Writing Nostalgia and Other Period Pieces

Nostalgia is the deep bond we have with the past. It is delicate, but potent. In Greek, nostalgia literally means a pain from an old wound, a twinge in your heart far more powerful than memory alone. It goes backward and forward and takes us to a place where we ache to go again.

This paraphrase from Don Draper, the über ad man from Mad Men caught my attention and describes my passion as a writer: taking the reader on a nostalgic journey.

It’s not as easy as you think, but here are some guidelines to steer you in the right direction:

There must be a reason for placing your story in a certain year or decade.
• A backdrop of world events or social customs unique to the era make a story feel organic.
• This establishes credibility and gives texture to the story even if it’s not the major plot.
• Everything else springs from this so choose your era and events wisely.

Research is vital.
• Historical inaccuracy breaks the “fictional dream” and pulls readers from the story.
• Memory is faulty, so it’s imperative to check the facts: music, TV shows, brand names, and products. If you get it wrong, your readers will tell you about it. (Ouch!)
• “Rule of Threes” – try to obtain three sources. Consider the reliability of the source. For example: government documents or professional journal articles are more reliable than random blog articles.
• Visit the setting. If that’s not possible, use Google maps for general lay of the land and read books and newspapers from the era for public opinions of the day.
• Don’t impose modern views on historical characters.
• Organize your materials (a whole other blog post!).

Vivid, specific details elicit emotion.
• Sights, sounds, and smells draw the reader in. Music is a powerful tool. Nothing nails an era like its particular “sound.”
• Smell evokes emotion because it is associated with memory.
• Visualize scenes like a movie in your head. Smell the popcorn at the theater. Hear the guns blazing in the wide screen of your mind. Watch the colors and the landscape drift by. Voices and speech patterns will come more naturally with this exercise.

Language and slang.

• Language and slang create a doorway to your time period and give regional distinction to your writing. You hardly ever hear anyone today say, “cool cat” or “the cat’s pajamas.”
• Likewise, don’t have your vintage or historical characters use modern slang.
• Dialect: Use sparingly, if at all. Use syntax and grammar to denote dialect. An occasional mention of an Irish brogue or that the character came from the hills of Arkansas, and readers will get it. Promise.

Are you up for the challenge? The ultimate sweet reward is having a reader say, “I felt like I was there and didn’t want to leave.” Transport your readers into the fictive dream and give them an emotional experience. They will thank you for it.


Carla Stewart’s writing reflects her passion for times gone by. A child of the fifties and sixties, she recalls it as a glorious time when the summers were lazy, colors were brighter, and music filled her heart. Carla’s desire is to take readers back to the times when they knew they were loved, to that warm, familiar place in their hearts called “home.”

Her award-winning novels include Chasing Lilacs and Broken Wings. Stardust is her newest release. She loves readers and participating in book club discussions. You can learn more about Carla and ways to connect with her at www.carlastewart.com, twitter: www.twitter.com/#!/ChasingLilacs and
FaceBook: http://www.facebook.com/carlastewartauthor

STARDUST Book Blurb:

In the bayou country of East Texas, the neon sign of the STARDUST stands silent, no longer beckoning visitors to its cozy cottages. But two days after Georgia Peyton buries her unfaithful husband, a curious thing happens: the STARDUST sign sputters to life and winks at her. Sustained by a memory from the past and determined to build a new life, Georgia acquires the STARDUST with hopes of breathing new life into it too.

But the guests who arrive aren’t what Georgia expects: her gin-loving mother-in-law; her dead husband’s mistress; an attractive drifter who’s tired of the endless road; and an aging Vaudeville entertainer with a disturbing link to Georgia’s past. Dreams of a new life are crippled amid the havoc. Georgia’s only hope is that she can find the courage to forgive those who’ve betrayed her, the grace to shelter those who need her, and the moxie to face the future. One thing is certain: under the flickering neon of the STARDUST, none of their lives will ever be the same.

Branding, by Sandra D. Bricker & Book Giveaway!

For more than a
decade, Sandra D. Bricker lived in Los Angeles. While honing her chosen
craft of screenwriting in every spare moment, she worked as a personal
assistant and publicist to some of daytime television’s hottest stars. When her
mom became ill in Florida, Sandie left L.A. and screenwriting behind. With 15
books now in print and 5 more slated for publication through 2013, Sandie has
carved out a niche for herself as a best-selling and award-winning author of
laugh-out-loud romantic comedy for the inspirational market.
NR: To be entered in a drawing for Always the Designer Never the Bride,
leave a comment for Sandra. U.S. residents only, please.
The topic of BRANDING has been a hot-button
issue among writers lately, and I recently assembled a group of industry
professionals to discuss it for a blog I wanted to put together. Before my
writing days, I was a publicist for actors, and I had to deal with the issue of
typecasting on a pretty regular basis.
But around the time that Always
the Baker Never the Bride
was released by Abingdon Press, branding entered
my radar for the first time as an author. My dream of writing suspense was
shoved to the sideline by a successful string of romantic comedies from
Summerside and Abingdon Press.
During my chats on the subject, author
Jenny B. Jones commented that one of the down sides of branding, for her, has
been that readers aren’t totally aware that she writes anything EXCEPT YA, even though she clearly does.
“I’ve seen bloggers mention one of my women’s rom-coms and call it a YA,” she
Agent Tamela Hancock Murray believes
that, once an author becomes established, readers look for certain types of
books from that author and could be disappointed when they find they’ve bought
something else entirely. She uses music as the comparison. “If you are a fan of
a dance music group, wouldn’t you be disappointed by a recording featuring
nothing but ballads?
No matter how good the ballads are,
they are still slow grooves and not the upbeat tunes you were expecting. In my
view, giving readers what they expect from you, but still keeping stories
fresh, is the best path.”
Jeane and Tyson Wynn, longtime
publicists for the Christian market, chimed in with their perspective. “It’s a
waste of effort and lost opportunity,” Jeane says, “if authors don’t use the
cheap and, in most cases, free tools available to them to reinforce their
brand.” Through modern tools such as social media, she expounds, authors can
“regularly engage their fans, which constantly goes to establishing their
Barbara Cameron, an author known in
recent months for top-of-the-line Amish fiction, hopes that – branding aside –
she has established herself as “a good writer, not just a good Amish writer.”
And I’ve had the same hopes, especially in the beginning of my career when I
had my eye on writing suspense rather than romantic comedy.
However, once the Another Emma Rae Creation series took
off, I’ve found that my readers pick up my books with the specific expectation
of a healthy dose of humor. The thought of letting them down is what inspired
my quest for professional insights on the topic of branding.
One of the things I’ve learned is
that branding is a bit of a familiarization technique for an author to
effectively “make friends” with readers. Jeane Wynn cites the example of tag
lines, such as mine: Author of
Laugh-Out-Loud Fiction for the Inspirational Market.
“Brandilyn Collins is known by her Seatbelt
,” Jeane explains, “and Terri Blackstock writes Up All Night fiction,
so even though they both write suspense, the branding really enables both of
those suspense authors to carry their own identity.” So fans of previous books
provide a built-in market for new books, and there are always opportunities to
try to expand within your brand.

With all the talk of platform these days,” Jeane’s husband and business
partner, Tyson Wynn, adds, “it’s always a plus to take an existing potential
market to a publisher when hoping they’ll publish your book. Branding can help
to build that platform, which certainly is no guarantee of a publishing
success, but it can help decision-makers as they decide whose book they want to
take a chance on.”

As I’ve to make a definitive decision
on the impact of branding on my future directions as a writer, I can’t help
remembering an actor I used to know in Los Angeles. He left the steady
paycheck and sort of stratosphere kind of notoriety of the soap opera he was
on, and ended up coming back a year or two later.

When I asked him about it, he said
that no one wanted to see him for anything other than that character he’d made
famous. Meg Ryan had the same challenge when she branched out of the cute
little romantic comedy heroines she made famous.
So for any writer considering their
next move, I do caution you to think about branding as you look into the
bigger, more far-reaching picture of your ultimate career path. A little
analysis now can go a long way in building a writing career on solid ground
rather than hindsight-seeking, shifting sand.

 Always the Designer, Never the Bride

How many dresses can a designer design before
she finally designs her own?
Audrey Regan spent years establishing herself as
a wedding dress designer and to date, she’s been roped into creating dresses
for nine of her girlfriends. Request #10 follows her vow to “Just say
no!” and comes from her very best friend. She can hardly turn Carly down!
Audrey arrives in Atlanta to perform all of her
maid-of-honor duties and the festivities make her question whether there’s a
prince of her own anywhere in her future. Enter the groom’s brother and best
man. J.R. Hunt couldn’t be any more different from Prince Charming is he rode
in on a Harley Davidson. Oh, wait. He actually did ride in on a Harley!

Random Highlights From The Blue Ridge Christian Writers Conference

Last week I hung out in the heart of the Blue Ridge Mountains with fellow whackos in the publishing industry, so I thought I’d toss out a few random thoughts about the conference:

  • If you’re ever tempted to send a few e-mail zingers to the faculty e-mail list about how you’ll never get up on stage in front of the entire conference with a tiara on your head, trust me, don’t do it. (No, there are no photos.)
  • Alton Gansky and Edie Melson consistently put together one of the best faculties of any conference. I repeatedly found myself wishing I wasn’t teaching because I wanted to go to two or three other classes being taught while I was speaking.
  • If you have a 15 minute appointment with an agent, editor, or author, use the time wisely. During one of my appointments I had a talented and sweet lady tell me about her book for fifteen minutes. I kept waiting for her to stop and ask me a question or two, but time ran out.  It’s so easy to get talking about our story or project we miss the chance to pick the brain of the person we’ve set up our appointment with. Ask questions first, speak second.
  • Torry Martin (who writes for Adventures in Odyssey among his 3,492 other talents) pegs past the red line on the entertainment scale. (He keynoted on Wednesday night and slayed all of us with his stellar sense of humor.)
  • Cecil Stokes (producer of the ground-breaking movie October Baby) is persuasive when you’re kind of hungry at 12 midnight there’s a Denny’s close by:
    James L. Rubart, Dina Sleiman, Susie Warren, Cecil Stokes, and Steven James
    • About half an hour into our meal someone asked if author Tosca Lee would be at the Christy Awards in July. (Steven, Susie, and I are up for the award as well and were discussing who among us would be at the ceremony.) I said I’d text her and find out if she would be there. Someone commented that it was 12:30. I said, “Yeah, but it’s only 11:30pm where Tosca lives. She’ll be up.” She was. Tosca proceeded to demonstrate why she should be in the Guinness Book of World Records for her speed-of-light texting ability. She was simultaneously texting all of us and sent out her multiple messages–and working on a side project as well–in the the time it took each of us to send one. And her texts were more than a few words.
  • Authors Susie Warren and Steven James have RADICALLY different ideas on how to craft a novel. Definitely entertaining to hear them (passionately) explain the merits of their methods—and question the other’s techniques. Since both of them are award-winning, bestselling authors, it’s a great reminder that there’s more than one way to craft exceptional fiction.
  • There’s never enough time to hang out with all the people you want to spend with. There’s one person in particular I didn’t get time with—next year I’m going to see them first.
  • It was confirmed once again the biggest highlight of the Blue Ridge conference (and most writing conferences) is the new relationships formed and the deepening of existing ones. In other words I love my fellow crazies dearly, and hanging out with them is gold.

If you’ve been to a conference this year, tell us about a few of your highlights. Inquiring whackos want to know. (And yes, feel free to guess why we’re pointing in the photo above.)

James L. Rubart is the best-selling and award winning author of ROOMS, BOOK OF DAYS, and THE CHAIR. During the day he runs Barefoot Marketing which helps businesses and authors make more coin of the realm. In his free time he dirt bikes, hikes, golfs, takes photos, and occasionally does sleight of hand. No, he doesn’t sleep much. He lives with his amazing wife and teenage sons in the Pacific Northwest and still thinks he’s young enough to water ski like a madman. His next novel releases in October. More at www.jameslrubart.com