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Posts tagged ‘Pages of the Past’

Nifty Fifties

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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.

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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’.

Memories and Recollections

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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.”

Librarians on Horseback

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.

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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

 

Intelligence – as in Spies

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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 I.

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

knitting-1430153_960_720

Intelligence – as in Spies

Not everything is as it seems. I’m thinking of the spy-world here, but I need an ‘I’ topic for the A to Z Blog Challenge, so I’m going with Intelligence.

Not being a huge reader in the genres that feature elaborate spy or espionage plots, when I think of ‘spy’ my mind goes immediately to one of my favorite shows growing up – Get Smart. I picture good ole Maxwell Smart pulling off his shoe and turning it over to answer a phone call.

Wikipedia reports on some of the many spy devices used in this series:

In Get Smart, telephones are concealed in over 50 objects, including a necktie, comb, watch, and a clock. A recurring gag is Max’s shoe phone (an idea from Brooks). To use or answer it, he has to take off his shoe. Several variations on the shoe phone were used. In “I Shot 86 Today” (season four), his shoe phone is disguised as a golf shoe, complete with cleats, developed by the attractive armorer Dr. Simon. Smart’s shoes sometimes contain other devices housed in the heels: an explosive pellet, a smoke bomb, compressed air capsules that propelled the wearer off the ground, and a suicide pill (which Max believes is for the enemy).

Agent 99 (Barbara Feldon) had her concealed telephones, as well. She had one in her makeup compact, and also one in her fingernail. To use this last device, she would pretend to bite her nail nervously, while actually talking on her “nail phone”.

Other gadgets they report (bringing back many memories) are:

Gag phones also appear in other guises. In the episode “Too Many Chiefs” (season one), Max tells Tanya, the KAOS informer whom he is protecting, that if anyone breaks in, to pick up the house phone, dial 1-1-7, and press the trigger on the handset, which converts it to a gun. The phone-gun is only used that once, but Max once carried a gun-phone, a revolver with a rotary dial built into the cylinder. In the episode “Satan Place”, Max simultaneously holds conversations on seven different phones: the shoe, his tie, his belt, his wallet, a garter, a handkerchief, and a pair of eyeglasses. Other unusual locations include a garden hose, a car cigarette lighter (hidden in the car phone), a bottle of perfume (Max complains of smelling like a woman), the steering wheel of his car, a painting of Agent 99, the headboard of his bed, a cheese sandwich, lab test tubes (Max grabs the wrong one and splashes himself), a Bunsen burner (Max puts out the flame anytime he pronounces a “p”), a plant in a planter beside the real working phone (operated by the dial of the working phone), and inside another full-sized working phone.

While these are all humorous incidents, they’re not that far off-base. Although I don’t read many contemporary novels with spy activity myself, I have been reading some World War II novels from the authors featured at Pages of the Past, and I’ve come to realize how imperative some of these undercover operations were to the success of the Allies during this war.

When I ran across mention of Phyliss Latour Doyle, a young woman who became a British spy and parachuted behind enemy lines in Normandy. She relayed messages about enemy movements and used the guise of knitting to hide her covert operations.

Although not used in the past, there’s a term for people who hide secret data within ordinary pieces of everyday life – steganographers. The phrase is of more modern origin, but the concept is not. The practice of spies using written codes in routine correspondence and female spies transmitting coded data inside the skeins of yarn in their knitting baskets dates back to the American Revolution.

Linda Harris, on her blog Strong Women in History, tells more about Phyllis Latour Doyle, and other women heroes who used gadgets and tactics to relay information.

But, back to Phyllis Latour Doyle. She was a British spy who parachuted into Normandy in 1944 prior to the D-Day invasion. Pretending to be a poor French girl selling soap, she bicycled throughout the area, chatting with the German soldiers. Then she returned to her quarters, knitting Morse code messages into her yarn. The yarn was put into her knitting basket and delivered through Resistance channels back to the British to help pave the way for D-Day.

How does one knit in code?

There are only two basic stitches in knitting: a purl stitch and a knit stitch. The purl makes a stitch looking like a horizontal line or small bump. The knit stitch is smooth and looks like a low V.

By using a single purl stitch and then three in an alternating row together, one can transmit in Morse code of a dot and then a dash. Other knitters tied small knots into the yarn with each knot’s placement denoting a unique code.

You can read more about this topic here:

https://www.stuff.co.nz/national/63516307/pippas-astonishing-story-recognised

https://www.amightygirl.com/blog?p=25020&fbclid=IwAR0Av5pTzRFynJ2dba3Kbiln2Umwpd7GiiVaValRJQWuURV9SKkfMw2VB-0

For several excellent books about real-life female spies for adult readers, we recommend “Code Name: Lise” (https://www.amightygirl.com/code-name-lise), “Madame Fourcade’s Secret War” (https://www.amightygirl.com/madame-fourcade-s-secret-war), and “A Woman of No Importance” (https://www.amightygirl.com/a-woman-of-no-importance)

 

Humor

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 H.

Humor

When I sat down two months ago and made my list of titles to use for the A to Z Blog Challenge, I had a different word for today. But, by the time we got to April, our world has changed. We’re all coping with something we never thought would turn our world upside down like it has. So, for today, I’m changing what I’d intended to write about and we’re going with humor. Because I think we all need an extra dose of humor in our lives right now.

humor1

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Getting the Details Right

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 G.

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

typewriter-1170657__340

Getting the Details Right

One of the difficulties in writing historical fiction is getting the details right. Not simply ‘right’ as in accurate, but right as in the amount of detail that you include in your manuscript also.

This is always the challenge. It’s like walking a balance beam between two points. We need to include enough details to bring a sense of the setting and the time into the story. We need enough to make the reader feel that they’re seeing the story unfold before their eyes. We need to make the story authentic and believable.

But we also don’t need to include so much detail that it’s as if we’re writing a non-fictional narrative about the time, including every piece of information that we’ve learned in our marvelous foray into the researching rabbit hole.

Juggling between these two is the where the art of historical fiction lies.

I can’t claim to be an expert on this. I’m learning more. Day by day. Week by week. Year by year. But I am far from the ultimate source of knowledge. Probably twenty years from now I’ll still be in a learning curve.

To explain better, here are some words from Elizabeth Crook that sums up the predicament perfectly. They’re from her article, Seven Rules for Writing Historical Fiction.

Rule #2: Dump the Ballast.
In order to write authentic historical fiction you must know a period of time well enough to disappear daily through a wormhole to the past and arrive at the location of your story. There you must understand the customs and use the manners perfectly enough to be accepted by people walking the streets (if there are streets) and to dress yourself, and make a living. This said, the major trick of writing good historical fiction is not in compiling research or knowing the details, but in knowing the details to leave out. Try to avoid overwriting. Keep perspective on what will interest the reader. Historical fiction writers tend to be overly conscientious and excited by minutia: if you succumb to excess, and put in too much detail, then go back later and take some of it out. Think of your novel as a boat that is about to sink from having too much weight on board: some of the loved items will have to go. Toss them over with impunity! Throw them out! If a rare, surprising statistic, or a moving anecdote, or an obscure reference you saw to an interesting thing that happened in the county adjacent to the one where your story takes place, does not advance your plot or provide your reader with important information about your characters, then it is irrelevant to your story and must go overboard.

Keep in mind that the care, and time, it took to assemble all that you have just thrown out has not been wasted. It was necessary to gather these facts and assess their worth in order to know which ones to save.

One step at a time. One rule at a time. One lesson at a time. Coupled with practice, practice, practice – write, write, write. And we get better with each paragraph, with each page. Our stories become more polished. The details we include become so seamlessly interwoven into our tales and our readers beg us for more. Then…we’ll know we’ve gotten the details right.

Fightin’ Forties – Rationing

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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 F.

Fightin’ Forties – Rationing

rationing

Wessel’s Living History Farm’s web site is chock full of information and video recordings about farming life in the 1920’s, 1930’s and 1940’s. Here are some snippets of what they have to say about rationing, a wartime part of life that our country had to live with for many years.

If you have internet access, check out their page at:
http://www.livinghistoryfarm.org/farminginthe40s/life_08.html

Just a word of warning, you’ll probably get lost there for several hours reading up on the fascinating tidbits and listening to the live interviews they have on a vast variety of old-time subjects.

“During the Depression of the 1930s, Americans “did without” because they didn’t have jobs to buy food and clothing. During World War II, Americans again “did without,” this time because of the war effort. Rationing affected rural America particularly.

The federal government set up a rationing system in 1942 and limited purchases of sugar, coffee, meat, fish, butter, eggs, cheese, shoes, rubber and gasoline. Silk and newly invented nylon were used to produce parachutes, and so women around the world found it hard to get fashion stockings.

Other commodities were in short supply because trade routes were disrupted. Shellac, for instance, was produced in India and was used for building products and music record discs. Because of the war in Asia, trade with India was disrupted, and so new records were hard to come by.”

“Farm production, however, was vital to the war effort, so farmers got extra rations of gasoline and other staples. Yet, it was hard to get new machinery as factories were retooled to produce tanks rather than tractors.”

“Here’s how rationing worked: Each member of the household got a ration booklet, usually distributed at the local school. Each booklet had stamps in it that translated into a certain amount of the commodity being rationed. For instance, there were only enough stamps for one person to buy 28 ounces of meat per week, 4 ounces per day. Merchants collected the stamps when you bought something, and when the stamps were gone so was the item for that week.”

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Edwardian Era

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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 E.

Edwardian Era

As historical fiction authors, many of us are drawn to certain eras or decades to set our tales in. And some hop about in time, effortlessly moving from one period to another without a hitch. In looking at different time periods, and as today is an ‘E’ day, we’re taking a peek at the Edwardian Era.

While a shorter time period, and not as well known as the Victorian Era, the changes that took place in this time are necessary to know if you’re going to set a story here. The Victorian period covered a longer span of time – from 1837 to 1901, the years Queen Victoria was on the throne. The Edwardian Era, the time her son King Edward VII reigned, was from 1901 to 1910, sometimes extending to the start of The Great War (WWI).

So, what was different between these two eras? Samuel Hynes described the Edwardian Era as “a leisurely time when women wore picture hands and did not vote, when the rich were not ashamed to live conspicuously, and the sun really never set on the British flag.”

During this time, women still wore very tight corsets, or bodices, and dressed in long skirts. However, this was the last time when women wore corsets in everyday life. When more afternoon tea parties began being held, especially in the upper classes, corsets fell out of fashion and flowing feminine gowns decorated with lace, tulle and feather boas became the rage. Long kid gloves, flat pancake hats- bigger in size and decorated with feathers and plumes- and lace embellished parasols were more popular than the heavier, ankle-length, dark velvet gowns of the Victorian Era.

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A cartoon in Punch (1911) compares changes in fashion between 1901 and 1911. “The dowdy voluminous clothes of the earlier date, making the grandmother an old lady and the mother seem plain, had been replaced by much simpler looser wear producing a sense of release for all three females. (From Wikipedia)

Women’s suffrage societies and marches saw a proliferation during these years. The campaigning became more noticeable and large parades were common, despite women often being arrested at these events. The visibility of the cause seemed to energize the movement, which is a whole entire topic on its own.

Literature began to change during these years. Novels and short stories proliferated and popular genres seemed to morph from ‘highbrow literature’ to popular fiction. Many authors that wrote during this time are still popular and well known names today, such as Rudyard Kipling, A.A. Milne, James Joyce, Beatrix Potter, George Bernard Shaw, and others.

One site, Two Worlds, posted a piece about ‘A look at the Edwardian Era and World War I.’ Their take of how the Edwardian Era was different from the Victorian Era sums it up as this:

“So the difference between the Victorian Era and the Edwardian Era in its strictest meaning, is that the Victorian Era was the time in which Victoria was on the throne (1837-1901) and the Edwardian Era was the time in which her son, Edward VII was on the throne (1901-1910). But as history tells us, the spirit of the age is what defines an era, not just the monarch. There are some things that both eras have in common, but there are some major differences. The Edwardian Era was different in its morals, having a more lax standard in its code of conduct, compared to Victorian society, which was incredibly conservative. Furthermore, the Edwardian Era is when we start to see more and more implementation of the standard inventions used in our modern world today. By the late 1890’s it became more common for homes of the middle to upper class to have electricity, phones, indoor plumbing, and even a car. These are but just a few examples of course, but the Edwardian Era is one of the finest examples in modern history of an era truly in the crux of two very different worlds.”

Does all of this give us all we need to know to go write a story set in Edwardian times? No, definitely not. There’s still a lot of research needed. But hopefully this gives you a few clues about pieces you’ll need to research and know to incorporate tidbits into your tale, making for a believable and enjoyable story.

Happy writing – in whatever era you choose to write about!

 

If you want to know more about what it was like living in these years, there’s a video segment on YouTube, filmed in 1973, where Mary Parkinson chats with three ladies who grew up at the turn of the century as they discuss what Christmas’ were just after the turn of the century. Christmas in early times

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Characters from Real Life

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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, introduce the letter C.

Characters from Real Life

characters

As authors, this is a common procedure. The characters in our tales often inherit some semblance of traits from those in our real-life sphere. It may only be in bits and pieces – one quality from one person, the persona of another, the looks of still another. We whip the fragments together as if in an authorly blender and, voila. Presto! A new person exists.

Sometimes the attributes of our fictional – or not so fictional – characters are even less disguised.

This practice of borrowing snippets from our everyday life to infuse our writing with realistic people or places is not a new occurrence. Charles Dickens also ‘borrowed’ parts of his real-life experience for his stories and books.

In Shmoop’s study guide on Charles Dickens, they report that Dickens met Maria Beadnell in 1830 and fell in love. Apparently, Maria’s parents were well-to-do and weren’t enamored with the barely 18-year old young Dickens who was working as a freelance reporter at that time. They sent Maria off to school in Paris in their attempt to discourage the young couple. Their efforts succeeded and the relationship ended in 1833. However, it appears that Maria appeared again twenty years later “in Dickens’s thinly-veiled, not-so-nice portrayal of her in Little Dorrit.”

However, according to Wikipedia, it reports that “…his first love, Maria Beadnell, thought to have been the model for the character Dora in David Copperfield.”

Not having read either work, I’m not qualified to agree or dispute either claim. But, now I’m intrigued and may look both works up to see if the characters in both books are similar or not.

In The Life of Charles Dickens, he does admit to using a real name in Oliver Twist. “One of them came up, in a ragged apron and a paper cap, on the first Monday morning, to show me the trick of using the string and typing the knot. His name was Bob Fagin; and I took the liberty of using his name, long afterwards, in Oliver Twist.”

Another young woman showed up in several of Dickens’ characters. After he married Catherine Hogarth (Kate) and they started their family, Dickens’ brother, Frederick, and Catherine’s sister, Mary, moved in with them. Dickens was fond of his 17-year old sister-in-law, and grieved for her after she died in his arms after a brief illness in 1837.

“Dickens idealized Mary – the character he fashioned after her, Rose Maylie, he found he could not now kill, as he had planned, in his fiction, and, according to Ackroyd, he drew on memories of her for his later descriptions of Little Nell and Florence Dombey.”

If Dickens can do it, so can we. Although, I have a feeling we authors are already ‘borrowing’ from real life without Dickens’ permission. Maybe we shouldn’t give away our trade secrets though. Now, the people we know will be reading our works with a closer eye and wondering…Hmmmm, is this me?

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Building a Log Cabin

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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, introduce the letter B.

log-cabin-1377058__340

Building a Log Cabin

We’re historical fiction authors. We don’t need to know how to build a log cabin.

That’s what I thought. Until I started plotting out my next book. Goss Hollow is loosely set around my great-great-great-great-Grandma, Martha “Patsy” Goss. She, along with her husband, Benjamin Franklin Goss, and several grown children and grandchildren, left Georgia in a wagon train in 1851 and moved to Big Fork, Arkansas.

Building a log cabin is not necessarily part of the overall plot – but, it is part of their everyday life. As the wagon train arrived at the 40 acres B.F. Goss’s father, Thomas Goss, won in a land lottery in 1832, this activity would have been one of their primary first duties. They needed to build shelter for their families in these dense, wooded Ozark hills.

I discovered that while I didn’t need to learn every aspect about building a log cabin, there were some features that I needed to find out so in order to create a believable story.

  • How long did it take?
  • How did they cut the logs?
  • How were they put together?
  • Were some logs preferred over others?
  • What kind of structure did it make for the family to live in?
  • How did living in a log cabin (few windows, large chinks between the logs, drafty, cold in severe winters etc.) affect their day-today life?

I’m still researching and don’t have all the answers I want to have yet. But it’s okay. I’m only about 2,000 words into the story and the family is still living in Georgia. But I did discover some fun pieces of information. So, if you’re an author writing a pioneer type story, or will have a character building a log cabin, here’s a few snippets and links for you.

Ducksters, an education site geared towards children has these fun facts.

Interesting Facts about the Log Cabin

  • The first log cabins in the Americas were built by emigrants from Sweden and Finland. Log cabins had been built in these countries for thousands of years.
  • One man working alone could build a small log cabin in a few weeks. It went much faster if he had help.
  • If the roof was high enough, the pioneers often built a loft where someone could sleep.
  • A flat stone was often placed at each corner of the log cabin to give the cabin a firm foundation.
  • The doors to log cabins were usually built facing the south. This allowed the sun to shine into the cabin during the day.

Judith Flanders wrote an excellent article, Log Cabin History: The Secrets of Making a Home. In it, she shares a more detailed history about the log cabin styled homes and also about the earlier days of America. For instance, she tells that only one home in six owned a spinning wheel, which was interesting to me. Somehow, I pictured every early American woman sitting around in the evening working on her wheel.

She also tells that Lincoln Logs, the children’s building blocks we children spent many an hour creating magnificent structures with, were first produced in 1916. I had no idea they’d been around for so long. I also didn’t know that they were designed by architect Frank Lloyd Wright’s son. The things one can discover when they’re not in search of that specific information!

What I was most excited to find was this description of log cabin living, written in 1822. National Center posted it. Here’s an excerpt:

…We had a window, if it could be called a window, when, perhaps, it was the largest spot in the top, bottom, or sides of the cabin at which the wind could not enter. It was made by sawing out a log, and placing sticks across; and then, by pasting an old newspaper over the hole, and applying some hog’s lard, we had a kind of glazing which shed a most beautiful and mellow light across the cabin when the sun shone on it. All other light entered at the doors, cracks, and chimney.

Our cabin was twenty-four feet by eighteen. The west end was occupied by two beds, the center of each side by a door, and here our symmetry had to stop, for on the side opposite the window were our shelves, made of clapboards, supported on pins driven into the logs. Upon these shelves my sister displayed, in ample order, a host of pewter plates, basins, dishes, and spoons, scoured and bright. It was none of your new-fangled pewter made of lead, but the best of London pewter, which our father himself bought of the manufacturer. These were the plates upon which you could hold your meat so as to cut it without slipping and without dulling your knife. But, alas! the days of pewter plates and sharp dinner knives have passed away.

To return to our internal arrangements. A ladder of five rounds occupied the corner near the window. By this, when we got a floor above, we could ascend. Our chimney occupied most of the east end; there were pots and kettles opposite the window under the shelves, a gun on hooks over the north door, four split-bottom chairs, three three-legged stools, and a small eight by ten looking-glass sloped from the wall over a large towel and combcase. Our list of furniture was increased by a clumsy shovel and a pair of tongs, made with one shank straight, which was a certain source of pinches and blood blisters. We had also a spinning-wheel and such things as were necessary to work it. It was absolutely necessary to have three-legged stools, as four legs of anything could not all touch the floor at the same time…

Although by now I’ve probably share more than you’ll ever want to know about building a log cabin, here’s a fun little video to watch. It’s a short 5-minute time lapse video that shows one man building a log cabin by himself. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WmYCUljsrDg

Now the test begins, to see if I’ll be able to take this new-found knowledge and incorporate the snippets into Goss Hollow in a realistic manner. We’ll find out at the end of the year when I finish the book.

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