It's important to read books in the genre we're attempting to write. I've mentioned the Historical Novel Society and their great Facebook page before. That's where I found Tamara Eaton and her new book, Weeping Women's Springs, about a strange town and how five women are affected by war. It's beautifully done and I contacted Tamara to find out more about the techniques she used. Her responses follow.
An Idea Develops Over Time
The idea for Weeping Women Springs came to me in college. I had an image of an almost deserted town frozen in time and they had isolated themselves from the world. That image haunted me, the flag draped altars in every home, and these women left behind. It took me another twenty-five years to write the story. Upon completion I realized that I needed to wait for my maturity/life experience to catch up to the idea.
A Unique Way to Tell a Story
The use of an interviewer to relate the story was a late addition to the novel. I always pictured the women telling their story to someone. Then I read The Lacuna by Barbara Kingsolver and she used an archivist to fill in gaps in her story much like I did with the Reporter's notes. It worked for me to have the women tell the story to an outsider who is trying to understand what happened to them.
My goal was to show the different effects of grief and the stages of grief. For each character one stage of grief became their focal point, the stage they get stuck in. For example, Maxine is mired in the sadness while Liv is angry and Ruth is in denial and wants to move on. As I kept those stages at the forefront, the characters developed from their attitudes and what they would do within that framework.
You must read Weeping Women's Spring. You'll be surprised how creatively the women deal with their sorrow.
Next time: Postcards and letters help tell a story
Do you ever look at old photographs of a person or place and see how they change over time? It's good to have old photographs nearby to get you in the mood of an era and sometimes to better understand a character's psyche. I have only three photographs of my great aunt Anna, a character in Yours in a Hurry, but they perfectly reflect the passages in her life.
Not for school, but for life we learn.
Anna taught in small Ohio villages for two years after obtaining a teaching certificate. At the end of each year a small souvenir booklet was published with poems and adages, the names of the children and the school board members, and a photograph of the teacher. One of Anna's booklets is at the left. Many of the pupils and board members had surnames of our relations: Sanford, Detwiler, Parsell, Terry. It's a teacher stereotype of the times, but Anna looks a bit plain.
Around 1909 Anna moved to California. The house in which she lived sat on property which is now part of the USC campus. The family was never clear as to why or exactly when she moved, but the May 18, 1911 Los Angeles Examiner reported she was in real estate. Her photo in the article (right) shows that she was more sophisticated in her new surroundings. We don’t know how her transformation occurred, but in the novel, her new found cousin in Hollywood, Ida Wilcox Beveridge, helps her.
We know more about post-traumatic stress syndrome now, but our characters in the early 1900’s referred to Anna's symptoms as mere melancholy. A photograph tells a sadder story. Anna was married in mid-1909, and within a year was divorced and had a child. Research on the child would indicate that it was placed in adoption. One year later on May 17, the same date as the baby’s birth, Anna witnessed the death of her older brother Addison in a violent airplane crash, the eighth such accident in the United States.
That fall she went home to Ohio for possibly the last time. The photo of her and the remaining siblings illustrates her condition. She’s seated in the front. Purl, on leave from the army, is in his uniform. The other sisters are in white frocks and smiling. Anna is in a dark dress, looking older than her age. She looks toward the camera with a blank face.
People have asked me what happened to her in the years after her depression. That’s another story, but it has a happier ending.
You can read about other characters mentioned above in earlier blogs at www.ann-otto.com/blog.
Next time: Tamara Eaton’s new historical novel
Can you remember what song was playing the first time you knew that guy was the one, or the one that they played at your wedding? Music creates an atmosphere for us to remember special moments and gives us a common language transcending our native tongue. Popular songs were especially helpful in creating a common culture across the country before radio. They were helpful in setting the mood in some Yours in a Hurry scenes.
The older generation didn't always understand the new music. Sound familiar? "Alexander's Ragtime Band" introduced a new sound and gave a new meaning to the word rag. Instead of something worthless, in the new idiom to rag meant to play in ragtime in the vein of the popular song—you were hip and a tease. Billy Murray (right), one of the most popular singers of the era, performed a popular rendition in 1911 which provides a good example of the sound that everyone liked at the time, but very different from today. You could listen at home on the new Victrola or on Mr. Edison's cylinders which played for only two minutes until he improved them and they could play for over four minutes.
One story line in the book is about early aviation. When three early aviatrices, Harriet Quimby, Blanche Scott and Matilde Moisant, are dining out, someone recognizes Harriet, the former actress and journalist, and asks the pianist to play "Come Josephine in My Flying Machine." If you'd like to hear an original rendition of that, listen to Billy Murray's and Ada Jones's popular rendition from 1911.
Some things haven't changed. We all love a love song. Anna's beau tries to sweep her off her feet by playing "Meet me Tonight in Dreamland" on the Victrola. The song by Leo Friedman was the #1 hit in November, 1910, and I must admit that the rendition by Henry Burr is as beautiful today as it was then. It's clear why the singer (right) was popular for so many years.
I could use Leo Friedman's popular song in Yours in a Hurry because it is registered as public domain due, in part, to age. It's difficult for authors to get permissions to use most songs, which is why they are not often used in text. Even the website Best Known Public Domain Songs includes a caution on how to properly vet any song before you use it in print.
Photos: Library of Congress Photos