A Writer’s Dilemma

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I’ve started to work on a story about the ‘Canaries‘ of World War 1. These were the female munition workers during World War 1. They were called canaries because the chemicals used in manufacturing explosives tinted their hair and skin yellow. This story is part of the series of stories I have written about the war. My goal is to have it accepted to the Northern Colorado Writers Anthology, Exception/All centered around the question of ‘What does normal look like? and ‘Is anything ever truly normal?’

Many of these women had never worked or had been in traditional female roles such as household service. Yet, they responded to a national need and were significant contributors to the war efforts. When the war ended, many were dismissed. Their jobs were given to returning soldiers as the country returned to ‘normal.’ However, they and others showed that women could serve in these non-traditional roles. Their mistreatment motivated many to join the suffragette movement and demand the vote and equality under the law. Vivien Newman examines these changes in Changing Roles: Women After the Great War. The changes in society, such as the role of women, are just part of my fascination with World War 1

So, here is my dilemma.

  • I have the characters. Anne and Carol are two housemaids that were dismissed when their house closed and had to find employment. They were able to find it as munition workers.
  • I have the dramatic narratives and history of women that had done this work to provide context and source material for the story.

In other words, I have all the components of a good story. What I don’t have is a story that meets the three-act structure of a five-thousand-word short story and also serves the goal of showing that society is constantly changing.

And this is my dilemma, which I suspect is familiar to many historical fiction writers. How do I tell an entertaining story that fits within the historical context and provides lessons for today?

I have until August 15th and any suggestions will be gratefully accepted.

POST SCRIPT – I finished the story in time to submit it. One of my Beta readers thought it had the makings of a longer story or short novel. We shall see.

Writing Space

My YouTube feed has been showing these videos about authors’ workspaces (Writers and Their Writing Desks. There was no ‘typical’ set-up and while I was jealous of the large offices with fantastic panoramas, I smiled when I saw that Stephen King worked in an attic and Ray Bradbury (one of my favorites) worked what looked like an unfinished basement.

Which is exactly where I write – an unheated corner of the basement with heating ducts (top of picture) and water pipes (just in view on the left side). It is also my office as a university lecturer and with repeated transitions to remote learning, my teaching podium.

The desk itself is what is left of a computer desk bought in the 1980s. It was unfinished lumber, but now has a patina of spilled coffee, various ink explosions, and the sheen you get from decades of human contact. The left side is for writing and drawing with an array of fountain pens and colored pencils at hand. My laptop is in the middle with my planner (still handwritten) and notepad on the right. Inspiration for my historical fiction comes from the framed magazine pages on the wall (it separates me from our crawlspace).

On the other side of the footlocker (which doubles as an armoire), are my references. These range from the modern to memoirs and manuals published during and immediately after the war. The prize in this collection is a bound set of The Stars and Stripes newspaper. Additional inspiration comes from the collection of postcards and trench art.

Not pictured is the Carhartt blanket that keeps me warm as I write.

So that’s my space. If you are a writer, I would like to see where you write.