Creating Historical Fiction

Note to reader: I am struck by the irony of my post Creating Historical Fiction that I planned for today. Start with the facts, I write, but if you want a richer, more powerful story, try converting your story into a fictionalized version. We’re living in a time when a president is attempting to stay in power by creating a fictional version of the election. Future historians will help us understand the facts and how we responded thereafter. (SD – 1/12/21)


A thin, wavering curtain separates historical facts from the imagination of fiction. Research files may bulge with historical documents that provide the framework for fictionalized ancestors, but imagination and inspiration weave them into a deeper story.

Start with the Facts

Nearly every family has colorful characters and fascinating stories. You can probably think of a few yourself; maybe you have considered writing about them. But how? When I first became interested in my gold-rush era great-grandmother, I decided to write a biographical account of what I knew about how she came to California, ran an 800-acre farm, and worked to better the condition of her community.

Facts evolve into Fiction

At some point, I realized there was a larger story to tell – not just of her life and work, but how it related to the present generation, and even to our unknown future generations who will inherit our stories. I was encouraged to stretch into the realm of historical fiction. Gary Noy, editor of The Illuminated Landscape, A Sierra Nevada Anthology, agreed that fictionalized history carries an emotional resonance that far exceeds the presentation of facts. By writing a novel inspired by historical facts, I was free to tell a deeper, unhindered story.

From Fiction Back to Fact

Like the tip of an iceberg, fictionalized characters are more believable because of the bulk of research that lies beneath their story. Now that my fictionalized version is published, I return full circle to all the facts that launched Heart Wood. In conducting years of research, I’ve been delighted to know my great-grandmother as a larger-than-life thinker, writer, and activist. This research is now posted on my website under “Historical Research.” I am pleased to share my findings with my greater family and to make it available to the public for historical research.

I invite you browse the research that went into the creation of the past in Heart Wood. Perhaps it will be an inspiration to create something from your own family’s story!

Emily and Charles Hoppin (Yolo, California, 1850-1915)

The ancestors whose story inspired me to create Eliza and Silas in Heart Wood

I have recently posted over 25 documents and photographs on my website , including:  

Charles Hoppin’s letters home from the Gold Rush (1850-1863)

An oral history with my grandmother, Dorothea Hoppin Moffett, about growing up on the Yolo Ranch with her mother, Emily Hoppin

Pages of Emily Hoppin’s personal scrapbook (1890s-1915) with news clippings of her campaign for president of the California Federation of Women’s Clubs, 1915

Photographs, maps, and selected documents from internet research

Conducting historical research has changed dramatically over the years

The Internet was unheard of when I first started investigating my family’s history in the late 1980s. To locate and read documents back then, I had to get in my car and travel to distant libraries and archives. Today, it’s a different world: my recent internet search for “Emily Hoppin, Yolo” found over 240 references to her in the California Digitalized Newspaper Collection!

AND…without the invaluable assistance of the Yolo County Archives and Records Center, Emily’s scrapbook would still be sitting on my bookshelf.  I am grateful to Coordinator Heather Lanctot who scanned each page with their large-sized scanner so that the scrapbook can be read on my website, and in time, will be a permanent public record at The Yolo Archives. Like all volunteer-based organizations during this time of COVID, The Yolo Archives appreciates donations (bit.ly/fyca-join).

I hope you will enjoy browsing my Historical Research page and perhaps be inspired to be creative with your own family’s history. If you’re curious about writing historical fiction, traditional memoir, or a biography, you can find a wealth of support on the internet, on-line classes, writing coaches, and books.

“Hold to the now, the here, through which all future plunges into the past.” – James Joyce, Ulysses


Heart Wood can be purchased online and at all bookstores

Thank you for supporting independently-published authors and local bookstores!

HERE: To support your local, independent bookstore

HERE: To purchase on Amazon (ebook and paperback)

www.shirleydickard.com


Open House at shirleydickard.com

You’re invited to an Open House at the newly remodeled website dedicated to my eco-novel: Heart Wood – Four Women, for the Earth, for the Future.

Years ago, when Heart Wood was in its infancy, I created my first website and blog. Having since outgrown the space, I’ve been working with a web designer to give it an updated look with new rooms and décor. Please stroll around and take a look!

There is one last room I want to remodel and I’m hoping readers can help me. If you click on the “Research” tab, you’ll see tabs for Past, Present, and Future. These are where I’m gathering Present data and evidence of mankind’s cumulative impact on the Future, as well as my family’s historical documents from the Past.

If you’ve read Heart Wood, you may share my concern for what we’re doing to our air, water, food, and earth, and the impact on our health and longevity – especially of our children. You can contribute by sending articles and links that I can post. Discussions welcome!

Thank you to Sky (who actually spent her first years in the mythical “Luna Valley”) for this first article: Why the World is Becoming Allergic to Food  https://getpocket.com/explore/item/why-the-world-is-becoming-more-allergic-to-food?utm_source=pocket-newtab.  Cue the rise of Pharm.food!

For history buffs, especially my family, I will post all the documentation I gathered about my great-grandparents, Emily and Charles Hoppin of Yolo, California – the inspiration for the characters of Eliza and Silas in Heart Wood. In my research, I found previously unknown speeches, writings, and interviews with Emily Hoppin. She was a woman before her time and now, 100 years later, her voice can be heard! I invite anyone with information about Charles and Emily Hoppin to add to this documentation on my website.

Please sign the guest book by leaving a comment. If you see any corners that need attention, let me know. I’m learning how websites nowadays must work across all types of screens: computers, tablets, and mobile devices – rather like a three-dimensional tic-tac-toe board! My appreciation to Katie (who also grew up in the “Luna Valley”) and her design team at Urban Sherpa Marketing: www.urbansherpa.marketing 

“Our Foremothers” 1915

Emily's 4th July Speech 1

Hey, enough about our Forefathers this Independence Day!  Back in 1915, my Great Grandmother Emily Hoppin gave this speech about “Our ForeMothers” to a Fourth of July celebration in Yolo County, California.

I’ve transcribed her words from my copy of her handwritten notes.   To read her full speech go to  Emily’s Speech.                      Here are some excerpts:

“OUR FOREMOTHERS”

For over a hundred years, on this anniversary of our nation’s birth, men have written and poets have sung of our forefathers.  Today, for the first time in the history of – well – I will not say our nation, but will say of Yolo County, you are to hear not only of your forefathers but your foremothers, and I wish I had the eloquent tongue to tell of them.

Neither do I today expect to give a small meed of praise to these foremothers of ours – but I would try to win for them some of the gratitude we give our forefathers.

 Often women are the leaders and organizers of great enterprises.  Our own country owes its discovery to the masterful mind of a woman. (note: I assume Queen Isabella of Spain, who financed Christopher Columbus’ voyage to the New World.  She also took an unusual interest in the Native Americans he brought back to Spain as slaves, by ordering the Indians returned to their homeland and freed.  However, she and her husband, Ferdinand, also started the Spanish Inquisition!  Now back to 1915).  

In the history of this beautiful state of ours where the pioneers of ’49 were enduring their hardships – the women were by their side and endured with them the hardships and lessons of the plains. 

Women have however been content with no praise at all, or the praise such as the old pioneer settler out west gave to his wife when an old grizzly bear came into his cabin one day.

          Perhaps you recall the man’s scream to his frau. 

         There’s a bear in the kitchen as big as a cow. 

          And how she advised him to murder him then. 

          And how his reply was, Yes! Betty, I will if you’ll first venture in. 

          So Betty leaped up and a poker she seized. 

          While her man shut the door and outside he squeezed 

          And then you remember, she laid on the blows. 

          While her man, through the keyhole kept shouting with din,

          Well done, my brave Betty.  Now hit him again.

           So with rapping and poking, poor Betty alone

          at last laid old Bruin as dead as a stone. 

          Then when the brave man saw the bear was no more,

         he ventured to poke himself in at the door.

          And off to the neighbors he hastened to tell,

          all the wonderful things –that morning befell. 

          And he published the wonderful story afar,

          How “Me and my Betty we just slaughtered that bar.”

Now my dear friends there is nothing personal in this story – nothing that is applicable to you – for you have never said to us in regard to taking hold of work.  Yes!  Darling we will, if you’ll first venture in.   We all know how energetic you men of Yolo County are, and how anxious you are that our county shall be well governed.

How glad you are to give due praise to women today, we who are proud to stand beside you and tell of the grand women of the past. Tis like stirring living embers when one calls to mind “all the achings and the quakings of the times that tried men’s souls.”

(Her speech continues with descriptions of women’s roles in the major events of America’s history.  The complete speech is on my website:  Emily’s Speech).

We who live in these days of railroads and telegraphs and books cannot realize the lonely days and nights of these women.

Speak of (women’s) brave words, their true hearts, their noble deeds.  Tell of their purity, their faith, their heroism, and let this fourth of July celebrate their deeds, as well as he deeds of our forefathers – and if between the living and the dead, is stretched, as some believe, a spirit wire, let it signal to them the words we speak today, and may their spirits – our guardian angels watch o’er our  country and may the God of our fore fathers and mothers, who through the gloom and night has guided our people. 

© All materials copyright Shirley DicKard, 2012 – 2013, except as otherwise noted.

Seismic Shift in Access to Information

p_g10afjmr5gq0462_bThere’s been a seismic shift in access to information since I first did serious research on my Great Grandmother, Emily Hoppin, almost 25 years ago.  Back then (before Internet, mind you) I had to travel to Woodland to do on-site research in the Yolo County Archives – a small building in an industrial section of town.  When I found a newspaper article I wanted to copy of my gold-rush era ancestor, the kindly woman held a column-wide copier over the paper, and reproduced the article in that filmy fax-type paper (print is faded and useless today)

I’ve also relied on my Great-Grandmother’s scrapbook (patented in 1873 by Samuel Clemens/Mark Twain) that contains her pasted newspaper clippings of family deaths, her speeches, and the hot political contest for President of Federation of Women’s Clubs of California (which she won -1915).  Someday, I’ll make it part of Woodland’s historical archives.

I’ve found Ancestry.com helpful for locating records of births, deaths and census reports.  Interesting to see who else was living on the farm.

But recently Stephanie Korney, a friend and a founder of the Camptonville Historical Society, emailed me an article about my Great Grandmother from the 1915 Overland Journal. (Stephanie said after seeing my blog, she just couldn’t help digging around herself!)  I thought I’d seen most things printed on my ancestors, but here was an article filled with delicious details about this woman.  Wow!  Made Facebook look pale!

In the last 25 years, the Internet has  democratized access to information.  Google Books, a service from Google Inc. scans the full text of books and old magazines, converts text using optical character recognition, and stores it in its digital database. There’s been a lot of controversy over copyright issues and fair use.  That aside, I’m delighted to be able to search for Emily Hoppin, Yolo, California and find 30 sources of information on her.  I’ll put some on my website, and some of it will be incorporated into The Desk as a backdrop for Eliza, the fictionalized woman inspired by my Great-Grandmother’s life work for California, Women’s Suffrage, Temperance, Water, Farming and hopes for Universal Peace.