Historical Fiction — The Halloween Factor

Halloween comes from hallow (or holy) eve, and represented the night before November 1st, which is All Saint’s Day, which started in the 8th century. Sometimes spooky things (e.g., gargoyles) were used to scare away evil things so All Saint’s Day would be clean, a tradition carried over, most likely, from the Celts who celebrated their new year after the harvest was gathered, on November 1.

In my grandfather’s teen-time, Halloween was a time for playing jokes on neighbors, like putting their outhouse (privy, porta potty) up on the house roof and having hot cider and homemade doughnuts. In my father’s youth, Halloween was the time for popcorn balls and wearing creepy masks to scare the daylights out of younger children. When I was an adolescent, Halloween was the time for trick-or-treating door-to-door (with out parental supervision) while in costume, and collecting either candy, an apple, or penny for UNICEF from strangers. When my boys were young, Halloween was a time to pass out candy from our house and go trick-or-treating in our neighborhood for about an hour, and then come home to check for razor blades or opened candy packages. Today, Halloween is about cars set up in a parking lot and kids going from car trunk to car trunk to get candy and having a full bagload in thirty minutes.

Even though my husband and I have loved participating in Halloween activities, spooky music and decorations and candy and toy choices for doorbell ringers, we have noticed that there are fewer and fewer kids coming door-to-door for candy from strangers. Why would they want to when they can do all their free-candy-getting in a parking lot or go buy a bag of their favorite kind themselves?

Historical fiction is interesting – what people did. Science Fiction is curious – what people might do.

With the gory horror films available today to people of all ages, what does a scary mask do for the scare factor? And who or what gets scared away? With bags of candy so available in stores, why get a bunch of stuff you don’t even like? Neighborhoods have changed. Kids don’t play outside much any more. Free-range kids are turned in to police. It all makes me wonder…

What will Halloween look like in 2050?

Storytelling and Writing/ Repetition and Revision

Last week I had the privilege to spend a few days with my grandkids, one-month-old twins and a three-year-old. I’d taken my laptop along to write in my spare time–there’s always so much to be working on–but oh, hahahaha, I found that the only spare time was when I slept. (I really don’t know how young mothers find time to write. Really.)

Last January, I’d tell my smart-as-a-whip three-year-old Nursery Rhymes. If she liked it she’d say, “Again.” By the fourth time through, the kid was reciting the rhyme with me. This last visit, because there was often a babe in my arms, I told her folk tales instead.

Once when I asked if she wanted to hear about the Three Little Pigs, she said, “NO!” So I turned to her baby brother in my arms and asked him if he wanted to hear the story. He stared at me, flailing his arms and kicking, anxious for me to get on with it. I told the boy the story of the pigs with his older sister kneeling beside me on the couch, facing me, but not saying a word. It became one of her two favorite “tell it again” stories this visit. Interestingly enough (but not really), I found that each time I told it, I tweeked it a bit, I stumbled over my wording less, until it was storytelling perfection, until at last my telling had come to a point where there wasn’t a word I wanted to change. The three-year-old and I would do a Reader’s Theatre (without us reading, of course), and switch roles of who said the lines of the Big Bad Wolf and who spoke the lines of the Three Little Pigs. I was always the narrator.

Naturally, most of what I do, even if not writing, I can relate back to writing. The retelling over and over of the Three Little Pigs until there wasn’t any word to change reminded me of revisions of my own tales. Every time I read something I’ve written, there’s always some phrase I can rewrite better, always unnecessary words I can cut out, always points where I can add more feeeeeelings.

My writing challenge to you: Keep rewriting until there isn’t a single word you would want to change.

Keep it Relevant…Even with Historical Fiction…Even with Kindergarteners

In a recent kindergarten storytelling, one child called my china teacup “a pinky cup.” Another called my metal ladle “a soup slurper.” And when I named the ladle a “dipper,” kids in each class shouted out: “The BIG Dipper!” Well, it was. Big.

I also showed and told some string stories. Parents and grandparents were also in the room. After several pulls with the prattling of the story going on, I showed them a completed broom. On the lovely little faces in front of me, the kids wore blank looks. When I then asked the kids if any of them had ever seen a broom before, the adults snickered but the kids kept up with their stoic blank looks. Although no one replied, I could see their answer in unison: “I donno.”

On the way home, I evaluated my school visit. I realized that even though I talked about things 400 years old, I honestly thought (oh-ha-ha) that six-year-olds would have a knowledge of certain, what I thought were, basic things. What it ended up being was like telling a very funny joke, but having to explain the buildup for them to understand the punch-line, by which time no joke is really quite funny any more.

Still evaluating…

I had fun. The kids seemed to, too — by eye contact and responses to my comments or questions.

Among a ton of other things, they learned that a dipper is more than a constellation and that brooms make a sound that go “swish-swish-swish.” Although I’m not sure they know what they swished, nor where the batteries went.

From the four pictures that one of the teachers took with my iPhone, my coif (cap) had fallen downward over my forehead, over my eyebrows. Hmmm. I was so into the exciting stories that I didn’t even notice.

400 years ago, or even 150, kids would have had the same basic knowledge about dippers and brooms and teacups. Today, I wonder what basic knowledge is. It makes me wonder what they think of Sleeping Beauty, when Beauty pricks her finger on a wooden-machine-with-a-wheel-you-push-to-go-around-that-makes-yarn-and-cloth-for-later-weaving-or-sewing-clothes-because-they-didn’t-have-stores. There. Put that in your story. Or just call it a spinning wheel and hope for the relevant best.

Reason #3 for Self-Publishing — I Be Mortal!

About eighteen months ago I had a painful constricting around my chest. It lasted for a couple of hours and then abated. I saw my doctor two months later. (You must realize that I don’t get sick or injured outside of my annual case of poison ivy and an occasional cold.) My doc was alarmed by my symptoms. She told me I probably had a stroke, and the next time I feel anything like that to call 911.

It took me over a year to get back to moving or walking like I had before the squeezing incident (without medical care, because, you know, me and doctors…). I went from before this and mowing our entire yard at one time, to mowing four swipes before having to go inside and lay down for a while. It alarmed me, too.

The biggest result of this episode and recovery was thinking I’d really be ticked off if I got to Heaven and hadn’t had a kid’s book published. Not that it will really matter to me once I’m there. Still, I’ve been storytelling and writing for my entire life. There had to be more to it than keeping the stories on various storage devises (and sending them through my critique groups, etc., to become a better writer).

Also, looking at my high school class reunion pictures from this summer, and people making sure they get all the obituaries together before sending out the next class list…! What?! Wait one minute. Who are these old people claiming to be my age? As my writer friend Rose says, I’m only 12-years-old – the age of my main characters in my stories. But looking at my former classmates, I realize this mortal body isn’t made to last forever. My eyes will dim, my hearing will fade, my muscles and bones will grow old. Sad, but true.

I don’t need to be immortal in this life (e.g., by letting my books outlive me). I just want to be a storyteller, here and now, until I die. I want to be a good storyteller. I want to be a moral storyteller where right is right and wrong is wrong, but also letting kids know that sometimes things don’t always work out the way they’d hoped or the way they should.

So reason #3 for finally chosing to self-publish: I want to be a story-teller until the day I die; and by publishing, to reach as many little ears and eyes as I can.

Where I Get Story Ideas

 Literature Blogs

I find bits of story ideas from history, from news, from something I did or heard or saw, and from nightmares or by daydreaming.

I wrote my first historic novel from a fascinating bit of news I heard which happened in 1873. I couldn’t stop thinking about it and what it must have been like to have gone through that event and in that setting. So I researched and wrote about it.

I’ve had nightmares and scary visions of the end times lately — of man destroying this world not by nuking it, but by greed, causing gushing oil to ruin the water world we live on. YIKES. Some things are too close to reality for me to write about! I’m very thankful that after 86 days BP finally found a solution which seems to have stopped the leak in the Gulf of Mexico. What the effect of all that oil damage is yet to be seen. (Even more daydreaming fodder.)

Yesterday, my husband and I drove through what we later found out was a thunderstorm watch. But I wasn’t watching. Mostly, I had my eyes closed! Instead of going 75 on the interstate, people who hadn’t pulled over (like my husband and a truck driver or two) were driving 40 mph in the sideways pelting rain, gripping onto the steering wheel which the wind threatened to take control of. Lots of interesting story ideas could come from that experience alone. However, I’ll share here on my writing blog a really fascinating thing I saw for the first time in my life. That is, to me it was fascinating, and therefore writing fodder.

We were heading west. As we came out from under the storm, although it was still raining, we hit sunlight and blue skies. My husband commented, “There’s got to be a rainbow somewhere.” I knew that in order to see a rainbow, you needed two things: sun and rain, and that the sun had to be at your back. Because of our van roof, my vision was very limited. I looked out my side rearview mirror and found my rainbow. It was following us. The rainbow was made in the spray shooting up from our tires turning on the wet road.

There are ideas all around each of us. Storytellers can’t help thinking, reflecting, weaving. It’s half of the fun of being a writer.