It’s Throwback Thursday and this week’s question is – if you could go to any one place in history, where would it be and why? Ancient Greece? Medieval France? Czarist Russia? Paris in 1943? London in 1066? Tell us where you’d like time travel to….
Ok, I admit it, I was a history teacher. I taught American History and Western Civilization at the college level. I think being a history teacher was great preparation for being a story teller. After all, that what history is, the story of who we are and where we come from. It’s the story of us.
You want to make the history personal to the students. One of my favorite lectures to do this was talking about surnames in the Middle Ages. Once the population began to grow there had to be a way to tell all the Tom, Dick and Harry’s from one another. So surnames were added. Names came from a variety of way. Many from attaching the patronymic ‘son of’. Examples: Leif Ericson (Eric’s son), George MacDonald (son of Donald), John O’Reilly (son of Reilly), Ivan Petrov (son of Petre), John Williamson (son of William). OK, you get the idea.
Some names came from where you lived. Woods, Fields, Rivers, Bridges. Or if your French instead of English, DuBois (the woods), DuPont (the bridge). Who you worked for such as King (Reyes, Reyna, Roi/Roy), Bishop, Priest, Mayor, etc.
Surname also came from occupations. Farmer, Cook, Butcher, Clerk/Clark, Fuller, Dryer, Miller, Taylor/Tailor, Cooper, Butler, Fletcher, Wright (depending on what you built – Boatwright, Wheelwright, Cartwright), etc. All these occupations exist in languages other than English, such as the German Snyder (tailor). And of course, the most common surname, Smith.
One of my family names is Palmer – which means at one time, some of my ancestors made a pilgrimage to the Holy Land.
Do any of you have great stories of your family names?
When I was starting to write Kentucky Green, I made a collage. This idea was suggested at one of our chapter workshop. I found it to be a good exercise as I’m a very visual person. Once I decided on Kentucky, and who my hero and heroine were and what they looked like, that’s when I started looking for photos for my collage.
I used a 2’ x 3’ bulletin board, so I just stapled or pinned the things I found to the board. As I wrote or found more items, I just kept adding things (when I finished the story, I decoupaged all the items to a poster board so it’s permanent).
The best place for photos of scenery is in National Geographic. When our Friends of the Library have their annual sale, I look through boxes of old National Geographic magazines. For ten cents I buy all the ones with articles on a place I might want to set a novel.
You can see how important setting is to me by all the scenery on the collage. Several of the photos sparked scenes in my novel. Dan and April stand together looking out over the land, the line of ridges that march over the land. The photo of the ferns (from a story about Kentucky in National Geographic) also plays into the story.
As you can see, I used a lot of images from the film The Last of the Mohicans. Although the film is set a generation earlier than Kentucky Green, the images work. My hero, Dan, is often dressed just like Hawkeye (Daniel Day Lewis). The center image is actually the cover for the audio tape of the motion picture sound track (the sound track now upgraded to a CD in my collection) which I used a back ground music while I wrote.
I have the major photo of the hero and heroine on opposite sides of the collage, to represent how they are in opposition at the beginning. One of the problems I had in the first draft of the opening, was that the heroine kept apologizing. Too wimpy. So I found the picture on the upper right hand side. This woman is not one to go around apologizing, and her hair do is pretty close to how April wears her hair (a double good photo!).
If you’ve read the book, you might be able to pick out other items that appear in the story. And I had some visual images to send in for the cover. If you’re a write and having trouble with your story, you might try making a collage.
One of the worst things that can happen to a writer is a happy childhood, a functional family, an optimistic point of view. What can there be to write about with such poor resources, such fallow ground? And yet, we are driven, no less than our unhappy colleagues, to form words into sentences, sentences into pages, pages into stories.
When we start a new story, of these, what is the first element we create to work with?
Setting as Inspiration
I love the Southwest and its history. When my delightful hubby wanted to visit New Mexico in August, I was pumped. Then he mentioned Roswell, graveyards, and alien space museums, not exactly my style. However, I saw my opportunity to visit a place I had waited patiently to see for thirty-seven years. After a tad bit of persuasion, refusing to visit Roswell unless we also visited Gila National Monument Cliff Dwellings, my drag-your-feet hubby reluctantly agreed. Not wanting me to be disappointed, he warned that the guidebooks considered the ancient Mogollon cliff dwellings at Gila less than spectacular.
In my humble opinion the guidebooks lie. Gila National Monument sits in a remote part of the Gila National Forest. The forty-four mile, narrow, winding, and sometimes one lane rode from Silver City offered very spectacular mountain and valley vistas. Deer, a wild turkey hen and her chicks, a herd of wild boar, and ground squirrels ventured within inches of the car during the drive. What a treat.
By the time we reached the monument, my downright impressed hubby was hooked and merrily snapped picture after picture with his fancy camera. The dwellings themselves were every bit as interesting and intricate as those found in Mesa Verde. But, wouldn’t you know, after a mile hike to the five cliff dwelling caves high in the cliff face, his snazzy camera ran out of batteries at the first cave.
All was not lost, however. The guide who led us through the ruins told a fascinating tale. Wild herds of cattle used the old Mogollon site as winter cover. In the 1880s, a rancher searching for his strays discovered the site, and the earliest national park restorers at Gila dug out two feet of cow dung that covered the artifacts in the first cave. Park officials still run wild cattle out of the caves after severe storms. Those wild cows must be part mountain goat. Even though I didn’t get the pictures I wanted, that wonderful little tidbit of information is sure to come in handy in my New Mexican rancher’s romantic tale.
For more information on Gila Cliff Dwellings National Monument (U.S. National Park Service) at http://www.nps.gov.gicl/. Check out the view.