Pondering Slang in Historical Novels

Have a listen while you read!


As a Texan, I have no problem understanding southern dialect and the slang words and phrases that go with it. But what if you are writing in a different time period? What changes?

In 1928 rural Texas, eleven year old Emma June understands words like “fixin’ to” and “fair to middling”. And she knows what it means to be Cooter Browned. But does she know the terms blotto or hoary-eyed, spifficated?

So when and how does the slang of the 20’s hit her isolated town? From newspapers? The radio? City transplants?

That’s what hit me while writing my current novel.

Let’s say her father saunters into the washroom. Is he bleeding his lizard (Texas) or ironing his shoelaces (Jazz term)?

If a woman dresses to the nines, is she ritzy or wearing her best bib and tucker? (Women’s fashion stays relatively consistent)


So thirteen year old Frank moves from New Orleans to Holly Gap, Texas. He made it possible to use both- Texas and Jazz Age Slang.

Now, everything’s Jake and I’m sitting in tall cotton!

The Moonshine Thicket, coming soon.

Jazz Age slang :  home.earthlink.net/~dlarkins/slang-pg.htm

More Texan-isms  https://shar.es/1xYMnH via @texasmonthly

Here’s a great video of how dialect changes by area:  https://youtu.be/mNqY6ftqGq0

How Research Creates Historical Novels…

… And helps with historical treatment.

I hated history in my youth. But now? I love research. It takes my mind to places that existed long before and can exist again in a historical novel.

The Library of Congress – Historical Newspapers – can take you back to the late 1800’s. I needed 1901 so I found myself in good shape (except I spent hours upon hours finding interesting articles that had nothing to do with my MS, The Last Bordello.) Once I focused, ALL these articles played a pivotal role in my plot line. (I had many more, these are just a few.)

Let’s start with the secondary, still-important, characters and work our way down to Madam Fannie Porter.


The Women’s Christian Temperance Union:







Now, for a sense of place:




The politicians, Mayor Hicks, former Mayor Bryan Callaghan, Captain James Van Riper:







The “then” never solved murder of Helen Madarasz.





The outlaws:

Screenshot 2014-11-24 13.21.45


Now, Madam Fannie Porter:







After reading this article, I found a writer’s connection to the man Madam Fannie may have married, and the location that was plausible for meeting Butch Cassidy for the first time.


If you are writing historical fiction, The Library of Congress is a great place to start!

Keep writing,



Where Do Inspirations Come From?


If Give You Give A Mouse A Cookie, he’s going to ask for a glass of milk. When you give him the milk, he’s probably going to ask for a straw….”

That’s what happened to me, but in a dream.

So, I took that morsel, ran with it, and didn’t “return” until five years later.

Hmm? How to make this brief?

We own our family homestead.

homestead 004

My great-great grandparents set their belonging on the land in the 1840’s and said, “das ist gut.” And it was. And it is.

In my dream, the essence of me stared into an old photo. In the frame, the couple turned to one another and smiled. Then, the screen door opened. The farmer stood in the doorway to greet his wife, but couldn’t enter.

And that’s what started the process of writing The Last Bordello.

As written in Chapter Two:

Most nights, I see Papa in my dreams. In a slower-than-life pulse, in a not-so-common four-count measure, he smiles as he grabs the knob of our screen door and opens it to enter. His movement repeats. He smiles and opens the door. Smiles and opens the door. Each time, he never enters. He never falls.

But Papa did fall; collapsed before crossing our threshold into the house his neighbors helped him to build. Four years ago now, all of the notes of Papa’s life faded away with his last breath. A stillness so loud that my ears still burned.

If only Papa hadn’t died.

I’m not living in 1901 anymore. I’m no longer in a bordello, in a lunatic asylum, or attending  a Women’s Christian Temperance Union or Suffrage meeting.

I’m in 1928. So far, it’s the cat’s pajamas. (The Moonshine Thicket– working title)



Dear writers, listen to your dreams!

The Time I met John Steinbeck

How, you ask, was this possible? Mr. Steinbeck’s nephew, a friend of mine, still oversees the place in Sag Harbor, New York and invited me, my husband and another couple to come for a few nights stay.

Knowing I was (and am) a writer,  my travel companions saw the spark in my eyes, felt the dizzing euphoria welling up inside me as we pulled up to the house built in the 1960’s.




He was there, all around me.  

To my right, sat this bench.


I patted the grand Oak and entered.



At first, what made things “real”for me were the original photos lining the hallway like vintage wallpaper.

But here’s the best part. Next to the bay is a gazebo. It’s where Mr. Steinbeck wrote Travels with Charlie, his poodle and  best friend, who is buried steps away, his leash inside the gazebo.



AROYNT, roughly meaning, go away. Steinbeck hammered the nails into the cement in front of the gazebo.


His wife understood his need for solitude. So, at happy  hour or suppertime, she would light up the plastic goose to let him know it was time to come in.


Mr. Steinbeck’s nephew never gives away the gazebo’s combination. But he gave it to me. And, I wrote. There. Where HE wrote…





… and his timeless objects still remain inside.




Wow! Just wow!

At the risk of being offensive, I opened a box containing pencils. I asked Mr. Steinbeck’s nephew if I could have one (there were many). He said, “Well, that were my aunt’s. Let me give you one that I know Uncle John wrote with.”


In the gazebo, he opened an old box. Inside were pencils without erasers. “Uncle John never erased,” he said. “Each day, before he started writing, he made sure his pencils were sharpened. He wrote on a Big Chief tablet.”

He handed me the pencil. Do I need to explain how I felt?


It was two years ago last May that I inhaled greatness. Why am I finally posting this? Perhaps because, when I wrote in John Steinbeck’s gazebo facing Sag Harbor Bay, I was working on The Last Bordello. Now, it’s published.

Thank you for the inspiration, Mr. Steinbeck. And for the pencil.