Update: Chapter 3 first draft complete; Chapter 2 in the can

I haven’t given you an update since April of 2021 on my progress but I am pleased now to say that Chapter 2 has been edited and the first draft of Chapter 3 is complete.

Chapter 3 proved quite the challenge.  I covered the seven-month-long Fruitlands experiment (June, 1843 through January, 1844) and the Alcotts’ brief time in Still River before returning to Concord (January to October 1844).

00-farmhouse-1919-cite-harriet-lothrop-papers-and-minuteman-natl-park-and-2014
Fruitlands, from 1919 and the present day.
brickends
“Brick Ends,” Still River, MA
512 fruitlands - gathering the grain
At Fruitlands, gathering the grain

It is no exaggeration to say that there is a mountain of information on this important yet short period in their lives. The Fruitlands era is difficult to understand, let alone write about succinctly. The only way that works for me is the immersion technique — take as many notes as I wish so as to be completely drenched in the philosophies, emotions and turmoil of that period, and then begin to consolidate before writing. Getting down the first draft synthesizes it further. The editing process will complete the trimming so that only what matters to the story of Lizzie comes through in the end. It is a draining, tedious, and yet exhilarating experience. You really have to love the process, and I do. I am so blessed that my various health problems interfere little with writing.

During this time, I had an opportunity to read a variety of stimulating books, from fiction, to spiritual, to academic, many of which I have reviewed for BookTrib.com. I revised an old practice of journaling as I read which is helping me to discover a bolder voice within. I believe that voice is emerging in Chapter 3.

BIO-Logo-itunesI have also found tremendous support in a round table group of women from Biographers International who are devoted to rediscovering the lives of forgotten women. We meet monthly for zoom meetings and discuss our work, and we email a lot in between. This group of accomplished, published authors has done much to build my confidence and chase away doubt.

cover smCertainly the inclusion of my essay in the recently published anthology, The Forgotten Alcott: Essays on the Artistic Legacy and Literary Life of May Alcott Nieriker (Routledge / Taylor & Francis Group) has done much embolden me as a writer. Never in my wildest dreams did I think I would end up in a book with so many distinguished Alcott scholars! Or that anything I would write would end up in college and university libraries. As Amy Grant once sang, “Life is a curious thing!”

I begin today to assemble my research for Chapter 4 and the Hillside era. It is here where Lizzie speaks for the first time. I can hardly wait to immerse myself in her thoughts.

p.s. Your support has been phenomenal! I am deeply grateful to all of you for accompanying me on this grand journey.

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“Let Genius Burn” podcast explores the Alcott sisters

Jill Fuller and Jamie Burgess, creators and hosts of the “Let Genius Burn” podcast series, have been thoroughly immersed in the life and legacy of Louisa May Alcott for well over a year. The podcast debuted on July 12 and each week a new episode is released on Mondays. This week’s episode The podcasters focused on the Alcott sisters, discussing each one in depth, along with the relationship that sister shared with Louisa. Any Little Women fan knows how much Meg, Jo, Beth and Amy are derived from Anna, Louisa, Lizzie and May. Fuller and Burgess present many interesting (and lesser known) facts about the sisters along with penetrating insight into the sibling bond that made up this “Golden Band.”

Episode Two of “Let Genius Burn” focuses on the Alcott sisters.

I was most impressed with the presentation on Lizzie. Referring to her by the name to which she was referred within the family instead of addressing her as “Beth” told me right away that Fuller and Burgess would take Lizzie seriously. While her illness and death are the most notable aspects of her short life, Fuller and Burgess took care to speculate on what Lizzie meant to Louisa. Their analysis of Louisa’s poem, “The Angel in the House,” was especially interesting.

I highly recommend listening to this entire series. You can find it at https://www.letgeniusburn.com/listen

An Update on the Lizzie Biography

Chapter Two is in the can, and I am now working on Chapter Three  . . . Fruitlands . . .

Lizzie Alcott’s story told in quilts

I saw this article on a quilting blog and thought you might find it interesting. I wish I knew more about quilts and the significance of their design but perhaps some of you can offer help in your comments.

Here is the article:

Hands All Around #5: Star Puzzle for Elizabeth Alcott

Block #5 Star Puzzle by Becky Brown

A block for Elizabeth (Peabody) Sewall Alcott, the quiet sister.  The puzzle may be: “How could anyone be quiet in that family?”

 Elizabeth (Peabody) Sewall Alcott (1835-1858) 
Crayon (chalk) portrait by Caroline Negus Hildreth 1857
Collection of Orchard House

Continue reading: http://civilwarquilts.blogspot.com/2021/05/hands-all-around-5-star-puzzle-for.html

First draft of Chapter 2 completed!

I am pleased to announce that I have completed the first draft of chapter 2 which focuses on the Alcott family’s first home in Concord. This was a fun chapter to write as there was much to say about the sisters. There are a couple of revealing letters from Bronson to Lizzie plus reminiscences from Lizzie’s best friend and next-door neighbor at the time, Lydia Hosmer.

Concordia (aka Dove Cote) courtesy of the Louisa May Alcott Memorial Society

Now that I have finally figured out the methodology for writing this book (and that has taken years as I am teaching myself), the writing goes along much faster. And as I edit, I learn new things — how will I make this book read like a novel rather than just a regurgitating of facts? What words and methods will I use to make the reader feel Lizzie’s story? And how will I make this story interesting to readers who are not familiar with the Alcotts and Little Women?

They say the writing is the best part of being an author (even over being published). I agree — I love this process! I’m still pinching myself that I am retired and get to do this every day. Life is good!

Success!

I am pleased to announce that I have finished the rough draft of Chapter One of my Lizzie book. After extensive research and nine years of stops and starts, I am finally getting this down on paper. It feels terrific!

I needed a strategy in putting together this book, and it took a long time to figure it out. Once solved, the writing went so much faster. I stumbled upon the answer while reading about writing a fiction novel. The book, Outlining Your Novel by K.M. Weiland taught me how to build and use chronological order as the framework while still focusing on themes. My natural tendency is to be a thematic writer, and I am also very much into process. These two things can confuse the reader because exploring themes and processes can make the story hard to follow. I discovered this after writing three previous drafts of this chapter (I am slow, but I get it eventually. :-)) I followed a strict chronological order governed by an actual calendar of each year. Linking the day of the week to the date made each event more real to me.

My first step was to consult the primary source journals and letters to get actual dates. Then I filled in the gaps with the secondary sources. It helped keep me organized and focused.

I have a little confession to make. For the longest time, I’ve had this sense that I was working against the clock. It’s not that I’m all that old at 64, but I keep remembering how Madelon Bedell could not finish her second volume of her Alcott biography (which was on the sisters) because she died of cancer. I can’t even imagine how she must have felt knowing that she would not be able to finish. I did not want the same thing to happen to me, but I was having difficulty getting anywhere with this book until now.

The COVID-19 pandemic has affected everyone in very different ways. For me, it resulted in anxiety and depression, a severe body tremor, and the loss of my job of 27 years. Losing that job (and being able to collect unemployment) opened up the opportunity to focus on my health. I had several symptoms that affected the quality of life. After nine months of trying out various medications and going to physical therapy, I was diagnosed with Parkinson’s. Fortunately, the medicine that I am taking has alleviated most of the symptoms, making me productive again. As a result of the diagnosis, I decided to retire, which now leaves me lots of time to focus on this book.

Knowing I have Parkinson’s does indeed put a deadline on my work. It is hard to say how long I can mitigate the symptoms. But this just fuels my desire all the more to get this done. I am thankful that I have at least some warning regarding my health as it is sharpening my focus on my work. It’s all a good thing.

Especially since I finished the draft of Chapter One!

In a small way, all this helps me to relate to my dear Lizzie all the more.

A day in the life of Lizzie Alcott … a fiction approach

At one time I considered writing Lizzie’s story as historical fiction. In that way I could go into her head and heart in a deeper way and speculate to my heart’s desire.

The problem is I have no idea how to write fiction. I never even read fiction. I have a feeling I would be a slave to the facts when the story in fact, is paramount.

But, I did try to write a couple of scenes. Here’s one I wrote several years ago. In reading this scene, it makes me want to try some more, just to get the words to flow.

The setting for this scene is Boston in 1852.

A thick fog veiled the city in mist. It chilled Louisa as she walked down the street in long strides, swerving to avoid the endless stream of bodies at every turn. As she fingered the few pennies in her purse, a sigh escaped from her lips. A flicker of warmth permeated her body as she imagined the dear faces, but it soon dissipated. There was no victory today. Continue reading “A day in the life of Lizzie Alcott … a fiction approach”

Beginning the book on Elisabeth Sewall Alcott, and taking you on the journey

I have begun work at last on a biography of Elisabeth* Sewall Alcott; she is best known as the real life prototype of Beth March of Little Women, written by her older sister, Louisa May Alcott. After spending nearly 8 years researching her life, I am ready to write about it.

Diary of a biography

Writing such a book can take years to complete and the enormity of the task is overwhelming at times. This plus the fact that I am learning so many interesting aspects of writing biography inspired me to create this diary so that you can share in the experience. As I work through the steep learning curve of writing this book, I am hoping these posts will offer information that aspiring biographers will find helpful. It is also a way to hold myself accountable to you – to work in a disciplined manner and to keep you updated on the progress of the book.

Continue reading “Beginning the book on Elisabeth Sewall Alcott, and taking you on the journey”