by Karen Wills
I once took a writing course from author David Long who introduced our class to the term “Insider Information.” One of the joys of reading fiction is being the recipient of unexpected, fascinating facts about the world a character inhabits…the one the author is opening up to you, sharing details that pull you in. I love to read and write historical fiction. In writing the manuscript I’ve just completed, I learned about the wild life of the mining community of Butte, Montana, in the late 1800s, and about the life of early wilderness settlers, including how they made wooden snowshoes as well as rhubarb wine.
I’m currently reading Tracy Chevalier’s, Burning Bright, set in London in the last decade of the 18th century. While it’s about the artist and poet William Blake and his relationship to two working class children, a delightful feature is that the women in the family of one are button makers. I had no idea there are/were so many names for handmade buttons: Singletons, Birds’ Eyes, Dorset Crosswheels, and Blandford Cartwheels. Or that they were made by winding thread around frames like the one pictured.
Historical fiction is rife with insider info about clothing, food, medical treatment. So is fiction set in remote or specialized locales. The White Mary by Montana author Kira Salek shows in detail the huge physical and cultural adjustments necessary for a first world person to live among natives of Papua, New Guinea. James Michener was the insider info master. Remember Airport? It took us inside the workings of a place where international flights are handled every day. The list is endless, but insider information is an entertaining, eye-opening facet of reading.
Look for it in a novel near you.
Summer in Montana provides little time for the popular “beach read” novels. Instead, during our action-packed summers, I find myself re-reading Night of the Grizzlies, Christine Carbo’s The Wild Inside, and various touristy hiking books. With recent cold mornings and the “termination dust” of snow on mountain tops signaling the end of summer, Montanans know the cold days of winter are ahead. Maybe a good blizzard can help us hibernate and accomplish goals with a surge of writing, and reading those novels on the “to read” list.
The annual Flathead River Writers’ Conference during the last week of September is one way to energize creative urges. Among ten speakers at the 25th Silver Anniversary conference, Lavonne Mueller, playwright and the recipient of many writing awards and grants, (including National Endowment for the Arts, Fulbright and Guggenheim), will present a workshop for attendees. If you like to travel, develop your writer’s biography with her help, and apply for grants in the coming year that could take you around the world to write in exotic locations.
If you are considering a fast track to completing your next novel, or your first, consider taking the Novel Challenge course at FVCC with award winning author and MMW member, Kathy Dunnehoff. She’ll guide you through completing your first draft in one month. Her course is a take-off on Nanowrimo – the annual National Novel Writing Month each November.
Whatever your plans, each day provides the opportunity to begin a new book, a new chapter, a new scene in your life. People speak of “writers’ block,” being stymied and unable to proceed. This is something I’ve never experienced, but recently I found an interesting and tasty red wine you could sip while reading a book next to a roaring fire while dreaming up your next storyline.
Okay, we’re a little late this month. We’ve been busy — writing, reading, and working hard at squeezing in a relaxing moment or two. If you’re not in NW Montana and you’ve been wondering how the wild fires are affecting us, we can assure you that we are all safe and well, though we have had our worried moments — our corner of the state has been hard hit by fires and smoke. But after several days of rain, we are all breathing more easily, and we’re grateful for your concern and good wishes.
The Montana Book Festival takes place this week, Sept 10-12, in Missoula, and both Christine Carbo and Leslie Budewitz will be part of the fun. They join Indiana novelist Sarah Layden Friday, Sept 11, at 3:30, for a panel discussion and reading called The Writer, The Mirror, and the Map: Mystery Novelists Reflect on Identity, Murder, and Place.
Both Christine (THE WILD INSIDE) and Leslie (BUTTER OFF DEAD) made the Seattle Mystery Bookshop’s August bestseller list — as each of them has every month since their books’ release. Congratulations!
All of us are getting ready for the annual Flathead River Writers’ Conference Sat-Sun, Sept 26-27th, at Flathead Valley Community College in Kalispell. Hope to see the writers among you for a terrific weekend!