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****Sara Dahmen TINSMITH 1865 is #71 in the never-ending series called INSIDE THE EMOTION OF FICTION where the Chris Rice Cooper Blog (CRC) focuses on one specific excerpt from a fiction genre and how that fiction writer wrote that specific excerpt. All INSIDE THE EMOTION OF FICTION links are at the end of this piece.
Name of fiction work? And were there other names you considered that you would like to share with us? TINSMITH 1865, which was originally just called SMITH.
Has this been published? And it is totally fine if the answer is no. If yes, what publisher and what publication date? September 3, 2019 by Promontory Press Inc. https://www.promontorypress.com/
What is the date you began writing this piece of fiction and the date when you completely finished the piece of fiction? Well, I usually get my first drafts done in 6-10 weeks. The editing process is pretty involved and can add up to 1-2 years of additional work, depending. Each book is different. But on average a book can be written and then ready for print about 1.5 – 2.5 years after I finish the first draft.
Where did you do most of your writing for this fiction work? And please describe in detail. I write mostly in my office. It’s a lovely light-filled niche of a room with eastern windows that take up the whole wall, and additional windows to the north. The desk is small, so I can’t clutter it too badly, and the chair is covered in a well-worn slipcover. My closet is overfull of books – generally they are about metalsmithing or Native American studies. When I open the windows, I can hear the wind in the long grass and the chatter of the chickens we keep near the garden. At night, my husband turns on Frank Sinatra in his office, and we work in silence near one another. He does accounting, though.
What were your writing habits while writing this work- did you drink something as you wrote, listen to music, write in pen and paper, directly on laptop; specific time of day? I have NO writing habits other than to wait for the moment that feels right to start, and then the book overtakes me and rules my life and thoughts for weeks. It is a very unscientific and eclectic process.
What is the summary of this specific fiction work? TINSMITH 1865 revolves around the life of a young immigrant woman named Marie who travels west with her tinsmith father and brothers. They find themselves deep in debt, and her brothers join the Army to earn regular pay. While they’re gone, tragedy strikes, and Marie is forced to learn the tinsmithing trade – something that was not common during the mid-1800s. She already felt like an unworthy replacement in the family after her mother’s death. Now Marie struggles as a woman in a man’s role while also fighting debt, blackmail, and trying to cobble together a sense of belonging even as she tries to understand who she is and where she belongs.
Can you give the reader just enough information for them to understand what is going on in the excerpt? Our protagonist, Marie, the lone daughter under her father and brothers who are all tinsmiths, tries her hand at some tinkering for the first time, a little on the sly, during the family’s trip to the Dakota Territory.
Al stares at the small bowl of tin, waiting and watching. The shift and slow buzz of bubbles starts in the coffee pot, filling the air between us. The beans are overly toasted, but the deepness of the brew makes my mouth water.
“Ah … nature calls.” My brother suddenly announces his bodily functions, stands abruptly, and heads off into the tall grass on the edge of camp. I am grateful he thinks to find privacy. Some of the men around the wagons have no issue with marking wheel spokes with their own urine, just like a dog. Like Tom does.
The coffee simmers and sighs, but I do not hear the telltale sound of a true boil. Though the drink is not ready, the tin soldering is. The small beads of tin shot run, liquefied and shining like brilliant quicksilver. Al is still not back, and I try to cinch in the curiosity yanking at my senses. Wouldn’t it be something if I might surprise him with a repaired mug? He’s teased me enough about it.
Slipping over to his side of the fire, I take care to not rustle my skirts too much, so that I do not wake Tom. Surely, it is not so difficult. I have heard them talk about smith work my entire life, watched them assemble tricky orders out of the corner of my eye, and fondled the tools with my own hands when no one looks.
Still, I have not handled the metal itself. Is there a good trick to it? An artisan’s magic? I pick up the mug closest to me and try to find where it needs repairs.
There. Along the edge of the handle on the base. I see the fine crack in the seam, where the burr has pulled away from the bottom, and the soldering has worn away. No wonder it was leaking beer last night.
I press my lips together and glance at Al’s small tinker kit. There’s a battered tin container of rosin flux, and I open it carefully, wondering how much should be used. Pinching a small chip, I drop it inside the interior of the mug, where any globes of excess will be easily hidden. Placing the piece on an edge of the iron grate over our fire, I dip a scoop of molten tin out, and quickly dump it into the heating body.
Is that it? Exhilaration and tension choke my thoughts, chasing away the other worries and concerns festering in my mind. I peer into the mug, the morning fire blazing along my cheeks and my neck. Is it going to be warm today or am I just nervous? I push my lips together hard and tight, and jiggle the cup again.
“Take it off the fire.”
I jump. Al is at my shoulder, glancing inside the mug. He wordlessly hands over my slab of sheep wool, and I take the heated piece from the flames. Inside, the tin is wetly soft, spinning along the edges and curing into the crack.
“Blow on it, Marie,” he instructs, his hands hovering over the cup. I send cool breath into the fresh solder, and watch it harden almost immediately. There are small chunks of leftover rosin inside, a light brown residue clinging to the metal.
Glancing up at him, I give a little smile. “And that’s it?”
He has a lopsided grin, an endearing trait that kept all the young women running to him back in Chicago. To me, he looks forever like the little toddler I had to chase to save from falling into the fires and touching the hot coppers.
“That’s it. You’ve done a good tinker job.”
“How long were you watching me?”
“How long does it take to piss?”
Why is this excerpt so emotional for you as a writer to write? And can you describe your own emotional experience of writing this specific excerpt? To be frank, none of my writing is an emotion experience for me – it might be for my characters, which brings on emotion for their sake, but not for me, personally. They feel like such separate people I can empathize with them, but that’s it. But I love the scene above for a few reasons. First, it shows us Marie’s character. Even full of self-doubt, she tries something that’s forbidden, and goes against the grain in her own way. Secondly, it offers us a glimpse about her relationships with her brothers, especially Al, and by reference, Tom. But I remember when I first learned how to solder and work with tin and copper, and it is really exhilarating and nerve-wrecking the first time you put your hands on it. So I wanted to infuse some of that in the scene.
Were there any deletions from this excerpt that you can share with us? And can you please include a photo of your marked up rough drafts of this excerpt. Hmmm…I can’t recall any major deletions. The biggest change is that there used to be an additional brother, Lou, who would have been in the camp, too. But he wasn’t interacting in this scene anyway. Unfortunately I don’t have any marked up rough drafts. My editor didn’t make any changes to this scene.
Other works you have published? I self-published a book called Wine & Children several years ago under a dare – my husband said I should try a romance. It was just for fun.
Anything you would like to add? Thank you for the opportunity to talk about my fiction! Very grateful!
Sara Dahmen is a metalsmith of vintage and modern cookware and manufactures pure metal kitchenware in her garage in Port Washington, WI for her company, House Copper & Cookware. She has published over 100 articles as a contributing editor, has written for Edible and Root + Bone, among others, and spoke at TEDx Rapid City. Her historical fiction series, Flats Junction (Promontory Press, Inc), with Widow 1881 and Tinsmith 1865 as the first novels, is optioned for multiple feature films with Dawn’s Light, while her non-fiction book on cookware, Copper, Iron & Clay, is due out in Spring 2020 (William Morrow/Harper Collins). When not sewing authentic clothing for 1830’s reenactments, she can be found hitting tin and copper at her apprenticeship with a master smith, reading the Economist, and spending time with her husband and three children.(Left) Sara is also in development of an unscripted television series in partnership with Dawn’s Light highlighting her career as a woman coppersmith.
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