I'm delighted today to share a guest post by a local author, Joanne Easley. I went to an author event in the fall of 2021 where Joanne spoke and also saw her at the writer's conference that I mentioned in late August, 2022. Please enjoy 'hearing' about Joanne's journey 'writing twentieth century fiction'. Thank you, Joanne!!
My tagline is “fiction about complicated, 20th Century women.” I yearn for simpler times when instant communication didn’t exist. Young people today will never know the agony of waiting for their sibling to end a long conversation so they could make a call on the wall-mounted rotary-dial phone. They won’t know the thrill of pulling that twenty-five-foot-long cord down the hall to seek a little privacy. How many people remember waiting to receive a hand-written letter from a pen pal or a loved one overseas serving their country? Those days are gone, and unless a writer commemorates those experiences, they will be forgotten.
Because I lived through most of the latter half of the twentieth century, I have personal experience to draw on, although research is also needed for historical accuracy.
And I do like to be accurate. Researching can send me down a rabbit hole, but I never consider the time spent doing it as lost.
Here are my three favorite quotes about research:
“The man is most original who can adapt from the greatest number of resources.” - Thomas Carlyle
“I am a part of all I have read.” - John Kieran
“The more research you do, the more at ease you are in the world you’re writing about. It doesn’t encumber you; it makes you free.” - A.S. Byatt
My multi-award-winning debut novel, Sweet Jane, begins in 1957 Odessa, Texas. In my research, I was lucky enough to find a blog about life there in the 1950s. I met face-to-face with the blogger and learned a great deal about the setting. For this book, I also had to study the Monterey Pop Festival in 1967, life in the Haight in the late 60s, and Austin in the 70s and 80s. Although I lived in Austin in the 90s, I wanted to make certain the details of the earlier Austin timeline were correct. For example, I planned to use the name of my favorite bakery in Sweet Jane but learned it hadn’t opened until a few years after the timeline in the book. That research saved me from an error.
Just One Look, my second novel, takes place in the neighborhood where I grew up on the Southside of Chicago. While the plot is fiction, the setting is historically true. For all my novels, I want the referenced historic events to be precise. The Vietnam war, the 1968 Democrat Convention, and the 27 club—the deaths of iconic rock stars at that age—are just a few of the topics I spent some time investigating. Fashion and music are also themes in my books. One of my favorite fashion sources for this novel is the Sears Roebuck catalog. As I scrolled through the online version, memories of ordering clothing over the phone, painstakingly reading the lengthy catalog number to the clerk, resurfaced. I even found several outfits I wore back in the day.
While my first two published books are primarily set in the 60s and 70s, I expanded the timeline in I’ll Be Seeing You to 1938-1985. The extra time spent on learning details about life in the thirties, forties, and fifties, both in Texas and Manhattan, was well worth it. As I reviewed World War II history, I came to understand how much I’d forgotten. Several prominent battles in both the European and Pacific theaters had a great impact on the characters in my novel, so it was imperative for me to know the details of those engagements.
The character is the driving force behind my writing. My novels begin with the idea for a protagonist. Novelists are often put into two camps—pantsers and plotters. I am a pantser, which means I allow the character free rein, and the plot emerges from her actions, some of which surprise me. I want my complicated, 20th Century women to have depth, so I must learn everything I can about them. Appearance, quirks, habits, family life, friends, and personality gradually come into focus, and only then can I begin writing about their trying circumstances. My novels deal with real-life problems and cover tough topics such as alcoholism, suicide, and miscarriage.
My talented niece designs my beautiful book covers and brings my characters to life. I am grateful to her.
While I was published with a small press for my first two novels, I did not renew my contracts. This year, I applied the knowledge I gained over the past years and self-published my third novel and re-released my first two under my imprint Red Boots Press, named for Sweet Jane’s love of red cowboy boots. My novels are widely available in eBook and paperback.