September 20, 2008

Adventures in History

by DiAnn Mills

What an honor to be a part of Bustles and Spurs! The title reminds me of a song—or what should be a song. As I contemplated what to write about in my first blog entry, a hundred subjects raced across my mind. And then I thought about beginnings, great historical beginnings.

Where do the ideas come from for a historical novel that rivals Scarlett and Rhett in Gone with the Wind? The writer longs for characters who stand boots and petticoats above the others. But unless the writer has a gem of an idea, the characters have no problems or story to tell.

For example, when was the last time you attended a family reunion and listened to the senior citizens repeat the stories their parents and grandparents had passed down to them? Old Bibles note family history and often have notes that spark ideas for beautiful tales. Do you treasure old photographs and wonder about the lives of those people? Do you seize the opportunity to walk into an antique shop and peruse the old books, pictures, clothing and jewelry, and items once used in everyday life? Take a moment to study the clothing – and the sizes. These people were smaller and yet strong to endure the challenges of the times. Do you envision a setting on a farm? Examine the old tools. Close your eyes and imagine living in an era where these items are your life. Just listen to the stories they have to tell.

Historical museums are fabulous resources for ideas—and research. Don’t discount any of this vital information.

Contact state publishing houses for historical magazines. I love these! The articles, photographs, and little jewels of information are all generous helps in forming your story. Oh, I nearly forgot the importance of the point of view these people had about their community, state, nation, and world.

Libraries often have archived copies of old newspapers. Don’t forget to take a look at the obituary sections and small articles with local happenings. Advertisements, the latest fashions for young and old, and remedies guaranteed to cure every ailment are great resources to ignite your creativity.

Are you a graveyard enthusiast? Do you wander among the tombstones and mentally calculate how long a person lived? Do you wonder about the sweet epitaphs or the quirky ones? What nudges you when you see only a crude cross signifying a grave? Again these are the nuggets of story ideas that will send you back to your computer and brainstorming a new novel.

Tune into the history channel for documentaries and interviews by professionals. The Internet is a history buff’s friend, but make sure the site is reputable. Those ending in suffixes gov and edu are the most reliable.

I like unique and dynamic characters, those a heroine or a hero would follow to the tallest Colorado peak or into a pit of rattlesnakes. I look for those tales where I can fit courageous men and women into a day in history. There are dozens of stories out there. We writers need simply to find them.

I hope you have your agenda planned for your journey to find the perfect novel idea for you. Expect an Adventure!

DiAnn Mills


Keli Gwyn said...


Thanks for the nice post. I write historical inspirational romances set in the heart of California's Gold Country. I live in Placerville, California, a town steeped in history that dates back to the heyday of the Gold Rush.

When I'm starting a new story, I walk down our historic Main Street, where many of the buildings date back to 1857, the year after a major fire destroyed much of the town. I step into the lobby of the red brick Cary House Hotel and am whisked back in time by the elegant Victorian decor. I meander through the county museum immersing myself in the period. And a stroll through the many pioneer cemeteries in our area has sparked many an idea.

My characters talk to me as I take my strolls. I not only hear them, but as our wide Main Street morphs from asphalt to dirt and the sidewalks change from concrete to planks in my active mind, I can "see" them going about their daily tasks.

After such a journey into the past, I return home with my fingers itching to fly over the keyboard. I thrill to have such inspiration as my locale offers so close at hand.

CherryBlossomMJ said...

I would not call myself a graveyard enthusiast, but I would call myself a genealogist. This past fourth of July I made a decision to see as much of my ancestry as possible in the one day and I did. I wrote all about it on a post (below). It was fascinating and educational. What I find neat, is that I can see the names on the stones and know where abouts they lived and then can go to other bits of information and pictures and really piece parts of their lives together.

DiAnn Mills said...

Hi Keli
I envy your small town! Here in Houston, we have to drive to find those old treasures. But, like you, once I'm there my mind goes into creative mode. Thanks for posting and happy writing!

DiAnn Mills said...

Researching family history can bring a lot of interesting and humorous stories to the surface. I remember checking court house records to find that my great grandfather purchased my great grandmother for a mule. He was 27 and she was 15. The story goes that he pampered her all of their married life.
Thanks for posting!

Vickie McDonough said...


Thanks for the inspiring post. Gets my creative juices going.

That's so funny about your grandma. I wonder how she felt being swapped for a mule. Rather humiliting, I'd like. Kudos to your grandpa for treating her like a queen--even if he did acquire her in such an odd way.

DiAnn Mills said...

Hi Vicki

Grandma was gone before I came around, but the whole family talked about it fondly.

See you soon!

brendalottakamaggiebrendan said...

Hi DiAnn.Your post was filled with great ideas on where to look for informations. Some that I haven't thought of. I love history and reading about how people lived and all the challenges they faced. I enjoy being swept away by a good historical novel to get my mind off our own economy and gas prices and long lines at the pump here in Cobbb County. It's a great way to escape! Great post!

Jeanne Marie Leach said...

Great post, DiAnn. I get most of my ideas while walking the streets of an old ghost town or while jeeping in the high mountains in the fall. Graveyards are amazing places, and standing there in the quiet while reading dates and names, I conjure up pictures and stories in my mind.

Yet, if I were sitting at home trying to figure out a plot or new setting, nothing comes to me.

There's nothing like actually standing where someone else once stood over a hundred years ago to get my creative juices flowing. I never really had given this much thought until today. Wow! I just had a revelation - if I want to come up with a story, I must first go on a journey. ;) Pretty cool.

Thanks, DiAnn!
Jeanne Marie Leach