“When He’s Ten . . .” And Now He’s Fifty!

When our youngest sibling (a boy) was born, my ten-year-old brother announced in awe, “When he’s ten, I’ll be twenty!” As if it was impossible for him to consider ever being twenty, which it might well have been.

My siblings and me with our grandmother, right after the youngest brother was born. This might even have been the date when my ten-year-old brother said, “When he’s ten, I’ll be twenty!”

My grandmother loved telling that anecdote, and she repeated it often over the years. Of course, she was just a few months short of sixty when it happened and had already lost one husband to death. Even being twenty might have felt long ago in her past, which is what made it amusing to her.

My take on the story at the time was that in ten years, I would be twenty-one—out of college, an adult, and voting. (The voting age hadn’t yet been reduced to eighteen.) I didn’t say so when my brother made his pronouncement, but the notion of adulthood awed me as much as it did him.

Earlier this fall, that ten-year-old brother turned sixty. Our “baby” brother turns fifty tomorrow. It is fifty years—half a century—since that story became part of our family lore.

Baby brother when he was ten, escorting our mother into my wedding.

Obviously, fifty years ago, baby brother was not thinking of what his life would become. Now he has been married for over fifteen years, and he and his wife have two children. His career is well-established. I’ve written about this youngest brother before—his childhood precociousness, the fulfillment of his childhood desire to become a pediatrician, his devotion to our parents, and his steadiness after their death. He has become a better adult than any of us had in mind half a century ago.

Meanwhile, long before age sixty, the ten-year-old brother became estranged from the family for reasons of his own. I wonder when his perspective changed from awe at the possibility of turning twenty to a decision he didn’t need the rest of us. He is independent, but I doubt he has the type of adulthood he imagined through his growing-up years.

And in the intervening half century, my perspective has changed as well. After all, I am now older than my grandmother at the time of that incident fifty years ago.

Not only am I an adult—as I have been for more than forty years—I’ve been married for forty years, had two children, completed a corporate career, and launched myself into a “retirement” career of writing novels. In fact, I’ve been “retired” from paid employment for more than a decade—the same time period that so awed my brother when he was ten.

A decade doesn’t mean what it used to. At ten, it is an entire lifetime. At fifty, it is only 20% of a life. At sixty, it is even less significant. My perspective on time has changed as I have aged. A half-century still seems like a lot, but even that means less than it did fifty years ago.

How have your perspectives on time changed as you have aged?

A Belated Veterans Day Post

It seems that in over five years of writing this blog, I have never written about Veterans Day. This year, I am finally doing it, albeit a couple of days late.

I never expected to be part of a military family. I didn’t have any veterans among my relatives. Neither of my grandfathers served during World War II. One grandfather was just past draft age in 1942. He also owned a business that made machinery for sawmills—his work was deemed part of the war effort. I don’t know why the other wasn’t called up—he was still of draft age, though at the high end. He was married and had two children, but so did other men. I never heard of any health problems that would have kept him from being drafted.

My father toyed with the idea of joining the Air Force during the Korean War, but his eyes were too bad for flight school (which is what he wanted to do), so he went to college, got married, and had kids.

My brothers did not turn eighteen until after the draft for the Vietnam War ended.

So none of the men in my family served, and of course, it was much rarer for women to serve.

USNA picture

Then I married a U.S. Naval Academy graduate, Class of 1971.

My husband and I met after he had served his five-year commitment in the Navy, during which he had both sea deployments and shore assignments. Though he had left active duty, he was still in the Naval Reserve and drilled every month while we were in law school together.

He thought about going back on active duty after law school, but I was adamant that I didn’t want to move our family every few years. I wanted to put down roots in a community. So he didn’t return to active duty, but he stayed in the Naval Reserve until 2001, when he had thirty years and was forced out as a Captain.

For the first twenty-four years of our marriage, then, he was in the Reserve. He drilled every month, often in cities far from our home in Kansas City—a couple of years in Milwaukee, another two in Fort Worth, and there were a few other cities he traveled to as well.

In uniform, as a Naval Reserve officer

In addition, he went on two weeks’ active duty every year. Sometimes he trained on a ship and was at sea. Sometimes he went to a course in Europe or did training exercises in Japan. Sometimes he set up a Mobile Inshore Undersea Warfare unit on the coast and trained.

These Reserve weekends and active duty periods always seemed to fall at the worst times.

Both of our kids were born on drill weekends. He had to skip the Saturday drills to be with me at the hospital. But he made the Sunday drills.

Our first dog went into seizures on a drill weekend when hubby was in Milwaukee. I had to take the poor thing (a 60-pound mutt) to an emergency vet clinic by myself to be put to sleep. The only 24-hour vet I knew of was all the way across the metropolitan area. Our son helped me load the dog into the minivan, but I was alone when I dragged him into the clinic.

Our toddler daughter broke her arm on the Friday of a drill weekend when my husband had already left for wherever he was going at the time. I took her to the pediatrician on Saturday morning, five-year-old son in tow. It was the only time in my life I showed up at the pediatrician’s office without an appointment.

Our son almost got our car insurance canceled due to too many speeding tickets. I found out while my husband was in Japan on his two-week stint. Son and I had several lengthy conversations about the issue before hubby returned, and I purchased alternative high-risk insurance for son as well.

All of this in the years before cell phones and text messages made communications around the globe a simple matter.

In addition to the crises, my husband’s stock response when we debated who ought to do what around the house, or which of us should ferry a child to a social or sports commitment, was “I provide national defense,” as if his Naval Reserve obligation should exempt him from all other responsibilities. He said it tongue in cheek, but he did spend many weeknight evenings after working as an attorney all day on Naval Reserve paperwork and training. It’s hard to argue with the importance of supporting the national defense mission.

I do not pretend that the problems our family faced were anywhere near as significant as those of families where one spouse has been deployed for months on end in a war zone. But my husband’s military service did have an impact on our family, and I experienced enough of the single-parenthood caused by a spouse’s service that I can relate to what service members and their families endure.

Our marriage survived my husband’s absences, and we celebrate our fortieth anniversary later this month. Many veterans are not so fortunate, and many military families disintegrate under the pressures of distance and trauma.

Our veterans deserve huge thanks from this nation for their service and sacrifice, and so do their family members who do without them.

A belated expression of gratitude this year—to my veteran and to all our nation’s other veterans.

The Baggage We Tote Around

In this phase of my life, I sometimes find that I am a bag lady. I often spend an entire day away from my house in meetings with other writers, in workshops and webinars, and in many other activities. For example, last Saturday, I attended a writing workshop from 9:00 am until 4:00 pm. And yesterday I was a poll worker from 5:00 am until 8:00 pm—a longer day than normal, but so be it.

On days when I’m going to be away from home, I gather all the belongings I’ll need—my laptop, a notebook, lunch and drinks, and the newspaper or a magazine or my tablet in case I have downtime and want to read. This time of year, I’d better pack a coat as well. All this stuff gets crammed into a tote bag—hence the reason I call myself a bag lady.

Recently, I’ve been using an old tote of my mother’s. I have a nice black leather tote, which looks more professional. But it’s heavy and the handles sometimes fall off. I have lightweight bags, but they are getting pretty worn (I’ve sewn the strap back on one of them with ugly brown stitches, and I no longer trust the straps on another bag) and are too summery for this time of year.

So my mother’s tote it is. It’s a good quality bag, with leather handles and trim, a heavy upholstery fabric, a nice lining, and a zipper pocket inside.

But it is definitely no longer in style.

I think I gave it to Mother one Christmas back in the 1990s. The label inside the bag says it was made for the Smithsonian Institute, and I recall doing a lot of my holiday shopping from the Smithsonian catalog back in the day. Perhaps it was in 1995, the year I did all my shopping from catalogs while sitting in the back of my minivan while my daughter took horseback riding lessons.

In any event, my mother was not hard on the bag, and it was still in good shape after her death. I recall her using it some, but not a lot.

On one of my visits shortly after Mother’s death, my father and I cleaned out her clothes from the closets in all three bedrooms of their house. He kept handing me things, saying, “Here. Can you use this?” And, “Take this. It’s brand new.”

I took a few items—a sporty jacket, a raincoat, a couple of purses, and this tote bag. Most of the items I’ve since given to Goodwill. My mother and I were close to the same size, but not exactly. Plus, many of her things were too far out of style to be wearable. And our tastes were not always similar.

But I kept the tote bag. And recently, I decided to start using it.

When I carry the bag, I think of my mother. I remember her in good times and in bad. The good times include her using this or a similar bag for knitting projects, back when she knitted baby sweaters for grandchildren. The good times include her writing years, late in her life, when she joined Questors and won an essay contest for local writers.

The bad times include her last couple of years at home, after she was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s and before she moved into an assisted living facility. During those years, she wouldn’t leave the house without three purses or totes, all crammed full of her “necessities.” These necessities included wadded up tissues, little notebooks, saltine crackers, and whatever else caught her fancy. She carried a wallet, but it didn’t have any cash. She didn’t carry car keys, as she no longer had a driver’s license.

It drove my father crazy waiting for her to gather all her bags before she would go wherever they were going. He was always early everywhere, and he fretted she would make them late.

In those bad years, she didn’t use this tote (stuffed full, she might not have been able to carry it). But she had a purse about half this size made out of a similar fabric. Even that purse weighed a ton. And she carried two other purses as well. We could usually talk her into leaving most of her bags in the car when she reached their destination, and my father would carry her “real” purse (the one with the empty wallet) when they went places. But she wouldn’t leave home without all her bags.

When I use my mother’s tote, I am reminded of these and other events marking the passage of time. Of ability and disability. Of making the best of the time we have, each day that we are given. And of the baggage that everyone carries every day—most of it inside of us, and not in the bags we tote.

What baggage do you carry?

The Power & Limits of Scrivener (for me)

As I try to polish and publish my third historical novel over the next couple of months, I thought it would be worthwhile to step back and take a look at the tools I’ve used in writing this draft, particularly Scrivener. I’m surprised that I haven’t written about Scrivener in almost a year.

For nonwriters and nonusers of Scrivener, this post will sound like Greek. My apologies.

And for Scrivener users, let me be clear that I’m using the Windows 1.9 version. I’m told the current Mac version has better features than the Windows version. (More on Scrivener updates at the end of this post.)

My history with Scrivener:

This current work-in-progress, Forever Mine, was the first novel I drafted in Scrivener. In the past, I drafted my novels in Word. I started using Scrivener in the summer of 2014 to write and organize my blog posts (I’m in Scrivener as I draft this post). Writing short documents (mostly 500-1000 word posts) turned out to be a really good way to get comfortable in Scrivener.

When I completed Lead Me Home in 2105 and Now I’m Found in 2016, I dumped the Word documents I’d used to create the print-on-demand (POD) versions for CreateSpace into Scrivener. I broke up the documents into chapters in Scrivener, and then compiled the resulting Scrivener files into ebook formats for Amazon (MOBI format) and Barnes & Noble (EPUB format). I learned a lot about the compile function in Scrivener doing the ebooks.

Drafting my current book:

When I started my current work-in-progress, I had two goals: First, I wanted to outline the book in more detail than I’d managed when writing my earlier novels. Scrivener, I knew, had better outlining tools than Word. Second, I wanted to see how far I could get drafting in Scrivener—would it prove an acceptable substitute for Word?

I found several advantages to outlining and drafting in Scrivener:

  • I could in fact outline, starting with a list of key scenes and turning points in the book, then building more scenes around these crucial points
  • I could move not only chapters around, but also scenes
  • I could label each scene by which character had the point of view
  • I could check the word count of each scene (and, if I worked at it, by chapter and total manuscript also)
  • I could import an 1847 calendar and other research tools, including character sketches, into Scrivener’s “Research” folder, for immediate reference
  • I could outline the novel using a three-act structure and various plot points, as described in a variety of novel-writing resources (this would be the first novel I tried to plot in advance, rather than shaping after a draft was done)
  • I could add a date field, so I could keep a running timeline going
  • I even imported the entire text of Lead Me Home into my Forever Mine Research folder, because the plots of the two novels are so intricately woven (same people on the same journey, but focused on different points of view)

But there were some disadvantages to using Scrivener:

Each week I had to spit out about ten pages to send to my critique partners, most of whom do not use Scrivener. At first, those pages were pretty ugly (Courier font), but over time, I learned to “compile” the chapters I wanted from Scrivener into a decent-looking Word document using settings that I saved to use week after week.

I don’t like Scrivener’s formatting features, which aren’t nearly as sophisticated as Word’s. However, the formatting was adequate for a rough draft, and I developed some “preset” formats that worked for me. I couldn’t divide the scenes with an image as I do in the published books, so that was another ugly aspect of what my critique partners had to see each week. But they’re patient.

As I worked, however, I decided that at some point I would have to dump the whole manuscript into Word and reformat it into the CreateSpace template for the POD. The compile feature in Scrivener simply wouldn’t get me where I wanted to go with the formatting.

I periodically did dump the manuscript into a PDF, so I could read through it on my Android tablet, but then I took the comments I’d made on the PDF and had to enter them into the Scrivener file. (Scrivener has an iOS version for Mac tablets, but not for Android.) I learned how to take the manuscript from Scrivener into the CreateSpace template with minimal fuss—as long as I complied using Header 1 and Normal styles, Word could interpret those and give me something I could work with.

Screenshot of my novel in Scrivener

Revising the novel:

I wrote the whole first draft if this novel in Scrivener, then started revising. I went through all the comments from my two critique groups and edited the manuscript, based on what they told me. I also did a lot of my own rewriting and correcting, and filled in what I’d left blank or sketchy on the first draft. All this, I did in Scrivener.

I also looked at the novel through each character’s scenes separately. This was a real advantage of Scrivener. Forever Mine uses six points of view, so I got to see how each character developed through the book. Scrivener lets the user create “collections” of scenes, which I did for each point-of-view character. I could have done more with this tool, and I might use it more on future books.

Converting to Word to polish:

Each run-through in Scrivener got easier, but I still thought Scrivener’s usefulness would end at some point. Many expert users of Scrivener stay in the program all the way through creating the POD and ebook versions. But I’m not that good at compiling, and I prefer the precision I can get in Word.

So about a month ago I “compiled” the entire manuscript as a Word document and switched from editing in Scrivener to editing in Word.

From this point forward, I’ll follow the process I used with my earlier novels—polishing and formatting in Word, then I’ll take it back into a new Scrivener file to convert to ebook format.

As a final note, Scrivener is about to launch a big update for its Mac version any day now. And users are told that the new Windows version will launch in a few months. I will likely update my Scrivener software when the new Windows version is available, but not until after the ebook versions of Forever Mine are published! Managing a software update and publication of a novel at the same time is probably more stress than I need.

For my earlier posts on Scrivener, see here and here and here.

Writers, what has your experience been with Scrivener?

A Halloween Story I’ve Never Told Before: Alone with the Wind

Every year on Halloween night, I remember Halloween night in 1963, when I was seven years old. Our family had just moved into a newly constructed house in a new neighborhood about a month earlier. I had my own bedroom for the first time in my life. My room was on the corner of the house, and the wind (always fierce in Richland, Washington, on the Columbia River) blew around that corner so hard it whistled and howled.

My younger brother and I had been out trick-or-treating earlier in the evening. I don’t remember what costumes we wore, nor which parent took us, though it was probably our father. I’m sure it was a happy evening, as all Halloween evenings are for kids of that age.

I was in second grade at a Catholic grade school, and the great thing about my school was that we always got November 1 off, because it was All Saint’s Day, a Catholic holy day. We had to go to Mass with our parents on November 1, but we didn’t have to do homework on Halloween night, so we could stay out a little later than the public school kids. Of course, for a seven-year-old, staying out late wasn’t a huge advantage, but it became a bigger deal as I got older.

After trick-or-treating, my brother and I came home, indulged in our favorite candy, then went to bed.

In the middle of the night, my father woke me up. “I have to take your mother to the hospital. Just stay in bed, go back to sleep, and I’ll be back by morning.” There was a sense of urgency in his voice.

Even at seven years old, I knew what the problem was. My mother was having a miscarriage. Again. She’d lost one baby in February 1960, then had a miscarriage in January 1962, and now was pregnant again.

Wide-eyed, I nodded my head at Dad, and he left.

I couldn’t go back to sleep. I tossed and turned and listened to the wind rattle the windows. In addition to concern about my mother, I worried about whether the house would burn down and whether a burglar would strike and all the other fears children have when they’re alone. I thought about waking my brother up, but Dad had said to go to sleep.

Finally, I turned on my light and read a book as the wind continued to wail. This might have been the first time I ever read in the middle of the night because I couldn’t sleep, though there have been many, many occasions since then when reading has been my remedy for insomnia.

At some point in the wee hours of the morning, I did fall asleep. Sure enough, Dad was home for breakfast, and he retrieved Mother by noon. She lost the baby, but otherwise, all was well, though I don’t think we got to Mass that day.

I’ve often wondered about my father’s decision to leave my brother and me at home by ourselves. We didn’t stay home alone during the day yet, nor in the evenings if our parents went out. This was the first time I’d ever been left in charge.

When my mother lost the first baby in 1960, I was not quite four. I don’t remember that night at all—he told me many years later that he put us in the back of the car, still asleep, and took us to the hospital with my mother, where he left us with the nurses. I don’t remember the 1962 miscarriage either. We were living in a small house with good neighbor friends next door—he might have called the neighbor lady to stay with us. (I do remember the neighbor lady bringing us casseroles in the days following.)

But in 1963, in our brand new neighborhood, we didn’t have next door neighbors yet, and didn’t really know anyone else in the few occupied houses on the block. Besides, I was seven—a big girl. I remember feeling very grown-up and responsible when Dad told me they were leaving me in charge. But I wasn’t grown-up enough not to fear the wind.

What frightening memories do you have from childhood?

Haunting Books: Too Close to the Nightly News for Comfort

I thought about only including historical fiction in my “haunting books” this year, but a few novels set in current times haunted me more—because their plots are so similar to what we see in the news all too often. These novels are Luckiest Girl Alive, by Jessica Knoll, This Is Where It Ends, by Marieke Nijkamp, and Truly Madly Guilty, by Liane Moriarty.

Each of these books is haunting enough for a dark autumn night when the wind blows hard and you want to hole up inside with a wood fire. Just be sure there’s someone close by to comfort you when you finish, because the books themselves are disconcerting enough to make you rethink your worldview.

WARNING: THERE ARE SOME SPOILERS IN THIS POST

Both Luckiest Girl Alive and This is Where It Ends deal with school shootings. Luckiest Girl Alive also deals with bullying, sexual assault, and other problems teenagers face today. We know from the beginning that the protagonist, TifAni FaNelli (yes, the strange capitalizations in her name are deliberate—Yuck) survives the shooting incident, but we come to see how ironic the title is—TifAni’s tale shows she is far from lucky, though she is alive. We do know from the beginning that TifAni has somehow moved beyond what happened to her in high school, because she tells the story as a 28-year-old back in her home town to participate in a documentary about the school shooting,

I found TifAni’s high-school story compelling in an “I hate to . . . . can’t wait to . . . see what comes next” sort of way. One tragedy after another befalls poor TifAni, and some of the situations she encounters are truly ugly, which is why the book haunts me. Ultimately, she became a high-school heroine in a violent and surprising way—though it takes a long time for Knoll to tell the reader that.

I did not find TifAni’s story as an adult once she “made something of herself” (she goes to Wellesley, becomes a magazine writer, and gets engaged to an “old money” guy) nearly as satisfying as seeing her finally take command of her situation in high school. In fact, I never did like TifAni as a character—she’s the epitome of ambition and self-deception. Even though I knew she was only trying to move beyond her terrible high-school experience, it left me cold.

TifAni rekindles a former crush—I won’t say any more than that. But this relationship is likely to cause harm to others, even if it allows TifAni to “find herself.” In other words, her redemption is not without its own problems. Knoll never confronts the morality of the choices TifAni makes as an adult—it is as if Knoll believes TifAni’s self-actualization is all that matters. But even as she comes to terms with her past, TifAni is still a bitch.

Knoll’s voice in Luckiest Girl Alive is strong. I think she nails the high school “mean girl” speak, as well as TifAni’s adult voice. I just wish Knoll had built a more likable protagonist.

This Is Where It Ends was even more haunting than Luckiest Girl Alive in recounting in real time what happened during the school shooting. Any book that involves killing 39 students and wounding 25 more is bound to be haunting. The entire book takes place during 54 minutes of the shooting as terror reigns while the students and faculty try to escape.

The descriptions are vivid, which adds to the haunting nature of the book, but the characters were somewhat confusing, in that it was hard to know which brother/sister pair was which. Most of the characters wore a large V for victim sign on their foreheads, and they weren’t very deeply drawn. Of course, in 54 minutes of horror, it’s hard to give very deep backstories for the characters. But because the characters weren’t depicted in much depth, I found it hard to care as much as I wanted to when they were injured or killed. Unfortunately, Nijkamp’s book ends with the resolution of the shooting, and we don’t see what befalls the survivors. Therefore, the book mostly haunted me as I read (it’s a quick read), but the characters didn’t stay with me.

Frankly, the real news stories about the recent Las Vegas mass shooting have been more haunting than these two school-shooting novels. I cared more about the real people I never met than the characters I spent 300 pages with.

The third book I’m featuring in this post, Truly Madly Guilty, has as its theme how different people at the same event can have different perspectives on what happened. Each character at an impromptu summer barbeque sees the event through his or her own backstory and baggage—and imbues the event with the moral impact his or her experience brings. Moriarty does an excellent job of developing six very complicated adults, plus some children.

In this case, each character feels guilty about what happened for a different reason. In the end, who caused the tragedy? We aren’t certain. All the adults are somehow at fault, and yet none of them were really responsible.

In fact, it’s not clear what the tragedy is. The reader suspects what happened, but it isn’t until the midpoint of the book that it is revealed—and it’s not as bad as it could have been. And then there’s a twist at the end that shows how another tragedy occurred—one that was more serious. Who was guilty of what? Though they were all truly guilty of something. A haunting story, indeed.

I thought Moriarty overplayed her hand at delaying the revelations—what happened wasn’t as earth-shattering as I feared through the first half of the book. The novel isn’t nearly as good as Gone Girl, though Moriarty’s book also involves unreliable narrators each recounting their own version of events. Despite the book’s shortcomings, I liked how Moriarty wove together the story of three marriages (and two of the couples had children, so their four methods of parenting) and multiple friendships and other relationships among the characters. I didn’t particularly like or relate to any of the characters (though they are all believable), but I think that was because the book depicts them at their worst. Or thinking of themselves at their worst.

That’s all the space I have for haunting books this year. Maybe I’ll use some of my 2017 reads next year. Until then, . . .

What’s the most haunting book you’ve read recently?

Houses in Oregon in the 1840s and 1850s

I keep finding new topics that I need to research as I write my historical novels. While I am finishing my current work-in-progress, I am also starting to think about my next book. That next book will begin in 1850, but I don’t yet know how long its timeline will continue. So far, I have only researched Oregon and California history between 1847 and 1850, so I will soon be spending more time in research.

In Lead Me Home, I wrote about 1847 emigrants traveling to Oregon in 1847. In Now I’m Found, I showed many of these emigrants settling into lives on land claims near Oregon City between early 1848 and late 1850. To write Now I’m Found, I had to speculate on what types of houses the emigrants built. I did some research, visited some pioneer reconstructions sites (mostly in the Midwest near my home), and found some pictures of log cabins that I used as models for my characters’ homes in Oregon.

On my main character Jenny’s farm in Now I’m Found, there were two residences. The cabin she lived in and a smaller cabin that the Tanner family lived in.

Here is a picture of what I imagined Jenny’s home to look like:

Here is an image of the smaller Tanner cabin on Jenny’s property, though the Tanners would have had a chimney and fireplace also:

(There was a barn on Jenny’s property also, but I never fully described it in Now I’m Found.)

Now I’m Found also mentions several other residences. For example,

  • Esther and Daniel Abercrombie and their children lived in a cabin similar to Jenny’s. They added on a room as their family expanded.
  • Zeke Pershing built a house on his claim also, though I never described it.

But when I start to write my next book, which I think will take place mostly or entirely in Oregon, I am going to have to have a better sense of what these structures look like. So I recently went back to the internet to do more research on housing in Oregon in the 1840s.

I found an article by Liz Carter entitled “Pioneer Houses and Homesteads of the Willamette Valley, Oregon: 1841-1865,” prepared for the Historic Preservation League of Oregon, dated May 2013. This article, plus earlier research I’d done, confirms how I pictured the homes in Now I’m Found. It also gives me some direction on how my characters will construct future dwellings and other buildings in my next books.

Quoting University of Oregon Professor Philip Dole, Ms. Carter says:

“On a typical claim three successive homes would be built, each an improvement over the preceding one. The last was, of course, the lumber house, but for almost every farm that ‘real’ house was at least six years into the future. A home of the first type…is characterized by: the speed of its erection; the use of rails or poles (round logs); the small size (the term ‘pen’ implies a single room); and what it was called, as ‘shelter,’ ‘rail pen’ or ‘log cabin.’ Partly on the basis of the quality of its construction, this pen or cabin might be used only a month or it might be used for years. Following it and preceding the lumber house was the second type –‐ substantial, carefully built, emphatically distinguished from the first ‘log cabin’ by its designation as ‘hewn log house.’ The logs are squared to give a flat inner and a flat outer wall. Of one or two rooms, with a sleeping loft above, the house would have glazed sash windows, doors, a fireplace, a staircase and one or two porches. The building process would require at least a month’s time and a ‘raising’ crew.”

So the Tanners’ cabin as depicted above was a one-room “rail pen,” while Jenny’s cabin was a “hewn log house” (though I call it a “log cabin”)—one large room, with a loft above, and a couple of windows. Daniel and Esther lived in a house similar to Jenny’s, but with another room added on.

Lumber house built in 1841, as depicted in Carter article

In my next book, some of the emigrants will build their “lumber houses” which will be larger and grander. But you’ll have to wait to see which characters come up in society far enough to build new houses.

It is nice to have my early speculations confirmed. It is even nicer to have a firm foundation for what I intend to write next.

What pioneer homes or reconstructed towns have you visited? What did you learn from them?