Where Dreams Meet the Business of Writing

Posts tagged ‘Writers’s Zen’

Diaries as Keyholes to the Past


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 debuts April 5th.


Diaries as Keyholes to the Past

My fascination with historical diaries and journals began the summer of 2005. I can pinpoint the time because that’s the summer I took a two week driving vacation to see my dad, stopping at eight family cemeteries along the way. Because – antique stores, museums, and cemeteries – don’t the best vacations include these elements? And driving – because in an airplane you can’t spy the ‘Museum next right’ sign, turn on your blinker, slow down and exit.

Coming home from Arkansas, we detoured north, through a corner of Nebraska. I’d never been in Nebraska. And of course, I spied a sign for a sod house museum and came to a screeching halt in their parking lot.

Three books joined us in the car when we left. Naturally.

One book was Mollie: The Journal of Mollie Dorsey Sanford. Mollie began her diary in Indianapolis on March 23, 1857. She wanted to record the family’s journey west to Nebraska City. January 15, 1866 is the last entry and the diary, or journal, covered her courtship, her marriage, the Civil War years and gives us an in depth look at a young woman’s life during this period.

On February 1, 1895, she wrote:

“I have been very ill, and in my convalescence have determined to recopy my old journal, as the original by going through a flood while camping in the mountains is almost obliterated, and only can be deciphered by myself.

…It is of more value to me than it could possibly be to my children, but I desire that it be kept in the family and treasured as a relic of by-gone days, not from any especial merit it possesses, but because I do not want to be forgotten.”

Two other books I purchased were related. Butter in the Well: A Scandinavian Woman’s Tale of Life on the Prairie, is a historical diary of the years 1868-1888. The other is Prarieblomman: The Prairie Blossoms for an Immigrant’s Daughter, a historical diary from 1889-1900. Each of these are fictional diaries, but are written from extensive family research. They each include many actual family photographs and copies of pertinent records.

I was hooked. Reading through all three books was like peeking into a keyhole that led directly to the past.

Another fascinating book I discovered more recently is The Union: Diaries, Memoirs and Letters of the Civil War. In one letter, Edwards writes to Father and Mother on July 29, 1863:

“…We went to one place and they had about 10 or 12 hives of bees. One of my tent mates and myself thought we should like a little to help a hard tack down so we asked the man of the house which hive was the best one and he said that he guessed that there was not much in any of them but we were not going to give it up. So we went and got a good pile of cotton (there is pleanty of cotton in this states) and set it a fire and got it to smoking then went and picked out a good hive and smoked the bees out and we had a nice mess of honey.

I did not have a very heavy load when I came into camp last thursday. Everything I had was my pants, shirt and cap, Gun & equipments. I lost everything else and my boots I had to throw away. They were all worn out and hurt my feet pretty bad. I came all the way from Jackson bare footed (about 60 miles). (I drew some shoes from the gov yesterday)…”

Then, when I obtained a five year diary written by Flora Caldwell Luper, from the years 1848-1954…that was my own personal treasure and years later I’m still doing a happy dance over that one! But that’s different story for another day.

These written accounts that survive long past the lives that lived them provide great details that we can use as we create historical fiction with realistic touches. And even if you don’t need the specific research for a certain era or period that you’re writing about, it’s still intriguing reading that keeps me at least coming back for more.

Here are some online links with some great resources and diaries that have a lot of information.





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Catalogs of a Vintage Nature

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Catalogs of a Vintage Nature

Today’s post is a double-duty missive. We’ve just gotten started with April’s A to Z Blog Challenge, but it’s also the first Wednesday of the month when I post for the Insecure Writer’s Support Group.

The Insecure Writer’s Support Group has an optional question each month. April’s question is:

If you could use a wish to help you write just ONE scene/chapter of your book, which one would it be? (examples: fight scene / first kiss scene / death scene / chase scene / first chapter / middle chapter / end chapter, etc.)

I usually write to the question put before us, but this month, since the A to Z theme for Writer’s Zen is historical fiction, I’m going to forego the ISWG prompt. Unless…I could use this granted wish to help me in a historical scene…

But, pending that possibility, I’m going to jump into C is for Catalogs – Catalogs of a Vintage Nature.

Not usually a person that spends much time perusing the latest catalog of retail delights, it amazes me how many hours I can lose browsing through old catalogs – old as in 70-80-100 years ago.

Amazingly, catalogs in the US began earlier than the well-known Sears & Roebuck vintage editions. Collectors Weekly reports that “Benjamin Franklin is thought to have produced the first catalog in colonial America. His 1744 publication listed 600 academic books available for purchase. Over 100 years later, luxury jewelry retailer Tiffany & Co. published the first mail-order catalog in the United States, known as the “Blue Book.”

Collectors Weekly goes on to tell about Aaron Montgomery Ward, who was a traveling salesman in the late 1860’s. After traveling the rural areas for many years, hawking wares for various Chicago-based dry-goods companies and seeing how much the small rural stores marked up the merchandise to the detriment of the customer, he had the innovative idea about establishing a mail-order general-goods business. In 1872 he started Montgomery Ward & Company, launching with a single sheet he published himself that described 163 available items. Customers would order what they desired and pick up the items at the nearest railroad depot.

It would be many years later before Sears got into the action. In 1888, Richard Warren Sears, a railroad station agent, purchased a discarded shipment of watches. He started his mail-order business selling the watches through a catalog. The next year, Alvah C. Roebuck joined him. In 1893, they renamed their venture Sears, Roebuck & Company and in 1894 they produced a 322-page catalog. Richard Sears illustrated the cover. According to Sears Archives, on the cover he proudly proclaimed: “Book of Bargains: A Money Saver for Everyone,” and the “Cheapest Supply House on Earth,” claiming that “Our trade reaches around the World.”

The first catalog included products such as sewing machines, sporting goods, musical instruments, saddles, firearms, buggies, bicycles, baby carriages, and men’s and children’s clothing. The 1895 catalog offered groceries, stoves dolls, and eyeglasses.

By 1905, the Sears & Roebuck catalog also featured full color and texture wallpaper samples, along with a swatch of material used in their men’s suits. The next year they added paint samples and by 1904 through 1940 you could even purchase read-to-build kit homes through the mail order catalog.

You can read Collectors Weekly report about catalogs here.

The Sears Archives ‘History of the Sears Catalog’ is here.

For some great shots of old catalogs and pages from old catalogs, check out the Flickr Historical Catalogs group.

Thanks for stopping by and checking in on vintage catalogs. If you have any information to add on this fascinating subject, please feel free to share.

vintage seeds

Third Times a Charm #IWSG #Nano #Nanowrimo

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. If we want to. 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 we were asked, ‘Win or not, do you usually finish your NaNo project? Have any of them gone on to be published?’


Third Time’s a Charm

National Novel Writing Month, also known as NaNoWriMo – or NaNo as many call it – descends every November, sending scads of writers into a writing frenzy. Today, the monthly posting day for our IWSG blog, coincides with Nano’s kickoff.

The goal sounds simple. Write 50,000 words in a month. Only a mere 1,667 words per day. You write fast and furious. Banish your inner editor to oblivion for 30 days. Then, after the New Year, take your project and begin the editing and polishing process. For your month long effort, you end up with a nice novella, or a good start on a larger novel.

Only 1,667 words a day. Piece of cake. It’s easy. Right?

It is. Until you try to put it into practice.

Unfortunately the rest of the world doesn’t stop for our writing marathon. Jobs continue. Family life continues. Children and spouses still want fed. They still want clean clothes. Pets still want attention. And then there’s the holidays beginning to edge out all available time. Thanksgiving, with its many family obligations is towards the end of the month and Christmas is breathing down our neck like a demon. We’re trying to write, knowing that we should be buying gifts, addressing cards, and any of the other holiday tasks that multiply like breeding rabbits on steroids.

F&S coverIt took me three times before I completed the goal in 2013 and hit 50,000 words. Or, to be more precise, 50,333 words. My project that year was Fat and Sassy, a story of my grandparents and their six children (one of my mother), mostly set in the early 1940’s. Taking tales of the past – mostly from my mom – and fictionalizing them into this book was very rewarding. It took another three years though before the project was completed and published.

In 2009 I tried Nano for the first time with Three Bags Full. I made it to 19,000 words. In 2012 I tried again with Prissy and Paige and made it to 24,625 words. Yikes! Better, but still not there.

Then…ta-da! In 2013 I finally made it!

I participated for the next three years, and made it each time. In 2014, A Better Life A to Z made it to 50,602. In 2015, My Wildest Dream hit my highest mark at 57,823. In 2016, Peonies & Peppermint reached the goal at 52,087. Alas, a computer crash wiped out A Better Life and My Wildest Dream. Since I had a pre-publication obligation to Amazon to upload My Wildest Dream by a certain date, I frantically wrote for several weeks to try to recreate that book. (Writing more furiously even than I did during Nano!) If I failed to upload the book, I’d lose the ability to offer prepublication deals – for a year I think. So there’s a book there, but I don’t promote it and need to either take it down, or add to it.

This year, starting today, I’m working on another project, Every Day’s a Good Day, which I’ve talked about writing for three years now. It’s time. And I need the kick in the pants that Nano gives us. And I’ll make it again – even if I have to use a dirty little trick. The book is about working in a retail environment and maintaining a positive attitude. ‘Retail’ is a word that will come up often. So, if instead of writing ‘retail’ I write ‘retail-job-that-sucks-the-living-life-out-of-mere-mortals’…I get 11 words instead of 1. That should help me stretch and reach that goal of 50,000 words in nothing flat!


Check out more Insecure Writer’s Support Group posts here.

A to Z: ‘N’ is for NATURAL CYCLES

It’s April! That means it’s time for the ‘BLOGGING A to Z CHALLENGE’. Everyday this month (except Sunday) bloggers will be blogging to a theme, using different letter of the alphabet – running, of course, from A to Z.

I’m blogging about WRITER’S ZEN: Where writing and meditation meet.

Meditation and positive affirmations can directly benefit our lives in many aspects. It also can benefit our writing — in the creative aspects, our productivity, our career as an author, our feelings about writing and much more. I’m making a conscious effort to make more time in my life for meditation. I’m also practicing using some of these techniques to improve my writing. Through the A to Z blog challenge, I’m sharing some of mine with you.

Read through the affirmations for each subject. Some will probably resonate with you better than others. Maybe all of them will. Maybe none of them will. We are all on our own paths, having diverse needs at different times. Even on our own individual journey, we still require different words and messages on different days.

Pick one or two thoughts that speak to you. Sit quietly for a few moments. Repeat the affirmations to yourself. Say them aloud. Reflect on how these thoughts affect your life and your writing. Are there roadblocks in your life that is stopping the goodness from entering? Are we in any way allowing this roadblock to exist? Are we putting it there ourselves? Open your mind to allowing new possibilities to present themselves.

If a phrase feels more needed, copy it onto an index card or post-it note. Keep it with you, in the car, or on the computer. Repeat throughout the day, reinforcing the message.

Give it a try! Let me know if these help your writing, or if you have any thoughts on affirmations that would be useful to use in your daily life.

Happy Writing!


A to Z: ‘N’ is for NATURAL CYCLES

There are seasons in my writing. I embrace the seasons as a natural cycle.

WINTER: It seems there is no growth or germination. Words lie in my brain, not making their way to my keyboard. Real life intrudes, keeping me from productive writing. Ideas lie fallow, awaiting their time.

I embrace the winters of my writing. I know it is only part of the cycle. I know growth and harvest follow in natural cycles.

SPRING: The spring sun shines on my writing, warming the cold winter ground. Ideas germinate, grow and emerge.

I embrace the springs of my writing – seeing fresh new growth and opportunities.

SUMMER: The hot summer sun threatens to parch my flourishing garden. I prevail and stand strong. I discover sources of shade and shelter. The summer rains nourish my words, keeping them flowing and producing.

I embrace the summers of my writing – triumphing, despites summer storms and heat.

FALL: I relish and delight in harvesting the bounty of my work. My attention to my writing has produced abundance in my life.

I embrace the falls of my writing. I enthusiastically reap the rewards from my creativity and efforts.


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