Tag: Being an Author

Historical Research – Not For The Fainthearted

Research is part of the fun in writing historical novels. For me it’s often an excuse to go on a rabbit trail—in other words, “squirrel!” The heroine of my story in Mending Sarah’s Heart (which releases in the Thimbles and Threads Collection in July) is a seamstress.

I typed the words. “Sarah pushed one last pin into the sleeve.”

But wait, did they have pins in 1884?

I Googled the history of pins. While not the most accurate resource, Google is a start.

The short answer is yes, my heroine would use pins. But I didn’t stop reading there. The design and manufacturing process caught my attention. Pretty soon, I found myself reading about something completely unrelated.

Google is a secondary source because it gathers information from other places and presents it in some type of order. I like order. Most reference books are also secondary sources. They present the information with some modern interpretation, whether intended or not.

I wanted to get information directly from the source. Primary source research. For the late 1800’s, newspapers give me a glimpse of everyday life. Not only do they contain local happenings, but most include national news, housekeeping tips and health advice. Advertisements give ideas of what people considered normal.

A wonderful archive of historic newspapers is available at coloradohistoricnewspapers.org. I can read them from my recliner.

I decided to set a story in Silverton, Colorado in 1877, two years after the town was founded. To pretend I was there, I could read all of the local newspapers for that year.

But those newspapers hadn’t been scanned to the website. So, I went to the local historic archive (which is only open on Thursdays) and met some nice people. They told me that the Silverton 1877 newspapers were housed in the library on Microfilm.

Then I went to the library, where I learned that the microfilm resided in the basement with the black mold. No public allowed.

A year later, I checked back. Still no luck.

This fall, I read in the current paper that the mold had been cleaned up. Yay.

So, I went back to the library and learned that the Microfilm now sits at the archive building where I started my search a few years before. It was a Wednesday and the archives are only open on Thursday.

Primary source research is not for the faint hearted.

Meanwhile, I gather tidbits from the newspaper in nearby Lake City because those are online. Some of the articles are confusing without context. And some of the papers didn’t scan very well, causing my eyes to cross.

Makes me appreciate the secondary source research, where someone else has already located and read the microfilm. They added background information and put it in a context that makes sense to me, the modern reader.

I will continue to study both and enjoy the meandering path they take me on. Because, who doesn’t want to know that Mrs. Green came into town for New Years’ Eve or the price of morphine laced tonic?

Living Large at the Laundromat

Due to unexpected circumstances, I spent a day at the laundromat near my daughter’s apartment in Philadelphia. Not in the suburbs, but in the city. I would say inner-city, but she assures me that her neighborhood isn’t sketchy, and it seemed alright to me.

As a writer, I took pictures of everything. Someone checking the security camera footage would have found me suspicious. But the camera only served as a canvas for graffiti and place to drape extension cords.

Nothing on the outside tipped me off to the treasure trove of oddities that awaited inside. The door was purple. Nothing better than a purple door.

A young woman, who seemed quite normal, sat outside on the steps. I soon discovered why. On this hot August day, the two fans and air conditioning unit appeared to be inoperable. Good thing I live in New Mexico and know how to dress for the weather.

The walls were covered with seventies vintage posters about keeping the laundromat clean. The cartoon character looked like the guy who explained to school children about the four food groups and how library catalogs worked.

An eclectic assemblage of thrift store art work, dusty artificial greenery, and trophies from days gone by decorated the space.

And a rug covered a piece of plywood on the floor. A trapdoor perhaps?

There were normal things too, like magazines and books for people who had forgotten to bring their phone to entertain them while they waited. And change and laundry supply machines.

While there, I had a conversation with an odd man who told me how much he paid for his house (a row house, apparently without a washing machine) and how property values were rising. I kept him talking, because I might write him into a story someday.

Apparently the latest trend in laundry bags are big, over-the-shoulder IKEA bags. Had people stolen them from IKEA? The cute young women with the bags didn’t seem the type. So, I checked IKEA’s website and found them for sale, even listing laundry as a possible use.

I, however, didn’t have one of the handy blue bags. I had a roller cart I’d given my daughter to schlep her groceries from the car to her apartment. A roller cart which sat awfully close to the ground. I had just washed everything. Did I want to roll it for four blocks only inches from the grimy city sidewalks? I lined it with what I had readily available—the giant plastic bag from a Costco sized package of paper towels.

I looked like a bag lady as I pulled it down the street, even if I fit in with the décor of the laundromat.

Finally, I arrived at my daughter’s apartment with the clean cart of clothes. Mission success.

If the washing machine in her new apartment weren’t broken,

and, if she hadn’t gotten the stomach flu while I was visiting,

I never would have had a laundromat adventure.

I take my adventures where I can find them. You never know what will trigger the idea for a story.

DIY Moving Adventures

In the old days my biggest job in a company move was to keep the kids out from under foot. Today, I have choices. Pay for the one stop shop. Or cobble the pieces together into a DIY moving experience.

Just like Hobby Lobby sells materials for crafts, and Home Depot sells supplies for home improvement, a variety of companies sell pieces and parts for a DIY move. Packing supplies, packing services, trucks, loading services, storage solutions, specialty piano loading. You name it.

Challenge accepted!

We were only moving five hundred miles. Easy. Peasy. Right?

Organizing is my superpower.

Step 1:

Stage the house for showing, using one packing and moving company to fill a couple of storage units.

Step 2:

Use a different moving company, to pack and load rented trucks. Add in one company for piano loading and another for piano unloading.  I recruited my son-in-law to drive a truck and help unload. Hard to say ‘no’ to your new in-laws.

Step 3:

Schlep everything from storage to the new house. It took six weeks to complete this step, moving only on weekends. We suspended all moving activities for my son’s wedding partway through this step. With each trip, I would unpack, making the new house feel like home. Then we would bring another truck load, creating another pile to be unpacked. Ugh.

As a writer, I loved meeting all the different people who provide moving services.  So many story ideas.  When I returned the “piano board” to the company who loaded the piano, I got a peek at their storage facility.  So many pianos in one place. How can I use this in a story?

On one of the trips to the storage unit, we were halfway to Colorado when I realized I had left the key in New Mexico. Of course, we had bought the good locks which couldn’t be opened easily with a bolt cutter. No. We had to purchase a grinder. A thunderstorm rolled through as we were cutting the locks, and it’s a slow process. I felt kind of bad watching the rain drip down my husband’s neck as he operated the grinder.

I knew the move was wearing on me when, on that same trip, I opened my suitcase and found that I forgot to pack any clean shirts.

My husband said, “You’re wearing a shirt now.”

My reply, “I’ll be wearing this shirt tomorrow, too.”

As a writer, the experience gave me ideas of obstacles to throw in my character’s path. Teachers at writing seminars say, “When things get boring, bring in a guy with a gun.” Thankfully, that never happened. Lots of inconveniences, but no guys with guns.

Now that it’s all done, I can get back to the business of writing, blogging, and posting random observations on Facebook.

Would I do it again? No.

Do I regret it? No. It’s all part of the adventure.

Luck for my readers, each adventure leads to a blog. It’s good to be back.