Old Photos for Writing Inspiration

As we wrap up May’s theme of historical fiction, I had one more prompt to spark a story. Since it’s also Memorial Day in the U.S., looking at old photos for writing inspiration seems a fitting prompt for today. Since I’m a character writer, I begin to build a story by understanding my characters first. But before I understand them, I have to find them and looking at portraits is one way that I do that. A person in a photograph with an unusual or intriguing expression will ignite my imagination. Such as the little girl in the lower right hand portrait above. Something about her posture and her expression makes me think she’s a character to discover.

So check out the photos below. Or look at old photos of your own family. Maybe one of them will snag your attention, and you’ll want to know more about that person and the time period in which he or she lived.

For more prompts for historical fiction or writing tips, click here.

Photo by Annie Spratt on Unsplash

Photo by Boston Public Library on Unsplash

Book Review of The Daughter of Time

I am reposting this book review of The Daughter of Time from several years ago as I do a big push to get my current WIP finished by June 1. If you are a mystery fan and haven’t read this book, you’re in for a treat!

As a fan of mysteries, I had come across The Daughter of Time by Josephine Tey on lists of the best mysteries ever written. When I finally settled down to read it, I found it to be one of the most engrossing stories I’ve ever had the pleasure to discover, expertly combining history and mystery.

Written in England in the 1950’s, the novel features Inspector Alan Grant, laid up in the hospital with a broken leg and bored out of his mind. His actress girlfriend knows about his fascination with faces and brings him copies of photos and portraits to study. When he finds the portrait of Richard III, he can’t reconcile the face with the man’s reputation as the murderer of his tween age nephews. The girlfriend contacts Brent Carradine, young man doing historical research, and he and Grant begin to believe that the story handed down for 500 years about Richard III being a merrily murdering monster is false.

Although the characters and setting are fictitious, the mystery is not. Edward V and his younger brother Richard did disappear sometime after June 1483. Their uncle Richard, who became king when the boys were declared illegitimate, is the most likely culprit. But Henry Tudor, who killed Richard III in battle and took the throne, also had a motive.

Even more involving than this mystery is the one of how people interpret history. In the novel, Grant and Carradine stick to sources that were written during Richard III’s lifetime and must examine the motives of the authors. Was an author a sympathizer of the York family, the branch of the royal house Richard III belonged to? Or did he favor the Lancaster side, of which Henry Tudor was a member? The two characters also discuss how people lie about events to further their own agenda.

If you want to learn more about Richard III and his nephews, click here for the Wikipedia article. Many books have been written about the mystery, and it’s difficult to find ones that aren’t biased. The authors tend to be either ardent Richard III supporters or detractors. Very much like the people who wrote about Richard in 1483.

What novels have you read that blend unsolved real-life mysteries with fiction?

Local History for Writing Inspiration

As a history major, I love the idea of using local history for writing inspiration. Many people have used world events and famous people as writing inspiration. But if you dig into the local history of where you live, you might find the spark to tell a unique story.

If you are interested in historical fiction set in America, researching local history at a library where your historical fiction is set will produce resources you can’t find anywhere else.

As a test, I visited a local history room of library near where I live. I’d still be there, trawling through the trove information like each piece was a jewel from a treasure, but I had a blog to type up. Here are some of the resources I discovered.

  • City directories — From 2000 back to 1859
  • Yearbooks of the local college — Going back to 1909. The college library is another place to check for local history
  • Genealogical indexes — These covered two counties
  • Books of the census — Covering one county, these went back to 1835. I also found it a great source for unusual names, such as Justice T. Calhoun, Zelotes Jones, and Ev Narden.
  • Histories of local churches
  • Book published in 1891 — Portraits and biographies of “prominent persons” from the county up to that time.
  • Spooky tales of a neighboring county
  • Index to Common Please Court — These were arranged both by plaintiff and defendent
  • State phone books on microfiche
  • Fiction and nonfiction by local authors
  • Family histories
  • Card catalog with obituaries — How many of you know what a card catalog is? It’s the paper way libraries indexed their collection. This one had cards arranged alphabetically by the last name of a deceased person, often with a newspaper obituary cut out and taped to the card.

The library had another room, locked, run by the county genealogical society, with hours listed when volunteers are available to help researchers.

Researching local history may also take you to old newspapers. The library I visited in Parsons, West Virginia, had the local newspaper on microfilm. While scrolling through an edition from the late 1940’s, I discovered why the bridge I drove across was a memorial bridge. It was dedicated to a sheriff who was murdered on duty. Now there’s the start to a story.

The microfilm was difficult to use and make copies of, so I asked the librarian if any of these newspapers were online. She said they weren’t. My only option was visiting the library.

How can you use local history for writing inspiration?

For more historical fiction prompts, click here.

Mixing History and Fantasy, Part 2

Here’s “Mixing History and Fantasy, Part 2” by guest blogger Betty Kulich. To read the first part of her blog, click her. Betty discusses how she combined the two genres for her novella, The Mask. Your turn, Betty!

As a Christian author, the connection to the supernatural needed a Biblical spiritual connection and not that of the usual supernatural, occult empowerment.  This took some prayer and meditation, asking God who was the first author (Hebrews 12:2) for some creative thoughts to direct my story line. The fruit of meditation and prayer brought thoughts of how slaves came to America from Africa. That could become my link for the travel from Africa to the South prior to the Civil War and the time of the Underground Railroad’s operation. But why was the Mask in Africa to begin with? This is where another Holy Spirit inspirational thought connecting Solomon and the Queen of Sheba whose origin some say was Ethiopian—an African nation. Researching many legends and speculations surrounding their story, I spun more ideas to create a romantic story that connected King Solomon, the Queen of Sheba, their romance, and marriage, to a supernatural mask given as a wedding present from Magi in the Middle East. A supernatural mask given to transform a woman into her God-given personality and destiny that always ended with true and perfect love as God intended. 

Now I needed a story thread to get the Mask from the Middle East to Africa and finally to the United States in the Civil War era. I linked the Mask through the Queen of Sheba’s son to generations of African tribal chieftains who passed the special mask through their first-born daughters. This would allow the Mask to travel down into multiple generations until one of those chieftain’s daughters would be kidnapped by slave traders for auction in America. Secreted in her clothing the mask traveled to America, but how would it get from the slave industry of the Southern states to Ohio, a free state, and a “station” on the Underground Railroad’s Ohio Literary Trail—the Rankin House? This became the next leg of the story.

Would the story end in that time period or continue traveling through later eras, even perhaps into the present? I wanted it to continue and connect to the House of Four Pillars, a trunk from its attic and discovery of that trunk years later, bridging the gap to the present. I wanted to keep the Mask moving to more women, who needed it’s help to find their true love.

The House of the Four Pillars would connect as another stop on the Underground Railroad as the slaves made their journey to freedom in Canada. The House of Four Pillars could allow a new fictitious character to inherit the Mask from the African tribal daughter who only had sons. The Mask would now begin to work in a new life bringing perfect love to a heart for a lifetime. Through my fictitious trunk, the Mask would await a new owner for over one hundred years before beginning to work again. I needed to create a way for the trunk to get into the hands of a modern-day family with a daughter who needed the Mask to transform her life. I did that through an auction to support the Ohio Historical Society. The auction would bring the trunk containing the Mask eventually to the present, transforming another woman’s life by the supernatural powers and bringing her to the destiny and true love God had planned for her.

The Mask, a novella, has many opportunities for new and intersecting stories of others in the linage of the mask. What about others who misused the mask and its powers?  What about women who inherited it and were too fearful to wear it? Many possibilities for the creation of other short novella spinoffs from The Mask await!


Ohio Trail Mix

Ohio is full of literary connections. Libraries, museums, homes of authors, historical sites.Did you know Superman was born in Ohio?Did you know Harriet Beecher Stowe lived in the Cincinnati area?Check out the Ohio Literary Trail, compiled by Ohioana, for more interesting facts.

But before that, we invite you to enjoy some stories inspired by visits to a handful of Ohio Literary Trail sites in the last year. Your imagination might be sparked. Or at the very least, your curiosity!

“Mazza Mystery” by Bettie Boswell: Just who was the woman pretending to be a known artist? Why?

“Bovine” by JPC Allen: An elitist author comes to a backwater Ohio county, thinking he’s found the perfect setting for the perfect crime.

“Between Semicolons and Plot Twisters” by Rebecca Waters: An author finds more in common with Harriet Beecher Stowe than she ever would have guessed, when modern-day slavery comes close to home.

“The Mask” by Betty Kulich: A gift of true love is passed through the ages.

“Books: Caged and Free” by Michelle L. Levigne: On a moonlit night, old books come to life to share their stories.

BUY LINKS: AmazonGoodreadsYe Olde Dragons Books


Betty Kulich

Betty Kulich is an ordained pastor and serves as an Associate Pastor with her husband Rick of 50 years at Redeemer’s Church, Columbus, Ohio. Betty is the Director of Women’s Ministry for Harvest Preparation International Ministries (HPIM) of Sarasota, Florida for Mexico and Central America. Winner of the 2021 CIPA Book Award for General Fiction (The River & El Rio). Author of The Mask: A Historical Fiction Novella for an anthology based around the Ohio Literary Trail. Devotional author for Guidepost Books & Abundant Books. Winner of the 2020 Albert Nelson Marquis Lifetime Achievement Award. In addition to being an international speaker & author, she hosts short vlogs on Facebook called “Life Outside the Pages” and a YouTube ministry channel for Hispanic Women. Betty is a certified P.O.W.E.R. speaker through AWSA. Member of AWSA, WW, ACFW, CIPA, Blue Ridge. Connect with Betty on her websiteFB page, or contact page.

Family History for Writing Inspiration

To go along with this month’s theme of historical fiction, last week’s prompt asked what time periods you like to read about in fiction. This week’s prompt encourages to look for story ideas closer to home. Delving into family history for writing inspiration, whether it’s researching a family story or learning about genealogy, can give you the spark for a unique story.

One family story that has always intrigued me was one my maternal grandmother told us. One of her distant grandfathers–she wasn’t sure who–had supposedly married a woman who was a Russian Jew and lived in Harrisburg, PA. They had four children, two boys and two girls and were possibly living in West Virginia. The marriage broke up. The woman took the two girls back to Harrisburg, while her grandfather kept the boys. He remarried and had other children. My grandmother didn’t know if we were descended from the children of the first marriage or the second.

This story provokes all kinds of questions. What would it have been like before the Civil War for a Christian to marry a Jew? Had the wife converted? What broke up the marriage? Did the father ever see his daughters again? Did the mother see her sons? Lots of questions here to fuel a fiction story.

Now it’s your turn. What family history do you know that can inspire stories?

For more historical fiction prompts, click here.

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