Where Dreams Meet the Business of Writing

IWSG

Today I’m writing for the Insecure Writer’s Support Group’s blog hop. The first Wednesday of each month, we write in inspiration to a question posed by the group’s administrators. We don’t need to write in response to the question posed, but I like to use their query as the springboard for the monthly post.

This month’s question is:

Writers have secrets! What are one or two of yours,
something readers would never know from your work?

The awesome co-hosts for the June 3 posting of the IWSG are Pat Garcia, J.Q. Rose, and Natalie Aguirre!

IMG_4584[1]

Rockhound Hoarder

What? You want me to spill my secrets? Right here in print?

Now, most months I play along with IWSG’s Question of the Month. But this month, I think you are taking things a little too far, Insecure Writer’s Support Group. If I have secrets that I am not going to tell my best friend, I’m certainly not going to put it out here in the virtual world to live forever.

However, as horrified as I was when I initially read the question, I did give it some thought. What can I share with you here that won’t be cause of future embarrassment? What tidbit can I share about myself that won’t get me in trouble with anyone?

Rocks.

Yes, I will admit to this secret obsession. I love rocks.

Big rocks. Little rocks. Pretty rocks. Interesting rocks. Shiny rocks. Dull rocks.

I love rocks!

Almost every trip I make, I haul rocks home. Sitting in my center console are rocks I collected the year I lived in Arizona. I moved to Texas twelve years ago and the rocks remain. They were pretty. One was shaped like a miniature pyramid. One had pretty stripes. One had…well, you understand that they’re all fascinating in their own wonderful way.

I come home from visiting my dad in Arkansas…yep…there’s rocks in the trunk to put into my flower bed out back.

Trips to local creeks with friends here in Texas…fossils! Gotta bring some of them home!

This isn’t a new fascination. I remember family hikes we took when we lived in Glendora, California. On Saturday mornings we’d drive up to the foothills of Mt. Baldy. I wore a zippered sweatshirt with those two large pockets in the front. And by the time we were headed back to the car, I was loaded down with my loot for the day.

So there you have it. A secret about me that I haven’t shared with any of you – until today. Sorry it wasn’t a juicer secret.

There are some great tips here – not only for aspiring authors, but for those of us that have been writing for a while too.

Four Foxes, One Hound

This week: What advice would you give to an aspiring author?
I actually have a list. There have been many who talk to me about writing. I also have had many young writers around or in touch with me, so here is what I tell anyone who asks for advice:

Read, read everything.
Know and delve into the genre in which you want to write, but don’t limit your scope. I’ve heard editors, publishers and agents say that the first question they ask potential clients is, “What do you read?”,  and if the would-be writers  say that they read little or even none, they know that the person’s work will not  be good before they read the first paragraph. I had it happen with a potential interviewee; he said that he didn’t read much and never read others in the genre of his book. He said that his wife/co-writer…

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IWSG

Today I’m writing for the Insecure Writer’s Support Group’s blog hop. The first Wednesday of each month, we write in inspiration to a question posed by the group’s administrators. We don’t need to write in response to the question posed, but I like to use their query as the springboard for the monthly post.

This month’s question is:

Do you have any rituals that you use when you need help getting into the ZONE? Care to share?

The awesome co-hosts for the The awesome co-hosts for the May 6 posting of the IWSG are Feather Stone, Beverly Stowe McClure, Mary Aalgaard, Kim Lajevardi, and Chemist Ken!

deadline

Does a Deadline Count?

Alas, I have no fascinating ritual that I can call to mind and share to inspire others with. I read the question and had a huge moment of silent space.

Upon further reflection, I realized that my greatest motivator when I need to ‘get in the zone’ is simply having a deadline. That propels me forward like nothing else.

I’ve also discovered since the Coronavirus has invaded our world and our lives, that having a finite time period to accomplish a writing task is most effective for me. When I have a specific open time slot – Tuesday afternoon when I’m not working, or Saturday after the newsletter is done, or Sunday morning before I call Mom – that is when I’m most productive at juggling writing with other real-life activities.

Since Coronavirus, when I’ve been home with very few working hours over the past five weeks…ehhh…I’m not so good at it. With all these extra writing hours available to me, I should have been pumping out the articles and finishing up the half-completed projects.

That hasn’t happened – possibly reinforcing that I do really require that deadline.

Yet, in a way I’ve been more at peace with myself since life hasn’t been as frantic. I’m learning to be easier on myself if I don’t accomplish all my active brain thinks I should get done. A happier, more relaxed me is also a healthier me – in body and spirit.

So maybe I haven’t been in the ‘writing zone’ as much lately, but I’ve been in the ‘life-zone’, and I think I’ll count that as a good thing.

atoz badge 2020

Join us in April as Writer’s Zen celebrates the world of historical fiction, blogging along with the A to Z Blog Challenge. We’ll be posting our way through the alphabet, a letter at a time – every day except Sunday.

If you like historical fiction, there are links at the end where you can follow Pages of the Past on Facebook or sign up for the weekly newsletter. Each week we feature an article about writing historical fiction, spotlight a historical fiction author, and share great reads in a variety of time periods. There are also occasional short story contests and other fun highlights.

Today, introduces the letter O.

Get Pages of the Past delivered to your inbox every Friday!

Join us on Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/groups/184527085517941/

oral history

Oral Histories

As authors of historical fiction, often the information we glean during our research phase is from oral histories of people that have first-hand information of people, places, or events of long ago. Following is an excerpt from a class I had on writing your family history that has some tips about interviewing people.

Interviews

Are you interviewing family members for their stories? Do you think about it, but don’t get around to it? Not sure where to start?

Here’s some tips for interviewing people to glean information and tales of the past.

  1. Do it now. This is I think one of the most important. Oh, how I wish I could go back in time fifteen or twenty years and listen to more stories from Grandma. I’d listen more intently, not with just half my attention. And I’d take notes. And record her! We think we’ll have time. Next month. Next summer. When I’m not so busy. And then – it’s too late. So do it now.
  2. Plan multiple visits if possible. You’re not going to get everything in one visit. You’re not going to cover 60-70-80 years of memories in an afternoon. The best time I had with my mom was when I took a week and flew to California. I picked her up and we drove to Arizona to see my kids and grandkids. We spent several days there and drove back. I took notes the whole week. One memory begets another. It seems that once someone takes a trip back in time, other memories start surfacing over the next few days and weeks.
  3. Don’t do too much at once. Plan for breaks. Several hours is a good period. If you try to go all day, it will be fatiguing – to you and to the person you’re interviewing. The visit with my mom worked well, even though it was over a period of many days because we weren’t constantly ‘interviewing.’ It was conversations in between driving, visiting, eating, relaxing, etc. Most likely the person you’ll be interviewing is older, so be considerate. Realize that this process may be tiring for them.
  4. Make notes, and record if possible. I didn’t record any conversations with my mom, but I have a legal pad full of notes. Unfortunately, when I go to look at those notes four or five years later, some of my cryptic notes that made so much sense at the time now look like nonsense and I have no idea what I meant by my scribbles. Most people now have phones that can easily – and unobtrusively – record your interviews.
  5. Ask ahead of time if there are photographs available that you can look at. If this doesn’t come up until you’re with the individual for your interview session, it may not be possible to access photographs. Often, they’re buried deep in a closet or in a storage bin. If they know ahead of time, it will be easier for them to have photographs available, which are a great source of prompts.
  6. Ask open ended questions. Open ended questions, those that don’t require yes or no answers, gather more responsive answers. Instead of asking ‘Did you like being raised on a farm? (Answer – yes or no – and you’re done), ask ‘What was it like being raised on a farm?”
  7. If possible, visit at their home. Especially if they’re elderly. They may be more comfortable at home in their own environment. Also, being home may prompt memories that wouldn’t surface if you’re sitting in a loud, busy restaurant for your interview.
  8. Be Patient. Many elderly people speak slowly and softy. Some are hard of hearing. In our excitement about getting to the gold nuggets we’ve been searching for; we don’t want to rush full speed ahead. We may need to slow down a notch or two to match their energy levels.

 

The Legacy Project has six terrific questions to ask:

  1. If a young person asked you, “What have you learned in your ____ years in this world,” what would you tell him or her?

  2. Some people say that they have had difficult or stressful experiences, but they have learned important lessons from them. Is that true for you? Can you give an example?

  3. As you look back over your life, do you see any “turning points”; that is, a key event or experience that changed the course of your life or set you on a different track?

  4. What would you say you know now about living a happy and successful life that you didn’t know when you were twenty?

  5. What can younger people do to avoid having regrets later in life?

  6. What would you say are the major values or principles that you live by?

 

atoz badge 2020

Join us in April as Writer’s Zen celebrates the world of historical fiction, blogging along with the A to Z Blog Challenge. We’ll be posting our way through the alphabet, a letter at a time – every day except Sunday.

If you like historical fiction, there are links at the end where you can follow Pages of the Past on Facebook or sign up for the weekly newsletter. Each week we feature an article about writing historical fiction, spotlight a historical fiction author, and share great reads in a variety of time periods. There are also occasional short story contests and other fun highlights.

Today, introduces the letter N.

Get Pages of the Past delivered to your inbox every Friday!

Join us on Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/groups/184527085517941/

1950s

Nifty Fifties

What makes a fictional novel fall into the ‘historical fiction’ category? There seems to be some debate about the time frame that nudges a novel into the historical fiction genre. Wikipedia states:

Definitions differ as to what constitutes a historical novel. On the one hand the Historical Novel Society defines the genre as works “written at least fifty years after the events described”, while critic Sarah Johnson delineates such novels as “set before the middle of the last [20th] century … in which the author is writing from research rather than personal experience.”

If we use the Historical Novel Society’s definition, any fictional tale set before 1970 would be considered historical fiction. I’m not really sure how I feel about using that criteria. Because I could easily write a story set in the 1970s and it would be debatable about whether it’s historical fiction or not. It’s borderline on the cutoff date, but it’s the “writing from personal experience” part that troubles me. I could write a story from personal experience in the 1970s, and what I’m not sure about is how I feel about coming that close to the edge of ‘historical’.

Now the 1950s, or the ‘Nifty Fifties’ as they’re sometimes called, I couldn’t write from personal experience. Granted, I was born then (barely – 1958), but I have no recollections of my first two years of life. Whew! I’m saved on that one. Although those years seem familiar enough that it seems like I lived the 1950s. But I think that’s because of the stories I heard from Mom and Dad about their living through the 1950s – and the massive amounts of Happy Days reruns I devoured as a child.

What makes the 1950s different from other generations or eras?

TELEVISION

A big difference in family life was the popularity of the television set. According to Wikipedia:

The 1950s are known as The Golden Age of Television by some people. Sales of TV sets rose tremendously in the 1950s and by 1950 4.4 million families in America had a television set. Americans devoted most of their free time to watching television broadcasts. People spent so much time watching TV, that movie attendance dropped and so did the number of radio listeners.  Television revolutionized the way Americans see themselves and the world around them. TV affects all aspects of American culture. “Television affects what we wear, the music we listen to, what we eat, and the news we receive.”

MUSIC

Music played a huge part in this decade. Rock and Roll entered mainstream America, much to the consternation of many of the older folks. Elvis Presley, Ricky Nelson, Chuck Berry, Jerry Lee Lewis…

The new music differed from previous styles in that it was primarily targeted at the teenager market, which became a distinct entity for the first time in the 1950s as growing prosperity meant that young people did not have to grow up as quickly or be expected to support a family. Rock-and-roll proved to be a difficult phenomenon for older Americans to accept and there were widespread accusations of it being a communist-orchestrated scheme to corrupt the youth, although rock and roll was extremely market based and capitalistic.

The American folk music revival became a phenomenon in the United States in the 1950s to mid-1960s with the initial success of The Weavers who popularized the genre. Their sound, and their broad repertoire of traditional folk material and topical songs inspired other groups such as the Kingston Trio, the Chad Mitchell Trio, The New Christy Minstrels, and the “collegiate folk” groups such as The Brothers Four, The Four Freshmen, The Four Preps, and The Highwaymen. All featured tight vocal harmonies and a repertoire at least initially rooted in folk music and topical songs.

This influence of the American folk music revival was a great lead in to the 1960s popularity of that musical style.

FILM

The film industry was booming in the 1950s. Marilyn Monroe, Marlon Brando, Lucille Ball, Sopia Loren, and more. But who can ever forget the iconic male figure of this time – James Dean?

WAR

The 1950s was a time of conflict referred to as the ‘Cold War’, involving rival superpowers of the United States against Soviet Union influence.

The Korean War, which took place from 1950 to 1953 also affected many families across the nation. Wikipedia reports:

The war left 33,742 American soldiers dead, 92,134 wounded, and 80,000 missing in action (MIA) or prisoner of war (POW). Estimates place Korean and Chinese casualties at 1,000,000–1,400,000 dead or wounded, and 140,000 MIA or POW.

SOCIETY BEGINS TO CHANGE

With all these changes, family life and society also began to change.

An article, The 1950s Lifestyles and Social Trends: Overview, discusses many of the changes that came about in this decade. They write:

The 1950s was an era of great upheaval in the United States. By the millions, Americans who had just survived two decades of economic depression and war left the cities for the greenery and open spaces of the suburbs. Suburban towns sprang up like crabgrass across the country. With these instant communities came a new American lifestyle that included suburban malls, fast-food restaurants, TV dinners, drive-in movies, and an oversized, gas-guzzling car in every garage.

If I were going to be writing a story set in the 1950s, there’s a lot more research I’d have to do. But – I probably won’t be doing this. It’s just too close in proximity to years that I have memories of, and I don’t like being that close to something termed ‘historical’.

atoz badge 2020

Today, introduces the letter M.

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depression era

Memories and Recollections

The excerpt below doesn’t deal specifically with writing historical fiction. It’s from a workbook I created for a class I was teaching on writing your family stories. However, since we often refer to people’s memories of a time past when we’re researching for writing historical fiction, I thought the topic would apply to our roles as historical fiction authors.

Memory

Whether we are writing memoir, historic documentation of a family history, or creating a fictional tale based on true beginnings, we rely heavily on memory – which has been proven to be imperfect.

Our own memories, even though we think we have perfect recall, may err drastically from the truth of what actually happened. The family members that we interview may be spot on in the memories they think of to tell you. Or, those moments may have been distorted by the passage of time and the many experiences that have occurred since.

A lot may vary just because of our own individual perceptions of an event. I was talking to a co-worker about this subject one day. There were three of us in the room discussing some now-forgotten work drama and how another employee’s version of what happened differed so drastically from theirs.

I commented that even if someone came in immediately after our conversation and recorded details about what happened – they’d get three different stories. There may be much in common, but we all pay attention to different details. One will recall the conversation with more accuracy. Another may not remember much at all because their mind was far away, dwelling on one of their own problems and they weren’t paying attention. Another may remember the clothing that was worn, or the perfume that filled the room, while with someone else the clothing or its color may not have even registered.

Next, add ten, twenty, or sixty years to the timeline. How accurate is that memory going to be?

In Writing Life Stories, Bill Roorbach tells a story that his sister likes to frequently re-tell. It involves a younger brother, sucking on a blue toy bolt until it stuck to his lip. The sister finally wrestled it off and when it came loose the younger brother’s lip swelled to tremendous proportions and everyone freaked.

Except…the author claims that his sister wasn’t there. He was. The bolt was yellow, not blue. And he and his mother both laughed about it. He writes,

“Memory is faulty. That’s one of the tenets of memory. And the reader comes to memoir understanding that memory is faulty, that the writer is going to challenge the limits of memory, which is quite different from lying.”

He also writes,

“Even facts distort: What’s remembered, recorded, is never the event itself, no matter how precise the measurement…”

Just be aware that our individual perceptions and the passage of time may alter what we try to convey as historical fact. Sometimes a bit of a disclaimer worked into the narrative may help smooth over some of the possible differences in account.

  • As far as I recollect…
  • The conversation went something like…
  • My ex – let’s call him Doofus James…
  • The story of how he got his first job bootlegging may be lost, but one can assume…
  • Though the details have been lost through the years, it most likely…

All in all, since we’re most likely not out looking for journalistic awards for this work, the important thing to know is that recording our family’s legacy is what’s important. As Carol Lachappelle, in Finding Your Voice Telling Your Stories, shares: The poet Anne Sexton wrote, “It doesn’t matter who my father was, it matters who I remember he was.”

Join us in April as Writer’s Zen celebrates the world of historical fiction, blogging along with the A to Z Blog Challenge. We’ll be posting our way through the alphabet, a letter at a time – every day except Sunday.

If you like historical fiction, there are links at the end where you can follow Pages of the Past on Facebook or sign up for the weekly newsletter. Each week we feature an article about writing historical fiction, spotlight a historical fiction author, and share great reads in a variety of time periods. There are also occasional short story contests and other fun highlights.

Today, introduces the letter L.

Get Pages of the Past delivered to your inbox every Friday!

Join us on Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/groups/184527085517941/

packhorse

Librarians on Horseback

Most people think of librarians as sedately settled behind their counters assisting patrons, in the stacks shelving books, or in the back office ordering new selections. While we picture them busy working away amidst the silent reams of paper surrounding them, we don’t often think of them outside of the four enclosing walls they work in.

This isn’t always the case. While bookmobiles have been part of a library’s history over the years, with a few still operating, from 1935-1943 the WPA funded a project for the residents of rural Kentucky, where many librarians delivered their printed products on horseback.

Wikipedia reports:

The first Pack Horse Library was created in Paintsville in 1913 and started by May F. Stafford. It was supported by a local coal baron, John C.C. Mayo, but when Mayo died in 1914, the program ended because of lack of funding. Elizabeth Fullerton, who worked with the women’s and professional projects at the WPA, decided to reuse Stafford’s idea. In 1934, A Presbyterian minister who ran a community center in Leslie County offered his library to the WPA if they would fund people to carry the books to people who could not easily access library materials. That started the first pack horse library, which was administered by the Federal Emergency Relief Administration (FERA) until the WPA took it over in 1935. By 1936, there were eight pack horse libraries in operation.

Trails could be difficult and dangerous, except where the WPA had completed its farm-to-market road program.

The Pack Horse Library Project was headed by Ellen Woodward at a federal level. The project ran between 1935 and 1943. “Book women” were hired by the WPA and worked for around $28 a month delivering books in the Appalachians via horseback or on mules. They delivered both to individual homes and to schoolhouses. The WPA paid for the salaries of the supervisors and book carriers; all books were donated to the program.

There were around 30 different pack horse libraries who served around 100,000 different people in the mountain areas. The libraries also served around 155 schools in these counties by 1937.

I thought the whole subject of packhorse librarians was fascinating. I saw one historical fiction book on the subject, The Bookwoman of Troublesome Creek. I had it on my wish list, and luckily (for me) a friend bought it and shared her copy with me. Being in my favorite time period, the 1930s, of course I enjoyed the book.

While researching to write this post, I discovered another fictional tale based on the same subject, The Giver of Stars. I also saw that there was some dispute about the second book borrowing many of the concepts and plot points from the first. (Disclaimer: I haven’t read The Giver of Stars yet.) Both books were published in 2019, The Bookwoman of Troublesome Creek in May, and The Giver of Stars in October.

A post that goes into detail about the similarities is here. I have to admit, there are a few instances cited that seem specific and the odds of them being coincidences seem slim. But yet, others, don’t seem to be copying at all. For instance, both ladies receive a quilt for a wedding present. In 1930s Kentucky? What couple didn’t receive a quilt for a wedding present? Another example is that patrons in both books ask the librarian for issues of Woman’s Home Companion. One of the most popular publications in that time, and a hand reference for women? That point doesn’t convince me either.

But looking closer at some of the claims, the while timeline issue, as a writer, doesn’t concern me. Yes, Richardson, author of The Bookwoman of Troublesome Creek, began her research and writing earlier (researching in 2015 and first manuscript to her agent July 2017).

By then, Moyes, author of The Giver of Stars, was already researching and writing. She reports that she saw a 2017 Smithsonian article about the packhorse librarians that prompted her to write her book. By July/August 2017 she was already writing and by the time the November 2017 book description was published, Moyes already had done research trips and made a Facebook post about her newest work.

So, what does all of this have to do with us as historical fiction authors? Naturally, it can nudge us to be careful with our work, so we don’t end up in the same dispute. But for myself, I think the most important part is to document, document, document! Keep records of your research. Keep records of your trips. Make public Facebook posts that can document that you’ve been working on this, even as another book on the same topic is being released.

There are no new topics. There are no new main plots. Now, the twists and turns and they way we deliver the stories – yes, those are ours.

Despite the dispute between the two authors, and yes, I still want to read the second book, and despite my cautions to be careful to document my research in the future, the subject of packhorse librarians is still fascinating.

You can read more about them, and see some fabulous vintage photographs on these two sites:

The Fierce Female Librarians Who Delivered Books On Horseback During The Great Depression

 

Horseback librarians during the Great Depression

 

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