After thinking, for most of my life, that I didn’t like history, writing Hattie Big Sky completely turned me around. I have morphed into a research geek, who squeals with delight when she learns that bus tokens in Seattle were three for ten cents in 1941 or that it rained the morning after Pearl Harbor or that women and girls used to curl their hair with funny little rollers called “spoolies.”
spoolies came in pink and blue. . .of course!
I’ve mentioned this before, but old letters are a great source of specific information, like names of hotels, expressions and what things cost. I scored this great batch off eBay (please do not consider this an endorsement!)
and from pestering relatives, especially those who are packrats and tend to save everything.
After driving myself crazy trying to get some information about 1929 New York, but before the crash, good friend Kathryn Galbraith suggested I try old travel guides. I found one on a site called Ruby’s Lane and am delighted with its thorough description of that place in that time.
And of course I am endebted to our library’s Interlibrary Loan, and jumped up and down for joy when this slim tome arrived:
Some light bed time reading
Yes, it’s geeky, but it’s also a bit like playing detective, but without the danger and violence. And what keeps me haunting the stacks and the internet is the connections that are made.
Recently, I received a letter from a woman whose last name was Kochel. She had a writing related question to ask me, unaware that her name made the hair stand up on the back of my neck. You see, one of the homestead journals I read while preparing for Hattie Big Sky was written by a woman named Mable Kochel. It turns out Mable is the letter-writer’s mother-in-law! Isn’t that amazing?
This is the note card on which I recorded Mable’s wolf incident story!
So we are meeting for tea so she can tell me more about Mable, whose encounter with a wolf as a girl inspired the scene in Chapter 5 with Hattie, Violet and the starving wolf.
What a great world we live in!
Great post! My current work-in-progress is set in 1941 North Carolina so I’m a research “geek” too! And you’re right, old letters are a great source of information, as well as quizzing grandparents & great-grandparents. Thanks for the tip on old travel guides . . . I never thought of that!
P.S. I read the chapter 1 excerpt of Hattie Big Sky & loved it . . . now I must go to the library & get the book!
Hi, Kirby. Loved Hattie Big Sky–I remember your “Liberty Cabbage” (instead of sauerkraut) detail. I’ve been researching Great Lakes steamship travel in 1899 which my grandmother described in her trip journal from that year. On Google I found menus from those steamships including “green turtle soup, cold ox tongue, and whortleberry tart!” Fun! — Sue Haas
I love your posts on research–they make me remember why I love it so! And my mom used to curl my hair with sponge curlers from this box she got from her mother and it contained these strange curlers I could never make sense of. Thank you so much for letting me know, 15 or so years later, that they’re called spoolies!