Sunday, May 30, 2010

Resources for Writers #19: For Us the Living

There was no Resources for Writers last Monday due to the advent of Aubrey Olivia Wilma, 7lbs. 11oz., who joins big sister Hanna as Mimi's sweet girls...

But now, on to the business at hand...

Being a genealogist, I naturally have a fascination with the past and find many story ideas in the lives of my ancestors. Here are a few sources that I find particularly useful:
(1) Obituaries--although the information/disinformation here is only as good/bad as the provider
(2) Death certificates--Each holds the story of a life, more particularly how it ended, opening up a multitude of scenarios...the scourge of tuberculosis in the first half of the 20th century, the polio epidemics of the 1940s and 1950s, relatively minor illnesses that became fatal until the advent of antibiotics, major illnesses that became preventable with inoculations. There are the tragic accidents, homicides, suicides, and even the occasional blanks. I find the places of death particularly poignant, especially a lonely hotel room. Follow this link to view certificates in selected states.
(3) Cemeteries--I find cemeteries to be places of incredible peace. When I wander among tombstones, looking for those pertinent to my family lines, my mind is filled with questions about the choices of epitaphs and marker styles and the souls who rest under green grass or barren soil. Sadder, of course, are the neglected plots in public ground, more commonly known as Potters Field. What circumstances brought them there? Poverty? Lack of family? Something beyond imagination?
(4)  Online cemetery databases--simply type in the name of a county and state and the word 'cemeteries'.
(5) Veteran memorial pages--local, state, Medal of Honor winners, particular military units. These are guaranteed to humble and inspire you.

I debated writing about this particular resource lest I be considered morbid or, even worse, disrespectful of those who have gone before. Nothing could be farther from the truth. In acknowledging death, we are honoring life with remembrance...and for those who lie unremembered, with compassion. I never leave a military cemetery without tears in my eyes and a lump in my throat. I cannot hear "Taps" played without sobbing. But I also carry away with me a sense of gratitude and peace and an aching to know their stories.

In deciding to write this, I considered the appropriate timing of Memorial Day when we can remember not only those who "gave up all their tomorrows for our todays" but also those whom we have personally loved and lost. I like to think they would feel that being immortalized in some way in a story is a tribute to and a continuation of their lives.

One of my favorite old songs that my grandfather used to sing was "When You and I Were Young, Maggie". I sang it to my babies (and now my grandbabies) as I rocked them. The last verse says, A city so silent and lone, Maggie, where the young and the gay and the polished white mansions of stone, Maggie, have each found a place of rest." It speaks of life and joyful remembrance...and when I take an idea from any of the ideas listed above, I try to leave the reader with a feeling of triumphant closure.

So today when you remember and, hopefully, say "Thank you" to our veterans, consider searching for that next story idea is a place where the story has ended...or has it?

Sunday, May 16, 2010

Resources for Writers #18: The Roaring Twenties

     Even for those to whom the decade of 1920-30 is almost 'ancient' history, just the phrase "Roaring Twenties" brings to mind images of flappers, the Charleston, and bathtub gin. It was definitely a time of transition from a quieter, more staid time into a preview of the future.
     We think about Rosie the Riveter paving the way for women to work outside the home during World War II, but women were at work, too, while their men were fighting World War I almost two decades earlier. And, in the years that followed 'the war to end all wars', many women didn't return to the kitchen and garden. As their roles changed and evolved, so did society.
     For those authors who write 'vintage' as I do, here are some useful links for researching the era that blazed like a shooting star before crashing to earth at the beginning of the Great Depression. Many of the links have inside links which will keep you busy pursuing every aspect of those years--architecture, medicine, social and political issues, fashion, furniture, entertainment--the entire spectrum of an age.

Link 1

Link 2

Link 3

Link 4

Link 5

Link 6 timeline

Link 7 books

Link 8 images

So bob your hair, rouge your knees, exchange your long cotton underwear for a slinky dress that's barely there, find the nearest speakeasy, and settle in for a trip back through time. There's a story waiting, you know!

Saturday, May 8, 2010

Resources for Writers #17: The Perfect Place to Write


  Among the many things that writers need are places to write—preferably without INTERNET, which tends to be a distraction. You can’t plot when you’re checking email or watching U-tube or bidding for something on EBay. All right, all right, I confess, those things distract me, too. So this morning, as I write this, I am ensconced in my comfy Texas folding chair on the deck of an overlook here in the Village. NO INTERNET!

     It’s a fairly short drive from the house, up a bit of a ‘mountain’ with just enough room to turn around and head down again. There’s shade, a breeze, and some nice scenery—and it’s quiet. Did I mention that there’s NO INTERNET?!

     I’ve been here long enough for Victoria Lappy to use half her battery. Leila Josefowicz’s violin is crooning Alexander Glazunov’s Violin Concerto in A Minor op. 82 with the Symphony Orchestra of Montreal (Charles Dutoit, conductor)from the battery-powered CD player. Lady is on a 15-foot tether but has opted to climb into the back of the Trailblazer and keep an eye on things from there. And, of course, a cold Diet DP provides that burst of caffeinated energy I need to write one more chapter of the Penelope Pembroke cozy mystery book #1 and this blog.

     Sometimes we need a quiet place, a different place, and did I mention a place with NO INTERNET in order to be productive. Unfortunately (or maybe fortunately in some cases), many places have internet access as well as refreshment, and we seem drawn to those because we like our creature comforts. What we need to be doing, and I’m preaching to myself most of all, is using every available moment to be productive in terms of our writing.

     So look around you. Is there a shaded pavilion in a park? A scenic overlook that might provide ideas for new settings? A small cafe that’s more or less empty at a particular time of day? An out-of-the-way bench in the mall where you can people-watch and make notes for new characters? A pullover on the side of a quiet country road where you don’t even have to get out of your car? A beach, a lake, a bus or train station, a chapel that’s open 24-7? (I don’t think God would mind. He blessed you with creativity anyway and would likely smile if you used it in a quiet corner of His house.)

     Happy hunting for just the right place for your next writing adventure!



Sunday, May 2, 2010

Resources for Writers #16: Inspiring People Who Touch Your Life

Eileen Brent Beckman, founder of Otteridge Farm in Bedford, Virginia, slept away early this morning at the age of almost 93. I met her through her granddaughter, whom she helped raise, and who those of you familiar with me know as 'the house elf'. When I traveled to Virginia to see Katie perform or ride, Mrs. Beckman graciously insisted that I stay in her home beneath the Peaks of Otter. She said to me, as we surveyed the horizon from her front lawn leading to the barn, "Aren't I lucky?"

She served with the Red Cross in the China-Burma-India Theatre during World War II, met her future husband on the ship coming home, and went on to win recognition and respect in the equine world both for riding and breeding. She was scheduled to be inducted into yet another Hall of Fame in June--one more milestone in a long line of honors.

Writers need resources, but as human beings, we need inspiration more. Eileen Beckman inspired me to strive for more, to break out of my self-limiting mindset, and, even at my age, to reach for the stars. Just by virtue of knowing her, I feel I've already touched one of those bright lights and that she will keep it glowing for me.