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Moonshiners

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.

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Moonshiners

gma_gpa2.jpgMoonshine has become a romanticized part of our Jones family history. Papa Goss, my great-father, was the moonshiner in the Arkansas Ozarks, in Myrtle, outside of Harrison. Casey Jones, my grandfather, was the ‘runner’, driving down to pick up a trunk load of moonshine and running it back to Chillicothe, Missouri. During these trips down south, Casey met the moonshiner’s daughter, Beatrice Goss.  In 1935 they married, and the rest as they say, is history.

But Grandma, even though she was the moonshiner’s daughter, was not fond of that part of her family history. She also wasn’t fond of Grandpa’s use of the ‘shine’. It was many years, several children, and many, many arguments later – but Grandma’s stubborn streak prevailed and alcohol was no longer part of our family history. By the time I arrived, alcohol never passed Grandpa’s lips and he was an active and faithful deacon of the stone church on Glendora Avenue.

But yet, many of us grandchildren find that we have a soft spot in our hearts for the moonshine part of our family’s past. After all, it is how Grandpa and Grandma met.

If you’re writing a story set during Prohibition, or even in the post-Depression years after Prohibition was repealed in 1933, the illicit part of alcohol – moonshine and speakeasies – may be part of your character’s lives. There’s a whole culture around moonshining. Here are a few fun sites that can give you a peek into what times were like for them.

https://www.thevintagenews.com/2018/11/26/moonshine-and-cow-shoes/

https://www.alcoholproblemsandsolutions.org/women-bootleggers-during-prohibition-there-were-many/

http://ozarkhistorybuff.com/ozark-moonshine-alive-well-ozarks/

http://harrisondaily.com/news/museum-musings-moonshine-was-still-big-usiness/article_ceccae28-2a55-11e9-b291-1377d2fb1d09.html

https://allthatsinteresting.com/moonshine-stills

moonshiners

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Language and Idioms

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.

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Language and Idioms

Was It Even Used Then?

Words and phrase can be something that easily trips up historical fiction authors. Common phrases used today can easily sneak into our period writing. I was caught on this just last week. I brought a snippet from an early 1930’s short story to my writing group. In it, the characters went to one of the just released Shirley Temple movies. One of the members asked, “Would they have called it ‘the movies’? I remember my Grandma always talking about going to the ‘picture shows’.” Yikes! She caught a good one, one that had slipped by me completely.

Granted, some instances are fairly minor and may not raise many issues with readers. But sometimes it can be a glaring problem. I’ve also seen where readers report that an issue was major enough that they shut the book and don’t read any further.

What do you do if you’re unsure? One of my favorite sites is the Online Etymology Dictionary. You can search a word for its earliest known use. For instance, if I type in ‘heebie-jeebies’, I learn:

heebie-jeebies (n.)

1923, said to have been coined by U.S. cartoonist Billy De Beck (1890-1942), creator of “Barney Google.”

So, I can definitely use this in my short story set in 1928. While the word most likely wouldn’t have been used in 1922, if I’m writing a tale set in that year, I can probably still get by with it. It’s going to be close enough to the time period that most readers would still feel as if they’re in the time. However, Mittie Ann, the girl that came to Texas in the 1850’s in a covered wagon definitely wouldn’t have used that phrase.

How Much Period Language to Use

Another part of language that becomes a balancing act is how much period language to use. M.K. Tod, on A Writer of History, speaks of using dialogue in historical fiction. He writes:

Dialogue – dialogue that is cumbersome and difficult to understand detracts from readers’ enjoyment of historical fiction. Dip occasionally into the vocabulary and grammatical structures of the past by inserting select words and phrases so that a reader knows s/he is in another time period. Don’t weigh the manuscript down or slow the reader’s pace with too many such instances. And be careful. Many words have changed their meanings over time and could be misinterpreted.

In ‘7 Tips on Accuracy and Authenticity’, Susanna Calkins, with a Ph.D. in history, talked about how accurate her first novel, A Murder at Rosamund’s Gate, was going to be. She wrote:

When I was first dreaming about my story, even before I had worked out the plot or characters, I knew one thing for sure: By gum, this novel would be accurate. Every detail, every word, would be accurate. Historians everywhere would use my book in their classes and would revel in my accurate tale.

That idea lasted about two seconds.

Not only would using accurate language make my story unnecessarily pendantic and cumbersome, but many seventeenth-century words and phrases don’t translate readily today. Certainly I could say “The footpad bit the Roger, tipped the cole to Adam Tyler, and then took it to a stauling ken.” But I have a feeling modern readers might not understand that I was saying that a thief has stolen a bag, passed it to a fence, who in turn sold it to a house that receives stolen goods. Unless my editor let me write a companion volume with glossary and explanatory footnotes, this isn’t too feasible.

Just as in life, where sometimes an issue becomes a balancing act, so is it in writing historical fiction. We need to use enough language of the times, to help frame the time period and help the reader feel as if they’re really there in the midst of the tale, without being so accurate that as Susanna Calkins says, it becomes “pendantic and cumbersome.” And, we also want to make sure that the phrases we’re using to help set the tone of the story are accurate and of the period we’re writing.

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Keeping the Memories Alive

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

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(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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Ideas

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Ideas

The elusive story ideas – where do they lay in wait, ready to spring forth and germinate? They surround us. Ideas for historical stories, too. For what is historical fiction but a story that’s set in the past instead of current or future times.

Many writers I talk to have an abundance of story ideas. They complain instead of not having enough time to write the stories they want to. I commiserate with them. I, too, have more ideas in mind than I’ll probably ever finish. About three years ago I finally put them together in a document and named it ‘Backburner Books’. A lady I spoke with last week keeps her ideas on index cards. And the massive pile of cards is threatening to collapse.

But yet, there are times when despite the wealth of ideas that swirls in an eddy around our existence, we have trouble coming up with an idea. Here’s a few places where I find ideas for plots, characters, or settings.

Cemeteries: I love visiting cemeteries. The older the better. Often as I’m wandering through the graves, I’ll spot an intriguing name that leads down the path to a story. I met Mittie Ann at Medlin Cemetery in Trophy Club, Texas. I’ve wanted to write her story since, and I have a notebook full of Medlin research. I’ve written some short stories and articles about her, yet the book remains on my ‘Backburner’ list. Through my research I also discovered other fascinating women that I’d love to write about. Some day.

Vintage Items: A trip to an antique store, museum, or merely perusing all the collectibles and antiques that fill my shelves hands me more story ideas that I can write in a year. I finger the embroidered dishtowels made from feed sacks and wonder about the woman that made them so many years ago. ‘Don’t Call my Handiwork Frivolous’ won first place and got me a $50 Barnes & Noble gift card at our local writer’s conference last year. A name on a flyleaf in a vintage book led to another story. A depression-era milk glass candy dish started off another tale. Old cookbooks – I’ve written more than one story using a vintage cookbook as the jumping off point to start a new tale.

Photographs and Postcards: That’s all I need is a handful of old photographs and postcards and I’m off and running. An added plus, is that they’re in my budget. But with the internet now, you don’t even need to actually purchase them. All you need is for the photos or postcards to spark an idea.

Research: Ah, the rabbit hole of research – so much fun. When I surface sometimes days later, I not only have the research I was after for my current idea (sometimes, often I’m still lacking and need more!), but I come out with another handful of ideas for other stories or books.

Chance or overheard conversations: Sometimes all you need is a chance conversation, or an overheard snippet, and *whammo* you’re off and running. What if….? If he or she said….

Old Publications: Old newspapers or magazines provide awesome story ideas. I had a copy of some 1904 issues of Horticulture magazine. When I was browsing through them, I found a fascinating report of a Mr. Lawson that feigned grief over his wife’s demise to get a floral pillow delivered. Imagine the florist’s surprise when a very much alive Mrs. Lawson opened the door. Mr. Lawson was sentenced to a month in the House of Correction over the charge of the larceny of one bunch of Lawson pinks. I couldn’t get this idea out of my mind and a short story, William’s Blunder, was born.

Television Shows or Movies: Sometimes one scene or one line will prompt a whole scenario in your brain. Not a replica of the show or movie that you’re watching, but an idea can germinate from your entertainment. One of my favorites is Josh Gates in Expedition Unknown. Oh my! The fascinating snippets of information that he unearths and the unique places he visits, and amazing people that he finds. After watching one of his hour long shows I have another few leads to either write about, or work into one of my current works in some way. I often joke that I want his job. Until we reach an episode where he’s eating bugs or other drinking some unimaginable concoction – or diving in frigid water that will kill you in less than a number of minutes if you didn’t have the proper gear. Then, I’m perfectly fine sitting at home behind my computer writing stories about people, places, and items from the past.

 

Here’s a link with some wonderful writing prompts and ideas for historical fiction writers. I haven’t used any of these yet, but there’s easily a half dozen photographs that I’m dying to use in some way.

https://thejohnfox.com/2016/06/historical-fiction-writing-prompts-and-ideas/

Ana Howard wrote a nice article – 5 Tips: Gathering Ideas for Historical Fiction

https://www.editing-writing.com/5-tips-historical-fiction-writing/

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History vs. Historical Fiction

AtoZ2019tenthAnn

History vs. Historical Fiction

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One comment I hear frequently when I mention writing historical fiction is, “Oh, I wouldn’t like that. I don’t like history.”

Actually, neither do I. Although if you checked my browser and saw how many countless hours a year I spend researching different historical facts and events, you wouldn’t come to that conclusion. But I was always one, that if a history class was optional, I was not taking it.

Some may think its splitting hairs, but while history and historical fiction are related, they are not the same thing. Borrowing two quotes from Cindy Vallor’s site, Thistles & Pirates, these sum it up better than I can say it.

History and historical fiction are necessarily not the same thing. The purpose of history is to narrate events as accurately as one can. The purpose of historical fiction is to enable a reader through the perspective of characters in the story to feel that she or he is present at the events. Such a goal obviously requires some modification of the events. –Andrew M. Greeley

History strives for reality, for what is provable, documentable. Historical fiction should strive for the story that underlies reality and thus become an imagined reality. — David Nevin in A Note on Methods and Sources in 1812

While we’re speaking of historical fiction, if you’re interested in this genre, you’ll want to check out Thistles & Pirates. Vallor links to over a hundred articles about historical fiction. There are so many on that list that I’d like to read. I bookmarked her page so I can go back and read more articles that intrigue me. Her page is a wealth of information.

Happy history hunting!

 

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Family Tales

AtoZ2019tenthAnn

Family Tales

Varieties of Family Stories

photographs-1209751__340 pixabyYou’ve set out to write your family story. But you keep hearing different genres thrown about. What genre does your family story fall into? It could be any of these.

Memoir: A memoir is highly personal and uses a narrow lens, looking at a snapshot in time. Now the snapshot may cover a period of many years, but it’s not a birth to now telling.

Autobiography: An autobiography is also personal. You are the main character, and this will cover a longer scope of time, with a wider lens than a memoir would have.

Biography: A biography’s main character would be someone else, not you as the author. It could be a significant family member. The scenes and events would be filtered through their connection to the main character.

Historical Fiction: Historical fiction is just that. It’s historical and may be based on actual events and happenings, but it will be largely fictionally created. When I wrote my story, Fat and Sassy, it was based on my grandparents and my mom and her siblings when they were young. I had a lot of real events and memories that I drew from, but had to embellish so much to create a tale, that I ventured into historical fiction. It’s not a true family history, as it didn’t go into my grandparents earlier days, or their family tree before them.

Characterization: Bringing Our Ancestors to Life

class-526350__340A common complaint from readers and editors is that the character didn’t come alive. We want our characters to come to life on the pages, whether they’re real ancestors we’re writing about or fictional ones that we’ve created. What’s involved in bringing a character in our story to life? What do we need to do to create compelling characters so readers want to keep reading?

There are several methods to add layers of depth to our characters – real or imagined- so that readers will connect more closely with the people on our pages. We want readers to be able to see, touch, feel, and hear the people we are paying tribute to with these tales.

Use Details

The details we use are key to breathing life into the people that walk the pages of our stories. Use the details to show what’s happening in their world.

Where do they live? What does the area look like? What kind of home do they have?

What do they see? Are they surrounded by wooded areas or farms? Do they live in a congested, urban area full of traffic and commotion?

How do they feel about it? If a move across the country is involved, are they excited at the prospect of adventure, or nervous about re-adapting to a new environment?

What do they look like? Did a gray, tight bun always adorn her head? Did he have shoulder-length, scraggly locks? Was he as thin as a rail? Are feet always moving in a soft-shoe little dance? Was a cake or pastry always near at hand, as evidenced by their ample girth?

I utter a mention of caution about the details. While they are essential to help bring the story alive in your reader’s imagination, we also want to use the details and adjectives sparsely. Too much description will overwhelm the reader and keep the story from moving forward in an easygoing flow. Think of the details as a sprinkling of seasoning over a fine dish. You want just enough to accent, but not so much that it becomes the main ingredient.

Show How They’re Relatable

Find and show elements of your ancestors that are relatable. As humans, we’re not totally all evil or all sweetness. Even the sternest authoritarian of the past must have had some redeeming feature. If we can find the dichotomy of their lives and bring it out in our tales, as characters in the advancing plot of life, they’ll be more relatable and real.

Can you dig up information that reflects on what made them the way they were? Were they abandoned at a young age? Working at the mills since the age of 8? Mother of 12 children in a span of 14 years? Was great-great-grandmother a Civil War victim, widowed at a young age as the family farm was pillaged and burned? What in their past motivates them and supports their actions and attitudes?

 

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Elements of Historical Fiction

AtoZ2019tenthAnn

Elements of Historical Fiction

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Five or seven? Or more? How many elements of historical fiction are there? It’s said that the five main elements of a story are:

  • Setting
  • Plot
  • Characters
  • Conflict, and
  • Theme

A Writer of History wrote that there are seven elements. To the five listed above, they added two other elements:

  • Dialogue
  • World building

But then, they went on to add that historical fiction has one additional challenge. They write:

All writers of fiction have to consider seven critical elements: character, dialogue, setting, theme, plot, conflict, and world building. While every story succeeds or disappoints on the basis of these elements, historical fiction has the added challenge of bringing the past to life.

You can see their excellent post at A Writer of History.

Help Teaching has a fun little video clip about the elements of historical fiction. It’s geared towards students, but I still enjoyed watching it. It’s only a minute and a half. Check it out. See if it prompts any ideas for you.

https://youtu.be/2EpSrNHQOGU

Now I’m off to go contemplate about how I can put more effort into making sure that my writing brings the past to life.

 

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celebrating historical fiction, sign up here.

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