Tuesday, October 25, 2016

The Good Old Days?

Today I welcome my friend and fellow author, J. L. Greger to tell you about her inspiration for her new book, The Good Old Days? A Collection of Stories. I had the privilege of editing this one, and I loved her tales.

Intertwining Facts, Memories, and Imagination to Create Fiction

After I read several nauseatingly glowing accounts of the “good old days,” I asked friends about their memories of their childhoods and teen years. Then I began to write short stories and published fourteen of them in The Good Old Days? A Collection of Stories.

Memories need to be supplemented with facts. Although I took copious notes as friends spoke of their past, key details, necessary to make the tales believable, were missing or garbled. I found these details were “hooks” to readers. For example, in the story, “Dirty Dave,” I mentioned the nested Pyrex mixing bowls in yellow, green, red, and blue. Several readers noted I’d gotten the sizes right. The yellow bowl was the largest; the green was the next size. I was glad I had researched the subject. (By the way, these vintage sets often sell for over $100 on eBay. I’ve seen them sell for more at antique shows in New England.)

Memoires help to create a mood. I wrote my stories in the idiosyncratic way of memoirs. Although my vignettes are fiction, the auras of my friends, but not their physical characteristics, are infused into my characters. Thus, some of the characters are playful, and others are cynical or grouchy. I modified the tenor of the stories by telling some of them from the point of view of a child and others from the perspective of an adult. A five-year-old’s view of department stores in the 1950s (e.g. The elevator operator wore gloves. Everything was fastidiously arranged by color in the Notions Department.) in “Questions” is funnier than an adult’s observations.

Memories are snapshots of history. My stories are snapshots of major historical events and societal problems during the 1940s, 1950s, and 1960s. Nostalgia is fine, but honesty about the past is important. One aspect of several of these vignettes—child abuse in so-called “nice” homes—is not funny. I hope these tales will encourage older readers to remember the past honestly and will let younger readers realize most social problems aren’t new.

Here’s the start of one tale. “How Old Is the Earth?” in The Good Old Days? A Collection of Stories.

This story is based on reminiscences of a friend. He mentioned the Golden Book Encyclopedia, but couldn’t remember any particulars, as he told me about the limitations of his grade-school education. My research supplied all the details about this hot promotional item for A&P Stores in 1959 and 1960. The geological facts are also correct. However, the George in the story is fictional. My friend doesn’t look like George, isn’t a professor, and has never enjoyed a Friday afternoon on the patio of the Wisconsin Student Union. He does like a beer occasionally.

I hope you enjoy this intertwining of facts and memories in fiction.

How Old Is the Earth?

“You’re a scientist. How old is the earth?” My friend, an art professor, looked around the rather raucous crowd on the patio at the University of Wisconsin Student Union on a late summer afternoon. When he waved his tanned arm, I noticed thin, white scars crossed the back of his hand. “What do you think these students would say?”

“First off, I’m no geologist. I don’t know the current scientific estimate, probably several billion years.” I nodded at the students as I sipped my beer. “I doubt any of them could give you a better answer, even if they were sober.”

George pulled his hands through his longish gray hair and then stroked his much darker short beard. “Four and a half-billion years. The most painful and maybe most important fact I ever learned.”

I blinked. “Really? Somewhere in grade school, I accepted the earth had a long history, but I was never fascinated by paleontology or geology.”

“You’re not from a religious home.”

I frowned. “We went to church most Sundays.”

“I mean a home steeped in strict interpretations of the Bible.” He leaned back in his yellow, sunburst metal chair and chewed a handful of popcorn. “Did you know church leaders calculated the earth to be six thousand years old on the basis of the book of Genesis?”

I threw a couple of kernels to nearby birds. “You must really like the Discovery Channel and PBS nature specials. What got us on this line of conversation? I expected you to be reliving your years as a professor of photography this afternoon, one week before your official retirement.”

George took a long swig of his beer. “Today would have been Mum’s birthday. Made me think of the day I was most proud of her. She was your typical stay-at-home mother of the fifties. Well, except Pop was afraid other men would notice her. So, she wore her long dishwater blonde hair in braids wrapped around her head. She looked like a Norwegian immigrant just off the boat in the old daguerreotypes. Didn’t matter to us boys. We thought Mum was pretty.”

He gazed out over the lake for so long I interrupted his thoughts. “What did your mother do on this special day?”

“Be patient. I was remembering how it all began. Do you remember when A&P offered the Golden Book Encyclopedias as a sales incentive in fifty-nine and maybe sixty?”

I pushed my green starburst metal chair back. “Vaguely. I can’t remember the deal exactly. Let’s see...if you bought twenty dollars of groceries, you could purchase one of the volumes in the Golden Book Encyclopedia for an additional dollar or two. Every month, they offered another volume. I think there were…fifteen or sixteen volumes all together.”

George smiled. “Yeah, they had shiny covers in bright colors, not like the standard encyclopedias, World Book and Britannica, with their fake leather covers and gilt-edged pages. Okay, I’m ready to tell my story.”

For the rest of the story, read The Good Old Days? A Collection of Stories. Available at Amazon (paperback and Kindle): http://amzn.com/1537743813

J. L. Greger usually writes mysteries and thrillers with "sound bites" of science and travel: Murder… A Way to Lose Weight (winner of 2016 Public Safety Writers Assoc. [PSWA] annual contest and finalist for New Mexico/Arizona Book Awards) I Saw You in Beirut, Malignancy (winner of 2015 PSWA contest) Coming Flu, and Ignore the Pain.


  1. Thanks for hosting me. I hope this blog inspires others to try writing a short story. They'r more fun than novels because you can experiment more.

    1. Larry agrees with you. His short story collection, "Lakeview Park," took several years, but we both still love the stories.

  2. I really liked the way this blog post was organized, writing tips, and an example. I am sharing with my writing group!

  3. I'm a fan of the book and enjoyed reading more of the author's thoughts here. Details like the bowls and starburst metal chair brought memories flooding back, for me. And the overall message of the collection is valuable to every generation.

    1. She has more short stories to come. And they are good, too.

  4. Wow.
    Judy, I'm an old prof so I organize my blogs to be teaching tools or at least slightly useful. I'm glad you like my approach to blogs.

    Nancy & Lorna, Thanks for the kinds words. I really believe that details (like nested pyrex mixing bowls) are one of things what make fiction seem real.

  5. You can win a free copy of The Good Old Days? A Collection of Stories from a GoodReads Giveaway, if you enter before Oct 30: http://tinyurl.com/jp2jjdq

  6. Nice introduction to your collection, Janet. Memories are made stronger by facts.

    1. She has more, and I hope we'll see them soon!

  7. Thanks John.

    In a couple of cases, I found the memories weren't quite the same as the facts. I guess I'm not the only one with an aging memory.