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Writing Tip — Researching Local History

libraryw-2824901_1280Not everything about history can be found online. 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, last summer 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.

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.

What kind of resources have you found helpful when doing research?

 

Writing Tip — Favorite Stories — The Daughter of Time

daughter of timeAs 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. It expertly combines two of my passions: history and mystery.

nypl-digitalcollections-99a6ed7e-0d3c-0e0d-e040-e00a18061e25-001-rWritten 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 his fascination with faces and brings him copies of photos and portraits to study. When he find 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 contemporary sources and must examine the motives of the authors. Was he a sympathizer of the York family, the branch of the royal house Richard III belonged to? Or did the author 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. I found all this analysis of history so inspiring that I want to use the novel in my own murder mystery. My main character use the techniques of research outlined in the book to investigate a 70-year-old mystery in his rural West Virginia county.

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 are biased. As I stated in one of my earliest blog posts, the authors tend to be either ardent Richard III supporters or detractors. Very much like the people who wrote about Richard in 1483.

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

 

Writing Tip — Just for Fun

chalkboardwp-2495162_1280I posted a version of this poem last May but I didn’t have the meter right. So I worked with it and now every line is the correct rhythm.

If you are a student or a teacher or somehow connected to schools, let me know if this poem rings true for you.

 

Writing Tip — Writing in Time

dandelionw-2693104_1280This year, May beats March as my least favorite month. Maybe the long, cold spring has irritated me. Or the school year has worn out its welcome, but I am more than ready to skip May and plunge into June.

But for those of you who still like May, here are some suggestion for using it as writing inspiration.

Mother’s Day: As I stated last year, this holiday is tailor-made for exploring relationships  between female relatives or women who are like mothers and daughters to each other.

Memorial Day: This is another holiday which lead to an examination of family relationships. Your focus can be on those relatives who have served our country or any family members who have passed away. Last Memorial Day weekend, my kids and I traveled with my parents to West Virginia to lay flowers on the graves of my grandparents, great-granparents, and great-great grandparents. West Virginia is the “Old Country” for my family and I was so pleased to be able to share this family history with my kids.

I can see short story set at a cemetery where relatives who are estranged are laying flowers on the tombstones. In the process, they talk and become reconciled, burying their antagonism.

Graduation from high school or college: As a member of the high school band, I attended more graduation ceremonies than is healthy for one individual to endure. But being an observer, rather than a participant, in the ceremony gave me a great position to people watch. I can develop a story along those ones, where the main character, sitting with the band, makes some discoveries about fellow classmates and their families.

Of course, graduation ceremonies are the perfect way to kick off or end a story about the students who are receiving their diplomas. Since the ceremony is usually serious, writing about one where everything goes wrong would be fun. A thunderstorm threatened my high school graduation, and as the speakers kept talking, the entire student body and crowd in the football stadium watched as the black clouds piled up to the west.

Last Day of School: This day has enormous writing inspiration for comedy with everyone from teachers to kids just marking time until dismissal. My kids’s school has a Field Day during the last week, so combining an event like that with the last day provides loads of opportunities for comic complications.

Outdoor Hobbies

Gardening: With the weather getting warmer, people can resume their outdoor hobbies, and I thought I would mention two my family enjoys. My husband gardens, planting both ornamental plants and vegetables and fruits. Gardening can be the setting for the renewal of relationships or some quality within the main character. The hard work can be a metaphor for other types of labor in a character’s life. Or I can look on the lighter side. Maybe a husband, recently retired, wants to learn about gardening from his wife, who finds he’s more of a hindrance than a help.

Fishing: My kids have recently taken up fishing for a 4-H project. I have no interested in fishing, but when I accompany my husband and kids on a fishing outing, I have an opportunity to make observations, such as, no matter how hard an angler works, there is no guarantee he will catch anything. Also, fishing is a sport of perseverance and patience. Also, if your mom has never unhooked a fish, don’t leave her alone with the kids as they are fishing. (I’m not sure I can use this as a metaphor in a story, but it’s a valuable fishing lesson.)

How does May provide you with writing inspiration?

Writing Tip — Poetry

jeansw-1302270_1280If you didn’t know it, today is Poem in Your Pocket Day. What is Poem in Your Pocket Day? So glad you asked.

According to the website for the Academy of American Poets, Poem in Your Pocket Day began in New York City in April 2002. “In 2008, the Academy of American Poets took the initiative to all fifty United States, encouraging individuals around the country to participate. In 2016, the League of Canadian Poets extended Poem in Your Pocket Day to Canada.”

But what do you do to celebrate this day? Choose a favorite poem, or just your favorite lines from one, and share it with another person. If you want to go on social media, use #pocketpoem.

This post is my pocket, and I will share some of my favorite lines of poetry.

From Red Sings from Treetops by Joyce Sidman:

images copy“In Spring, Red sings

from the treetops:

cheer-cheer-cheer,

each note dropping

like a cherry

into my ear.”

 

“Purple pours

into summer evenings

one shadow at a time,

so slowly

I don’t notice until

hill,

house,

book in my hand,

and Pup’s

Brown spots

are all

Purple.

Please use the comments below to share yours. Happy Poem in Your Pocket Day! Or should that be Merry Poem in Your Pocket Day?

 

 

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