Thursday, November 19, 2009

Bales, Buckets and Bedrolls

I'm working diligently on Emma's Outlaw which is my NaNo project but keep running into things I need to research so I thought I'd tell you about some of the items that are taking up my time.

If you recall, I did a similar post Jan 15th when I wrote about some of the items Emma carries with her and the research I did to confirm they were available in 1879 in the American West. These items included paper, a pencil and a penknife. I researched many other items while writing this story and thought I’d checked them all but now as I’m editing, others have begged for my attention. Among them bales, buckets and bedrolls. Oh, and hotcakes. And baking powder. *sigh

Bales: I have a scene where Emma and the outlaws put the horses in a small barn for the night because there’s a raging storm outside. So, they tether the horses and break open some hay bales for feed. Several hours after I revised the above scene, it dawned on me that bales weren’t used in the 19th century. I did some research and sure enough, the machine we refer to as a baler wasn’t invented until the 1930’s. There were some stationary balers used around the turn of the century but the hay needed to be brought to them much like an old threshing machine. This wouldn’t have been economical for the land around the barn my travelers stumble across. Result: Find loose hay or have the horses go hungry.

Buckets: At one point, Emma takes her water-filled bucket and puts it on the stove to heat. In my mind, it was a metal bucket so there wasn’t a problem. But wait—was the metal bucket readily available in the old west at that time? I’ve spent hours researching this and although I’ve found old metal buckets for sale as antiques, I can’t find a definitive circulation date. By the 1860’s there was a plethora of tin household items available but the only reference I could find to a metal water bucket started in 1881. Two years too late for me. Instead, I have Emma finding an old lard tin and using that to heat her water.

Bedrolls: Because they take to the trail, they use bedrolls and sleep under the stars. Except Emma doesn’t have a bedroll so Dan shares his. Bedrolls are a lot more padded now than they were 100 yrs ago but they still use a heavy cotton canvas on the outside and a blanket or quilt on the inside. I couldn’t find an authentic photo of a bedroll so I’ll show you the one closest to the one in my book. Well, except instead of plastic buckles, it will be tied to the saddle with rawhide.

While on the trail, Emma does some cooking so I had to research if they had pancakes back in her day, and no—they had flapjacks.

They also didn’t have baking powder for her biscuits so I had to find another leavening agent to activate the baking soda. So far they all need a liquid except cream of tartar which has been around since 800 AD so I’ll use that.

It seems I can’t go a day without wondering about the origin of some word. It’s frustrating at times but I want to be as accurate to the time period as possible so I go through the hardship of surfing the net for answers. I just wish it wasn’t so time consuming.

Have you every slept under the stars without any kind of covering like a roof or a tent? Would you if given the opportunity? Or do you worry about bugs and animals crawling all over you?


Jana Richards said...

Hi Anita,
Talk about suffering for your art! You're being very meticulous about your research which I'm sure will lend an air of authenticity to your writing. I know how time consuming it can be though.

As for your question about sleeping under the stars, ugh, perish the thought! My idea of roughing it is black and white TV. So I would definitely pass on the opportunity to sleep out in the open.

Good luck with your writing and your research.


Helena said...

Wow, Anita, you've got a lot on your plate (would that be a tin plate?). I can relate so well to your desire to be authentic to the time.

I am doing NaNo in the strict sense of doing nothing but WRITE, but it is so tempting to stop and do research. I am trying to follow your tip (I think it was yours) of having a file open where I record whatever needs to be researched, so I don't allow myself to stop writing then and there. Currently, I have 25 questions needing answers in that file.

My novel is set in the 1950's. Some of my research will be to confirm things I think I already know, quite specific things like the price of canned soup, and the names of popular bands and singers.

Other research will be to re-discover things I have forgotten, e.g. whether there were street cars, trolley buses or gas buses, details of trains (in Canada and the UK in both instances), radio shows in England, etc. etc.

Some other question marks are for oddball things, such as whether peacocks are common in China.

The strangest things emerge when you write, write, write. I'm looking forward to doing the research, tho. When I move on I'll incorporate it into the editing stage. I heard a reputable writer who said about writing fiction set in a period not your own, and I'm paraphrasing, "You can make up the story, but you have to get the details of the era right."

Sounds like you're making good progress on your NaNo project. I'm still lagging a bit, but I'm at about 42% so I'm still hopeful! Some days are very productive, and other days just go off the rails.

Almost forgot to answer your question: One summer when our boys were 7, 5, and 2, we camped at a lake in northern B.C. This was in the days before we had any camping gear! We slept in the open except for a makeshift leanto made with a tarp overhead and behind, but the front and sides were open, and we had a ground sheet and blankets, no sleeping bags that I can remember (guess I have to research that). The night noises were ... interesting. Let's just say that the boys slept better than the parents did! And it was only for a couple of nights on a long weekend.

Karyn Good said...

Wow, you sure are on top of things. As a reader I would have caught the reference to square bales but I wouldn't have batted an eye over the use of a tin bucket to heat water. Your writing will be all the richer for the authenitc details you're researching.

I have slept outside, sans tent or any kind of shelter. A friend and I spent an entire night in sleeping bags under the stars. I don't know how we managed to stay out there but we did it. And I'd never do it again!

Anita Mae Draper said...

Jana, I've gone on many camping trips but yeah, I always need the security of that thin nylon between me and the night creepies.

When I married hubby though, he looked at my worn tent with disdain and went out and bought us a used 20' Class C Motorhome. I liked that, too. No condensation when it rained. :)

Thanks, Jana.

Anita Mae Draper said...

Yes, Helena, by george you've got it!

Tin plates were the norm in 1879 as the enamelled granitewear didn't come out til much later.

Good job setting your research questions aside. I started Emma's story in our own BIAW and I had a whole slew of questions afterwards. Like I said, I thought I'd covered them all after. But at least they're kicking in now.

Oh, you'll have some doozies in the 50's to look up. Things that we take for granted every day like disposable diapers, ball point pens, and even fabrics will have to be checked. Oh, what fun. :)

As for peacocks, yes they certainly are in China. I believe they may even have come from there originally.

Thanks for telling us about your story. I'm very interested in it.

Anita Mae Draper said...

Sorry Helena, got distracted and didn't finish...

I think you're doing wonderful on your NaNo project. Yes, I envy your ability to write without editing because that's my favorite part.

I love British Columbia and if you were in the Northern part, you would've taken the chance of bears and cougars. See, I knew you were an adventurous spirit! What a thrill to sleep in a lean-to! I probably would've gone for that if I knew my hubby would've stayed awake but he just doesn't do good with black flies or mosquitoes. He even told me before we married that I'd have to find another sucker if I wanted to move to Northern Ontario. And then when we visited up there one summer when our daughter was still in pigtails, the blackflies were so bad she was bleeding right down the parted centre.

Yup, because of your gumption you're jumped up a notch on the ladder in my opinion. :)

DebH said...

wow. a lot of research there Anita. I don't think I'd be very good at getting the details of another era correct. i think i'll stick to creating my own worlds or staying contemporary. *heh*

as for "roughing" it with nothing but the stars above... have done so a couple of times when younger in the Rocky Mtns of Colorado. Loved it, but now that I'm "old" - I'd rather stick with a nice tent.

Guppy says "hi".

Anita Mae Draper said...

Gee whiz, Karyn, is it just me and my wild imagination or did you purposely leave out all sorts of pertinent info from your comment.

Like, you said, you and a 'friend' slept out under the stars together and my mind went off on a tangent. I mean, I am a romance writer and that image is very romantic.

And yeah, sleeping in just a sleeping bag on the cold ground can be an awful experience but see... you'll never forget it. :)

Anita Mae Draper said...

Hey Deb, so nice to hear from you. I think I can safely say your writing may be contemporary but with your vast array of experience, it's never boring.

Yeah, with your adventurous spirit, I can see you 'roughing' it. When I saw your name come up, I wondered if you had ever slept under the stars on a boat? Or do you just like to play beneath them? :)

Give Guppy a hug for me, okay? And thanks for chiming in.

Janet said...

Interesting post, Anita. As we go through life, most of us never think of when something came into existance or if our grandparents had to live without it (I'm sure many of them said they managed just fine, thank you). I believe historical writers have to do their research, but I also think contemporary writers do, too.

Roughing it? Camped since I was a baby with my parents from tents to tent trailers, to motor homes. When I lived in the Arctic, I spent a weekend in the middle of winter in a tent frame kept cozy with a kerosene heater and lots of furs piled upon the snow ledge built to accommodate the bed. We chopped ice from the nearest stream for our water and used the great outdoors for our bathroom (remember, Arctic, no trees to lean against or hide behind). After the weekend, I wrote in my journal "Been there, done that - won't be volunteering to do it again."

Good luck with the research and the final weeks of NaNo.

Anita Mae Draper said...

Hey Janet, you actually stayed out the whole weekend? Kudos, girl!

Ah - so you can see the problems I'm having with Emma using 'the great outdoors' because there isn't even a sagebush high enough in places.

At least my time in the Arctic was spent indoors in Yellowknife... in a motel. :)

Yup - you've done some extreme roughing it, I say. Still, you must've looked cute in all those furs. :)