Cara Langston


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The Forgotten Women of the 1920s

My WIP is a piece of historical fiction set in 1925 Chicago. “Great!” you may be thinking. “I love flappers and gangsters! When it’s published, I’ll definitely read it and give you a 5-star review!” Well, I’m sorry to disappoint, but although flappers and gangsters do make appearances, my main character is neither. She is married. She would not be a flapper. And I’m tired of researching 1920s women and having to wade through the immense love of flapper culture to find what I want.

Nearly 100 years later, I hardly need to explain what a flapper is. We love them! There are fringed Halloween costumes, Gatsby parties and weddings (can I please be invited to one?), tutorials for flapper finger curls on Pinterest, and more. If you know a bit about the early 20th century, it’s easy to understand why we hold such a fascination. Flappers were some of the first precursors to modern 21st century women–those who seized their independence from gender norms, who eschewed the strict conventionality of the Victorian and Edwardian eras.

But flappers were a significant minority during this time period, limited mainly to young women in urban cities. Women who were older, married, poorer, and/or religious (thus the average American woman) were living a little more conservatively in the 1920s. Many followed the standard marriage/child rearing convention. Many were working, learning, and lobbying for social justice. This post is a tribute to those women who weren’t considered flappers.

 

Pallas Athene Literary Society, 1927

Pallas Athene Literary Society, 1927

Armor & Co., 1926

Armor & Co., 1926

Office, 1923

Office scene, 1923

Massachusetts police women, 1927

Meeting of Massachusetts police women, 1927

League of Women Voters, 1926

League of Women Voters, 1926

MSU Rifle Team, 1923

MSU Rifle Team, 1923

National Woman's Party, 1926

National Woman’s Party, 1926

Southern Railway Ladies' Car, 1926

Southern Railway Ladies’ Car, 1926

 

End note: I do not hold any judgement against flappers, and I’m sure many of them were also working and learning and lobbying, et cetera.


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Early 20th Century Anachronisms

It is a truth universally acknowledged that writing can be a pain in the ass. Sure, it’s rewarding and sometimes the thought, “I can get some writing done today,” is the only thing that gets me out of bed in the morning. But writing as a whole can be very difficult. I don’t think anyone would disagree with me on that. And if you’re writing historical fiction, add another layer of complexity, because in addition to developing your characters, creating a thrilling plot, making it unpredictable and original, you also have to veer away from anachronisms.

I have two novels, one set in 1941-1943 and one in 1925, and I’ll venture to say that the early 20th century is both one of the easiest and most difficult periods to write about. It’s easy in that it’s modern, there’s a plethora of information, and you can still find first-hand accounts on the time period. But it can also be the most difficult because you begin to assume modernity as you write.  I find myself assuming various everyday terminology/products existed, when in fact they didn’t.

Catching anachronisms in my work is the primary reason I have such a weird Google search history. So what if I’m looking at the Wikipedia page for popsicles? I need to know when they existed!

People who lived before 1950 had telephones, escalators, automobiles, cameras, and boxes of Kraft Macaroni & Cheese! But do you know what they didn’t have?

  • Teenagers – Though the word technically existed in the 1940s, it wasn’t widely used until the 1950. Think bobbysoxers and Gidget. Before that, they were known as adolescents or youths. [Insert “The New Girl” Schmidt meme here]
  • Rosemary – Do you want your pre-1950 character to be an avid gardener? Why wouldn’t she have the most awesome herb garden ever, with sage and rosemary and thyme? I can think of some delicious recipes she can make! I just discovered this last week and it really made me angry, but although the herbs were widely used in colonial times, they completely lost their popularity until a resurgence the 1960s. In fact, if you look at any cookbooks from the 1920s, there are almost no spices in the recipes. The horror!
  • Sunscreen – In the 21st century, sunscreen has become part of our daily routine, at least for those of us young women who want to avoid wrinkles for as long as possible. But sunscreen wasn’t invented until the 1920s, and even though there were some commercial brands sold during World War II and the late 1940s, usage didn’t become widespread until much later.
  • Girlfriends & boyfriends – As much as I loathe this term as an adult, it’s an apt description for youthful romantic partners. But like “teenager” it wasn’t really used much until the 1950s. Before that, you have to use words like “beau” which almost feels too old-fashioned (picture Gone With The Wind) for the 1940s.
  • Markers – The felt-tipped writing utensil used by children and adults everywhere to draw mustaches on photographs was originally patented in 1910. But they weren’t commonplace until the late 1950s. Alas, my 1925 character cannot mark out words in a document using a marker; she has to use a fountain pen, which seems like really messy work.
  • Fleece – People from an older generation might know this, but for those of born in the 1980s, fleece has always existed! It’s ingrained in our being! But it turns out the synthetic material that makes a lot of our robes, slippers, and scarves wasn’t invented until 1979. Don’t let your 1940s character wear a fleece robe, like I tried to do in a first draft somewhere.

I’m sure there are plenty of others, but these are the six I’ve found during my writing endeavors that I could easily recall. Maybe I’ll update with more as I discover them!


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WIP Wednesday: 11/5/14

I’ve decided to start blogging my writing progress because–well, why the hell not? I have nothing else to blog about. I fear blogging about my writing may be too boring for the average reader, but it’s better than not blogging at all, right? Even if no one reads this or cares, perhaps it will keep me accountable on my WIP.

I’m about 55,000 words into the first draft of THE GLASSMAKER’S WIFE. I started writing this story almost 1 year ago (I remember because it was right after I returned from my honeymoon). That’s a long time to write only 55,000 words. But as I often have to remind myself when I start to feel like a lackluster author, quality over quantity. I’d rather slowly write something I love than crank out three first drafts a year.

So here’s my progress for the past week (plus a couple days):

Monday: 1 word. I added “bricked” to a description of the house.
Tuesday: 401 words, despite writing for over 3 hours. This chapter is giving me problems.
Wednesday: 138 words
Thursday: 49 words
Friday: 295 words
Saturday:
26 words
Sunday:
441 words, but I did finish my problem chapter! We can move on to a slightly more exciting chapter now.
Monday: 0 words. Productive day at work.
Tuesday: 1,547 words. Finally hit my stride and finished another chapter!

I’ve become obsessed with tracking my word count in Excel, as you can see below. I personally think it’s a nice visual representation of my progress. It also shows me which chapters I’m actively working on (in blue) and provides a forecasted word count based on my average chapter length. That’s the Excel nerd in me.

WordCountTracking2

And because I should start doing this, here’s an excerpt from the WIP. Remember, it’s only a first draft!

Out of spite, Eva slid the green dress from its hanger in her wardrobe. If Arthur wanted her to wear something nicer, she’d wear the dress from their honeymoon.

She changed into the frock. It fit her now, at twenty-five, the same as it had when she was seventeen. By 1925, the style was considered old-fashioned with its high neckline, full sleeves, and a skirt that fell to her ankles. But Arthur disapproved of the new fashions of the twenties—the lack of sleeves, the low backs, and the baring of shins. She wasn’t sure if it was the fashion he disapproved of most, or the type of women who wore them.


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Blurb: The Glassmaker’s Wife

Today, over my lunch break at work, I finished the initial blurb for The Glassmaker’s Wife!

I generally hate writing these kind of summaries . . . For the Battle Hymns one, I put it off until the very end. I’d finished writing the entire story and was in my 3rd edit. I found it incredibly difficult to narrow down the plot. How much character detail should I include? How long should it be? If I include this character, does it ruin the plot twist?

This time around, I wrote the blurb before I wrote most of my manuscript. I’m only 10-15% into the first draft, but I had enough of it outlined that I could create a summary. And guess what? It was easier this way! I’ll probably tweak it as I write more of the first draft, especially if the narrative changes directions as it is wont to do. But I’m rather pleased with how it turned out.

In 1917, Eva Simon, the youngest daughter of immigrant dairy farmers, marries Arthur Berger, a man she’s known for a mere week, in order to escape her grim childhood in rural Wisconsin. Despite a twelve year age difference, Arthur whisks Eva to Chicago with promises of love, family, and happiness. Eight years later, in the midst of the Roaring Twenties, Eva is resigned to a loveless and childless existence. Her once adoring husband has become cold and unsociable, and Eva spends her time minding the Berger glass shop and doing philanthropy work. She has accepted her fate in their marriage

Eva’s life forever changes when a lawyer for the Chicago Outfit, Henry Carravaro, presents a lucrative business opportunity to Arthur: In exchange for his cooperation, the Outfit will use Berger bottles for their legitimate soft drink and illegal brewing operations. Though Henry stands for everything Eva is against—organized crime and alcohol consumption—their paths continue to cross until Eva is unable to resist Henry’s charm. They begin a heated love affair, and for the first time in years, Eva finds happiness.

But the powers that be in crime-ridden Chicago threaten their union, especially as Eva inadvertently risks revealing Henry’s most dangerous secret.