A friend this past week asked me to fill in as a speaker to a church women’s group. She was responsible for obtaining speakers and her scheduled speaker the next day had called to cancel because of illness. She asked if I could do it on short notice.
She’s a good friend and a fellow bridge player, and I said, sure, I could. I enjoy talking to groups and have plenty of great statistics and info about romance writing. No problem.
The next morning, I gathered up some old speeches and a few extra copies of books to give away as door prizes and trotted off to the meeting. When I arrived, I noticed that at least a third of the group were senior men who, I think, expected to hear something about senior finances or health. The last thing they wanted to hear, I suspected, was the pleasures of romance novels although I have made believers out of the guys in my family.
Mental switch. What could I do to interest them as well as their wives? I went to the historical and current oddities I’ve found in doing research for various novels. I’ve always loved to find unusual facts to plant in my books, whether they be historical or contemporary.
A few instances:
In researching a historical built around Francis Marion, the true swamp fox of the American Revolution (the movie, “The Patriot” was based on him), I discovered that he was a plantation owner, a fifty-year-old bachelor, who gave up everything to recruit a militia band that lived in the South Carolina swamps and raided the British by day. He was an ordinary man who did extraordinary things.
He is credited in large part with winning the war in the south. I found a diary of a militia member who rode with him who reported that Francis Marion drank a cup of vinegar every day and urged his men to do the same. They did not, and he was one of the rare militia men who did not get malaria. The acidity leaked through the skin pores and repelled insects. Not sure whether he knew the science of it, but he knew it worked and vinegar is probably healthier than some of the insect repellents we use today. In researching that same book, I found an account of an American patriot imprisoned on a British prison ship plagued with small pox who self-inoculated himself by sticking a pin in a small pox sore of a fellow prisoner, then sticking himself with the pin. He was one of the few prisoners to survive. It was years later that small pox vaccination was discovered.
Another search for a romantic suspense book turned up unexpected tax haven for hiding funds. One of the most popular is not in the Caribbean but on Guernsey Island, one of the British Channel Islands. It seems an unlikely place for such activity, but the island is controlled by no government other than its own, and this particular source of income provides a fine living for its citizens. Another great trivia question.
I love finding all these little tidbits. And the group did as well.
Then one of the men asked how to start a book. He had been wanting to write a family history.
I told him about a family history authored by my uncle. A lot of it concerned homesteading in Arizona and is treasured by by every member of my extended family. I added that it would be one of the greatest gifts he could give his family and descendants.
But where to begin, he asked.
I gave him the answer I give fiction authors. Start at a point when everything changed for the family. In my family’s case, it was the meeting of my grandfather and grandmother. in a store in Arkansas.
Truman Capote once said that everyone who survives puberty has a story to tell. I hope some of the audience Thursday were inspired to write their stories.
I had planned twenty minutes but questions carried it for an additional twenty minutes. And it was fun. Really fun. Sometimes improvising — rather than following a speech — works.