Who Was She?

By Ann Minnett

A black hole blocks me from the real story of my paternal third great grandmother (ggggrandma). Every other line in my family tree can be traced further back, mostly thanks to fastidious recordkeeping by Quaker ancestors.

But not ggggrandma Merritt or Merrett or Merett or Marat as it was sometimes spelled. I am obsessed with what little we know about her and who my ggggrandfather might have been. If you have plotted your own family tree, you know how difficult it can be to locate and follow the women who came before.

Here’s what we know about her:

·       Born in SC in 1810

·       Two sons born in north GA, 1832 & 1835

·       Listed as head of household 1840 – north GA 

·       Married a Mr. Lankton in 1844 – north GA

·       Widowed in 1868 and moved to Missouri to live with her son

Possible scenarios:

·       She was a Merritt and had two boys out of wedlock

·       She had two illegitimate sons by a man named Merritt but they never married

·       She married a Merritt, had two sons, was soon widowed, and remarried 

I would like to settle on one of the above and just let ggggrandma be, but I also feel honor-bound to get her story right. So, guess who is not writing or marketing her novels? Who has conducted endless Google searches and purchased reference books on daily life and customs in Antebellum Georgia? Who has lost days reading about The Indian Wars between Georgia pioneer militias and tribes that resulted in forced westward migrations of native populations? 

I’ve learned a lot. Perhaps what’s keeping me from writing domestic suspense will lead to my first novel of historical fiction.

 

Writing Historical Novels

historical fiction

By Janice McCaffrey

February’s Montana Women Writer’s meeting featured a discussion on Writing Historical Novels led by Karen Wills and me. Karen read the following quote  by Fiona Veitch Smith author of Pilate’s Daughter from M.K. Tod’s blog Inside Historical Fiction:

I build my worlds in concentric circles. The outer circle is the social, political, religious, economic and historical backdrop within which my story takes place … The next circle in will include the ‘props’ that the characters interact with … the innermost circle is the emotional core of the characters living in a particular period. 

An excellent segue into my favorite topic, research. Below is a handout listing some, I’m sure not all and in no apparent order, details historical novelists use to fill in Ms. Smith’s circles.

Facts of people’s lives – names, birth, marriage, death dates and places
Food – what, how produced, hunted, gathered, prepared, served, preserved
Water – supply, how does it get to people/animals
Other drinks – coffee, tea, alcohol, juices
Living quarters – structure, furniture, room set up

Lighting – inside and out
Social structure – social classes, details in each level, reactions, impact on society and individuals
Education – schools, apprenticeships, home learning
Manufacturing – for local use, exports
Imported/exported goods – what, from/to where, how transported

Purchasing goods – where, how often, from who, display or set up of goods, barter or currency
Money – coins, paper, denominations, country’s currency
Occupations and their how-to
Heating and cooling – homes, people, animals
Clothing – fabrics, colors, patterns, how are they made, by whom
Public Health – clean water, sewage, diseases, medical practices

Personal Hygiene – cleanliness, teeth, hair, clothing
Socials – what, where, with who
Games & Sports, pleasurable past times
Story telling – oral, books, legend, lore
Neighborhoods – city, town, rural

Patriarchal or Matriarchal – societies, families, governments, values
Rules spoken and unspoken – within family, community, groups, government
History of place – country, state, county, town
Civil laws – who writes them, how they’re upheld, justice system, consequences
Geography – terrain of land

Maps
Governments – leaders, issues, controversies – past & present
Politics – local, national, global
Military – preparedness, uniforms/armor, weapons, strongholds (fort, bunker, cave, etc)
Weather/Climate – seasons, temperatures, precipitation

Communication – (usually before phones at least before cell phones)
Travel – local and distant/international, land, sea, air, walk, ride, vehicles,
Ethnic & religious customs – national, local, family, personal
Religion – beliefs, ceremonies, conversion, spreading the Word
Stereotypes – common of the time and place

Language – written, oral, dialects
Death, burial, cremation – traditions, rites

            If you think of any that aren’t on the list, please let me know and I’ll add them.

Confessions of a Historical Fiction Fanatic

By Janice McCaffrey

Lately I’ve been thinking about the ramifications of reading historical fiction. Does it smother history under make believe? Or does it inspire readers to reach outside of their comfort zones.

For me historical fiction often whet’s my appetite for facts. That curiosity leads me to research and of course to Google. Over the years I’ve collected eclectic facts from around the world.

But last year a seemingly innocent choice took over my life.

I watched an international historical fiction TV series, Magnificent Century(Netflix.com). And now my family and friends roll their eyes if I so much as mention the word “Turkey.” Even during this holiday season.

I can’t help it!

I fell in love with Sultan Süleyman I   suleyman

. . . of course the actor who portrayed him, Halit Ergenç didn’t hurt.

Süleyman was the Ottoman Empire’s longest reigning Sultan (1520-1566). He set fair taxes and protected ethnic and religious minorities. He updated the Empire’s code of law and instituted free education for boys. He’s responsible for the Empire’s unique artistic legacy. He wrote poetry, was an accomplished goldsmith, and led the world in architecture building mosques and public buildings. In Jerusalem he restored the Dome of the Rock and the city walls (still the Old City of Jerusalem’s walls) and renovated the Kaaba in Mecca.

And what a romantic! During the same era Henry VIII was arguing with the Pope about a divorce, Süleyman changed the law so he could not only marry his favorite concubine, Hurrem, but also live with her. He even bent the mores of the day inviting her to council meetings and taking her advice on matters of state. She was an important diplomat especially between the Ottoman Empire and her native Poland.

Fascinated with the Ottoman Empire and Halit I’ve gone on to an array of historical and contemporary movies, TV shows and books, both fiction and non-fiction. I highly recommend The Butterfly’s Dream (Netflix) a touching story based on two lesser-known Turkish poets, Rüştü Onur and Muzaffer Tayyip Uslu.

Over the past several months I’ve experimented with traditional Turkish recipes and learned lyrics to a few of their popular songs. And, yes, I’m working on the language (thanks Free Turkish Lessons Online or I should say soğul (pronounced sowl).

I guess the answers to my original questions can be both yes and no. It depends on the person doing the reading.

This personal admission of my fanaticism is just one example of historical fiction’s ability to promote a readers’ expansion of knowledge. I’m thankful for authors who give us the facts blended with imagination.

And I wish all of you a very Şükran Günü kutlu olsun (Happy Thanksgiving)

 

Move Over, Southern Writers

By  Karen Wills

Since my roomy at the Historical Novel Society 2017 North American Conference, Janice McCaffrey, has written about sessions she attended, I’ll continue the thread.

Libbie Hawker, a young writer I admire both for her talent and prodigious output, was to moderate a panel discussion listed as Historical Fiction through a Pacific Northwest Lens. Emphasis was on the region as our last frontier.  pacific nw

Since NW Montana as part of the Inland Northwest is a sort of cousin to the Pacific Northwest states only without a coastline, I decided to attend. A former member of Kalispell’s Authors of the Flathead, Janet Fisher (A Place of her Own, and The Shifting Winds) presence on the panel became another incentive. Additional speakers were Kirby Larson (Hattie Big Sky, the Audacity Jones series, and others), and Janet L. Oakley (Tree Soldier, Timber Rose, and Mist-Shi-Mus).

Panelists first addressed how curiosity about their region determines what they write. It also leads to sources chosen for research. These include Metzger maps, documents such as deeds, historical societies, old letters, and professional historians to interview. The list also included early regional newspapers. As an aside, Oakley reminded us when we’re researching online, to look for sites ending in edu or org. Also, in order to save later grief, for every source record its date and where you found it.

Kirby Larson also spoke to the special temptations of using everything you’ve found in research. She once wrote an entire chapter on how to bake bread in a wood stove. As Janet Fisher said, of historical fiction, “The background is the brush strokes. Give a sense of your era without going into great detail.”

When asked about writing about minority populations, such as the Japanese Americans interred during WWII, panelists agreed on very minimal use of offensive racist terms. Writers need to be realistic about the era being covered, while still recognizing twenty-first century sensibilities.

The panel surprised us by expressing a desire to have the vibrant group of Pacific Northwest novelists become as recognizable and distinct by region as the Southern writers, think Truman Capote or Harper Lee. I caught up with Libby later, and suggested us Inland Northwesters be included.

river with no bridge

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Historical Novel Society Conference 2017

Sis. McCaffrey

By Janice McCaffrey

The Historical Novel Society North American Conference convenes in the US during odd numbered years with its counterpart in even numbered years meeting in the UK. This year Portland hosted June 22nd – 24th. Karen Wills and I attended with participants from across North America, the UK, Australia, Europe, and South American.

In two days we had at least 15 hours of informative sessions led by successful authors, editors, agents, and publishers. As well as an interview of and speeches by the two Guests of Honor: Geraldine Brooks and David Ebershoff. And we had time in between to meet, greet, exchange business cards, and chat with other attendees.

Since I love research, my favorite sessions were the ones where ideas were shared about what, where, who, and how to learn and verify historical facts to give our fictional characters, settings, and circumstances credibility.

I’ll share a few:

Paterson’s Roads by Daniel Paterson gives detailed information about English travel from 1775 to 1820. Originally maps and notes for the military these publications were used by travelers as they took road trips to see the sites. Elizabeth Bennett’s Aunt and Uncle used one to find Pemberley.

If there are horses in your story than the book Writing Horses by Judith Tarr is invaluable. Google “everyday life of series” and you’ll find books about everyday life, past and present, for all classes of society in many countries. Htpps://archive.org boasts a free non-profit online library with “millions of free books, movies, software, music, websites, and more.”

If you need historical clarification about military uniforms, weapons, transportation, etc. from ancient to modern times it’s http://ospreypress.com. For travel throughout the Roman Empire http://Orbis.Stanford.edu. Words from the past? Try the Oxford English Thesaurus. Books of Manners were first published in 1500. I found some online at http://openlibrary.com

To find experts to interview or ask them specific questions online try htpps://academia.edu and Profnet Connect at htpps://prnewswire.com/profnet. One presenter said that she takes classes or lessons to learn about and understand specific trades and suggested htpps://mooc.org which has free online classes to help improve your career. Another said she has studied religions and cultures through Harvard htpps://online-learning.harvard.edu.

And who knew? Google Scholar says with them you can “Stand on the shoulders of giants” because they provide “a simple way to broadly search for scholarly literature. From one place, you can search across many disciplines and sources: articles, theses, books, abstracts and court opinions, from academic publishers, professional societies, online repositories, universities and other web sites. Google Scholar helps you find relevant work across the world of scholarly research.”

The conference concluded with the first ever after party where members of the Portland Jane Austen Club taught us how to play whist, the forerunner of contract bridge and past time of the gentry in 18th and 19th century England. In fact Edmund Hoyle wrote the first book of instructions for Whist which was published in 1742. And yes, that’s where the expression “according to Hoyle” began.

But my very favorite party activity was when an instructor, accompanied by live music of the era, led us through several English folk dances. It was such great fun and since I played the male partner all evening, I can dance like Mr. Darcy!!