Defining Panic

FWF5cover blog

In last week’s post, I lamented the lack of closets in nineteenth century houses, but fixing that error in my novel was easy compared to the other problem my astute critique partner, Wes, brought up. First, the offending sentence from thirteen-year-old Lucy’s point of view:

In his letters, Ambrose had said even with the depression the last couple of years, the town and Pa’s blacksmith shop had done well.

The problem?

In the nineteenth century, economic downturns weren’t depressions, they were panics. Yes, Lucy was referring to the Panic of 1857. It was easy enough to remove depression and insert panic, but I couldn’t help wondering how a modern reader would interpret panic. I felt a definition was necessary, but definitions tend to slow down the action and take readers out of the story. Below is my attempt to explain without author intrusion. Does it work?

In his letters, Ambrose had said even with the Panic the last couple of years, the town and Pa’s blacksmith shop had done well. All I knew about the Panic was what I heard folks at the hotel say: In 1857, a ship on the way from the San Francisco Mint to the States in the east had sunk with thirty thousands pounds of gold on board. I couldn’t even imagine what that much gold looked like. Aunt Hannah said banks were shutting down, railroads were going broke, and farmers were getting less money for grain and not paying their mortgages. With fewer people going west, fewer people were staying at our hotel. For most of the last year, Aunt Hannah said the hotel barely made enough to stay open, and my pa and uncles complained they weren’t seeing the profits they once did. Those hard times seem to have gone by without touching Hidden Springs.

Just writing it out here, I’m thinking I’ve overdone the explanation. I question whether I needed all the facts I gave about the Panic. Should I take out the part about the sinking ship and go straight to what Aunt Hannah said? Is the definition of a panic clear? Is it credible that Lucy has this information at the age of thirteen? These are all questions I will continue to mull as I finish the second revision and move on to the third. Any advise will be appreciated.

 

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No Closets?

One of the pluses of a critique group is that each person comes with a different set of knowledge about the world. This month, I e-mailed eighteen pages of For Want of a Father to my critique partners. One of them, Wes, commented on my use of an anachronism: closets and hangers in a mid-nineteenth century house.

Of Closets and Coat Hangers

Wes’s comments got me thinking back to the farmhouse I lived in as a child. There were no closets. My mother had a free-standing wardrobe in her room, and there were hangers, but I am talking the 1950s. My novel takes places one hundred years earlier in the 1850s. I clicked on Google and did a search, hoping for exact dates when houses had closets.

I didn’t get exact dates for either the closet or the coat hanger, but rich people did have closets. In fact, Thomas Jefferson, Founding Father and third President of the United States, invented the wooden coat hanger so he could hang his coat in his closet. However, while my characters are well off compared to their neighbors, they are not rich and probably had neither closets nor hangers.  I have made the necessary corrections.