As is sometimes the case for writers — except for those who are always working on a couple of novels at the same time — we can find ourselves in a “lull” as Merle McCann explained on our recent “Murder in the Air Mystery Theatre” podcast interview.
I, too, am between projects — waiting to hear from a publisher, not ready to jump into another novel yet — and find myself wondering if I want to try something different in the realm of the written word.
I wrote a few short stories last year and had a couple accepted in different anthologies, and I like writing in that short form.
But I might dust off a project I’ve been working on in “bits and bobs” as my UK friends say: “Journals,” the working title of what might be an historical fiction account of the life of my paternal grandmother, Blanche Alida Lisle Fagen from Dallas County, Iowa.
Grandma kept a journal from age 13 until a few months before she died at age 97, and I have the majority of them. A few were given to grandchildren who were born in the particular year of that journal, but I have most of them.
I’ve started going through the small books, and am trying to determine the best way to tackle this rather daunting project. I started retyping key pages; now that my phone has a new scan option, I might scan the pages into usable text.
Many days there was a full page for a day, detailing who they visited, or what card game they played at a friend’s house, and I love the page with many little hand-drawn “stars” around the day she met my grandfather, Ivyl R. Fagen. But other days it was simply the temperature and maybe the price of a bushel of corn.
I’m not sure if there was much intrigue or suspense during her life as a young woman, a farm wife, and mother of two who lost her husband in a farm accident at a relatively young age.
Is that where the “fiction” part comes in? How true should I be to her life for my family’s sake?
Obviously I have a lot of work to do on this, but it might be my “lull” project for now.
Here’s what I have so far:
The story of Blanche Alida Lisle Fagen
by Laurie Fagen
It was warm for May. Blanche could feel little beads of sweat on her forehead as she and her mother walked briskly down the main city street in Perry, Iowa.
“Please try not to take too long, dear,” her mother said. “We still need to stop at the butcher’s.”
They slowed down in front of a big sign that said, “The E. & G. Shoe Store, Fine Footwear.”
“Yes, Mama,” Blanche said as they stepped inside the door.
The smell of new leather greeted Blanche, as she took in the rows and rows of brand-new shoes all around the store.
“’Mornin, Mrs. Lisle,” greeted a man behind the counter.
“Good morning, Mr. Goodwin,” Mama returned, pulling off her gloves. “We’re in need of a new pair of sturdy shoes for Blanche,” she told him, as she picked up a plain brown shoe and studied it.
“Ah, we have some real beauties right over here, young lady,” Mr. Goodwin said with a smile. “Just what all the girls your age are wearing.”
He tantalized Blanche with a lovely pair of sleek black lace-up boots, with a pointed toe and a fancy heel.
“Now, Mr. Goodwin, these need to be shoes for wearin,’ not for dancin,’” Mamma said firmly. The store owner gave Blanche a quick wink and picked up another pair of black shoes, more “practical” that he knew her mother would like, but still pretty.
“Try them on, Blanche,” Mama nodded in approval.
After Mamma had paid Mr. Goodwin for the shoes, he turned to Blanche, and with another wink and a rather grand flourish, handed Blanche a small, thin rectangular package, wrapped in light blue tissue paper.
“A small token of our thanks, young lady,” Mr. Goodwin said with a smile.
It wasn’t until later that evening, after the new purchase was shown to Papa, and the supper dishes were washed and put away, that Blanche remembered the gift from Mr. Goodwin. She sat down on her bed and carefully unfolded the delicate tissue paper from the object, smoothing it out neatly.
Inside was a tiny leather book, made of smooth, burgundy leather, with finely rounded corners. On the front was stamped in shiny gold, “Compliments of The E. & G. Shoe Store, Fine Footwear, Elks Building, Perry, Iowa.”
She opened the book to find a pale blue grid of small boxes on every page. But the most remarkable was the glittery gold that went around the outside edge of all the pages. Blanche turned it around in her hands to enjoy the beautiful gilded pages.
The 13-year-old slid off the bed to find her mother.
“Mama, look what Mr. Goodwin gave me today,” she said, handing her the gift.
“Well, wasn’t that nice?” Mama said, as she put down her mending and looked at the burgundy book.
“What’s it for, Mama?”
“Well, I s’pose you could use it for all sorts of things,” she said. “Like for keeping track of money with all those boxes, like a ledger. Or, you could use it as a diary, to write down the important events of the day. Things worth remembering.” She handed the book back to her daughter, who pondered that thought.
“And Blanche, make sure you put your name in it so you don’t lose it.”
Back in her room, and in her best cursive, the young girl wrote “Blanche Lisle, Dawson, Iowa” in the front of the book, and “1901” on the opposite page. She wasn’t at all sure what “important events” she would have to write in the little leather book. But she drew a couple of holly leaves by the date and put the book on the table beside her bed.