Context For FAITHFUL, 1904

This is the first post in a planned series on aspects of my debut YA novel FAITHFUL. If you haven’t read it, here’s the skinny: In 1904 Margaret Bennet has it all – money, position, and an elegant family home in Newport, Rhode Island. But just as she is to enter society, her mother ruins everything, first with public displays, and then by disappearing. Maggie’s confusion and loss are compounded when her father drags her to Yellowstone National Park, where he informs her that they will remain. At first Maggie’s only desire is to return to Newport. But the mystical beauty of the Yellowstone landscape, and the presence of young Tom Rowland, a boy unlike the others she has known, conspire to change Maggie from a spoiled girl willing to be constrained by society to a free-thinking and brave young woman living in a romantic landscape at the threshold of a new century.Faithful high res

When I first conceived the idea for FAITHFUL I had the notion of setting the story in Montana. It wasn’t that I was writing about Montana; I was writing about the loss of my own mother through Maggie’s search for her mother. Then my husband made the suggestion that if I was going to write about Montana, why not write about Yellowstone? Maybe even the historical Yellowstone? I liked that idea a lot, and chose 1904 almost out of thin air, because it was the year that the Old Faithful Inn opened, and I love that building, which is much the same today as it was in 1904 (see my later post for more on that).

My research took me into many aspects of the early 20th century, because I wanted to place Maggie in t1904 orphan trainhe correct social, political, and economic environment. Here are just a few of the things I uncovered:

Orphan trains: Between 1853 and 1929, roughly 250,000 orphaned or homeless children were relocated to foster families throughout the mid-west and western U.S. While it seemed like a good idea to remove children from1904 camera poverty and a life in an eastern city orphanage, many of these children were separated from siblings and placed in homes where they were treated like indentured servants. You can read more about this in Christina Baker Kline’s bestselling ORPHAN TRAIN.

Photography: Photography gained popular ground quickly in the early 20th century and in 1904 Kodak introduced the Brownie, a folding camera that could be used by the amateur. Costing a whopping $1.00, the ads for the camera proclaim “a child can handle the shutter.”
1904 airplane

First flight, early automobiles: In December 1903, the Wright brothers made their first successful airplane flight at Kitty Hawk, North Carolina. The Olds company (later Oldsmobile) began mass producing autos in 1901, and by 1905 was selling 5,000 automobiles per year.

The early 1900s were years of revolutionary change, and the rapidity and magetude of that change would have had a profound impact on a seventeen-year-old girl like Maggie. In future posts, I’ll be examining cross-country travel, clothing, food, Yellowstone itself and the Old Faithful Inn, and more.

Setting Writerly Goals

Yes, I know. It’s summer. You are lounging on a beach, or hiking in the mountains, or fishing a great creek, or…or…anything except writing. Goals are not on your mind.

I’m not here to jerk you away from a much-needed rest! I’m just here to inspire you so that when September rolls around (and it will) you’ll be ready to tackle those dormant writing plans.

a serene scene to help with goals

A serene scene to help with goals

Here are a few exercises that will hopefully get you started. Some of them are actually ideal summertime activities – expressing yourself artistically when you are playful is a great way to reinvigorate your brain.

1. Freewriting. Allow yourself to write by hand – by hand is important – for fifteen minutes without stopping to correct or think. Let your hand and brain run as fast as possible.

2. “Dreamstorming”. Rather than trying to brainstorm ideas, dream them. As you fall asleep, plant your story/sticking point in your mind and let your subconscious go to work while you sleep.

3. Try your hand at any other art expression. Draw, doodle, craft, play music – these other expressions will liberate the right side of the brain because you have nothing invested in them.

4. Read fairy tales, and Greek, Roman, Norse, and Native American myths and legends. Read Joseph Campbell, The Hero With a Thousand Faces. These tales form the basis of our oral traditions, and often contain repeating imagery and symbolism, much of which has been incorporated into our everyday subtext. Become familiar with them so you can consciously incorporate them into your work.

And here are a few books to set your goals in motion:

Lewis Hyde, The Gift
Annie Dillard, The Writing Life
Annie Dillard, Teaching a Stone to Talk
Jane Yolen, Take Joy
Natalie Goldberg, Writing Down the Bones
Natalie Goldberg, Thunder and Lightning
Bruce Ballenger & Barry Lane, Discovering the Writer Within
David Bayles & Ted Orland, Art & Fear
Eric Maisel, Fearless Creating
Julia Cameron, The Artist’s Way
Julia Cameron, The Vein of Gold
Bernard Selling, Writing From Within
Robert Olen Butler, From Where You Dream
Jeff Vandermeer, Wonderbook

So don’t feel pressured. Just gather yourself into a fresh place, so come fall, your goals will be in place and your soul will be ready.

Tips For Writers & Readers

If you've browsed my website in the past you'll know that in my Fox's Den I'm creating a series of links to helpful tips for writers, readers, teachers, and librarians. Over the next few months, I'll be adding to those files. Many are downloadable … [Continue reading]

Books With Diversity: Cross-cultural Relationships


In this moment when diversity is finally getting the attention it deserves, and publishers and readers are discovering books that represent diverse cultures, I'd like to make mention of young adult novels that feature cross-cultural and/or … [Continue reading]