Monday, July 18, 2011

What Great-Grandfather Can Teach Us About Writing

Great-Grandfather's Journal  Photo by Sally Jadlow

You may remember a few weeks ago a writer inquired about how to copy her grandmother's diary safely. We came up with some possible ideas, but I also asked if you would like to read a journal of even everyday events.

One writer I heard back from was Sally Jadlow who had the following to say:

Carol, I based my book, The Late Sooner, on my great-grandfather's diary. He wrote one line a day. He participated in the 1889 Land Run into Oklahoma. Attached are pictures of his "diary:" an old ledger book. The picture I sent was a photo I shot at home.

Before I started the book, I went through and typed each line in the journal into my computer. Great-grandfather wrote one line a day in his ledger book. Then I went through and bolded those things that strung the story together. That became my outline for the book. I made scenes with dialogue of the most important points in the outline. What he left out, I fictionalized.

I made two trips to Oklahoma to do research in the Guthrie Historical Society archives, the land office archives, and to walk the actual land. Some of my great-grandfather's terms in his diary were unfamiliar to me. At one point in the diary, he wrote, "Went to the schoolhouse to speak to the government agents about the sufferers." Since they weren't a state and didn't vote, this phrase threw me until I visited the historical society.

I learned that in 1890, the locals called that year, "The Year of the Turnip." The residents suffered extreme drought and prairie fires that year and had nothing to eat but turnips. The population and livestock were on the verge of starvation. The citizens met with the government agents to present their plight.

As a result, the government sent trainloads of wheat for seed and for food to the people and animals. Otherwise everyone would have gone back to where they came from. Up to this point in my research, I had never read anything about this terrible famine that almost derailed the settlement of Oklahoma.

That famine played heavily into the plot of the story.

Did you notice that Sally's great-grandfather wrote only one line per day? One line! I can do it. You can do it. In a few minutes, you will be finished reading this. Then it will be your turn -- write.

(Thanks, Sally.)


Write about famine. Most of us haven't experienced real famine, although I know from my life story classes that some of you have experienced real famine -- in wartime Russia for instance. However, you may choose to write about a spiritual famine, an emotional famine, or a chocolate famine -- "The Day My Candy Dish Went Empty." Maybe your socks get lost in the laundry and you have a famine of left socks. I don't intend to make light of real suffering, but in your writing, you can choose which way to go -- literal, figurative, or anywhere along the spectrum.

CHOCOLATE INKWELL  This no-bake recipe from is perfect for this blistering weather. No matter how hot it gets, we still need chocolate.

No-Bake Chocolate Oatmeal Cookies

1/2 cup creamy peanut butter

3 cups quick cooking oats
2 cups sugar
1/4 pound butter
1/2 cup milk
3 tbs cocoa
1 tsp vanilla extract

1. Put the sugar, butter, milk and cocoa in a large saucepan. Bring to the boil and continue to boil for about one minute.
2. Remove from the heat and mix in the vanilla extract and peanut butter. When these are well combined, add the oatmeal and mix together thoroughly.
3. Drop spoonfuls of the mixture on to waxed kitchen paper. Put them in the refrigerator for about and hour until firm.
You can begin writing your life story right now with my expanded and updated Write Your Life Story in Eight Weeks Workbook, available at

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