January 15, 2012

Estate Sales = A Writer's Playground

Lace-trimmed collapsible fan with peacock and flowers
I'd never been to an estate sale before. The whole idea of walking through a deceased person's home and pilfering over all their belongings just seemed creepy. And then I became a writer. So yesterday when I passed the sign for one in the neighborhood next to mine, I decided to check it out. The why is another blog post entirely about overcoming the fear of the unknown, living with less regrets, etc. but the biggest motivator was a new experience to draw from as a writer.

That estate sale was a second Christmas.

  1. Fiction craft principles came to vivid illustration.
  2. It was like a museum where you could touch everything.
  3. Character, story and plot ideas were forming faster than I could keep up.
  4. Antique dealers are as unique a group of people as writers.
 Backstory dumps are bad. I parked my car and on the driveway were about twenty chairs, two tables, some lamps and I couldn't "see" anything because the forest overwhelmed the trees. A nice man directed me to the side entrance of the house labeled ENTRANCE and then I saw the sold tags on all the stuff in the driveway.

Reveal your characters slowly, the way you get to know a person in real life. This woman came alive for me as I walked her house room to room. The only things modern in that house (last ten years or so) were the washer and dryer pair and an electric iron. In the living room where the sale mangers were camped was of course the jewelry. Room to room I learned more and more about this lady. She loved perfumes and kept the empty bottles, some of which had to be over fifty years old. She loved Jesus, because the cheap prints on the wall in old, yellowed frames where scenes from the Bible. She didn't cook much, or hadn't in a long time because none of the dishes and cookware were modern. Knick-knacks, oh my gosh, the knick-knacks in that place. Most were birds, which makes the fan make more sense now. And I found it intesting that the bedroom came last on the walkthrough. By then I felt I knew this woman, and was allowed into such an intimate place. The needlepoint cushioned headboard made me think of all the things it had witnessed, and then there were her hats and furs. This woman's entire character came together for me in that room. Most of the hats were Sunday, go to church hats. One was ivory with feather trim and a net that looked like it might have been worn on her wedding day. Others were sensible, sturdy felt designs in dark colors and one was all brown feathers with spiked quills jutting from the top that reminded me of the flapper era. Maybe it was the first one she ever bought with her own money. This was the moment I realized I'd just read this woman's life story like I read a good book. I know her, even though I never met her, because of the details and the silent dialogue her possessions, the things important to her and the things noticeably absent told.

Sensory detail at your fingertips. Literally. Being able to touch whatever I wanted was surreal. The ridges in the cut crystal of her perfume bottles. The surprising amount of force required to puff the crochet covered puffer on the older bottles. The unique feel of real fur that synthetic will never reproduce. The more unique feel of needlepoint, a dying art like traditional sail-making. The scent of "old". It's a perfume of it's own, and it's not unpleasant, or musty, stale or mothballs. It's the smell of "old" unlike any other. Best of all for me was the marble.
I've used marble a lot in my writing because my stories have been in Ancient Rome. Mostly as a visual in setting and I don't own any (until yesterday) because it's expensive. This beauty was lying in the kitchen and at 50% of $7.50 it was mine. And what I've learned since being able to touch it, carry it, and own it is amazing.
  • Marble is shockingly heavy. This piece is 13 1/2 inches in diameter and 3/4 of an inch thick and weighs a whopping 14 pounds. 
  • Marble resists heat like nobody's business, and holds cold even better. And it sweats moisture when you change it's ambient temperature suddenly. I wasn't even trying to find this out. I happened to when transporting it and leaving it in my vehicle overnight. 
  • The veins and colors on the unfinished side, which I'd never seen unfinished marble before, are very different than when the marble has been polished.
I have no idea what the hardness of this is on that one to ten scale we learned about in junior high science. I remember talc is a one and diamonds are a ten. What I do know is if my hero or heroine goes down on a marble floor now, it won't just be a hard hit. It's going to be cold. And a marble anything is a good murder weapon because even a small piece would have skull-crushing power without much force behind it.

And if all that wasn't totally worth it, I brought home a new friend.

So let's name my new friend, and can someone please tell me what he is/was?

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