Posted in Education, history, personal thoughts

The Things That Stick With You …

As I’ve mentioned in previous posts, I attended the University of Wyoming and received my MA in Medieval History there.  (I’ll save the jokes about accomplishing that out in no man’s land for later!)  I am, at heart, a perpetual student.  I’ll admit, when I was in high school I didn’t really care for history (we called it ‘social studies’ at the time), and when I first got to college, I was terrified that I’d have to take a history course for a semester or year to fulfill requirements.

My freshman year I managed to avoid it, thank goodness, but then I switched to a different school and BOOM!, Sophomore year I had to take either World History or US History.  I opted for World.  And my life was forever changed.  I can’t recall the exact name of the class at the moment, but I remember Dr. Patricia Howe.  For the first couple of weeks, I sat in class and took notes and … I was bored.  I didn’t want to be there.  I didn’t hate history – far from it – but it didn’t appeal.

Until one day when she gave a lecture on the French Revolution and Napoleonic Era.  WHAM!  All of a sudden, it made sense!  History was a STORY, and stories were fun and addictive!  From that moment on, I took every single course I could from her, and a few created ones to boot!  (as a side note, I lost touch with her after I left school because she changed schools as well, and I only recently found out she lost a battle with cancer in 2012.  It’s disappointing, to say the least, but I have very fond memories of her in the classroom that will never, ever leave me.  That’s something, at least!)

FAST FORWARD three years to the spring of 1993 in Laramie, Wyoming ….

I (successfully) defended my MA Thesis – a process I swear took more out of me than facing classrooms of students later that fall (I taught high school social studies – go figure! lol).  I had my graduate advisor, another history professor, and then one out-of-area professor on my panel.  I had no real idea what to expect for that going in, and by the end I’m sure it was more than a little obvious that I was relieved the whole ordeal was over (I hate public speaking, though I don’t mind teaching, but my brain hadn’t sorted out the difference between the two yet), and my out-of-area professor came over to speak to me.

Dr. Susan Aronstein is a professor of English (I think she’s still at UW), specializing in the middle ages, if I remember correctly.  My mom was taking a class of hers (on the way to a second MA in English) and suggested I select her for the panel.  I did, and when she approached me afterward, we had a brief discussion about my thesis topic: the history of Amesbury Abbey.  Now, I’ll be the first to admit, it has a history that lends itself to stories!  Founded by a queen who was supposedly responsible for the death of the king, her stepson, so her son could rule only to be re-founded 200 years later by King Henry II in an effort to atone for his involvement with the murder of Thomas Beckett, Archbishop of Canterbury.  Because she, my advisor and I were all fans of the Brother Cadfael books by Ellis Peters, Susan suggested I consider writing some medieval mysteries, or at the very least fiction, set in Amesbury.

FAST FORWARD to NaNoWriMo, November 2018 ….

For years, since that day, I’d thought about her words, considered the possibilities, but nothing really grabbed me for ideas.  Not until I met my Ex-husband (another history buff) who not only encouraged my writing, but was more than willing to toss around ideas and such with me.  Sometime back when we were married, I started a rough idea for a plot of a book.  It eventually (still while married) evolved into ideas for something like seven books.  The plots were/are all a loose collection of ideas, but at least I got something down on paper/computer.  Mostly, it was a binder tucked away with those pages in it, something I’d pull out once a year or two and touch up on the idea but never really making progress.

About six years ago now, I started participating in Nano, the idea being that you write 50,000 words in the month of November, and by the end you have something resembling a book that just needs some editing, etc.  Not exactly how it works, but that’s the idea.

The first year I did it, I wrote fanfiction because I had no idea how it worked and I wasn’t about to stress myself out over the whole situation.  (that story is still sitting on my computer waiting for editing, etc.)

The second year however, I started on another idea I’d developed in the meantime.  That one, too, still sits on my computer, but it’s in process of editing/rewriting because I think I figured out a large part of why I was dissatisfied with it.

The year (my third Nano) after that, I started book #2 in that series – got it 2/3 of the way written (over 80,000 words) but I haven’t gotten back to it yet.

Fourth year of Nano, I started a completely different project.  This one was much closer to my heart, closer to my area of expertise (middle ages).  Again, I’m about 2/3 of the way through the writing, but I do go and peek at it every once in a while.  I’m hoping to get back to it next spring to maybe finish it.

Last summer, however, I got the strange urge to pull out my old research, outline, plots, etc. for the Amesbury story that Dr. Aronstein suggested back in 1993.  It took me 25 years, but I FINALLY fleshed out a halfway decent outline for it.  When November hit, I started to write … and suddenly, the story started to FLOW.  I spent most of that month in a Zen-like state writing whenever I had the chance.  And, save for a few small areas in the chapters, I managed to get through my entire outline in the whole month!  It needs work – a lot of fleshing out, a lot of editing, etc. – but hey, I’ve made it past the concept stage!

This summer, I thought about November and I convinced myself that, No, not this year.  Christmas is at Dad’s this year – too many presents to make.  Thanks giving.  No good plot.  Etc….

So what have I been doing the past two days?????

Well, let’s just say that I’m reorganizing my save folders, my bookmarks, etc. to separate things between Book #1 and Book #2 for easy reference.  I have a vague idea of a plot – I’m not happy with it yet, but either I will be in the next couple of weeks, or I’ll stick to my original plan not to write this year.  I’ll be honest though, my main character, Gemma Harcourt, is screaming at me for something to do.  She wants to get back at it – even if it means we’ll be working our way through monstrous changes thanks to actual historical events.  Still, if I can get a good enough grasp on a plot, it could be fun again.  Will be fun again.

And all because of Dr. Susan Aronstein at the University of Wyoming.  One of these days I may even get published, and if I do, she’s the one to thank for it.  End of story …


Just a 50-something single mom with a passion for history, writing and knitting as I navigate my way through life.

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