Bonner County History Museum
Occasionally readers ask where I get my story ideas. One rich lode of ideas is studying real-life history, which I do often, both on my own and as a volunteer at a local history museum. Insatiably curious, I love digging into the past of places I’ve lived–it helps me feel more rooted and at home there. It’s a lot like snooping, but if you’re snooping through historical documents, you get to call it research. And the real-life past is an absolute treasure trove of future story ideas for a historical fiction author.
My first two books grew out of my interested in the Chicago area, where I grew up. A new story that’s coming out next fall moves the action to the dense fir forests of northern Idaho. I’m also mulling a story around the Armistice of 1918. I collect these ideas on scraps of paper in a folder, and now and then I sift through the folder for inspiration. Not every chance idea makes it into a future story, of course, but as Grandma used to say, it’s all grist for the mill. In the meantime, I’ve learned something new, and am always the richer for it.
If you’re interested in early-20th-century history, The Winter 2019 issue of SANDPOINT magazine contains three of my articles about my current home in northern Idaho. One’s about the Armistice, the second skims over key events that shaped the region, and the third’s about Sears mail-order houses, a big deal in the early 20th century. (Maybe you or someone you know lives in one!)
You, too, might be surprised and delighted at what you can turn up by studying the history of your town or region. Start with the local library or historical society, and see where the path may lead.
This past weekend was the “Forties Frolic” fund-raiser for the Bonner County History Museum. It’s the main reason I’ve been so quiet on this blog recently, as it took up a lot of my writerly time and energy–but it was totally worth it!
The whole evening was a delight: live Big Band music, delicious food inspired by recipes from the era, vintage-wearing revelers, and World War II-era decorations in a historic building that actually was our local USO during the 1940s, serving the sailors stationed at nearby Farragut Naval Training Station, as well as servicemen and -women passing through Sandpoint on their way hither and yon.
My contribution to the evening was to write, direct, and act in the “History Mystery” drama portion. Set up as a radio station “broadcasting live from the USO on radio station K. L. U. K., the fifty-watt blowtorch of North Idaho,” the drama featured a radio cast of eight, plus five “USO hostesses,” a Civil Defense director, a visiting movie star, and her long-suffering assistant. The evening alternated between music and dancing and the History Mystery. In the end, guests voted on which character they thought committed the crime (a stolen necklace) and one lucky winner won three cans of Spam and a bottle of wine. (There were much more appealing raffle prizes, too, donated by generous sponsors.)
Why am I telling you all this? Because I’m so proud of the actors, the cooks, the servers, the musicians, the sponsors, and everyone who put in 110% to make the event a success, including all the people who came out to support the museum. Because it’s always fun to think up fresh and creative ways to share the history of our region. And because it was the “perfect storm” of fabulousness for this history- and theater- and vintage-loving writer to combine all her favorite things into one tidy bundle. I couldn’t be more grateful for the opportunity.
And now back to our regularly-scheduled Sparkling Vintage Life!