Sunday, October 28, 2012

Writing Your Character's Memories

One challenge I have faced in Beside Two Rivers, the second book in the Daughters of the Potomac Series, is dealing with the bits and pieces of Darcy's childhood memories she has tucked away in her mind. They deal with her parents and the days she lived at River Run, their estate along the Potomac River. Darcy's memories are crucial to the story, and to avoid dumping backstory into the narrative, I had to weave her memories into the tapestry of the incidents she experiences.

Childhood memories, or memories in general, can have a potent affect on the reader and add depth and motivation to your character. But they most be brief, intense, not long and drawn out. A few keys to writing memories into your novel are as follows.

Remember to use sensory influences - sight, sound, smell, taste, touch.

Do not tell all. Allow the reader to wonder what your character's memories mean. Allow your character to wonder the same.

To avoid 'telling' allow your character to react to the memory. Perhaps they grip their hands together, or their eyes fill up with tears. Some kind of reaction to the memory adds depth.

Use one particular memory to be center stage but only an image. One example in Beside Two Rivers is Darcy remembers the swing made for her, tied to a massive tree, and remembers it in winter, its ropes encrusted with ice. This was her place of refuge and on a day when she rides out to see the old house, the swing is long gone.  

Her refuge is no longer there, but she remembers and it causes a craving in her heart to feel that sense of protection again and finds a new place of refuge, a secluded cliff high above the river. Just as she was able to swing high and see her world in a different perspective, the cliff enables her to stand high above the gorge and see a wider world about her.

When revealing a memory, make it poignant, make it reflect on a serious event.

Create in your characters actions that imply their pasts and how it shaped their future, instead of writing out long accounts with a lot of detail.

If you are writing a series, be sure that the memories your characters reveal in the subsequent books are in line with the prequel.

* * *

Share with us your thoughts on the use of memory in your writing. Are you writing a novel where the events in your main character's life are influenced by the past?

Do you have a particular childhood memory that is only an image that brings you joy when it is recalled?

Mine? The huge sycamore tree on the hill past the next yard, that I saw from my swing in our backyard. The tree is still there. And when I would visit my parents, and see that tree, I felt happy thinking back to those summer days, pumping my legs on the swing to go higher and higher in my shorts and red keds.
I'm in the photo to the right, at age 15.

Sunday, October 21, 2012

Rita's Pumpkin Bread Recipe

Over the years, I've collected a lot of great recipes. It was back in the 70s in a high school home economics class ( do they even still have those?) that I first made this recipe for pumpkin bread, and it became a family favorite. It's a recipe that would have made June Cleaver proud. 

It's delicious on its own. But it's really good toasted with a slathering of butter on it for breakfast, or a sprinkling of powdered sugar.

So here we go....



1 (15 ounce) can pumpkin puree
4 eggs
1 cup vegetable oil
2/3 cup water
3 cups white sugar
3 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons baking soda
1 1/2 teaspoons salt
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1/2 teaspoon ground cloves
1/4 teaspoon ground ginger
1 box of raisins ~ optional
1 cup of chopped walnuts ~ optional


  1. Preheat oven to 350. Spray loaf pans with cooking spray.
  2.  In a large bowl, mix together pumpkin puree, eggs, oil, water and sugar until well blended. 
  3. In a separate bowl, stir together the flour, baking soda, salt, cinnamon, nutmeg, cloves and ginger. 
  4. Stir the dry ingredients into the pumpkin mixture until just blended.  Add raisins and walnuts.  Pour into the prepared pans.
  5. Bake for about 60-70 minutes in the preheated oven. Loaves are done when toothpick inserted in center comes out clean. Cool the loaves before removing them from the pans.
How far back do you think this recipe goes? Could I use it in a novel set in the early 1900s?
If you haven't stopped by my website, please do.

Sunday, October 14, 2012

A Different Kind of Book Signing...

Hello Friends,

I think the highlight of Autumn for me, aside from Thanksgiving and Caramel Apple Day at my sister in law's house, was a Ladies Tea I attended yesterday, Saturday, October 13. I was invited to be the guest author and bring books for the attendees. I had never been to a ladies tea before, so this was a new experience.

My hostess set up a table with all the deckings of Fall...paper leaves, tapered candles, tea candles set in glass dishes surrounded by popcorn kernels, pretty dessert plates, individual tea cups, platters of scones, apple cider, and maple leaf cookies. She provided for me a table where I could set out books. Although the tea was quite elegant, the atmosphere was casual.

Honestly, I have never much enjoyed book signings. You sit behind a table just waiting for someone to purchase a copy. Some people just walk by. Others stop, pick up your book, look at it, set it down and move on without a word, except for a response to 'hello, I'm...'. Of course there are friendly people who do buy a book. But most authors will tell you, it's not as exciting an adventure as you may think. You feel like a sales woman more than an author.

The contrary with the Ladies Tea. It was a time of fellowship. We chatted as a group. We talked about how our parents chose our names, family history, and writing. The questions the ladies asked were so fun and prompted a lot of discussion. When we were finished, the ladies bee-lined it to the table and I was so touched by their enthusiasm to buy signed copies. One precious lady bought two sets of all my books.

If you have an author in your area, and you enjoy teas, why not host one? If you are part of a book club, why not host a tea for the next book discussion? Give the tea a title. For example, your club has just finished reading Pride & Prejudice. Call it 'Tea at Longbourn'. Or 'Tea with Elizabeth and Jane'. A Christmas Tea for your book club would be an elegant addition to the Holidays.

And I can't close without suggesting a tea for my books with your book club. There are discussion questions in the back of all my Abingdon Press novels.

Here are a few websites about Tea Book Club meetings that may spark your imagination by giving you some great ideas.

Eras of Elegance 'How to Host a Victorian Tea Party'.
A Book Club Tea Party Guide.

Photos were taken by Babett Horn, my hostesses. She knows her stuff!