Fantastic History #23: The Future was India–The First Women Doctors in the British Empire

I base a lot of my characters in books on gaming characters. I belong to a crack squad of people who have been role playing with me for nigh unto 25 years, and the characters they run are very interesting. However, sometimes I cannot adapt the characters wholesale, as gaming is an imperfect medium, partly improve, partly hubris. Believe me, no one wants to read about your cool game, no matter how cool it is to you. Further, sometimes characters must be juiced up in order for them to have the drama necessary to participate as a character in a story.

Recently, I wanted to shift one such character, an Indian magician, into a firmer historical background. The character as conceived has some ability in medicine, so I decided to look into the background of Indian women in the 19th century. What I discovered is one of those happy accidents that suddenly made this character not only viable, but cutting edge.

Interesting and unknown to me previously, I discovered that the first women to graduate from medical school in the British empire were two Bengali women: Kadambini Ganguly and Chandramuku Basu. Both women graduated in 1883 from medical school in Calcutta, India.
Ganguly was the daughter of a Brahmo reformer. She studied in Edinburgh, Glasgow, and London before starting her own private practice. The mother of eight children, Ganguly was the ultimate example of a woman balancing professional and personal life. Basu ultimately earned an MA and became the first female administrator of a school in India. While Basu retired early due to ill health, Ganguly remained a stalwart figure for women’s rights in India.

Certainly, with these examples, my fictional character could find a toe hold in medicine at the time, following in Ganguly and Basu’s footsteps. And so Adah Kapoor, a new name for an old character, was well on her way to becoming a practicing doctor, as well as someone who followed in her family’s footsteps as a magician.

And the rest remains to be written. History, however, can be a wonderful, rich gift to the writer.

For more information on Ganguly, check out The Better India.

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Cath Schaff-Stump writes speculative fiction for children and adults, everything from humor to horror. She is the author of the Klaereon Scroll series, the most recent of which is The Pawn of Isis, coming in March, 2019. Cath lives and works in Iowa with her husband. During the day, she teaches English to non-native speakers at a local community college. Other recent fiction has been published by Paper Golem Press, Daydreams Dandelion Press, and in The Mammoth Book of Dieselpunk. Cath is a co-host on the writing and geek-life fan podcast Unreliable Narrators. You can find her online at Facebook, Goodreads, Amazon, @cathschaffstump, cathschaffstump.com, and unreliablenarrators.net

Post 20: Going Indie

I am now an indie writer. Let’s break that down.

It seems to be conventional wisdom in writing these days that becoming a hybrid writer is a good idea. (TM). I was going to give that a go, and to start, I had planned to publish a book of short stories, which I did yesterday, by the way. I published The Devil’s Wingman and Other Stories as an ebook, with a print book to soon follow. You might remember from the last time I wrote an authorly post (not the one about my new studio, but post 18) I had lost my agent and Curiosity Quills had turned down my Klaereon sequel (coming out on March 19th, you betcha!). I planned to leave The Vessel of Ra with CQ and let it ride out its contract, and I also planned to pitch Abigail Rath Versus Mad Science to likely agents.

Think again. đŸ˜€

CQ recently radically changed its business model, and I decided to take them up on the option of getting my rights back for Vessel. And I’ve been having this unsettling question about time as it keeps on slipping (slipping, slipping) into the future. The Vessel of Ra took two years from acceptance to reach publication. Finding an agent to represent me came about because of that book deal, but it took me pretty much from 2009 until 2015 to find an agent. Mind, I do think I could find an agent again, but my mind has been moving in some strange directions during the past year.

First of all, what I want to write are the stories I want to tell. I want to write 7 Klaereon Scroll books, and I want to write about 7 Abby Rath books. I also have novellas and a serial to tell in the magical family universe, and I expect some other tangents I could explore. In the case of The Klaereon Scroll series, the publisher told me they didn’t want any more. In the case of Abby, my agent didn’t want to support it. And no harm, no foul to them. But I wanted to do these things.

Here’s the conundrum. What is more important to me? Is it to have an agent and a publisher? There are advantages to that, including wide distribution and a different kind of work. I have found out, however, what is important to me is to TELL the stories I want to tell, rather than to SELL the stories someone else thinks they can sell.

I used to be afraid of all the work self-publishing entailed, but I am enjoying editing, working with formatters and cover artists, and learning the ins and outs of each piece as I go. It is a lot of work, but it is also rewarding. For me to get my story out there, and have other people read it; for me to forego the winnowing and unlikelihood that I will be traditionally published, and sell well enough for my publisher to keep me, and for me to write and share the stories I want to, all of these are the reasons I have embraced self-publishing.

This is not to say I will never return to traditional publishing. But right now I want to be in a place where I can write what I want, that is flexible around my job. I am luckier than many, as I have some income I can devote here as I start up. And I am also lucky to be writing in a time where independent publishing does not have the stigma it once did. So, these posts will take a turn toward what it takes to self-publish a book, as well as many of the other overlapping aspects of being an author.

Take care, and happy writing to you. I’ll be over here, telling the stories I want to tell.

January, 2019

Well, this one’s later, and it’s because I was waiting to be able to tell you about my new books. Let’s hit the ground running.

As of yesterday, I entered the exciting world of the self-published author. This was a choice made after about a year of thinking about what I wanted from my writing career, and finding self-publishing was closer to my goals and desires. There will be (coincidentally right after I finish writing this update) a post about all of this reasoning, so if you find yourself ever contemplating walking the indie road, you can see how I got here. It was my plan to remain a hybrid writer, but then the small press I had published with radically altered its business plan, and I decided to go all in.

But you want to know about Brazil. đŸ˜€ Brazil was an amazing adventure. I could regale you with stories of all my classroom antics, but those looked remarkably like my actual day-to-day work. I met some awesome professors and attended more Brazilian barbecues than I would have guessed. Lavras was a great town, safe, rural, where I could drink student-grown coffee from the college where I taught, and could see Christmas lights in 90-degree weather.

The author side of the trip was also wonderful. Christopher Kastensmidt set me up to speak at the Instituto Estadual do Livro in Porto Alegre. A sudden summer storm meant we gave our talk about publishing in the US by candlelight–very atmospheric. I met some wonderful editors and authors, and was very impressed by the Port Alegre arts scene. Now, having returned to the States with a taste for Guarana Antartica and pao de queijo, I search for alternative ways to get my fix.

After Brazil, Bryon and I had a wonderful holiday and a relaxing break at home. This was my longest break in thirteen years, one of the benefits of returning to classroom teaching and giving up the administrative piece of my job. I wish I could say I wrote and wrote. I can say I edited and edited! I have 3 books being released in three months, with covers and formatting to arrange, and that, ladies and gentlemen, is one of the disadvantages of going indie. I really am enjoying it, but yes, it does take time.

So, okay, you can read all about the indie choice, but what’s important for this update is that I have put out a book of short stories. The Devil’s Wingman and Other Stories is only available in ebook form, because the print form is currently getting a final edit, but that will be available soon. Every story in this book has been requested by someone who has heard me read it, so I wanted to put them all in one place for those folks. You might enjoy some of the stories too, if shorts are your thing.

Well, I gotta catch up with my January stuff, and then move onto some book support for The Pawn of Isis, which is coming your way on March 19th. More on it and the re-release of The Vessel of Ra forthcoming. Until next month, best of luck to you with your writing goals, and stay warm. Unless you are in Brazil, in which case, stay cool.

Fantastic History #22: Revisiting Shakespeare by Carol Anne Douglas

Writing historical fantasy is fun! I have felt compelled to put established character into my own stories ever since I was a child. I made up new adventures for Robin Hood, Lancelot, and Jo March, as well as for the characters in my favorite television shows.

So it isn’t strange that as an adult I wrote two novels in which Lancelot is a woman in disguise (Lancelot: Her Story and Lancelot and Guinevere) and that when those were done, I found myself writing young adult fantasy novels about Merlin and Shakespeare, starting with my recently published Merlin’s Shakespeare.

I have loved Shakespeare’s plays for many years, so it was natural for me to also read books about his life and literary criticism of his work. When I started doing that, I didn’t realize that I was doing research for fantasy novels.

My primary research for Merlin’s Shakespeare is reading and watching Shakespeare’s plays. He created—or borrowed—so many fascinating characters that I can’t resist using them. I also read the plays of Christopher Marlowe and Ben Jonson and learned about their lives because I knew I would want to use them as characters.

My choice of a villain was easy. How could I find a more interesting villain than Richard III? I love how he tells the audience what he’s doing. “I am determined to prove a villain.” That’s my kind of villain.

The daughter of one of my friends has been an excellent actor since she played Puck at age nine and learned all the lines in the play. She is the model for my protagonist, a high school girl who loves to act. Getting to know my friends’ daughters turned out to be a kind of research for me, though of course I did it because I love them.

I knew who would send my protagonist back in time: Merlin, of course. Having spent years researching and writing about the Arthurian legends, I knew he would be immortal and still active in magical doings.

Once I decided that I would send a teenage girl to Shakespeare’s London and the worlds of Shakespeare’s characters, I had to decide who would guide her in those worlds. Again, the choice was easy. I needed someone who would interest a high school girl and who would say outrageous things, so I quickly decided on Mercutio. But though he would introduce her to other characters, he wouldn’t give her the advice she needed. Who would do that? Macbeth’s witches, of course. They would give her clues in obscure language. Unlike Macbeth, she wouldn’t leap to conclusions but would try to find out what the witches really meant.

I did some research to learn about Shakespeare’s London. My favorite Shakespeare scholar is James Shapiro, who has written many excellent books like Contested Will: Who Wrote Shakespeare?, which shows that the contention that Shakespeare didn’t write the plays didn’t emerge until the nineteenth century, and Shakespeare and the Jews. For information on Shakespeare’s life, I drew partly on Shapiro’s books A Year in the Life of William Shakespeare: 1599 and The Year of Lear: Shakespeare in 1606. Of course, I also tried to learn more about London in Shakespeare’s time by reading books like Ian Mortimer’s The Time Traveler’s Guide to Elizabethan England, which provides a great deal of period detail about what people ate, what they wore, how much things cost, and what shops stood on various streets in London.

I try to avoid anachronisms. I deliberately kept a few in my Lancelot books, primarily having the Virgin Mary be important to Lancelot, although devotion to Mary was generally later than the period in which my books are set. I try not to have hilarious anachronisms, like one prominent contemporary Arthurian novelist’s description of King Arthur and his men eating corn on the cob at the Round Table. (No, it wasn’t supposed to be a spoof.)

Writing Merlin’s Shakespeare and the upcoming sequel, The Mercutio Problem, has been the most fun project I have ever undertaken. What could be more fun than time traveling and having the opportunity to meet Shakespeare’s characters, not to mention Shakespeare himself? Putting lines in Shakespeare’s mouth requires a great deal of chutzpah. Writing historical fantasy allows me to live a magical life.

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Carol Anne Douglas was supposed to have been born in a magical world but somehow ended up in the United States. She is unable to converse with birds and animals, but she spends a great deal of time watching them. Her role model is Nick Bottom, the weaver, in A Midsummer Night’s Dream, because she wants to play all the roles, but only a writer can do that.

In addition to writing Lancelot: Her Story and Lancelot and Guinevere and her young adult fantasies, Carol Anne writes plays, one of which has suspiciously Shakespearean content. Several of her short plays have been read at the Kennedy Center’s annual Labor Day program showcasing local authors’ work. She is also working on a contemporary novel, tentatively titled Shakespeare, Yellowstone, Refugees. In real life, she has spent a great deal of time in feminist organizations.

All of her books are available on Amazon in print and eBook versions.

Lancelot: Her Story

Lancelot and Guinevere

Merlin’s Shakespeare (also available in eBook form from Kobo, Barnes & Noble, and Apple’s IBook Store)