Antiques and Inspiration
Now that the Prairie Promises Series is wrapped up with the upcoming release of the final installment of the trilogy; The Bride Blunder, it’s fun and bittersweet to look back on the items that helped inspire the stories. In past interviews, I’ve mentioned my fascination and appreciation of antiques; how I draw from real articles of the past to help find the mood and motivation for my characters.
The scratch of a dip pen writing out research notes takes me back in time; genuine photographs (whether they be tin types or cabinet cards) bring my characters to life, speaking to me through the sparkle in their eyes or the stubborn tilt of their chins as they sit at my desk. Yes. . . I do collect these photographs, and even scan them into the computer and send them to the art department when they’re gathering information to create covers! Saul Reed, Clara Fields, Opal Speck, Adam Grogan, Marge & Daisy Chandler, Gavin Miller, Midge Collins, and Amos Geer… I have them all. Beyond photographs, for each novel in the Prairie Promises series, I’ve one particular antique which held special significance.
(antique inspiration picture is Marge and Daisy from The Bride Blunder)
In The Bride Bargain, Clara Fields takes pride of place as the heroine—and all of the inspiring antiques in this article, creative touchstones for the novels themselves, have to do with the various Brides of Buttonwood, as I like to call them. But for this first novel in the series, the item has nothing to do with Clara and everything to do with a hard-nosed but soft-hearted thirteen year old named Midge Collins. Readers will know that Midge’s prized possession is a battered locket she removes from around her older sister’s neck after she and the hero of The Bride Bargain arrive too late to save her life. What few people know is that the scene was meant to shed light on the character of Dr. Saul Reed—and Midge was meant to remain behind in Boston and not have a place in Buttonwood at all. My intentions aside, Midge’s strong character and intense story won her a place in Buttonwood, and this young woman became the only person to have a point of view in each novel of the Prairie Promises series. Her perspective as she grows over the course of four years helps shape not only the romances of the main characters, but her own character arc throughout the novels.
What even fewer people know is that I own Midge’s locket. No, the miniature portrait of her mother, whom her older sister so strongly resembled, is not inside. But every time I sat down to write, I’d light a candle and put a battered brass locket around my neck. Some woman who lived almost two centuries ago loved it so she would frequently reach up and grasp it. I know because there are faint but perfect indentations for curled forefinger across the front, and a thumb-shaped one along the back, as though she would worry the locket whenever she needed to think. I’d do the same while I wrote. . . . In fact, I wore the locket throughout writing the series!
For The Bride Backfire, a pair of tan, low-heeled, button-up leather boots sat alongside my research books. Scuffed in places, the soles worn smooth and shiny with the occasional stubborn pebble firmly entrenched near the toes, these were the Victorian Era shoes of Miss Opal Speck. Each time I’d see the shoes, I’d think of the hard-working determination of the woman who must have worn them. In an odd sort of way, it helped me almost literally put myself in Opal’s shoes and walk around while I wrote her story. Actually, if I were to be totally truthful, I’d admit to having done just that. Since I happen to have small feet, I was able to put them on—though the shoes were far too narrow for comfort and it’s quite true shoes of that era were not made with a left and right. I could only tell based upon the wear of the soles which to put on which foot, and even then I most likely should have had a more reverent respect for these shoes. They are, after all, over one hundred and fifty years old, and deserve their retirement! All the same, I don’t regret it. The experience connected me to the character and helped me walk alongside a woman with more strength and selflessness than I happen to boast.
As the last novel in the series, The Bride Blunder saw more than its share of inspiring items. After all, I’d been collecting them with the intent to display and use them as I wrote the novel since I’d started The Bride Bargain! So while I could talk about the 1860s walnut and cast-iron school desk I purchased at an estate sale and the well-loved (falling apart) McGuffey Reader textbook I kept atop it while I wrote the story of Marge the schoolmarm, the truly inspiring antique for this novel had to be the old pair of gold-rimmed spectacles worn by the heroine. These specs, with their delicate golden rims and incredibly thin, fragile arms with almost comically wide loops at the end for the ears, never failed to make me smile. Perhaps it’s because I wore glasses up through college, and the perfectly round, owl-like lenses reminded me of my own former coke-bottles. I couldn’t see through them, although from time to time I’d perch them atop my nose and peer over them just to get a feel for Marge looking up from her beloved books. I relate to Marge, who feels the ugly duckling compared to her swan of a cousin, and her glasses seem to her just another mark against her looks. But I, along with her hero, knew better. I’ve no doubt those spectacles made me—and Gavin—see Marge in a whole new light!
Perhaps it’s odd, maybe amusing, but stepping back in time with the aid of items from that period of history never fails to give me new insight into my characters, spark an unforeseen idea, or remind me of the everyday differences that made our forefathers—and mothers!—so amazing. I may not have been able to live as a pioneer, but their treasures help me imagine and appreciate the truth of one of my favorite quotes by Barbara Willard: “History is about us—then.”