Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Part VII -- Discovering America's Past through Historical Fiction

Dear Readers,

Thank you for joining us for this new installment in the Historical Fiction series which features Award winning author, Joyce Moyer Hostetter. Joyce will be featured the next couple of weeks, and she's graciously donating an autographed copy of her award winning book, BLUE, and will personalize and mail it directly to the winner! For a chance to win all you have to do is leave a comment about this post or the interview coming up next week.

Joyce grew up in rural North Carolina. After a brief struggle with Dick, Jane, and Sally in first grade, she became an avid reader. Her middle grade Language Arts teacher told her she's be a great writer some day so she began working hard to live up to that challenge. She is the author of four historical novels with several in progress. Her book BLUE about a North Carolina polio epidemic won the International Reading Association Children's Book Award in addition to other honors. Joyce has always loved history and she's crazy about research. Now,  Joyce shares a brief but warm and engaging essay about her research . . .

Joyce Moyer Hostetter

By Joyce Moyer Hostetter

I sometimes say that my favorite sin is trespassing. You know, poking around abandoned houses, old barns, and vacated mill villages. I love sniffing out history while entertaining the notion that I’m not really supposed to be there. The place I’m entering belongs to someone else.  And I don’t just mean who owns that particular bit of real estate (although a certain rush comes with the knowledge that an owner might be watching.)

But in addition, I know that people have lived out entire lives in these places.  They woke up in the dark and walked to work and ate off of that chipped plate lying in the corner. A mother drew water out of that well every day, welcomed babies in the upstairs room, and buried loved ones out back.

Old Photo of 1940 vintage
Figuratively and physically, research for my historical novels involves this sort of snooping around. Even when I call people to ask for interviews, I have a certain sense that I’m trampling in personal space.  I recognize that anyone who shares pain or even joy with me willingly gives up some privacy.As I glean more and more of the story, the atmosphere around it takes on a sacred quality.

I have in my possession the memoir and letters (copies) of Jim, a WWII draftee who served his country by working in a mental hospital.  The letters, written home to his wife, are deeply personal and filled with longing for her and also with much sadness for the confused and often violent patients he worked with. I know precisely how these letters came into my possession but I still wonder sometimes how it happened that a perfect stranger would trust me with personal expressions of his life and love in 1943.

And if he hadn’t?

If he hadn’t, there would be certain informational gaps in the landscape of my story but more important – there would be emotional gaps. This man is one of several great spirits who shape my character for my work-in-progress. Reading and rereading his letters is a huge gift to my story.  But doing so, also feels like an invasion of privacy.

Now, I’m working on an East German story – a fictional account of life behind the iron curtain.  I’ll soon be going to Germany to do research.  I’ll explore a world that no longer exists except in museums, diaries, documents, and people’s memories. 

I don’t even know yet, who will share their stories with me. But I am in awe of the idea that some people will. It’s a little scary to think about probing those memories. I go with the sure knowledge that to some (even to me) it may feel as if I’m entering private property.

It’s frightening. But it’s also a thrill. Because, as I said, I do love trespassing!

Readers, I know you'll want to learn more about Joyce and her books and her blog. Check out her links below, and then please leave a comment to share a memory of your own or to tell us what in Joyce's essay spoke to you! 
We'll be back soon! Thanks so much for joining us!


  1. This essay is a joy to read. Joyce has the twin gifts of being able really to listen as well as inspiring others' trust, and the reward is these unique primary sources that provide authenticity to her work. I have not read any of her books yet, but I've put BLUE on my library list. Thank you, Clara, for this introduction. Looking forward to the interview!

  2. Thanks, Joyce and Clara! Joyce, I know first-hand the importance of visiting a place in order to re-create its former vitality for today's readers. You will get so much out of it. One of the things I love about writing history and historical fiction is the places it takes us - physically, emotionally, and spiritually.

  3. Thanks for your essay, Joyce. So many questions came to mind when I read about those letters. Were they given to you personally? How was someone so free with their life? How will you use them in your story? How responsible do you feel with their secrets? Oh boy, I can't wait to read your book!
    Clara, thanks for this post!

  4. Oh, Joyce, I know just what you mean about that intimate connection with the past and the joy of research. I love cemeteries for the same reasons. There are great stories there among the granite and marble and even the common slabs of concrete that remind us who once walked the same grass, stared at the same stars, felt the same joy and pain that we do. I can't wait to see your WIP when it comes out and hear that remarkable voice that you have in your writing. Thank you for sharing so much.

  5. Hi Toby, Barbara, Lorrie, and Mary Ann: You ladies really bowl me over with your intelligent, thoughtful,and eloquent comments--are you writers by any chance? ;0) Thanks for stopping by to leave very special comments for Joyce!

  6. Hi Clara! Hi Toby, Barbara, Mary Ann, and Lorrie. Thanks so much to each of you. Lorrie has inspired a blogpost. (not written yet but I can address those questions on my blog.) Although I've really been slacking on blogging lately!

    Great to hear from all of you!
    (new friends and "old")

  7. I so enjoyed the post. You know I love historical fiction. Research is fun. She is lucky to be able to go to Germany for her research and to have those letters.I am looking forward to her book.

  8. Now I want to go to Germany to do research, too! Joyce has made the "sin" of "trespassing" SOOO alluring!

  9. Hi Joyce, So sweet of you to drop in. I'll be sure to let Lorrie know, in case she doesn't see your comment, that SHE inspired you! :0)

  10. Hi Janet and Claudia, That trip to Germany to do research is alluring for sure. Thanks for stopping by!

  11. Just popping in to say I really enjoyed the essay. Research is such fun, I'm afraid I'd never get around to the real work of writing. :) Passing this link along...

  12. Joyce, I never really thought of it as trespassing because so many people seem to be tickled to share their stories. And Mary Ann, I also love to poke around cemeteries, especially the older graves.

  13. Hi Kristin, THANK YOU for passing along this link! Research does have the appeal that threatens to take over!

    Anonymous, I like the way you think. Trespassing is part of the job description for a writer!

  14. Anonymous - tis true that people want to share their stories but it took me awhile to realize that! I think it's the personal nature of some stories that makes me feel like an invader.

    Kristin, I totally know what you mean about researching rather than getting around to writing! It can take over.

    Janet and cmills - Willst du geht mit mir bis Germany? We could research together! (I think I just butchered the German language so if you can speak it, pack your bags. I could use a translator!)

  15. Joyce, I hope you find success with your research in Germany. I live in Berlin, and I am constantly amazed at how much has changed over the past 70 years. Our neighbors saw it all, and you can glimpse bits of the past among all the modern buildings.

    Your German in the previous comment is close. It's a hard language to master. (After five years, I'm not even close, although I confess I haven't tried all that hard.) :)

  16. Great post! I'm fascinated with history. I couldn't stop staring at the vintage photo. Thanks for sharing!

    ♥.•*¨ Elizabeth ¨*•.♥

  17. Alison, I know Joyce will be thrilled with your comment and check out your blog for sure! Maybe you two can connect when she makes her trip.

    Elizabeth, Thanks for stopping by. I'm glad you enjoyed Joyce's sinfully delicious research!

  18. Thanks so much Elizabeth!

    Alison, glad to know my German was sort of close. I have a lot of vocab and lots of random sentences (Rosetta Stone) in my head but actually forming sentences for myself - now that is another story!

    So cool that you live in Berlin. I am going to be there soon for research. So excited! Am fascinated about your neighbors living through all the changes. Wow!

  19. Hello!

    Thanks for the wonderful essay, Joyce. I heard about Clara's blog from Wendy Townsend and am so glad I checked it out.

    I just returned home from a trip to Pennsylvania with my daughter and granddaughter who is a six-year-old. She's very "into" the American Girl series and has a surprising sense of US history from having these books read aloud to her. We spent two days in Lancaster County where we seemed to travel back in time seeing how the Amish live. Then we visited my relatives, and she met her five-year-old second cousin (once removed or something like that ) who now lives in the same 200-year-old house where I grew up and whose bedroom used to be mine. Ahhh . . . history.

    I will be sure to share BLUE with my granddaughter.

    Sheila Welch

  20. Sheila, Thanks so much for your very thoughtful comment for Joyce. It was wonderful of Wendy Townsend to recommend my blog. Hope you'll check in often!

  21. Hi Sheila,

    So cool that you and your daughter are enjoying literature and history together like that! And especially neat that your daughter could get a feel for your personal history. What a treasure! Thanks for stopping by Clara's blog. Joyce

  22. OH! I loved what Joyce said about trespassing...whenever I visit historical sites, I think (sometimes out loud) "Who walked here before? What did she think? Was she happy? Miserable?"

    Drove my kids NUTS saying stuff like that...but they all seem to love history--almost as much as I do! :-)

  23. Hi Cathy - Thanks for dropping by. All moms drive their kids crazy in one way or another. Sounds like your speculations served you and your children well.

    Checked out your blogs. I'm not good at numbers either. That's how I'm like you. How do I want to be like you? I want to write funny!

  24. I hadn't thought of this aspect of trespassing. Interesting...

  25. Thanks, Carol for dropping by. Do you ever feel like you are trespassing or at least treading on sacred ground when interviewing or researching?

  26. Rebecca Saylor McCarverApril 7, 2011 at 6:02 PM

    My son and I are looking forward to reading "Comfort" as soon as we finish "Blue". Thank you Joyce for writing this wonderful story that is opening up such interesting conversations between the two of us.

  27. Thanks, Rebecca, for stopping by. It's wonderful that Joyce's book has created an interesting dialogue between you and your son.

  28. Hi Rebecca. I am so pleased that you and your son are enjoying this book together. Hooray for you for reading to him! Thanks for participating in the book giveaway!