Lilacs in the Woods? Ask Why!

This lilac bush turned a family hike through the woods into a find-the-clues game of discovery. Lilacs are not native to Montana. If you find one growing in the wild you can be sure it was put there, on purpose. Perhaps by a long-ago homesteader who planted it outside a home that’s since vanished? What stories lie behind it? Not far away we found a few paving stones. And then the remainders of a foundation wall. And then apple trees. … Read More

Not Forgetting Food!

Food. Fuel, pleasure, and sometimes one more key helpful in unlocking a character’s life. Writing Hitch, I’d have missed something important if I hadn’t considered it. This is a story set during the hungry years of the Great Depression, and for young men signing up for hitches in the Civilian Conservation Corps, food–the three regular meals a day that were a staple of CCC life—was a big deal. In a folder at the National Archives regional facility … Read More

The Key to One Character Was a Sewing Basket

The key into a character can be as simple as a sewing basket that goes unnoticed until something causes me to remember why I’ve kept it.  It belonged to my mother.  Her mother made it. Memories flood in—hours in fabric departments. Mom laying out a pattern.  Cutting, matching notches, pinning, fitting. Machine stitching. Marking the hem—Stand still!  Finishing and pressing.  Here!  Try it on! What do you think? Mom poured all of her talent—and love—into the things she made for … Read More

For Photo Surprises, the Picture This Blog

Returning to resources — the Library of Congress Picture This Blog brings wonderful surprises, as well as researching inspiration.  A recent post by LOC librarian Kristi Finefield explains how details in this photo led her to discover what a 1908 student was doing—using stereo images to study geography—and to find the textbook that guided her. The time-traveling image plopped down into the middle of my very different life, and in the way that unexpected pictures often do, this one got me thinking about how … Read More

Using Photos for a Jump-Start

I begin writing by looking. Every book comes with its own set of possibilities and problems.  The right format must be found. Fiction must be reconciled with sometimes pesky fact. Elusive characters must be brought to life, and there is no one single best way to do that. More often than not, though, for me it’s a visual process. Working on historical novels like HITCH means I have to move from a 21st century mindset into the … Read More