Monday, January 19, 2015

Where Does A Historical Novelist Get Her Ideas?

Today we welcome novelist Deanna K. Klingel.

Deanna K. Klingel lives in the mountains of NC with her husband and golden retriever. Their seven married children and eleven grandchildren are around the southeast. Deanna travels with her books and writes a blog about her travels.

Sometimes being on the road selling books is actually the source of writing books. It might be a character sketch, a setting, a new or interesting place. Sometimes it’s the story itself. I have two books coming out that were such gifts, simply handed to me while I was selling books.

The first is the story of Jim Limber. I was at a Civil War reenactment with my books a few years ago and visited with the reenactor who portrays Varina Davis, wife of the Confederate President Jefferson Davis. In keeping with her character she complained to me how unfair people are in their judgment of her. Southerners don’t trust her since she’s from the North. She writes letters to her northern family daily and it’s rumored she’s a Union spy dressed in petticoats. She suddenly turned to me and asked, “What do you say about Jim Limber?” I’d never heard of him and had no answer. “Well, let me tell you the truth about that right now,” she said.

I listened to her story, too fascinated to comment. I had to wonder how much of it was propaganda, or fiction. I couldn’t wait to get home to research Jim Limber. What I found intrigued me even more. I visited the Confederate Museum in Richmond, which was formerly The White House of the Confederacy where Varina Davis lived. They were very helpful and pulled research for me, happy someone was interested. She was a prolific writer, writing to her family, keeping diaries and journals and writing daily to her husband about personal family matters. I’m not going to tell you about Jim, not a spoiler, but be watching for The Mysterious Life of Jim Limber.

Jim Limber

The second was the story of The Blue-Eyed Doll. It went to contract in 2013 and will be out 2016. Under a reenactor’s shelter in Buchanan, VA, on a cold rainy day, a Japanese Haiku professor from Roanoke College told me about the Friendship Doll Exchange in 1929. I’ve no idea how that topic came up. Monday morning I began the research and discovered a professor at Wesleyan University has an extensive website about the dolls. He sent me two books, one I needed to return and one I could keep, and he read my second draft. Before long I was in Roanoke visiting Kinuko, my new friend, looking at dolls at Roanoke College and on to the Science and Natural History Museum in Raleigh to see one of the Japanese Ambassador Dolls. Though the book isn’t released until 2016, I have four engagements already at the Cincinnati Museum of Art, The Toy and Miniature Museum in Kansas City, MO, the Springfield Museums in Springfield, MA, and the Museum of Cultural Arts in SD, all homes to the dolls.

I’m so grateful to have learned these two stories. It’s a fun way to learn history, and for that reason I’m committed to writing good historical fiction for young readers.