By Ellen Buikema
Writing historical fiction begins with a base of facts that sit atop the whisper of a story. As a child, my mom told me stories about her mother, who was adopted by a rather strange, superstitious woman with a daughter of her own. Mom also mentioned that Grandma’s older brother and sister escaped from the orphanage and ran away with the help of hobos, eventually finding their way from the Midwest to the West Coast. Only three years old, Grandma was too young to run with her siblings. Her older sister and brother were eleven and seven. It must have been terrifying for all of them.
For The Hobo Code I started with my mother's stories, then added the information I gathered from genealogical studies, interviews (phone, email, text, as well as in person), Google Earth images, YouTube videos, Pinterest photos, and document searches.
Research assistance can come from unexpected sources.
My uncle spent much of his retirement either on the golf course or on his computer working on genealogy for several branches of the family. He sent me the data which I eventually used in my story.
Poring through his files, I learned my great grandmother's street address in Wausau, Wisconsin, the cause and date of her death, and where she was buried. I also found a marriage certificate for my great aunt showing she married in Los Angeles, California. The Hobo Code grew out of all this information, using historically accurate locations and cultures from Wausau to Los Angeles, and the train stops in between.
Since I was unable to travel the route myself, I made liberal use of Google Earth to check for train tracks, waterways, state lines, cities, and train stations. Finding and following those train tracks was a bit tedious, but accuracy is important. In one scene my protagonist spots hobos atop a train passing by the cemetery where their mother had just been buried. Google Earth images, combined with a phone interview with a retired railroad worker, allowed me to be sure of the setting’s validity.
On this writing journey, one conversation led to another.
Nothing pushes the research for a historical novel forward like live conversations.
When I lived in Arizona, a delightful group of miniature railroad hobbyists—actually more obsessors—had a club housed not far from my home. During the drafting of The Hobo Code, I stopped by the club to chat. I left with a few books and several suggestions for internet searches, and the telephone number of a gentleman who used to work on the railroad in Chicago.
That man is now the General Manager for the Union Pacific Historical Society. The amount of information he can call to mind in an instant is astounding. He helped me determine the probable route taken considering the years of travel and the start and end points.
Once I was firm on the story’s direction, I contacted a lot of resources:
- 6 libraries
- 5 historical societies
- 2 historical museums
- The owner of a bar in Wausau, Wisconsin.
Everyone I spoke with was happy to join in the fun. The bar was the Glass Hat, previously known as the Langsdorf Saloon, in Wausau, WI and the owner is Gisela Marks. The bar is directly across the river from my protagonist’s family home and the father in my story frequented the saloon.
Gisela and I discussed the bar’s history at length and it was incredibly helpful. In one scene, I wanted to have music playing and considered either a piano or accordion. During our conversation, I learned that she found a box from an upright piano in the basement when she inherited the bar from her parents. So my scene has the father accompanying a piano player.
Details like this help make the history of your novel come alive. For example, the bar owner saved photos of the original ceiling tiles as she’d considered restoring them. Those images were integral in setting my scene. To fifteen-year-old Jack, my main protagonist, those tiles made him feel that someone was watching him from that ceiling.
You can't use everything.
For example, the gangster John Dillinger frequented the Langsdorf Saloon and was once saved from capture by an employee. This would have been wonderful to include. Alas, my story begins in 1905 when Dillinger was a young child making this a fascinating but unusable fact for this story.
I grew up hearing about the Wild West, thinking it was mostly tall tales.
I was wrong. Here are some fascinating examples.
The Burnt District of Omaha, Nebraska, was an area of downtown where most of the city's brothels were located. Estimates placed the number of sex workers at over 1,600. The brothels had large windows through which potential customers could gawk at the acts going on within.
Hidden behind respectable businesses lurked Electric Alley, Ogden, Utah’s red-light district, known for its opium dens and brothels. Dora B. Topham, “Belle London,” was Ogden’s most notorious madam. She used the London Ice Cream Parlor as a front for one of her bordellos, located on the upper level. Running a brothel was one of the few business opportunities open to women at the time. The residents of Electric Alley were evicted in 1912, but illegal activities continued there into the 1950’s.
The London Ice Cream Parlor building still stands. You can buy ice cream and sandwiches there while being haunted by the ghosts of day’s past.
Although the research for a historical novel is time consuming, I enjoyed every minute of it. The Hobo Code became a journey for me, even as it followed my characters across a large part of the United States. They met fascinating people along the way, and so did I!
When you read historical fiction, what do you hope to find? Do you feel it’s important to use historical figures or does that not matter? What is your favorite historical time period to read about?
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Author, speaker, and former teacher, Ellen L. Buikema has written non-fiction for parents and a series of chapter books for children with stories encouraging the development of empathy—sprinkling humor wherever possible. Her Work In Progress, The Hobo Code, is YA historical fiction.
Top photo found on Pinterest
by Lisa Hall-Wilson
This was a question that came up in my free Facebook group. What if you find deep POV too restrictive? What if deep POV doesn’t fit your storytelling style or the genre you’re writing?
That’s OK. Deep POV is a stylistic tool, you use the tool at your discretion. I like to say I can use a wrench to pound in a nail, it’ll be awkward and take longer but it works. But why use a wrench when a hammer is made for that job – unless you’re making a point by using a wrench!
What Do You Want To Achieve In A Given Scene?
This must be the first question to ask yourself. What effect are you looking to create for readers? Because you’re the director, the main architect. You decide if you use deep POV for a paragraph or a whole scene within limited third person.
Pinpoint where you want the high emotion moment(s) to be in the scene or in the broader story. Where do you want the reader to really lean into the story emotionally or feel the increase in tension? Where do you want to slow the pace of the story because this will increase tension and have the reader leaning in and paying closer attention.
Deep POV is a tool, so use it where it will have the greatest effect. Deep POV can ratchet up the emotional tension, slow the pace, and pull the reader in close to experience the character’s inner conflict.
The Zoom Lens
Sally hurries toward the bus stop at the corner. The buildings loom high on each side of the alley, the darkness trying to swallow the meager light from a single swinging bulb. A loud crash fills the alley, a trashcan knocked over. Maybe. She glances towards the sound and pauses. She’s just being paranoid, she thinks. But she takes off at a jog for the bus stop.
Each of us writers are like movie directors and get to choose the angle we want to capture a scene with. Omniscient POV would capture the wide vistas and panorama shots of everything. The diner where she works, the kids at home with the sitter, the bus chugging towards the bus stop and her checking her watch, AND the man lurking near the trashcan in the alley.
Limited Third person captures the scene above – a woman alone in a dark alley hurrying to catch a bus.
Deep POV zooms in very close so the reader only knows, feels, sees, learns – what the POV character knows, feels, sees, learns, etc. The reader gets an unfiltered look into the character’s head and what they’re feeling.
There isn’t a right or wrong angle. What story do you want to tell?
Let’s Go Deep
So, to insert Deep POV into a close third person story, know the basics of deep POV.
- Remove emotion words.
- Remove narrative distance.
- Remove narration.
- Keep it immediate.
- SHOW don’t tell.
- Write internal dialogue as though the character is alone in their own heads.
You really don’t need a LOT of space to do that. You can do this with a single sentence, a paragraph, several paragraphs, a whole chapter.
Let’s look a couple of ways we could insert deep POV into this example paragraph.
Sally hurries toward the bus stop at the corner. The buildings loom high on each side of the alley, the darkness trying to swallow the meager light from a single swinging bulb. A loud crash fills the alley, a trashcan knocked over. Her heart hammers against her rib cage and her fingers tremble. A dark giant-man sized shape comes towards her. She turns toward the diner’s back door. Locked shut. Run! Sally waves her arms and yells at those waiting to hold the bus for her.
I put the deep POV in bold. Do you see the shift in POVs? It can be super subtle. It’s not important that readers SEE it, but moreso that they FEEL it. The emphasis then becomes on her reaction to the man in the shadows.
Sally hurries toward the bus stop at the corner. The buildings loom high on each side of the alley, the darkness trying to swallow the meager light from a single swinging bulb. Every hot breath sears her throat and her ankles are on fire. Frank would pay for that second eight-hour shift. He’d pay for every lousy thing her kids missed out on. Tears filled her eyes. If she ever sees him again.
A loud crash fills the alley, a trashcan knocked over. She turns toward the sound and pauses. Sally takes off at a jog for the bus stop, waving her arms and yelling at those waiting to hold the bus for her.
The emphasis here is on her internal conflict. Let’s try one more.
Sally leans into the heavy metal door and squeezes out through the small opening out into the alley. The door slams shut her last chance of escape with cold finality. The buildings loomed over her, crowding the alley and shutting out the light. A place for evil to find shelter and thrive, that’s what it was. A shiver rattles her spine and leaves goosebumps down her arms.
She focuses on the bust stop at the corner and walks at a clipped pace. Not because she’s scared, she’s not scared. Not a bit. A loud crash fills the alley, a trashcan knocked over. She glances back towards the sound and pauses. She’s just being paranoid, she thinks, but she takes off at a jog for the bus stop.
This last example put the emphasis on the environment and using her perception of the alley to show the reader how she feels and then that truth is juxtaposed against her actions which are easily shown in limited third person.
The Switch Should Be Seamless For Readers
The shift in camera angles should go unnoticed by readers. We’re used to seeing camera angles shift and change on the movie screen all the time. We focus on the story, not the storytelling techniques. That’s the goal here. The reader doesn’t need to be able to articulate what you did or how you did it, just how it made them feel.
What questions do you have about using deep POV in a close third person (or limited third person) story? Lisa is answering POV questions down in the comments.
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Lisa Hall-Wilson is a national award-winning freelance journalist and author who loves mentoring writers. Fascinated by history, fantasy, romance, and faith, Lisa blends those passions into historical and historical-fantasy novels. Find Lisa’s blog, Beyond Basics for intermediate writers, at www.lisahallwilson.com.
by Julie Glover
I'm cleaning my office.
Not that straightening up, mild decluttering we all do from time to time, but that deep dive of purging papers and files we don't need anymore, sorting through office supplies and tossing bad pens, and asking will I ever read that book on my shelf?
As part of Office Cleanse 2020, I discovered a fair amount of story ideas and conference notes written on various pads of paper. I decided to save space, type them up, and keep only the digital versions. And oh, the epiphanies I've had!
Do you have your own pile of conference or workshop notes? Typed or written? Stashed away? It's time to bring them out. Revisit them. Here are five reasons why you should!
1. You don't remember what was said.
Usually, I returned home from the conference, my head filled with information, my heart swelled from seeing and meeting friends, my body exhausted from travel and/or extra stimulation. Sometimes I typed up my notes, other times I didn't. Regardless, a few key points stuck out and got applied to my writing, and the rest got tucked into the back of my mind and a folder in my office. You may have done something similar.
But we spent money and time getting that information. We picked and chose which workshops we attended and received tailored information that could be useful—if only we remembered it.
Take a look back and jog your memory. Let your notes inform and inspire you once again.
2. You have different takeaways.
Much like a book that you read more than once, you take away something a little different when you revisit your old notes.
As I perused my papers, I was struck by points I didn't remember having an impact before. Perhaps I was so caught up in a presenter's Point #4 that I didn't give Point #6 a lot of thought. Or I read the notes then with an emphasis on different words or meanings.
Regardless, this time, I discovered takeaways I hadn't seen before that I can apply to my writing and to my career.
3. You see how far you've come.
One of the struggles of being a creative is always feeling like there's a finish line you've yet to reach. Whatever you achieve, you see a new goal ahead.
In the beginning, you just want to finish that first book. Then you want to place in a contest, get an agent, land a contract, or self-publish the book. Pretty soon, it's the next book, the marketing campaign, film rights, foreign rights, what-have-you. We feel pressured to do The Next Thing, if not from our own selves then from our readers—a nice problem to have, but still a challenge.
It's important to breathe now and then, look back, and feel good about the progress you've made. As I perused my conference notes, it became clearer how far I've actually come. I instinctively use a lot of the writing craft advice.
Feel good about what you have used already and how far you've come.
4. You made useful notes to yourself.
In one of the conference classes I attended, the speaker had us do a writing exercise to apply what we were learning. My paragraph was meh overall, but it had one fantastic phrase. I scooped that baby up and dropped it into my current work in progress!
But that hasn't been my only find: I've discovered character notes, story ideas, and resources I wanted to check out.
You may have jotted down ideas to yourself that you didn't do enough or anything with. Sift through your notes, and you may find nuggets of writing gold.
5. What didn't apply then applies now.
Some of the advice you soaked up wasn't applicable to you at that time, but now it's what you need. A fair amount of the marketing advice fell into that category for me. I hadn't self-published yet, but now I have.
Not every conference note stood the test of time—for example, Amazon algorithms change—but a surprising amount still holds up. Good writing and good business practices have some core themes that remain the same.
Cull your conferences notes for viewpoints, ideas, and data that works for where you are now in your writing journey and the direction you're moving. ake what you already learned and re-purpose it to today by going through your old conference and workshop notes. You'll never know what treasures you could find until you seek them out.
Have you attended writing conferences or workshops that stood out? Have you done an office cleanse like mine and found a goldmine you'd forgotten about? Please share the wealth down in the comments section!
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Julie Glover is an award-winning author of mysteries and young adult fiction. She also writes supernatural suspense under the pen name Jules Lynn. Her most recent release is Curse of the Night, book four in the Muse Island series.
When not writing, she collects boots, practices rampant sarcasm, and advocates for good grammar and the addition of the interrobang as a much-needed punctuation mark.
Julie is represented by Louise Fury of The Bent Agency.
Top Image by Pexels from Pixabay.
Writing is the most powerful of all professions. Everyone needs us. And I do mean everyone. Readers need us to entertain them and transport them from the challenges of their daily lives. Businesses need us to describe what they do in compelling language that helps sell their product or service. Children need stories to help cement their learning and teach them about life. Even the storytellers need the stories and creativity that flow through their veins. Stories provide writers with joy and hope and respite from dreary everyday life things like pandemics.
Stories are good for our mental health and development.
Research has proven that oral storytelling particularly assists with the development of social and emotional abilities, cognitive growth, and language skills in babies. It's why we see so many ads telling us to talk, sing and read to our children. Spoken stories are good for our mental health. (Can anyone say audiobooks?)
Ideas are meaningful and storytellers have power.
Whether it's the Hawaiian hula, which tells a story through dance, or the oral stories that were passed down around the fire, the art of telling stories is a tradition long-honored. The Irish seanchaí were welcomed everywhere and provided room and board for the gift of their stories. The troubadours, or minstrels, of the Middle Ages were honored members of the royal courts. The ancient Greek fabulist, Aesop, is still famous today for his fables.
Interesting read: How stories are told around the world.
Our creativity can be a blessing and a curse (often at the same time), but most of all it is a gift with far-reaching power. Earlier this week, Barbara Linn Probst wrote a post sharing the tangible ways her debut book affected two peoples' lives. One of the people who wrote to her credited the book with saving her life.
Story underlies everything.
Story is always there, underneath everything that resonates and engages with others. Lisa Cron has made a career from helping writers discover the power of story and showing them how to tap into it. She's quoted in this Jerry Jenkins piece, explaining how and why story is the most important element of any story.
What grabs readers isn’t beautiful writing, a rip-roaring plot, or surface drama; what grabs readers is what gives those things their meaning and power: the story itself.- Lisa Cron
Lisa and Donald Maass said this in an article at Writer Unboxed:
"When it comes to crafting a compelling story, a writer’s most important job is to relentlessly ask 'Why?, the better to drill down to the real reason behind every action the protagonist takes. After all, isn’t that what we continually do in real life: wonder why things happen, largely so we can figure out what the heck to do about them?"
A sampling of great WITS posts from Lisa Cron:
- The Origin Scene: Where Your Story Really Starts
- Story Logic: The Crucial Importance of Because, But, Therefore
- Story Genius for Pantsers
- Story Genius on Backstory
Storytelling is more important than ever for companies and authorpreneurs.
In the business world, Simon Sinek has made the question of "Why" famous with his TED talk on the subject. Leaders everywhere are "finding their Why" and stuggling to put those concepts into words.
(I highly recommend you spend the five minutes on this video!)
There has never been a better time to make a living as a storyteller. Brand-driven storytelling is killing it in the marketplace these days with luminaries like Seth Godin saying, “Marketing is no longer about the stuff that you make, but about the stories that you tell.”
Think about that from a writer's perspective for a moment.
“Marketing is no longer about the stuff that you make, but about the stories that you tell.”
Yes, this applies to our stories, but it also speaks to how we brand ourselves as authorpreneurs. Somewhere in your personal bios, WHY you write or why you write WHAT you write needs to be included. That story forms the basis for how readers will relate to you. I remember the "how I got started writing story" from every author I've ever heard speak, even if I've never read a single book of theirs.
Like everyone else, I'm more likely to pick up an author's books if I like them and their story. Our personal stories help our hard work (aka our books) jump into readers' hands.
Just as Colleen Story's post last week illustrated that our author photo tells a story about us, so does our bio. These quick visuals of us are evaluated in the six-second glance people give anything new on the internet. Yes, you heard me. Six. Seconds. That's all the time we get to make that first impression, so it better be easy to see who we are with a photo, a tagline, a catchy phrase.
Remember: stories change lives and minds and buying decisions. This means that you, my storytelling friend, are one of the most powerful beings in the world.
“Ideas are the currency of the twenty-first century. In the information age, the knowledge economy, you are only as valuable as your ideas. Story is the means by which we transfer those ideas to one another. Your ability to package your ideas with emotion, context and relevancy is the one skill that will make you more valuable in the next decade. Storytelling is the act of framing an idea as a narrative to inform, illuminate and inspire.”
What are the details that make up your story?
Have you ever spent time thinking about your own personal "Why?" Do you struggle to write your own personal profile, mission statement, tagline, bio in a meaningful way? Share it down in the comments if you want Jenny to give it an edit! (Limit to two paragraphs please.)
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By day, Jenny provides corporate communications and LinkedIn advice for professional services firms. By night she writes humor, memoir, women’s fiction, and short stories. After 18 years as a corporate trainer, she’s delighted to sit down while she works.
You never know the difference your book might make in someone’s life …
By Barbara Linn Probst
When we publish a book, we want it to be read. Obviously. But what else do we want?
At the most obvious level, we want our book to be bought, liked, shared, and reviewed. We want to see it on lists; we want lots of reviews (and stars) on Goodreads and Amazon. But we want something else, too—that connection with specific human beings who have been touched and changed by what we wrote.
When I published Queen of the Owls, I wanted all of those things—and I got a lot of them. The book earned awards, made it onto several “best of” lists. And yet, the most important results are things I never could have foreseen.
I’d like to share two of these “results” with you today. One has to do with a wonderful and unexpected connection with a photographer whose work took the experience of my fictitious protagonist to a whole new level. The other has to do with how Queen of the Owls saved someone’s life. Literally.
The first experience came from photographer Angelika Buettner, who saw my article in Ms. Magazine entitled Naked: Being Seen is Terrifying but Liberating . In the article, I personalized a central theme of the novel, which is about the power of “choosing to be seen”— the deep longing to reveal and embrace one’s whole self.
The article attracted Angelika’s attention because she had recently published a book called I Am: Celebrating the Perfect Imperfect
Through a gallery of 121 nude photos and testimonials that reveal the “inner and outer beauty” of women ages 40 to 99, Angelika’s goal is to empower women (and girls) by portraying the “aging and ageless” beauty of our perfectly-imperfect selves. As she told me in our first conversation: “I invited women to wear nothing but what they are feeling inside. Those women stepped out of their comfort zone and gave me the permission to portray their naked souls. I photographed a feeling they had lost—of loving oneself.”
When Angelika saw the article in Ms. Magazine, she immediately reached out to me, and from there to my novel. She read Queen of the Owls nonstop because, to her, it was exactly what she had been trying to convey in her portraits. “The protagonist is expressing the feeling my ladies have, and she finds why it so important to be seen, the real me, by myself. In the end those images are for ourselves.” We discovered that we were offering the same message—for me, through story; for her, through photographs.
From there, a collaboration began. We’ve been meeting on Zoom to talk about ways to work together, joined by a third woman, Lilianne Milgrom, a painter-turned-novelist whose work also addresses the theme of female embodiment. Our dream is a cross-disciplinary presentation about the female body in painting, photography, and story. A shared message, delivered more powerfully through complementary channels.
Who knows if we’ll be successful? But it’s the journey as well as the destination—the gift of an incredibly rich dialogue and friendship among the three of us that I never would have anticipated when I wrote my novel.
My second story is about a woman named Delia Rayburn (a pseudonym, at her request), who won a copy of Queen of the Owls in an Facebook giveaway. In Queen of the Owls, the “bookworm” protagonist reveals, sees, and comes to claim her body through studying—and re-enacting—the nude photos that Stieglitz took of artist Georgia O’Keeffe.
I’ve received many messages from people who found the book to be deeply liberating, but Delia’s was the most important. She wrote: “My connection to your novel is so surprising and totally unexpected ... I'm uncomfortable looking at nude photos of women and reading descriptions of them. Nevertheless, I did quickly look up the photos of Georgia O’Keeffe that you mentioned in the book. The bigger deal is the book prompted me to do a breast examination of myself, which I know I'm supposed to do monthly, but don't usually do. I found a small bluish-purple discoloration and a slight indentation. I called and had the physician’s assistant check me last week. She said it was not my imagination and scheduled me for a mammogram. They will also do a biopsy, if necessary. I am extremely grateful that I won a copy of your book and it prompted me to do this.”
Indeed, the doctors found a lump, and Delia was able to receive early treatment. She wrote to tell me she would never have had this early detection if she hadn’t read my book and been open to what it offered her.
Her story brought me to tears, reminding me that what we do through our writing has far more important consequences than how many stars, awards, reviews, or copies our books might achieve. There are purposes we serve, as authors. Delia’s is a story I learned about. There may be other stories that I’ll never hear.
Our work as writers really matters. It might even save someone’s life.
What about you?
If you’re an author, was there an unexpected gift you received from a reader? If you’re a reader, was there an unexpected gift you received from a book?
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Barbara Linn Probst is a writer and researcher living on a historic dirt road in New York’s Hudson Valley. Her novel (Queen of the Owls, April 2020, and forthcoming novel The Sound of One Hand, October 2020) tell of the search for authenticity, wholeness, and connection. In both novels, art helps the protagonist to become more fully herself. Queen of the Owls has been chosen as a 2020 Pulpwood Queens Book Club selection.
Author of the groundbreaking book on nurturing out-of-the-box children, When the Labels Don’t Fit (Random House, 2008), Barbara holds a PhD in clinical social work and is a frequent guest essayist on major online sites for fiction writers. To learn more about Barbara and her work, please see http://www.barbaralinnprobst.com/.