Sunday, October 4, 2009

Literary Lightening Bolt

I'm so excited about my latest burst of creativity that I just had to share it.  You all know how I've been going on and on about the necessity of research ... well, I keep finding my imagination jolted into overdrive by what I'm reading (I'm on the 2nd to last chapter of Only Yesterday.)  Remember how I cut Lila's current adopted father, Arthur, in favor of a living, breathing (still highly flawed) biological father named Herbert?  Well let me tell you a little bit about Herbert Payton ...

He was initially inspired by a chapter in Frederick Lewis Allen's book exploring the rise of salesmanship in the U.S. during the 1920s.  As the country prospered, the average citizen found themselves in the position to buy more of the many new-fangled technologies and modern conveniences coming down the pike.  Advertising boomed and salesmen were finding themselves pressured by their bosses to outsell the competitor (or even the next guy in the company.)  I'm sure you fellow-writers can already see a wealth of potential character development in all this (hey, Arthur Miller did, right!?)  

So then today, I'm reading another chapter in my trusted tome of the twenties about the real estate boom in Florida.  And while Mr. Allen doesn't go into great detail about the sordid side of the speculation business, he does mention how ready and willing the average Northern Joe was to lay down 10% on "gorgeous beachfront property," sight unseen, which in reality might lie deep in the heart of an inland mangrove swamp.  

Does this kind of sordid speculation and risk, just years before a devastating stock market crash, sound at all familiar to any of you?  (I hope my Brilliant Editor who's reading this - you know who you are - is proud of me for injecting some much-needed contemporary relevancy into my novel.)  I can see so much potential for drama and conflict between Lila and her father, and of course, Herbert and his own inner demons (insecurity, desire for success and recognition, etc.) come to head because of this that I can hardly wait to write about it.  But everything in due time ... I still need to finish those character attribute sketches first!

FIGURING IT OUT AS I GO:  This post goes out to all you period-piece writers (and I'm using the term loosely for anyone writing about an era which they did not live through personally.)  Get to know your time period!  What were its socio-political nuances and eccentricities, and how might your characters and storylines reflect this?  Obviously there is no rigid prescription that says every novel must be a direct reflection of its time setting, but I find as a reader that I get so much more out of a book which shows great sensitivity and awareness to the era in which it's set.


  1. I completely agree with you about authors researching the era they write about. I once read a historical centered in Scotland and the author kept referring to Bath as one of the cities, I know from visiting that Bath is in England lol

  2. Haha - yeah, blatant inaccuracies like that really get under my skin ... it's hard to believe that both the writer AND editor were "asleep at the wheel!"