Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Crafting a Story From 75 Year Old Diaries

The following represents a week in the life of a farm wife, 1938, taken from my grandmothers diaries. I added only a little to clarify, where needed.


Day 1 - High of 18 washed clothes, they all dried. One of her sons stop


Day 2 –Cold all day strong NW wind went, cleaned hen house started to crochet baby booties for new grand son

Went to card party won high prize


Day 3 – Fourteen below zero froze in the house, what snow there is in piles, clear and windy.  Daughter-in-law over while her husband took sheep to sale

Lux Radio Theater, “Green Light”, grandma sick


Day 4 – Blizzard in morning, kept daughter home from school, did mending and crocheting, finished baby booties


Day 5 - Mended socks all pm, a son visited but was heading to town to a BB game, 8 below clear and cold sewed and ironed in morning, varnished table and chairs



Day 6 - Cleaned upstairs and downstairs baked bread, snowed heavy with west wind. Six above, cleaned upstairs bathroom and basement. Noted a granddaughter turns 2 today.   Her husband took three hogs to sell in town. Club in the afternoon, a son and daughter in law visited in eve.




Day 7 - Warmer with light rain went to card party.

Nice day should have washed but needed to go to town to get my new teeth, they have been out for 6 weeks but will wait some more, not ready yet.

Visited daughter, her daughter was ill. Turned cold, turned to ice.



Next time - a discussion of what could be learned from a week of very short diary entries, there is some pretty good stuff here.

Sunday, January 26, 2014

Diary of a Nebraska farm wife, 1938-1960

At one time writers would give almost anything for a good source. Today with the internet, first person sources are almost forgotten. They still seem to be the very best when used to come up with the old - what it was really like.
I have been interested the past few weeks as two of the blogs that I follow are doing one sentence journals. I really enjoy reading these and it struck me that this was much like keeping an old time daily diary. Our family is lucky in that one of my Grandmothers kept a journal. Many years after she had passed a cousin typed and made a hard copy and an electronic copy available for all the grandkids.

Her diary pages start January 1, 1938 and end with her last entry, Christmas Day 1960. From 1938 through 1951 the diaries are very complete with postings all but a few days. As she got older and her health started to fail she posted fewer times and by 1960 she only wrote 18 entries.

But what she left behind is fascinating. She leaves quite a glance into rural life and likely the life of farm wives all over America. From the diaries I know she loved movies, playing cards, quilting and embodying. She worked hard every day and relaxed in the evening listening to Lux Radio Theater.

 I marvel at the amount of work she did each day. She was born in 1885 and died in 1969 and paints a remarkable story of her life for the middle and latter part of that time period. With only a sentence or two, every day, she left an indelible print of the life she lived.

My next post will give you an idea of what her life was like for a January week in 1938. Her one sentence journals -

Wednesday, January 8, 2014

Reading Like I Was A Kid Again


No answer.


No answer.

“What’s gone with that boy, I wonder? You TOM!”

No answer

You guessed it; I am rereading Mark Twain’s, The Adventures of Tom Sawyer. Authors often get into deep discussions about book openings, this one is rather unique. It really doesn’t tell us anything other than either Tom is not there or he is not about to answer. Simple, but it made me keep reading when I was a kid and it kept me reading now.

The Adventures of Tom Sawyer is an 1876 story of a young boy growing up along the Mississippi. The story is set in the fictional St. Petersburg, inspired by Hannibal Missouri,  where Twain grew up.

Tom Sawyer lived with his Aunt Polly and his half-brother, Sid. Tom dirties his clothes in a fight and is made to whitewash the fence the next day, as a punishment. He cleverly persuades his friends to trade him small treasures for the privilege of doing his work. This is the most well know scene in the novel and often portrayed on the cover.

Tom also falls in love with Becky Thatcher, a new girl in town, and persuades her to get "engaged" by kissing him. But their romance falls apart when she learns Tom has been engaged before. Shortly after being shunned by Becky, Tom accompanies his good friend Huck Finn to the graveyard at night. There the two witness the murder of Dr. Robinson. And the adventures continue.

So how did Twain write this story? I think this quote tells us.

“I conceive that the right way to write a story for boys is to write so that it will not only interest boys but strongly interest any man who has ever been a boy. That immensely enlarges the audience.”
- Letter to Fred J. Hall, 10 Aug 1892

Twain also ended this work in a most unconventional way, with a post script he entitled, conclusion.  This conclusion started with the words, “SO ENDETH THIS CHRONICLE.”

It was an early work, maybe he wanted to add this final touch instead of, the end.

If you haven’t read Twain for a while, might be time.

“The difference between the right word and the nearly right word is the same as the difference between lightning and the lightning bug.”   Mark Twain



Monday, January 6, 2014

A Western For Everyone

Much like the murder mysteries I also love, you can be certain that one thing will happen in a traditional western novel, someone will wind up dead and someone is going to pay.

Many of today’s best sellers are based on social problems, relationships, sex, stress of work and daily lives. Readers like this type of material as best seller lists will prove. But traditional western readers, like me, probably would have a tough time reading a western based on working too hard and trying to buy better things than the neighbors.

But one of the things that make the genre so special is that there is room for almost anything in westerns. Romance, mystery, sci-fi, steampunk, fantasy, historical and shoot-em-ups all have a place on the western shelf. I have read some western-science fiction, many historical, one steampunk, a western fantasy or two and yes, a few that were classified as western romance, but I still like the shoot-em-ups best.

My personal choice in westerns – something with a good mystery element, set in mountain man or cattle drives, now that’s some fine reading.

-And On Another Note-

Just finished reading Lawrence Block’s, The Burglar Who Counted Spoons, I am a huge Block fan and this was another terrific book in the series. He is my favorite mystery writer, great stories, told with humor and remarkable writer imagination.

Just started Richard S. Wheeler’s, An Accidental Novelist - A Literary Memoir, this is a must read, can’t put it down.

Saturday, January 4, 2014

Write it and Retire - Rich and Famous

In every walk of life there are people who flash brilliantly for a short while never to return. It’s interesting to look at people in the creative arts and how they sometime will back off after reaching early success. Although some of the following authors wrote a few short stories a novella or two, or as in Pasternak’s case, a lot of poetry, none wrote another novel. Why not? Some hated the limelight, others were afraid of criticism, others turned their talents elsewhere. Not sure anyone in today’s world would give up so quickly after writing a best seller.

How many of these famous, one novel and out people, have you read?

Harper Lee, To Kill a Mockingbird

Ralph Ellison, Invisible Man

Boris Pasternak, Dr. Zhivago

Margaret Mitchell, Gone With the Wind

Emily Brontë, Wuthering Heights

Anna Sewell, Black Beauty

Oscar Wilde, The Picture of Dorian Gray

J. D. Salinger, The Catcher In The Rye

What do you think, if you wrote the big one would you just hang it up and live off the riches and glory of that novel?

Thursday, January 2, 2014

Mountain Man James Clyman

To casual readers of the early American west the name James Clyman may not be known. But it is because of Clyman that we know as much as we do about the mountain man period. Clyman kept journals and many years later wrote the story of his time in the Rocky Mountain West. Clyman had what he called, “a smattering of education,” but from the mountains, at that time, he was well educated.

Clyman was born in Virginia in 1792, grew up to be a farmer, fought in the war of 1812, later worked as a store keeper and surveyor in Indiana and Illinois. In 1823, at the end of a surveying job, he found himself, at age 31, unemployed and unmarried in Saint Louis where he met William Ashley, a meeting that changed his life. 

Clyman joined the Ashley party, became a mountain man and stayed with Ashley until 1827. During this time he fought the Arikara, saved the life of two famous mountain men, Jed Smith and Sublette, and walked 600 miles across Wyoming and Nebraska, packing a rifle and only 11 bullets. The long walk must have been enough for Clyman. He moved back to Illinois and set up a store in late 1827 or early 1828. When the Blackhawk War broke out in 1832 he joined up.

The war may have whetted his appetite for adventure or danger and he soon went back west. This time he lasted three years before moving far west and settling permanently in the Napa Valley in 1845. Clyman lived another 36 years, passing away in 1881 at the age of 88.

James Clyman’s book, Journal Of A Mountain Man, edited by Linda Hasselstrom and reprinted in Win Blevins, Classics of the fur Trade Series, is an invaluable read for those looking for fur trade information. There are so many terrific stories of mountain man life in this book, I wish I could tell them all, and in this book the truth is stranger, and a great deal more exciting, than fiction.