Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Road Trip

Wow! Have you seen the price of gas these days? Late next week I'm heading to Iowa for a graduation. I love a road trip, but I'm not looking forward to the dent this one will put in my bank account.

Road trips are always fun because there is potential for exploring places and their history that you wouldn't see or learn otherwise.

One year while driving across Nebraska, my mom and I got off Highway 80 and found a Pony Express landmark to explore. We also saw a reconstructed sod house as a bonus. (You just never know what you'll find off the main road.)

I'd love to someday do more research about my family's history in both Kansas and Mississippi, travel the route of the Oregon Trail, or research pioneer life on a Montana ranch. Just thinking about it makes the ideas for writing start to flow. But in my desire to go west, I'm bypassing some great history and adventure right in my own county.

Ohio is rich in history. Right here in Tuscarawas County we have two original settlement sites of the first white missionaries who came to minister to the native tribes. There is an outdoor drama that relives the story of a tragic massacre involving the first Christian Indians.

Other history in the area involves the Ohio-Erie Canal, former stagecoach stops, old mills, Fort Laurens, a German separatists communal village, the Underground Railroad, the National Road, birthplaces of General Custer and Clark Gable, a 1928 Spillman Carousel, a canteen stop along the railroad during WWII, and more.

So why do we often think we need to go exploring history miles away from home? This summer, especially when the conservation of money and fossil fuels is so important, let's take another look at the treasures in our own back yards. You may just surprise yourself and find the makings for a terrific story.

And it doesn't have to be historical. Just around here we have Amish tourism, alpaca farms, buffalo farms, pick-your-own orchards, Christmas tree farms, Warther's carvings museum, government built water conservation lakes, cheese makers, a small town philharmonic orchestra, coal mining, etc. There is bound to be some sort of modern industry or hobby or such to write about.

So do you have a story that was inspired by something in your own home town?


Jennifer Hudson Taylor said...

I love researching my family history and I've started writing about the Carolinas because I'm discovering so many wonderful ideas through my research.

I have a story in mind set around 1929 in SC. To meet the demand of more electric power, a manmade lake of 50,000 acres was created. They removed over 5,000 people from their ancestral homes, 3 churches, 6 schools, and 2,323 graves. At the bottom of the lake still lies an 1800 stone trading post, a 1751 military fort, two Cherokee graveyards, and remains of several communities. I found interviews of the families that were being uprooted. The hero will be from NY, a manager of the company constructing the lake, and the heroine will be from SC with an ailing grandmother that refuses to leave her home and wants to be buried by her husband.

I know I might not get to keep my title, but I like "Unquenched Love" based on the following Scripture:

"Many waters cannot quench love, nor can the floods drown it." Solomon 8:7

Becky said...

Great history, Jennifer. I live just off one such lake that displaced people. My mom still remembers the town there before the water rose high enough to flood the foundations. This one, though, didn't displace so many people as you are talking about.

Mary Connealy said...

I actually brought a camera with me to work today because there's a buffalo herd about twenty miles on down the road from me. I'm going to drive over and take some pictures.

The Heartsong series I've written, set in South Dakota, is on and around a buffalo ranch up there, but it was inspired (in part) by this herd that I drive past every time I go to the city.

But I never stop. I never pull over and just stare, let alone take pictures.

So tonight I'm going to do it and maybe write a blog about buffalo using my own photos.

Mary Connealy said...

A backward take on this is, the opening of one of my cozy mysteries, Pride and Pestilence, is a car smashing through the wall of the town library.

Well, long...seriously LONG after I wrote this...guess what?
A car smashed through the wall of our town library. Seriously.

So my scene, played for laughs, is suddenly very personal because the old man who was driving had a stroke and died after the accident. A sweet man I knew very well.


And worse, now my book had the real potential to hurt a whole family if they think I've taken their personal tragedy and twisted it around for my own use.

Well I changed the beginning of my book. Not hugely but it's no longer the town library. I was also careful to not let anyone get hurt and not have this be the elderly lady (who drove her car into the building) be at fault. A lightning bolt crashed into the grown right in front of her.

(Yes, that's right, it was a dark and stormy night).

And the little room smashed open by the crash? The room where a dead man lays clinging to the town's centennial cookbook? is based on a littel room in my office at work. It's probably supposed to me my office but the door got swung shut...about three years ago, while locked...and no one has a key. So that office... well, it's got windows, there's no corpse in there...but it's a true fact a room can get locked and stay locked a long, long time.

Although I think I know how to open it now. Based on an experience in a hotel where I got locked out of my room and no key would open it. Turns out there's this tool.....well, anyway, yes, lots of true life creeps into my stories.

Mary Connealy said...

Jennifer I love that story. What if someone realized that something was left down there. Locked in a vault, or buried in a grave. A treasure map or proof that someone was murdered or ... wow, just the poignent idea that Grandma wants to be buried by her husband who is down there.
My uncle had to move off a farm near??? maybe Barnston, Nebraska, when it got flooded by a dam for this same electic power company situation. That small down is probably still down there, right? They wouldn't bother to level it.
How about proof that your father (and now you) are the heirs to a fortune, which will fall into the hands of an evil man if you don't stop him from inheriting.

Have you ever read Clive Cussler's Raise the Titanic?

The story is, they realize something in the Titanic was the crucial key to...I can't rememeber what, curing an illness that was sweeping the globe or defusing an ticking nuclear weapon or something like that. It was absolutely vital that they get it and they had time, it seems like the book stretched out over quite a few months as they fought to Raise the Titanic.

Becky said...

Ooo, Mary, I love brainstorming with authors. Neat ideas about having something now buried by feet of water that the hero or heroine needs desperately.

Jennifer Hudson Taylor said...

Mary, I love that idea! There is so much down there, the possibilities are endless. During WWII some practice planes were flying over the area and one of them went down in that same lake.

I've never read Raise the Titantic, but it sounds interesting. My grandfather was born the year it sank so I always remember 1912.

Jennifer Hudson Taylor said...


I bet the lake where you live has a rich history as well. Brainstorming is so much fun!


I stop by and check out your buffaloes.

Mary Connealy said...

If you're going to stop by and check I'd better get the pictures taken, huh?

Pam Hillman said...

Funny you should mention this, Becky. I've been researching my home state a lot lately, and I'm learning all kinds of intriquing facts.

I've always enjoyed writing historicals set in the Old West, but there are lots of great history here in Mississippi that gets the creative juices flowing as well.

Pam Hillman said...

Mary said: "the door got swung shut...about three years ago, while locked...and no one has a key. So that office... well, it's got windows, there's no corpse in there"

Sure, Mary. Uh huh....

Anonymous said...

I'm a seventh generation Georgian so my grandparents and great grandparents were a wonderful source of information of local history. Like Eli Whitney gave our family one of the first cotton gins to test. And our first relative in Georgia was a British Guard turned American Freedom Fighter.

One story I would love to write one day is based on my great grandparents' romance--Granddaddy was a sharecropper whose family lost everything in the burning of Atlanta(he was the youngest, born in 1890) who fell in love with the granddaughter of the landowner. Grandma(born in 1893) gave up everything(money, education--a rarity in Post-war Georgia) to marry him--but the funny thing was she didn't have the nerve to tell her grandfather who had Granddaddy arrested for kidnapping! It took her three days to work up the nerve!

They celebrated their 78th wedding aniversary(a record in Georgia) in 1986, right before Granddaddy died.

Patty Smith Hall

Mary Connealy said...

I did it. Took pictures of my buffalo herd.
I put them on my blog if you want to see them.
Coming Soon to a Buffalo Herd Near You

Thanks for lighting a fire under me, Becky.

Mary Connealy said...

And now that you mention it, Pam, it IS dark in there!!!!!!!!!!!

Janet Spaeth said...

Candy Cane Calaboose sprang into my mind as I sat at a book-signing at the local mall.

Angel's Roost came from a wonderful First Night celebration in my town.

And right now I have a proposal in based upon a flood that took out most of where I live--it's a very personal story.

But the novella "This Prairie" pulled many stories from when we lived on a farm. The first evening we were there, the plumbing exploded and we couldn't find the turn-off. (The prior residents had pulled the stake and planted ZUCCHINI over the buried valve. One more strike against zucchini in my mind.)

The cat that jumped in my husband's truck and gave birth on the front seat also appears in the story.

All through that novella are the kooky things that happened out there. It was my favorite novella to write!

Ausjenny said...

Love reading the post and replies
Oh im excited when i come over to Canada In Sept (16 weeks 6 days) i will be taking a side trip to stay with my friend in Port Orchard in WA.
shes taking me to see the bears that wave and some buffulo and im excited to see them.
not sure it will be as exciting as seeing chipmonks last year but it will be cool.
(the chipmonks are sooooo cute and small.)

Janet Spaeth said...

By the way, the mouse that appears in "Christmas Cake" (see a few posts back) was also inspired by living on the farm. The house had been vacant for a while when we moved in, so we moved in, we had to, um, dislodge some 4-footed squatters.

Thanks to a cat we soon got, they were quickly taken care of.

Pam Hillman said...

Oh Janet S, the story of the mama cat reminded me of the cat who got in the house when I was about 6 or 7 (okay, it truth be told, I probably had the cat in the house in the first place!) and had her kittens in Mama and Daddy’s closet. Mama let them stay for a few days before moving them.

Becky said...

The farm cat I had around age 4-5 had her kittens in the drop ceiling above the furnace in our old house. I can remember my cousin having to crawl up in there and bring the kittens down. Farm life is always good for a story.

Pam Hillman said...

Okay, the cats have hijacked the blog! lol I almost always have a litter of kittens or puppies, baby calves and colts in my stories. It just flows naturally out of my plots, I guess!

Want to endear your 6'2" 200 lb hero to female readers? A couple of years ago, dh and my fil were building a hugemonous (like 4500 sf!) house for a homeowner. Mama cat from the owner's horse barn had her kittens in the house that was under construction.

My dh (who isn't really a cat lover), moved those kittens around several times. I think they ended up having to tear out a wall one day to get some out.

In the end, he left them in the bathtub until they had the house to a stage that the mama cat couldn't get them back inside.

And I think he actually PLAYED with them.

Tiff (Amber Miller) Stockton said...

Excellent points about looking for history and stories right in your own backyard. I took the advice of "write what you know" to heart when I crafted the story for my first book, which Heartsong bought in 2006. 2 more followed, and all of the content came within 10 miles of where I lived.

Now, I've moved to Colorado, and this state is chock full of fascinating stories, history, unique people and so much more. Of course, it (like Texas and California) seems to be a popular setting for books these days, but that doesn't mean a compelling story can't still be found.

I still have a dream to research my family history in Maryland, Virginia, Kentucky and Pennsylvania. I would incorporate my grandfather's landing on the shores of Normandy during WWII or the loss of most of my father's side of the family between WWI and the flu epidemic. I would also depict the history of my mother's family and the fact that her great-aunt married the president of the United States while still in office.

But that might have to wait until I sell a few more books. :)