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Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Writing Nostalgia - Part One

Boomer Books are in! Or so I’ve heard. So are historicals, and what might be historical to you may only be slightly nostalgic to me. Boomer books fall into a pretty wide array of genres and can be set in any decade from the fifties through the present day. They can have older protagonists unknotting their pasts or they can have child narrators (sometimes coming-of-age tales). The possibilities are pretty wide open, and here’s the cool thing: they appeal to a large audience – female baby boomers make up >27% of the total U.S. female population according to a 2003 MetLife analysis.

I love reading these books, so as a natural extension, I’m also drawn to write for that audience as well. It fulfills both the “write what you know” and “write your passion” elements that craft books talk about. Please tell me I’m not the only one who remembers the Big Bopper, how to twist and shout, doing the hully-gully and the monster mash. I lived the wonder years and now love writing about them.

From the title of this post, you probably noticed that this is part one, so sit back, strap on your seatbelts and journey with me while I tell you what I’ve learned about writing nostalgia.

For a moment, close your eyes and try to remember the perfume your mom wore when you were a child. Do you ever catch a whiff and feel like you’ve been transported back into another time?

Do you remember the song they were playing at your first dance? Were you on the sidelines waiting for someone . . . anyone to ask you to dance? Or were you the one the guys stood in line for, waiting their turn to jitterbug with you?

When you were younger, did you ever lay on a blanket under the nighttime stars and trace the Big Dipper with your finger?

Taking a reader on a journey where the memory is engaged through sensory detail is what nostalgia is all about. Webster’s defines nostalgia as: 1) the state of being homesick; 2) a wistful or sentimental yearning for a return to the past.

Just as a child says, “Mommy, tell me the story of when I was a baby,” adults also enjoy an occasional trip back to the age of innocence and the simplicity of childhood. Whether we have wonderful memories or tragic ones, it was still a time when we felt deeper and more passionately about everything. It is the time when we were literally taking the first steps to becoming who we are today.

Curt Iles, a writer I met recently said it like this. “Life was good, but never easy.” Yes, there were challenges. Adolescence was just as traumatic then as it is today. Who doesn’t remember the acne? Fitting in with the “in” crowd? Your first driving lesson? Or your first car? What it felt like to get a first kiss? I suspect there’s a bit in all of us that is homesick for the “good old days.”

Nostalgia is giving readers a “getaway” from today’s hectic pace one story at a time. Simple, huh? Not simple, but certainly a satisfying pursuit. If you’ve decided to try your hand at writing nostalgia, and you have a story that burns within you, there are some things you might consider. Please join me on Thursday when I’ll share my tips.

In the meantime, have you read anything lately that you think might be a Boomer book? Have you written one yourself? Chat away.


Erica Vetsch said...

Lovely post, Carla!

I've not written a boomer book. My writing is set further back than living memory.

I'm finding, however, that the older I get, the more easily moved I am by nostalgic things. :)

Patti Lacy said...

Carla, will your book be considered a boomer book? It actually made me feel nostalgic.


carla stewart said...

Erica, you're writing your passion and doing a fabulous job of it, too. I think it's funny that even my kids now have "nostalgic" moments of growing up in the eighties. Not my nostalgia, but they have vivid memories about those days. Maybe they'll write about them someday.

Patti, Not sure Chasing Lilacs is a Boomer book. That's the target audience, but a lot of what I think are boomer books today have adult characters who may have a few years (and extra pounds) on them and are recalling some event in the past. It's sort of a fuzzy genre, don't you think?