Thursday, December 31, 2009

Beginnings

I'm thinking a lot about beginnings here at the end of 2009, with the new year set to roll in in just a few hours. Story beginnings, that is.

It took me a long time to find the beginning of Kindred. I wrote a good portion of the novel before I figured out where it actually began. I made two or three false starts before I settled on the opening chapter that currently resides on my hard drive (and the desks of several agents).

With Willa, I had a very clear picture of the opening scene, inspired in part by the photo that serves as my desktop wallpaper. You can find it here.

That doesn't mean I haven't struggled over the opening chapters of Willa. Mostly with the pacing. It's so easy to second guess. Some writers write down the bones of their story in their first draft. I need to spill out everything, bones, blood, and vital organs. Absolutely everything I think might even possibly need to be in the story. By the end I generally know what's story muscle, and what's needless padding, or an extra limb or two. (Next time I'll find a more attractive analogy!). It's not the tidiest, most economical way to go about this storytelling thing, but so far it's been my way no matter how I've tried to employ other methods. What can you do?

Here's a few quotes from other writers, about novel openings:

Blaise Pascal: The last thing one knows in constructing a work is what to put first.

Gustave Flaubert: I am finding it very hard to get my novel started. I suffer from stylistic abscesses; and sentences keep itching without coming to a head.

Anthony Trollope: Perhaps the method of rushing at once 'in medias res' is, of all the ways of beginning a story... the least objectionable. The reader is made to think the gold lies so near the surface that he will be required to take very little trouble in digging for it.

J.R.R. Tolkien: I find it only too easy to write opening chapters--and at the moment the story is not unfolding. I squandered so much on the original 'Hobbit' (which was not meant to have a sequel) that it is difficult to find anything new in that world.  (Oh Professor, I'm SO glad you kept looking!)

Graham Greene: The beginning of a book holds more apprehensions for the novelist than the ending. After living with a book for a year or two, he has come to terms with his unconsciousness--the end will be imposed. But if a book is started in the wrong way, it may never be finished.

Joan Aiken: Such a sentence makes you hear the sound of books slapping shut all over the library. (of the opening sentence of Ivanhoe)

Michael Ondaatje: The first sentence of every novel should be: 'Trust me, this will take time but there is order here, very faint, very human.'   (I love this. If this is what I sense in the opening lines of a book, resting solidly behind whatever the actual words are, then that author has me hooked)

And the classic Lewis Carroll : "Where shall I begin, please, your Majesty?" he asked.
"Begin at the beginning," the King said, gravely, "and go on till you come to the end: then stop."

Happy 2010. May we finish what we begin!

Monday, December 28, 2009

Which Came First?

If you are a writer, painter, musician, sculptor, or involved in some other form of art, have you ever wondered just who is in control of the creative process, you or the work? I have. In fact, there have been times when I was sure down to the bottom of my soul that the story I was writing already existed, in some form hidden from my eyes, and what I was doing was not so much "making things up," but uncovering the bits and pieces--much as an archaeologist would uncover the site of an Iron Age village on a hilltop in Wales, piecing together a picture of lives lived long ago, bit by bit uncovering the mystery.

Those are usually the days when the muse is cooperative and nothing too terribly important is distracting me from the process. I'm feeling well. The dog lying beside me isn't dreaming noisily of chasing squirrels through the woods. Other times I'm sure it's me behind it all. Just me--and my piles of research books, and my fragile imagination.

So which comes first, the story or the storyteller? Perhaps it's a little like predestination and free will. While not understanding exactly how it all works, I believe both are working out simultaneously, one outside of time, one confined within it.

It takes faith to push ahead with a story, especially in the beginning when I see so few of the pieces. Just a row of bricks poking up from the dirt. A potsherd a few yards off. A bit of bone, a pipe stem, a rusty nail. The deeper I dig (carefully, no rushing!) the more I will find. The clearer the picture will become.

I love this quote by the insightful Madeleine L'Engle, and because it's appropriate to this time of Incarnational Promise, I wanted to share it before this present season is past.

"Obedience is an unpopular word nowadays, but the artist must be obedient to the work, whether it be a symphony, a painting, or a story for a small child. I believe that each work of art, whether it is a work of great genius, or something very small, comes to the artist and says, "Here I am. Enflesh me. Give birth to me." And the artist either says, "My soul doth magnify the Lord," and willingly becomes the bearer of the work, or refuses; but the obedient response is not necessarily a conscious one, and not everyone has the humble, courageous obedience of Mary."

I wish you the obedience of Mary in your creative birthings this day!

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Good Tidings

For unto us a child is born, unto us a son is given: and the government shall be upon his shoulder: and his name shall be called Wonderful, Counselor, The mighty God, The everlasting Father, The Prince of Peace. (Isaiah 9:6)

And there were in the same country shepherds abiding in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night. And, lo, the angel of the Lord came upon them, and the glory of the Lord shone round about them: and they were sore afraid. And the angel said unto them, Fear not: for, behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Saviour, which is Christ the Lord....

And this shall be the sign unto you: Ye shall find the babe wrapped in swaddling clothes lying in a manger. And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God, and saying, Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men. (Luke 2: 8-14)

For God so love the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life. For God sent not his Son into the world to condemn the world; but that the world through him might be saved. (John 3:16-17)



A Blessed Christmas from my heart to yours! I'll be blogging again after the holiday. 

Monday, December 21, 2009

18th Century Living: Deck the Halls


It's Tradition!

In keeping with my hope of writing fiction set in the 18th century for a long while to come, I wanted to research and blog about what an 18th century Christmas might have looked like. I came away with one overriding impression: simplicity

According to Emma Powers in her Christmas Customs article (Colonial Williamsburg website): "Eighteenth-century [Christmas] customs don't take long to recount: church, dinner, dancing, some evergreens, visiting--and more and better of these very same for those who could afford more."

Here are a few more interesting facts about 18th Century Christmas, quoted from the same article mentioned above, which is well worth a full read:


"Williamsburg shopkeepers of the eighteenth century placed ads noting items appropriate as holiday gifts, but New Year's was as likely a time as December 25 for bestowing gifts."

"No early Virginia sources tell us how, or even if, colonists decorated their homes for the holidays, so we must rely on eighteenth-century English prints.... that show interior Christmas decorations [such as] a large cluster of mistletoe...."



"Then as now, beef, goose, ham, and turkey counted as holiday favorites; some households also insisted on fish, oysters, mincemeat pies, and brandied peaches."


"The twelve days of Christmas lasted until January 6, also called Twelfth Day or Epiphany. Colonial Virginians thought Twelfth Night a good occasion for balls, parties, and weddings."

I'll note that a wedding does take place on Jan 6th, in Kindred... but I won't say whose!

Looking for more information on early Christmas customs and traditions? Check out these sites:

Christmas Food History: http://www.foodtimeline.org/christmasfood.html

Another Look At Christmas in the Eighteenth Century, by David DeSimone: http://www.history.org/almanack/life/xmas/xmasqa.cfm

Recipes for a Twelfth Night Celebration: http://www.history.org/almanack/life/food/ginger.cfm

Do you have Christmas traditions in your family that date back more than a generation or two? The only one I can recall from my childhood was finding an orange in the foot of our stockings on Christmas morning, which to me always seemed a little strange since there were oranges in the fruit bowl in the kitchen. At some point I came to realize that it harkened back to the days of my grandfather's childhood, when an orange at Christmas was a treat, because they didn't have them or couldn't afford them for the rest of the year.
 
 photos by Flintlocker and fauxto_digit

Friday, December 18, 2009

Christmas "Receipt": Mincemeat Cookies

Holiday baking is one of my favorite aspects of this season. Is that any surprise? If there's anything I enjoy half as much as writing, it's baking (and photographing what I bake).

Here's a Christmas cookie recipe that's been a favorite since my Aunt Judy shared it with me several years ago. It's been a popular holiday recipe in their family for years, something I missed out on growing up 3000 miles away. But now we're on the same coast, and I'm slowly learning her baking secrets. I'd never tasted mincemeat before, and honestly wasn't sure what it was until I went looking to make this recipe. Meat? In a cookie? Come to find out there's types of mincemeat made with apples. Pippins, to be exact. 


Christmas Mincemeat Bars

1.5 cups brown sugar (packed)
2 eggs
2 tbsp. molasses
1 tbsp. soft butter
1 tsp. vanilla
2 cups all purpose flour
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 tsp baking soda
1 tsp each cinnamon and cloves
3 tbsp hot water
1/4 cup almonds, slivered or sliced
1/4 cup seedless raisins
1 pkg (9 oz.) mincemeant* broken up with fork
1.5 cups sifted confectioners sugar
2 or 3 tbsp hot milk
1/2 tsp each vanilla and almond flavoring

* If using mincemeat in a jar (as I do), rather than a package, eliminate use of hot water. Sufficient moisture in mincemeat in jar.

Heat oven to 400 degrees. Grease one jelly roll pan (1 x 11 x 15). Mix brown sugar, eggs, molasses, butter and vanilla. Measure flour by dip-level-pour method or by sifting. Blend flour, salt, soda and spices; stir into sugar/egg mixture. Mix in hot water (unless using mincemeat from a jar). Stir in almonds, raisins and mincemeat.

Spread thin in greased pan. Dough puffs and fills in any holes as it bakes. Bake 12-15 minutes. Spread immediately with mixture of confectioners sugar, milk and flavorings. Cut into squares or diamonds (shown).

Makes 6 dozen 2 x 1.5 bars. Cool 10 minutes before cutting.

As this treatise is calculated for the improvement of the rising generation of Females in America, the Lady of fashion and fortune will not be displeased, if many hints are suggested for the more general and universal knowledge of those females in this country, who by loss of their parents, or other unfortunate circumstances, are reduced to the necessity of going into families in the line of domestics, or taking refuge with their friends or relations, and doing those things which are really essential to the perfecting of them as good wives, and useful members of society.
~ Amelia Simmons, American Cookery, 1796

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Eighteenth Century Living: Road Trip!


How far can a horse travel in one day? How about a wagon? How were rivers crossed where there were no bridges, and no fords? What roads existed in the 18th century? Did travelers always stay at inns? What was the difference between an inn, a tavern, and a public house, anyway?

These were some of the questions I had to answer while researching and writing Kindred. My character, Ian Cameron, takes at least three road trips over the course of the story.

 The Great Philadelphia Wagon Road

Prayer concluded, Benjamin Eden produced from a coat pocket a set of bone-handled cutlery, with which he commenced to eat with neat precision, tin plate balanced on his knees. “Thomas tells me thee planned to travel down the coast to Philadelphia and take the wagon road from thence. Though thee hast come the long way around to it, thee are but a half-day’s ride from the road now.” ~Kindred

This road, which stretched from Philadelphia to Georgia, was a major thoroughfare for 18C travelers, particularly settlers headed south into the Carolina backcountry, or across the Cumberland Gap into Kentucky. This road is traveled by several of my Kindred characters on their way to North Carolina.

Click on the map for a larger view.


Taverns, Inns and Ordinaries

The place buzzed like a hive, true enough, with guests passing through at all hours and a sprinkling of backwoods locals who seemed permanent fixtures in the taproom. ~ Kindred

"The terms used for these public houses varied by region. In New England, tavern was the most popular term. Inn and tavern were used interchangeably in the Middle Atlantic States, and the term ordinary was used in the southern colonies. An ordinary implies that a meal was offered "at a set time and price to the public," while an inn implies overnight stays, and a tavern simply means food and entertainment.

Whether called an inn, tavern, or ordinary, a public house offered food, drink, socialization, and a place to spend the night for road-weary 18th century travelers."

For more on the subject, check out Wayside Inns and Taverns, by Elizabeth Y. Rump.


Rivers To Cross

"They stood near the cross-tied horses, Ian with a hand to the headstall of the nearest. As the current pushed against the craft, the ferryman strode the deck, poling toward the opposite bank." ~ Kindred

Before there were bridges, there were fords, shallow spots in rivers where a rider simply swam his horse across. Sometimes not so simply. If a traveler was fortunate, there would be a ferry to help him cross the river, for a fee. Some early ferries were as basic as two canoes connected by a level surface for the traveler and his horse to occupy, while the ferryman poled him to the opposite shore. Over time this double canoe ferry was replaced by larger, flat-bottomed craft that used a system of pulleys and guide ropes, along with a pole man, to make the slow and tedious crossing.

The map to the right shows the site of the Trading Ford, the old Yadkin River ferry crossing on the Trading Path that ran from Hillsborough, NC, to Salisbury, NC, a Piedmont town that grew at the meeting of the Trading Path and the Great Philadelphia Wagon Road. This is the spot my Kindred characters cross on one of their road trips. It must have looked much different in the 18C than when I crossed it in the 21st.

Click on the map for a larger view.


Inns and villages often grew up around a ferry crossing. A great resource for descriptions and illustrations of the evolution of a ferry from its 17th century beginnings to its replacement by a covered bridge in the 19th century, is Edwin Tunis's book The Tavern At The Ferry. Take a look inside using Amazon's Search Inside This Book feature.

So just how far can a horse travel in a day?

That depends on the horse, the rider, the terrain, the weather, and how much the horse is carrying. Though if pressed, and under certain conditions, horses could travel much farther, with proper care (food, water, and rest) a horse in good condition could be expected to travel 20 miles a day over an extended period, which is a good way of describing how long most 18th century road trips lasted.

Sunday, December 13, 2009

Upcoming Releases for 2010

So... we've about reached the halfway point in December (already!). 2009 is drawing to a close and lately I've been looking ahead to 2010, and its upcoming new fiction releases. What titles are you excited about, can't wait to get your hands on? Share them in the comments section. There must be many I've yet to hear about and wouldn't want to miss!

To start things off, here's a list of some of the historical fiction titles I'm looking forward to:


Courting Morrow Little by Laura Frantz
Baker/Revell (July 1, 2010)

"This sweeping tale of romance and forgiveness will envelop readers as it takes them from a Kentucky fort through the vast wilderness to the west in search of true love."


Here Burns My Candle by Liz Curtis Higgs
WaterBrook Press (March 16, 2010)

"A timeless story of love and betrayal, loss and redemption, flickering against the vivid backdrop of eighteenth-century Scotland, Here Burns My Candle illumines the dark side of human nature, even as hope, the brightest of tapers, lights the way home."

Her Mother's Hope by Francine Rivers
Tyndale House Publishers (March 16, 2010)

"The first in an epic two-book saga... this sweeping story explores the complicated relationships between mothers and daughters over several generations... [as] each woman is forced to confront her faulty but well-meaning desire to help her daughter find her God-given place in the world."




The Promise of Morning by Ann Shorey
Baker/Revell (March 1, 2010)

"Book two in the AT HOME IN BELDON GROVE series, The Promise of Morning engages readers with themes of overcoming tragedy, finding strength to meet daunting challenges, and trusting your heart to love again." 




Ransome's Crossing by Kaye Dacus
Harvest House Publishers, Inc.

Kaye's sequel to Ransome's Honor, a Regency Romance. The first one was engaging. Can't wait for the story to continue.I couldn't find a product description on Amazon yet, but with perfect timing, Kaye just posted a vid to tell readers about her upcoming release. Check it out here.






Angel's Den, by Jamie Carie
B&H Books (February 1, 2010)

"In 1808, when Emma meets and marries Eric Montclaire... this young daughter of prominent St. Louis citizens believes a fairy tale has just begun. Instead, her husband’s angelic looks quickly prove only to mask a monstrous soul. Emma is devastated when Eric insists on her joining his yearlong expedition to the Pacific Ocean, following the trail Lewis and Clark blazed just a few years earlier. By the time cartographer Luke Bowen realizes Emma’s plight, it’s too late to easily untangle what has become an epic web of lies, theft, murder, courtroom drama, and a deep longing for love. Only God can show them the way out."


She Walks in Beauty, by Siri Mitchell
Bethany House (April 1, 2010)


"For a young society woman seeking a favorable marriage in the late 1890s, so much depends on her social season debut. Clara Carter has been given one goal: secure the affections of the city's most eligible bachelor. When a man appears who seems to love her simply for who she is, and gossip backlash turns ugly, Clara realizes it's not just her heart at stake--the future of her family depends on how she plays the game."

 
 

Friday, December 11, 2009

Friday Roundup

Whip! Crack! Here's a herd of writing and publishing blog posts I found most interesting this week, corralled all nice and neat for ya'll.

Author Natalie Whipple had a great post this week on building characters.

From Favorite PASTimes, a list of December's new releases in Christian fiction.

Michael Hyatt's post on the SI Reader, coming in 2010, is interesting. Be sure to watch the video demonstration from Sports Illustrated. Pretty cool. For a magazine. I'm not sure if I'd like to read a novel with a bunch of extraneous bells and whistles. Depends on what those bells and whistles were. As some have commented on his post, it's still the words, the story, that must transport.

After you watch the video, I'd be curious to know what sort of features you'd like to see in a novel, given a similar format. Sound tracks for scenes? Images of characters? For historicals: an extended author's note about her research? Author interview videos? On location videos at the modern setting? Living history videos of reenactments? Personally I don't need any of it, but I admit when I've loved a novel I've greedily devoured every word of the acknowledgments, author's notes, and whatever else the publisher has given me beyond the actual story, because good stories leave us wanting more. Perhaps this multimedia experience is one way to do that. It might be the thing that makes me invest in something other than a print copy of a book. But I'm still far from sold on the idea.

And at Novel Journey, author Randy Ingermanson writes about his new craft book, Writing Fiction for Dummies. This looks good.

Rounding up these blogs posts was a breeze compared to this feat:



Makes me laugh every time. Have a good weekend everyone!

Wednesday, December 09, 2009

Eighteenth Century Living: The Underground Railroad

Harriet Tubman and John Brown are names readily associated with the Underground Railroad, a network of secret routes and safe houses used by nineteenth century slaves in the United States to escape to the northern states or Canada, and freedom.

During the early research for Kindred (which deals largely with issues of slavery), I began to wonder about the hundreds, maybe thousands, of nameless men and women who first harbored escaped slaves, or conducted them northward in their flight. The Underground Railroad didn't simply spring into being one day in the 19C, fully realized and operational. There had to be a first man or woman to help an escaping slave along her road. But who were they? And when did they get the notion, and the courage, to do so?

There can be no knowing, since a huge element of the success of such endeavors was secrecy. No doubt many an early abolitionist carried his secrets to the grave.
Recently author Laura Frantz posted on her blog about her historical heroes, and in pondering the question for myself, I knew that these unknown heroes who laid the first tracks for the Underground Railroad were some of mine.

One who stands in place for them all is a man named Levi Coffin. He was a Quaker, a North Carolinian with Nantucket roots, and he, along with his cousin Vestal Coffin, became "the founders of the earliest known scheme to transport fugitives across hundreds of miles of unfriendly territory to safety in the free states."*  The year was 1819.

Kindred is set some twenty-five years earlier, in 1793-4. Still my mind would not let go of the possibility that someone else, somewhere, had gotten the idea that it was a good thing to help escaping slaves to their freedom, in defiance of law and social pressure. And then I found what might have been the impetus for the taking of such risky action.

The year 1792 saw the publishing of the first slave narrative, by Olaudah Equiano (as portrayed by Youssou N'Dourin in one of my favorite films, Amazing Grace).



Between my knowledge of Equiano's narrative, and my surmises on the grassroots beginnings of the URR, was born two of Kindred's secondary characters, the Quaker, Benjamin Eden, a passionate abolitionist, and Thomas Ross, a free black man who has never known slavery, has been raised in a white family, and is shaken by the things he's read in Equiano's book, shaken out of complacency and onto a path that will forever change his, and many others, destiny.

For more information about Levi Coffin, visit author Carla Gade's geneaology blog. Small world that it is, turns out Levi Coffin is mentioned in Carla's family tree.


*Bound for Canaan, The Underground Railroad and the War for the Soul of America, by Fergus M. Bordewich.

Monday, December 07, 2009

Book Covers of 2009

I need to add a note to today's post because I have news! My novel, KINDRED, won the Audience with an Agent Contest. It was posted this morning at the Novel Matters blog. Yay!!!! 

I will admit to never having seen a Kindle e-reader (still!), much less ever having read a book on one. Me and technology take a while to warm up to each other. Regarding Kindle, I get the pros. It's portable, small, doesn't weigh as much as a stack of books yet it can hold a stack of books. But there's one aspect of traditional print publishing that e-readers can't replace. The cover.

A cover is evocative, it's tactile, and it's the first thing you see when you're browsing store shelves. It might even be what prompts you to buy the book, turning a "I dunno... maybe" into a "yeah, I'm gonna get this" in that crucial moment of hovering between putting the book back onto the shelf or clasping it to your heaving bosom and heading for the check out. A knock-your-socks-off cover that strongly evokes a time, mood, setting or character has led me to read many a novel I otherwise might not have, because the back blurb didn't quite hook me on its own.

Amazon recently released a list of The Best Book Covers of 2009. Today I want to mention some of my favorite book covers of 2009. This list is purely subjective and limited to books I've actually read (with one exception). There are many more gorgeous, clever, funny, haunting covers out there, but here's my favorites from 2009:


Cleopatra's Daughter, by Michelle Moran.
Crown, September 2009

I'm reading this book right now, and liking it tremendously. Here's a good review... this review plus the cover convinced me to read this book.

Side note: once I had this book in my hands and could see the cover in more detail, I fell in love with the model's hair. It's my character Seona's hair too. Finally, a photo of super-curly, near-black hair that isn't bushy looking.





Honor in the Dust, by Gilbert Morris.
Howard Books, August 2009

Review













The Frontiersman's Daughter, by Laura Frantz
Baker/Revell, August 2009

Review













The Apothecary's Daughter, by Julie Klassen
Bethany House, 2009

Review













Love's Pursuit, by Siri Mitchell
Bethany House, June 2009

Review













The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society
by Mary Ann Shaffer and Annie Burrows

The Dial Press, 2009 (paperback)

Review

This cover evokes the mood of the story perfectly, as well as its unusual structure (it's told through letters and telegrams). I highly recommend the audio version. There are four or five readers, and each character's voice is unique and engaging. The book was first published in 2008, but the paperback was issued in 09, and I read it in 09, so it's making my list.

And the one I haven't read yet, but just had to include. I've always loved Deanne Gist's book covers:


A Bride in the Bargain.
Bethany House, July 2009

If I squeeze this book in before the New Year, then it's still a 2009 book for me! This cover shows so much character.

Review



Lot's of "daughters" on my list. Many Bethany House covers. Still quite a few headless or half-headless shots. Wonder how long that trend will continue? Sometimes I like it, sometimes I don't. These all worked for me.

If you have your own list, please post them in the comments section; word of mouth is still the best marketing tool. And I always love a lead on a good book.

Friday, December 04, 2009

Daydream Believer

This week has been a transition sort of week for me, writing-wise. I had ambitious plans of jumping back into writing Willa on Monday morning, after taking a couple of weeks to edit Kindred, then five days for a fun Thanksgiving holiday while we had family in town. Sometimes other projects, or life, intrudes during the writing of a first draft, and even if it's for thoroughly enjoyable reasons, I often regret having to take more than a couple days off at a time from writing... once I get back to the computer, or open that long neglected file.

Instead of smoothly shifting gears this week, I ended up grinding them. Thursday rolled around before I managed to get any new words onto the screen. And I have a feeling they'll be words that end up on the cutting room floor. But at least I have some direction for the next scene. Direction is good!

Part of the problem stemmed from having left off writing at a point where I didn't quite know what came next. I needed to daydream, let my mind be free to explore possibilities for a series of scenes that encompass four important secondary characters' introductions. That's what my right brain was telling me to do. My left brain (where my internal editor resides) was in a panic to start producing words and do it like yesterday you sluggard!

Talk like that tends to freeze me creatively. She's muzzled now. I can proceed.

What about you? If you are a writer, what do you do when you feel stalled and the words just aren't coming? Push through? Back off? Daydream about your characters? Read a good novel? Go back and edit earlier chapters or scenes? Eat more chocolate?

Do you have a tried and true method for breaking through that wall? Do share!

photo by pareeerica (Flickr)

Wednesday, December 02, 2009

Eighteenth Century Living: Smoked Ham

Salted smoke-cured ham. Ham biscuits. Country ham gravy. Those are tastes from my childhood that I miss. My maternal forbears raised hogs and smoked their hams since, I suppose, the first of them left England and came to the Virginia/North Carolina border area in the early 1600s. My grandfather moved his family north to Maryland in the 1950s, built the house where we were raised, and never went back to farm life, aside from turning every available plot of ground around our house into a productive garden. But every so often he and my grandmother would travel south to visit family in Virginia and come home with a country ham, which would hang in our shed, all crusty brown. How wonderful those rare dinners when it was featured as the main course.

As a child I had no idea why that ham tasted different--and so much better to my way of thinking--than the sweet hams we bought at the local grocery. Researching my eighteenth century-set novel, KINDRED, was a little like exploring bits of my childhood I'd taken for granted, faint echoes of 18C lifeways that had lingered into the 1970s, the era of my childhood.

One of the best set of books I can recommend for writers researching rural or mountain life are the Foxfire series. With titles like Ghost stories, spring wild plant foods, spinning and weaving, midwifing, burial customs, corn shuckin's, wagon making and more affairs of plain living, and Animal care, banjos and dulcimers, hide tanning, summer and fall wild plant foods, butter churns, ginseng, and still more affairs of plain living, how could anyone interested in mountain life, or eastern rural life in past centuries, not feel like they've found a gold mine? I have only the first three, but there are something like 12 books in this series.

Hog butchering was done after the first cold snap, to help preserve the meat, often not until November or even December. The hams and other cuts of meat were first rubbed with a salt mixture (sometimes mixed with molasses and pepper or other spices) and allowed to cure for a few weeks. Then the meat was hung inside the smokehouse on hooks or suspended by rope from the rafters. Fires were built directly on the ground if it was a dirt floor, and had to be carefully maintained for the entire smoking process. Woods like hickory or apple flavored the meat, and the end result produced a crust that kept away the insect pests. Some families built their smokehouses with plenty of ventilation, while others built them tight, to trap the smoke. 

Smokehouse at Cade's Cove, TN.














See the smokehouse at the Daniel Boone Homestead here.