My Birthday Stay in Historic Johnstown, PA

Masks. The ‘rona. Life. And 2020. Things aren’t exactly normal, but that doesn’t mean we can’t still make things happen in this new decade. This includes changing vacation plans which were supposed to happen back in June of this year.

A weekend at the Library of Congress was to kick off a summer of historical tours and help me reboot my works in progress. Honestly? I haven’t felt that reboot, yet. These past two months or so I’ve filled with reading (both fiction and nonfiction), buying too many journals, and merely thinking about writing.

When the idea to visit Johnstown, Pennsylvania for my birthday popped up, my mind’s wheels turned again. I know, I know. My entire writing career shouldn’t revolve around what I can or cannot do. But the general consensus within the online writing community is many of us were in a summer writing slump.

Okay. Onward to bigger and brighter things.

The history of Johnstown, Pennsylvania is one of industry moguls, geography, tragedy, and a perfect storm of events that led to The Great Flood of 1889. The number of casualties rivaled the number of lives lost on September 11th, 2001. Visit the following links to read more about the Pennsylvanian tragedy that rocked the Victorian world:

As I complete this post, we’re now nearly two months removed from the event. Some details have become covered in dust, as though they’ve sat under my bed for weeks. But let’s brush them off and see what I can remember!

Wednesday, September 23rd

My mother and I arrived at our AirBNB in the early afternoon, half an hour before our allotted check-in time. Down winding, unfamiliar roads we went, and suburbia quickly transitioned to woods. Deep, thick woods. We missed our turn but eventually made our way to the right spot. Thankfully, our hostess was perfectly fine with our early arrival.

After checking in we drove about town, checking out shops, cafes and the like. Johnstown, as historical as it is, is an interesting mix of eras, country and city. Multiple churches dot the compact valley, and two rivers diverge from a third. Trains, buses and roadways interweave in an intricate dance, lasting from dawn to dusk.

Museums, landmarks and the like educate visitors on The Great Flood. A memorial stands on the site of the old club, and those willing to make the trek up to it can see why the sight was chosen for such a club.

Mom and I ended our evening drive on Johnstown’s main street, at a not-so-historical Subway for dinner. A short time later my sister and her family arrived.

The home in which we stayed once belonged to our host’s father. A rather peculiar addition it had, with ceilings barely six feet in height. If my father had gone, he wouldn’t have been able to properly stand in the kitchen or dining area. Another oddity was my room – it had no door! And no hinges for a door. So if you’re into communal living, this would be the place for you. I, for one, missed having privacy for a few days.

Pictured: my brother-in-law, niece and nephew atop the hill

Thursday, September 24th

After playing games late into the evening Wednesday, the morning of Thursday, Sept. 24th was spent sleeping in and taking our time waking up. We didn’t head out until early afternoon. The night before we’d decided to ascend the “The Steepest Incline in the World: The Johnstown Incline Plane.”

Perched atop the the steepest slopes in the valley, the dizzying view from the top rivals that of the overlooks on Pittsburgh’s own Mount Washington.

A behemothic American flag, (at that time secured at half mast for SCOTUS Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg), flies on the tallest point of the plane’s hill. While familiar with Pittsburgh’s Duquesne and The Mon Inclines, Johnstown’s is different. It carries pedestrians, cycles and motor vehicles!

This incline also offered a view of the inner workings from inside their small gift shop. During this sleepy weekend getaway, not many locals were out and about, so we had the whole incline area to ourselves.

A meal at the highly recommended Boulevard Grill followed our incline adventures. Only two groups ate on the enclosed patio on the side of the restaurant, and the first group were nearly finished by the time we sat down to a very late lunch. What we all ate for our meals isn’t clear in my memory, but I do remember I had sweet potato fries and a steak wrap. From there we found a few small antique shops (I purchased an cream-colored teapot with gold details), and an old timey toy store with an owner readying his shelves for Christmas.

Friday, September 25th

On Friday we did something our mom wanted to do – tour historical sights around Johnstown. This included the Flood Museum, the Gentlemen’s Club and what was left of the dam itself. Even with Johnstown as depressed as it is, you cannot deny the natural beauty of the valley. One can see why the likes of Frick, Carnegie and Phipps would want to go there to get away from smog-filled Pittsburgh.

In the top center photo, where my sister, niece and nephew are reading an informational placard, that entire area was the lake. And where my sister is sitting in the grass with my niece, that was once the top of the dam. A dam with flawed maintenance from the very beginning.

Johnstown has both such a sad and intriguing history that we couldn’t help but visit. Many floods happened even before The Great Flood which nearly destroyed them all. All my life I’ve lived on high ground, and I still can’t wrap my mind around why anyone would choose to live in a notorious floodplain.

In a half suburban, half country city like Johnstown, it’s “curb appeal” and industrial draw is what makes it appealing even today. It’s not, however, without its own social and economic issues.

Saturday, September 26th

Not much happened at all on Saturday morning. Check-out time was 10:00 AM, and we were ready to go home. Mom and I stumbled upon a Saturday-only flea market halfway home, and we wandered its many rooms and aisles for at least two hours.

And, wouldn’t you know? My sister/family showed up right when we were leaving!

Mom and I headed back out, and once we reached the outskirts of Monroeville, PA, we stopped for lunch at an Applebees.

And, wouldn’t you know? My sister and family pulled in behind us!

Great minds think alike, I suppose!

With bellies full of food, minds filled with history, and hearts full of family togetherness, we made it home around 5 PM on a Saturday evening.

And, wouldn’t you know?

We all live on the same street.

It’s as though our little pod never left home to begin with.

And that, my friends, is really all this birthday girl ever really wanted – time with her little pod for her 35th birthday.


Eight Things I’ve Already Researched by Jan 8th

The new year’s just begun but I didn’t take a break from researching at all. In fact, since removing one of my villains late last year, my work level increased ten fold as other characters rose to the challenge. With this change came the need for deeper character development, and the need for more research. No “histfic” writer would be worth their salt if they didn’t dive deep into their chosen time period. As such, I’ve already researched at eight new things that may (or may not) affect the story or my characters in some fashion.

  1. German confections
  2. Secret orders that really existed (or did they?)
  3. Small town populations of Southwestern Pennsylvania in the 1890s
  4. How to candy almonds
  5. Merchant supply lines
  6. A history of American currency
  7. Known allergens in the 1890s
  8. How to create character arcs

With historical fiction, one always seems to take two steps forward and three steps back. And even though my genre is historical fiction, I’d still like things to have accuracy. This way, I’ll know the kind of world my MCs could’ve come from, and the world the’ll end up in at journey’s end. Whether you write historical fiction or another genre, what have you learned so far in 2020?


The First Ten Bookmarks in My Writing Folder

Quick links, bookmarks and folders, oh my! If you’re a writer who prefers keys at your fingertips rather than a typewriter, then you know exactly what I’m talking about. Bookmarks are incredibly useful things when you want to save a link for future referral in your web browser, or even as an icon on your desktop.

Last night, when I should’ve been sleeping, I decided to go through all, and I mean ALL, my bookmarks. I organized them, deleted a couple dozen, and rediscovered old favorites. As you can see, I’m definitely one of those folder//folder//folder people!

So it got me thinking – what are the top ten bookmarks in my list? Not my most used, as those are in a different blog post you can read here if you like.

For me, these links aren’t even what was added first or last, because I recently alphabetized them. I’m sure you know, just by that, how I keep the books on the shelves in the office! I’m also certain you’ll quickly ascertain what time period my work in progress is set in. With, ahem, many folders to choose from, I decided to go with my Research folder, and skip all the “1892/3” links.

1. “Writing Accents and Dialects” via Quick and Dirty Tips
I apologize for the ad-riddled website, but I suppose they’ve gotta make their money somehow. (I recently had to remove an adblock extension because it was using SO much RAM that all tabs kept refreshing). Ads aside, this is still a great resource for first time writers attempting to capture somewhat difficult character traits on paper.

2. Age.
I went through a phase where I was trying to boil down all my links into one word descriptions, as I hate super long bookmark links in my drop down menus. The proper title for this bookmark is “45 Buttoned-Up Facts About The Victorian Era.” Many things on this list I already knew, but some facts still surprised me. Have a read if you love all things Victorian!

3. Allegheny Observatory
While the history of the Allegheny Observatory isn’t as colorful as the rest of these links, it’s still fascinating. I never knew the observatory’s backstory, and my church attended sunrise services there during the Easter season for years. You don’t have to look far and wide to learn. Sometimes the richest tidbits of history are right outside your doorstep.

4. Gaelic and Irish Blessings
In an effort to be as true to history without falling into the oh-so-cliche trap, I looked up SO many cultural references during my initial research phase. First sad truth: the “trap” is painfully obvious, especially in things like historical tv shows. The second sad truth: while America in the 1800s was a great melting pot of ethnicity and religion, prejudice and separation reigned supreme. Ever wonder why loads of major cities have “German Townes” or areas heavily populated by one group? (Pittsburgh’s Squirrel Hill comes to mind). Okay. I greatly digressed here. Dive deep into the heritages represented in your city and you’ll find out surprising things.

5. The Canal That Made Pittsburgh Great
Modern roadways in Pittsburgh can be treacherous to navigate, but did you know that its historical landscape was full of trains, tracks, canals and rivers? Before my town became known as “The City of Bridges,” it was serviced by all other forms of freight-carrying machines. It’s hard imagining a canal where a popular tourist and commerce destination now sits. It followed E. General Robinson Street and curved around where PNC Park was completed in 2001. Oh there’s some exciting history right there!

6. Phrases & Abbreviations Catholics Use
Growing up in the Christian churches/Churches of Christ, I only ever knew, well, Scripture of course, but we never attended a Catholic Mass or learned Latin phrases. As religion was very much a part of daily life for Victorians, and certainly Victorians in Southwest Pennsylvania, it’s important to know what role religion could’ve played in your character’s life.

7. Historical Emporium – A Victorian Portrait Gallery
Fashion changed constantly, and dramatically, throughout the Victorian era. When my WIP was a three part series, spanning thirty years of history, I’d no idea how I was going to nail down general information like fashion. Of course, that’s what I first thought about fashion; that it was general. However, it’s as intricate a topic as anything else in the era! Sites like Historical Emporium are fantastic resources for historical fiction writers.

8. Victorian Crime & Punishment – The Development of a Police Force
If you’ve done any historical research, I’m sure you’ve come across the name Allan Pinkerton. Heck, there’s even a one season show on Netflix called The Pinkertons (it made me cringe so hard, but it’s there). While we can’t deny Pinkerton’s contribution to institutions like the CIA and FBI, histories of other forces have always fascinated me.

9. Victorian Decorating Colors | LoveToKnow
At one time I was working on a short story web series for this site. If you know any history of the Southwest PA area, you know smog reigned supreme. All I can think about is muck, steel and smoke. What I oft forget is the Victorian’s love of color. One day I may revisit The Gilded Conspiracy. For now, Project Firedamp is my main focus! And it’s time to include some COLOR in with the fire.

10. Delicatessen
Back when my story was going to take off out of New York City, I really wanted to research the history of delis in the United States. Unfortunately, I don’t recall when any of the MCs were going to visit one. Or maybe someone’s parent was going to own a delicatessen in Germany? Either way, it was an idea nixed early on but I somehow saved the bookmark.

And there you have it. The first ten links (so to speak!) in my writing folder. They may not be my most used, but they’re so dang informational that they were never deleted.

What are the first ten bookmarks in your writing folder? I’m curious to know! Happy writing and, if I don’t get another blog up before Christmas, have a safe and happy New Year!


Why Historical Fiction Matters (to me)

Cliches. There are so many cliches that come to mind when you’re trying to figure out how to start a blog post about writing (in general). It falls under that “nothing new under the sun” mantra.

It’s like comparing every scifi show or book you read to the “Big Three” of the genre – Star Trek, Star Wars and Dr. Who. If you’re a long time reader of this blog or my Twitter, you already know that I’m more than a bit dorky.

My dork levels in science fiction aside, I’ve come to realize a new passion in my own writing journey – researching Pennsylvania history. Have you ever watched those shows on the Discovery or History Channels and wonder why they interview experts on seemingly crazy topics?

It’s because this world is HUGE. That might be a common sensical statement, but how can a historian possibly know EVERYTHING, unless they’ve got an incredibly high IQ? That’s definitely not me. And I know “sensical” isn’t even a word.

So when I got the idea for The Firedamp Chronicle series I knew right away that research would be involved. Intense research. To run the risk of including a cliche here, “In order to write history, you need to know history.” I’m paraphrasing that, of course, but I didn’t even feel qualified to write any of it until I knew about it. So here are three reasons why writing historical fiction matters to me personally.

To Not Forget

On September 11, 2001, the world witness horrific loss of life during the attacks on the World Trade Towers, the United States Pentagon, those on Ground Zero and those on the affected flights. I was in my 9th Grade Physical Science class when it happened. In high school. My dad can count with his fingers how many events in history he remembers. Things like the assassination of JFK, when the Berlin Wall Fell and when the Challenger Explosion happened.

There are many who will never know them like those who saw them unfold their eyes. That’s why I choose to learn more about my own State’s history (ahem…Commonwealth…but that’s just a Pennsylvanian technicality). Which leads to the next point:

To Learn Something New

There is nothing new in the world except the history you do not know.

Harry S. Truman

Libraries. They’re fantastic places, right? You can check out anything you want and no one will judge. And, depending on the size of your library, they usually have a rather sizable non-fiction department. Section 975. That’s where I found myself for three years in Pennsylvanian history. I emailed the research team at the Library of Congress for tiny details and I borrowed books from institutions outside the Allegheny County system.

Because I was learning things about my own city, county and state I never knew existed.

The more I learned the more I realized how watered down the courses I took in grade school and college really were. Sure, I learned new things there, but you can easily spend a whole semester on a topic like “Christmas Traditions from Around the World” and still just graze the surface.

If you’re going to write about history, KNOW that history. Know it inside and out. Backwards and forwards. All the way through. That way, when you’re asked about why you chose specific events or a specific time period, you’ll be able to satisfy their curiosity.

To Hone Research Skills

Call me OCD if you like, but I love going down the rabbit hole of research. As I mentioned earlier, I learned to utilizes resources I never even knew existed before beginning this journey.

In high school I was never a concise writer. To this day I have to work long and hard to get a sentence write. (I’m going to leave that because that’s such a Freudian Slip! I totally meant to use the word “right”).

Not only have I been researching countless people, events, the origins of objects and the like, I’ve also been *attempting* to reteach myself the English language. I’m sure my fallacies are evident in this blog post but I’m working on them. Just like I’m learning to hone my research skills to keep myself focused on the subject and not irrelevant things.

So there you have it. Three reasons why I write historical fiction. There are more but that would make this post far too long and you may/may not lose interest!

Do you write? What genre? Why did you choose it? Knowing the answers to these questions will guide you through your own writing journey. I wish you luck as you find your niche, your drive and success!


Research It | Covered Bridges

Pennsylvania. The land of bridges. If you read my last post about the different kinds of maps, then you’ll know about topographical maps. If not, then the briefest definition of topography is the “detailed description or representation on a map of the natural and artificial features of an area” and is used mostly in the study of geography. But if you’re familiar with the commonwealth of Pennsylvania at all, you’ll know that it’s a vast region of varied land formations from the Poconos of mid state to the low levels near Philadelphia.

Pittsburgh, located in South Western PA, is known as the City of Bridges. While they’re mostly of steel construction (another nickname of the city being the Steel City…more on that at another time), most of the covered bridges were in rural areas, used for trains or normal walking paths and roads. These days, not many of them survive but there are many covered bridge festivals throughout the year, most of them taking place in our gorgeous fall season.

Can you tell that I am a Pennsylvanian?

Washington County. Green County. Columbia County. Montour County. These are just a few of the places in the Commonwealth that celebrate this important structure.

**These condensed histories brought to you by “Images of America: Pennsylvania’s Covered Bridges” by Fred J. Mollalong with other online sources that will be cited.**


The Covered Bridges of Pennsylvania
#allthebridges

A Condensed History
The first covered bridge in the New World was built in 1805 over the Schuylkill River along one of the main routes out of the city of Philadelphia. Many of them were built over such rivers and needed to be tall enough for barges and other water traffic to travel under. Larger covered bridges even required the traveler to pay a toll to cross it for general maintenance or to offset the cost of building the bridge. Often there would be a general store or post office built next to it.

brandywine.jpgSadly, this isn’t the Brandywine on the way to Hobbiton in “The Lord of the Rings.” Pennsylvania isn’t that special! To Brandywine: www.youtube.com/watch?v=QJUryaDzt9c

The earliest covered bridges were built in Philadelphia with the trend continuing westward, encouraging travel between rural communities and cities. Some were constructed out of stone and could support heavy loads of material goods. However, most were smaller, wooden structures used mostly for foot and vehicular traffic. Because of this aspect, many bridges also had advertisements from shops and companies showcasing services or products, and many were commissioned by companies or other entrepreneurs.

Sadly, not many survive today but those that have are celebrated for their contributions to the communities they serviced. These days, a bridge is seen as a common, basic thing. In America’s earliest centuries, if there wasn’t a bridge, you just didn’t go that way until one was built or you built it yourself.

1806 – King’s Covered Bridge, Middlecreek, Lancaster County
1812 – Colossus Covered Bridge in Philadelphia, PA
1872 – Risser’s Mill Covered Bridge in Mount Joy Township, Lancaster County

Covered Bridges in Modern PA…so to speak
As time moved forward covered bridge construction soon became a thing of the past, morphing into the more modern, steel trussed bridges we see today. Iron and steel were Pittsburgh’s main export for many years, so it was easy for engineers to use the materials throughout Pennsylvania for bridges of all sorts, railroads, ships, and tunnels through mountains. That doesn’t mean that by the 19th century, covered bridges fell into complete obscurity. In fact, their charm and usefulness encouraged many living near them to invest in their upkeep and future use.

Covered bridges were still being used well into the 1930s, such as the Wertz’s Mill Covered Bridge off Route 222 North of Reading, PA. The Davis Covered Bridge, built in 1875, has modern paving inside, as well as the Hollingshead Mill Covered Bridge near Catawissa in Columbia County and the Stillwater Covered Bridge, also in Columbia County. Many of the surviving bridges have either been modernized to accommodate 21st century vehicles or restored using similar materials that would’ve been used at the time of construction for historical preservation.

Train and Trolley Use
Unfortunately, none of these types of covered bridges survived the passage of time in Pennsylvania. Otherwise, as a child of a family fascinated by trains and trolleys, we would’ve most definitely have made a journey to visit at least one of them by now. My grandfather, Louis J. Redman of Pittsburgh, PA, played a role in starting the Pennsylvania Trolley Museum in 1949. He was also a founding member of the Train Collectors Association (TCA) a few years later in 1954. Being born in 1916, he most definitely would’ve seen and used these bridges.

There really isn’t much change between the history of these bridges versus what’s already been discussed, but of course they had to be constructed a bit differently to support the weight of steam engines, its cargo, and house the necessary wires for trolley traffic. On September 30th, 1896, the Columbia-Wrightsville Covered Bridge was destroyed by a category 1 hurricane. I mention this one because it was, uniquely, a rail and road traffic covered bridge. The Pennsylvania Railroad took the width of the river and bay into consideration when they constructed it, but it was later replaced, as many were, by an iron bridge.


Well, that wasn’t the most colorful of histories and maybe not the most interesting, but without bridges in general, we may not have seen as much engineering growth that the Industrial Revolution was built upon. Many working parts had to happen, and advancement in travel only pushed that Revolution in the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania to another level.

Because, let’s face it. Covered bridges are not only practical, but magical.


Research It | The Map

In my first post of this series I discussed the history of the pen. Exciting stuff, I know. Before there were computers, the pen in all its many forms was the only way to go. Well, there’s the pencil, but that’s a post for another day. Oooh…pencils…. Today’s post is going to be all about Item 2 in this Research It series, maps. (That Dora the Explorer map song is stuck in my head. Let’s turn on some soundtracks to get rid of that).

When I was in China during the Summer of 2008 (we left two weeks before the Beijing Olympic Games), I helped TESOL students with their students and it was a might bit disorienting seeing them have China at the center of the world maps in their classrooms. As an American, typically the US is in that position, so it would make sense that each country would take some liberty with their mapping.

People who create map are called cartographers, and this post is all about their contributions to the traveling world.

Item 2: The Map. #allthemaps
I’m the Map, I’m the Map, I’m the MAP~~!
Goodness, get out of my head Dora!

fictionalmaps.jpg

Maps have been used for centuries. Whether they’re drawn in the dirt with an index finger, scrawled on a cave wall or meticulously plotted and updated as new lands were discovered. Maps are popular additions to novels, placed in the first few pages of the story to help the reader find their way, and maps have aided the world’s generals in plotting routes their troops are ordered to take. And star charts (essentially a map) played a huge role in the Dominion Wars with Deep Space Nine as the center of the universe. Okay, that last item is a Star Trek reference. I’m a complete dork, what can I say?

If I’d gone the route of archaeology I imagine myself having rolls of maps in my pack, some haphazardly folded and others neatly rolled and slightly poking out the top of the bag. I suppose that’s the romantic way of looking at them, but it raises questions (in my mind at least). How did maps come to be? Who started making topographical maps? Nautical maps? Gigantic wall maps? (Insert Beckett’s gigantic world map to egotistically display the “accomplishments” of the East India Trading Company in the Pirates of the Caribbean film franchise)Beckett_World_Map

Well then, that’s enough for the introduction. Let’s get into 3 Different Types of Maps and what they’re used for. Okay, so there are literally dozens of types of maps that can all be read about here, so I’m just going to touch upon ones that have more practical applications.

  1. Aeronautical.
    My dad was a pilot in the USAF for 34 1/2 years (he’ll typically make a point of adding that half year in there so I had to as well). While he flies the plane and looked at aeronautical maps beforehand, it was the job of the navigator in flight to make sure he got them where they needed to go. At one time I thought of going into the Air Force, but I get majorly air sick, whether I’m the one flying the craft or not. He suggested that I become a navigator. “But Dad, you know I’m directionally challenged on the ground, right?” He admitted that I was correct. Being an aeronautical engineer was not the career for me.These maps are important combinations of air, sea and land travel, utilizing longitude and latitude coordinates.bay-area-detail.ngsversion.1522276711646.adapt.1900.1Um, what?! I have enough trouble with your typical road map. What even is this?! That was dramatic…. I understand the land, and there’s the sea. The circles are almost like sonar blips on those blue and black screens you see in a movie like The Meg. But stop on by National Geographic’s website to have a read on how to interpret this very specific type of map. Visit the ESRI website for a brief history on this type of map.
  2. Global. 
    Arguably the most recognizable of all the maps, globes have been used in classrooms seemingly since the beginning of time. I exaggerate, but what was once a staple learning tool has been converted into those giant pull down maps that cover blackboards (maybe this is where those Flat Earth theorists got the idea from? Now I know I’m not the only one who could spend hours spinning a globe, stopping it with a finger and looking up the place it landed on. You can’t really stick a map pin into a globe though, unless it is one of those blow up balls. But then you’d have a different problem on your hands – a flat globe.And now, directly from Wikipedia itself, “A globe is a spherical model of Earth, of some other celestial body, or of the celestial sphere. Globes serve similar purposes to maps, but unlike maps, do not distort the surface that they portray except to scale it down. A globe of Earth is called a terrestrial globe. A globe of the celestial sphere is called a celestial globe.” I honestly think that I may have to start calling every glob I see terrestrial. That is the technical term after all! I suppose the other plants could also be turned into their own spherical models, but, as many are just giant balls of gas, they wouldn’t really be that helpful.The term “globe” was first dubbed by the Greeks c. 150 B.C. While the use of the word remained constant, the history of using physical globes isn’t. As with anything not well documented, there are long periods where globes aren’t really used in conjunction with the globe we’re familiar with today. The first known record of that comes from 1492 by a German mapmaker named Martin Behaim. No one country is emphasized over another so that the viewer can have a non-biased view of the world as a whole, very useful to those trekking on land and sailing the high seas.
  3. Topographical.
    When I first started researching The Firedamp Chronicles I would catch myself staring at maps far longer than what was necessary. Maps fascinate me, what can I say? Particularly maps of my own state of Pennsylvania. While the majority of the population is settled at either border, one only has to take a look at the topography of PA to figure out why. Topography played a huge role in that. With Pittsburgh in the South Western corner and Philadelphia closer to the Eastern seaboard, they are divided not only by the sheer size of the state but by mountains, plains and countless rivers.Of course there’s rich, farm-able land and early settlers knew this would be a great selling point to bring workers and families over from disease, disaster ridden Europe in the 17th century. In fact, many Germans are here because this land was similar to their own homeland. Penn’s Colony, named by the man himself, would become a hub of activity and development for the American Industrial Revolution. Let’s take a look at what a typical topographical map looks like:
    pennsylvania-topo-map
    See that legend in the bottom right hand corner? That tells you how tall an area is or how low. That swoop in the middle of the state are mountains, and directly below them are huge coal deposits, squished together when the land was formed. 0-100 is closer to sea level, the dark green, while 1350 – 1750 indicate the Appalachian Mountain Range.Topological maps are more commonly used by those studying geology or cartography, but I do remember my dad having a really cool one of the Pittsburgh area. I think that’s why I like them so much. There isn’t really a history on this type of map other than it being associated with topology, or the study of, geometry, apparently. “Topology developed as a field of study out of geometry and set theory, through analysis of concepts such as space, dimension, and transformation.” (As defined here). But really, the only thing that really matters, and makes more sense to me anyway, is that it’s a representation of the geology of the land itself.Now I could go into underwater topographical maps, ones for other countries, etc., but that would make an already-long post unnecessarily long. I think you get the point of topographical maps by this point.

Well folks, there you have it. Maps. Unless you love maps like I do, I doubt you’re going to start staring at them, figuring out routes your characters are going to take. Maybe you do, if you’re a writer like I am. Then we’d have a lot to talk about! But maps are not only useful for real life application but for fantastical application as well. Maps open doors for us, allow us to dream of places we want to go. It may seem like a small distance on a piece of paper or on a globe and not everyone has the opportunity to travel. But, if you’re one of those who really can’t, at least you can travel there in your mind, through the power of the Internet and by the power of the book.

Honorable Map Mentions
The Marauder’s Map
Middle Earth
Land of Oz
Narnia


The Order of Things

I am writing an historical adventure novel. At one point in time I dreamt of it being a fantastical one as well but when I realized I was biting off more than I could chew for a first novel I downgraded it to purely historical.

Another problem arose: should it be true to the historical timeline or is it okay to take the creative license and put things slightly out of order to work for the story line? Does one sacrifice actual history in order to move a story along or do they choose different events to spur the characters onward?

Last week I asked my uncle to look at my novel outline and get his opinion on it. He’s been publishing children’s books for over twenty years and many of the children in the family have books dedicated to them because of him. So I trust his eye and knowledge of the system. Of course he’s been in the system for years and things have changed a bit since he’s started but he did make a good point. He said;

Am I right in remembering that there was going to be some fantasy element in the story? Or is it now more of an adventure based on historical events? If that is the case, then you might find people raising questions if things are out of historical order. Readers can be very fussy. And social media hasn’t made that any better.

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What Inspired Project Firedamp

It was literally a dream. Without sounding prophetical or in need of being admitted to an asylum, that is exactly how the idea for Firedamp came about. A dream. The kind of dream that was so vivid that you wake up after and you have to wonder if it actually happened or not. So I had the idea but it was the execution of it that perplexed me at first. Then it dawned on me:  what better way than to combine something fantastical with historical fact? Not only that, but center it in a place you love and where you grew up? We’ve all heard the phrase, “Write what you know.” What I know is Pennsylvania.

The American Keystone State of Pennsylvania is one of the oldest colonies in the United States. From Fort Pitt to Gettysburg to Homestead and beyond, events in these places helped establish Pennsylvania as an integral force throughout history. But also in Pennsylvania, it became an industrial hub for the blue collar working class. With their lives being dictated by old money and those who controlled it. All these factors will come to play in Firedamp in one way or another, and I hope I somehow do it justice.

While I admit that it has been an on-again-off-again project, I am constantly thinking of it, constantly researching, constantly writing and constantly outlining. Firedamp is a historically-driven novel that combines several big events where hopefully readers of all ages will not only enjoy but learn something new in the process about the past that should not be forgotten.


A Case for Research

Every writer has to start somewhere. Every potential author needs to know that they don’t know everything. That, quite honestly, is one of the cold hard truths of the fast-paced publishing world. When I started this book last September, all I had was one tiny idea. One tiny element that would eventually grow to be this beast of a project where I am consistently learning new things.

If you’re going to write about a certain time period, KNOW that time period. You can’t write on the mid 1800s if all you’ve seen on the subject is a single film version of Jane Eyre. You have to immerse yourself in it. Be analytical of the content you find and be extremely picky of what you choose to include in your own nonfiction.

For first-time writers the task can be daunting at first. It was for me when I realized how little I knew. Some authors can pick up their pen and crank out half a novel in a night. Don’t let yourself become discouraged if you find yourself getting stuck. That’s what the research there is for! If you’re not sure what type of hat your character could have worn, or why they believe what they believe, or if the town you chose for your backdrop is the proper setting for your climax, research it.

Another truth: readers will know, and want to know, why you chose the details you put in. Your readers will also be able to pick up on false facts, especially if you’re writing something historical. Granted, it will be your take on events that actually happened, but be prepared to be able to explain the why.

Is research daunting? Yes. But you will not only find connections in the process but gain a wealth of knowledge on your subjects that you may otherwise have never known.


Four Pros and Cons of Writing

I threw that wish in the well, and you know for sure I will tell cuz I am ready for this and nothing’s in my way…

Did I really just rewrite the first two lines of Carly Rae Jepson’s Call Me Maybe song to begin this blog post? I believe I did, but the writer in my was happy to do it. This writer is also happy that the top row of the QWERTY keyboard has all the letters to spell the word “writer.” I am too easily amused…

But onward to the topic of today’s blog post, the Pros and Cons for First Time Writers. I don’t think that there is a writer who, at one time or another, thought that they weren’t good enough. I never knew them personally, but I am sure that JRR Tolkein, Stephen King, CS Lewis, JK Rowling and James Patterson all probably wrote something the were not proud of and never published. So for the first time writers out there, let’s look at some. I have grouped the following four points into a “Pro, Con and Resolution” pattern. They’re things I have discovered about my own writing style that I hope you will find useful.

Pro: You ADORE a well-written historical novel and want to write one yourself.

Con: If you love history and want to write a gorgeous piece set in Victorian England, you are writing a historical novel. And if you are writing this type of fiction you better do your research. Why? Because readers are going to analyze it. They’ll know if you don’t know the grammar of that time period, the clothing or locations. That’s part of the challenge, and the fun, for this form of fiction.

Resolution: Do your research. It’s as simple as that. Not to mention you’ll most likely discover something you never knew before, so you’ll write and learn all at the same time. During the process you may also network with historians, library staff and other knowledgeable folks you may never have met otherwise. If you can afford to, travel to the area your novel is set to get immersed into those elements. Of course not everyone can afford the luxury of a plane ticket to France or Germany, but sometimes seeing is believing in your story and can bring new plots to light.

Pro: You LOVE writing but:

Con: You wrote a lot mostly in high school but now you want to write again. Can you really do this?

Resolution: Of COURSE you can! I taking the plunge myself. Don’t let those self-doubts get in the way of progress. Think of it this way: if one of the most hated men in world history can write an autobiography called Mein Kampf, you can most certainly fill the pages of your own. But give yourself time. Don’t dive right in without testing the waters first. I went back to my roots by beginning a short story. It’s no longer short…it’s basically a novella now…but once you start something, FINISH it. I believe that is the toughest thing for any type of artist to do – FINISHing their projects.

Pro: Resources are available in abundance.

Con: Maybe one too many?

Resolution: Don’t let yourself get overwhelmed, which is easy to do in this digital age. You want to network, yes, but make sure you network worth like-minded and trustworthy people. Don’t let the idea of social media and marketing yourself scare you off because you are going to want to sell yourself and your writing to potential readers, authors, publishers, and other online resources. Don’t burn any bridges unless the relationship becomes detrimental to your goals.

Pro: You know your vocab. You took high school English or majored in a librarian or journalistic career

Con: Yet novel writing isn’t exactly your forte.

Resolution: In today’s digital age ANYbody can be a writer, whether it’s a blog post, a journalist position, a news prompt writer, or if you’re like me, you’re shooting to have an actual book published with pages people can turn. If you feel like you need a confidence booster, it’s okay to go back to school. Many colleges and universities offer writing courses and some can even be donne by correspondence. My point here is: we are constantly learning. Even if you think you know how to write there is not one person who can know everything, so don’t take yourself too seriously if you reach those dreaded writer’s blocks. Learn something new, get outside, switch up your work space, and let your mind relax.

From one non-expert to another I hope that this blog has been somewhat useful. I am a new author myself, and this post was also a way to get out of my head the lessons I have learned from the past few weeks. Remember that you can be your own worst enemy when it comes to staying on task. And unless you are already contracted with a publisher, you can set your own pace. What are your pros and cons? Don’t be afraid to critique yourself.

Find what kind of prose makes you happy and run with it. If you dream it, you can do it.

Keep calm and write on!