Place – as complex as a human being

Writer friend Carol Bodensteiner talks about being transported in contemporary fiction.

Thanks, Mary, for inviting me to join your discussion of time and place in writing. As a reader and a writer of memoir and historical fiction, I know that when the author ‘gets it right,’ time and place take on the qualities of another character.

Place shapes the way people think about themselves, it frames their actions. Place can be friendly or hostile, welcoming or menacing, relaxing or high stress. Place can be all of those, sometimes at the same time.

My newest novel Simple Truth is contemporary fiction set in a small Iowa town that is home to a poultry packing plant. Place is equally important in this genre.

Simple Truth is the story of a young woman who gets a career-making opportunity only to discover her client may be exploiting immigrant workers. With each new revelation, she finds herself questioning not only her client but also herself and her career. Ultimately, she must answer: What is she willing to risk to help someone else?

Research helped me flesh out the ‘character’ of both town and plant. 

On-site research

To understand the town in my story, I spent time in a similar town, walking the streets, eating in the restaurants, watching the people. My experiences played out in Simple Truth as my main character, a young woman who lives in the state’s capital city explores the small town where she’s taken a temporary work assignment. Here’s some of what she sees:

Angela counted at least four paint colors peeling around a store window displaying christening and quinceañera gowns. The awning shielding one store window from the setting sun drooped sadly to one side. Sheets of paper covered another store’s windows. None of the storefronts looked welcoming, and Angela did not go into any of them. Stopping to read the posters in one window, she found announcements of bands and dances hung side by side with a flyer listing indications of abuse and encouraging women in dangerous relationships to seek help.

Angela perceives the town as run-down and dreary, a place she needs to be but would never choose to stay. As she comes to know the town better, she understands there’s more here than meets the eye. That first impressions don’t always yield the real story.

YouTube and Background

In addition to the town itself, the other most significant location in the story is the poultry packing plant. To create this location, I relied on my own experience with such facilities and YouTube videos. Since the people of color who work in the plant are an important focus of the story, I spent some time describing the plant operation as my main character sees it during her orientation tour.

The work that goes on in packing plants may be difficult for some people to stomach. Yet it is important to know the place to understand why people choose to work there. In the plant, as in the town, the situation is complex, made more so by the diversity of countries, languages, religions, and cultures represented.

While I didn’t pull punches in the plant description, I also didn’t dwell on it beyond the necessary. I hope. Readers will have to decide.

Place can be as complex as a human being, a complexity we may miss if we don’t look deeper.

Many thanks, Carol. Love the idea of place as a character.

Simple Truth by Carol Bodensteiner – Angela Darrah is a pro when it comes to pitching client stories to the media. But when she suspects her client is exploiting immigrant workers, she’s forced to face her own prejudices and to examine herself in ways she never imagined.

Having landed a career-making assignment at one of Iowa’s largest poultry packing plants, Angela is stymied when the CEO who hired her resists her advice. Worse, he defers her to his right-hand man who keeps Angela off balance as he alternately supports and obstructs her efforts. When Angela finds an unexpected ally in a handsome Salvadoran plant supervisor, her professionalism wavers in the face of undeniable attraction.

As Angela immerses herself in the company and the town, she is faced with challenges similar to the company’s immigrant workers. How will she navigate a new system and succeed in the face of obstacles and injustices she doesn’t understand? Then, when she discovers corporate actions that are unethical, possibly illegal, Angela must confront the conflict between her duty to her client and her growing passion to fight injustice. Ultimately, she must decide: What is she willing to sacrifice to help someone else? Simple Truth is a thought-provoking story intertwined with risk, retaliation, and reward.

Carol Bodensteiner is a writer who finds inspiration in the people, places, culture and history of the Midwest. After a successful career in public relations consulting, she turned to creative writing. She published a memoir Growing Up Country: Memories of an Iowa Farm Girlin 2008. Her debut novel Go Away Home was acquired by Lake Union Publishing, an imprint of Amazon Publishing and published in 2015. She published her second novel Simple Truth in 2018. Carol can be reached on Twitter: @CABodensteiner, Facebook, Goodreads or at her website.

FOR MORE ON READING & WRITING HISTORICAL FICTION follow A WRITER OF HISTORY (using the widget on the left sidebar)

M.K. Tod writes historical fiction. Her latest novel, TIME AND REGRET was published by Lake Union. Mary’s other novels, LIES TOLD IN SILENCE and UNRAVELLED are available from Amazon, NookKoboGoogle Play and iTunes. She can be contacted on Facebook, Twitter and Goodreads or on her website www.mktod.com.

A New Beginning

LakeUnionPublishingImage-V343774130-newIn January, I listed 6 Musings on Writing, one of which was ‘each year marks a new beginning‘. Well, as it turns out, January truly did mark a new beginning, one that I can now tell you about, because the contract is signed.

My third novel, Time & Regret has been taken on by Lake Union Publishing. As you can imagine, I am more than excited!

The folks at Lake Union have been amazing, both professionally and personally. Time & Regret has already been through their developmental edit process and will soon head into copy edit. The objective is to release it in late August or early September.

Many thanks to Carol Bodensteiner who connected me with Lake Union, to Jodi Warshaw the acquisitions editor at Lake Union, and to Jenny Quinlan of Historical Editorial who has done such terrific editing work on Unravelled, Lies Told in Silence, and Time & Regret.

FOR MORE ON READING & WRITING HISTORICAL FICTION follow A WRITER OF HISTORY (using the widget on the left sidebar)

M.K. Tod writes historical fiction and blogs about all aspects of the genre at A Writer of History. Her latest novel, LIES TOLD IN SILENCE is set in WWI France and is available from Amazon, NookKoboGoogle Play and iTunes. Her debut novel, UNRAVELLED: Two wars. Two affairs. One marriage. is also available from these retailers.

Mary can be contacted on Facebook, Twitter and Goodreads.

The Beauty of Serendipity in Writing & Publishing

Author Carol BodensteinerOne of my favourite words is serendipity. Not only do I love the way it rolls off my tongue, but I also love what it means. Carol Bodensteiner, author of Go Away Home is on the blog today talking about serendipity. She is a wonderful author. I’m sure you will enjoy what she has to say. Over to you, Carol.

Serendipity – the occurrence and development of events by chance in a happy or beneficial way

I like control. I’m most comfortable when I know what’s going to happen, when and how. But my writing and publishing journey has shown time and again what fun there is when things happen by chance. Serendipity is a beautiful thing. Those chance occurrences that surprise and delight and bring joy to our lives and smiles to our faces. I’ve been lucky to have several serendipitous moments mark my journey in writing and publishing my WWI-era novel Go Away Home.

Three examples.

Fiction turns out to be reality. Over the years, I vacillated: set my novel in the county seat near where I grew up or create a fictional town? Over years of writing, I went back and forth on this decision with some regularity. Fortunately, the ‘search and replace’ function of Word makes such dilly-dallying reasonably simple.

Meanwhile, my story developed to include a prominent banker who lived in a large house equipped with electricity, a grand piano in the library, and a sumptuous buffet in the dining room.

About a month before I sent the final manuscript to the editor, I said, enough! Though the story is fictional, the location is now firmly set in a real town – Maquoketa, the county seat of Jackson County, Iowa. Having made that decision, my obsession for getting the historical details right took on new focus. I had a responsibility to those who know the town to get it right. I headed east for a drive through Maquoketa.

When I pulled up in from of the house of my dreams, I learned the it is now the Squiers Manor Bed & Breakfast. The folks at the B&B readily took me for a tour and here’s what I found: The original owner was a prominent banker; the house was the first in town to have electricity and running water, and there is a grand piano in the library.

What a delight to find that what I’d been writing mirrored the actual history and much of the layout of the building.

The right resources at the right time. As I considered my need for a cover designer, serendipity delivered a cover reveal post for Lies Told in Silence by M.K. Tod right here on A Writer of History.  I loved the cover and knew the designer of that cover was the one for me. What luck to find Jenny Q, a talented woman who specializes not only in designing historical fiction covers but who is also a terrific editor.

She designed a cover that perfectly communicated the mood of the novel. Then she took on the manuscript, smoothing out choppy and disjointed places, suggesting more appropriate word choices, questioning and clarifying when my meaning grew hazy. She also did more. While I had not hired her for a developmental edit, she pointed out several places where the story would benefit from slowing down and building more emotional depth into my main character. I spent my career in the service business so appreciated the value Jenny brought to my book.

Publishing. I indie published Go Away Home in July 2014. At the end of the year, an email popped into my inbox from an acquisition editor at Lake Union Publishing, an imprint of Amazon Publishing. They’d read the story, loved it and wanted to talk about whether I was interested in partnering with them. I felt like the average girl sitting at the soda fountain counter noticed by a big-name producer and cast in a major motion picture.

I haven’t made out a Santa wish list in decades. Even if I had made one last year, signing with a publisher would NOT have been on it. That would have been too unbelievable. Yet here I am.

Go Away Home re-launches with Lake Union Publishing on July 7.

I talked with a friend about how what I need always sees to appear right in front of me at the moment I need it. Ever practical, she said those things were always out there and it was only when I started to focus on the need that they became visible.

Her response seemed a bit of a buzz kill. Yes I did research that created the kind of house that a rich family like my banker would have occupied in the early 1900s. Yes, I made contacts and follow blogs written by smart authors who use and share quality resources. Yes, I worked hard to write a good story and then to get a lot of honest reviews.

So, yes, I was controlling everything I could. But then those little extras appear. Luck. Magic. Serendipity.

Go Away Home by Carol BodensteinerGo Away Home – Iowa farm girl Liddie Treadway has big dreams: to move to town, work as a seamstress, live on her own. But it’s 1913. Can a girl choose both love and independence? You can find my review of Go Away Home here.

Go Away Home is available on Amazon in paperbackand ebook formats.

Growing Up Country is available on Amazon in paperbackebook, and audio book formats.

Carol Bodensteiner is a writer who finds inspiration in the places, people, culture and history of the Midwest. After a successful career in public relations consulting, she turned to creative writing. She blogs about writing, her prairie, gardening, and whatever in life interests her at the moment. She published her memoir Growing Up Country in 2008. Her debut WWI-era novel Go Away Home first published independently was acquired by Lake Union Publishing and launches July 7, 2015.

You can find Carol on her website, Twitter @CABodensteiner, LinkedIn, and Facebook.

FOR MORE ON INSIDE HISTORICAL FICTION follow A WRITER OF HISTORY (using the widget on the left sidebar)

M.K. Tod writes historical fiction and blogs about all aspects of the genre at A Writer of History. Her latest novel, LIES TOLD IN SILENCE is set in WWI France and is available from Amazon, NookKoboGoogle Play and iTunes. Her debut novel, UNRAVELLED: Two wars. Two affairs. One marriage. is also available from these retailers.

Mary can be contacted on Facebook, Twitter and Goodreads.