|Author Carol Bodensteiner|
Stepping back in time with Carol Bodensteiner
Carol writes from her home in Des Moines, Iowa
It’s vaguely uncomfortable to think of the late 1950s and early 1960s as fodder for historical writing, but I guess they are!
In writing the stories that comprise a memoir of my childhood, I wanted readers to experience life on a family farm the way I did – see it, smell it, taste it, have fun, as I did. We milked cows, butchered chickens, attended a one-room country school. Our life was simple but not easy. In many respects, my childhood was rural life the way people today like to idealize it.
It’s been gratifying to hear from so many readers that they relate to my growing up stories, which were my first step back in time. Research for those stories mostly involved talking with my sisters and parents and drawing from deep memory banks. But one chapter involved the church ladies of my home church digging through decades of church records. Their efforts enriched the story of our annual church auction.
My second step back in time is the novel I’m writing now. Set in rural Iowa, circa World War I. This was a time when roles for women, particularly farm women, were well defined. Get married. Have children. A woman might teach school, but only until she married. Then she lost the job. But change was in the wind. Suffragists were campaigning for the vote. As men were called to war, women stepped up and took on new roles.
My story is roughly based on my grandparents who were newly weds at that time. My grandfather died in 1918 of the Spanish flu. I’ve always been intrigued by my connection to this pandemic that killed millions worldwide. However, my story is entirely fiction because, I didn’t ask my grandmother anything about her life.
This is my first work of fiction and I chose historical fiction because I have this story to tell and because it’s my favorite genre to read. The ‘facts’ of my grandparents’ gave me a set of steppingstones to move from fact to fiction.
The research I’ve done to write my novel has made the ground more fertile for my story. Plus, the research yields more ‘facts’ to work with.
Here’s an example. Family lore has it that after my grandmother finished 8th grade, she was sent to town to go to a sewing school. When I asked at the local historical society about sewing schools in the area at that time, I was told there weren’t any. However, young girls were often apprenticed to seamstresses where they honed sewing skills they’d use after they married. Since the seamstresses were invited to the house parties given by the women for whom they sewed, the girls also had opportunities to meet the ‘right kind’ of young men.
‘Sewing school’ conjures up one image. ‘House parties’ where girls can meet the right kind of men conjures up something with far more dramatic potential!
Does the research come first or the story? At one point, I stopped writing because I felt I didn’t know enough about the time. Ultimately, I resumed writing, deciding that if I got the story arc right, I could retrofit the facts. This approach has worked for me even though it means substantial rewriting of scenes to make them historically accurate.
Historical fiction is an evolutionary process for me. The journey as much as the destination. Though I’ll be happy to see the destination, too.
Visit Carol at www.carolbodensteiner.com
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