running out of time.

When you’re lost for an idea, where do you go to find that prompt or spark or whatever you’d like to call it…that magic that clicks and fills your head with a story that has to be put to paper? Tell me in comments.

I’m looking for ideas so let me know where you get yours from!

The Titanic Experience

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I’m fortunate enough to live close to and be a member of The Henry Ford, one of the best historical and outdoor museums in the United States. The museum itself is hosting the Titanic Exhibit right now, and two weeks ago, I dragged my somewhat reluctant husband and we went. When we were done, it made an impression on him as much as me and he was very glad he went. This is my experience.

I was given a boarding pass while waiting in line and learned that I was Mrs. Louis Albert Hippach (Ida Sophia Fischer.) Originally from Chicago, I was traveling abroad with my daughter Jean, trying to recover from the loss of two sons in the infamous Chicago Iroquois Theater fire.

The ladies claimed, as did so many, they had not wanted to board Titanic, not trusting a maiden voyage. White Star Line employees told them there was only one first-class cabin (B16) left. The two felt lucky to get their tickets, only to discover that the ship was only partially full.

We started with great hope, climbing the steps to board the ship. All around are big placards with snippets of the starting dream, then design, pictures of the workers at Harland and Wolff, and the time and effort put into building such a grand, floating palace. There was excitement in the air, it was bright and noisy and everyone seemed to be having a great time.

When we entered the ship, several items greeted us. A cleat from the lifeboats, the bell from the crows nest, a phone stand, all the sorts of things one sees as they make their way to their cabin. Music from first class floated, almost imperceptibly, on the air.

There were trunks and satchels and bits and pieces of everyday life for the first class passengers. Bits and pieces of peoples lives which we saw throughout the exhibit. A bowler hat intact and with little damage sat in one of the cases. It was found sitting on the ocean floor as if the owner had dropped it on a table on his way into a room. Lavaliers, rings, earrings, bracelets, all gold and precious gems which can survive the salt water and tremendous pressures of more than two miles beneath the surface of the ocean gleamed as if they’d just been made. Books, journals, eyeglasses, a silk brocade purse found lying in the sand that still looked brand new.

There is a replica of a first class cabin, main room only, which shows the beautiful carpet, brass fixtures and mahogany furniture that would have been expected by the passengers staying in them. After living for so many years with a king bed, the one there, though elegant, seemed so small though it was a double size.

Place settings were displayed as if awaiting a meal complete with china, crystal and flatware. Pieces of the ship that would have graced the first class area were also displayed and everything was accompanied by the first class music surrounding us.

We came upon a replica of the Grand Staircase complete with statue and mahogany clock, made so famous thanks to Cameron’s movie, Titanic. Half as many stairs as the original, it was still an imposing structure.

Then, we moved into the second class section and the quality and opulence changed a bit, but it was still more than most people dreamed of. One of the things that White Star Line did was to make sure every passenger had a grand experience. Even the third class passengers slept on clean sheets and ate from fine dishes off tables that had linen cloths and napkins. Often, a rarity for third class passengers in their daily lives.

Here is where we saw more of the daily things, the contents of a buyer’s bag, the receipt for his purchases still readable. Most everything in leather containers has survived due to the tanning process used at the time and even the bags themselves are still reasonable and about the quality you’d find in a second class shop. It was bittersweet throughout to see so many things that could be identified.

But these artifacts were more reflective of the second class passengers. Businessmen, doctors, women on their way to America to open shops and make new lives for themselves. And along with their belongings were pieces of the second class areas on the ship. Clothes hooks and door hardware and lamp fixtures. The first class music was fading and the lighting had grown a bit darker, but not so much you’d notice at first.

Moving on, we walked down a hallway that would have served any level passenger on the ship, but we came out into the third class area and though they still enjoyed fine appointments, the class distinction was beginning to take a dramatic turn.

Instead of china and silver flatware, they used ironstone and standard utensils. The artifacts were more eclectic as well, showing the kinds of things many would have carried and worn. These were the laborers of society, the men and women who in their normal life, provided the services for the elite. Dressmakers, tanners, farmers, many different countries, many looking for a new life. Those clothing pieces that remained also showed the difference in fabrics. No longer the rich silks and brocades, these were the coarse linens and clunky boots the every day worker owned. And though they don’t tell you at the exhibit, third class cabins were separated by gender with many housing 10-12 people!

We walked past a replica of the servants sleeping quarters on the ship and what a difference from first class! Four bunks in this room, though the blankets were clean and the wash basin had a pitcher and linen towels on it. Gone was any remnant of the first class music. Here, we heard only the engines and their constant revolutions. Loud, rhythmic, and a constant reminder that we were now in the lowest bowels, eight or more levels below the opulence of first class.

But we also saw the workings of the ship. The communications equipment, the big brass controls they used to tell the other areas to move forward or aft and how fast. The ‘phone’ system they used so the bridge could call down to the coal ovens. A bit of the Marconi. A glass orb from one of the big lights. And the personal artifacts also reflected the workers. A shirt and apron, perfectly preserved and found in another leather satchel. This shirt had been repaired several times, but the stitches were neat and uniform. It made me wonder if the worker himself had done the repairs or if he’d left a wife and maybe a family behind. Laying on top of the shirt was the apron, once folded in half, now open for display. The wooden buttons and black thread had run from one side onto the blank side of the apron and created a mirror image.

There was an iceberg that one could touch. At twenty-eight degrees, it was the same temperature as the freezing water that would have surrounded us and I had a hard time leaving my hand there for more than a few seconds before the burning started. Angle iron and tools the Black Gang, so named because they were covered with coal dust at the end of every shift, used to shovel coal were there as well as a basketball sized piece of coal, reminding us all that someone lifted and tossed over and over for 12 hours a shift, in an area heated to 100+ degrees because of the open ovens.

It was dark and oppressive and probably very close in feeling to what they must have experienced on a constant basis.

And at the end of this area were some of the most poignant items of all. Pins, wedding bands, fraternity buttons, a display of perfume bottles. I’d just seen a new special by Cameron the week before we went to the exhibit, and Bill Sauder who is the historian/curator of the RMS Titanic artifacts talked about preserving those things brought to the surface from the wreck site. The room usually smells of rot and decay and death, but someone opened a leather satchel and the breath of heaven filled the room. It was a broken vial from the group displayed. The perfumer was forced to leave his new line behind when he fled. He survived, but his samples were lost to time, only to be found 90 years later and still as fragrant as the day they were bottled. It was a very moving moment for me.

And finally, after our long tour, we reached the end of the exhibit and the casualties board. Here is where I learned whether my boarding pass reflected a survivor or a casualty. So many names, so many losses, such a tragic waste when lifeboats were lowered less than half full. I stood there a long time, reading those names. First, second, third class, stewards and maids, even Captain Smith’s name was listed. A reminder that death is the great equalizer.

If you live close to one of the exhibit’s stops or even if you must travel, do go. It’s an amazing experience. The Henry Ford is hosting the Titanic Exhibit through September 30th. You won’t regret seeing it.

Oh, and if you’re wondering, I survived.

Titanic Day

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I have been MIA from the blogging world for a long time. Part of that has to do with a few things I took on for my online RWA chapter, part has to do with the fact that I went back to work and though I’m part time, I have been working way too many hours a week and my brain is mush at the end of the day. Anyone who works with the public will understand. Part because my site has been broken for a long time and I didn’t have the wherewithal to fix it. And part of it has to do with my constant, underlying depression which I can overcome some days and others…well, it is what it is and that’s a post for another day.

Yesterday, I had the wonderful opportunity to go to The Henry Ford which is an amazing place, to see the Titanic Exhibit. *As a side note, if you live in or ever visit the Detroit area, make a point to go.

I dragged my husband with me, he-who-doesn’t-like-anything-non-car-related, and we dutifully waited in line with 200 or so others going through at our 3pm time slot. Mind you, they have 300 or so tickets per time and the entry times are every fifteen minutes.

Which brings me to my one disappointment about the whole experience. There were many people there with small children and also several with babies in strollers. Babies and small children are wonderful things, but in this instance, they should have been left at home. The exhibit was crowded, the displays were set in such a way that you could only read the information plaque from one side and between the strollers and small children hanging on the displays, it was difficult to read much about the items in the cases. And some, I never did get close enough to, to see anything at all.

So many of the items I did see were haunting in their own way. Pieces of the ship, some almost gone from corrosion, others almost pristine still. A bit of elbow grease and they would be good as new. The bronze and brass usually hold up the best, but there was a wrought iron frame from a deck chair that looks exactly like one would expect their own to look after sitting in the weather for a year or two. Intact dishes and serving pieces were displayed along with glass items and other things used daily on the ship.

The haunting part comes with the personal items displayed. Those bits of flotsam one uses and never thinks about in any detail. Many personal papers were shown, saved from disintegration thanks to the leather tanning process used at the time. They were recovered in briefcases and portfolios that withstood the salt water and though they were brown from the tanning oils, they were still readable. There were sales receipts, typed, for merchant items someone was bringing back to America. Post cards and handwritten notes. Calling cards which really showed the class distinction at the time.

There was a set of perfume bottles recovered. Samples from a chemist’s bag, a brilliant perfumer who survived the disaster but lost his bag when it was left in his room. If any of you had the opportunity to watch Titanic, The Final Word by James Cameron which showed (and may still be) on the National Geographic channel, Bill Sauder, historian and director of research for RMS Titanic, Inc., speaks of these bottles in the video. He talks about the smell of rot and death that seems to permeate the restoration room. Everything is wet of course, and I can imagine the smell of leather that’s been underwater for 90 years. But then he mentions that someone took a small leather case and opened it and the smell it emitted was like a breath of heaven in that room. It was the sample case with the perfume bottles and after all those years, they still retained their delicate fragrance. He grows very emotional as he talks about it. If you’ve ever worked with death, you might understand why. I’ve transported bodies to the morgue in the middle of the night. Alone. But I digress…

The items that made the biggest impression on me though were the very personal pieces. Jewelry, eyeglasses, buttons, a linen worker’s apron and canvas tool belt that survived, again, in a leather satchel. It had been folded and the buttons on the left of the tool belt had leached and made a mirror image on the right. A beautiful necklace that had adorned a first class passenger’s neck lay now under a small, dim light in a hermetically sealed case. Did that person survive? Did she die with the ship? And the eyeglasses in a similar case. Was the owner wearing them when they froze to death in the frigid water? Or were they on a nightstand and just happened to float away as the ship sank?

I would have enjoyed my time more had it been less crowded. I could have pondered, inspected, read more, taken more time with things. I think I’ll go back during the week. Maybe I can find a day when a school is not there to take a bit more time with things.

Afterward, we saw Cameron’s movie, Titanic, on the biggest IMAX screen in the state, in 3D! One of only five screens in the world showing it in 3D, it was an amazing experience. I’ve never seen the movie in the theater. Only on TV, so this was a grand opportunity.

I’ll post about that later this week though.

Testing my comments

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This is just a test to make sure the comments work.

Finally!

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After months of a broken site, I am back on the web. It will take me some time to get things back to the way they were, so bare with me. I have pages to do, themes to look through and other things to set, so be patient and I’ll keep plugging along.