A writer’s research: an everyday scrap
Ever since I took an advertising course in college, I have been intrigued by vintage ads, posters, signs and packaging. You’ll see a lot of these for sale on eBay and at other online auction houses. You’ll see a few in Cracker Barrel restaurants and old-style general stores.
This week, while working on a novella set in Florida many years ago, I decided that my female protagonist needed to chew tobacco–not dip it as is more common today, but chew it.
Talk about changing times: I was in a volunteer group in the 1960s that took a tour of a Dutch cigarette factory. Mostly, we viewed the automated process through glass windows. Near the end of a tour, there was a large bin of tobacco leaves used in the company’s chewing tobacco. We were all invited to grab up a chaw and try it. Naturally, we did.
As we worried the thing around in our mouths, the tour moved on. Later, I wondered if the tour guides watched for our reaction. Today, I suppose, there would be hidden cameras and hapless tour group videos would appear on YouTube. The problem? There was absolutely no place to spit out the juice, much less discard the messy wad of leaves. The place was pristine, so spitting on the carpet wasn’t an option. Most of us finally spat the mess out in our mouths and carried it until we finally reached a trash can.
In spite of that experience, I want my lady to chew. So, I started looking for vintage brands of chewing tobacco that would have been around when the story is set. Odd, there are videos and print descriptions on line that explain how to chew, but for all the information out there on there Internet, there appear to be no sites that say what years the various brands of chewing tobacco were sold.
I’ve always suspected the movie industry has a giant database of this kind of stuff, because their sets often have products and signs purportedly suitable to the years in which the films are set. At any rate, my love of old signs drew me to a vintage advertising poster for the brand named “Honest Scrap,” scrap being one of the terms used to described leaves intended for chewing. In fact, it often was scrap left over from making cigarettes and cigars.
The slogan “an every day scrap” fits my character’s vocation and point of view. So, I couldn’t resist the brand. It also provides the kind of ambiance in the story that comes from historical detail whether it’s slang, clothing styles, product names, places, books published, and newspaper names that an author can wrap up into his plots and descriptions.
The novella won’t be ready for awhile, but when it is, I hope you’ll like my tobacco chewing lady.