From the Perspective of a Point of View Nazi

Point of View Anchor Chart

Point of View anchor chart, from Teaching with a Mountain View

In my critique group, I’m known as the point of view Nazi. I am usually the one to notice when a writer has crept from one character’s point of view to another’s in the same scene. And I usually push my writing partners to go deeper into their protagonist’s point of view, showing not only action but also thoughts and feelings of the main character.

Point of view (POV) is defined as the eyes through which we see the action of a story. Selecting the point of view character is one of the most important decisions a writer makes. Usually, it is best to write a scene from the point of view of a character with a strong stake in the outcome of the scene. However, some writers choose to use a character who is more emotionally detached to provide a more objective perspective.

There are several points of view that writers typically use:

1. Omniscient (where the author flows from one character’s point of view to another within the same scene). Sometimes the author includes his or her own editorializing about what’s going on. This is an “anything goes” point of view, but readers may have trouble following what the author is saying.

2. First person (which forces the writer to stay in one character’s head at a time). This provides immediacy and depth, but restricts the action to scenes where that character is present.

3. Distant third person (where the author describes action from one character’s point of view, but doesn’t show much of that character’s thoughts or emotions). This POV is like writing through a camera on the character’s shoulder.

4. Close third person (which does go into the point of view character’s thoughts and feelings). This POV is more like writing through a chip implanted in the character’s brain.

Occasionally, an author will use a second person point of view, but the four options above are most typical. Moreover, the omniscient POV was more frequently used in the 19th century than in today’s writing.

Some writers stay in a single character’s point of view throughout an entire novel. Others move from one POV character in one scene to another character in the next scene.

Most writing instructors tell authors not to change points of view in the middle of a scene. When writers violate this “rule” of one POV character per scene, my POV Nazi hackles rise, even though the only real rule for writing a book is that there are no rules.

And most of the time in short stories, writers stick to a single POV character throughout the whole story, because the length of the piece doesn’t permit much character development otherwise.

Woman with typewriter.I’ve found that writers run into POV problems most frequently when they slip into the omniscient point of view from first or third person. All of a sudden, the reader is thrown out of the head of the original POV character and is seeing the scene from someone else’s point of view or from outside the scene (as if viewing from the GoodYear blimp). This gives my POV Nazi vertigo.

When I write, I find the following techniques useful to stay in one character’s point of view:

Point_of_viewFirst, I put myself in one character’s head and tell the story from that character’s perspective ONLY. It helps me to pretend that that character has a camera on his or her shoulder, like a cinematographer. In essence, I become that character while I write the scene. I only see and hear and smell and taste what that person sees and hears and smells and tastes.

Next, after I’ve written the scene, I go back to add in that character’s thoughts and emotions—whatever I imagine that character thinking or feeling. The setting and the action of the scene ought to evoke some reaction or response from the POV character, and that’s what I layer on my story, like icing on a cake. They might be feeling something in response to what they are sensing (the weather, sounds, smells, etc.), or they might be thinking about something in their past, or they might be thinking about something as irrelevant as how nice a piece of buttered toast would taste at the moment.

If I were really good, I could include these thoughts and emotions in as I write the scene the first time. But I find that I usually have to get the action down on paper first, then layer in more about my character’s thoughts and feelings.

One of the things I struggle with the most as a writer is getting into my characters’ emotions. Maybe it’s because I’m so into my characters that I think everyone should know what they’re feeling—after all, I know, so it should be obvious to my readers! Or maybe it’s because I’m an “S” not an “F” on the Myers-Briggs scale, and I have trouble expressing my own feelings. Nevertheless, my writing is better when I take the time to dig more deeply into my POV character’s head.

I’ve heard writers argue that writing from only one character’s point of view at a time limits what they can describe in the scene. Yes, it does. A writer has to be willing to do that. Some writers aren’t, and they write in omniscient point of view. But I find the omniscient point of view annoying—all that flitting from head to head—which is why I’m a point of view Nazi.

One way around the limited perspective of first or third person is to have other characters interact with the POV character during most scenes in the story. The other characters have some reaction or response to what the POV character says or does. The actions and dialogue of other characters adds their perspectives to the story, but ONLY in ways that the POV character can see or hear.

Keep in mind that not everything can be done in dialogue. I’ve seen some writers overuse dialogue where narration would work better.

Writers, what helps you stay in the point of view you have chosen for your story?

Sculpting My Novel and My Life

MC900290846My writing goal for the summer was to finish an edit of my second Oregon Trail book. I got it done just after Labor Day. Of course, that was not the end of the project. I know it needs another substantial edit. And probably another edit after that.

And I’m working still on the first book, which is closer to being finished, but could still benefit from some shaping.

Some writers seem to be able to dash off a first draft of their novel, go back through it once to catch typos, and declare it done. I can’t do that. Part of it may be my inexperience—I still consider myself to be a newbie novelist. Part of it may be my unwillingness to let go.

But a substantial part is that I know I can make it better with each draft. It isn’t time to let go of the book yet. Not until I am proud of it. It took me nine drafts (four of them major rewrites) to finish the novel I published under a pseudonym.

For me, writing a novel is like sculpture. With each draft, I lay down more clay or scrape it away to reveal the story inside. On the first draft, I write the bones, the skeleton of what happens. On the next draft, I further develop the plot and fix the obvious glitches. On the next draft, I add more character back story and emotion and description.

On the next, I focus on the story arc—making sure the plot points are at about the right points, that there is not much denouement after the climax, etc. It is surprising that if you look for plot points, they are there. It’s a matter of building them up so that readers feel satisfied with the timing of the twists in the story.

Of course, writing isn’t really as scientific as this. By the third draft or so, I’m sharing the story with my critique group, and they tell me where I most need to work. So the story arc draft may come before the emotion-adding draft. Or I have to go back to the plot when I’m told something isn’t believable.

Maybe it is inexperience that I cannot concentrate on everything that a novel needs at once. It is definitely my fault that my time is over-committed and each draft takes so much time.

But writing is what I want to do. No one will manage my time except for me. It is up to me to sculpt my life the way I sculpt my novel. I try on new activities for size—a board or committee here, a new critique group there. The activities that fit, I add to if I’m able. The ones that don’t, I carve away when I can.

Piece by piece, and draft by draft, our life work builds. On the pages we write and in the friends we make.

What sculpting does your life need?

Seeking Inspiration at the Plains Indians Exhibit (Nelson Atkins Museum of Art)

As soon as I heard about it, I wanted to see the Plains Indians special exhibit at the Nelson Atkins Museum of Art in Kansas City.  After all, I’m writing novels about travel across the plains in the 1840s—my visit to the museum would be research. So my husband and I set out for an afternoon at the Nelson a few weeks ago.

CantohujaI knew I would glean details that would enrich my novels, and the Plains Indians exhibit did exactly that. But I was also awed at the beauty of many of the objects on display.

For example, here is a picture of a pipe and tobacco bag from the Central Plains about 1845, the time my characters were traveling to Oregon. The bag was called a cantohuja, or “container of the heart.” It received this endearing name because of the sacredness of the pipe to the native peoples. I don’t currently have a pipe ceremony in my Oregon Trail novel, but perhaps I will have to work one in. At the least, I can describe a beaded, fringed bag such as this.

I was also impressed at how well-preserved most of the pieces were. Many of the exhibits were centuries old but could still be worn or used today. As I thought about this, I realized the Nelson would only include the best examples of Native American art and culture. But in addition, it occurred to me that the more enlightened white travelers in North America in the 18th and 19th centuries viewed the native tribes as anthropological oddities, so would have preserved what they collected for posterity. (The unenlightened behaved savagely to peoples they thought of as savages.)

There are stories behind the preservation of the objects in the exhibit. Who collected them? On what travels? On what occasions? And what did the collectors do with the objects originally?

Beaver bowlAs an example of the preservation of the exhibited items, here is a walnut bowl carved to resemble a beaver from around 1800. It is better polished than the walnut salad bowls I own.

The Native Americans my emigrant characters encountered might well have used such a bowl as they ate with the white travelers.  Would leftovers have been sent back to the wagons in such a bowl?

Elkhorn scraperAnother example is an elk antler scraper made in about 1820 used to prepare hides. I have written scenes where my characters buy hides and buffalo robes along the trail. The placard with the scraper informed me that this item might have been a woman’s most important tool. Note that even a utilitarian object such as this is highly decorated.

But my favorite object in the exhibit is the red stone pipe bowl shown below. It is from about 1820, and depicts a Pawnee myth involving a boy and bear. According to the description of the pipe, the bear derives power from the sun and the boy in turn receives power from the bear’s claws. It looks like it could still draw smoke.

I also wondered if a small child might play with such a pipe if he could get his hands on it. Perhaps a child in my novel could do exactly that.

Pipe with Boy & Bear

The museum curators describe their exhibit as follows:

Together the 140 works will reveal the accomplishments of Plains Indian artists, not only as the makers of objects that sustain tradition and embody change, but as the bearers of individual creative expression and innovation.
 

This description is accurate, but it doesn’t invoke my imagination the way the actual objects did. As I walked through the art and objects of daily living, I thought about the history of the native peoples and the emigrants who went through the prairies, about the humane and inhumane encounters between these peoples through decades of change, and about how our lives are different today because of these encounters.

The Nelson Plains Indians exhibit contains objects from around the United States from Massachusetts to California, the Dakotas to Texas, as well as those from museums and collections in England, France, Germany, and Switzerland.

Beaded boots 2014The Plains Indians exhibit displayed Native American artworks from the earliest discovered items all the way into modern creations. I admired this pair of beaded boots by Jamie Okuma made in 2014, though I must admit I preferred the older objects, which looked like they contained more stories.

The Plains Indians exhibit will be at the Nelson until January 11, 2015. I encourage you to go see it—it is well worth your time. And, of course, you can also partake of the food and atmosphere in Rozelle Court while you’re there.

When have you been inspired by a museum exhibit?

Haunting Book: The Book Thief, by Markus Zusak

Book Thief coverI’ve posted about other haunting books set during wartime (see here and here). The Book Thief, by Markus Zusak, is as haunting as any of those featured in my earlier reviews.

A writer friend of mine gushed one day, “You’ve got to read The Book Thief. It’s so wonderful. And I am the Messenger. Zusak’s language is so good. Every writer should read them.”

She is someone whose opinion I value, so I tried The Book Thief. It was wonderful—beautiful language, a poignant and riveting story. I wasn’t so crazy about Zusak’s first novel, I Am the Messenger. The Australian writer Zusak was more successful in portraying Nazi Germany than in writing about his native country.

The Book Thief is the story of a young girl, Liesel Meminger, whose mother sent her to live with a foster family in Germany during World War II. She is the book thief of the title and steals books from a wealthy woman in town. Her foster family also harbors a Jewish man, and much of the novel deals with the relationship between Liesel and the Jewish Max Vandenburg.

Although the novel has been marketed to a young adult audience, it is a dark and tragic tale, and the narrator is Death. Some readers think Zusak’s choice of perspective is weird, but it worked for me. Death stalks the characters from the very beginning of the story, when Liesel’s little brother dies and she steals her first book, The Gravediggers Handbook. Death is omniscient, while a human character would not be, allowing for a rich story that sees more than Liesel possibly could.

SPOILER ALERTS—THE REST OF THIS POST DISCUSSES THE PLOT AND THEMES IN THE BOOK THIEF.

The characters in The Book Thief were unique: Liesel herself, trying to survive her childhood during wartime; Rosa Hubermann, the gruff foster mother who worries about feeding the child; Hans Hubermann, the artistic foster father who worries he cannot feed Liesel’s spirit and so teaches her to read; the Jewish refugee Max Vandenburg who also feeds Liesel’s love of books; the neighborhood rapscallion Rudy Steiner, as trapped by the war as Liesel is; and the rich mayor’s wife Ilsa Hermann who permits Liesel to steal books from her library.

Death himself is a compelling character. Who knew Death has such a wry sense of humor? He tells us early on:

***HERE IS A SMALL FACT  ***
You are going to die.
 

In The Book Thief, Death is overworked in wartime and compassionate toward his customers, not the Grim Reaper of Ingmar Bergman films. He needs a vacation and a distraction. Death explains himself:

. . . why does he even need a vacation? What does he need distraction from?
. . .
It’s the leftover humans.
The survivors.
They’re the ones I can’t stand to look at, although on many occasions I still fail.
. . .
It’s the story of one of those perpetual survivors–an expert at being left behind.
It’s just a small story really, about, among other things:
* A girl
* Some words
* An accordionist
* Some fanatical Germans
* A Jewish fist fighter
* And quite a lot of thievery
 

That, in a nutshell, is the story.

The childhood friendship between Liesel and Rudy develops into puppy love (more on Rudy’s side than on Liesel’s), and the reader yearns for their adolescent infatuation to mature into adulthood. Even Death seems to root for them. But will they survive the war to let it happen?

Although the plotline is often harsh, the moments of kindness in The Book Thief give the tale a humanity—even from Death—that I found both tragic and sweet. Zusak writes about the randomness of life and about how we can change its course through how we treat others. His prose is unsentimental and lyrical, tragic and sweet.

Not everyone dies in the course of the novel, though Death does greet many of the characters. I won’t tell you who dies and who survives. All I’ll say is that I cried.

The Book Thief makes a strong case for the power of words and of writing to maim and to save. As Hitler’s Mein Kampf killed a nation and much of a continent, so Max’s words and Liesel’s own become balm for the soul.

I have not seen the movie, but I’d like to see how much of the mood of the novel was retained. The book has almost 70,000 reviews on Goodreads, so I won’t go into any more detail; you can read about it there. I’ll just say, every writer should read The Book Thief.

What book would you recommend to writers?

Author’s Blog Chain

I’ve been asked to participate in an Author’s Blog Chain this week, which gives me the opportunity to tell you more about my writing.

Juliet Kincaid, a Kansas author and member of the local Sisters in Crime chapter, tagged me on her blog, Juliet Kincaid, Writer. Juliet has recently written a series of cozy mysteries featuring Cinderella, P.I., as well as January Jinx, the first book in her new series of historical mysteries set in Kansas City around 1900. These are all available on Amazon.com.

Please check out Juliet’s blog or follow her on Facebook to find out more about her writing.

This author’s blog chain asks me to answer four questions.

What are you currently working on?

I am currently editing my two novels on the Oregon Trail. I have edited the first novel pretty thoroughly, but it probably needs one more edit to slim it down a little. I am spending most of my time now on the second novel in this series, and I’m just part way through this re-write. I’m working hard with a critique group and I’m focusing on plot development.

There is a third novel in this series, but it is still in my head. I may also write a novella about two of the supporting characters in my Oregon Trail series.

Family Recipe front cover finalI also plan to publish another anthology of my short stories, essays, and poems this spring—a follow-up to my Family Recipe anthology published in 2012.

Meanwhile, last October, I published another novel under a pseudonym—a contemporary thriller. It is completely different from my Oregon Trail books.

How does your work differ from others in the same genre?

In my first Oregon Trail novel, which focuses on a wagon company traveling the trail in 1847, I tried to be historically accurate, down to where the emigrants camped each night. I relied on old diaries of real emigrants that year to determine how far they traveled, where they stopped, and what they did along the way. Some of them went on sight-seeing trips away from the wagons to avoid another boring day of walking the trail. Some of those day trips made their way into my novel.

cropped-mc9001498821.jpgI used terrain maps to find the gullies and hills mentioned in the old diaries, but I’ve had to allow for the development of the land over the last 160+ years. Still, it is amazing how much one can learn from Google Maps! Many of today’s urban routes are still named “Emigrant Road” or some other designation showing that the pioneers passed that way.

The second book in my series has a broader sweep—encompassing events from 1848 through 1850 in both Oregon and California. My challenge in this book has been to make sure my chronology depicts accurate times for letters to reach from one territory to the other. At the same time, I have to be careful not to bore today’s audience used to instant communication through emails and texts. What else can happen while I wait for one character to learn what the other has been doing?

My novels are suitable for any audience from high school through adult. They could be used as an adjunct to a high school level American history class, as well as (I hope) telling a good story.

Why do you write what you write?

I am in awe of the courage it took our ancestors to travel thousands of miles to unknown lands, hoping for a better life for themselves and their children. The challenges of the Oregon Trail have caught my imagination because I have lived at both ends of the trail—now in Missouri, but I grew up in Oregon and Washington. I have traveled the trail backwards!

whitman_missionGrowing up, my family took several day trips to the Whitman Mission over the years. The frightful massacre of Marcus and Narcissa Whitman and others at their mission scared me as a child. As I have researched and written these books on the Oregon Trail, I have discovered how complicated history can be when seen from multiple perspectives.

How does your writing process work?

The main characters in my novels have been in my head for over twenty years. But I find as I write their stories that they are not always who I thought they were. They put their own voices in my head, and sometimes move in directions I do not anticipate.

Because these books are historical fiction, I am bound by history. One of my main goals is to be historically accurate. But I also want to tell a good tale, to make my readers care what happens to these fictional emigrants.

When I began writing the first novel, I knew where and when in 1847 they left Independence, I knew when they would arrive at the Whitman Mission (before the Whitmans died), and approximately when they would arrive in Oregon. I knew the general route they took, but I had to make some decisions about particular short-cuts available in 1847—which route would they take?

Beyond that, I let the characters develop their conflicts. Some characters took over at certain points, and I let them run with it. Any time you put a group of people together, there is plenty of conflict!

For the second book, kind of like Forrest Gump, I had certain places I wanted one of my characters to be at a certain time—like when gold was discovered in California in 1848. I am working the plot around those incidents, but it is still a work in process. Sometimes it’s easy to set the chronology, and other times I have to really work at it.

* * *

Thank you for taking the time to read about my forthcoming novels. I’ve been blogging about them for two years now. Someday they will be ready for prime time, and you will be the first to know.

I am tagging another author to continue this author blog chain—Beth Lyon Barnett, author of another historical novel, Jazz Town, who blogs at Beth’s Everything Blog. I know she is hard at work on her second novel, and I hope she will tell you about it soon. Hop over to her blog to find out more about her work.

Writing About Race in Historical Fiction

As a writer of historical fiction, one of the issues I struggle with is how to portray interactions between characters of different races. I could ignore the topic by not having characters of different races in my novels, but I think part of the purpose of writing historical fiction is to show the time period of the novel in all its facets. Race has been an issue in American life since our earliest days.

The Bogle Family, African American emigrants to Oregon

The Bogle Family, African American emigrants to Oregon

I made one of the families in my novels about the Oregon Trail an African American family. They want only what the white families want—a better life for themselves and their children in a new land. How the white characters treat the Black family, both along the Oregon Trail and after they arrive in the West, is one of the issues dealt with in my books.

But as I wrote, I faced many decisions as a writer:

  • What do I call African Americans in the novel?

The term African American was not used in the 1840s. Black? Colored? Negro? Do I use racial epithets of the day? The challenge is to be accurate to the historical period, yet not offend modern readers. The texts and speeches of the 19th century about African Americans sound horribly condescending and prejudiced to today’s ear, even those by whites intending to “help” Blacks.

  • How much detail do I include about the laws of Oregon regarding non-whites?

As a novelist, I have to be careful to relate only what is relevant to my story. This is true with any research done for a historical novel—the author includes only a fraction of the history learned through research. I need to know what the law was at each point in my story, so that I can be accurate, but the reader doesn’t need to know every detail.

My first book takes place entirely in 1847, but my second spans 1848-1850. Here is a summary of what I learned in my research, though not all of this finds its way into the novels:

The early years in Oregon were full of confusion. The Provisional Government of Oregon (the first territorial government) enacted the Exclusion Law of 1844, which banned African Americans from settling in the territory. To its credit, the Provisional Government also banned slavery and required any slaveholders bringing slaves into the territory to free their slaves within three years of coming to Oregon or remove them from the territory. But the Exclusion Law required any free Blacks over the age of 18 to leave the territory—men within two years, and women within three years. Black children could stay until they turned 18.

The original 1844 Exclusion Law provided that any African Americans who remained in Oregon after being freed would be whipped and expelled. The “Lash Law” as it was called was repealed within months as being too harsh, and a new law passed that substituted forced labor for the whipping. The labor of Blacks who were in the territory illegally was to be sold at auction, with the purchaser of the person’s services required to remove the individual from the territory within six months after the involuntary servitude ended. This law in turn was repealed in 1845, even before it took effect.

But imagine the turmoil of African American emigrants during this time.

In 1849 another exclusion law was passed.  This one allowed Black residents already in Oregon to remain, but banned further African Americans from coming to live in the territory. African Americans who moved to Oregon would be arrested and ordered to leave. Only one Black resident of Oregon is known to have been exiled—Jacob Vanderpool, a boarding house and saloon owner, who in 1851 was convicted and told to leave the territory within 30 days.

Thus, despite very harsh laws on the books, it appears they were mostly ignored. Still, the threat of expulsion loomed over those African Americans who chose to emigrate to Oregon.

[NOTE: The rest of Oregon’s history of racial exclusion is not relevant to my novels, but here is a summary: In 1854, the Exclusion Law was repealed, although some think the repeal was accidental. In any event, the first Oregon Constitution passed in 1859 included a racial exclusion banning Blacks from emigrating to Oregon or owning land in the state. This remained state law until the post-Civil War Fourteenth and Fifteenth Amendments to the U.S. Constitution made such restrictions illegal. The Oregon Constitution was not formally amended to repeal these restrictions until 1926.]

  • How much do I show the prejudice of even sympathetic whites of the day? By showing racial prejudice, do I make my characters repellant to modern readers?
Mary Jane Holmes Shipley Drake, African American emigrant to Oregon

Mary Jane Holmes Shipley Drake, African American emigrant to Oregon

The abolition movement was strong by the late 1840s, but many—if not most—whites who abhorred slavery still did not approve of integration, and prejudice was strong in most white communities. Blacks tended to work in jobs requiring little education, such as service or manual labor. They tended to live separately, unless they were working for a white family.

Clearly, even non-slaveholding states have a checkered past when it comes to racial prejudice. The challenge for the writer of historical fiction is to present a faithful picture of the past, while letting the story come first.

I want my characters to be likeable to modern readers, but I also want them to be true to their times. One of my main characters comes from abolitionist New England, the other from a slaveholding family in the South.

For more on the racial exclusion laws of Oregon, see the following:

http://www.historicoregoncity.org/index.php/widgetkit/oregon-trail-history/item/exclusion-laws

http://www.historicoregoncity.org/index.php/widgetkit/oregon-trail-history/item/black-pioneers-and-settlers

http://oregonblackpioneers.org/historybriefs.htm

http://www.blackpast.org/perspectives/black-laws-oregon-1844-1857#sthash.MXb6SiNX.dpuf

http://www.portlandoccupier.org/2012/11/28/why-arent-there-more-black-people-in-oregon/

http://www.wou.edu/tri/usp/556/OregonRacialLaws.pdf

http://www.endoftheoregontrail.org/slavery.html

Have you noticed novels written about earlier eras that seem inaccurate about those time periods, and how do you react? Or do the characters’ beliefs that were common in the earlier era, but are unacceptable today, make you dislike the novel?

The Times, They’re Not A-Changin’

For those of you who want an update on my writing about the Oregon Trail, I just started delving into the first draft of my second novel in that series. Writers recognize this as a very dangerous point—will I hate every page or will I think it is all wonderful?

Neither of those perspectives is a useful frame of mind at this stage.

I need is the objectivity of a reader coming fresh to the page. It’s been a year since I finished the rough draft, so I think I have that objectivity. I also have the benefit of a wonderful critique group, who will read my newly edited chapters as I go.

I am finding I need to plug some holes in the plot and to even out the pacing, so I’m doing more research as I edit. I want to be sure I am grounded in the history of the places where the book is set, which has set me to reading old Oregon and California newspapers, month by month as my chapters move through time.

I’ve mentioned old newspapers as valuable sources of information before, and I am fortunate that the locales where my novel is set have papers from the 1840s and ’50s available online.

The newspapers of the day contained reports from the skirmishes of the nearby Cayuse War to avenge the Whitman Massacre and of the far-away Mexican-American War that would shape the boundaries of the southwestern United States.

These reports were often delayed for months after the events in question. Some of the reports of the Mexican-American War came to Oregon via the Sandwich Islands (known today as Hawaii).

Archbishop Francis Norbert Blanchet (from Wikipedia)

Archbishop Francis Norbert Blanchet (from Wikipedia)

Even a December 16, 1847, letter written by the Catholic Archbishop of Oregon City, Francis Norbert Blanchet, about the tragedy of the Whitman Massacre was not printed until the March 9, 1848, issue of the Oregon Spectator. Did the editor only just get a copy of the letter, or had he held on to it for several weeks before printing it? The paper was printed twice a month, so he could well have had earlier opportunities to print the letter.

As I launch into this reading project, I find not only military and political history, but gems of social history as well:

  • Whose wife would no longer be responsible for her husband’s debts, because he had left her hearth and home.
  • Which ships have entered port, and which stores have received new merchandise from their cargos.
  • The best times to plant which fruits and vegetables.

These gems tell us about the character of the people who populated Oregon City when my characters did. Some of them may even find their way into my novel.

Here are two nuggets I found in the Oregon Spectator. (My apologies to those of you who follow my Facebook Author page, because I posted these there a couple of weeks ago.)

The first is a joke printed in the February 10, 1848, issue of the Spectator, which is just about the time my novel opens:

— Well, Susan, what do you think of all married ladies being happy?
— Why, I think there are more that AIN’T that IS, than there IS that AIN’T. (emphasis in original)

As you can see, not much has changed in how we use humor about marriage in 165 years.

And in the February 24, 1848, issue of the Spectator, we find a letter to the editor, showing us that opinions of the press have also not changed across time:

From what I have seen in The Spectator, . . . You’ve given us what pleases you, and what you dislike you withhold. Your summary for two years amounts to a perfect aggravation, and nothing more. . . . you had no business to garble a single resolution that was stillborn, simply because it suited your purpose; in doing so you not only lowered yourself but perverted the press . . . .

Who among us does not find the press perverted at times and “a perfect aggravation”?

One of the great things about writing historical fiction is creating characters that are as real as the people who live today and setting them in fascinating places from the past. The characters can be as real as the people we know because the human race really hasn’t changed much in hundreds and thousands of years.

When has historical or family information made you realize that people have not changed throughout the generations?