Historical Fiction: The Devil Is In the Details by Marilyn Ostermiller

Earlier this month Marilyn Ostermiller gave us a wonderful post with some tips on how she conducts research when writing historical fiction.  Here she is with part two of that process:

THE GREAT ALONE, and WHERE THE CRAWDADS SING, two of 2018’s most popular historical novels, take readers back in time to 1974 and the 1950s, respectively.

The characters in historical fiction can be imaginary, but the world they inhabit must be based on the reality of a particular time and place.“The devil is in the details” is an appropriate idiom to describe this writing process.

Writers who carry it off, research every aspect of when and where the story takes place, from dialect to popular foods and the endless minutia of daily living.

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Author Kristin Hannah was well-acquainted with Alaska’s wilderness, before she wrote THE GREAT ALONE, which received the Goodreads Choice Award for Best Historical Fiction of 2018. She tells the story of a Vietnam veteran, who returns home emotionally unstable, a violent threat to his wife and daughter. Hannah knew the area from her childhood. Her parents went to Alaska in the 1970s for adventure, fell in love with the state and started a business there. kristenhannah.com

 

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Likewise, Delia Owens set WHERE THE CRAWDADS SING where she grew up, the rural South during the 1950s. Her main character is an illiterate 10-year-old girl, who must fend for herself in the North Carolina marshes after her mother, and then her father, abandon her. Owens also drew on her experiences as a wildlife scientist, in Africa, and the U.S. deliaowens.com

 

Authors who write historical fiction don’t need to rely on personal experience, but are more likely to tell an engaging story if they set it in interesting times. That might explain all the action- packed, emotionally charged novels set during times of social upheaval, such as war. World-building for them begins with maps, history books, news accounts and such memorabilia as personal letters, scrapbooks, matchbooks, diaries and old photos.

A photo that guided me through the first chapter of a children’s book I’m writing helped me visualize what it would have been like, during the Great Depression, to be caught in a bank panic, desperate to worm your way through a jam-packed crowd to lay claim to your life savings. A black and white photo, that captured the intensity of the moment, showed dozens of people,  jostling together, all intent on surging past a guard into the bank.    bank_run_on_american_union_bankPhoto credit: National Archive

Memorabilia and souvenirs are ripe sources for historical fiction. I remain intrigued by a World War II-era menu my mother saved from a restaurant in Shreveport, La. She was visiting my father, an Army soldier poised to ship out to Italy. For her, the menu was a romantic memento. For me, as a writer, I see a young couple with an uncertain future, about to be separated by a war being fought an ocean away, and I wonder what they said and what they were thinking. That’s where historic fiction begins. b49bb3fb-45d9-4252-a2f0-23f464d866f0

What’s in your attic with the power to evoke a story from the distant past? So many  stories are just waiting to be uncovered. Please share your comments and some of your favorite historical fiction books.

Marilyn Ostermiller

Marilyn Ostermiller is a long-time journalist, who has expanded into children’s literature. You can follow her on Twitter @Marilyn_Suzanne

 

 

 

 

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Time Travel With Historical Fiction: by Marilyn Ostermiller

Harper Lee’s Pulitzer-prize winning novel, “To Kill a Mockingbird,” was recently voted America’s best loved novel in a competition sponsored by the Public Broadcasting System.

            Published in 1960, “Mockingbird,” harkened back to a racially-motivated incident in a small Alabama town in 1936.

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Classic historical fiction tugs at our hearts and can motivate us long after we’ve turned the last page. Miss Lee immersed readers in a previous time and place to such an extent, that book has been credited with helping fuel the Civil Rights movement of the 1960s.

            Who doesn’t remember how a desperate Scarlet O’Hara tore down the green velvet drapes in the parlor at Civil War-ravished Tara, to sew them into a dress she hoped would entice a bank officer into giving her a loan? Or, when George Bailey, played by Jimmy Stewart in the movie, “It’s a Wonderful Life,” stopped a run on the bank in the 1930s, by cajoling customers into withdrawing only as much money as they absolutely needed?

Getting the details right requires meticulous research of authors. I’m writing a historical novel about a 12-year-old girl, who vows to win the 1932 National Spelling Bee, to prove she’s the best speller in America. The idea came to me when I visited the official site of The National Spelling Bee, www.spellingbee.com. I discovered, that in the midst of The Great Depression, ordinary kids were competing to win a bag full of gold coins, worth the equivalent of about $60,000 today.

That, in turn, led me to wonder who these kids were and what words the finalists spelled. That directed me to archived newspaper articles reporting on the finals of the 1932 National Spelling Bee. I learned the national championship was held in the National Museum in Washington, D.C. The first thing visitors saw, in the lobby, were glass cases of life-size, stuffed animals, some of them reputed to have been shot by President Theodore Roosevelt while on safari in Africa.

With the help of the Smithsonian’s archives, I’ve been able to describe what it was like for those kids, who ranged in age between 8 and 13 years old, to approach the microphone on that stage, take a deep breath and spell their words in front of an audience of more than 100 people. The winning word that year was “invulnerable.” It was spelled by Dorothy Greenwald, who took the grand prize back home to Des Moines, Iowa.

            Historical fiction transports us back in time, but as with many things in life, the devil is in the details.

Next month: The second post in this series on researching historical fiction will delve into which details are most likely to resonate with readers.

Marilyn Ostermiller

Marilyn Ostermiller is a long-time professional journalist, who now writes for children. You can follow her on Twitter @Marilyn_Suzanne.

 

 

Part 2: Flavors of Summer — Seven Ways to Serve Ice Cream by Marilyn Ostermiller

Attention Ice Cream Lovers: Here’s a challenge to make you smile. Enjoy ice cream served a different way every day for a full week.  These seven suggestions demonstrate how easy and enjoyable this challenge can be. Feel free to include your own favorite ways to serve ice cream as well.

Ala Mode: A fancy way of saying, “I’ll have a scoop of ice cream on top of my pie.” A classic combination is warm apple pie topped with a scoop of vanilla ice cream.

Banana Split: Cut a banana in half lengthwise and lay together in an oblong bowl. Top with three scoops of ice cream. The classic combination is vanilla, chocolate and strawberry, but use your imagination. Spoon one or more syrups over the ice cream. Hot fudge is a good place to start. Garnish with whipped cream and chopped nuts.

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Brownie Alaska: Start with a pan of brownies cut in 3-inch-square pieces. Cut slices of ice cream the same size. Keep ice cream in the freezer until time to bake in a 350-degree oven. Make a meringue by beating six large egg whites, a dash of salt, and 1/2 tsp. cream of tartar in a mixer, until soft peaks form. Continue to beat while gradually adding 3 tablespoons of granulated sugar, until peaks stand alone, when the beater is lifted out of the bowl. Arrange the brownies on a foil-lined cookie sheet. Place a slice of ice cream on each brownie. Spoon the meringue over each brownie until no brownie or ice cream is showing. Bake until meringue begins to brown, but no longer than five minutes.

Cone: Legend has it the first ice cream cone was created by a fast-thinking waffle maker at the 1904 St. Louis World’s Fair, when the ice cream vendor in the adjacent booth ran out of cups. He quickly rolled one of his waffles into the shape of a cornucopia and handed it to the ice cream vendor, who filled it with ice cream. The idea quickly caught on. Months earlier, an Italian immigrant to the United States was granted a patent for the ice cream cone. Like they say, great minds think alike.

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Root Beer Float: Place 2 scoops of ice cream into a glass. Hold the glass at an angle and slowly pour 3/4 cup root beer over the ice cream. It will fizz, but take it slowly and it won’t overflow.

Sandwich: Start with two cookies, 2-3 inches in diameter. Spread one with a generous scoop of ice cream, Top it with the other. Sugar, chocolate chip or oatmeal raisin cookies are among the popular choices.

Waffles: Toast frozen waffles or bake batter in a waffle maker. When cooled, top with scoops of ice cream, and syrup or fruit preserves.

For a fun picture book about the joys of ice cream check out SCOOP THE ICE CREAM TRUCK by Patricia Keeler.  SCOOP, PIN & MAGNET

Marilyn Ostermiller

Marilyn Ostermiller is a long-time business journalist who now writes for children. You can follow her on Twitter @Marilyn_Suzanne.

 

In case you missed Part 1 of this ICE CREAM series, here’s the link:

https://wordpress.com/view/darlenebeckjacobson.wordpress.com

 

Celebrate July With the Flavors of Summer by Marilyn Ostermiller

If you need a reason to indulge in ice cream, here it is: July is National Ice Cream Month. It has been, since 1984, when President Ronald Reagan signed a proclamation. Other flavors of summer celebrated this month as well, are baked beans, hot dogs and blueberries.

My favorite ice cream memory is a generous bowl of pistachio gelato my husband and I shared at the ancient town square in Taormina, Sicily, atop a mountain overlooking the Mediterranean, on a summer Sunday. Children played soccer nearby. Families strolled home from church. I savored the crunch of chopped nuts in every bite of that creamy green confection, served in a frosty, stemmed goblet.

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Ice cream has been enjoyed throughout history:

  • Roman Emperor Nero Claudius Caesar (D. 54-86) is said to have frequently sent runners into the mountains for snow, which was then flavored with fruits and juices, according to the International Dairy Foods Association.
  • Over a thousand years later, Marco Polo returned to Italy from the Far East with a recipe that closely resembled what we call sorbet.

It wasn’t until the 1800s, though, the invention of insulated ice houses and other commercial equipment made it possible for ice cream to be widely enjoyed around the world.

Vanilla is the popular flavor, according to a survey conducted last year by the International Dairy Foods Association. The next four most popular flavors, were chocolate, cookies ’n cream, mint chocolate chip and chocolate chip cookie dough.

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The trend is toward unusual flavor couplings. For example, The Bent Spoon, in Princeton, N.J., specializes in small batch ice cream and sorbets using local and organic ingredients. Ricotta-pistachio, strawberries and elderflower, banana chunk, crème fraîche, school garden mint nib, pink rose, and lavender and mascarpone, were among the 28 flavors chilling in the display case on a recent day. https://www.facebook.com/pg/the-bent-spoon-132592140111950/reviews/?ref=page_internal

There are plenty of family friendly ways to churn a batch of ice cream at home, ranging from hand crank freezers to electric freezers that create ice cream in about 30 minutes.

Here are two books to get you started:

The Homemade Ice Cream Recipe Book: Old-Fashioned All-American Treats for Your Ice Cream Maker by Robin Donovan and published by Rockridge Press. It features such time-tested flavors as Cookies and Cream, Classic Vanilla, Chocolate Fudge Brownie, and Red Velvet. The easy-to-follow recipes are all based on one classic base. https://www.amazon.com/dp/B01MXY0ANB/ref=rdr_ext_sb_pi_hist_3  

  • The Homemade Ice Cream Recipe Book: Old-Fashioned All-American Treats for Your Ice Cream Maker    

Marilyn will return later this month with PART 2 of the history of ICE CREAM.

 

Marilyn Ostermiller        Marilyn Ostermiller is a long-time business journalist who now writes for children. You can follow her on Twitter @Marilyn_Suzanne.

Spring Flavors Feature Earthy Delights by Marilyn Ostermiller

Spring awakens fruits and vegetables from their slumber, providing us with local produce that’s crisp, colorful and bursting with flavor. Locally grown asparagus, sweet peas, scallions and rhubarb are the seasonal treats I most anticipate when visiting farmers markets or pick-your-own farms.   asparagus

 If you’re looking forward to spring produce, check with your state Department of Agriculture for an approximate arrival date. The list New Jersey posts is an example. http://www.jerseyfresh.nj.gov/find/availability.html

 Fresh radishes, strawberries or spinach is a treat, but it’s also fun to incorporate them in your cooking. I especially like to prepare a quiche for spring brunch or lunch that incorporates asparagus, green onions and mushrooms. Recipes for spring quiche abound. Basically, you prepare a pie crust, or — my personal favorite — buy it frozen. Then find a basic recipe online that incorporates a mild grated cheese, eggs and milk or cream. Chop a cup or more of spring vegetables and saute for about five minutes. Sprinkle about 1/2 cup of a mild shredded cheese on the bottom crust of a 9-inch pie shell, add the vegetables, pour the egg mixture over it and sprinkle another 1/2 cup of cheese on top. Bake in oven at 375 degrees for 20 to 25 minutes until the mixture sets. Let it rest for five minutes, slice and enjoy warm. A simple salad and crostini or soup fill out your meal.  getPart

 About the time rhubarb is ripe, I start thinking about a pudding my great aunt from Denmark fed me when I was a child. This recipe comes close to the flavor and texture I remember. The Danish name for it is Rabarbergrod.

                rhubarbClean and cut 1 pound of rhubarb into small pieces and cook together with 2 1/2 cups of water 7 to 10 minutes or until tender. Add 2/3 cup granulated sugar when almost done cooking.  Stir in 1 tablespoon of cornstarch mixed first with a little cold water. Heat and stir until thickened and clear. Stir a few times while cooling. Makes 4 cups. Add a few drops of red food color for a brighter color. Serve chilled.

 Despite their bright colors, it isn’t always easy to convince children to try fresh vegetables. A book that some parents found helpful is Little Bento: 32 Irresistible Bento Box Lunches for Kids by Michelle Olivier. It’s a collection of recipes that offers bite-sized combinations of fruit and vegetables by season to prepare for school lunches. Published by Sonoma Press, it is available at Amazon.com

 Please consider leaving a comment about your favorite spring fruit or vegetable and how you prepare it.

Marilyn Ostermiller

 Marilyn Ostermiller is a long-time business journalist who now writes for children. You can follow her on Twitter @Marilyn_Suzanne.

Finding Comfort in Winter Foods by Marilyn Ostermiller

Come January, when rich holiday treats are but a sweet memory, I take comfort in baking runzas, one of the hearty, yet simple foods, of my European heritage. Runzas are pockets of bread dough stuffed with a savory mixture of ground beef, onions and cabbage. The scent of bread dough rising and the hash simmering on the stove, the flavors melding, put me in mind of Grandma cooking in her kitchen.

Runzas are thought to have originated in Russia in the early 1800s and spread to Germany. Handheld and portable, they are similar to Italian stromboli, Greek pirouskia and Indian samosas. German Immigrants brought the runza recipe with them to the United States, but the sandwiches aren’t well known outside of Nebraska, where the Runza Hut chain has most of its restaurants. The recipe I reach for on Saturday afternoons in winter is from a cookbook published in 1976 by the Federated Woman’s Club in my hometown, Bellevue, NE.

 Runzas:         Ingredients

Dough*                                                           Hamburger Filling

2 cups very warm water                       1 1/2 pounds ground beef

2 packages active dry yeast                 1/2 cup chopped onion

1/2 cup granulated sugar                      3 cups shredded cabbage

1 1/2 tsp. salt                                       1/2 cup water

1 egg                                                    1 1/2 tsp. salt

4 Tblsp. melted butter, cooled 1/2 tsp. black pepper

6 1/2 cups flour                                   dash of Tabasco

* Use prepared bread dough instead, if you prefer. Two loaves should be enough.

Directions: Mix very warm water, yeast, sugar, salt and stir until dissolved. (This process is known as proofing the yeast. If you aren’t familiar with it, the information is easy to find online.)

Add egg and butter. Stir in flour. Put dough in a covered bowl, greased with vegetable oil, and let it rise in a warm place until it doubles in bulk, about an hour.

While the dough is rising, brown ground beef, and onion. Drain grease.  Add cabbage, seasonings, and water. Simmer 15 minutes and cool.  Punch down the dough and roll it out in an oblong about 1/4 inch thick. Cut into 16 squares. Spoon a few tablespoons of the meat mixture in the middle of each square of dough. Pull the four corners of the dough up over the meat mixture and press the edges together. (Some cooks favor a round bun; others, an oblong.) Place the filled buns on a greased cookie sheet. Bake for 20 minutes at 350 degrees.

Runza Huts serve French fries or onion rings on the side, but, in keeping with the comfort food theme, I make a broth-based mushroom soup to accompany my hot sandwiches. This recipe is easy to make at the same time as the runzas. http://www.geniuskitchen.com/recipe/broth-based-mushroom-soup-super-simple-413306

Marilyn Ostermiller is a long-time business journalist who now writes for children. You can follow her on Twitter @Marilyn_Suzanne.   

Fall Menus Warm Us Within: by Marilyn Ostermiller

When days grow shorter and leaves turn flamboyant, we gravitate toward foods that warm us within:

  • Four-alarm chili at the tailgating party.
  • Steaming mugs of apple cider at the Harvest Festival.
  • Pumpkin Spice Latte to go from Starbucks.

There’s something about fall that especially makes me want to spice the air with cinnamon and simmering soup.  Here are some perfect recipes you and your kids can make to compliment the fall season.

Baked Oatmeal 

There’s nothing like starting the day with a hearty bowl of hot cereal. This Martha Stewart recipe appealed to me because it includes a generous portion of fresh berries, bananas and toasted almonds. It bakes for 35 to 40 minutes, so save this one for a leisurely morning or weekend brunch. https://www.marthastewart.com/1050163/baked-oatmeal

Butternut Squash Soup.

I make a habit of ordering butternut squash soup in restaurants to sample all the variations. For cooking at home, I like this recipe that incorporates a Granny Smith apple and doesn’t rely on heavy cream for its flavor and consistency. Instead, the ingredients are cooked and pureed.

http://www.simplyrecipes.com/recipes  /butternut_squash_apple_soup/

 

Pumpkin Pie Spice

This has become  a popular flavor for a host of packaged snacks. The name refers to the mix of spices that have been used for making pumpkin pie since at least the 1890s. It’s easy to make and have on hand for pie as well as cookies or pumpkin bread.

Mix together:

  • 3 Tablespoons Ground Cinnamon                 
  • 2 teaspoons Ground Ginger
  • 2 teaspoons Nutmeg
  • 1-1/2 teaspoon Ground Allspice
  • 1-1/2 teaspoon Ground Cloves

Store in a small jar to have on hand for all the fall recipes that call for it.

http://thepioneerwoman.com/food-and-friends/how-to-make-pumpkin-pie-spice/

Marilyn Ostermiller is a long-time business journalist who now writes for children. You can follow her on Twitter @Marilyn_Suzanne.   

 

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