Writing Historical Fiction

Lorraine
Ladies were not part of the battle, but when you’re doing a reenactment with only a handful of folks, the ladies might hide in the trees and fire off a dozen or so rounds to add to the ambiance.

Oh dear.

As I hope most of you know, I write historical fiction. But not VERY historic. I’ve written as far back as the 1940s, which means when I want to do research I can often pick up the phone and just call someone who was alive then.

But this past weekend I went to a reenactment of the Battle of Kings Mountain. That would be a Revolutionary War battle fought to the south and east of where I now live. And while there were only a handful of folks depicting the unexpected overthrow of the British, it was oddly moving when the battle was won and a spectator yelled, “Go USA!”

I attended because some friends are reenacters. And VERY authentic, too. Their clothing is all handmade and true to the period (no buttons for the ladies and yes, Lorraine was wearing stays). The muskets were reproductions of the real deals and while they weren’t firing musket balls, they did use paper powder cartridges as the soldiers would have.

Seeing men firing long rifles against the beauty of the mountains brought history to life in a way I hadn’t expected and it occurred to me . . . shooting

One of the main reasons I don’t write fiction from longer ago is all the research that’s required. I love to jump into stories having a pretty good idea about what daily life would have been like so I can focus on the people. (Lazy? I won’t argue if you think so.)

But with friends like Dennis and Lorraine if I DID want to write a story from the late 18th century, and I had a question . . . I could just pick up the phone and ask it. My family’s history in Appalachia certainly goes back that far. Brothers David & Elijah Phillips left Massachusetts for what is now French Creek, WV, because they were Patriots and their father and brothers were Loyalists. A family divided!

Like I said at the beginning. Oh dear.

My problem isn’t trying to think of something new to write, it’s deciding which of the hundred stories bouncing around inside my head I’ll give a voice.

Lest my editor or agent see this and get worried, I have no plans to write a Revolutionary War tale. It’s not really my brand. But maybe one of these days . . .

Appalachian Serenade Quotes to Lighten Your Day

Appalachian SerenadeYou can still download Appalachian Serenade, the novella that kicks off the Appalachian Blessings series, for free–Kindle, Nook, or just an e-file for your computer. It’s a sweet little story, not too complicated, with a happy ending (I aim to do that EVERY time). Here are a few of my favorite quotes from the book. Hope they lighten this day when we’re dealing with a sad anniversary and a raging storm.

He wanted to say something . . . poetic. Instead he’d talked to her about mud and manure. – Robert Thornton

You need a man who will challenge you, who will encourage you to be better than you are. A man who compliments and loves you is a good thing, but the real prize is a man who tells you when you’re wrong and when you’re taking the easy way out. – Emily Phillips

Sometimes God gives you strength to do without because, for whatever reason, he knows it’s better for you not to have your heart’s desire. – Charlotte Long

If there’s one thing I know after all these years, it’s that you lose every time you try to out maneuver God. – Robert Thornton

God knows best. It doesn’t always feel like it, but I’m pretty sure he does. – Charlotte Long

He felt certain God had a plan. He just wished he knew what it was. – Robert Thornton

We all need a little pretty in our lives. Mother always said so. – Liza Talbot

Appalachian Thursday – Porch Sitting Weather

Olivia kisses
Porch-sitting at the farm.

While it’s still a little early to proclaim the season changed, we are getting the loveliest taste of fall this week. Which means it’s prime porch sitting time!

The house we live in has the sorriest excuse for a front porch. But it’s still a porch and I’ll take it. Because the need to sit on the front porch is embedded in my genetic material.

Porch sitting is simply a way of life in the mountains. It’s for work, for socializing, for relaxing, and for keeping an eye on the neighborhood (people AND critters). Characters in my novels do all kinds of things on porches–cry over men, talk about weddings, wait for family, digest meals. Porches make an appearance in pretty much all of my stories.

Every dog I’ve ever had loved ducking under the porch. Sometimes wild animals move in under there (we had a skunk for a time). If the porch is high enough, kids will, too. The porch light serves as a beacon of welcome. Once, we slept on the porch.

On these cool, pre-autumn days, my husband and I will take a glass of wine out after dinner to sit on our skinny little excuse for a porch and enjoy some lazy talk. No serious topics, no important decisions, just chat. Because porches bring that out–that desire to idly talk about nothing in particular. At peace and in communion. Waving to the cars going by.

Probably, if we could get the people we don’t see eye-to-eye with to sit with us on a porch with a glass of lemonade (or something stronger), we’d learn that we have a lot more in common than we ever realized.

Just don’t disturb the bird nesting in that hanging basket. The eggs should hatch any day now.

Appalachian Thursday — Apple Pie Days

applesEarly signs of autumn are showing. Ironweed and Joe Pye weed blooming along the road. Cooler nights. A few leaves beginning to turn. And . . . apples! Oh, such an abundance of apples.

We’re blessed with a neighbor who has five apple trees all burdened with fruit this year. My favorite are the sweet/tart green apples that I’ve already been eating for more than a week. Next are the lovely, speckled rusty red apples perfect for applesauce and pies.

What kind are they? I call them Shopestone apples, named for a nearby creek and the neighbor who lets me pick all I want.

There are few things more pleasing than picking apples late in the afternoon and then eating warm apple pie with vanilla ice cream that evening.

If you want to test that theory yourself, here’s the recipe my friend Marilyn gave me written in her own shorthand style.

Marilyn’s Apple Crumb Pie – “The Family Recipe”

Crust: Pillsbury, red box, dairy aisle. Use single crust–put in pie plate, trim, flute.
Filling: Apples–cut, pared, sliced (Granny Smith is the best)
Sprinkle: 1/2 cup sugar mixed with 1 tsp. cinnamon
Topping: 1/2 cup sugar, 3/4 cup flour, 1/3 cup butter
Bake: 400 degrees F–40 minutes (sometimes longer)

I find that 5 large, grocery store apples fill the crust. Smaller, homegrown varieties may take 6 or 7. And you’d be remiss if you didn’t serve this warm with vanilla ice cream.

Appalachian Thursday–Stinging Insects

hornetsIf you read Monday’s post, you know why stinging insects are on my mind this week. Late summer and early fall in Appalachia is prime time for running into yellow jackets, hornets, wasps, and bees. First, their hives (hence their populations) have been growing all summer. Second, the bears, skunks, and other critters consider their larvae candy. And third, they’re going to die soon.

I might be running around looking for someone to sting, too!

But as you may have realized, in my world, everything is fodder for words. So here’s a poem from a few year’s ago that came to mind this week.

HORNETS’ NEST

After the leaves fall and the cold comes
I see the fragile, grey houses
of wasps and hornets high in the trees.
Empty nests hang like ripe fruit,
so obvious, so apparent, so safe
now that winter has come and only
the queen remains, tucked away
somewhere warm—somewhere else.

I have walked this path again and again,
spring, summer, and early fall,
without sensing the activity above,
without knowing the danger
humming just over my head.
But now it’s clear— both the nest
and the danger that faded with
the first hard frost and I feel bold
for having braved this gauntlet.

I feel grateful for having failed
to know a gauntlet was ever here.

Appalachian Thursday – Staghorn Sumac

sumacIt’s a running joke with my husband and me.

I say shoo-make.

He says soo-mak.

Clearly he’s wrong and just enjoys aggravating me. Oh, I know, I know. If you look up the “official” pronunciation it says that either soo-mak or shoo-mak is acceptable. There’s no mention of tagging “make” on the end. But the folks from Merriam-Webster probably haven’t spent a ton of time in Appalachia, so they can be forgiven.

In addition to offering endless fun with pronunciation, sumac is lovely and tasty. I long thought the velvety red tips were flowers, but I finally looked it up and turns out that’s the fruit–or drupes. You can steep them in hot water, strain the liquid, then sweeten it to make a sort of lemonade (tartness is due to malic acid). The drupes can also be dried and ground to make a tart spice (a key ingredient in za’atar).

Critters will also eat sumac, although I don’t think it’s their favorite. I got tickled by this line from the USDA data sheet about the plant: “The germination of sumac seeds is enhanced by their passage through the digestive system of rabbits, ring-necked pheasants, and quail.”

Indeed.

While I NEVER recommend going out into your backyard and eating anything you aren’t 100% certain is safe, I will set your mind to rest (at least a little) about staghorn and poison sumac. The poison kind has white berries and grows in really wet habitats so it’s somewhat easy to avoid. Which you should do since I hear it makes poison ivy look like a mosquito bite (it has the same urushiol).

So, join me everyone, and let’s say it together . . . shoo-MAKE!

 

Appalachian Thursday — Making Ice Cream

porchOne of our favorite summertime treats growing up on the farm was hand cranked ice cream. Of course, when you have a cow that delivers lots of creamy milk, the ingredients aren’t hard to come by. I suppose we made other flavors, but good ole vanilla is what I remember best.

Dad would set the churn up on the back porch (where we spent lots of time in the summer–see photo). Mom filled the internal cylinder with the appropriate ingredients–cream, sugar, vanilla. Then ice was added to the bucket, rock salt poured over the top, and the cranking began.

We always wanted to help crank, although I suspect we (or at least I) were more hindrance than help. The churn sat on the edge of the porch with the little drainage spout extending into the grass below. We’d stick our fingers in the drip, drip, drip, then taste and marvel at how salty it was.

Once Dad deemed the ice cream ready, we’d immediately pull out the dasher and dig in. Well, after we fought over who got to lick the dasher.

As an adult, my husband and I made ice cream with an old, hand-cranked maker his dad gave us. It was more work than I remembered! After the ice cream was “made,” my husband packed more ice around the cylinder, covered it with a towel and set it aside.

I asked him what the heck he was doing. “Curing it,” he said.

I was mystified.

Well, it turns out you can pack your freshly churned ice cream in ice (or stick it in the freezer) and it will harden. Just like store ice cream.

Who knew?

It was certainly delicious and, well, sturdier, after the ice cream had cured, but I think I’ll always prefer it uncured. Meltingly soft, so you almost have to hurry to eat it–kind of like summer itself, gone before you fully appreciate it.

Then again, I may just be sentimental.