Tuesday, February 22, 2011
Miss Manners to the Rescue
Read carefully to get your name in the drawing for a copy of one of Judy's Amana Colony books. ---------Mary
Now, without further ado, here is our very own Miss Manners to the Rescue
I’m sure most of us have been told by our parents to get our elbows off the table and to put our napkins on our laps. After all, it’s good manners. As writers, there are lots of good manners that serve us well as our careers begin to blossom. I’m sure most of you have learned the proper and improper ways to locate an agent or approach an editor, and you’ve likely learned the protocol expected at conferences, but there are a few manners we don’t hear as much about—and those are research manners.
If you write contemporary fiction, don’t push that button on your computer that says “this doesn’t apply to me.” Whether we write historical or contemporary fiction, and since none of us knows everything, our writing requires a certain amount of research beyond the internet. There’s a big difference between riding a carousel horse and seeing how one is constructed!
I enjoy research—that’s probably true of most writers of historical fiction. Along the way, I’ve learned some things (call them manners or kindnesses) that I think will help you make the most of your “out of the office” research experience. So here we go:
If you’re going to visit a site (library historic building, museum, etc.) and will want assistance of any sort, call ahead and make arrangements. Identify yourself as a writer in need of information for a specific project. Most curators and librarians love to assist writers. However, because they also have schedules, it helps them if you can call ahead and arrange specific times. Do your best to accommodate their schedule rather than your own. By making prior arrangements you’ll also get more out of the visit, especially if you’ve given the librarian or curator specifics regarding materials that will assist with your project. If they have advance notice, most will pull materials for you and have them waiting. What a gift that is! When I researched in Pullman for my Postcards From Pullman series, calling ahead proved valuable because I was traveling from Kansas to Chicago and the museum and curator were only there certain days of the week due to limited budgets. Had I gone without making prior arrangements, I could have wasted valuable time.
When you arrive at any of these places, introduce yourself, present a business card or brochure about your writing and credentials. Ask if they have any special protocol or rules regarding handling of their materials. Some require white gloves, some require you leave all personal belongings except for a pencil and paper or computer in a locker, and some have no requirements at all. Be willing to follow all of their rules, and never complain.
Inquire if they have any suggestions that they think would enhance your project. Most of the employees of these sites are founts of information and are happy to share with you—ask questions and then LISTEN without interruption. Through contacts at history centers, I’ve discovered curators or historians willing to read my manuscripts for technical error. That is a huge reward! In addition, most places are thrilled for the added publicity your books may bring to their area. If you build relationship with members of the community, it can lead to added publicity for them and you. The folks in Pullman hosted a tea and book signing for me at the Hotel Florence to help promote my books. My current books are set in the Amana Colonies in Iowa. The Colonies have several large festivals each year and host me at the large General Store for signings. Those signings have been wonderful for me and for them!
If you can afford to, make a donation to the places that assist you. If I’m writing about a particular setting, I join their historical society so that I receive information about any new projects or acquisitions they may receive at their history or cultural center. I know making donations isn’t always financially possible, but with decreased budgets donations are greatly appreciated—so do what you can to help. It reflects that we care.
Don’t stroll in with your camera and begin taking pictures. Even if no one has asked if you have a camera, you should ask if it’s permissible to take pictures, and if you can use a flash. Flashes can damage certain artifacts.
When interviewing or gathering information from anyone, even staff members of a museum or during a tour of a site, always ask if it’s permissible to make a recording. Many times the museums sell their guided tour information on CD’s, and they prefer you purchase those rather than record during a tour. Besides recording anyone without their knowledge isn’t good manners, and could get you into a little bit of legal trouble—and we wouldn’t want that.
Even if the material provided or the site you visit doesn’t meet your expectations or provide the necessary information, be gracious and thank the staff. It isn’t their fault they don’t have what you need.
After the visit, write a thank-you note. I know. We all hate to write thank-you’s, but we are writers and the written word means so much more than a quick email or a hurried ‘thanks’ as you walk out the front door.
This is NOT an all inclusive list, but I hope it will give you a little food for thought as you hit the road for your next research trip. In fact, I know all of you are probably thinking about things I should have mentioned, but your good manners are holding you back. Well, don’t hold back any longer. We’d all benefit from hearing what tips you can give us for excavating those mines of information out there.
Since I write historical fiction and am drawn to unique settings, I usually have at least three books set in one community. Making and maintaining friendships with people from the different places I’ve researched has proved to be one of the highlights of my writing careers. People love to share information, but they also enjoy being treated with kindness, respect and thanks. Those three things go a long ways toward creating good contacts in the research world!
My own research has been taking place in the Amana Colonies for the past several years as I’ve been writing an independent series titled Daughters of Amana. I’ve had the opportunity to receive wonderful information from their historical society, attend a Amana church service in German, interview local historians, and even walk through their barns. All these things help me make my story authentic.
The final book in the Daughters of Amana series, A Bond Never Broken, recently released and someone who leaves a comment will be chosen to receive the book. Here’s a taste from the book.
A Bond Never Broken
Amana Colonies, Iowa
I had failed.
There was no other way to justify our presence at the train station.
My brother, Albert, tipped his head and leaned down to look into my eyes. “Please smile, Ilsa. I don’t want this to be a sad occasion. I want to remember your engaging smile and the twinkle in those big blue eyes.”
I tried, but even his reference to my eyes didn’t help. Gaining control over my trembling lips would be an impossible feat. “Please don’t ask me to smile. To see you depart does not please my heart.” The headpiece of my woolen cloak had fallen to my shoulders, and I touched my index finger to the black cap that covered my hair. “My head will not accept your choice, either.”
Once Albert stepped onto the train, nothing would ever be the same. The war had changed everything, and who could say when I would ever see him again.
As if reading my thoughts, he rested his arm across my shoulders. “They’ve told me I’ll serve all of my time at Camp Pike, and I’ll probably get to come home for Christmas.”
I nodded. “They told Dr. Miller the same thing. Did that stop them from sending him to Europe?” I didn’t wait for my brother’s answer. “The same is true for you, Albert. Those people can tell you anything they want, but it doesn’t mean they will keep their word.”
He tightened his hold and squeezed my right shoulder. “You worry too much, Ilsa. All will be well. You must put your trust in God.”
Passengers skirted around us, eager to purchase tickets or locate a seat near the station’s wood-burning stove. “Like Sister Miller? When I saw her at the Red Cross meeting last week, she didn’t think all was well. She was in tears when she spoke of her husband.” I lowered my voice. Speaking against the war was not
a good thing, especially for those of German heritage. “And she was angry, too. She said her husband was told he wouldn’t be sent overseas because of his conscientious objector status, but still they sent him.”
“Ach! Who can know what happened with Dr. Miller? Not me or you. I am only certain of what I’ve been told: I will serve at Camp Pike and then return home.”
He wasn’t going to listen, so I bit back any further arguments. Not knowing when I would see Albert again, I didn’t want to spoil our parting with cross words. Mother had kissed Albert’s cheek, said her good-bye, and hurried to the kitchen to prepare the noonday meal for the hotel guests, but I hadn’t failed to notice the tears she’d squeezed back. And Father had murmured a hasty farewell and pulled Albert into an awkward hug before heading to the wheelwright shop after breakfast. Around us, the clamor of conversation rose and fell. A train whistled in the distance. “You promise you’ll write? Mutter and Vater will worry if they don’t hear from you each week.”
He wagged his finger back and forth beneath my nose. “It is not Mutter and Vater who will worry. They have peace because they trust God. But you, dear Ilsa, are not so quick to find that peace.”
“Nein. Probably because I prayed you would be spared from the draft, yet you received your notice. Then I prayed you would file a request to be released from military duty because of your religious beliefs, but you didn’t. Instead, you only checked the box saying you are a conscientious objector. So then I prayed you would fail the physical exam, but you passed with flying colors. My prayers failed on all accounts, and I find it hard to trust that God will answer my prayers to keep you safe.”
“God heard your prayers, Ilsa, but He has other plans for my life, and those plans include serving in the U.S. Army. It’s as simple as that.”
I glared at a group of boisterous passengers congregated nearby, angry that their lives remained unchanged while mine was being turned upside down.
“I promise I’ll write,” Albert said, “but you shouldn’t expect a letter every week. I don’t know what my duties will be, and I don’t want you to be disappointed.” He grinned. “Maybe you could bake me some cookies and send them.”
I forced a tight smile. “Ja. You know I will.”
He pecked a kiss on my cheek. “I will be happy to have some, even if you burn them.”
I gave him a playful shove. He never failed to tease me about the first cookies I had baked without Mother’s help. Tearful when they had burned, I fretted there would be no dessert for the hotel guests. Albert had come home and joined me in scraping off the black crust. He’d declared them perfect, though I don’t think the guests had agreed.
Tears threatened and I swallowed hard to keep them at bay. I could cry later. But not now, not during these precious final minutes with Albert.
With only an eighteen-month difference in our ages, we’d been close all of our lives, unlike many of our friends who didn’t get along with their siblings. Perhaps that was why I’d taken it so personally when he refused to take my advice to remain at home. Then again, maybe it was because I feared his decision would influence Garon and change my life even more. And it had. Not only had Albert’s decision wreaked havoc in my relationship with him, it had also caused problems between me and the man I was pledged to marry.
Please visit Judy at her website at http://www.judithmccoymiller.com/ where you can sign-up for her newsletter and discover more information about her writing life.
A Bond Never Broken is available at bookstores everywhere and may also be purchased at http://www.bethanyhouse.com/; http://www.christianbook.com/; http://www.barnesandnoble.com/ and http://www.amazon.com/; and at your local Christian book store