Saturday, January 2, 2010


This page from a 1940's Virginia Gazette illustrates the importance of reading newspapers from the time of my story. At first glance, there's the obvious - prices of whole suites of furniture - $ 95. $ 75. $ 55.

(Sigh! I'd like to buy one great piece of vintage furniture for $ 55!)

A closer look provides info that's useful to describe a setting. Perhaps I want my character to scratch his name into the curved wooden arm of a livingroom chair. I don't have to describe the whole living room suite in order to do so but it sure helps to know what kind of furniture was even plausible during the time period. And depending on the context, I might want to quickly throw out a description of an entire room.

What I find really fascinating is the text itself. The manner of advertising

"Coil Spring Chairs & Sofas Have Been Stopped! "

(Same screaming message we're used to. Slightly different wording.)

And speaking of words. When was the last time you saw an ad that stated something was "smartly styled" or "very smart suite"?

I'm tweaking my 1940's work-in-progress right now. I don't believe I've used the word "smart" to describe furniture or any other inanimate object. But thanks to a vintage newspaper ad, I have a new context for that word.

Word choice is crucial to setting the tone for a historical piece. And reading old newspapers is an important part of my research process.

That is, if I'm smart.


  1. i'm impressed and (slightly) jealous. it's January 2 and you have 2 new blog entries. Both great. SO yes. I need to go find newspapers like that. So much to do, so much to write. But today I interviewed a couple (parents of a friend of mine) who knew all sorts of interesting details and may have produced another (minor) character for the book! Ta Da!

  2. I have collected some neat old magazines off of e-bay, including an 1898 Good Housekeeping. They are so fun to read. Will your characters mother absolutely kill her son if he carves his initials in the sofa arm??

  3. Yolanda - 1898 Good Housekeeping - that's incredible!!

    Actually, I just made that up as an example for the blog. (I think.) So far the carving isn't in my story yet.

    Carol, do not be jealous because after all, I did not interview anyone today or find a minor character.

    Seems that when I blog, that takes most of my creative energy for the day! I did do some reading however which produced some good info.

  4. Last night we re-watched (is that a word?) North by Northwest. The reference to the hidden microfiche in the movie started a conversation about old newspapers, reading them in libraries and on microfilm/fiche. Some people just don't get the thrill of old newspapers, but we writers do! Thanks for a great post. Happy New Year, Joyce. Augusta

  5. Augusta, the odd thing is that today's newspapers hold very little appeal to me. But those old ones? Sweet! Very sweet!

    I hope your writing projects are going well!

    "Rewatched" works for me. Another thing about being writers is we get to make up words.

    I have never seen North By Northwest.