Thursday, October 15, 2009

Writing About History by Jay Luke

“If you want to understand today, you have to search yesterday.” ~Pearl Buck

I’d like to welcome guest blogger Jay Luke, author of When Coal was Queen. Jay is a musician and artist from Throop, Pa. A graduate from Marywood University, Jay is very active in all things art, whether it be through painting, performing with his band, or through his day job as a graphic designer. As a project engineer of the Olyphant Coal Miner Memorial Association, he has delved deeply into the origins of the area and the forgotten histories of the towns around him. Passionate about not letting future generations forget their local origins, he took on this project to reconnect readers to the past.

So without further ado, I turn you over to Jay.

I would like to discuss the topic of writing about History. While some can argue any genre of writing has its pros and cons, I have delved a bit into many of them and found that in writing about history I found my greatest challenge.

Many times with history you face a lot of things that are untrue slipping in through time as people tend to get a bit more of an imaginative recollection of things gone by.

For my writing and research I found many errors and mistakes in previous publications regarding the topic of my book, which is about Olyphant, PA and its history. Dates clashed, names were misspelled. My biggest pet peeve was getting accurate information, as I felt the entire concept of writing history is to let future generations know about their past. As more time passes us by, the youth lose the connection with their roots because when buildings and historical places get knocked down and built over they become forgotten memories for many. So, as with most things, the best way to keep a memory alive is to tell the real story and get as much information as you can that goes back to the target time period.

In my instance I did my library work but was blessed to have been fortunate enough to get firsthand accounts from some surviving coal miners in the area. For those of you that are not familiar with Olyphant, PA, it was basically built upon the anthracite mining industry and flourished through the booming business. The best stories I heard were from the mouths of the men who were there and lived it. They helped me to correct previous errors and misconceptions I had initially written.

So to make a long story short, when writing about anything, be it history or whatever, know your material because if you publicize something you're not sure about it might be passed along through time as an absolute certainty. In other words, don't take the risk of spreading lies. The source of truth is not always easy to find but when you do it's like discovering treasure and can be passed to the future generations knowing they have the facts straight to learn from.

So get out there, get the information and get writing.

Thank you, Jay. You made some excellent points about the importance of getting it right.

Now here’s a little bit about Jay’s book, When Coal was Queen:

Journey into the history of what was once called the "Jewel of the Mid Valley" — Olyphant, Pennsylvania, "The Queen City." This journey takes the reader through the earliest days of the township and notable events of the past. Included are some famous residents and visitors who passed through over the years, and of course the storied Anthracite Empire that built the town. Check out a wealth of photographic documentation as well as many interesting facts about Olyphant, such as:
A mine disaster occurred at the location of Olyphant’s mining memorial statue in 1903 that swallowed an entire hotel into the ground below.
The first woman ever enlisted in the U.S. Navy was from Olyphant.
Patricia Crowley of Olyphant once graced a Life magazine cover in the 1950s.
Nestor Chylak of Olyphant is in the National Baseball Hall of Fame for his work in the major leagues as an umpire.
President Theodore Roosevelt came to Olyphant to try to find a solution to mining relations in 1910.

The book is available on Amazon. You can also find Jay on Facebook.

A quick reminder for anyone in the Traverse City, Michigan, area. I’ll be signing copies of The Ride on Friday, October 16, from 3 to 5 PM at Horizon Books, 243 E. Front St. Please stop by, if you can.

Thanks for stopping by and feel free to leave your questions or comments for Jay.

Tags: Pearl Buck, Jay Luke, When Coal was Queen, Olyphant, Theodore Roosevelt, Traverse City, Horizon Books, >, The Ride,


Karen Walker said...

Great tips to check and double check source material. Thanks to both of you.

Elizabeth Spann Craig said...

The amount of research involved in writing histories or non fiction is really daunting to me! So important to get it all exactly right. Which is why, I think, I'm sticking to fiction. I also have to fact check w/ fiction, but not nearly as often.

Mystery Writing is Murder

Tribute Books said...

Thanks Jane for interviewing Jay - great piece!

Enid Wilson said...

I like the title, Jay. Although I am interested in history, I find writing futuristic stories very fascinating too. But I guess a lot of my fantasy world is still based on history.

Steamy Darcy

Marvin D Wilson said...

Appreciated the article on writing about history very much. Hey Jane - Traverse City is my home town! Yep, graduated HS there in '68. It used to be a quaint little town back then but it's a city now. Still beautiful though - the colors should be in full bloom, too. Have a great trip and signing!

The Old Silly

Tamika: said...

The reality for me is that any topic not based on fiction has to be very thorough. Tackling history and probing facts for authenticity is just too overwhelming for me. Getting it right is paramount.

I do greatly admire those that brave those waters, because the stories do need to be told, and told well.

Great post, I learned a lot.

Anonymous said...

I love history and appreciate an author who performs their due dilligence in resarch. Best wishes for everyone's success.

Stephen Tremp

Jane's Ride - Novelist Jane Kennedy Sutton's journey through the ups and downs of the writing, publishing and marketing world