Tuesday, July 16, 2019

Historical Fiction: The Second Wave

So . . . as I was saying. My major achievement after the first wave of research for my new writing project was selecting the specific dates for my novel.

Followed by the completion of a first draft.

After which, I had a whole NEW set of questions to research.

Such as . . .
What songs might be sung at a school concert in1904?
What serious diseases might last a full month and spread in the dead of winter?
Did students receive a diploma upon graduation from the eighth grade?

The list goes on.

And on.

And on.

The answers came, as always, from a variety of sources. Some of the best primary sources I found were online. (The original text of the Homestead Act, the Bureau of Land Management database, a first-hand account of a frontier school teacher in exactly 1904). Real people, as I have mentioned in an earlier blog post, are always outstanding. They are the only sources that can speak up and say, “No! Your idea doesn’t work and here is why.” And then help you fix the issue without your having to rewrite your entire novel.

But in this case, I found a new resource. The entire time period of my novel is covered in weekly issues of the Condon Globe newspaper, stored at the Gilliam County History Museum. So guess who got to spend the final weeks of one summer and most of her weekends in September at the museum.

Yep, that would be me.

There is an art to learning to read a newspaper from 1904.

First, one has to recognize the ads. The advertising tricksters on youtube have nothing on the advertisers from 1904. Their ads were immersed right into the text. Same font. Same spacing. Everything.

One moment you’re reading about so and so’s wedding last Saturday, and the next, you’re smack dab in the middle of a Laxative commercial. It takes a serious level of reading—which I was doing—to reach the point where you can bypass these terrifying trips into the promises of cures for everything from the Grippe to household mouse control.

Then there’s the sad lack of one’s own historical knowledge. Famous generals of the Japanese-Russian War, the Russian Revolution of 1905, the Oregon Land Fraud Scandal. I really needed to spend several evenings rifling through Wikipedia just to gain enough background to understand the stories I was reading. And I have to say I’m impressed with the coverage by this small local paper. The local papers today cover very little beyond their own tri-county region. But in 1904, the local newspaper was the major source of international news. And throughout that year, its major headlines on the front page were all world news.

Unfortunately, this meant I had to dig a lot deeper for the local stuff.

And some of it was hilarious. Not in the differences between then and now. But in the similarities. Those things that annoy you about your community. Sometimes small. Sometimes big. They just might have existed for a hundred years!

Sadly, I didn’t get the answers to ALL my questions in the local paper. But I got most of them!

And that just left the monster:

Claim law. 1904.

Which—you guessed it—is a whole other blog entry.

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