Thursday, April 29, 2010

If you’ve ever taken a writing course, read Reader’s (oops!) Writer’s Digest or any of their books, or–for that matter–almost anything about writing a novel–you have heard that you need to read as many books as possible in the same genre. Since this is my first novel, I am following the advice of (most of) the experts.

I called the reference desk at the local library and asked for the names of authors from the appropriate era and general location who had written memoirs or biographies. Yesterday morning, I got an email notification that my books were in–all four of them.

The first one I started reading is a bit tedious, and that’s just the front matter! The book, The Chalmers Pancoast Story: Saga of a Roving Reporter, was written by the subject’s wife. The front matter reminded me of a couple of books I’d been asked to ghostwrite, but didn’t. The worst of them was no more than a recitation of the author’s accomplishments, was very badly written, and didn’t reveal anything about the man himself, just his achievements.

But even though I found pages I-XVII in the Pancoast story to be a bit of a chore to read, I still picked up some good insights into the times in the “Outline in Brief of Life of Chalmers L. Pancoast,” “Masonic Record of…” “Ancestors of…” “The Pancoast Family,” and finally, the will of Mr. Pancoast’s oldest son and the executor of his estate. Lots of good information about the times, even though it was a bit tedious to work through in places.

The next book I looked at was The Country Undertaker’s Wife, by Cora Dodd. The forward, written either by the publisher or Mrs. Dodd’s editor, pretty much says it all:

…taking pen and yellow pad in hand, she recorded these experiences for posterity. The charming result is an anecdotal mixture of humor, pathos, and enlightenment sprinkled with just a touch of the bizarre.

and

Having been born in the previous century, Mrs. Dodd was a modest and proper lady who spelled husband with a capital “H” and believed that private family matters were to be kept private. Hence, we don’t learn as much about her personal life as we would like, but we discover some unbelievable things about the undertaking business.

It is a fun and easy read, for the most part, and since there are two deaths in my book, extremely helpful in answering my questions about what happened between the time someone died and the church service and burial. Since I didn’t take notes, I need to re-read the parts I’ve already read and, this time, write down the stuff that will be useful and relevant in my book. Fortunately, it’s quite a short little tome.

I’m most excited about the two I haven’t yet begun: Maude (1883-1993): She Grew Up with the Country, written by her son Mardo Williams from notes he took beginning when Maud was 106 years old and he realized the importance of the history through which she had lived. From the table of contents and the foreword, it looks like it will satisfy my curiosity about the day-to-day life of my family. Their lives and family history, in many respects, were very similar.

From the table of contents and preface, the same can be said about the last book, Seams of Gold: The Life of Agnes Warkentin Rice As Told To Vera Jones. The primary difference might be that this family emigrated from Russia, as did my mother’s side of my family. It should provide insights into my father’s family, but will help me understand a lot more about the other side of the family too. Since I’m planning a revision of my memoir, Living on the Sunny Side, I might find information to add to the family history chapter. Or not.

At any rate, I’m thoroughly pumped about the project. While I was at the local library, I stopped in the small library the Ohio Genealogical Society maintains there to learn where I might find additional relevant information for my book. I told the woman I talked to that I was having so much fun doing the research that the book might never get written, but the notes and drafts would be excellent. She reminded me that, at the very least, I might save  a future writer a lot of work by documenting everything I learn, a different kind of legacy, but a good one nonetheless!

However… I fully intend to write it myself, Lord willin’ an’ the creek don’t rise (as my long-ago temporary landlady in North Carolina said so often).

My day-trip to Salt Fork State Park to visit the Kennedy farm house (now restored and on the national register of historic places), and hopefully the same Kennedy farm across from which dad’s family may have lived, has been delayed while I format a client’s manuscript for submission to the printer, and edit a short story for another client. I’m very motivated to get the work done so I can get on with the “research” and the half-dozen trips I am forced to take… HA! …can’t wait to take!

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