Where Dreams Meet the Business of Writing

Join us in the 2019 A to Z Blog Challenge as we celebrate historical fiction. These posts will also be shared in the weekly newsletter, Pages of the Past, which debuted April 5th.

Keeping the Memories Alive

Luetta and Amanda.jpg

(Not a family photo – simply the inspiration for the two women in my 1928 short story)

It’s always fun as an author when we can use elements of our family history as part of our writing. It feels like you’re keeping a small memory of your beloved ancestors alive – at least in a small fragment. Others may not realize that they’ve read something that was inspired by a family member past, but you as the author know.

I’m finding out that I’m not the only one that enjoys this small tribute to our loved ones. Last year, in a guest post – Mom and Dad May Be Gone but They Live on in My Series – author Lindsay Downs shared about how characteristics of his parents live on in his Upson PI mysteries. (Lindsay is the featured author in Pages of the Past April 19th issue)

You’d think that writing further back in time, say in the time of Mary Queen of Scots, it wouldn’t be possible to include family snippets. Not true. Author Emily-Jane Hills Orford, in writing Queen Mary’s Daughter, was able to use characteristics of her beloved grandmother as a the grandmother in the tale. In the debut issue of Pages of the Past, Emily-Jane shared how her grandmother was a factor in her historical interests. In her author spotlight, she shares:

“I have always been fascinated with the life and times of Mary Queen of Scots and Queen Elizabeth I. Once again, this was a shared interest with my grandmother.”

In my own writing, pieces of family history and characters have been used here and there. One of my Vintage Daze Short Stories I was working on ended up being the most fun when Grandpa Jones (deceased since 1976) pushed his way into the story.

Two small 1928 cookbooks were the original inspiration for ‘Best Thing Since Sliced Bread.’ One I’d purchased in an antique store and one I’d inherited from one of the elderly women that lived next door to us when I was a child. That’s all I knew about the story – is that it would be set in 1928.

I researched events in 1928 to see if there was anything I could work into the story. I saw that in Chillicothe Missouri, the first loaf of sliced bread came out that year. My Grandpa Jones grew up in a small town, Dawn, outside of Chillicothe and his brother, Uncle Scott, had a farm outside Chillicothe where my mom and Aunt Ida were born. Voila! I had the place. The vague outline of a young flapper girl and her quest for cooking began to form.

I also saw that Chillicothe held a popular Chevrolet Day that year. And I read that that’s the year the Hall Brothers Company, in Kansas City, changed their name to their trademarked Hallmark, and started using the new Hallmark logo on their cards. Since I work part time for Hallmark, I knew I wanted to include this part, so the young flapper, Luetta, instantly got herself a boyfriend that just happened to work for Hall Brothers.

The story had been ‘brewing’ for several weeks and I was a few scenes into it, when I happened to be talking to my mom one afternoon. I was telling her about the new story idea and where it was set. “Grandpa would have been a young boy in 1928 though?” I asked.

“Oh, no. He was born in 1908, so he would have been twenty years old.”

“Twenty years old? So if Chillicothe had a Chevrolet Day, he would have been there then?”

“Absolutely,” she replied. “He was a Chevy man his whole life. That’s all he ever drove. I’m sure he would have been there.” Mom continued to tell me a family story that Grandpa had repeated many times throughout his later years. He was driving through town – in a Chevy – and had one arm around the girl in the car. (Pre-Grandma Jones’ days) The constable pulled him over and said, “Casey, you need to use both hands.” Grandpa, the smart-alecky young man that he was, responded, “But, officer, I need one hand to drive with.”

Well, Luetta already had a boyfriend, but now – how to work a young Grandpa Jones into the tale? Luetta’s best friend, Amanda, had to meet Casey so I could work this family story in.

A short time later, my cousin – not knowing I was working on this story- texted me one morning about another Grandpa Jones story. Uncle Alvin had shared about when Grandpa was running a trunk load of moonshine up from Arkansas to Missouri, stowed in the trunk and covered with armloads of hay. He was stopped and the officer said his lights were out. Grandpa played dumb like he didn’t know. The officer opened the trunk asked, “What’s with all the hay?” Grandpa replied, “Why, officer, you feed animals with it.” And the officer closed the trunk and Grandpa went on his way.

Yes, that was written into the short story too. In real life, the Grandpa I knew was such a quiet, unassuming man. Yet here he is forty years later getting a little pushy from the afterlife, pushing his way into the story. No one else will know as the read that these two parts are real life tales, from a Grandpa’s younger days so long ago. But I’ll know and feel good about keeping a small part of his history alive.

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