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“You enter the extraordinary by way of the ordinary.” ~Frederick Buechner

Thursday, September 25, 2014

Strategy # 3 Historic Landmarks: The Daughters of Blessing Series

Build Your Story: 8 Strategies for Writing Innovative Setting with Impact

Historic Landmarks Example Study

The fictional town of Blessing, North Dakota has grown along with author Lauraine Snelling’s series, beginning with the Bjorklund family settling in the Red River Valley in the 1880’s and continuing into the 1900’s. Like any small town the Main Street becomes a public hub, and in Blessing the Mercantile holds a historic landmark status, both publicly for the town and personally for the Bjorklund family.

Below are two excerpts from two books in the Daughters of Blessing series. Notice how as a landmark the Mercantile threads easily through the conversations and also how decisions regarding its status have the potential to be minor sub-plots, or the potential for a major social upheaval that could cause severe change. 

A Touch of Grace, Book 3
From Ingeborg’s POV
Ingeborg tried to unscramble her thoughts but they tumbled over each other in spite of her good intentions. Penny couldn’t leave. They were all used to Hjelmer being gone but Penny and her store were part of the warp that held the tapestry of the town together. Newcomers were threads in the picture but without strong warp, the piece would not continue to grow. Ingeborg glanced around her kitchen, the zinc dry-sink came from the Mercantile, the jars that held her canning, the crocks of all sizes, the cast-iron frying pans and pots, her sewing machine, the new washing machine, the gingham she turned into curtains for the windows. Penny loved stocking new inventions for the women of Blessing, Hjelmer brought in the latest in machinery and his Blacksmith shop not only reset wheels but repaired some of the machinery. His windmills dotted the countryside, providing fresh water for humans and animals.
            “You can’t leave Blessing.” Ingeborg tried to put a touch of teasing in her voice but the cracking was a dead giveaway. “Please don’t leave.”

From the perspective of a Blessing summer visitor writing a letter home.
The big news is that Penny and Hjelmer Bjorklund are moving to Bismark and everyone is wondering if The Mercantile will go up for sale. This is making everyone sad. This intimate knowledge of one’s neighbor’s lives is so foreign to me. People in Blessing really care about each other, even those like Mrs. Valders who manages to offend everyone on a regular basis. She wants to run their lives, as both busybody and bossy.

Rebecca’s Reward, Book 4
From a Bjorklund family conversation
“Harlan Jeffers at the store.”
            Haakan huffed out a sigh. “Now what? Thought sure he’d give in and close on Sundays like we asked, but he is some stubborn.”
            “This may just be gossip since I’ve not seen it with my own eyes but….” Thorliff rubbed the side of his nose.
            “Spit it out.”
            “I heard he is selling liquor under the counter.”
            Ingeborg closed her eyes. No matter how hard she’d tried to make the man welcome, he’d not fit in. And refusing to close on Sunday set the entire community off. They’d talked to him politely and then boycotted. But he refused to give in, not that he had any business on Sunday anyway, other than folks sometimes off the train.
            “He’s carrying less and less stock, I’ve wondered how he can stay in business.”
            “I don’t think he’s ordered in much new merchandise since he took over.” Thorliff leaned back in his chair. “What do you think we should do?”
            “What can we do?”
            “Run him out on a rail?” Ingeborg adopted an innocent look to get laughs from the two men.
“You know I’ve said all along we need to set some town ordinances in place. So far we’ve all agreed on the way we want to run things, but with all the new people coming into the area…” He shrugged with his hands, pipe in one and tobacco can in the other. He set the things on the table, then himself in the chair. “We need a town meeting.”
            “But how do we deal with Mr. Jeffers? Short of catching him in the act.” Ingeborg wet a finger and picked up cake crumbs from the tablecloth.
            “But, Mor, this is an unwritten law all you women forced into place. No where does it say there will be no liquor sold in Blessing. Just like we sort of agreed there would be no liquor at the dances and barn raisings.”
            “Well, we didn’t all agree.”
            “But most everyone’s gone along with the rule in order to keep the peace.”
            “True. Or the wives would take care of things.” She rolled her lips together. There had been some rather loud discussions at the quilting meetings.
            Haakan tamped the tobacco down in his pipe with one finger. “But not all the men are married or belong to the Blessing Lutheran Church. And some of those young fellows like a drink or two. You know how they were after Sophie to put liquor in at the boardinghouse.”
            “So, I suppose Mr. Jeffers should turn Penny’s store into a saloon?” Sarcasm bled out of her comment.
            Straight faced as a judge, Haakan stared at Thorliff. “Prob’ly not a bad idea, finance wise.”

Exercise: What historic landmarks do your main characters hold close to their hearts? Make a list of potential plot twists that could happen if it were to be changed in any way.
Share: Which possibility surprised you?

If you’d like to read more history on the town of Blessing visit Lauraine Snelling’s site at

She also has a new series called Song of Blessing with Book One To Everything a Season releasing in October.

Read deep, marcy

Thursday, September 18, 2014

Strategy # 3 Historic Landmarks: Mirrors

Build Your Story: 8 Strategies for Writing Innovative Setting with Impact

We usually mark our memories of these ‘map’ journeys by the images that stay like photographs. Sometimes they extend to family archives and history and cultural mores. As I quoted from Jane Yolen in last week’s blog: “It is a series of image-repeating glasses, a hall of mirrors that brings past and present into focus and call it the present. ”

Just as our physical bodies cast a shadow as we walk, these mirrors cast a mythic shadow within us. Or an emotional thread that twines through time, real or imagined. That requires an interior map.

The following is quite a long essay and not everyone may be interested in reading it. However it is not only a study of communication through language but also shows how place and story can intertwine creatively.
1.     Describing a place with history. Language and Literature From a Pueblo Indian Perspective
a.     What style does Leslie Marmon Silko use? (reflective or emphatic, didactic or philosophical) How does her choice affect your interaction?
b.     How many of you have experienced moving from one place to another or re-visited a former family home?
c.      What are the ideas or images that you find familiar and can relate to in this essay?

2. Note how it includes a very organic way of passing on family history through story, language, and landmarks, as emotional and literal maps.

“Basically, the origin story constructs our identity - within this story, we know who we are. We are the Lagunas. This is where we come from. We came this way. We came by this place. And so from the time we are very young, we hear these stories, so that when we go out into the world, when one asks who we are, or where we are from, we immediately know: we are the people who came from the north. We are the people of these stories.'”  Leslie Marmon Silko (underline emphasis mine)

1. If you had to pick one landmark from your family history to share what would you choose and why?
2.     What makes that place have a lingering effect?
3.     Now ask your main characters the same questions.

Share: What did you choose?

Read deep, marcy

Thursday, September 11, 2014

Strategy # 3 Historic Landmarks: Maps

Build Your Story: 8 Strategies for Writing Innovative Setting with Impact

In her book of essays on fantasy, Touch Magic, Jane Yolen states, “Follow a story through its variants and you are following the trade routes, the slave routes, the routes of a conquering army, or that of a restless people on the move.”

Our world’s ancient trade routes have disappeared from this form, but the idea, I think, continues. Witness any real interaction on a plane, or at a terminal, or even standing in line at a bank.  If two people really begin a conversation, it leads to a story saying who they are, where they came from, and where are they going. And often that includes or becomes a reference to a specific landmark or territory.

It is up to the storyteller, Yolen, feels, to take the magic that comes through sharing theses stories and pass them on. Although Yolen addresses fantasy in this essay, all genre forms teach that life has consequences. “It holds certain values to be important. It makes issues clear.” It has to tell the truth: good, bad, joy, pain, or peril. “It is a series of image-repeating glasses, a hall of mirrors that brings past and present into focus and call it the present. ”

The map goes on whether inside or outside because the route is always changing. We as authors are never the same at the beginning of a book as we are the end. The book itself is never the same at the end as we have imagined it to be at the beginning.  Not only does it sometimes not even come close to our initial image, but sometimes there are parts to it that surpass our understanding. So we go on to a new story, a new route, a new sharing of ideas or values or questions.

In our writing, as well as on the roads we literally travel on, we continually need to read the directions to understand where we are, to make sure we haven’t gotten lost.  What does that sign say?  Danger ahead, construction work in progress, slow down, curve ahead, slippery, speed limit. The landmarks of the story become as much a part of the journey as the destination.

Writing Exercise
            Choose one location that your character goes to on a regular basis in your novel, whether you usually detail it or not. Make a list of other routes to take to get to the same place.

         Note where particular landmarks fall on each route—natural or man-made.

       Have her take an unfamiliar route and track her internal emotions alongside side the external                   landmarks.Then have her take this different route in the morning, mid-day and late at night. What changes?

For example, does the large oak tree on the corner look shady and comforting during the mid-day sun, then menacing at midnight? Which effect will rattle best in your scene if perhaps your protagonist is being chased, or thinks she is?

Share: What most noticeable change did you discover?

Read deep, marcy

Thursday, September 4, 2014

Strategy # 3 Historic Landmarks

Build Your Story: 8 Strategies for Writing Innovative Setting with Impact

Introduction Landmarks

Geography alone does not build up atmosphere and emotional connections in our worlds. Instead we also need to understand landmarks as potential maps and mirrors in order to recognize, choose, and transform their unique characteristics to our story. Our landmarks then become a natural part of our world rather than a stage prop of location.

An historic landmark can be public or private, such as a town cemetery or a century old family plot on an estate. It may be internationally known like a tourist site of the Eiffel Tower, or local as a sculptured statue in a neighborhood park. It can be natural or man-made.

A commemorative landmark can carry a sense of pride by one faction of a population and a long held grief of failure for others. An historic landmark may have been created by whimsy such as oddly shaped trees or odd-shaped dwellings, or a serious preventive measure against loss of life as so many well-known lighthouses have provided.

An historic landmark can be of value to one individual or to a nation or to a continent.  The fact that it carries a history makes it personal whether the reaction to it is positive or negative or neutral. Sometimes the landmarks can just be subtle reminders and other times a key influence. They have the ability to influence theme and character, plot threads and setting.

The key is a personal impact that invades, lingers, and reacts.

As you choose or incorporate specific landmarks (fictional or real) for your novel world, especially those that will remain constant through a series, begin asking these questions of each key spot you choose.
1.     Is it natural?
2.     Is it man-made?
3.     What is the history behind it?
4.     How might different characters personally react towards it?
5.     Is it considered to be holy ground? Why?
6.     If so, is it open to everyone to visit or considered forbidden?

Share: Which characteristic makes you curious? Why?

Read deep, marcy
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