3 down, 3 to go…

I must be making progress, since three of the six books I checked out of the library will be checked back in when I head into town this week.

The Chalmers Pancoast Story didn’t hold much promise when I initially looked through the front matter, although I was fascinated by the will of one of Pancoast’s long-gone ancestors, signed on November 30, 1694.

Despite my lack of enthusiasm, I forced myself to read on, and am glad I did. Pancoast’s memories of his time growing up in Ohio contain stories full of information about the activities of small-town boys. Although he was born twenty years before my father was, I don’t think things changed that much between the two generations regarding how kids amused themselves.

The second half of the book is devoted largely to his life after his newspaper reporter days. Most of it was fun to read, although of little relevance to my research. For example, he has a lot of stories about his hometown, both in his youth and as the place he returned to after his wife’s death—the place where he spent his final years.

The town, Newark, is the closest town to my current location and the place I do most of my shopping. Chal would be happy to know that, although it has changed and grown a great deal since his death, it remains a friendly small town.

I was less interested in other material, particularly his active participation in his favorite charitable group in New York when he lived there. But all in all, it was an enjoyable read and a fascinating look back on a life filled with accomplishments and certainly never dull.

The Country Undertaker’s Wife, by Cora Dodd. (Still Waters Press. Indiana. 1993), is providing information that will be useful and is fun to read. It’s mostly about how people living in the country, far from big cities that might have offered alternative practices, prepared, displayed, and buried their dead. The book is largely a series of tiny stories about some of Mrs. Dodd’s experiences. Some of them are rather surprising, and many are funny or ironic. There is nothing much about her day-to-day life other than her participation in her husband’s undertaking business. A few examples follow.

Another story is told of a wicked man who died and he, too, was taken to the church for the funeral. The minister was literally opening the Pearly Gates and pushing him through with his eulogy when the wife of the deceased (more…)

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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 (more…)